Friday, November 14, 2014
Letting God Out of the Box: Reflections on Frank Schaeffer's New Book, "Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God"
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Friday, June 13, 2014
Once again I have found myself involved in discussion around an issue that keeps coming up, the same thing back and forth endlessly, so that I think it is worth addressing in my blog for future reference when and as needed. The issue this time is religion. My atheist friends and acquaintances often try to engage me in arguments about my alleged “Christian beliefs” which they aggressively repudiate – not realizing that, in fact, I’m on their side.
We can enjoy the Nutcrackerwithout basing the laws of our society on the ballet, legislating that women ought to starve themselves and dress in tutus, or that men should don soldier uniforms and devote their lives to battling rats. Likewise, it is neither necessary nor desirable to adopt a 2000+ year-old Middle Eastern “moral code” in order to celebrate our Christian ritual, and it is not appropriate to impose the barbaric customs of that time and place on our modern society. When I mentioned in a Facebook discussion the other day that contrary to popular belief, not all Christians are misogynistic, somebody looking for an argument challenged me, “What about, ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.’ Don’t Episcopalians follow the Bible?!” Thank God, we do not. That is why we have female priests, and why our church has been on the forefront of promoting women’s reproductive rights and voting rights.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Occasionally people ask the amusing question, "Are you enlightened?" or, conversely, they will assert, "You are not enlightened!" [never said I was]. LOL! It is "amusing" because obviously the question cannot be answered by "me," since one of the features of "enlightenment" is the understanding that this little self, the ego, is a mere mental construct, a sort of lens or filter through which Consciousness at large experiences life. The statement "I am enlightened" makes no sense, because who is speaking?! Sometimes, though, they will persist and demand to know, according to certain precise technical definitions, which state/s of samadhi, if any, I enjoy.
I don't particularly care about these nit-picky definitions, but some people are really into them. I was having a discussion with one such friend about whether or not thought still happens after nirvikalpa samadhi. My friend said no, of course not! but I had to wonder, how would the person then function in the world? Surely the brain must still operate in some manner, with or without ego awareness.
I did some research online and encountered the writings of an advaitan enlightened master who, when interviewed, declared, "there is no sensory input whatsoever, no thinking of any kind, the mind and senses are completely dead!" Um, if so, then how are you hearing what the interviewer is saying and how are you responding to the question? One of his students, likewise said to be a totally enlightened master having attained nirvikalpa samadhi, wrote a very beautiful and quite lengthy poem which discussed and analyzed in some detail how "my master destroyed my ego with a glance of his loving wisdom," "I was previously in darkness but now in the light," "my master did this, I responded thusly, this happened, that happened, and now I don't exist at all and my mind is completely dead!" - went on for pages about how his mind was completely dead and nonexistent. Apparently the poem basically wrote itself?!
The best one, though, was another enlightened master who, when someone asked about his cigarette smoking habit, replied, "I am not smoking. You only think I am smoking because of your belief in the illusion of separate persons inhabiting these bodies. I do not exist, therefore how can I be smoking? It is illusion on your part." So, I'm not going to discuss or dispute the various definitions of samadhi, other than to say that the idea can be taken to silly extremes and, as with "enlightenment," there may be an inherent linguistic problem in discussing it.
With regard to "enlightenment," my teacher Mark Whitwell, echoing U.G. Krishnamurti, says that the search itself is the problem. We are fine just as we are. There is nothing to be achieved. Mark has said, "It is intimacy we need, not enlightenment." Yoga is not a means for reaching some far-off goal, to become something that we are not. Rather, yoga is simply relaxing into what he calls our "Natural State." And what would that be like?
I don't know exactly what it will be like for you. Everybody is unique. There are several different schools of yoga which appeal to various personality types. E.g., there are those who favor jnana yoga, which I explored for a while in my youth, until I became bored with the mind chasing itself like a dog chasing his own tail; you know he's never going to catch it. Knowledge can be very freeing, but there's a big difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing it experientially. But if it works for you, great! Or maybe you are a karma yogi working tirelessly to make the world a better place, offering up all the fruits of your labors, knowing that God is the only Doer; you find your nirvana in digging wells and building houses for the poor. Good for you.
All I can really tell you is, how things look from here, from my perspective as a bhakti-tantrika practicing Heart of Yoga technique. It has given me (among other things) exactly what I had wanted all those years: Divine intimacy! The God Whom I had previously experienced only during meditation burst forth into my waking existence as an immediate, palpable and continual Presence. Oh, there were other perks, too, like the deep, vast inner silence; the quieting of the monkey-mind; the blessed relief of no longer carrying the heavy burden of the self, having been lifted from my shoulders; the end of fear and worry; feeling for the first time in my life, truly comfortable in my own skin. But most of all, the incredible, infinite Bliss and Love of God, right here, closer than my own heartbeat.
Now I'm not going to get into an argument about the Personal versus the Impersonal Divine which, depending on whom you ask, one is superior to the other. God delights in manifesting to His or Her devotees in Personal form, as we are persons. At the same time, God is beyond personal and impersonal. And while we're at it, God is the only Reality, but everything is a manifestation of the Divine! God wanted to manifest as us, these personalities, in these bodies, in this natural world, and as tantrikas we celebrate it. The creation was not a mistake. The body is not a prison from which we need to escape in order to "get closer to God" if that were even possible which, as Mark points out, it is not, because God is not absent. Rather, as long as we remain in this body, it is a vehicle for Sacrament. And our spouse, if we are fortunate enough to be blessed with one, is literally God's Love for us in the flesh.
This is a perfect arrangement for a bhakti-tantrika because all aspects of life become an offering: the kiss of the sun, the caress of the breeze, the smell of the warm earth, flowers and grass, the taste of food and wine, physical and mental labor, surfing, dance, asana and sex. All love songs on the radio are for Him. Every experience, each breath an offering to the Beloved! There is an increasing translucency to the self, which only exists to experience God and to please Him. As much or as little of the self may be preserved so that it can be given to God in the oneness of lovers, or a drop dissolving into the ocean.
It is a state of being more utterly, completely in Love than one would think possible. As Mark says in his book The Promise, "Your relationship with Source Reality is extremely private, deeply personal, and utterly passionate. I want you to be besotted with Source Reality, to love your life as passionately as you would a secret lover. And I’m promising you that you can."
With a consistent daily yoga practice, burdens are released, the heart is opened and Love begins to flow as we relax into our Natural State. Eventually that Love pours through every cell in the body. And there are absolutely no restrictions on how far you can take this relationship, no limitations on how deep you can go with Divine intimacy. If anybody tells you otherwise, they are either lying or misinformed. It just keeps getting better. Yogani at AYP has said of this state, "like falling into an endless abyss of ecstasy." At least, that has been my experience.
I was going to just give up, but then while doing yoga the other day I was reminded of a legal loophole: Churches do not need a license to play any music - including "secular" songs - during worship service! And we can do that, because I am a minister, Lothlorien House is technically a church (a branch of a religious order, The Community of Francis and Clare), and the type of yoga that we teach (Heart of Yoga) is, in fact, "whole-body prayer."
What do we mean by, "whole-body prayer"? Most commonly, people conceive of prayer as talk: to tell God all kinds of things that He/She already knows, like what we think ought to be done for various people in our lives, or complain, apologize, give thanks, praise, etc., or even chant the Names. But, there’s more. What if you could pray with your whole body? What if your movement and breath was a devotional offering, as well as a direct participation in the actual presence of God? That’s exactly what it is. Our breath is from the Spirit who breathes life into us, and our body is the temple of that Spirit. With a regular consistent yoga practice, this becomes no longer an abstraction or a belief, but a real experience. And then after doing our asana with pranayama technique, which is a form of moving meditation, we can go into seated meditation or “contemplative prayer” – where there is no need to talk or do anything, just Be in that wonderful loving Presence, resting in our oneness with Life.
So, if anybody here in Panama City is interested, we will be happy to host a rockin' yoga worship service on a Saturday or Sunday evening. It will be something along the lines of the "Rave Mass" that got Father Matthew Fox in trouble, except instead of dance, we will do asana. The service will consist of gentle asana, pranayama and meditation while listening to Zep "Stairway to Heaven," Hendrix "Power of Soul," and other great spiritually-themed classic rock songs. I promise to keep the sermon, if any, very brief. We will offer Communion (bread and wine) for those who are interested, before winding down with some Floyd "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and Beatles "Across the Universe" for meditation. I look forward to hearing from anybody who would like to join us for this event.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Happily, after some discussion, the ASCAP representative agreed that I could just ask the individual artists for their permission to use the dozen songs on my proposed playlist for yoga. I was quite confident that this approach was the way to go, as I was acquainted with several of the artists, and in my work with some of their fan clubs have always found them to be very understanding and interested in such projects.
In fact, back in the 1980s I had discussed with Jon Anderson of "Yes" my dream of having a yoga/meditation center where I would play music including theirs in the classes, and he was all in favor of it and encouraged me, "I believe it will happen!" I figured all I would need to do was to contact him and the others, (or the representatives of the late musicians such as Jimi Hendrix), explain my situation and obtain their permission. As they have always been very kind and generous in responding to any reasonable fan requests, I did not anticipate any problem.
The thing that I did not understand, and which frankly I am still trying to wrap my head around, is this: The artists don't actually control the rights to their own songs! Somewhere along the line, they sold those rights to the publisher and/or the record company. I learned this in the process of researching how and where to apply for permission. I also discovered that most of the smaller independent labels and publishers have been gobbled up in recent years by a handful of big corporations such as Warner, Universal and EMI.
What this means, my friends, is that the corporations now own rock & roll and dictate by law who may listen to it, under what circumstances and at what cost, and the government backs them up with the power of police and courts. If you do not comply, you will be shut down, as has happened to a couple of businesses here locally who failed to pay the license fees. And the artists have no say in the matter.
So if, for example, I was to contact Sharon Osbourne, who has always been extremely gracious and several years ago during the RIAA crackdown had announced on her t.v. show, "Hey kids, you go ahead and download as many of Ozzy's songs as you want!!", it would not do me any good. Even if Sharon were to tell me, in writing, "Yes, dear, of course you may play Ozzy's 'Back on Earth' in your yoga studio!", that would not in fact give me legal permission to do so and I would still be liable for licensing violations, because the Osbournes do not own the rights to Ozzy's song - Universal does.
Likewise, I could approach Jon Anderson and say, "Hey Jon, remember our conversation back in the 1980s about using Yes songs for yoga and meditation? Well, I finally have my own studio, as you predicted I would, and now I need permission to use those songs." Whether or not Jon remembered the conversation, I'm sure he would support the idea with his usual enthusiasm for all things spiritual. However, even if he were to say, "Yeah, you should go for it, definitely!" and give me his written blessing, it would have no legal consequence.
Nonetheless, I sent letters to the respective publishers, still feeling quite optimistic that they would grant me permission for the very limited and more than likely non-profitable use of the few songs, for a couple of students, in the modest yoga studio in my own home.
I was very encouraged when Wixen immediately gave me permission to use George Harrison's beautiful and uplifting song, "This Is Love." However, the Warner representative told me to purchase the ASCAP license if I wanted to use the Yes song "Love Will Find a Way." When I explained that I could not afford it, the history of my relationship with Yes, the circumstances under which the music would be played, etc., he replied essentially, "Oh well, too bad."
Then yesterday I heard back from Experience Hendrix LLC, which being a small independent publisher would hopefully be more sympathetic, but no; they likewise said I had to buy the ASCAP license to play "Power of Soul [Power to Love]" and they did not care about my circumstances. That's when I really lost it and broke down sobbing, not just because they said "no," but because of the principle involved. I simply cannot imagine that our beloved free spirit Jimi Hendrix would tell me, "No, I'm sorry, if you're too poor to pay the license fee, then you can't play my song."
A teenager in the 1970s, I grew up on rock & roll. In particular, the special songs I had chosen for the play list, like "Power of Soul" and "Stairway to Heaven" constituted the soundtrack of my life! For our generation, rock music was more than just "tunes." It represented freedom, equality, rebellion against The Establishment, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. The songs gave us inspiration, courage and solidarity. But The Establishment has won. The big corporations have co-opted rock & roll and even most of the smaller publishers have followed their lead. It's all about $$ now.
Most of the other songs on my list are published by Universal, Warner and EMI, who have not yet responded to my inquiry, and at this point I am not at all optimistic.
Several friends have suggested that I could invite independent artists to play music for my studio and indeed, I know of some very talented people who could do so, but that is not the point. I am not looking for "background music" and yoga does not require music. This was just a special playlist that I wanted to do in this particular manner. I don't want new songs. I picked the specific songs that I did for a reason, both lyrically and musically, and for the history and meaning that they have for me personally and for many of my students.
Meanwhile, if I want "music for yoga" per se, we already have that! My teacher Mark Whitwell's wonderful album "The Pure Love Project" was designed for yoga and he has given his students permission to play it for our classes. Or, so I was told, and I do note that it says "copyright 2013 Mark Whitwell." On the other hand, it is distributed by RED, which is a division of Sony Music. Therefore I question whether in fact Mark is in the same boat as all the other artists, in that Sony actually owns the rights and therefore it would be illegal for us to play this CD without a license as well?
I could, of course, just go ahead and pay for the licenses using a credit card and deduct it as a business expense on my taxes. Given that I am at least $40,000 in debt already, a few hundred $$ is just a drop in the bucket, right? Yeah, I know it's bad to use credit cards, but I will certainly rack up more debt than that this year for necessary expenditures like maintenance on my vehicle, food for my animals, or any number of other things that I don't make enough $$ to pay for. It's the American way. The banks own us. But the yoga playlist is not a necessity, it is a luxury I can't afford, and an investment that makes no sense given the very limited/negative income from my tiny home studio, which will probably close soon. I can still use the special playlist myself - so long as nobody else is listening.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Power of Soul - Jimi Hendrix
It's Love - King's X
Baba - Alanis Morissette
If I Die Tomorrow - Motley Crue
Nothing Else Matters - Metallica
Back on Earth - Ozzy Osbourne
Carry On Wayward Son - Kansas
Love Will Find A Way - Yes
This is Love - George Harrison
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun - Pink Floyd
Across the Universe - The Beatles
In addition, we already have permission to use our teacher Mark Whitwell's fabulous (albeit non-rocking) "Pure Love Project" CD.
So, hopefully soon we will be playing music at Body Soul Bliss! Stay tuned.
Friday, May 30, 2014
In January 2013 I had two remaining students, one of whom occasionally enjoyed doing Rockin' Yoga. By March, defective plumbing had attracted an impressive rat infestation, resulting in a fire and a burst pipe which thankfully put out the fire but gave rise to Black Mold, rendering the double-wide partially uninhabitable and wholly unsuitable for teaching yoga. Meanwhile, I became very ill from the Black Mold and therefore was unable to teach, even after moving into Lothlorien House with the lovely new studio. I could barely keep up with my other jobs.
In November I received a package from ASCAP addressed to "Artistic Director, Body Soul Bliss LLC" inviting me to purchase a copyright license for music. I had no idea what it was or why I would want it; I have not written or performed music in public for many years, with the exception of karaoke. So, like most of the numerous promotional materials for various goods and services which continually arrive in my mailbox, this one went into the trash. Shortly thereafter I received a followup letter stating,
Dear Artistic Director:
I recently sent you a package explaining copyright licensing for the music in your establishment. Included in that package was the ASCAP license agreement and invoice for fees... the ASCAP license gives you legal permission to perform any of the over eight million titles in our repertory... If you have not done so already, please sign the license agreement recently sent to you, and send it to us, along with fees specified on the invoice...
"Legal permission"?? I replied by email, "We are not interested, but thanks anyway," because I suspected the letter was some kind of scam (which perhaps, indeed, it is) and more pertinently, because Body Soul Bliss was for all practical purposes out of business.
When I began teaching again this month, May 2014, I went to the ASCAP website to find out whether or not I really needed said license, and if so, why, and what it would cost. According to the website, yes, all businesses including yoga and dance studios need a license to play music. This is the conversation that ensued. On May 5, I wrote:
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
To my surprise and delight, I have somehow become the "Dear Abby of Tantric Sex." People from all over the world, including a large fan following in India (a country I have always loved, the birthplace of yoga!) contact me with their questions about yoga, spirituality and especially, sex. I am honored and humbled that these strangers trust me with their most intimate personal concerns, and I take all such questions seriously. Being a bhakti-tantrika, I regard sex as sacred and to be treated with reverence, but at the same time, it's ok to laugh, and my regular readers are already well aware of my tendency to sarcastic humor. To my new readers, I apologize in advance.
This blog post is in response to questions that continually come up about masturbation. I have had so many inquiries on the topic that I decided to go ahead and write this, rather than having to constantly repeat myself. Many young men have shared with me their concerns about this matter. In addition, based on the messages, others have taken liberties with my Facebook photos. I choose to regard it as a compliment and sincerely thank God that my photos can still be so "inspiring," given my advanced age and increasing decrepitude. At the same time, however, it also demonstrates how very desperate they are, to be using photos of a 51-year-old, especially since my "raciest" ones involve a bikini or relatively conservative Vulcan underwear. Apparently young men in those countries do not have access to any decent porn, such as Playboy, and must settle for seeing an aging yogini on FB, much as in the olden days when boys in the U.S. had only the Sears catalog underwear ads.
Their desperation also, of course, speaks of the societal dysfunction which has led to these questions, with or without the associated behavior related to my photos. There is a great deal of loneliness and frustration in the world, compounded by repressive socio-cultural traditions which give a person no way out of their dilemma. Many young men have difficulty finding a suitable partner, especially in societies where women are expected to wait until marriage and "good girls" don't have premarital sex for fear of damaging their reputation. Meanwhile people are waiting longer to get married, until they have finished their education and are established in their career. This is actually a good thing in terms of economics, because marrying and having babies before completing education is a significant cause of poverty among women and children worldwide. However, the situation leaves young people with no sexual recourse at a time in their life when hormones are raging.
Fortunately here in the West we had a "sexual revolution" in the 1960s and 70s, thanks in part to Hugh Hefner's promotion of the Playboy philosophy, "Nice girls like sex too -- it's a natural part of life. Don't be ashamed of it," hence the wholesome "girl next door" look of his models. Now, one could argue that the Bunny costume was silly and/or degrading, but be that as it may, Hef's philosophy was a breath of fresh air in our formerly stuffy, repressed society. As a result, my American and European friends struggle less with their sexuality, and I don't get as many of these questions from them. The women ask me about sex and relationships, but not about masturbation per se, either because they aren't doing it, or they are doing it and it's working out fine and not a problem. It seems to be more of an urgent, pressing concern for men, which perhaps is understandable; certainly if I had one of those remarkable organs I would want to play with it, too!
My younger brothers in India and the Middle East write to me in great distress with their concerns about masturbation. One sincere young man, a member of a fundamentalist Christian church, contacted me quite worried about the impending Rapture/Tribulation, which is the doctrine that Jesus will come back and whisk His followers away to heaven before the world basically goes through 7 years of hell under the Antichrist. I assured him not to worry, because according to that doctrine, if one believes such things, Christians will be taken away before the bad stuff happens. This nice young man then confessed to me that he feared Jesus would leave him behind because he had masturbated! And he is not alone. Many other young men have likewise told me they actually believe that God will send them to hell, or perhaps a bad reincarnation, for this grievous sin. And BTW, contrary to popular belief, Christianity has no monopoly on sexual repression! It is common to the fundamentalist branches of all religious traditions including Hinduism and Islam.
Now of course, my atheist friends will say, "Well, that's what happens when you believe this kind of bullsh*t in the first place! Get rid of religion and everybody will be fine." Indeed, many people have lost their faith specifically because of the sexual repression enforced by fundie religions. My worried young friends will be relieved to know that according to modern science, masturbation is perfectly normal and healthy, perhaps several times a day for most young men, the frequency decreasing with age, depending on opportunity and circumstances.
But, it is not necessary to throw out the Babe with the bathwater, and as a minister of reconciliation, I am here to help religious people embrace their sexuality as the sacred gift that it is and be thankful, rather than fearful of damnation. In all of our religious mythologies, God made matter, including our body and sexuality, and called it Good. Moreover, in Christianity and Hinduism, God saw fit to incarnate as a man in a human body at least once, or perhaps many times. Somewhere along the line, the insidious gnostic dualism "Spirit is good, matter is bad" contaminated our religions, leading to the doctrine that sex and physical pleasure is a sin. And the specific Christian prohibition of masturbation is actually based on a misinterpretation of scripture.
Now, what parent among you would give your child the most wonderful, excellent toy and then forbid him or her to play with it, or even to touch it?! God would have to be either stupid or cruel to have created us with this powerful, pleasurable sex drive and then forbid us to enjoy it, even privately with our own bodies! As an Episcopalian, I believe that God is neither stupid nor cruel. But, as a yogini it's really not a question of "belief" at all; I speak rather from experience. God is way more Fun than He/She is given credit for, more Fun, in fact, than literally anything. You can trust me on this, but you don't have to take my word for it. Other yogis like Steve Ross, Yogani and Ramakrishna have said so, too. That is why, when your yoga practice reaches a certain point, you don't have all these concerns anymore, and how I was able to be happily celibate for 14 years until I met my husband 9 years ago.
The yogic philosophy is that sexual energy is also spiritual energy, and sex serves two basic functions: The biological purpose of sex is procreation and stress relief, while the spiritual purpose is Love and Ecstasy. For many people, orgasm is the closest they will ever come (pun intended!) to meditation. In tantric yoga we have techniques to send that energy up the spine and prolong the orgasmic state for hours, or indefinitely. Needless to say, this is incredibly satisfying. However, unfortunately, the same fundie religions which forbid premarital sex and masturbation nearly always forbid yoga as well, and I would not recommend celibacy to anyone who does not have a serious yoga practice.
Here's the thing: At the base of the spine is incredible sexual/ spiritual energy coiled up waiting to be expressed, the powerful creative energy of Life itself. If you try to repress it, it's eventually going to come out one way or another, and maybe not in a polite manner. If you are a yogi, you can channel that energy and offer it up in ecstatic prayer. I can teach you how to do that, but it requires a lot of discipline and practice. Otherwise, you are left with very few options according to the fundie religious dogma with which you have been brainwashed. You can attempt to be celibate using "sublimation," which is where you try like hell not to think about sex, while basically exhausting yourself doing other things such as sports, intense physical exercise, housecleaning, digging ditches, building houses for the poor, etc. In all likelihood you will still end up having wet dreams, which is your body's way of releasing sexual tension and some believe, is also a reason to feel guilty. Or you can get married too young, for the wrong reasons. Or you can just suffer and moan about it to Dear Tantric Abby.
I would recommend, my young friends, that you make peace with your body and God who created it. Ideally, I would like to see you find a good sympathetic friend with whom you have mutual respect and trust, in order to practice safe sex (please, use birth control!) until you are ready to settle down and start a family. If that is not possible then you will inevitably take matters into your own hands - which is perfectly normal! Do not allow the religious dogma of repressed, bitter old men to ruin your spiritual life. Are they wiser than the Creator? There is no need to feel guilty about a natural biological function. Stop beating yourself up over beating off.
Friday, May 23, 2014
The latter question comes up sometimes because here in the Bible Belt, which is dominated by fundamentalist churches with extremely limiting doctrines, people have been taught that "psychic" = "fortune teller" = "occult" or "demonic." It is assumed that if indeed psychics have access to hidden information, or predictions about the future, we must be obtaining that information from demons. Many, many years ago when a dear friend gave me my first Tarot deck for my 14th birthday, my own mother, who was raised somewhat fundie, was horrified and told me the cards were "from the devil." Actually, the Tarot was the original card game from which modern playing cards evolved, and today you can even get Christian Tarot cards such as "The Jesus Deck," which has Bible verses and themes from scripture.
Now, while there may be "psychics" out there somewhere who consult with demons, I don't, nor have I met any other psychics who do. It simply wouldn't make sense, because demons are notoriously unreliable and delight in telling lies to trip people up and to cause as much grief as possible. They find this extremely amusing. Even if a demon had access to real information, they could never be relied upon to deliver it accurately. So dealing with them is a waste of time, at best. I personally only interact with demons when requested in the course of my work as a minister if they are bothering someone and I am asked to expunge them.
So, if not "demonic," where then do our "psychic powers" come from?? Well first of all, that question implies that "psychic powers" and "demons" are real, which of course many modern educated people, especially atheists, would deny. They would say there are natural explanations for these phenomena, i.e., the psychic pumps the client for information and picks up on subtle verbal cues. Certainly there is some truth to that, and as a psychic, I endeavor to obtain as much information as possible from my clients in order to provide them with the most accurate and in-depth "reading." I do, however, seem to have an ability to "tune in" to people on an empathic level and help uncover information of which they were not fully conscious. If indeed this is a "psychic power" then I am sure it is a natural gift from God, which most psychics will acknowledge.
I use the Tarot as a tool in this process of uncovering information. Now, fundies will object, "God forbids divination!" This, obviously, is untrue since the Hebrew priests had their own divinatory tool, the "Urim and Thummim," which was sanctioned by God. In any event, I don't use the cards for "fortune telling" as such. Rather, with my background in Jungian psychology, I use them as sort of a complex Rorschach. The cards contain archetypal images from what Jung called, "the collective unconscious," the level on which yoga says we are all One. They "work" because the archetypes are themes common to the human experience which we all share and nearly everyone can relate to. The images on the cards provoke discussion about the client's situation and feelings.
Now, it is true that in the course of my work as a "psychic" I sometimes make predictions about the future, simply because clients expect it. That's just part of the job, and I can do it with a reasonable degree of accuracy by carefully examining all the data at my disposal, including my knowledge of human nature. If this makes me a "sorceress," then likewise meteorologists, stock brokers and investment bankers must also be "sorcerors."
The reason I am working as a "psychic" is because State licensing restrictions forbid me to practice my profession as an M.A. Psychologist in the United States. When I got my Master's degree in California I was able to legally practice as a Ministerial Counselor, but the law has since changed so that ministers may not practice counseling, at least here in Florida, and all U.S. based online counseling services require their staff to have the respective licensing in the State where they live. This is unfortunate for the public, because back when ministers could legally counsel, it was possible to obtain therapy for as little as a $20-40 donation, whereas now people can only consult State licensed therapists who charge $125 or more.
But, thanks to the internet and globalization - one of the few positive examples of globalization that I can think of! - people now have access to therapists around the world. ProvenTherapy.com is leading the way in this new trend of online therapy available internationally. Not being limited by U.S. licensing restrictions, ProvenTherapy is able to hire counselors based on their own unique qualifications and experience, and to offer their services to the clients for significantly less than the cost of therapy here in the U.S.
Now, as a client, why should you choose a "psychic" or a "therapist"? Some people call a psychic line for advice and feedback in helping them work through their difficulties because of the social stigma of "needing therapy," i.e. the implication of "mental illness," and the psychic advertisements do specifically state, "for entertainment purposes only!" Others, however, may turn to a psychic simply because they do not have insurance coverage for mental health and therefore assume that they cannot afford to see a therapist. Well thanks to ProvenTherapy.com, that is no longer the case! Nearly all of the therapists on staff charge less than $100 and many as little as $50 an hour, or $45 per week by email, which is quite affordable.
The third category, "spiritual direction," is pastoral counseling specifically aimed at answering questions of a religious or spiritual nature, which is my specialty! As a spiritual director it is my privilege to help people explore and deepen their relationship with God, to move beyond dogma and experience divine intimacy.
So, now people have more options. If you appreciate the mythology of the Tarot and want to approach your counseling session from more of an artistic or "entertainment" perspective, you would probably enjoy calling a psychic. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with serious issues and you want direct, straightforward psychological help, and/or you are wary of the religious stigma associated with "psychics," then I would refer you to ProvenTherapy. Although I am no longer on staff there since going full-time with the Famous Psychic Line, I can recommend several caring and professional therapists. Finally, if you want to deepen your spiritual life and improve your relationship with God, you would call a spiritual director. Either way, I would be happy to help! Call me. We'll talk. No big whoop.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
In a previous blog post back in August I had described the economic circumstances affecting our yoga studio. I refer the interested reader to that post, Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing – but in short, due to our living in an impoverished hick town known as “The Redneck Riviera” and specifically, our location 45 minutes away from the “happening” area on the beach, we have been unable to make a living teaching yoga. Hence our new project: Clean & Green by Design.
Coincidentally, as I was in the midst of working on this blog post, one of my fellow HOY teachers, Jason Brown (no relation), posted in his excellent blog On The Merits of Not-For-Profit Yoga: “There is no greater obstacle to becoming a highly skilled yoga teacher then having to work at an unrelated job to pay rent and eat.” He raises some very good points about the economics of teaching yoga. As I would put it: “There is no greater obstacle to working as a highly skilled yoga teacher, than trying to make a living.” I have had the privilege of learning from some great masters in my 36 years of yoga study and practice, and I have taught (often for free) since the early 1980s. But gainful employment using the skills acquired over that lifetime eludes me.
The going rate for yoga classes in Panama City has dropped by about half since we opened in 2009. Several new studios now offer classes for $5-7 and some for free. What I have gradually come to realize is that the only people in town who can afford to pay $10 for my classes (or $20 for private instruction), plus the cost of a couple of gallons of gas, are those who have more than one job, put in lots of overtime or work on-call, and therefore often miss their class due to work. And those who have time for yoga and the 1.5-hour commute, do not have the money. Some of my students have argued, “You are a great teacher and if people are serious about learning Real Yoga, they will make the drive!” If I were Mark Whitwell or Steve Ross, students might find the trip worthwhile. Being only myself, teaching in our humble home studio, a [full disclosure] rat-infested double-wide trailer a 45-minute drive out into the boondocks where you pass signs that say "Jesus Saves" and "Deer/Hog Slaughtering" and might imagine you can hear the theme song from "Deliverance," it is understandable that people will take advantage of the inexpensive classes offered in nice fancy buildings on the more civilized beach, where we had hoped to relocate.
When we were unable to sell the farm and/or find a good home for our beloved horses, Hawk and I decided to offer “Equine Assisted Learning,” or “Yoga with Horses,” a trendy new activity in more affluent areas. I had wanted to call it, “Equine Therapy” but learned that it is illegal to use the word “Therapy” since I am not a licensed Therapist (Psychologist) in Florida. I don’t know how people offering “Yoga Therapy” can get away with it, but I am fairly sure Florida will soon regulate the hell out of that profession as well. Unfortunately, my [very expensive] equine liability insurance specifically prohibits allowing handicapped persons near the horses, thereby ruling out my plan to work with "special needs" kids.
Still, I thought somebody would be interested, but despite extensive advertising, only one person has inquired about our program, a lady who told me that her daughter "needs horse therapy.” I explained that while we can’t call it “therapy,” there is no doubt that horses are, indeed, therapeutic! You can bury your face in a horse’s sweet-smelling mane and have a good cry, and the horse will nuzzle you with its velvety nose as if to say, “There, there, dear, everything will be ok.” I assured her that riding the horses would be good for her daughter and she was eager to make an appointment. However, when told it would cost $25, she quickly hung up and I never heard from her again, which is odd because ordinary non-therapeutic riding lessons around here cost $25 and any form of "therapy" costs upwards of $125. Now some of my hard-core PETA friends might object, “But isn’t that cruelty/ exploitation of the horses?!” No, it is not, but that is a subject for another blog post. In any case it is a moot point because we have no customers, but at least I can write off the horses’ living expenses on my taxes, a neat trick which I learned from the Romneys.
So the horses continue their life of leisure, while Hawk continues to work on his dangerous and low-paying construction contract. I have had 2 other jobs, both of which are night shift: medical transcription and Psychic. The former has been petering out for years and extremely fickle; I would go days or weeks with hardly any work, and then suddenly be flooded with hours and hours of transcription, typically on nights when the Psychic line was ringing off the hook and I had a yoga class scheduled for early the next day, and I would be typing until dawn, mostly oncology, which is extremely depressing. As for the Psychic job, it is very enjoyable but pays only about $5-10/hour, versus $100/hour I would be making if I could legally work as a Psychologist doing essentially the same thing, except in psychology we normally use Rorschach rather than Tarot cards.
So on the days when I had a yoga student scheduled, I would drag my tired ass out of bed, do my own abbreviated yoga practice (usually around 15 minutes, rather than the hour I would prefer) and frantically attempt to get my home clean enough to welcome the student, who may or may not show up, depending on their work schedule and/or any other considerations which might arise. This process takes me about an hour, plus half an hour to make myself presentable. Now some of my students have kindly said, “Oh, you don’t have to clean house on my account!” Well, yes, I do. Really. I live here in this trailer with my 2 feral cats and my feral man. His word, not mine; in fact, when we were with Mark Whitwell at Omega last year, Hawk said to him, “You and I are not like other men. We are feral.” Mark did not dispute that observation.
I won’t go into all the gory details, but e.g., the bathroom which my students use belongs to my beautiful feral [and straight] man, whose beautiful hair which reaches nearly to his waist tends to get washed down the sink no matter how often I nag him not to do that, resulting in a perpetually clogged drain. And my feral cats love to roll around in the sand outside and then come into the house and clean themselves vigorously, licking and scratching and depositing large amounts of fur, sand, pine needles, and various other debris on the floor. Naturally their favorite place to do this is in the yoga studio, where they enjoy soaking up the good vibes left behind by my students. Sometimes they also bring prey into the studio, play with it and eat it there, leaving entrails. So yes, it really is necessary for me to clean the studio before you arrive. And let’s hope you are not a vegan, because we may have had eggs for breakfast which our chickens kindly gave us and the smell of which would gag you. We do live here, after all.
As time goes on I am less comfortable with having students in my trailer home. I really feel that I need a studio separate from our living quarters. But, Krishnamacharya taught in his home – am I better than him, that I need another studio?! I don’t know what the conditions or the social expectations were in India at that time, however, he did have a wife and presumably she kept the home in order. Maybe that’s what I need – a wife! Meanwhile here I am charging $10 for a “semi-private” class (3 students or less), which people say is too much, and which becomes around $8 after taxes, for spending an hour in preparation and an hour in class time if the student shows up. I had offered semi-private classes thinking that I could do a group class for the students who could not afford private lessons; however, I discovered that it is quite difficult to reliably schedule even one student, much less get 2 or 3 of them together at the same time. As a result, the more casual students were getting private lessons for $10 while the serious students were paying $20 for that privilege, which is not fair and obviously also not sustainable.
I was mulling over this situation, sobbing while I scrubbed my bathroom. When I am depressed and my life feels out of control, I find cleaning quite therapeutic, as it visibly makes the world a better place and obtains at least a temporary victory over entropy. Earlier I shoveled a couple hundred pounds of manure and the horses had comforted me as best they could. I had found my true vocation as a yoga teacher but could not make a living. The late-night medical transcription was literally killing me and didn’t pay nearly enough to be worth the torment. The Psychic work was wonderful but didn’t pay the bills. One of my fellow yoga teachers in town makes her living as a waitress. I am too much of a klutz to be a waitress. Another teacher works at Publix, and I did consider getting a job there but learned that the only openings were at a store a 2-hour drive away. And if I were able to find any kind of a regular 8-5 job I would not be able to teach anymore, nor do my Psychic work, and no jobs around here pay enough on their own. What on earth could I do?! As my tears fell into the sink I thought of my first job at age 17, when I worked as a maid.
A maid! I can do this. It was only a summer job for a girl on her way to college, and I never dreamed it would become my career at 50; I was going to be an astronaut, a writer, a psychologist or medical transcriptionist, but God knows, I would far rather scrub toilets than transcribe one more report of a cancer patient being burned and tortured. Having just recently lost my step-mom to the ravages of chemo, I wanted nothing more to do with it. The next day I discussed it with my former yoga student Amy, whose horses also live here and who no longer has time or $ for yoga due to having 2 children and 2 horses. Amy informed me that she had been thinking of starting a cleaning service using natural nontoxic products. It turns out we are both good at painting, too, and share an interest in design. Hawk and I designed and built our beautiful house (which is currently rented) and would enjoy doing more of that. So Amy, Hawk and I have created a new company, Clean & Green by Design, which hopefully will allow us to pay our respective bills. Unlike yoga, there is apparently a big demand for house cleaning in this town.
I had said I would give the yoga studio until summer but, the mortgage needs to be paid now. Therefore, I have put a temporary hold on classes here at Body Soul Bliss in Lothlorien. My serious students can continue to come here, and if anyone else shows up I will not turn them away, but I have stopped actively advertising and only offer private lessons. When my tenant moves out the end of May, we will convert that house into our new yoga studio. We can fit 10 students in the great room, and the house also has 2 lovely guest suites. Among other things, Hawk and I plan to offer tantric retreats for couples where we will share, with due reverence, our knowledge of philosophy and technique, and then leave the students to their private “homework.” The house would be a great retreat for anyone wanting to get away for a few days of peace and quiet out here in the country, walking in the woods or communing with the horses. It is a beautiful, tranquil building and hopefully students might find it worth the long drive. If the cleaning & design business generates enough income, we might even go non-profit and teach yoga for free, not because we want to, but because it may be the only way that we will be able to get students and thereby fulfill our vocation of teaching Real Yoga.