Tag Archives: Shamanism

Why Am I Writing This Book?

When I talk to folk about Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey With His Muse this is usually the first question I am asked. Here is what I reply:
Global citizens are staring into the abyss–yet instead of being eaten up by it all, I say to them: “Awaken Spiritually,” for that transforms everything. We have made our world an unpredictable beast because we fail to work with it intelligently. Rumi’s wise words are cogent: “Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.” We have to take back control of ourselves and this is a spiritual matter. Turning on the switch of awakening seems to be a good idea right now. We just need to touch the sacred in ordinary experiences of life to find the courage and determination to transform.
I am writing Trailing Sky Six Feathers to shed light on issues that will affect our world for generations to come. The example of my own challenging journey and personal transformation illuminates a path for others to expand their consciousness and chart the course for a future beyond the abyss. The human race does not need to be stuck with maladaptive options and patterns. We can and must transform. The key to change this deep freeze is Awakening, a spiritual relationship with self and Mother Earth.

The next inevitable question is – Who would be interested in this work? I reply that there are four audiences.
The Main Audience: Spiritual Seekers
I like to consider Trailing Sky Six Feathers the real life version of James Redfield’s best-selling fictional book The Celestine Prophecy. I have nine chapters, loaded with Insights and adventure. Trailing Sky Six Feathers is drawn from my actual lived experience. Reality based information is in high demand in today’s society, which provides the potential for this project to become a fresh, new icon for today’s hungry culture. Hungry, that is, for authentic transformation.

Trailing Sky Six Feathers delivers a vigorous message about personal transformation in order to become different stewards of the earth and society. Extensive shamanic training is highlighted, as it was the instrument to overcome my childhood sexual abuse. The journey of remembering childhood wounds and past lives will draw in people searching for interior solutions. In Trailing Sky Six Feathers I show that we can transform the damage and limitations of the past and step onto a path of enlightenment for all who suffer from road blocks in the mind. People around the world are overwhelmed by distraction, fear, suffering and violence – all of which keeps them frozen in a state of inaction – deeply wounded and unable to make changes within themselves and for the planet. The inner journey that occupies this book demonstrates that we do not have to be caught by our suffering, fear and maladaptive responses to Global Warming and Violence. We can take steady steps with wise mentors to break free of the chains and liberate ourselves.

The book will also attract the attention of people interested in Shamanism, Jung, Religion, New Age, Alternative Medicine, Meditation, Consciousness, Buddhism, India, Native American Culture and Wisdom of the Elders. The Sky People who mentored Trailing Sky in medicine lore will certainly pique the interest of Trekkies, given this extra-terrestrial component of the book. Ever since the Star Trek series captured the public imagination with time/space crossovers – there is an intense interest in how past realms and dimensions impact our present reality. That is the very fabric of Trailing Sky Six Feathers and it will appeal to the large Trekkie population who may be surprised that the adventure can happen without science fiction.

Men and Feminists
In Chapter Six: Rainbow Bridge Calling, I spend time exploring maps of Central Arizona to acquaint myself with the region’s ambience. I saw that Oak Creek ran through the Red Rock country of Sedona like a thread – drawing the canyons together. My exploration began with this Water element. This was one component of the Five Great Elements in Buddhist, Taoist and Native American belief – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Space. I understood the sequence as the correspondence of all things to each other driven by the feminine vessel of enlightenment. I have always thought of the present millennium as the century of the daughters. Not so much as a gender separate thing, but as attributes of a holistic, nurturing presence of mind. The feminine principle is the creator of all matter including the five elements and ourselves. This is why I began my exploration of the region with Water. Oak Creek was fed by spring water from the sacred canyons and she carried their unique energies in one stream. The foundation of the book is the feminine principle with a strong, powerful female character whose task is that of tutoring male stubbornness to surrender to the Muse.
This book will be sought out by men who acknowledge the feminine principle as a staple foundation of their masculinity. The story of my resistance, then final surrender, to The Muse will strike a chord within most men and provide encouragement for their persistent engagement with the internal feminine. Feminists will applaud and readily endorse such a book. The strong characters in the book are all women and the book revolves around the difficulties for men of engaging with the internal feminine principle. The testosterone ended drive of modern society raises the prospect of our species going over the cliff into the abyss. Trailing Sky Six Feathers moves the pendulum the other way to create a balance.

Environmentalists
In Chapter Seven: The Compass Changes, my point was that in every mind there is a Failsafe that would activate when matters grew so bad that moving to a new mindset would be inevitable. I argued that the notion of innate earth wisdom, when combined with tipping points in the mind and counter culture, would be sufficient to change our collective mentality in the direction of better earth stewardship and a new spiritual paradigm. On the flip side, I am very aware of the cascading collapse of the world’s eco-systems. That our overpopulated, technologically based civilization may not adapt to a fast changing future without wrecking the environment. If we wreck the environment we are toast. I knew to look for the means to shift our mind set. I replaced the question: “Can we fix the planet?” with a deeper question: “How do we fix ourselves?” I recognized that the modern era transition from “Reverential” to “Referential” with respect to the earth had to be reversed, pointing out that our technical and economic institutions were outstripping our basic humanity.
Planetary care is woven into this book in both the 18th and 21st centuries. The Wisdom of the Elders about the spiritual connection of humans with the Earth Mother provides the template for renewal in the first three chapters. That template is taken into the 21st century with my activism for planetary care through the Friends for Peace organization I established and write about in later chapters. This consistent address of environmental issues directly appeals to the growing environmental movement that Global Warming and Climate Change has catalyzed in the 21st century.

The Younger Generation
Also in Chapter Seven: The Compass Changes, I write about my last ecology class before retiring from Carleton University in 2007. Students encouraged me to get belligerent about Climate Change and its consequences. I enlisted their brilliance and diligence with a collective focus on eco-communities – from rural communities to urban condos – and promised to get testy. This adventure into the pre-conditions for eco-communities, however, had a much bigger intent. It reflected the particular shift in mindset required to salvage the global ecosystem for human habitation. Wherever we are located on the planet – it is essential to conduct ourselves as being part of a global eco-community. Our mindset has to be focused on the reality of living as one component of Gaia’s ecosystem. An edited collection emerged from the enthusiasm, insights and sheer hard work of these students.
This mentoring exercise with brilliant ecology students produced an excellent volume, which contributed to the 2011 Earth Day Environmental Award I received at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The highlight for me, however, was not the award. It was that the majority of students in this class chose to work as environmentalists in different sectors of the Canadian economy. They cared as much as I did and that was deeply fulfilling.

When I look at the younger generation emerging into maturity, I see beyond the ipods, electronic gadgetry and attitude to the deep intelligence that yearns for something better. I love their in-your-face attitude, as that is the energy of determination that will drive them to put things into balance on the planet. They are not caught so readily by the identities and trade-offs that my generation is so good at entertaining. They are breaking down the barriers of discrimination, storming the barricades of separation. I have only one thing to ask of them. That they slow down for a moment and hold out their hand. For as long as I have a spark in this mind and breath in this body I say to them: “Wait for me, because I am going with you.”
Young people just need to be presented with an opportunity for a way forward and the bell to step up. This book provides both. I can guarantee that Generation X and Y will respond.

DCF 1.0

Four Arrows

One morning Trailing Sky rose from the bed she shared with her husband in the cave set in the high canyon. She saw that Eagle Speaker had left before dawn to hunt. They had not eaten fresh meat for over a month, as the larger game had a tendency to migrate towards the east during the day while resting at night in the canyon valleys nearby. So he changed his pattern of hunting to track the mule deer as they grazed before sunrise. She dressed slowly, watching and becoming very aware of the shamanic energies arising within her. She stood very still at the lip of the cave, observing the first rays of daylight caressing the valley below. She swayed back and forth, rooted in one spot, and concentrated on her husband. She could clearly foresee the danger.

Front Cover Trailing Sky Six Feathers

Without waking her friend Long Willow, she took down her powerful long bow from the cave wall, selecting Eagle Speaker’s four best arrows. She knew that this day she would need every one of them. Though Eagle Speaker had left carefully so his tracks were scarcely visible, she drew on the experience shaped by her mountain home, where she knew the trace of every creature wherever she went. Quickly she found Eagle Speaker’s footprints and followed them eastwards. She noticed a rock cache with small animals that Eagle Speaker had hunted along with four broken arrows. Not the game he was looking for, but nevertheless vital to keep them alive. She carefully replaced the rocks exactly as they had been built. The tracks then led her to a dried up gulch where she saw the heavier print of his forward foot.

She stilled herself again sensing the shamanic energies. This was the place he had stood to shoot a larger game animal from his bow. Eagle Speaker had stood in that exact spot at dawn, drawing a steady bead on a large mule deer with his last arrow. His previous arrows had shattered on impact and he noted in his mind the tree he had fashioned these arrows from. His final arrow was made from stronger wood and he knew it would deeply penetrate the unaware mule deer in his view, starkly outlined by the early morning sun. As he released the arrow from his bow, his prey moved in the same instant. The strong, swift arrow did not provide a clean kill. It went deeply into the mule deer, high in the muscles of the left foreleg. Eagle Speaker whispered a prayer to the mule deer for causing unnecessary suffering. He proceeded to follow the wounded creature to end its misery. The erratic and painful trail left by the dying mule deer strayed into Tonto Apache territory. Eventually he caught up with the mule deer, exhausted and on its knees, close to a sandstone butte reaching up into the morning sky. He dispatched it with his hunting knife and enacted a simple ceremony of gratitude by cutting out part of the heart and liver, placing it on a natural rock altar. He put tobacco by the stone as an offering to the animal, then became acutely aware that he was no longer alone. He had been spotted earlier by a scout who called in two other warriors to corner this stranger hunting in their territory. One of them – the smallest – started to climb the sandstone butte, while the other two approached in a pincer movement that provided no escape. Eagle Speaker saw all three of them and knew they would kill him. He had only his hunting knife and a bow without arrows. A spontaneous shout echoed in his mind as he silently called out to Trailing Sky for help.

And there she was. Standing with her bow fully drawn, Trailing Sky commanded the edge of a clearing close to the sandstone butte. She was well shielded from sight by small ash trees. Her first arrow sent death to the scout climbing the butte and he fell with a heavy thud on the rocky floor below. This surprise pre-emptive attack made the tallest warrior move towards her at the edge of the clearing, but an arrow was already coming his way from her bow. It went right through his throat. As he turned, dropping his weapons while clutching at his throat, her third arrow went directly through his heart killing him instantly. The third warrior was in fierce hand to hand battle with Eagle Speaker and had gained the upper hand, throwing Eagle Speaker against the rock wall of the red sandstone butte. As he raised his battle axe to strike a death blow, Trailing Sky’s fourth arrow, shot with great accuracy, entered below his armpit, through his chest into the heart. The warrior fell forward and Eagle Speaker tore the battle axe from his hands and finished the death process with a swift smash to the skull. It was all over in a matter of seconds.

Eagle Speaker stood there with the battle axe in his hand, breathing heavily as Trailing Sky, with the stealth of a mountain lion, approached the two other scouts, now motionless on the ground. Her hunting knife was drawn, but there was no need. They were both dead. She walked slowly towards Eagle Speaker and he fell to his knees in front of her and wept. Trailing Sky lifted him up and gently wiped his tears away. Eagle Speaker’s voice came out as a sob. “You heard me..”
“My husband, I heard your scream long before you uttered it in your mind. I have been tracking you since dawn, knowing the danger that would befall you.”

He knew he would never understand her gifts of seeing and felt humbled by her presence in his life. Trailing Sky was filled with gratitude that his life was still with her, as she feared the dislocation that a different outcome that day would have created.
Eagle Speaker’s strategic sense quickly re-asserted itself. “We must take the arrows out of the slain Apache scouts and from the mule deer. Leave the bodies right here, just where they have fallen. The animals and vultures will come and scatter their remains and cover some of our tracks.” Trailing Sky nodded her consent. The sun had begun to rise and they knew they had to be meticulous. They created a false trail to a pass in the canyon wall that led to the southern plateaus. Retracing their steps to the killing ground by the clearing next to the sandstone rock, they began the painstakingly slow removal of all trace of their passage westwards. Eagle Speaker took care to relocate the rock cache he had built for the small animals he had killed – two rabbits and two small grouse. He retrieved his shattered arrows and scattered the rocks in the pinyon forest, leaving one dead grouse for vultures to find and scatter their unmistakable presence over their tracks.

It was nightfall before they got close to the safe haven of their cave. Trailing Sky stopped and gave the small grouse call. Long Willow loomed out of the darkness, with her long gun leveled at them and her battle axe slung over one shoulder. She had stationed herself at a hidden juncture of the trail leading to their cave, ready for the worst. She had sensed the same foreboding that drew Trailing Sky out at dawn, but did not have her gifts of seeing. Trailing Sky whispered to her briefly what had happened. Long Willow nodded silently and beckoned them to go on to the cave while she checked that they had not been followed. She returned several hours later in the dark. They did not light a fire, wrapping themselves in blankets and animal skins for warmth. They humbly offered prayers for the three slain Apache scouts. They did not leave the cave for a week, surviving on dried berries, water and their scant supply of dried meat. Long Willow maintained a sharp vigilance during this time, her long gun trained on the trail far below. No-one came their way.

 DCF 1.0

Shamanic Healing Journey

Shamanic Healing Journey

 Tipi

I offered a shamanic healing journey to the Pine Gate Sangha in Ottawa recently. The healing ceremony is based on considerations of safety, sacredness and responsibility. It draws from two traditions that I have extensive experience with – shamanism and Buddhist meditation practices.  I began the healing ceremony with a cycle of conscious breathing, so that everybody’s awareness becomes attached to in-breath and to out-breath.  I emphasize the circle motif during the opening symbol of external purification where individuals gather in a circle. Burning sage is smudged over each person in a clockwise direction.  During this opening process sacred Native American flute music is played softly, as people gather for the ceremony. I encourage folk to validate their experiences from their own internal recognitions. This can be discussed at the end of the ceremony and rests on the necessity of knowing for oneself the significance of one’s own experiences, rather than relying on what someone says should be experienced.

For the actual journey, the participants are accompanied by nature-based music that incorporates animal and birdcalls, and other sounds drawn from the world of nature. This is played softly.  There are many variations to a shamanic journey – into the past, into the future, under the sea, into the earth, beyond time and space, and they can be guided or non-guided. The careful preparation leading up to the journey is to ground the person in their body. I felt that this care was essential so that past fears and future anxieties that arise during the shamanic journey can be dealt with from a solid foundation. I will document only one form of guided symbolic imagery and ask the reader to suspend disbelief sufficiently to accompany me on this journey.

See yourself walking through a beautiful meadow, full of flowers.  You hear the sounds of insects humming, and birds singing.  The sun feels warm on your face and a slight breeze ruffles your hair.  As you walk, look up into an endlessly clear blue sky and for a moment allow yourself to merge with it, and enter such clarity.  (Pause)

Notice a small shape hovering in the sky that gets bigger as it comes closer to you, and see a golden eagle slowly circling above you.  He is your guardian and will watch over you and keep you safe on your journey.  As you walk, the meadow slowly gives way to a river that runs over rocks before eddying into deep, still pools.  Follow the bank of the river in the direction of the sun.  There is a path to walk along.  Notice the mallard ducks at the water’s edge with their ducklings, and a kingfisher sitting patiently on a branch overhanging a deep, still pool.  The sun filters through the trees at the river’s edge and the light dances on the rocks and water like a crystal cloak that shimmers and moves with every swirl and eddy.  (Pause)

  Walking round a bend you see that the river runs from a clear lake fringed with forests, reflecting snow-capped mountains in its still surface.  Find a spot by the side of the lake, sit down and enjoy the intimacy of nature that is around you.  At the end of the lake you see a cow moose with her calf at the water’s edge.  In the distance you hear wolves calling to one another, then you notice two rabbits beside a shrub close by.  A doe and two fawns walk slowly and tentatively from the forest into the sunlight.  Skylarks hover motionless in the sky then descend to earth with their lilting song.  Your eyes are drawn to a stately blue heron standing motionless in the reeds at the lake’s edge.  These creatures and more are there to remind you of your connection to the world of nature.  Take a moment to be with the grass, the trees, animals, birds, insects, and bring to this place your favourite animals.  (Pause)

  Ask one of the creatures to accompany you on your journey and wait to see which one comes forward.  It does not matter if none come forward, the golden eagle still circles overhead as your guardian. (Pause)

  After sitting by the lake’s edge for a while, stand up and slowly walk into the water.  It is icy cold, fed by glaciers from the snow-capped mountains. But it is a cold that is easily bearable because it purifies, stripping you of your anxieties, stress and worries.  Slowly walk into the water up to your hips, your chest and then submerge yourself in the icy cold embrace of purification. Underwater you can breathe and move around with ease.  Notice the rays of sunlight coming into the water, fish swimming swiftly past and see the rocks and submerged tree trunks on the lake floor.  As you move around and adjust to the water you see a cave at the bottom of the lake and you swim strongly and powerfully to it and enter the cave.  There is light at the end of a long underwater passage and you swim through and emerge out of the water into a cavern covered in crystals.  The sound from the crystals shimmers through your body.  At the edge of the cavern is a waterfall.  Stand underneath it and feel the water washing over and right through your body.  Feel the energy of the waterfall taking away any anxiety, tension and distress you may feel inside.  (Pause)

  Leave the cavern and follow a trail that takes you through a pine forest.  Beautiful tall pines are on either side of you, stretching up into the sky.  Take a moment and see the entire blue sky endlessly clear and enter such clarity.  (Pause)

  Then see how the forest opens up into a large clearing with a big flat rock in the centre.  There is a fire prepared for you by the rock.  As you warm your hands by the fire and feel its warmth on your face, you feel a presence next to you.  Turning around you see a beautiful old woman with clear brown eyes that look right into you. She smiles in welcome and you feel she knows all about you and embraces you in a simple, heartfelt love.  She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you.  (Pause)

  Standing next to her is a handsome old man, with weathered features and a gentle smile that lights you up.  From his eyes you feel an overwhelming compassion and understanding.  He is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you.  (Pause)

Sacawajea

  Between the old man and old woman is a young woman who sparkles.  She is fresh, vibrant and beautiful, aglow with life’s vitality.  She also greets you with a smile, and a love and understanding that you know is unconditional.  She is the feminine source of Earth Wisdom and a lightning rod for your transformation. She knows very well the suffering and chaos of modern times. She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you, particularly if you are at the crossroads of New Beginnings and ready to discard the old damaging tapes you run in your mind. Her power has an infinite depth and force.  (Pause)

  Know that these three shamans come from the deepest part of yourself and they represent your own powers of creativity and self-healing. The three shamans approach you and invite you to speak to them.  Choose who you wish to communicate with, and talk to them about whatever distresses you; the anxieties of the day, the stresses at work and at home, then if you wish, go deeper into your distress.  Talk to them about growing up, the neglect and abuse you may have experienced, the isolation, separation and lack of understanding you encountered as a young person, adolescent and adult.  Talk about the damage caused to you and the damage you may have caused others. Talk about the hatreds, angers and insensitivities you experience and perpetuate.  You can say anything to these three shamans.  They understand and love you and are there to heal you.  Talk about whatever you feel free to communicate and feel the distress and trauma leaving your body.  And when you run out of things to say, just be with their loving and supportive presence. For now, open up and speak to one of these immensely powerful shamans placed on your path. (Pause)

 Ask each one of them if they would transfer their power of creativity, understanding and healing to your awareness.  And of course they agree.  Look into the eyes of each one of them in turn and feel the transfer of their healing power with a jolt or energy circulation within your body.  Thank them for this gift then ask if you could speak to someone from the other side.  Someone who has passed on that you did not have the opportunity to say what you wanted to say, or hear what you would have liked to hear.  Wait and see if anyone comes and do not be disappointed if nothing happens.  It is not the time  (Pause)

  Take your leave of the shamans. Thank them for their support, love and power of healing.  Turning round you see a beautiful child surrounded with a golden aura.  This golden child is you — without trauma, wounds or damage — the child comes directly to you and takes your hand, and leads you to a cliff edge where the beautiful golden eagle is waiting for you.  He has been there as a guardian throughout your journey and is now ready to take you home.  (Pause)

  Ask your golden child if he or she wants to come with you, then climb onto the back of the eagle, and feel him take off from the ledge and soar high on the updrafts.  Below you, see the mountains, lakes and forests of your journey. Smoke curls lazily skyward from the fire by the rock and as you fly with the eagle feel how beautiful this earth is. Then when you feel ready to do so, part company from the eagle and fly on your own with your golden child next to you.  With your arms spread wide as wings, catch the air currents and soar, then swoop low over the streams and mountains and enjoy the strength of flying on your own as your golden child merges with you as one unified being.  (Pause)

  Slowly fly back to the edge of the lake where you were sitting.  Once again notice the animals, birds and insects and see how happy they are to see you again.  Sit there for a time.  (Pause)

  See yourself sitting or lying down in the healing circle.   Form a circle of brilliant white light around where you are sitting or lying down, then step through the light and slowly return to your body.  Breathe deeply on the in-breath and deeply on the out-breath.  As you breathe in, say quietly to yourself  “I have arrived”.  As you breathe out, say quietly to yourself  “I am home”.  Continue to do this breathing exercise for at least five minutes or until you feel “arrived” and “home” in your body.

After the safe return I conduct a final meditation with light. A tray of lighted candles is passed round the circle in a clockwise direction. Each person in turn, acknowledges the light and healing in the next person from the light and healing that is in them. This cuts the severity of surfacing and clearing fetters, knots and blockages – releasing energy “sinks.” The internal dialogue with the shamans at the rock is with the powerful inner material of creative self-healing and transformation that exists in everyone. Throughout the breathing cycles and journey other material from the depths of consciousness will surface. It is essential to be aware and dialogue with it – so the energy of trauma is steadily diminished.  These aspects of interior suffering cannot be left there on their own, as they may be dangerous and destructive both for the individual and others they will inevitably project onto. It is necessary to bring to the surface the awareness of mindfulness and the power of self-healing to take care of the trauma. Then an individual can begin to see deeply and take the steps to transform the energy of trauma. The final meditation with light acknowledges that there is more to consciousness than trauma, suffering, blockages and energy “sinks.” There are seeds of happiness, joy and grace that acknowledge the inherent Divinity within everyone. The acknowledgement in the final meditation nurtures these seeds in consciousness and creates a crucial finale to the healing journey.

Ian offering flower

 

 

Transformation in India: Part I

Transformation in India Part I

 

Excerpt from Chapter Five of forthcoming book – Trailing Sky Six Feathers.

 

Streaming video of “Cremation Pyres on the Ganges” – text, photos and voice – http://www.ianprattis.com/poemmovies/cremationpyrepoem.htm

 

We are so happy Ian that you have decided to die with us in India. And even more happy if you live.

Huddled on a bed in an ashram in Mumbai, India I opened my eyes to see a visiting Swami sitting beside me. I felt very calm about letting go of my bodily existence. I knew that the experiences of joy and freedom flooding through me at this time were dissolving my many mistakes and bodily pain. Trailing Sky was there constantly – I even wrote in my India diary and notes that there was a female deity orchestrating all the energies to keep me alive. Not realizing, until reviewing my diaries years later, that Trailing Sky was staring me in the face, challenging me to acknowledge who it was that saved my life in India. She must have been exasperated with how dense and unseeing I was at that time.

I had traveled to India in 1996 to teach and train in Siddha Samadhi Yoga. The Vedic tradition I was studying was ecumenical in character, a wisdom tradition totally relevant to the modern day. The ashram in Mumbai was reserved for saints and holy men. I did not qualify for either category. Lying close to death, the lack of fear provided a sense of freedom and strength. At last I felt truly like me, very peaceful, no longer a maverick standing alone. I did survive and completed my guru training six months later at a remote ashram, going into total silence during the last two weeks. Before I took my leave from the ashram the Swami arranged a parting ceremony – an initiation to receive the mantle of the guru that I was now recognized as.

In the groove

In November and December of 1996 I had become seriously ill in India. As I observed my bodily systems crashing one by one I knew there was a distinct possibility of death. To this day I am still amazed by my calmness and lack of fear. In my family and culture there is very little discussion about death and dying, though as a child I did have an intuitive understanding. When my grandfather died I felt him as a tangible presence when he was in his coffin. I quietly whispered to this gracious being: “Go to Heaven now grandpa.” I also remember at his wake how upset I became by my relatives drinking, arguing and being disrespectful to one another. In tears I sought out my grandmother and complained that everyone was making it hard for my grandpa to go to Heaven.  She listened carefully to me and wiped my tears away, then walked into the living room of her house and with quiet authority asked everyone to go home. It was much later in life, once I was exposed to Buddhist teachings on death and dying, that I realized I was not such a crazy kid after all. I had cared for my grandfather’s consciousness after his physical death.

While in India I also trained in the mastery of “bija” mantra.  Bija means “seed” and the seed mantras are powerful instruments of transformation. The major mantra I trained with, however, was the Gayatri Mantra, the main feature of the Sandhya–Upasana ceremony – a sacred ritual for Brahmanic definitions within Hinduism. It was part of my training in becoming a guru in Siddha Samadhi Yoga. The Gayatri is considered by Indian sages to be the most powerful mantra of purification and transformation, as it expands consciousness in multiple directions. The successive sounds of the Sanskrit syllables move the individual chanting it into elevated states of spiritual experience. As an invocation for enlightenment it has the effect of drawing other individuals into the same state.  This is the theory – as told to me in India.

Two twenty eight day training periods, six months apart, were the high points that the rest of my training built up to. My cultural and religious background was not the same as my two cohorts, yet the experiences we shared were remarkably similar. I could observe my mental states, compare them with reports from my peers, then verify them with the Swami overseeing the training.  Then from my experience, I could verify – or not – the claims made about the Gayatri mantra. The Gayatri ceremony was conducted at sunrise and sunset each day. The mantra was the central component of a long Sanskrit chant that prepared each one of us to experience the full effects of Gayatri. Prior to the training retreats I had months of preparation – with attention to specific meditations, dietary regime and sexual abstinence. I learned how to chant the Gayatri and co-ordinate it with the four components of breath: inhalation, holding the air inside, exhalation, holding the emptiness. There was a mathematical precision in tone, pitch and resonance of the mantra, as it was exactly co-ordinated with the different components of breath and hand movements over the body. It was all quite complex and overwhelming and I frequently wondered if I would ever get it right. I benefited from the persistence and encouragement of my cohorts who were determined that I not be left behind. I also had skilled and patient teachers who made the effort to transmit this oral tradition, thousands of years old, to a westerner not used to this form of education.

Our preparation for each ceremony was through extensive pranayama – breathing exercises – before sunrise and sunset. Attention was always brought to the union of the individual with the Universal. The rituals of the Gayatri ceremony had to be performed with grace, and clumsiness was frowned upon. In the early days I certainly drew a lot of frowns from the Swami and Rishi who oversaw the training. The effects on me were far reaching. During the first training period the twice-daily recitation brought on heavy night-time fevers. I would feel perfectly fine during the day, yet at night it felt as though I was running a high fever, although there was no unusual increase in temperature.  I found that my peers were feeling similar discomfort, though nobody was ill. I asked the Swami about this.  He indicated that we were all feeling the initial effects of the Gayatri Sandhya. Before it could penetrate our being and expand consciousness there was a great deal of “dross” to burn off – hence the fever-like states. I reported back to everyone’s relief.

My consultations with the Swami became quite an amusing ritual, as members of my cohort would not ask questions. Yet they encouraged me to do so and gave me questions of their own. It became a way to check my experience with that of others, and then seek verification from the Swami, who had quite a benevolent attitude towards me. My fellow trainees would wait for the results of my consultations, crowd round and listen to whatever I had to report. We would then discuss it from the perspective of our own experiences. It was amazing at how similar they were.  I felt it wise to always give my experiences last, so as not to provide an influence or “track” for others’ reporting.

The most significant cognitive changes came about when chanting the Gayatri with the different phases of breath and levels of mantra. These combinations produced hyper-lucidity and sharpness. This sharpness was essential for me, because there was so much to co-ordinate at different levels. I felt very alert, as though I was climbing stairs of consciousness. This was similar to the experiences of my shamanic training with White Eagle Woman. I was moving through states of consciousness to different levels of cognition but always felt a sense of being aware of where I was, of what was taking place in the multiple levels of consciousness experienced. New spaces were opening up in my mind, while I was also very aware of being located in the physical realm – an insight confirmed by the Swami without my asking. Not all members of my cohort experienced this aspect of dual consciousness. The Swami was on the lookout for trainees who got “stuck” and had difficulty returning. He also confided that he had fully expected me to be the one he had to look out for the most and was pleased that this was not so. Me too.

The second training period was with a different cohort in a different part of India – Karnataka as opposed to Andra Pradesh.  My new cohort was made up of experienced meditation teachers and exceptional gurus – quite the lineup of wisdom. With this powerful group of beings the sunset ceremony was conducted by running water to deepen the silence, stillness and penetration of the mantra. The chanting of the Gayatri took place with all of us standing up to our waists in the water. When it came to the point of suspending thought and allowing the Gayatri to arise spontaneously, to my total astonishment it did just that.  At the same time I could feel and identify the particles of mud between my toes, see minute electrons in the air and look down on my wisdom buddies from a great height. I felt encompassed by the evening sky and at the same time I encompassed the sunset, the evening sky and everything beyond it. This experience was repeated with varying intensity during every sunset rendition of the Gayatri-Sandhya. I never felt it necessary to communicate this to the Swami or to members of my second cohort. I went into total silence during the last two weeks and do not recall talking to anyone, as everyone very carefully left me in the silence.

In my diaries I recorded my experiences in poetry and art – a totally inadequate exposition for something that cannot be fully expressed in either. I persist with this inadequacy, through words, to convey some semblance of the experience. Before I took my leave from the ashram the Swami asked to speak to me. He described my experiences in complete, precise detail and arranged a parting ceremony – an initiation to receive the grace of a guru through the name assigned to me: Prem Chaitania.  My wisdom buddies were delighted by this. My teachers informed me that the Gayatri would continue to work on my consciousness, whether I was aware of it or not. Any awareness would provide an arrow of insight into further changes.  There were other perceptual and cognitive experiences that I am not at liberty to communicate, and still others that I choose not to relate.  Training with Gayatri had major life changing effects, not the least being that I became a better and more skillful teacher, both to meditation and university students.  As for the rest of my life – that it is still a work in progress!

What I can say from personal experience is that once my wild mind was reined in, clarity and compassion were suddenly there in greater compass. This provided a different basis for how to be with the planet and others in a new way. It was how to move from the Seventh Fire to the Eighth Fire – the Seven Fires Prophecy learned from Grandfather William Commanda. Whatever it takes to tame the wild mind. This partial account of my journey in India is to demonstrate that my activism for peace, planetary care and social justice now came from a different place as a result of the internal work. Steadiness, clarity and compassion are there rather than ego posturing from the lunatic fringe. Though there was a “rush” from the latter, I prefer the still-point, uncoloured by the excess of ego and desire for control and kudos-seeking. Such a still-point permits me to be free in my own sovereignty, no matter what I am doing. It also propels me to serve the planet and humanity in a way of creating bridges and pathways of harmony that make sense – to make the Eighth Fire a reality rather than a prophecy. My work in progress is ongoing, anchored by the presence of Trailing Sky throughout my journeys. I have no doubt about her presence throughout my process of healing and transformation and know she was waiting throughout the shadows of my life.