HOLY F*CK: HOW TO REACH ECSTASY

Want to have Divine on speed dial? In her latest Holy F*ck column, Alexandra Roxo reveals that experiencing ecstasy is the key to strengthening our channel …

People have been seeking ecstasy for a long time. Whether it’s through herbs and psychoactive and psychedelic substances, or through ritual, prayer, meditation, fasting, sleep deprivation, pain, sex, and extreme temperature baths, most cultures have rituals and celebrations that invoke deeply ecstatic states.

From Greek rituals involving mind-altering substances, to the Sufis’ dance into ecstatic bliss, and the tantrikas’ journey into oceans of “samadhi” (ecstatic union with God/Goddess), religious texts usually speak of this search. In Norse mythology, the berserkers would enter into an altered state to be able to fight. And even animals have sought out herbs and fermentation that brought about some sort of consciousness shift.

These exercises can allll produce states of BLISS that allow the participant to commune with “God” or the Divine. And, well, who wouldn’t want that? 

I’ll tell you who! A culture that DOES NOT want its people to be empowered to know the Divine on our own terms. That would prefer us to have to pay into the Divine via tithing (offerings), and bow to the leaders of a church. This being one of the epic reasons WHY ecstatic states became stigmatized in the U.S., specifically, and in the Western world in general.

Personally, I blame the Puritans for labelling seeking ecstatic states as scary, transgressive, or somehow shameful. If people, and women especially, had the Goddess on speed dial, than what would they need the church for?!! SO, they got the ax. Or rather, in the case of the Witch trials, when women would dance themselves into states of ecstasy, the noose.

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What exactly is an “ecstatic” experience? 
In my terms, it is an experience that overrides the default mindset, the internal and external conditioning, and allows for a mind/body/spirit connection that transcends the normal, the typical, and the everyday.

This can result in waves of bliss, with senses ablaze and alive, heart open to a massive flow of love. Where the normal perception and experience of reality is transcended and expanded into a massively blissful, joyful, and loving one that shakes you at the core.

I’ve been exploring this for many years. At age 12, I was attempting to speak in tongues and faint on the floor at Baptist Church camp. And I experienced my first waves of sexual ecstasy around the same time. Since then, I’ve experimented with meditation, prayer, fasting, ritual, dance, song, pain, sex, and psychedelics. Each produces a different type of ecstasy.

Now, I take other people on journeys in my work through ecstatic states that can reframe and contextualize trauma, release stored emotions, and promote a deeper connection to self. Within a safe space, this process of finding ecstatic states can be very, very healing. 

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A dating app for ecstasy? 
I am drawn like a fly on honey to people who know and experience ecstatic states without drugs.

A few years ago, I met two men who had participated in the Sundance ceremony, which involved piercings on the chest, and days of dancing and fasting. To me, these were the HOTTEST men alive! “Um, you spent multiple days with flesh wounds on your chest while fasting and dancing and singing, in the name of uniting with Divine energy and helping save the Earth?! Sign me up!!!”

There is nothing sexier to me than someone who sees and understands the value of finding ecstatic states on the regular without having to pop a pill. Someone so adept at meditation that turning their body to light is NBD. If there was a dating app for this category of human, it would make my life a lot easier!

It’s not Burner vibes. It’s not adventures with psychedelics. I’m talking about people with a thirst for ecstasy that comes from wanting to know the Divine. Wanting to know love. From a remembrance of a state that your soul knows, and longs for.

Anybody else with me on this one?

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5 paths towards ecstasy for the Modern Spiritual Human
**A disclaimer: When you enter into ecstasy, you are opening yourself up massively, so you want to allow for this shift in your reality, perception, and internal state to happen in a safe setting. If you enter into an ecstatic state in a train station for instance, you could get taken away to a mental institution. So set and setting are key! You want be in a safe space. Surrounded by people you trust. Or alone. Remember you are opening ALL the channels and you want to do this with care. Especially if you are new to it.

1// Start simply. If you want to start safely, you can explore ecstatic states through something simple like chanting or ecstatic dance. Many cities have “Ecstatic Dance” communities and classes. Places with DJs and it’s sober and you just shake it out.

If you’re a yogi, chanting mantras in Kirtan could produce these states. You can seek a Bhakti yoga practice. Many cultures and religions have their own styles of song, and some may take you into ecstasy. Some not. When I used to go to the Agape Church in LA, their gospel choir had me in tears and I sang and danced til I lost myself.

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2// Explore your blocks. 
Because it can take years to release your default programming and open to the ecstasy available through song and dance, many people reach for a psychedelic or drug—because it offers a quick way in! But that also means it may have the most emotional, spiritual, and physical hangover, since you are literally stretching into an expanded state very quickly, flooding your body, and then snapping out fast.

You can micro dose different plant medicines if you want to go slowly. But beware; before you are granted ecstasy, you will likely first be shown any blocks you have to ecstasy! If you take MDMA, for instance, you may be opened quickly, but will likely be asked to deal with some spiritual and mystical pain the day after from that flood of chemicals and expansion, and the ensuing lack thereof.

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3// Ease in with meditation.
It may take years before you get to ecstasy this way, but it will happen. Trust me! I’ve been meditating for 15 years and it happens often now. I feel like I am being made love to by an invisible force (consensual of course!) and it is amazing.

If you want to reach ecstatic states in meditation and not wait 10 years, you can try White Tantra or a Vipassana retreat. Both are in-depth practices and you’re likely to access ecstasy faster. But no guarantees of course!

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4// Get it on (consciously).
If you establish trust, a deep connection, and emotional and physical safety, you can achieve insane ecstatic states with sex. Again though, if you open too fast, without a safe container and the spiritual and emotional components, you will suffer the repercussions. Chances are, you will feel depressed, anxious and shitty for days after. Perhaps you will feel guilt and shame as well.

Conscious BDSM is an amazing way into ecstasy in a safe space. Set the intention to open to the Divine before you begin. Japanese rope bondage and suspension work in particular has taken me to great heights of ecstasy, and I led two retreats last year that took women into that space for transcendence, ecstasy, and healing.

Pain can be a tried and true portal to ecstasy. Again, within a safe container, an intense consensual pain session with spanking or flogging or whipping or caning can produce deep and ecstatic bliss. Some religious sects also used pain as a portal to divine and ecstatic bliss. Light spankings are a safe place to start!

You can also start a self-pleasure practice that opens you to ecstasy. It will take time. Practice. A safe space so you can let go and scream and cry and release. At dinner the other night with my two besties, I was talking about my magical rose quartz wand and the orgasmic bliss I have with it, and their jaws dropped. It’s profound!

Japanese “Shibari” rope bondage

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5// Remember that integration is KEY.
Integration means the time you take in between practices to process, rest, release, and allow your system to recalibrate. If you mix drugs and sex and pain and all of it you may go into wild ecstasy, but have a “WTF did I just do?!” the next day, feeling like you got hit by a train.

Unless you have stretched yourself internally to hold some levels of ecstasy over time, you will fuck with yourself psychologically, spiritually, emotionally and physically if you rush things. Seriously. I’ve learned this the hard way.

If you don’t have the skills or tools to integrate ecstatic experience into your life, you can blow a fuse, go back to exactly where you were before, or contract even smaller. But if you integrate your experience fully, you can allow the ecstatic experience to expand you. And you can STAY expanded, therefore experiencing levels of ecstasy OFTEN.

Begin by simply noticing when you feel ECSTATIC and take note. Breathe it in. Don’t zip by. As you notice, your capacity will grow. As you practice, you will stretch into holding more.

Rest. Be gentle on you. You’re re-teaching your system that’s its safe to feel this good. After centuries of being told that IT IS NOT. Write. Journal. Take salt baths.

Start slowly, but be diligent and don’t give up on finding this KEY and GIFT to your human system!!

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Stay tuned for more Holy F*ck from Alexandra. Over the next few months, she will be interviewing women who learned how to access deep healing and ecstatic states during her yearlong program. Learn more about Alexandra and her work HERE.

HOW I FOUND A WAY TO BE OF SERVICE

Looking for a way to be of service? Look to your natural —and keep it simple, says Kerri Aab

In spiritual communities, it’s often believed that at your lowest point, to be of service to someone else can turn your entire situation around. That looking past our own suffering for ways to alleviate the suffering of someone else is a key to happiness and fulfillment.

No time like the present to test the theory, right?

And if the phrases “alleviate suffering” and “being of service” bring to mind images of volunteering for the Peace Corps or doing mission work in Africa, it’s worth keeping in mind that an act of service can include anything from smiling at a stranger, to complimenting a struggling mama at the grocery store, to baking some cookies for your neighbor.

Being of service doesn’t have to mean some grand act of self-sacrifice. It simply means reaching out. And sometimes the actions that have most impact are the simplest.

Case in point: late last year I was deeply depressed. Not un-common for me during the time of year we’re supposed to be making merry. I’m used to the holiday blues.

But last year was different. There was an ache and an emptiness that none of my go-to spiritual or healing practices seemed to be able to reach. I looked for guidance and sought all kinds of remedies to take the pain away—but the more I grasped, the worse things seemed.

I felt hopeless, helpless, and adrift.

Then, one morning during my daily self Reiki practice, I felt compelled to turn my Reiki hands not towards myself, but rather, to send the Reiki out. I did so and there I sat for the next hour with a vague intention of sending Reiki to “anyone in need.”

No, there were no unicorns swooping over the horizon, and no rainbows suddenly appeared— but I noticed how my sense of despair had lifted. Enough for me to send distance Reiki out again the next day. And the next.

Within a week, I’d decided to make a daily practice of sending out Reiki to others. Shortly after which, brief little messages of hope or inspiration would come through during my morning Reiki time, which I texted to a few friends. These messages began as subtle little thoughts that I attributed to my mind regurgitating information from years spent dedicated to learning about spirituality and energy medicine.

I quickly came to believe however, that these messages, which were growing in length and intensity, were the work of a much larger energy that I was somehow tapping into. God? The Universe (what I call “The Big U”)? Who knows. I’ve come to refer to the bearers of these messages as my “etheric pals” though, as I now palpably feel their energy in the room with me and they feel like friends.

Within a month I had a consistent daily practice that I was being guided to share further. So I sent out an email to friends and family, offering free distance daily Reiki, plus an optional inspirational email, to anyone who requested it.

To my surprise and delight, almost every single person replied with a resounding “COUNT ME IN!” and the list has continued to grow ever since. People come, people go. But, no matter what, I sit down every morning, send Reiki, and write an email about the message I heard during the session.

Has my depression lifted, and I been living in Reiki bliss since then? Here’s where I disappoint you. This isn’t one of those “and then my whole life changed and everything is love and light” type stories.

But here’s what did happen. 

This simple act of using a gift I have been given, to help others, has confirmed for me the importance of being of service in the world.

My daily act of service has given me an anchor to hold onto on days when depression hits so hard that I don’t want to open my eyes. It does this by providing the focus and energy I need to get through to the other side.

My act of service has given my life a foundation of consistency. Rain or shine, I know that people are counting on me and looking to me for the support I pledged to give them. This is the best motivator for sticking to any practice.

My act of service has gifted me with humility and perspective. That people trust me with their stories and with a small aspect of their personal growth is humbling and something I take very seriously. These stories continually remind me of how freakin’ blessed I am when there’s so much suffering in the world.

And, during this very trying post-election week, showing up for the Reiki crew has, at times, felt like the only thing giving me a flicker of hope. When I have felt useless and truly despairing, sitting down to energetically uplift others has reminded me of why I’m on this planet. Which is to anchor the human experience in goodness. To help others find their inner power.

I am also so grateful for the replies I receive each day from people all over the world, about how a particular message changed them or inspired them to go out and spread some joy of their own. The benefits of service are contagious!

So, are you in?

We’ve all been given different gifts—and they are not ours to hoard or hide away. But to give away, inspiring others to do the same.

If you’re feeling plunged into darkness at this time, my advice is to simply give of yourself in whatever way you can. There are endless ways to be of service in the world, so find your gift and share it. Take action. If you want to make the world a better place, then go out and do it. When in doubt, look out.

Do you sing? Bring your voice to the elderly.
Make a mean lasagna? Cook for the hungry.
Love spending time with children? Babysit for a mama who needs a break.
Have a green thumb? Help start a community garden.

And if you think you can’t do this, I would like to gently remind you that you can. After all, a man was just elected to the highest office in the land with zero experience. And if he can believe in himself and his abilities, so can you.

So can you.

I was reminded the other day of a great quote from Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent: “The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.” 

It’s time to create the world in which we wish to live. It’s time for us to use our gifts to create beauty, peace, unity, love, acceptance and hope for all. One simple act of service at a time.

Kerri Aab, BFRP is a Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner, a Reiki practitioner, quantum biofeedback practitioner, Kundalini yogi, dancer, singer and group fitness instructor. Click here to register for FREE DAILY DISTANCE REIKI with Kerri, and discover more about her healing work at Seedtoblossom.com.

SOBER CURIOUS: GET HIGH ON YOUR OWN SUPPLY

Join The Numinous & Guided By Biet for SOBER CURIOUS, a social experiment to discover what it means to get high on your own supply…

 

“Numbing vulnerability also dulls our experience of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light” – Brene Brown

There’s a reason sobriety is in, and it’s because it feels amazing. Blissful, even. Within days of alcohol leaving your system, you become aware of how much more at peace you feel in your body. A little longer, and you’ll notice how even a friendly text sends a tingle of physical pleasure along your limbs. Give it a few weeks, and you may find yourself breaking into spontaneous laughter at the sheer ecstasy of being alive.

This is what it feels like to get high on your own supply. But modern drinking culture makes it easier, often way too easy, to choose booze as our go-to method for feeling good (by simply numbing the “bad”). The price? We’ve all been there.

And so SOBER CURIOUS is a social experiment from The Numinous and Guided By Biet – a new space for the sober curious to investigate just how good life can get when we re-frame our relationship with alcohol. Far from “boring” (an accusation they love to levy against non-drinkers), what if choosing sobriety meant being “high” all the time?

This might not mean total abstinence from alcohol, either. The power of positive drinking can be a beautiful thing. A sacrament, even. But an occasional cocktail to celebrate life can also be a slippery slope into the kind of habitual drinking that becomes a substitute for sustained, self-generated joy; that dulls our awareness; that only exacerbates feelings of anxiety and emptiness; and that ultimately separates us from a true sense of self.

A proposed series of meet-ups, talks, workshops, and other events, SOBER CURIOUS could be for you if:

– You drink to feel good, but it often leaves you feeling worse (and it helps to talk about it)

– You want to drink less, but think this will mean the end of your social life

– You want to drink less, but think this will mean the end of DATING

– You want to cultivate a healthier relationship with booze

– You want to attend high-end, high-vibe events where alcohol is off the menu

– You love how good life feels when you don’t drink, and want to connect with other people who’ve discovered this too

– You want to experience getting crazy high on your own supply

Sign up for the Numinous newsletter to see how the conversation unfolds.

And a caveat: SOBER CURIOUS is NOT an addiction recovery program – although it may be a stepping stone to AA for some people. If you think you might need a higher level of support to address a drinking problem that’s negatively impacting your life, or in dealing with any underlying emotional issues that may be part of this, we also have the resources to connect you with people who can help.

SILENCE, PLEASE: DIARY OF A VIPASSANA MEDITATION RETREAT

Man it can get LOUD out there. Have you ever considered shutting down the noise and embarking on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat? Sarah McKinney shares the experience that left her “more integrated, and whole.” Images: Karolina Daria Flora.

I’d always been fascinated when people said they’d gone on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, in the same way I’m fascinated by people who tell me they run marathons, my usual reaction being: “That’s so awesome — for you.” But this past October, when one of my yoga teachers strongly recommended Jack Kornfield’s 37th annual spring Vipassana, something inside of me sparked, and I knew it was time for me to experience it for myself.

I’d been trying to “should” myself into establishing a daily seated meditation practice for a while, but couldn’t get it to stick. I’d rationalized that yoga was a moving meditation. I’d done maybe a dozen or so 30-minute guided meditations, and had sat quietly for five-minute meditations countless times.

But I knew that meditating in silence for hours every day, for 10 days in a row, would be like learning to swim in the deep end. I felt a little nervous, but also confident that I had the tools needed to process whatever thoughts or emotions might come up. And I was comforted by the fact that Jack’s retreat didn’t require 100% silence.

We were allowed to talk during three different meetings with teachers — one small group, and two one-on-ones, when they would check in on how we were doing and offer some perspective and advice. There was a brief Q&A period at the end of one morning and one afternoon sit each day, giving students the opportunity to ask questions that pertained to their practice. And during the working meditations we could exchange words related to our jobs.

We were also told it was okay to jot down some notes if we felt the need — particularly permissible during the Dharma talks every night, when the teachers would share various lessons from the Buddha. But we were told to avoid eye contact whenever possible, the point being to help us stay focused on our internal experiences. There would also be no reading or use of technology, and any kind of sexual conduct was disallowed.

I’d been warned that the first few days on retreat were often the most difficult — the “settling in” period, they called it. I’d assumed this was because people had repressed traumatic or abusive experiences from their past that suddenly rose to the surface, and I half-hoped I’d be gifted with something surprisingly dramatic and juicy. But instead what I experienced was intense boredom, impatience, fantasy thinking, planning, sleepiness, and intermittent frustration that there wasn’t more instruction given.

The teachers said they were intentionally keeping it simple to start us off, telling us to just keep coming back to our inhale and exhale, and our right and left foot, as we alternated between 45-minute sitting and walking meditation periods.

The walking meditation was not like walking for exercise, or even walking to get from one place to the next. The point was to maintain single minded focus — feeling the weight shift from heel to toe, or from the left to right side of our body, stopping if we noticed something in our surroundings to really observe it before returning to our footsteps.

By afternoon I could hear the cars zooming down the nearby highway and pictured myself running across the desert, yelling; “Save me! Take me away from the land of the slow, where people walk like zombies of the night!” I was entertaining myself — preferable to maintaining single-minded focus, apparently.

When the teachers would release us from sitting meditation saying, “enjoy your walking period” with their Buddha smiles, it felt mildly torturous. Like being told to go enjoy just one sip of wine, or one chocolate chip. But I practiced contrary action, and tried to do what I was told.

On the second day we began receiving more instruction — my thirst for guidance, quenched! During one of the morning walking meditations I became momentarily captivated by the most beautifully bright little yellow flowers growing on a tree, surrounded by soft white fluff. And then a few steps later, by a delicate purple flower growing out of a brittle cactus — the symbolism made me smile.

I sat on a bench during lunch, mindfully chewing and savoring the different textures and flavors per the teachers’ suggestions, and noticed that the Koi pond I was gazing at was particularly green — like a Matcha green tea latte. Looking up I observed a large bush covered in white flowers, and then another one with pink flowers. How had I missed all this the day before? I watched a tall narrow tree bend in the wind as I listened to the chirping birds, my hand clasping a warm cup of tea. I felt the weather beginning to shift.

My working meditation was breakfast set up from 6 — 6:45am. I was grateful for something to do. My working partner was a woman named Margo who I had an immediate affinity for. She was in her late 60’s and (I later learned) a poet, and a writing teacher. She had a son around my age and lived in San Diego with her husband — a man who’d been going on silent meditation retreats for decades. This was her fourth.

We’d occasionally break the rules and whisper to each other; “How are you doing?” Knowing she was having a hard time with the meditations too made me feel less alone. Margo felt like my version of that guy in Eat Pray Love who called Elizabeth Gilbert “Groceries” — she was my friend. Occasionally we would make accidental eye contact when passing each other on the grounds, and sneak smiles.

Throughout my entire life people have commented on how cold my hands are and my go-to response has always been; “cold hands warm heart!” But during the seated meditations I could feel my hands burning with heat as they rested on my thighs, and I remembered an energy worker telling me once that the hands become warm when you are in your body and out of the analytic mind.

And so I began using my hands as my barometer for how much I was “dropping in”, and allowing myself to feel. As that was apparently what we were here to do. “How does that feel in your body?” the teachers frequently asked, when students would share their various mind states, and laughably relatable neuroses. The goal was equanimity, which merely means  to observe our feelings with a balanced perspective, to enable us to respond appropriately.

I was less sleepy by day three, but still pretty bored, and the fantasy thinking had been going into overdrive, carrying over into my sleep. I dreamt I was having sex with someone I’d though about going to bed with, and quickly thanked my subconscious for having taken note before realizing some old familiar feelings were present  too— insecurity, performance, validation seeking. Leftover residue from a life so busily lived that not everything can be fully processed.

Lying in bed, I decided to envision how I’d like to feel having sex with this person — safe, comfortable, playful, fully in my body, ripe with desire, generously giving, the embodiment of “yes.” “Much better,” I noted to myself, as I reached down to my suitcase for some clothes, and then began my walk to the dining hall.

I was surprised that I didn’t miss technology at all, given how obsessively I tend to check it at home. Or exercise. We did have Qigong at 3:15 every afternoon, which gave us a chance to move our bodies, albeit slowly. It was taught by a German man named Franz Moeckl who was so charismatic that all the ladies started giggling the moment he appeared, and then again when he spoke. It became one of my favorite parts of each day, but after about 15 minutes I was still checking my watch — what’s next.

I came to enjoy the simple foods. No seconds. No desire for more. Though I did find myself hoarding a bit — taking an apple at breakfast in case I wanted it later, and one night I wrapped three dark chocolates in a napkin and slipped it into my bag, anticipating a future desire for sweetness, or simply something to look forward to.

I placed them in the freezer of the mini fridge in my room, and took some comfort in just knowing they were there — like an active alcoholic stashing bottles around the house, or a smoker who’s trying to quit but keeps a few cigarettes in a secret drawer, just in case.

I also discovered that one of my roommates was from Australia, due to her being an active sleep talker — it’s like her subconscious found a loophole and was going to town. She had full on conversations that began around 4am, and one morning I nearly laughed out loud when she blurted out in her thick accent; “Well yes, that’s a very large hemorrhage.”

As for the internal work I’d been expecting? On day five I was greeted with an onslaught of anger and resentment, and found myself intensely preoccupied with planning a conversation that I’d decided I needed to have with a friend about how I couldn’t show up and be authentically supportive of her recent decisions.

I explored every angle, and couldn’t seem to find a way to say it that wasn’t charged with judgment and righteousness. In the afternoon we were guided through a forgiveness meditation, and it became clear that the person I’d been planning to “de-friend” was actually an undeniable amalgamation of all of the wounded parts of myself that I’ve worked hard to heal.

She was all of my jagged edges and broken pieces hanging in a wind chime, clanging just outside my door. The walking instruction given was to silently say with each step; “I forgive you. Please forgive me. I forgive myself.” The anger dissipated.

By now I couldn’t seem to access the fantasy thinking anymore — I missed it, and even when I reached out for it, there were no hooks to reel it in. Instead I was left with a near-constant internal narration of my present-time experiences. A ladybug would crawl on my shoe and I’d hear myself say; “Today, a ladybug crawled on my shoe.”

The voice sounded a little bit like that of an older man, maybe Billy Collins or Garrison Keillor — someone with a lot of time on their hands, and a keen attention to detail. It kept me company, but was also kind of annoying.

I also found my mind frequently drifting to things I’d written — poems, mostly — or ideas for new things, based on what I was experiencing on retreat. I’d notice their presence and label them “reciting” or “writing,” letting them float away like clouds so I could return to my breath, or footsteps.

I mentioned this pattern to a teacher during one of my meetings and she asked me to explore how it might feel if I didn’t write about my retreat experience. Little daggers shot out of my heart; “No, I’m not interested in not writing. This is my first silent retreat — maybe next time,” was my response.

She asked me to explain why, and it really came down to a feeling that all of my experiences must be productive. Who am I, and what is my value, if I don’t have anything to show for it?

I smiled when trying to imagine any of my family members doing this retreat. Particularly my Dad — a man who attempted to weed my Grandma’s entire front garden while we were locked out of her house for 20 minutes once. I sat on the front step and watched. He eventually looked up at me, both hands filled with weeds, and evaluated his work, saying, “Well, I’m not sure how much I’ve really accomplished here.” I responded, “But at least you kept busy, right?”

I tease them all for being so Type A. In our family, the question, “How are you?” is most often answered with a list of things you’ve done since you last spoke, followed by another one of everything you plan to do in the immediate future.

Both my parents grew up in households that were very unpredictable so they’ve created a pretty structured approach to life, and it’s worked well for them. I on the other hand, grew up in a household that was very predictable, so have been left craving less structure and more fluidity — the pendulum swings.

By now I was beginning to experience some pretty blissed out states — my body nearly always tingly and pulsing with my heartbeat. Like when you just wake up from a deep sleep, and just lie there, too peaceful to move. I could also feel a strange pressure in my forehead, like it was opening up and pushing dense material off to the sides.

I still refuse to call this my third eye, but I know enough about energy centers to understand that’s what it was —and that I  was tapping in to that concentrated spaciousness, a dark expansiveness, the limitless sea of consciousness.

As the retreat began to inch closer to the end, and my excitement about returning home reignited my planning mind, the mantra I kept repeating to myself during the walking meditations was simply; “I love you. Keep going.”

One day during a sit I decided to kill some time by scanning my entire body, starting at my toes and traveling all the way up to my head, and apologizing for what I’ve put it through — the pounding, twisting, spraining, scratching, bruising, burning, devaluing, starving, pushing, prodding, betraying, withholding, criticizing, ignoring and abandoning — and then thanking it for continuing to be there for me. Tears welled up in my eyes.

The mindful eating was also very healing. Being able to really tune into my body and feel the various stages of digestion, I realized that I often misinterpret digestion as hunger — back in my life of busyness — and don’t wait for it to pass. But in meditation, I could sit with those sensations and feel them as they moved through me. I was eating plenty, but my body continued to feel lighter, healthier and more free.

We broke silence the afternoon before our final day. We were told to partner up with someone and take turns listening and talking for three minutes each. Apparently I had been developing a silent friendship with the woman to my left over the course of the retreat, because once we spoke there was immediate comfort. She was here with her husband, and was four months pregnant. She’d had a hard time, and wanted to know how it was for me.

I struggled to adequately articulate what felt like such a diverse and detailed experience. “It was good,” I started in with, “It felt like a detox, and a self-amends. It was very healing, and very challenging at times, too.” We chatted on a bit more and were then asked to sit in silence again, and to feel the buzzing energy in our bodies that the talking had produced.

We were allowed to continue talking during dinner that night, but then it was back to silence for the 6:30pm meditation, the final Dharma talk, and through breakfast the next day. After packing up our rooms we all met one final time in the meditation hall for a closing ceremony — the teachers each giving us some advice on how to have a smooth re-entry, and keep our meditation practice up.

We were each given a red string, and asked to tie three knots in it — one to represent where we take refuge, one to represent compassion, and one to represent a promise we were making to ourselves. We then partnered up to tie them on for each other, and exchange a blessing.

Before heading back to Los Angeles I asked someone to take a picture of me standing out in the desert, so I could have something visual to remember the retreat by. I had the same dress on that I’d arrived in 10 days prior, but the woman wearing it felt different — more integrated, and whole.

I realized after driving away that I’d left the chocolates I’d taken from the dining hall in my room’s mini fridge. I guess I found the sweetness I expected to crave somewhere deep within myself instead.

Sarah McKinney is a poet, entrepreneur and songwriter, and the founder of Amp, an online directory of sustainability resources. She lives in Los Angeles. Follow her @sarahmck

For a full diary of retreats at Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center click here.

HOLIDAY CHEER: ON SPIRITS AND SPIRITUALITY

Among more spiritual circles, alcohol is considered the lowest of the low-vibe highs. Facing two weeks of steady holiday drinking, Ruby Warrington considers what her attachment to booze really says about her.

Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with the structural formula CH3CH2OH, often abbreviated as C2H5OH or C2H6O. It is also used as a psychoactive drug and is one of the oldest recreational drugs still used by humans. Ethanol can cause alcohol intoxication when consumed. In common usage, it is often referred to simply as alcohol or spirits.

I’ll be drinking alcohol tonight, and pretty much every night now until the new year. Happy holidays! But in two weeks time, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll look like crap, be feeling anxious, depressed and like putting myself into some kind of self-imposed rehab – in fact, I’m already looking forward to how I’m going to feel after my first ever Dry January. Yes, that’s some serious future-tripping right there, and so not reflective of my usual glass-half-full outlook on life. What about the thrills? The bonding? The laughs? The drunken fun times that await!

Sure, there’ll be all that. And all that used to be one of my favourite ways to pass the time. Being British (a nation of “high functioning alcoholics” according to this former NY Times London correspondent) and a journalist (one of the high-risk professions for alcoholism, I’ve been told), in my circles the fact I spent most Sunday nights in my twenties and early thirties mapping out my week according to my drinking patterns was nothing to shake an AA manual at.

And I learned to drink late – I was teetotal all through college. My boyfriend back then was a big-time weed smoker and by default so was I, but actually in the end it was alcohol that gave me the Dutch courage I needed to get out of that soul-destroying relationship. He was so anti-booze, considering it, along with cocaine, the lowest of low-vibe highs, that when I took up drinking I might as well have been having an affair right under his nose. Which in the end, with the help of some very strong cocktails, I did.

Talk about messy. But right off the bat, alcohol represented freedom to me. And I guess this was the real kicker, but I also found it helped me access a happier part of myself. No surprises there – isn’t this why most people drink, if we’re honest? Even if this means something different for everybody. In my case, I can be kind of intense and alcohol helped me loosen up and see the funny side of life. Felt like it got me out of my head and into in what was going on around me (you can imagine what a miserable pot-head I was).

This to me felt like magic. Here was a potion that sprinkled the world with actual freakin’ fairy dust. And if creativity is akin to spirituality (as the divine Elizabeth Gilbert suggested when I interviewed her recently), didn’t the fact that drinking helped shunt me into the right side of my brain also, in some way, mean it was helping me get closer to…God, the Universal oneness, or whatever? How did we think spirits got their name, anyway? The fact that alcohol had a dark side (the morning after) felt right, like karma.

But like a relationship that sours overnight, something shifted when I hit 35. Maybe it was the onset of my North Node return (a whole other story, but for the astro geeks out there I’m on the Taurus / Scorpio, material / mystical axis – go figure), but I began to fall out of love with my liquid crutch. The hangovers were lasting longer than the highs, and I noticed, as if coming ‘round from a stupor, that certain relationships relied on a steady flow of cocktails to really mean anything to me.

It was also interesting, and unsurprising, that a lot of the people I was meeting who described themselves as having “woken up” to a more spiritual connection with life (you know who you are, readers!) had kicked alcohol to the curb along with negative thought patterns and the majority of foodstuffs besides kale. This got me questioning the real connection between spirits and spirituality. Not least, what it said about my spirit that I still felt (feel!) the “need” to dink in certain situations.

If spirit is the oneness as expressed in each of us, then yes, there’s no doubt that spirits – in the form of a Ketel One martini with a twist, in my case – can feel like an Access All Areas pass to an audience with our higher self. Ego inhibitions slain, I know I’m not alone when I admit I only dance like nobody’s watching after martini number three. And actually dancing when nobody’s watching? Pretty much one of my favourite ways to party with my inner soul tribe.

But note the use of the words “feel like” in the previous paragraph. What my own experience of heightened spiritual awareness has shown me, is that a back stage pass is in no way a satisfactory substitute for paying upfront for the best seats in the house. In other words, sneaking in the back door with access to the free hospitality bar, you’ll probably miss half the show – and have a hard time remembering what parts did touch your soul in the morning.

Now note the use of the word “probably.” Some of the most spirit-affirming moments of bliss I have experienced have been under the influence of spirits. Singing my heart out (don’t you love that expression?) with my girlfriends on a rooftop bar in Ibiza at 2am, because the only other people up there just got engaged; any tear-jerk sunset viewed from the edges of that same mystical island; experiencing sheer, all-consuming love on the dance floor of any given wedding; knowing that the person I’m expressing my love to feels exactly the same as me.

Which goes back to my point about alcohol being a social drug for me. Sober moments of bliss are often the ones I experience on the inside – like the intense feeling of calm after a dead night’s sleep; being guided by a healer over Skype to meet my shamanic power animal; or experiencing a heart-wrenching psychic connection to my father during a deep Kundalini meditation. The fact that I’m experiencing both on a regular basis (veering towards the internal, for what feel like deeper reaching ramifications and for my vanity) feels to me like balance.

Among my more spiritual friends, the fact I’m still quite attached to the external kind – and the substance that helps me reach them – I sometimes feel like Paris Hilton lining up for a hug with Amma. But hey, I’m only human, still a material girl just beginning to explore the true depths of our mystical world. And the fact I’m preparing to drink my way through the holiday season? A couple of years ago I would have been planning the outfits. These days, like I said, I’m already planning the detox.

@The_Numinous

The author, under the influence.