Finding peace within the expansion and contraction

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.” ~ Rumi

Embracing all the colours, all the flavours, all the delicious variety of life means also recognising that both expansion AND contraction are important and healthy parts of being human.

I spent the most incredible weekend guiding a group of women on a 3 day Cacao Yin retreat. Together we journeyed into what it felt like to come home to ourselves, to feel safe and connected, to show up in our truth and share with each other. It was powerful, deep, joyful at times and incredibly touching to watch these beautiful women dare to bump up against their edges, gently, with compassion, with love for themselves and each other and to soften into the tender places in their wombs and hearts.

After a weekend like this, immersed in nature and flying high with the sweetness of ceremonial cacao I should feel amazing yes? Well actually when I arrived home I was tired and tender. In amongst the sweetness, the resting and the nurturing a lot of energy moved, a lot of tender places were touched, a lot of edges massaged and a lot of wounds given space to heal. It’s not so crazy then to understand space around this process might be needed to allow full integration.

We all process and integrate differently and some need more time for the body to catch up. I’m one of these people. After periods of real transformation I really value a little bit of time alone to let the wisdom of the experience anchor into my body and beliefs.

For me this is when the real work begins…we all love to have the big bang, high of a retreat experience (it was wisely pointed out to me last year that I’d become a bit of an experience junkie so trust me I do know how great these highs are). But after the retreat finishes what happens now? After the expansion – what then?

Can I integrate the insights and wisdom that come through during retreat?

Can I rest in this new moment where nothing is happening and not start grasping for the next step?

Can I trust the things that fall away, fall away for a reason?

And what happens when the next contraction comes?

Can I accept not only the expansive high joyful part of me but also the parts I deem to be slightly less than shiny – the contracted, tired, tender and a little raw?

Hence the purpose of this blog post 🙂 For me retreats are an opportunity to let the daily routines fall away and offer a little space for the magic, the mystical and the intuitive to be deeply felt and embodied. It’s an invitation to peel back another layer of an old outdated mask and when we no longer have the mask to hide behind it can feel vulnerable. Without vulnerability true intimacy is never possible and without intimacy there is no real connection so vulnerability for me is a sign I’m growing and living life fully.

There’s no magic pill, no one path suits all solution to unravelling years (or lifetimes) of tension, over-thinking, self judgement, low self worth or whatever it is that you’ve been holding against yourself. But for me the real magic seems to unveil when I can let feelings just be feelings. To watch them as sensations in the body moving through. They come they go, expansion, contraction, expansion, contraction – just like the breath, let them come, let them go. Can we drop the judgement, drop the expectation, drop the labelling of right and wrong and let the feelings just be feeling.

Tiredness is just tiredness, grief is just grief, tenderness is just tenderness – they’re not a sign I’ve done something wrong. They’re not a sign that you’ve done something wrong. Can you receive their gifts as readily as you receive laughter and joy? How can we exercise this muscle of expansion (physically, mentally, emotionally and in consciousness) if there were no contraction to begin with?

Could it really be as simple as Being gentle. Being kind. Just BEing.

Following the trees home…pictures worth a thousand words

Plans changed suddenly, life delivered to me the message “You are not in control…LET GO of this idea, let me guide you, trust me.”

IMG_0206Following the unexpected but thankfully complication free removal of my appendix..I celebrated my 36th birthday in an Indian hospital with a Namaste and a glass of coconut water! As I finally began to hear my body’s cry for rest and familiar surroundings I returned ‘home’ to Australia. For two months I did nothing but sit in the garden and honour the body’s need to rest and recuperate. I was feeling all sorts of wonderful to be back with my family after 5 years of travelling and living overseas, but a few questions arose like… now I’m back in a country I never really planned to return to – with no plan in sight…who the hell am I …and …what does this word ‘home’ really mean?

I guess the truth is I’d been resisting going back to Australia for a few years because I thought the next time I went ‘home’ I would have things kind of figured out and would be able to answer peoples questions…you know maybe I would know who I was and have a bit of a plan (haha this is possibly one of the most delusional ideas I’ve ever had…and I’ve had a few!). Yet there I was sitting in my Grandma’s home with no car, no house, no job, no winter clothing, no partner, a bank account that was fast running out and not even the whisper of a plan. All I had was my cheap Indian suitcase stuffed full of books and slightly holey clothing….and my notebooks full of poetry and quotes about love and freedom, a family that was so happy to see me..and I them! and a heart that kept whispering it’s OK…trust me, just rest, rest in not knowing…trust…..it is OK not to know.

Not quite the homecoming I’d imagined..but it was in so many ways far more beautiful than anything I could ever have imagined. I have to tell you that coming home as nobody with nothing is possibly the best thing that could ever have happened to me! With no expectations of what life should look like and the desire to make a plan not beating me around the head every few seconds I found a lot of solace in the simple things…like making green smoothies for breakfast and weeding the garden. I began to see every weed I pulled as one of the old ideas of who I’d thought I should be, what I’d thought I should be doing and what ‘home’ should look like…being let go…one after another. It is by far one of the most liberating and humbling lessons I’ve received from mother nature…life.

And the truth is she just kept on passing the lessons my way. For most of this year I’d been wishing for a tree that I could take my afternoon siesta under (yes people really do, do this, in hot countries!). I longed for somewhere I could feel my feet on the grass and my belly against the earth…(after studying a little bit of Chinese Medicine recently I now know this was also my body’s way of telling me it needed something) but I never quite got around to honouring this longing. That is until I took a blind leap of faith and responded to an ad for a room on a property in rural Western Australia…and before I knew it I found myself living 2.5 hours away from Perth in a sanctuary of trees, on 42 acres of heaven…fruit trees, nut trees, gum trees, bamboo and not to mention all of the incredible stone fruit trees laying dormant waiting for their season to come!! Mother nature wooed me and wowed me, tantalising and terrifying me with her rawness, her simplicity, all the shades of light and dark, and all in all her pure freaking awesomeness.

She gave me everything I had been dreaming of, the afternoon siestas on the grass under a tree were blissful…but she also gave me so much I had not anticipated. She showed me that living in the country isn’t quite as romantic as I had imagined…but that real life in all its ordinary moments can be far more satisfying than any romantic dream I’d ever had. Life on what I lovingly have named my tree sanctuary gave me, myself and I the opportunity to spend a lot of time alone with mother nature listening to her wisdom.

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She showed me through the mulberry tree that abundance is simply a question of perspective…from one angle it might look like there is only one berry but look from a different angle and discover dozens of ripe deliciousness just waiting for you. Change the angle again and bingo there were dozens more! The macadamia nuts threw themselves on the ground around the tree showing me that it is much easier (for everyone!), if you can allow the sun to gently crack open your protective shell so the fruits of existence can fall from you..instead of requiring your outer shell to be violently ripped from you as you fight against the nature flow of life.

She showed me the sheer power of our thoughts as I watched the snake slither past my bedroom door just minutes after I’d felt the fear in my belly of seeing snakes, and the smoke of a distant bushfire settling in around the property just minutes after speaking of the bushfire season and the evacuation plan. The spider showed me the beauty & impermanence of life, spinning its beautiful web even though the weather would tear it apart day after day. The tall wise gum trees showed me the beauty of nakedness – allowing their bark to fall away as the shedding of old skin and revealing what lay beneath… and the trusty kelpie on the property showed me that really what all beings long for is to love and be loved…to play in the simplicity of this magnificent existence.

So then…did Mother Nature in all her wisdom help me make a plan? And figure out who I am? Nope not at all…did I figure out that actually I really do have something to show after all these years of travel..nope..well not in the realm of material belongings anyway…that is nothing except a few pretty skirts and some crystals 🙂

Instead what she helped me with was the letting go of all the ideas of who I thought I should be and to venture into the unknown with an open heart. She helped me day after day to remember to breathe into discomfort and fear…to not fight against it but to just feel it and let it move through me. But most of all she helped me to again connect with the place in the heart that is ‘home’, to live from this place of curiosity for life, this curiosity that allows the eyes to see from the heart…to see the freshness and wonderment in life in the most simple of moments. Really, what could be more precious than this? This is the real magic isn’t it?

When we open our hearts, and let go of the stories of who we think we are or should be or what the future should look like, and instead take the time to let our eyes really see what is standing before us as it really is, wonderment is revealed. It’s always been there, just waiting to be seen…waiting to be felt. During meditation my teacher Sahajananda invites us to allow our awareness to rest in the heart centre, and to feel the joy of meditation.. of ‘coming home into the heart. What does that feel like you ask? Words fail me now my friends…so I share with you photos of this journey through the trees… home into the heart.

Photography by: Lani Noble

Crooked Brook Forrest, Bunbury, Western Australia

October 2015