Can you give an example of a hard time and of something that emerged?
Yes. I mean what started to happen in winter was I went into hibernation. And the elements were really working me. I was soot covered and lighting fires with my hands twice a day and not really seeing many other humans and I’d been there for six months. So I was really starting to drop into that very instinctive, intuitive, animal-like nature. And I was deliberately doing things to break any routines, like sleeping at different or wandering around at night in the forest, amping up the sense of extraordinary and uncertainty. I did that primarily to train the muscle of intuition so that I was responding to the world from impulse. When do I actually want to sleep? When do I want to eat? Et cetera. And I was wandering and dancing a lot. And reading and writing. And what started to happen was all this old emotional material from childhood just started to rise up—anger and grief and fear, all of this was all very foreign to me. I didn’t really know what to do with it. All I could do was let it out and trust that there was some kind of clearing going on. One of the classic mystical analogies is becoming a hollow bone. So life can just flow through you, so creator can just flow through you. And so it was in service of that really, becoming more of that hollow bone.
[Laugh]. Yeah. I’m laughing because I feel like I’ve been going through a similar process to that this year but I’ve had quite a lot of support. Like mentors and a counsellor. And I’m just imagining you going through that by yourself.
It was mostly by myself. I did have a mentor that I’d get on a call with once a month. And he basically said, “Just keep releasing it, keep releasing it, keep dancing it and moving it through the body.” And so I dove deep into my descent, and it was real and raw and humbling. And the grief really opened me to much deeper states of connectedness, to the spirit that moves in and through all things.
So in that moment when you felt that connection to everything, how did you feel it? Did you see images or was it in your body, or did you just know? I know it’s hard to explain these things but I’m going to ask you to try anyway!
So I’m remembering one moment where I was just walking back up from the waterhole. And my mind was pretty thoughtless. Just wasn’t much chatter at all. I was walking towards the trees and their edges became fuzzy and they just appeared more three dimensional, and I could see the water flowing through them almost. And just this sense of them coming closer to me. Like this kind of ecstatic sense of connection and beauty. That’s one moment of grace, one might call it mystical. They just drop in and it could be on a city street, or just suddenly having that felt, somatic, embodied sense of interconnectedness and knowledge that I am a wild magical creature like every other creature on earth.
It’s funny that you say on the city streets ’cause I was thinking before this conversation, you know, have I had any experiences of these other ways of knowing? And I thought actually one that really stands out for me was when I was a teenager living in London. My mum had to have a serious operation at one stage and I was really afraid about it. I’d been at school all day and I was feeling really nervous. And as I was walking home, I passed this Italian restaurant that’s just before our house, and suddenly I just knew that she was okay and that it had gone okay. And I’ve no way to explain it, I don’t know how I knew. I just had this real felt sense of knowing.
Knowing without knowing how you know. For sure a kind of mystical experience. It makes it sound like they’re really uncommon, and maybe they are, but I don’t think they need to be or have been previously. I think they’re available to us all the time. It’s a lot to do with intention and then attention. It’s a reciprocal relationship. We’re not the only ones in the conversation, you can’t force it. It’s like, you take yourself to bed but you can’t force sleep. You just put yourself in the right conditions where grace might visit.
And what do you think people can do to open themselves up more to richer layers of experience? And what stops us from doing that?
I guess there are small and large gestures, you could think of them as. I’ve just come back from guiding a vision quest. Which is funny ’cause when I first got Nathan’s email about this edition, mysticism, I said, “Well, funny, I’m currently guiding 14 people who are right now out on a mountain for four days and nights fasting on their own.” It’s a contemporary practice of mysticism in a shamanic way. These people sacrifice a lot for a mystical experience. They sacrifice food for four days, they sacrifice comfort, familiarity. And when they come back in on that fifth morning, that first light, it’s so exquisite. They’re so unmasked. They’re so raw. And I’m the lucky one who gets to hug them and welcome them back, and I can feel it now, the power of what they’ve experienced. So that would be one practice, but it’s not a daily practice, it might be a once in a lifetime. But these experiences are available to us in a contemporary way that’s designed for westerners. Smaller gestures are things like simply leaving your phone at home and wandering out in nature, which could be a city park, and playing with that invitation that everything is as interested and curious in you as you are in it. It really does open up the doors of perception.
My sit spot which is down by the river here, I leave my phone inside and go down to the river and do what one of my teachers calls, “revelling in the temples,” revelling in the temples of creation. Expanding my senses to soak everything in. It’s a wild state of mind. Which of course in maybe hunter-gatherer culture was probably more of the default. Less so for us. But it’s not unobtainable. There’s just different layers of it. I’ve seen people experience significant shifts in consciousness through just wandering in the city and observing nature and tracking. Like really being curious and following your nose about what are the foxes doing and where are the birds? It’s like developing a mythic relationship with the land. Like, migratory birds and animals and the movements of weather, and for me that definitely cultivates the conditions that are ripe for kind of deeper experiences of being.