Lessons in Leh

Plenty has been going on in the last month and since I last posted my blog about sexual healing. In fact, as I sit here and contemplate what to write about today, I am astounded by all that I have done in one month!

Exactly one month ago I was taking part in the women’s awakening circle, which awoke a lot of shit buried deep in my psyche and in my soul. Thank you Kāli! It also stirred up a deeper connection into the feminine energy led world of Tantra which uses healing techniques such as full body massage to evoke pleasure and release. And I am talking FULL body people! I have confronted and understood the deeper effect of some painful sexual demons and begun to let them go.

Practically speaking, I have also survived a night bus to Manali (during which they gave out sick bags which made me MORE apprehensive, not less. It went unused chums). Within the next 48 hours, I survived (and actually mostly enjoyed) another 18 hour bus ride from Manali to Leh which began at 4AM on notoriously challenging mountainside roads. The only point I wasn’t really fond of was the second highest pass we went over during which time it felt like my nasal passages had collapsed making breathing rather difficult, and I had severe stomach cramps leading me to believe that shitting myself (once again on this trip) was possible.. The cramps could have been down to the altitude and/or the copious amounts of snickers and crisps I had eaten to pass the time.. Who can say? As a result of pondering on that experience I am, presently, of the view that I may have to stay in Leh permanently as the bus back down leaves at 7PM and drives along those same notoriously challenging roads in pitch black darkness and my ability to sleep soundly in moving transport has been compromised for many a year now, without that added stimulant… ).

Since arriving in Leh, I have spent significant hours in cars with my travel companions – a Kiwi, a Brit/Aussie and a Delhi native, being driven around the stunning Himalayan mountains and desert Ladakhi landscape to the Nubra Valley to see camels, the Disket monastery and a HUGE GLORIOUS BUDDHA facing Pakistan in a gesture of peace. We got seriously giddy at the highest road pass in the World – the Mighty Khardungla at 18380FT and even got shouted at by Indian tourists for not queuing for photos at the landmark which we ignored, and then photo bombed – highly ironic and amusing…in the altitude. Fleeing before insanity set in, we spent further hours whirling around winding mountain top roads and deep down through green, lavender filled valleys, with rushing streams of water, towards Pangong Lake – the most pristine and freezing cold lake I’ve ever dipped a toe and squealed in. We ate so many dark delight chocolate biscuits with the local Kawa tea that I have PTSD from even seeing the packet in the shops. We then travelled to and trekked part of the Sham Valley – walking past galloping Ibex, taking the wrong route at EVERY possible crossroad and unnecessarily climbing more hills, laughing, playing countless rounds of shit head and eating my body weight in vegetable pakoras, daal and rice and Parle G biscuits! A rather different pace to my hermit life thus far in India!

But now, in this moment, I am alone again in the sweet guesthouse in Leh. Yesterday, the three cool kids I have been on the aforementioned whistlestop tour of Ladakh with all finally departed for their next independent stage of adventure. I recalled old advice for backpackers that when people move on, you should too as it can feel more lonely for a solo traveller to be left behind. However, I am now more wisened from all this travel lark. And I have also done a lot of work on facing, witnessing and embracing my emotions through yoga and meditation and I do not feel the need to run away from emotions such as sweet sorrow but nor do I need to let sadness, worry and loneliness overwhelm me like perhaps it could in the past. Post holiday blues are horrendous (and this is the inevitable roller coaster of regular change when backpacking because mini adventures with awesome people end All. The. Time!) Actually though, the worst blues I have ever suffered was after a 5 day hen do in Marbella which broke me in every way to the extent that I cried at my desk in front of my then boss when I got back because I was so exhausted and probably still a little drunk! Ah, I’m such a loss to the Legal world….Anyway, those are stories of old. I am focussing on the present moment!

In my last post, I talked about my resistance to receiving pleasure, in particular sexual pleasure which relates to the sacral energy chakra, based at your reproductive organs. It is the power house of creative flow and energy within us all. It relates to receiving sexual pleasure but also to give and receive pleasure in general. The sacral chakra and sexual freedom and enjoyment is also closely linked to the root chakra, the earth, base chakra located at the base of our spine. If we are not firmly grounded in our right to be here, then we cannot then fully accept our right to receive pleasure, and allow life energy to flow fully into our bodies and into our lives.

This morning, I realised, again, how often I can block myself from receiving pleasure, and not just between the bed sheets. I went down to the kitchen in my guesthouse to get hot water for my porridge and herbal tea from Tering (spelt all wrong I suspect) the woman who runs the house with her family, including two children, big shaggy soft dog and her mother in law, Dolma (again probs spelt all wrong). Dolma has the cheesiest toothliest grin of a little old lady I have ever seen. She speaks no English but shouts ‘Jullay (the local greeting) with such joy I feel special every time. I feel we bonded particularly when I had to mime to her that someone had shat all over the shared bathroom…

So anyway, water and breakfast. I went down and she was frying momos for her husband. I tried not to get in the way of her in the small kitchen and boiled the kettle but she still managed to attend to the hob, and scold me for the way I poured water into my flask! (She’s only 6 years older than me!) She offered me mint tea as I waited for the kettle to boil – I said no. I didn’t want to be a bother, she was busy. As I poured my water (seemingly incorrectly) she served up her husband’s momos and then she offered me some. And I went to say no, again, but I realised that my attempts at being polite were restricting me from participating in this lovely moment and as you probably know, my belly rules it all, so I wasn’t going to say no to free veg momos! I sat in the little family living area as Dolma grinned at me and polished and dusted around me (that woman doesn’t stop moving) and I waited as my momos were fried off. Tering then brought me mint tea too – overruling my earlier awkward polite refusal.

Whilst munching on my momos, I took in my surroundings, sitting low on the day beds along the edges of the room, their tiny decorative china bowls and cups on display, alongside huge steel cooking pots – seriously so many that I can’t imagine how and when they are all used. I sat looking out of the little wooden windows through to the budding apricot trees, as the odd lone magpie flew past (yes, sorrow) and for 15 minutes I ate breakfast, drank tea, and watched this little family do its daily work, with the young son coming in and out (school holidays) and I drank in all of this experience. The momos were stodgy and delicious and not quite the healthiest start of the day!

After I had finished Tering drew me into conversation with her as she fried chapatis and I felt welcome, I felt at home, and I felt grateful for saying yes to this small, insignificant opportunity that again showed me how sometimes, I can hold myself back out of politeness, out of denial of pleasure, and that saying yes, that allowing people to take care of me, treat me, give to me, is still something I need to soften into.

There are many ways to deepen your insights into your self – to understand how and why you operate how you do in this turbulent and challenging world. And that is all a spiritual path is – it is about coming home to yourself, healing your particular traumas, blockages, accepting and learning to love your dark sides as much as your ‘strengths’, or socially approved behaviours and emotions. And it can happen deep in meditation or over a plate of momos for breakfast. All you have to do is become aware of your reactions, your feelings and the underlying needs.

With the absence of my dear departed companions, I have felt sad (yes, magpie), grateful and apprehensive about what comes next for me. These feelings have arisen based on my need for connection, inclusion and security. But in that moment of the momos my needs were met, and I know and I am reminded that the Universe always supports us, always guides us and that the ups and downs of emotions during travel reflect the ups and downs of emotions during life. Like the Himalayan mountains, once you have climbed, clambered, and sometimes wheezed your way up to the top and taken in a beautiful vista, you always have to come back down, sometimes skidding on your arse, before you climb your next ascent. Such is the mountains, such is life. Such are my lessons in Leh.

With love, Liz x

The unseen sexual twist of this spiritual tale…

I have often searched in the words, stories, experiences of others, teachers & friends, for comfort on this spiritual path. I was told during my first yoga teacher training that we each are unique and follow our own path. I was also told that the most important part of this process is to go within and listen to your own heart, to your inner guru, and that is the best guide in the darkness of the spiritual Unknown. I understood these words at the time. And I repeated them often to students, fellow teachers and friends. But until this trip away, this trip alone, this trip into myself, I didn’t quite understand or feel the whole truth in these words.

Yoga began for me much like it does for others – in the gym. Wanting a flatter stomach, less flabby bingo wings and a certified nap after exercising. And that’s what I got! And that can be as far as some people go with yoga in this life. And that’s good. It’s the first step on a healing journey to your heart (even if you don’t accept that, want that or feel that. It just is. Sorry!)

It has also been said to me that the best teachers teach what they heal within themselves, & they teach the people from where they came from. So for the last 3 years I have been motivated to teach Hatha yoga to help busy, breaking Western people, with stressful lives, careers, relationships, social engagements and toxic eating and environments, learn how to de-stress. To learn how to slow down. To learn how to breathe. I have also connected with women by and through teaching pregnancy yoga. And through all of these practices I developed more awareness and understanding of myself, as a teacher and as a woman. I am empowered by the wonder of a what a woman’s body can do, what MY body can do. I have snuggled babies and helped new mothers and witnessed the love, that unconditional love between them, that continued to melt the defensive shackles over my heart.

I began to get braver as I built community. I set up a studio, I formed alliances and I connected with women and men alike. And again, through this yoga, this union, I grew. I opened up to more and shared the power I felt of mantra, of chanting, of Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotional love) in kīrtans (devotional singing circles). I turned my fear of embarrassing myself into love and free expression. And the love within grew.

But this was all helping to clear the first layer of defence. The layer of trauma from my corporate compromise and illness. It was necessary to help me re-start my life and start off on this spiritual path.

Yogic practices began to take me into the pain and trauma of my childhood and into ancestral healing, feeling & acknowledging that our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, etc were only human, and could only do the best they could with the tools they had been provided with by their ancestors before them, and as a result of the karmas, and traumas they personally experienced in their body and soul. For me, 2015 was about forgiving the men in my life who had hurt me. 2017 was all about the women. It transpires that this trip has always been about discovering and healing the Great Feminine as I’ve followed the breadcrumbs of the Divine Mother’s trail. But I had no appreciation of the depth or wildness of this path when I left the UK.

They say the path to take is obvious but I remain unclear or unconfident in my ideas. I have stumbled so many times on this path, I have ignored my intuition, and I have felt isolated, alone and confused – for years! So I still doubt that I know best. My mind still undermines the burgeoning connection I have now with my heart. I have done two different yoga teacher trainings since I’ve been away and I was hopeful, desperate at times, that they would lead to an obvious role for me, back home, or anywhere! But recently as I’ve sat in the practices I love – Hatha, and Bhakti, I realised I was becoming less sure of what my next step is, of what my offering is. And again, in my recent śakti awakening women’s circle experience, I could see myself leading and offering that too, but this time, I just sat in the experience rather than wondering if it would lead to my next job title.

However, there is one thing I know for sure, I have always been a gobby feminist, whatever role I was performing so far this life. Recently, I remembered that in October 2015 my pregnancy yoga teacher pointed out that I had remarked in class that my purpose was to ‘serve women’. And I’d said this sincerely to the group but without giving myself the benefit of truly listening to myself, to my heart! I have always mothered my friends, cared for and cooked for them, and loved listening and offering advice to those who seek it from me. And my call to music, through my harmonium, is a new deep connection to the unconditional loving feminine energy.

Singing Kīrtan in India was the first time I truly paid attention to the different feelings in my heart and noticed in myself and in others that nothing felt more right to me and more connected than when I sang songs to the Divine Mother. I love the other Bhakti boys – Krishna, Śiva and Ganesa but my heart belonged to Ma. From that connection, I knew I wanted to explore the powers of the Tantrik Goddesses and delve deeper into the Bhakti yoga of love and Tantra, and it didn’t take long until I was guided to the playful sexual energy of the vibrant Goddess Lalitā. These goddesses, that I have begun to talk of like friends, are used as ways to understand and connect to the energy they depict. I do not literally dance with Lalitā but her sexual energy, the energy of pleasure, has begun moving through me when I sing to her and when I chant her name. This is known in the yoga world as a kundalini experience and it happens when the energy of the subtle energy body begins to rise up, up to connection with the Divine. And it is not easy for me to process that this is happening to me. Because I have never felt or contained this level of energy in my body before.

You see yoga will dig through the dirt, the layers of crap, to get to the root of your block, to the core of your defence to receiving the love of the Universe. And once you begin to move energy, once you commit to a disciplined practice of moving energy (which is what yoga asana, pranayama and meditation are all for), it will move where it needs to go. And you cannot control it. The reason I’m sharing this, the reason I’m taking so long to get to the point is because my spiritual path has reached a crux point. It’s reached its climax, unlike me.

Many of you may have heard of Tantra. It has been derided now as ‘sex yoga’. That may be, in part, because in the West, and probably the whole World, sex is no longer considered sacred or spiritual. Tantra, as a teaching, is about the total union of masculine and feminine energy in spiritual sexual connection to the Divine. As in Hatha yoga, we do not deny the needs of the body, of the human experience, but rather embrace the power within and work with the body, & cultivate sexual energy for spiritual connection. The rising of kundalini energy is the rising of sexual energy. The orgasm is the ultimate surrender. The ultimate devotion. The ultimate expression of love. And kundalini leads to spiritual orgasm.

But my story of not ‘being good enough’ has many layers of deep denial. And the main most frustrating and upsetting effect on my life so far has been my inability to have a ‘proper’ orgasm. To doubt my connection to my own body, and to believe I have been kept out in the cold because I don’t deserve the love and pleasure other people presumably access all the time (do you?!) I’ve also been blocked by sexual trauma in my female ancestral line, and by my own unhealthy, but consensual experiences. And it’s only now that I’ve begun to acknowledge and feel within me the repressed anger and pain at sexual violence, repression and slavery of women, of women I know and love, but also of my sisters, of the women of this World.

There came a point in my time away when I realised I was going to have to finally confront this issue, for myself, but also to talk about it, share it and, perhaps one day teach about this! Because it is my healing path, and because I now understand that sexual and spiritual release are the same thing. And I was mortified! Not only do my mother and father read my blogs, but so do some ex-lovers, my best friends, and detractors. And yoga, my great saviour yoga!, was leading me to this point, of total, unhindered honesty and vulnerability about sexual pleasure, or the lack of it. And I’m British. We DON’T talk about sex!!!!

But this is the power of the Great Feminine and my story is part of the repression of female power, expression, & pleasure as a result of the patriarchy. It’s also because of poor choices I made as a young woman exploring her body and her urges, and saying yes when I really meant no. No, I just want love. I’m not ready for this. But my mind, my desire for social inclusion, my lust and reckless abandon, and my lack of love for myself motivated my active decisions. I was, and have been complicit in all the unsatisfying sexual encounters I have had. But there have been some good ones too.

I have also held this misunderstanding that in sexual negotiation, there’s a trade off sometimes – that you keep your man happy and that’s our obligation as the female in the relationship. And I’m not alone in somehow along the way inheriting that belief. I watched this TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/peggy_orenstein_what_young_women_believe_about_their_own_sexual_pleasure/up-next) which surveyed young women in the US who also felt and acted on this basis. As a result, I have suffered from a huge disconnect from my own sexual power, yearning and expression and so it seems have many other women and younger women. And this is why, this is WHY, I have finally decided I have to share my secret. And I have decided not to believe this is shameful, or that there’s something wrong with me but to instead embrace my vulnerability and belief in the strength of community. To trust you, dear Reader, to hold space for me as I heal and as I continue to test my theory that the power of honesty opens up cracks of light into conversations that we should be having together, mums and daughters, sisters, friends, fathers and sons, brothers – because no one benefits when we humans are unable to understand ourselves, our bodies, & our needs. It’s no wonder really that we live in an unequal society and what feels sometimes like a broken World.

I once worked in the Legal World which is a microcosm of the patriarchy. It is one of the oldest boys clubs. During my 9 years there, it felt to me that in order to be a powerful woman you have to behave like a man. Just think of Margaret Thatcher, our first female Prime Minister, the original ball-breaker. Be ruthless, be loud, take action. Don’t feel, certainly don’t cry and don’t consider taking too much time off if you have babies. Get back on the emails after that last push out, and be PROUD of that! Since leaving that world, and being nuzzled in the yoga world, I have begun to understand and appreciate the differences between masculine and feminine energy, strength and power. BOTH are needed. BOTH are felt and expressed differently, and that they also appear in men and women to different degrees of manifestation – to coin patronising patriarchal language from my culture – some women are more like ‘tom-boys’ and some men are more like ‘sissies’.

From sitting in and sharing my vulnerability and sensitivity, I have discovered strength in that honesty and I have provided others with the strength to acknowledge their pain, suffering or unhappiness. And that’s the start of effecting change. Just becoming aware of yourself, of your heart, of your suffering, of whether you are really compromising your truth to fit in the box that the patriarchy crafted for us all, men or women. Because this denial of feminine energy limits and punishes men too. Male colleagues were even less likely to show, & admit emotion and sensitivity (which is a human energetic process) and potentially be even more judged if they wanted to take time off to care for their newborn, rather than sweat long hours at the coal face with the other Real Men.

In order for me to progress further on my spiritual path, I have had to face the good, bad and ugly sides of me. To truly begin to acknowledge and feel the repression of myself, of my denial of the right to feel and receive pleasure. And realise that this has suffocated my self esteem, strength and light so that I’ve never truly stepped into all that I am as a Woman. That I do not trust men, I do not trust God and I do not yet trust myself to relinquish control and let the waves of love, of ecstasy take me over, whether that be in bed with a man, or in bed with my māla (prayer beads in case you thought this was some kind of vibrational device).

And so I continue to share this sexual truth, despite the shame colouring my cheeks and the fear swirling in my guts. Why? Because for the last few months I’ve been testing the waters with my truth, telling the odd yogini friend my suspicions that I have unexplored sexual territory. And many of them, single or married, also shared the same sexual suspicion. I sat in the circle of 6 women last week and introduced myself AND my suspicions straight off the bat. And do you know what? Other women felt the same as me too. So we could then discuss it. Release this secret into the ether and know we were not alone. And begin to share ideas on how to embrace this energy, how to improve upon our own individual experiences of feminine sexual energy and how to raise that for the benefit of the collective consciousness.

So this is why I’m facing my fear and talking about what feels like my biggest taboo. And this was not what I foresaw happening when I first stepped on to a yoga mat! I would have legged it had I known then what would unravel with each downward dog, and each OM. And I’m only beginning to heal this fear. I have circled it, I have begun to listen to it, to feel it and to understand why I have this blockage within me and begun to cultivate the belief that I do not have to be bound by it. God is showing me my body can handle her love, her energy, when I am ready to surrender to it. I am staring right at my fear, I see the game I am playing. And I have begun to scream and release generations of pain. I am doing the practices that keep my heart open, and I am praying to the Divine to help me continue to surrender this huge block both on my sexual path and spiritual path – because they are the same thing. For me. On this unique path of mine!

I believe I will overcome this block. I am ready to believe in more for myself and for us all. I believe there will be a re-balancing of feminine values and energy because if it can happen within me, it can happen in my World too. I believe that by sharing this secret, I will help diminish the stigma around sex and women seeking and demanding their right to pleasure too. That one by one, day by day, women will rise in confidence, in their power, in their primal sexual energy and begin to take their place more fully in this World, with men, alongside men and for men too. I am not an angry feminist. I do not blame men for my shackles. They are my shackles to break along this path, to learn from, and to share so that my sisters can break theirs too. We need to share the truth of our repression. That we do not claim or stand in our full power in the patriarchy and we need to acknowledge that this repression affects us all – men and women and that it also affects our daughters, sisters, friends and lovers on such a micro but devastatingly primal level as what happens between the sheets.

In faith in love, I embrace another fear of mine, and I release myself by sharing it with you. And I pray to our Mother to be released further into love.