Saturday, 16 January 2021



Handfasting is a marriage unity ritual that has been used during weddings for centuries. Like many other unity rituals, such as unity candles or sand rituals, it represents the combination of two people coming together to create a new singular entity. A couple joins their hands together and they are wrapped with a ribbon or cord. If done in the traditional way, as the couple separates their hands, they literally tie the knot (hence the origin of the phrase), and are joined together in their commitment to each other.

Handfasting is gaining popularity, but it isn’t a ceremony commonly seen in traditional Western or Christian-centric weddings. While it has Celtic origins, it is a ritual that has largely only been used by Pagans and Wiccans since the 1960s.  But it isn’t a ritual just for those that identify as Pagans, Wiccans, or witches. Anyone can take part in this meaningful and visually beautiful ritual.

So Where Did the Practice of Handfasting Come From?

When the term was first used in rural Scotland, two people would form a contract by joining hands. Back when most people lived in small rural villages, you might not always have access to a government or religious official who could oversee your marriage. In some Pagan groups, you also might not have the same hierarchy of religious figures as we see with ordained ministers and priests in Christianity. The ritual of handfasting was accessible to all, and still held the same weight, validity, and importance as any of our modern-day ceremony practices.

The Ribbon or Cord You Choose Is Up to You

It’s fun to add a personal flare by selecting or creating a ribbon or cord that is meaningful to you and your partner. You can use a fabric strip from an old family heirloom, a ribbon in a colour that has meaning to you, or have one made with a clan tartan.  The possibilities are endless and you can make it as personal as you like.

Your Guests Are All Treated as Equals

In more traditional handfasting ceremonies, guests are encouraged to form a circle around the couple. This is a common practice with most Pagan rites and rituals, and any clockwise movement in a circle is considered positive (deosil), while counter-clockwise movement is considered negative (widdershins).

You can also have your guests call the elements or directions.  I will write about both at a later date.

Having your guests form a circle means that there are no sides, no front seats, no back seats, and no spots reserved specifically for family. Your guests are all seen as equals in this ceremony, and are all there with the express purpose of supporting your union. Guests are also usually encouraged to join hands while in the circle, which, as a bonus, helps keep them focused and off their phones.

Whether Your Handfasting Ceremony Is Legal Is Up To You

People often ask whether or not handfasting is a legally binding wedding ceremony ritual. The answer is, “maybe”.  It depends on the type of handfasting ceremony you have.

Handfasting can absolutely be a part of a legally-binding wedding ceremony led by a certified officiant or wedding celebrant. It can also be a non-legally-binding commitment ceremony, and there a few reasons why that’s really awesome.

Handfasting has long been used as a tool to unify couples that have been denied access to legal marriage. Since its origins, it has often been used as a self-uniting practice, and we love that it takes the definition of love and marriage out of the hands of a governing body and rests it squarely with the couple, much like Quaker ceremonies do.

Handfasting Can Be As Secular or As Religious As You Want

While handfasting does have Pagan roots, it does not require you to reference any religious entities or works, and therefore is a great option for non-religious couples, or for couples who have a lot of non-religious family or guests. It can also be great for interfaith couples, as it is a neutral ceremony that doesn’t focus on any single religion over another.


Saturday, 11 July 2020

Time for Niyamas

The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:

Saucha: purity

Santosha: contentment

Tapas:  self-discipline, training your senses

Svadhyaya: self-study, inner exploration

Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender 

Saucha: includes outer purity of body as well as inner purity of mind. Saucha in yoga is on many levels, and deepens as an understanding and evolution of self increases.

Shaucha, or holistic purity of the body, is considered essential for health, happiness and general well-being. External purity is achieved through daily ablutions, while internal purity is cultivated through physical exercises, including asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques). Along with daily ablutions to cleanse one's body, the concept of Shaucha suggests clean surrounding, along with fresh and clean food to purify the body. Lack of Saucha, such as letting toxins build in body are a source of impurity.

Shaucha goes beyond purity of body, and includes purity of speech and mind. Anger, hate, prejudice, greed, pride, fear, negative thoughts are a source of impurity of mind. The impurities of the intellect are cleansed through the process of self-examination, or knowledge of self. The mind is purified through mindfulness and meditation on one's intent, feelings, actions and its causes.

Santosha: contentment, accepting one's circumstances, an attitude of contentment, one of understanding and accepting oneself and one's environment and circumstances as they are, a spiritual state necessary for optimism and effort to change the future.

Yoga Darshana defines contentment as the inner state where, "exists a joyful and satisfied mind regardless of one's environment, whether one meets with pleasure or pain, profit or loss, fame or contempt, success or failure, sympathy or hatred.

In broader terms, Santosha is rooted in the desire to avoid anything negative to self, to others, to all living beings and to nature. It is not the state of abandonment or being without any needs, rather the state of neither taking too much nor taking less than what one needs, one of contended optimism. It is the habit of being able to accept circumstances one finds self in, without being upset, of accepting oneself, and of equanimity with others who are balancing their own needs as they share what they have. Santosha is also abstaining from taking and consuming something to excess, even if its appearance makes it tempting.

Tapas: includes self-discipline, meditation, simple and austere living or any means of inner self-purification. It is a means for perfection of the body and the organs through the lessening of impurities" and a foundation for a yogi’s pursuit of perfection.

Svadhyaya: One form of Svadhyaya is mantra meditation, where certain sound constructs with meaning are recited, anchoring the mind to one thought. This practice helps draw the mind away from outward-going tendencies, silencing the crowding of thoughts, and ultimately towards inward feeling of resonance. It can alternately be any music, sermon, chant, inspirational book that absorbs the person to a state of absorption, trance, unifying oneness.

Svadhyaya is practiced as a self-reflection process, where one silently meditates, in Asana, on one's own behaviors, motivations and plans. Svadhyaya is, in a sense, for one's spirit and mind a process equivalent to watching one's body in a non-distorting mirror. This self-study, in Yoga, is not merely contemplation of one's own motives and behaviors, but also of one's circumstances and the environment one is in, assessing where one is in one's life, what is one's life direction, if and how desirable changes may lead to a more fulfilling Self.

Ishvara Pranidhana: The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana means that if we are able to completely surrender our individual ego identities to God (our own higher self) we will attain the identity of God. If we can dedicate our lives to serving the God that dwells within all other beings, human and non-human alike, we will move beyond all feelings of separateness. If we can say without reservation, “I give You myself: my body, my mind and my heart, to do with as You best see fit,” then we will be freed from the stress, anxiety, self-doubt and negative karma that arises from our reliance upon our egos to determine which actions we take in our lives.

Ishvara Pranidhana will help to cure the afflictions of the mind that cause pain and suffering, as it is designed to redirect our energy away from our selfish desires and personal dramas, and towards the ultimate pursuit of Oneness. So important and powerful is this practice, that Patanjali gives instructions for it on four separate occasions in the Yoga Sutras. And while it is the simplest and most direct method to attain yoga, it is not necessarily an easy practice, or even an attractive option to some.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Yamas an Niyamas - and More

The yamas and niyamas are yoga’s ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of an eightfold path. They’re like a map written to guide you on your life’s journey. Simply put, the yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. Together, they form a moral code of conduct.

Before I go into great detail about each of the yamas and niyamas, it is important to know more about yoga in general.  The practice of yoga is much more than going to the studio once or twice a week and practising yoga poses.  There is a philosophy behind each move and a belief system that governs the way to act and think.  These are called Sutras (or “threads”).  The Yoga Sutras, compiled more than 1,500 years ago by the Indian sage Patanjali, are the foundation of yoga as we know it today. In fact, they are the thread that connects the various schools and lineages of yoga.  In the sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of yoga, the eightfold path of spiritual growth and self-discovery. These limbs are ethical guidelines on how to live a vibrant, meaningful life, and they are just as relevant to contemporary practitioners as they were to the seekers back in the time of Patanjali.

Asana (yoga postures) is arguably the most well-known of the limbs, but it’s only a part of the story, for this path offers so much more. Each of the eight limbs addresses a different aspect of our being, and together they act as a road map to what is called “yoga off the mat.”

The eight limbs are:
1. Yama: character-building restraints
2. Niyama: character-building observances
3. Asana: physical postures
4. Pranayama: breathing
5. Pratyahara: inward sensing
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: absorption
8. Samadhi: oneness

So, let’s begin with the yamas.

The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:

Ahimsa: nonviolence.   It implies the total avoidance of harming of any kind of living creatures not only by deeds, but also by words and in thoughts.  Here are ten ways to practise ahimsa in our daily life.
1.       Eat a healthy and plant-based vegetarian diet.
2.       Cultivate positive and loving thoughts.
3.       Make sure not to skip meals and sleep.
4.       Be a calm driver.
5.       Care for our earth and the ecosystem.
6.       Practise your yoga poses regularly, not obsessively.
7.       Just let it go.
8.       Resolve conflict by peaceful measures
9.        meditation.
10.   Get involved in non-violent efforts to spread peace.

Satya: truthfulness. The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘true nature’. It also means something that is pure and unchangeable. ‘Sat’ also means ‘that which exists’, ‘that which has no distortion’, ‘that which is beyond time, space and person’, and it also means ‘fact’ or ‘reality’.
Being truthful isn’t just as simple as about being truthful in words. Satya is total commitment to truth— in being, in words, in actions, in intentions. The practice of this second yama of Satya requires deep understanding, a lot of awareness, and a delicate balance of honesty.  Basically truth is not what we speak, but who we are.  

Here are five ways to practise Satya in our daily life.

1.       Be genuine and authentic.
2.       Speak the truth.
3.       Nurture relationships with skillful practice of Satya
There is a beautiful Sufi saying:
“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true?
At the second gate ask, ‘Is it necessary?
At the third gate ask, ‘Is it kind?”
4.       Find the purpose in your life.
5.       Work at your own level and honour where you are each day without any judgments and opinions.

Asteya: non-stealing.  But at the deepest level, Asteya means not hoarding materials you don't need, mindlessly consuming natural resources, coveting other people's possessions, or appropriating other people's ideas, wasting other people’s time.

Here are some modern day ways to practise Asteya. 

1.       Write short, concise, elegant emails.
2.       Think before you reach out for help.
3.       Consider not speaking.
4.       Show up on time.
5.       Don’t commit to projects you have no desire to complete.
6.       Make it easy for people to help you.
7.       Make it easy for people to understand you.

Brahmacharya: non-excess (often interpreted as celibacy).  Literally, Brahmacharya translates as “walking in God-consciousness.” Practically speaking, this means that Brahmacharya turns the mind inward, balances the senses, and leads to freedom from dependencies and cravings. Yogis tell us that when the mind is freed from domination by the senses, sensory pleasures are replaced by inner joy. 
How can we apply Brahmacharya today?

In most cases, mindfulness and moderation are key to pursuing the “right use of energy.” Brahmacharya is about paying attention to how you use your energy in everyday life. It’s about providing your mind and body with what it needs – and enjoys – without going to a place of excess.

1.       Listen to your body.
Paying attention to what your body is asking for will naturally lead you toward brahmacharya. What does that look like in practice? Eating when you’re hungry, but not stuffing yourself. Resting when you’re tired, but not lying in bed all day. Exercising regularly, but not overtraining.
2.       Set limits.
Sticking to limits can also help us apply brahmacharya in daily life. For example, professional accomplishment is an important source of fulfillment for most people. But working excessively leads to burn out, so we need to set work/life boundaries.
Similarly, some amount of social media use can be beneficial. But we need to limit our time on it, so it doesn’t become excessive and mindless or move us away from our true selves. Using an app to connect with old friends is consistent with brahmacharya; scrolling through other people’s photos for hours on end is not.
3.       Look for balance.
Finding moderation can also mean striking a balance. For example, spending time alone and spending time with others can both be considered right uses of energy. But we need both. If you only do one or the other, instead of finding moderation, you won’t be getting everything your mind and spirit needs.

Aparigraha: freedom from greed, possessiveness, or covetousness. The following are ways we can incorporate Aparigraha in our everyday life.

1.       Let It Go. Possessions take up space and energy—in your head as well as in your home. So try this: Every time you buy something new, let go of something old—give it away, or toss it out. By letting go of things from the past, you can live more fully in the present.
2.       Breathe. When we get stressed out, we tend to hold our breath. This makes us even more anxious. Release the breath and allow it to flow fully and deeply. Then you will feel more relaxed, open, and spontaneous.
3.        Self-Care. When we are afraid and insecure, we may feel a need to cling to and control those who are closest to us. That rarely works. Instead, find ways to nurture and center yourself so that you feel independent and strong in your own right, and can allow others to be who they need to be.
4.       Be Positive. When we cling to negative thoughts, emotions, or memories, we spiral into destructive habit patterns. By replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, and by remembering your mantra, you create a harmonious space for yourself and others.
5.       Forgive. Let go of painful memories from your past. Free yourself by offering forgiveness to those who have hurt you and to yourself.
6.       Practice. Sometimes we try so hard to be perfect—in our asanas, meditation, contemplation—that we miss the essence of practice. Do your best and then remember to release—physically, mentally, emotionally. Let go and stay open to guidance from within.
7.       Be generous. Expand your capacity to stretch yourself. Share your time, your energy, your knowledge, your attention, your connections. Donate. Volunteer. Give in whatever way you can.

 I will write about the Niyamas at another time.  So stay tuned.

Monday, 27 January 2020


As a learning Reiki practitioner and a yoga enthusiast I have become very interested in chakras. According to, "the Sanskrit word Chakra literally translates to wheel or disk. In yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda, this term refers to wheels of energy throughout the body. There are seven main chakras, which align the spine, starting from the base of the spine through to the crown of the head. To visualize a chakra in the body, imagine a swirling wheel of energy where matter and consciousness meet. This invisible healing energy, called Prana, is vital life force, which keeps us vibrant, healthy, and alive."


Muladhara (literally, “root support”) is located at the base of the spine. It is often depicted as a red four-petal lotus, and it’s connected to the earth element.

Muladhara governs what are considered the four primal urges: food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation. Its energetic function is to help us maintain a sense of groundedness and inner stability.

Root chakra affirmation: “I am connected to the earth. I am strong and I am stable.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- ROOT LOCK:   The root lock, or Mula Bandha, is defined by B.K.S. Iyengar as "a posture where the body from the butt to the navel is contracted and lifted up and towards the spine." It is a technique used not only in asana practice, but in pranayama and meditation as well.

- poses that strengthen the legs, feet, and pelvic floor

- the yamas and niyamas (more about the yamas and niyamas later)


Svadhisthana (literally, “her own abode”) is located at the pelvis. It is often depicted as an orange lotus with six petals, and it’s associated with the water element—fluidity, adaptability, creativity, emotions, sexual energy, and the unconscious. The second chakra’s energetic function is to help us regulate our emotions and desires, so as not to be driven by them.

Sacral chakra affirmation: “I am a creative being with unlimited potential.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- hip-opening poses

- forward folds


Manipura (literally, “city of jewels”) is located at the navel center. It is commonly depicted as a downward or upward-facing red triangle, and it’s associated with the fire element. Having a strong inner fire (agni) can help us digest not only our food, but also our life experiences.

Energetically, manipura’s function is to optimize our personal power so that we can navigate our lives with strength and determination. Manipura gives us the confidence we need to process and eliminate what does not serve us, and to let it go.

Navel chakra affirmation: “I am confident, powerful, and I can handle anything.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- core work

- twisting poses


Anahata (literally, “unstruck”) is located at the heart center. Anahata is typically depicted as a green six-pointed star surrounded by 12 lotus petals. On a spiritual level, it’s said to be the home of the higher/infinite, “unstruck” or indestructible self. Anahata is associated with the air element, and with emotional qualities such as peace, love, and openness. Energetically, anahata helps us tap into unconditional love.

Heart chakra affirmation: “Give love to receive love, and be love.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- chest stretches

- backbending poses

- kirtan (more about kirtan later)


Vishuddha (literally, “to purify”) is located near the base of the throat. It is often depicted as a blue downward-facing triangle inside a lotus with 16 purple petals. Vishuddha is associated with the element ether, or “space” (akasha), and with speaking one’s truth. Its energetic function is to help us find authentic self-expression.

Throat chakra affirmation: “I speak my truth. I live my truth.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- lion

- shoulder stand

- ujjayi breath (more about ujjayi later)

- expressive, devotional arts such as kirtan


Ajna (literally, “command center”) is located between the eyebrows. Represented by a transparent lotus with two white petals, it’s considered to be the seat of the mind, of conscious and unconscious awareness. It is not associated with any element, as this chakra is considered “beyond” the physical elements. It is held to be the center of intuition, vision, prophecy, imagination, inner knowing, and self-assurance. The energetic function of ajna chakra is to help us learn to know ourselves: emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Third-eye chakra affirmation: “I am open, intuitive, and self-assured.”

Yoga practices for connecting with this energy center:

- meditation

-  nadi shodhana (more about this later)


Sahasrara (literally, “thousand-petal lotus”) is located just above the crown of the head. Said to be the doorway into pure consciousness, it is often depicted as a thousand-petal lotus with a pinkish aura, and it is not associated with a physical element (as it too is considered to be beyond the elements). Sahasrara serves as a way of connecting to divine energy and is associated with our highest self. Sahasrara helps us function in a more enlightened way, cultivate self-mastery, and find a sense of connection with all.

Crown chakra affirmation: “I surrender to the wisdom of pure consciousness.”

Yoga practice for connecting with this energy center:

- meditation.

- the yamas and niyamas

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

40 Blog Ideas for 2020

It’s the last day of 2019 and I want to wish everyone a very Happy and Prosperous New Year.  And I also want to complain and apologize just a bit.  I haven’t kept up this blog as much as I have wanted to and I am sorry for that, but writing a blog is hard!  Coming up with new ideas, and being witty and informative is tough.  So, I have decided to put together a list of potential topics to write, post the list, and proceed to write weekly about a topic on the list.  So, here’s the list and a big thanks to many many other bloggers out there who have shared their lists.  I have used some of their ideas and added some of mine.

Bonnie’s 2020 List of Blog Ideas

1.       People who have had the biggest impact your my life
2.       The thing that refreshes your soul
3.       Your greatest wish.
4.       How your faith/spirituality has changed over the years.
5.       The legacy of your parents/grandparents/brother/sister.
6.       When a spouse doesn’t share your ideas.
7.       Biggest struggles you’re facing
8.       Date night ideas.
9.       Your quiet time routine.
10.   Your bucket list.
11.   Most difficult lesson to learn.
12.   What newlyweds should know.
13.   Funniest things to happen at a wedding.
14.   Favourite song and why.
15.   The biggest myth about Christmas.
16.   Something you learned from a child.
17.   How you forgave the unforgiveable.
18.   What you struggle with most.
19.   What song you want played at your funeral and why.
20.   The power of being silent.
21.   How to get out of a personal/creative funk.
22.   Things you learned from your dog.
23.   Breaking fear issues.
24.   What would you love to learn how to do.
25.   How to travel on a budget.
26.   The joy of rescuing an animal.
27.   Grandparenting.
28.   How to be a real and true friend.
29.   Weight and diet issues.
30.   Food.
31.   Ghosts, are they real?
32.   Bacon.
33.   Recipes that will blow your mind.
34.   Cheese.
35.   Best of Twitter.
36.   Write a thank you note to a thing (like coffee or chocolate)
37.   Write a review on something you just read, saw, did.
38.   Write a how-to on something you’re good at or not.
39.   Why you’re not giving up a bad habit.
40.   A little bit about the town you grew up in.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Walking the Mystical Path With Practical Feet

I came across this piece by cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien and it resonated with me. So I thought I'd share it here.  It's long, but worth the read.

Walking the Mystical Path With Practical Feet
by Angeles Arrien

Thirty years ago, I began doing workshops that I titled “Walking the Mystical Path With Practical Feet”, as a way to address the illusion many of us have, that the internal and external worlds can only be lived or experienced separately. It was my hope, as it is now years later, that we can dissolve the artificial splits or separations that we have created between work and family; personal and professional; mind and heart; body and spirit; internal and external, just to name a few of the primary dualities. Ken Wilbur reminds us in his work, “The Holographic Paradigm and other Paradoxes” that “The transcendental essence of the great religions had as its core the notion of advaita or advaya, non-duality.”

This article attempts to address the universal processes or life experiences which drive us toward wholeness of being (our natural state); and offers us ways we can hold paradoxes, rather than move into isolation, polarity, or separation, when we face changes or transitions in our lives.

The one consistent exercise that each human being faces worldwide is change. We know
all the ways we resist or attempt to control change, but how can we instead embrace change or partner with it?

The Inuit people have a wonderful saying, “There are two plans to be honored every day: my plan and the Mystery’s plan.”

How can we equally value, hold, and make space for both plans to co-exist everyday? How can we become change masters, a term originated by Rosabeth Moss Kanter? A change master approaches change as an adventurer, explorer, or discoverer. Research indicates that most of us will finally change under two exaggerated conditions: either we cannot stand or tolerate the situation, issue or circumstance any longer, so we will change; or we want to experience something that has such a passion for us that we will go for it, no matter what it takes. Both of these are extreme motivational processes.

Change masters instead face and understand change as a natural daily process that creates constant openings for growth, learning, and psycho-spiritual development. Human beings are deeply imprinted to change and evolve. Every culture in the world recognizes this deep imprinting in that it ritualizes four major life changes, birth, initiation, marriage and/or relationship commitments, and death. Change masters honor, track and stay vigilant to these changes every day. They recognize and look for what is new or emerging in all situations (birth); they capture the learning of each day (initiation); they notice where things come together or fall into place to create a greater whole (marriage/integration/mergence); and they register what was completed, released, or ended (death).

All four processes occur daily as the “Mystery’s plan” to help us develop both internally and externally. Change masters align their plan to the Mystery’s plan; and they also recognize that each of these four processes are daily taking place internally––mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Consider the multiple mental, emotional and spiritual births, initiations, marriages/ mergence/ integrations, and deaths that are taking place daily, monthly, and yearly within us that often trigger or mirror external changes and transitions. We are constantly changing, evolving creatures. It is one of life’s great mysteries. Our challenge is to befriend our evolutionary nature, and become a change master, as we partner with change on a daily basis. This is essential as we face economic, environmental, political, racial and religious issues worldwide.

At this time in history, humanity is undergoing not only a death rebirth process, but also a global initiation. Collectively, at some level, all of us know that we are being initiated into a new world. The Dalai Lama reminds us of the motivation we must carry as we go through the initiation:
“We must have a pure, honest, and warm-hearted motivation, and on top of that, determination, optimism, hope, and the ability not to be discouraged. The whole of humanity depends on this motivation.”  The two great paths in which we must hold this motivation and determination externally, is in work and relationships; and the two paths internally, are in those that cultivate love and wisdom. Integrating both the external and internal paths is “walking the mystical path with practical feet”.

Human beings are essentially here for two purpose––to learn about and express love, and to create. The Persian poet Rumi captures both in this line, “Let the beauty of what you love, be what you do.”

We learn about love in all our relationships. We are not only constantly creating mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially; but in all that we manifest in our work, creativity, service, and communities.

Kahlil Gibran reminds us that, “Work is love made visible.”

In our relationships and work, we constantly have the opportunity to align with and express the inherent goodness and creativity that resides in every human being. It is always just a choice away. Gandhi modeled and taught an important leadership principle that fostered goodness. He states that, “power, privilege, and position are great resources. Use them well. Do not become attached to them, for when we do, we begin to lose our moral fiber.” Gandhi’s statement can serve us well in staying liberated and fully expressive in a meaningful way in all sectors of our life; as we cultivate love and wisdom in our work and relationships.

Since we are so familiar and responsive to the external experiences that our work and
relationships ignite, it is important to address what Gandhi calls our moral fiber. Our values, basic character, wisdom nature, quality of heart, dreams, and interior development contributes to our moral fiber. In order to develop our interiority to the degree we attend to our external experience, we must simultaneously integrate two internal journeys. One is the archetypal vertical journey of the descent and ascent in which we reclaim the authentic self and release the false self. The other journey is horizontal, twining the two threads of our internal and external experiences. The two journeys—descending and ascending, and integrating the internal and external –– are essential tasks for interior development. We must undertake them if we are to develop character, acquire wisdom, express love more fully, and cultivate spiritual maturity.

The Journey of Descent and Ascent

The descent into darkness––the unknown and undeveloped aspects of our nature–-and the ascent into greater awareness, authenticity, and faith lead us to a discovery of our essential self beyond ego and personal desires. In both directions, we encounter our shadows, the unclaimed, undesired, and unbefriended aspects of our nature. To become fully developed human beings, we must confront both our demons and our angels. If we can do this successfully, we free ourselves from the illusion of who we think we are. We are delivered into the mystery of our true, essential being and are able to generate a new domain of freedom that is anchored in wisdom, love and faith.

In his book Transformation: Growth and Change in Adult Life, Roger Gould explains that this freedom is hard won, especially in the experience of descent, which requires us to realistically and honestly look at our lives without denial, indulgence, or embellishment. To achieve an adult sense of freedom, we must come to terms with unresolved anger, disappointment, despair, fear, and feelings of repugnance concerning death. We can no longer harbor our illusions, aversions, or attachments. Recognizing these feelings is only the first step. We have to act, to descend into our inner terrain and dispel all that is false and at odds with our essential being. The raw experience of descent prepares the way for increased self-knowledge and self-acceptance that are honest and true, anchored in a kind of self-confidence that is neither inflated nor deflated. The descent allows us to experience the ascent with genuine hopefulness, curiosity, and ennobled spirit. If we have done the rigorous work of descending to face our false self, we may then ascend to experience the joy of our essential self without pretense or judgment.

Throughout our lives, we witness cycles within ourselves and others as we descend and ascend. This journey carries stories of descent into betrayal, temptation, depression and injustice: ruthless actions that derive from insecurity, pride, or desire for revenge. It also carries the heart of all the universal stories surrounding redemption, grace, generosity, and forgiveness––ascent.

A contemporary example of the journey from descent into ascent can be found in the Delancy Street Program in San Francisco by Mimi Siebert, who has the best success rate of prisoner rehabilitation in the country. This program is committed to sustaining the personal success of former prisoners in re-entering life without becoming repeat offenders, without flirting with the journey of descent again. In our own lives we move from descent to ascent when we face our serious mistakes and learn from them.

This journey of descent and ascent is found within all major spiritual traditions. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other faiths have specific terms to describe the journey and may refer to it as Hell (descent) or Heaven (ascent). For example in the Old Testament story of Jacob’s ladder, Jacob encounters ascending and descending angels, one of which he wrestles with for hours. In Buddhism, the Buddha ascends to the realm of the gods, where he sees that his recently deceased mother has not achieved final liberation or nirvana. There he imparts the Abhidharma Teachings on the true nature of reality and liberates his mother and all the deities trapped in the realm of cyclic existence.

Many traditional and indigenous societies regard the Upper World as the place to receive guidance, blessings, and ecstatic experiences, and view the Lower World as the place to which one journeys to retrieve one’s lost soul and bring it back for re-integration in the Middle World—this world. The process of descending and ascending is a universal human experience, where the heavens and hells in our nature are completely revealed. They must be integrated to aid character development and enhanced spiritual maturity. There will be times in our lives when we will descend into our own lower worlds to confront our inauthentic selves, unresolved feelings and attachments. Each descent prepares us for the ascent, the magnificent climb that integrates more of our essential being.

Integration of the External and Internal: Two Pathways of Meaning

Just as we must be ready to face the challenge of exploring descent and ascent on our journey, we must also come to understand two distinct kinds of meaning. One is quantitative(external and seen); the other is qualitative (internal and sensed). Both meanings give our lives significance and substance if they are equally valued, integrated, and embodied.Today we are most familiar and most comfortable with the quantitative, outer meaning of life and our outer experiences: meaningful memories, important historical events, significant opportunities, or important turning points. We may return to school, retire, get re-married or divorced, have children and grandchildren, lose friends and family to illness or death, survive accidents or trauma, excel in a field, travel, or move to a new location.

The qualitative life experience is often more subtle, less familiar, more internal, and representative of our soul urges––those numinous, mystical, and transpersonal experiences that occur synchronistically in spontaneous and unbidden ways. These subjective experiences often appear as inner stirrings or disturbances that provoke insight, dreams, precognitions, breakthroughs, and unexpected glimpses of the mysterious aspects of who we authentically are.Quantitative and qualitative life experiences converge in our life to be meaningfully integrated. Our nature is then rewoven into a more expansive and textured fabric.

Carl Jung tells us of the dangers of over-identifying with either the outer, quantitative or inner, qualitative world rather than integrating them.
“Mastery of the inner world, with a relative contempt for the outer, must inevitably lead to great catastrophe. Mastery of the outer world, to the exclusion of the inner, delivers us over to the demonic forces of the latter, and keeps us barbaric despite all outward forms of culture.”

An extreme example of a delusionary “mastery of the inner world” combined with “contempt for the outer” is the mass suicide at Jonestown, in which hundreds of people followed their spiritual leader, Jim Jones, to their communal death.

Over-identification with outer-world mastery to the exclusion of the inner is found in contemporary examples of corporate crime where greedy, well-educated people are driven to misuse their talents in ruthless ways to get richer at the expense of their own ethics and integrity.

In contrast, when both worlds are accessed and attended to equally, in non-extreme ways, the human spirit exemplifies unimagined courage and commitment to alleviate human suffering, restore justice, and uplift the quality of life for many.

The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Aung San Suu Kyi are all examples of individuals committed to both internal and external development. The integration of the quantitative and qualitative enables them to touch lives for the better.

Without balance in our lives, we become lopsided or incomplete. We must be vigilant in maintaining balance and access to both the inner and outer worlds. We can no longer flirt with the blind faith or lack of discernment that closes the door to outer mastery; nor can we indulge in the chronic cynicism or hopelessness that cuts us off from inner mastery. In our lives, rather than choosing one world over the other, we need to become adept at living in both.Beyond Polarity and Duality: Embracing Paradox and the Mystery One thing that science and spirituality both explore in different ways is the mystery of life, and all that still remains a mystery.

Mystic, mysticism, and mystery all come from the root myst (hidden) or mystes (one who has been initiated). According to philosopher Ken Wilbur, the scientists Pribram, Bohr, and Capra represent some of the most serious, and sophisticated attempts to interface “hard science” with spiritual realities. Other scientists who preceded them such as Heisenberg, Bohr, Jeans, Eddington, even Einstein himself held a mystical-spiritual view of the world. Mysticism is a transcendental reality described by perennial philosophy and spiritual traditions. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have ancient mystical roots.

Mystics, whether from these traditions or others, consistently report transcendental experiences revealing a fundamental unity, total interconnectedness and interrelatedness, being filled with ecstatic or Divine love, and the non-presence of duality or boundaries. Mystical experiences open and expand the heart, clear and transcend the mind, and nourish the soul. Nature, contemplation, silence, music, and the arts, are often doorways to mystical experience.

A significant shift occurs after we integrate the internal and external worlds; we move beyond polarity and duality and learn to see both worlds at once. We contain this paradox in order to see the many options available to us. This more accepting and expansive way of thinking increases our tolerance for ambiguity, which is a function of wisdom. The ability to move beyond black or white, good or evil, helpful or harmful signals wisdom’s presence; and opens the door to mystical experiences which increase love’s expression and goodness into the world.

Our work in life demands that we neither be entrenched in the polarities of our daily experiences nor rigid, harsh, or unforgiving in our approach. We are stretched to shift our perspective and our actions from the dualism of either/or to holding the paradox of both/and. This allows something greater and more creative to emerge. It is an essential perspective for problem solving. Wisdom always looks for the most elegant solution, the one that will create a genuine win-win and serve the greater good of the majority of people.

Two extraordinary examples of what can happen when we hold the paradox of both/and to allow something greater to emerge are the restorative justice process of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in resolving apartheid issues, and the unprecedented creativity and collaboration that created the European Union. Because the people involved avoided remaining in fixed, entrenched positions, they generated outcomes that far exceeded initial expectations or imagined results.

If we can embrace the meanings and experiences in both our internal and external worlds, melding the sacred and profane, we will be rigorously challenged to transform opposition into paradox. The essential task is to allow all sides of an issue, or pairs of opposites, to exist in equal dignity until their hidden unity is revealed. This is currently our initiation, into the embodiment of wisdom, the entry point into authentic spiritual maturation and personal transformation.

When we shift our perspective to look beyond dualities, opposites, and polarities, we can
simultaneously consider many diverse options and possibilities without applying solutions that may seem quick, easy, and expedient but are in fact premature. In cultivating love and wisdom in our lives, it becomes imperative to increase our capacity to hold creative tension, allowing far greater and more inclusive solutions and options to emerge. By befriending and strengthening our capacity to hold paradox, we can explore the realm of deep spiritual growth. As we actualize all aspects of ourselves and weave them into an inherent symmetry and whole, we become more skillful problem solvers, mediators, stewards of justice, and models of patience and mercy. We become an unshakably wise and loving presence that harnesses the good, true, and beautiful for the greater good of all concerned. This is wisdom’s way; and is the primary task in walking the mystical path with practical feet.

As we are collectively initiated together in creating a new and better world, may our determination as change masters be, in or own work and relationships, to carry wisdom and “a pure, honest, and warm hearted motivation”. May we embrace and partner with change and impact this important evolutionary cycle, so the generations of the future will know that we retained our moral fiber, as we took solid action to create sustainability, protected all that was endangered, and galvanized together to restore our outer home––the Earth.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Lord Of The Rings Ceremony

It's difficult these days to have a wedding ceremony that truly reflects your personality, your likes and dislikes, your obsession with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Star Trek.  It can come off as geeky, kitchy, or just plain silly.  Do you really want to be married by an officiant dressed as Picard, or Jabba the Hut?  Okay, maybe you do.

I strive, with my ceremonies, to make them personal without going over the top.  But truth be told, if you want to go over the top, I'll happily take that trip with you.  However, I can write and have written ceremonies that can showcase favourite movies or TV shows and they have turned out sweet and not cringe-worthy.  The following is one that a wrote last year for a couple who absolutely LOVED Lord of the Rings.  The names have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

Welcome everyone. Today you are here because you have been invited to join in an adventure. You will be witness as Dick and Jane embark on the adventure of marriage to one another. As Bilbo Baggins said to Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Love is much the same. It’s dangerous to fall in love with someone. You never know where it might take you. For Dick and Jane, it has taken them from backpacking through Europe, coming home broke, moving into a really awful apartment, to this day.

Both Dick and Jane would like to acknowledge those who could not be here today who meant a great deal to them. They think of them now and can feel their presence. Even though they are not here physically, they are part of the foundation that makes them both the people they are now.

With this marriage, you not only bring your own lives together, but those of your friends, family, and your community. A supportive community is the cornerstone of a loving and lasting relationship.

Love is the energy that binds our universe together, makes us whole, and human. While we may all be young in consciousness, and our lives fleeting, the matter of which we are made is as old as the universe itself. This brief but beautiful organization of matter into individuals and the intertwining of our lives has been celebrated for much of human history, in many different ways and across cultures.

Remember that in every marriage, there are good times and bad, times of joy and times of sorrow. Marriage is a journey – a time of adventure and excitement enhanced by the love, trust, dedication and faith you share in one another.

You are mature enough to know the difference between dreams and realities. You have youth and hope. You also know that good times are sweeter when shared and that difficult times are less harsh when borne by two. Continue to work to build a foundation that will support the lasting relationship that is marriage.

And so today, we are gathered here to witness the formal, public declaration of love and commitment between Dick and Jane.

Dick and Jane, do you come into this marriage of your own free will and with full conscious intent?

ANSWER: We do.

The couple has prepared their own vows.


Even now, after a thousand nights, a thousand smiles
I stand here helpless, elated, hopelessly lost in your eyes
But my hands are still and my breath is measured
Because we’re long past doubt, long past ‘maybe’
And today I will make you only one promise
-- That our love will continue to grow
In ways we can scarcely imagine!
When we look upon tomorrow, we will see only the opportunities that lie ahead
That only now have we set foot out the door
With our eyes on the horizon, over the hills and far away
And in our grief we will only become stronger
In our successes -- more humble
With our hearts content and memories full
Because you are my significant otter, my morning coffee, my darling Jane
I love you, now and forever, always and ever


Dick. As Arwen said to Aragon - "I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of the world alone" And if we only have one lifetime together- I promise to be your loving wife and fellow adventurer; I promise to create a life time full of memories living life to the fullest together and to explore as much of the world as we can. I promise to place your dreams and goals as equal to mine and to encourage you when you feel like giving up hope. I promise to nurture your wanderlust and be open to change.

I vow to grow with you and not apart,
to make my accomplishments, ours, and your challenges, mine.
I vow to not only be there during the good moments but also during the difficult ones
I will always love you deeply and honestly,
as your equal and your partner.
Unless we are playing board games, then every person for himself.
I vow to cherish you, support you and to never take your actions, words and kindness for granted. I vow to give you all that I have; to love you completely and fully. I will smile with you in happiness, comfort you in sorrow, and conspire with you in mischief.
My love is yours today, tomorrow, and for all the days before us.

It is now time to exchange rings. Wedding rings are a symbol of the journeys taken together, a completion of one story and the start of another. Forged by the fires of compassion, compromise and love, not to be easily destroyed. To borrow (and alter) from Tolkien: Two rings to rule them all, Two rings will find them, Two rings to bring them all and in this marriage, bind them.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

At this time, you exchange gold rings. May these rings represent the strength, resilience and permanence of the love you share as you grow old together. As The One Ring in the story, let yours be symbolic of the binding power of your wedding vows.

The rings please.

Dick, place the ring on Jane’s finger and repeat after me.

With this ring, I thee wed,
With this one ring I give you my love and devotion,
With this ring that binds us together as long as we both shall live.

Jane, place the ring on Dick’s finger and repeat after me.

I give you the one ring as a permanent bonus to our Relationship Attribute. Equip it now in preparation for our upcoming Married Life quest, for now we truly can rule them all.

Today you have joined with Dick and Jane as they have embarked on the adventure of marriage. It is with great joy that by the authority vested in me by the Province of Ontario that I pronounce you married. You may now kiss.