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Posts Tagged ‘out of body’

Spiritual Teachers: The Ojibway

Posted by Amanda Gray on November 30, 2011

(See Spiritual Teachers: Marc Baur for Part 1 of this series.)

On May 28, 2001, I moved from Vancouver to a small town in Ontario to live with my boyfriend.  We had lived together in Edmonton, before he moved to Ontario for work, and I moved to British Columbia to pursue my acting career.  Our relationship in Edmonton was marked with frequent and vicious arguments, but as we became a long distance couple, we became more loving and appreciative.  In our case, distance did make the heart grow fonder, yet eventually, we had to find out if we could survive in close quarters with each other again.  Would we get married?  Buy a house?  Have children?  Anything seemed possible.  Most importantly, we were both willing to try.

The kicker was that I had, unknowingly, developed a major clinical depression.  Although a small part of me hoped that true happiness was within the secure embrace of my boyfriend’s arms, my subconscious mind was trapped in a deep well of despair and – if you’d asked me then, I would’ve denied it – I really only wanted to close my eyes and sleep, like Sleeping Beauty, for a thousand years.  Stop the world, I’m getting off.  To disappear off the face of existence, that’s what I really wanted.

The most distinctive attribute of my depression was that it robbed me of energy.  Even a smile was a chore and required too much.  While I perfectly expected to sink into a lethargic pile of sludge on the futon for the rest of my days, life had other plans for me.  An opportunity arose for a ‘dream job’ as the reporter for the town newspaper.  I weighed the pros and cons, and against what may have been better judgement, I took the job.  Imagine the difficulty of attending every social event with a smile on my face, asking bright and brilliant questions like a fluttering butterfly, and putting together, at least, 5 fascinating and provocative articles every week, when I had little, or no, physical energy to do it.  It didn’t take long before I felt like I was becoming a farce.  A freaky fake that pasted on a smile when, just under the surface, not deep enough to be hidden from anyone with common sense, a grievous tornado of suffocation whirled.

I finally saw the doctor with a list of fifteen or twenty physical symptoms that I’d been experiencing.  He, very stupidly, told me that I needed to make some friends.  What did he think I was doing as the town reporter?  That day was the lowest point.  Contrary to my physical lethargy, my mind often raced, trying to figure out what I could do to fix my life.   But if the doctor couldn’t help me… maybe my life couldn’t be fixed… maybe I was better off dead.  As depressed and hopeless as I was, that wasn’t an option I’d seriously entertain.  So, like a zombie, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

That was when my reporting job offered me an opportunity to participate in an Ojibway pow-wow.  I met an aboriginal man named Marcel, who was one of the funniest, most energetically generous people I’d ever met.  The whole tribe was welcoming and gentle and they encouraged me and the attending group of high school students to dance in the pow-wow with them.  As a reporter, I was used to watching from the sidelines, and was comfortable with the chance to rest before I put my ‘smiley face’ back on, but something made me stow my camera under my chair, and join the dancing that day.  The drums pounded, the jingle dresses jingled, aboriginal voices sang loud enough to rumble the rain clouds in the sky.  My body moved, but I was disengaged, I felt nothing.  I was disappointed and confused by the experience.  Yet, it opened the door for another invitation from the Ojibway band.

I’d given my notice to quit at the newspaper, but there were still a few jobs I had to finish up.  First I had to interview Ra McGuire from the band Trooper and get an article into the paper before they played at the town street dance.  I’d always enjoyed their music and I was thrilled to talk to someone of his fame and stature.  Ra was generous and considerate, even when I made the mistake of attributing “Boys in the Bright White Sports Car” to them.  DOH!  I had just hung up the phone with Ra, feeling rather cock-sure of myself, when it rang again.  Marcel invited me to a sweat lodge.  Wow!  Another exiting experience!  Sure, OK!

I had no idea what a sweat lodge entailed, and I was very tempted to chicken out, but the new reporter, Shauna, had agreed to go with me, and her enthusiasm gave me an extra boost of courage.  Shauna and I met at a restaurant to have some wings before we drove out to the forest location.  While we ate, we chatted with the bartender, Dan, who had done a sweat lodge before, and he offered, what I later considered, to be a lifesaving tip: he advised that when the heat felt too intense, stay still.

I’ll quote from the article I wrote for the paper:

There were four men and four women and the sweat was to go four rounds.  Before we entered the small, round hut, I was given some instruction as to my conduct and what might be experienced.  The guide said I might feel some fear.  Since I’d never been afraid of the dark or ever had feelings of claustrophobia I immediately dismissed the idea.

Once we were all inside the lodge, hot stones, called Grandfathers, were brought in.  The ceremony began.  Sweet herbs were sprinkled on the stones, causing sparks and smoke as the burned.  Then the door to the lodge was closed and we were wrapped in complete darkness.  Water was brushed onto the Grandfathers and the temperature rose with the steam.  I began to sweat.

A song was sung, drums were pounded.  Then the first woman was invited to speak. In her native language, she spoke of her troubles.  She prayed to the Gods and Spirits to be strong and to bless her family and friends.  The others in the lodge listened and acknowledged her deepest revelations with short sounds of encouragement and understanding.  When finished, a second woman was invited to share her deepest thoughts, fears and prayers.

Another song was sung, more water was brushed onto the stones, and then the door to the lodge was opened.  A rush of fresh air was welcomed and so ended the first round.

I had experienced the first round with curious interest.  When the participants had spoken, I compared the sharing of feelings to an acting exercise I’d learned in a class once.  In the acting class I learned that when people unburden their feelings and know they’ve been heard, they feel great relief.

Two more Grandfathers were brought in, the lodge was sealed up, and so began round two.

Water was splashed; the heat rose.  Unexpectedly, I began to panic.  It was too hot.  I fidgeted madly.  What was this feeling?  I’d never felt fear like this before.  The lodge exit was all the way on the other side of the hot stones.  I considered that I’d have to run over people to get to the door and I tapped the woman next to me to alert her that something was wrong.  I couldn’t breath – I was afraid I was going to die.

The woman didn’t respond to my tapping.  No one was going to let me out!  Then I realized that my frantic fidgeting was drawing the cloying heat. I stilled myself and focused on breathing deeply.  My panic subsided.  I envisioned myself becoming one with the heat, drawing it into my lungs like a friend.  I willed my mind to be calm.  Sweat streamed profusely in narrow rivulets down my face and body.

What I didn’t put into my article was that, at the greatest point of panic, I left my body.  There was no light in the lodge, it was as black as coal, yet, suddenly I could see everything, as if glowing under a blue lamp.  I remembered Dan’s advice to stay still, and I watched my hand as I placed it firmly against the sandy floor.  I was calm.  I didn’t ‘will’ anything, I just became aware of my spiritual Self, and knew that I was safe, even if I died.

Oh, yes, and I forgot when I wrote the article… as a child, I had been afraid of the dark.  I slept with my blankets pulled tight around my neck every night so monsters couldn’t cut my head off.

Then it was my turn to share my thoughts.  First, I asked the Spirits for strength to get past my fear and my panic.  Then, like the three women before me, I shared my troubles and prayed for my relatives and friends.  I kept it short.  A song was sung, water was splashed, and the lodge door was opened.  I had survived round two.

I exited the lodge for a break.  Once I felt cool again, I returned.

As the time grew closer to the closing of the door, I began to question whether I could continue.  My fear was returning. I argued with myself.  Suddenly the lodge door was sealed and I panicked again.  I sat up and begged them to let me out.  What were these words coming out of my mouth?  Who was speaking?  Who was this coward?

Calmly, one of the men encouraged me to continue.  He advised me to think of the reasons I came to the sweat lodge and to pray for courage. I felt better and I lay on the floor where the heat was less savage.  For most of the round, while two men spoke and the songs were sung, I merely kept fear at bay. I remained still even as sweat ran into my eyes. I remember thinking of a grizzly bear, standing over me and then wrapping itself around me like a cloak.  It consoled me and its fur bristled against my skin.

When the fourth round finished, the lodge door was opened.  The steam was thick and the fire outside had burned low. My eyes couldn’t distinguish anything.  Then, slowly, as the fire was stoked and the steam cleared, my vision returned with astounding clarity.  The ceremony was ending with a final song and I felt infinitely connected to the solid earth, starry sky, and the flashing fire.  All the beauty of the universe struck me with a delirious thump.  I wept.

I don’t think the ‘beauty of the universe’ actually ‘struck me with a delirious thump’ (how poetic), I think I was just tremendously grateful to be getting the hell out of there!  The sweat lodge was my introduction to the spiritual realm.  I’d never prayed before, and certainly not out loud in front of a bunch of strangers.   I wasn’t sure any kind of God existed, let alone to refer to Him directly for assistance.  That was an entirely strange idea.

I’ll never know what made those Ojibway people invite my drowning, sorrowful soul to that spiritual gathering.  Did they somehow sense that I desperately needed their help?  That I needed a healing miracle of spirit?  Well, then they knew more than I did.  I had started to read some spiritual books, but it would still be a long time before I admitted that I needed to actively invite spirit into my life.

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Dreaming, Acting, Living

Posted by Amanda Gray on June 5, 2011

The most important point to understand about dreams is that all the characters and symbols are aspects of the dreamer. So when I dream about a boy – it’s me, a teacher – it’s me, a house – it’s me, a bear – it’s me, a jewelled necklace – it’s me, etc. If I cast myself as a jewelled necklace, what does the necklace say about me? Am I a sparkly, diamond necklace, or a dull, unpolished necklace? Did I steal the necklace, or was the necklace given to me as a gift? Every aspect of the necklace may be considered, and what I learn will shine light upon the particular fragment of myself that’s showing up as a jewelled necklace.

Dreams that are most common to me are ones where I’m performing in a theatrical play or in a film, or where I’m participating in an acting class. Sometimes I’m trying on costumes, or I’m auditioning for a part, or I’m observing other actors as they perform. Sometimes, in nightmares, I dream that it’s time to go onstage, and I suddenly realize, in terror, that I haven’t learned my lines and I have no idea what to do!

As I discussed my theatrical dream anxieties with my family this morning, we learned that we all have the same dreams, in slightly different forms. My Aunt dreams that she’s in school, but hasn’t prepared for an exam. My Mom dreams that she’s supposed to cook a meal, but doesn’t have any groceries in the fridge. Does everyone have the same complex? Does everyone harbour fears of the same impending disaster?  What do these dreams say about our lives?

Then I started thinking further about life as a play. Like Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Just as a dream at night is a microcosm of our ‘dream of life,’ so a play on a stage is a microcosm of our ‘play of life.’ I thought about how I’ve often judged the characters in the play of life, including myself, or times when I’ve judged the script, or the playwright (God). Then a number of questions arose in my mind:

  • Do I fear that I don’t know my part or my lines?
  • Am I afraid that it’s my fault that I didn’t study my part in advance?
  • Am I afraid to accept the part that was written for me? Am I afraid I’m unworthy of it?
  • Do I fear that the lead in Hamlet is too much responsibility for me?
  • Am I afraid that I’m unsupported by the other actors?
  • Am I afraid that I’ll make a mistake and ruin the whole play?
  • What if others find out I didn’t study my part? What if I’m a total fool in front of the entire audience?
  • Am I trying to control the play and the other characters?

Two of the most mystical experiences of my life happened when I was performing on stage. The first time, I was performing the lead role of Rose in the play “A Shayna Maidle” in theatre school. It was a short run, only 5 or 6 performances, and I realize now that I made the most mistakes on stage ever during that run. It was my habit to memorize my lines immediately, word for word, and so thoroughly that I rarely, if ever, called for a line during rehearsal. Yet, on the first performance of this show, on preview night in front of an audience of critics, I blanked, and had to call for a line. Since the Stage Manager was no longer ‘on book’ – we all had to wait an extraordinary length of time to get back on track. I was so embarrassed! On another night, I broke a ceramic lamp onstage and neglected to address the problem in the moment, by improvising some other way of turning on the light, or by taking the time to clean up. My acting teacher gave me heck after the show. He said that the audience expected me to ‘live’ in the moment of the play, and that I was cheating them if I ignored the moment, in favour of sticking blindly to the script. The mystical moment was when I had an ‘out of body’ experience – I found myself watching the show from the front row of the audience! I came off stage that night and complained to my teacher, “That was my most horrible performance ever!”

“No,” he said, “It was your BEST performance ever.”

“What? I wasn’t even THERE!”

“Yes, that’s exactly why it was so good.”

The second mystical experience was quite similar to the first. This time I was performing a monologue in a ‘contest’ for actors, models and singers. There was a judging panel and a full audience comprised of performers family members. Now that I think back, I remember that I also performed a song, and that the last note of the song was a horrible disaster. I can’t remember if the song preceded the monologue or vice versa, but never the less, about halfway through my 3-minute monologue, I left my body. I hovered high above myself, to the right side, and I became aware of this amazing energy. The energy was flowing out of ‘me’ toward the audience, and then, I could feel it flowing back to ‘me’ from them. I was fascinated with watching this energy flow back and forth. I remember seeing a lady with glasses sit forward in her seat, listening intently, and I remember looking down at my body, still doing its thing while I sojourned like a balloon in mid-air. Next thing I knew, I was finishing the last line of the monologue. I did as I was taught, to ‘throw and keep throwing,’ and then, I bowed my head and took a small step back. Suddenly, to my unbelieving surprise, the audience exploded with applause, cheers and hoots – more than I’d ever heard in my life! Apparently, when I’m not there – the body is an amazing actor!

Performing allowed complete control and safety. I knew the script, I knew the lines, everyone was going to do exactly what I expected them to do, and we were all going to do it the same way over and over, and over again. Within this perfect bubble of certainty, I didn’t feel afraid and could completely relax. I trusted the time and space inside the bubble, and I think that’s what allowed for those mystical out-of-body experiences.

What would it take for me to trust life in the same way? Must I have the same level of control? Must I have a perfect a script for every word I speak, or every action I perform? Do I have to ensure that everyone else is performing the same script? Must I automatically judge the ‘play of life,’ as it is, as inadequate and in need of my help? Do I have to become the playwright (God) as well as the actor? Yes, that is, exactly, what the ego would try to do.

What would happen if I didn’t judge the production? What if I didn’t have to control the play or the other actors? What if I just TRUSTED the playwright (God)? Even if it seems that I don’t know the play, or the lines, or my role, or every other actor’s role, do I really need to know? What if I could surrender my need to know? What if I allowed myself to drop my idea of the script entirely? What if I drop all the ideas of all the characters I would play? Could I simply improvise? And allow others to improvise? Could I allow the play to be written fresh in each moment?

Just as all the characters and symbols in my nightly dreams are aspects of myself, so all the characters and symbols of the play are aspects of myself. The stage – is me, the audience – is me, the candlestick and the mistletoe – is me, the other actor – is me. Is my fellow actor dressed as a Jesus or as an alcoholic? Do I invite him onto my stage to share the spotlight, or do I banish him off into the darkness of the wings? Could we both play the same part? Could we play the part so well, we stop acting? If we stop acting, could we wake up, entirely, from the play?

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