Saturday, April 28, 2012

Shadow Play

One of my favorite prayers begins this way…“I breathe with the universal forces of creation.” Oh, my, what a line! While there are many ways to understand these words, let’s take our cue from eastern spiritual traditions and the concept of Yin Yang. 

Our world is one of duality, a world of this and that, light and dark, movement and stillness, growth and decay. Yang is the term for the active, expansive energies, while Yin refers to those that are receptive and inward~turning. Yang builds up while Yin lets go. Yin and Yang are not antagonistic, but complementary halves of a unified whole. The prayer above encourages us to breathe in harmony with them. 

It does something more, though. It points to the literal truth that we actually embody Yin Yang in every breath we take.We energize as we draw in oxygen on the inhale, activating Yang energy. Yin comes as we relax into the exhale, releasing carbon dioxide. When we breathe with this awareness, Yin and Yang cease to be concepts. No longer mere nouns, they have become verbs. We Yang on the inhale and Yin on the exhale.
Instinctively, we know that, in the breath, the two need to be in balance. So, too, throughout our lives. Yin and Yang are then able to flow one to the other as effortlessly as an easy, relaxed respiration cycle.
By becoming conscious of the larger forces reflected in the breath, we’re given a framework to take with us into the world, one that helps us organize our experience, recognize when our balance is off, and intuit how to restore it. When we notice we're not doing what needs doing~~through procrastination, avoidance or just plain laziness~~we recognize we need to Yang it up a bit. And when we’re pushing too hard, we know a dollop of Yin is called for. The latter happened in my world just this morning.
Early attempts to write this essay were not successful. I couldn’t string two sentences together in a pleasing way, and the words were not doing what I had already decided they would do. Still I pressed on, despite a growing frustration. And then it came to me. I was willfully pushing ahead, trying to force a process that couldn’t be forced. I was lopsided, leaning too far toward Yang~~while I was exploring the need for balance, no less! Ah, the irony.
With that recognition, though, my path forward became clear. I needed to slow down and invite some Yin into the mix. I sat a few minutes in the April sunshine. I mindfully prepared a pot of soup for dinner. I reminded myself that all was well, that an essay would, indeed, get written. And I accepted that I could not Yang my way to the finished piece.
No, balance was needed~~the Yang dedication to working the words, yes, but with a Yin receptivity that would allow them to evolve in their own way. Things progressed more smoothly after that. And my learning of an hour or two earlier is now an integral part of this final piece. Yin mixed with Yang to create something I could not have foreseen.
And so we practice consciously blending Yin and Yang in proportions appropriate to each situation. As we do this, though, something else occurs. We find ourselves moving toward that which is greater and more enduring than either one or both together.
Yin and Yang do make our physical world possible and offer us a playground in which to develop our personalities and grow our spirits. But that duality is also illusion, mere shadow play. Yin and Yang stream from a greater energy, one whose Light shines through them both.
We do, indeed, breathe with the universal forces of creation~~the Yin, the Yang and that unfathomable Oneness which infuses and illuminates them both. 

Blessings on your own Yin Yang shadow play!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Open and In Awe

In 1994, a cave was discovered in southern France. Entrance obliterated by a rock slide ages ago, its contents had been left undisturbed and protected from the elements for some 20,000 years. Filmmaker Werner Herzog describes this cave as, “a frozen flash of a moment in time.” In his mesmerizing documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, he takes us deep into the recesses of Chauvet Cave.
We enter through a steel door installed to protect the delicate climate within. Our path lit only by a few battery~operated cold light panels, we descend narrow stairs to the first of several large chambers. And here, we get a hint of what is to come. In front of us, a section of wall known as “the red dots” displays a collection of handprints from a single human long since gone.
Traversing 2~foot~wide metal walkways suspended above a bone~littered floor, our gaze touches the shimmering remains of cave bear, wolves, ibex, horses, a golden eagle. Stalagmites, stalactites and draperied concretions like fossilized waves glimmer as well. Archeologist and scholar of Paleolithic culture Dominique Baffier explains that eons of dripping water have created “crystals that glitter… rimstone calcite ridges have covered everything in sparkling formation, a kind of cascade.”            
Hauntingly beautiful. Yet this is not why we are here. Chauvet Cave contains some of the best preserved and oldest known cave paintings in the world.
“The paintings looked so fresh,” Herzog explains in his heavily accented German, “that there were initial doubts about their authenticity.” Radiocarbon dating, however, suggests the paintings were created between 30,000 and 35,000 years ago.
As we move deeper into the cave, exquisitely executed images dance against the hard surface of the cave wall~~rhinoceros, aurochs, cave lion, bison, mammoth, cave bear, panther, and insects. One exceptionally beautiful panel contains numerous overlapping horses, seemingly in motion, open mouths emitting an almost audible whinny.
“The walls themselves are not flat,” Herzog explains, “but have their own three~dimensional dynamic, their own movement, which was utilized by the artists, (creating)…the illusion of movement, like frames in an animated film.”
The dynamic beauty of the artwork, the dim torch~like lighting, the evocative background music~~all these bring us a palpable sense of the holiness of this place. There seems no doubt that these long~ago people opened to Spirit here.
Herzog’s interview with one unidentified man elucidates two interconnected concepts that give us a glimpse into the spirituality of the people of Chauvet Cave. “Fluidity,” he explains, “means that the categories that we have~~man, woman, horse…tree~~can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers…between the world where we are and the world of the spirits. A wall can talk to us or a wall can accept us or refuse us.”
While few in our modern world believe that a human can literally become a bear, I suspect our experience of spirituality is not so very different from the painters of Chauvet. A wall teeming with sacred art viewed in the darkened light of a cavern deep within the earth still opens us to awe.
French archeologist Julien Monney tells the story of an ethnographer traveling with an aborigine through the Australian outback. Coming upon some decaying rock art, the native man immediately began restoring it. The ethnographer asked him why he was painting. The aborigine answered, “I am not painting. This is my hand, only my hand. It is Spirit who paints.”
All of life interconnected, fluid and permeable. Energy, like an underground river moving through it all. 

Quantum physics now confirms this. Early humans already knew it. We all do, at least when we stand open and in awe.  

In awe and in love,

Loanne Marie