It’s something I used to fear, and now I crave.
When it happens, nothing else matters. And though the coming back can be difficult, my life is always different, and more spacious, on the other side.
My two latest experiences happened recently in India. The first time was in an ancient stone temple while sitting on a staircase. The second time happened while leaning up against a rock by the river.
You never know when it will happen. It cannot be forced, but you can set the stage for the experience. In fact, you must set the stage, and these days that can seem more and more difficult.
Here’s my personal story, and how it relates to all of us. This is a story of nothingness and everythingness, of the dance between disconnecting and reconnecting, and of balancing and harnessing the forces of stillness and action. And the importance of neutral.
Like many of us, my life is full to overflowing. Besides writing books and blogs I spend my days teaching and fostering leaders, helping to guide a business team of five plus amazing women, and handling lots of logistics. While I have the blessing of traveling often, usually the travel is for work, and I spend much of my time coordinating, holding energy, and teaching while I’m on the road.
So when I get the opportunity to totally let go, it always takes a while to unwind and surrender up my logical, take-care-of-others, coordination brain. Maybe you’ve had this experience: you have the weekend off or you are on vacation, but you spend the first day or three thinking about work or worrying about your kids or making lists of what you need to do. Where is the off switch on our brains?!?
It takes practice to let go. It takes a willingness to trust the universe, to trust yourself, and to carve out the space to surrender. And it is crucial.
Since I was not logistically responsible for the recent India journey (thanks Kayla!), and since I had been sick for a week before I arrived, it was easier to release the part of me that wants to control and direct and know. That is one great gift of illness; while your immune system is low, your brainpower is also diminished, allowing you to slip into the spaces between thoughts more easily.
And so there I was, sitting on a staircase across the path from an ancient stone mother goddess statue, slowly being erased.
First, thoughts dissolved and I felt a sense of peace as I rested into the moment with no dialogue. Then, my body went from form to particles and I felt myself floating, weightless. There was no more hard stone beneath me, and even though I was surrounded by people I was joyfully alone and expanded. Next, my sense of hearing shifted and the surrounding sounds of people talking, praying, coughing all disappeared, replaced by a silent hum in my heart.
I don’t know how long I was in this state when I felt a tug on my awareness, a sound far far away that hooked my attention. My formless self turned towards the sound and I felt myself being pulled up a long expanse of space, like being pulled on a sled at a fast speed up a snowy hill at night. Sounds coalesced into words, words into English. Two people in our group were talking loudly to my left. I opened my eyes, turned and looked at them until they felt my attention and stopped talking. I nodded and closed my eyes, plunging back into the stillness and dissolving again like a drop of rain in a pond.
One of the things about the mind that fascinates me is its ability to hold structure and form. I experience this most clearly at night. Because I travel so much I often wake up in a different hotel room or bedroom every three or four days. Even if I’ve only spent a couple of hours in a new space when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee I know exactly where I am and how to navigate to the bathroom in the dark. That my brain can map so many different places is truly astonishing to me.
And then there are the few days a year that I wake up and have no idea where I am. It usually takes a few seconds to remember as I’m coming out of sleep. Last year I woke up in a familiar bedroom in my sister Christy’s house, but I had no idea not only of where I was but also no idea who I was. It literally took me about two long minutes lying in the darkness to remember where I was and to reconstruct the dream of HeatherAsh. During that time I was like a newborn baby, simply feeling and taking in sensations without words or thoughts.
This experience in India was similar but different. When it was time for us to go the being that was HeatherAsh opened her eyes and looked around without any attachment to body, mind, or story. I felt peaceful, filled with love, and absolutely detached from both my personality and my body. For the rest of the day, I floated along, slowly reconnecting with language while witnessing the amazing wonder of HeatherAsh’s body eating, or walking, or lying down.
I think if someone had been monitoring my brainwaves they would have gone from erratic to flatlined, and then a slow, steady, soft beat, like someone who had a near-death experience and was waking up filled with visions of light and spirit.
Over the rest of the journey, I invited more people to step into stillness with me, to use fewer words and more heart. Our group got quieter, but also more exuberant, which is what I see happens when we let go of who we have structured ourselves to be. There is less to say, and more to celebrate.
And then I flew from India to New York and began the often intense process of integrating back into my life.
To step back into email, traffic, social media, and work piled up after being in another dimension, both physically and spiritually, is somewhat like hitting turbulence after hours of smooth flying. Noises are jarring, answering a simple email feels overwhelming. I spent a few days alternating between sleeping, taking long walks, and staring at my email / social media world without managing to take any action. My world felt shaky and unpredictable.
About a week back I knew it was time to step back into my current reality, and that I needed a reframe. I felt disconnected to my dream, and sluggishly unenthusiastic, which is highly unusual for me. (One of the women on my team recently wrote: when you see the word “Yay!” in the dictionary HeatherAsh’s picture is next to it.) I could find a spark when talking to others, and then it would ebb into nothingness, and a sense of lassitude. I missed the colors, sounds, and energy of India. I missed the ritual, the devotion, and the chaos. I missed who I was when I didn’t have to attend to screens and deadlines.
I spent a few hours pondering if I wanted to release my current life and become a wandering mystic, like the many naga saddhus I saw in India during the Kumbh Mela (which is the most important spiritual gathering/pilgrimage in India, somewhat of a cross between a gathering of religious leaders, a state fair, a rocking revival, and Disneyland). I could follow their example: cover myself in ash, let my hair grow out into dreadlocks, and wander barefoot from town to town.
Honestly, it was tempting.
But soon enough I remembered that my work is here.
The wandering saints and mystics of India have their part of creation covered. My part of creation is to share the wisdom gathered from my own explorations within and across this amazing planet of ours. And that takes the sometimes challenging work of integrating nothingness with everythingness, bringing the stillness into the noise.
And so I delved into exploring how to re-engage from love.
And here is the image that came to me.
Driving a car takes much of our energy and attention. If we spent all of our time driving in fifth gear going as fast as we can, soon enough we will run out of gas.
But so many of us drive trying to shift into a higher gear without the pause between, only to find the gears grinding and our engine stalling out.
In order to have a long-lasting, well-cared-for vehicle we need to put the clutch into neutral between gears. Neutral is the resting place, the effortless in-between where we re-connect with be – ing; no thoughts, no expectations, no struggles.
There are times we need to shift into neutral, turn the car off, and let go of the driving, the car, and even the landscape we are driving in.
Neutral is also the place where we connect with possibility, mystery, and the divine. Our foot is off the gas pedal, and we can rest into experiencing the foundation of our being, separate from any do – ing or striving or knowing.
And there are precious times when we come back from the emptiness of neutral and realize that we are no longer in the driver’s seat, but we are cruising along beautifully as a passenger while the Universe / Creator / Life / God / Goddess drives, winking at us and whistling a song only we can hear.
May you find your neutral, and rest into the faith to surrender the wheel and enjoy the scenery.
photo by Kayla McGee, Rishikesh January 2019
Want help finding neutral?
– Join me over the next 29 days in a daily meditation practice. Listen to this new moon meditation (ten minutes) and if you want to track your meditations download Insight Timer on your smartphone, friend me, and join the Warrior Goddess Meditation Circle group (all genders welcome; I’ll be changing the name of this group or creating a new one eventually.) My commitment this year is to meditation every day, and I’d love you to join me!
– If you are not part of Daily Sparks, sign up here. Our theme this moon cycle is “Divinity”
New Moon January 2019 Meditation