I Am That

The Ham-sa (or So-ham) mantra has been used by yogis and meditators for centuries to align with the breath—inhalation and exhalation—and experience divine connection, or Presence. One translation of the Sanskrit syllables is “I Am That,” meaning: all that is, or the universe. The repetition of these sacred sounds centers meditators in the stillness within and connects them to universal consciousness. With consistent daily practice (sitting or walking), an individual can increase awareness of both inner and outer Presence, ultimately discovering that they are one and the same.

At least that has been my experience in recent years, particularly in the past few months. As I moved through treatment for breast cancer, my spiritual practice deepened, and I felt a dropping away of personal identity into expansive soul awareness beyond the physical form. “I Am That,” or just “I Am,” expresses this as closely as language can. Infinite spaciousness in which there is only being without boundaries of any kind. As the weeks of post-treatment passed, I felt even more space opening up, extending out beyond me and this planet to endless galaxies with no fixed point or place within time/space. I look at the sun and the sky that surrounds it and know that I am all that I see or perceive. And more. 

I believe this is the life journey for each of us. At birth, we individuate in human form on Earth and then over the course of a lifetime we move gradually to a less defined identity which then disappears entirely at death. We return to the formless universal consciousness from which we came. If we are fortunate, we may experience some of this vast awareness before we die—through spiritual exploration or unexpected life events. Whatever our individual life course, we eventually reunite in collective beingness as we transition from this world to the next. The sharp edges of fear about death can soften as the years pass and we are prepared for that transition, which is not an end but a doorway to expansion beyond the physical body.

“I Am That” awareness comes to me most vividly in Nature. When I gaze up into the branches of a giant oak tree stretching to the sky, I sense the living wisdom of an ancient being. When a great blue heron spreads its wings and takes flight, I feel awe, watching it seamlessly navigate both Heaven and Earth. When, on a cold March day, I hear a cardinal’s spring song, I experience the joyful vibration of new beginnings. With each breath, I inhale Source energy, and everywhere I look, I see a loving Intelligence reflected in the world. Some call it the Divine Mother’s love, taking physical form around and within us.

We all are part of that love. In fact, another way of saying “I Am That” is “I Am Love.” Everything in the universe embodies shining loving Presence, more and more visibly when we let go of our identities and rest in the peace and stillness of the natural world. However you come to discover the vastness of the cosmos and the spirit within you, your heart will open so fully that you will recognize Love in all you see. Truly, there is nothing but That.
 

Where Do You Want to Live?

Some people live in the same place most of their lives; others move frequently over the years. Wherever you choose to go, your soul remains with you, as does your identity. The soul travels lightly, no passport, no possessions. The identity or ego, however, usually has a lot of “baggage” to declare. That baggage can take the form of either physical objects or nonphysical opinions and beliefs. Both can weigh you down, but the latter actually constricts your future experience. What you plan on, what you think should happen, places a limit on possibilities. It also limits whom you allow into your experience. The soul, without the opinions of the ego, would live life open-endedly, open-heartedly, inclusive of many kinds of experiences and people. An expansive circle instead of a small box.

This circle of soul energy is a place, or rather an empty space, where there are no limits to what is possible and no barriers between people. There is unity within your heart and unity among all those in the ever-expanding circle. Another word for it is oneness, the oneness of the spirit within which we all are sourced or born, and to which we return at the end of our lives. The question becomes why not live there now?

A few blocks from where I live is a street called “Unity.” I often pass the street sign and think: That’s where I want to live all the time—in unity of the heart. I feel humanity is gradually moving in that direction. We just have to make the clear decision to deeply desire the free life of our soul instead of the weighed-down life of our identity and the identities of others. Identity is the basis of separation. At the soul level, we are one.

In the framework of opinion/belief, if someone doesn’t agree, it’s a threat to the identity’s existence. Soul doesn’t care. Soul is eternal. Ego wants to believe it is permanent but it is not. At the end of our lives we see this and awaken to the wisdom of impermanence. Why not open to this awareness now and live life in greater unity with everyone and everything? The universe is not made up of single-lane, disconnected highways that lead nowhere. We may each be on different paths, but our lives are divinely intertwined, and we are all moving, imperceptibly, to the same final destination: beingness or oneness in Spirit, or Source. In fact, we are already one now, if we see with the eyes of the soul. From this perspective, life becomes a playground of possibility and connection with others, instead of a solitary burden and place of division.

Unity is a moment-to-moment choice. Your mind, in coherence with your heart, can consciously choose unity instead of separation. Your identity can take a backseat to your soul and not allow beliefs to prevent friendship and community. Hold your opinions lightly or drop them by the roadside. It’s a long life journey—don’t let extra baggage hold you back and keep you from the possibility of a shared future centered in love. Where do you want to live, in Mary Oliver’s words, “your one wild and precious life”?

Phoenix Rising

On the day of my first radiation treatment for breast cancer, I had a sudden thought during my morning meditation: “This is the fire that will burn away the imprints of all that came before.” Meaning, what we each carry around with us from our past, whether pain, suffering, loss, or uncried tears. Every human being faces challenges in life that because of their intensity imprint us deep inside and thus affect how we live day to day, with hesitancy or fear perhaps. When the imprints come to the surface and are released, freedom and peace arise. Mostly my life has been filled with love and happiness, but I have also had difficult experiences, including breast cancer and a lifelong fear of death/eternity. Ironically, this current cancer path has opened up a deeply soothing and expansive soul connection. Now I am at the last fiery gate. The phoenix stands before me.

The legend of the phoenix, also associated with the sun, is one of rebirth and renewal, of letting go of the past and rising anew in the present. In various cultures, including Greek and Egyptian, the bird was said to live several hundred years and then die in flames, its successor arising from the ashes. The idea of resurrection and immortality is often connected with it. It is a universal human theme—life beyond death, reincarnation, and “fresh starts.” How we live these possibilities in our own lives is part of our individual design as a human soul. Personally, I have always found the phoenix legend fascinating. I read a children’s book about it when I was 9 or 10, and it has always stayed with me. Is this my time to personally live it, symbolically, so many decades later?

At the end of my first week of radiation, beloved Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh died at the age of 95. His teachings had had a profound impact on my spiritual growth. I knew there was some significance for me in the timing of his transition because the day before, I had prayed for further help in fully accepting infinity/death. Over the years, I had come to a deeper peace about it, primarily because of my work with Panache Desai, but I could feel a kernel of fear remaining.  That morning, a friend posted a link to one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks, “Overcoming the Fear of Death,” and in his daily online meditation, Panache spoke of releasing the past and living completely as your soul. On my morning walk, a vividly colorful rainbow stretched across the sky during a sudden shower. I felt my prayer being answered.

Insight and deepened awareness come to us in many ways—through wise teachers, through magical moments in Nature, and through inner epiphany. All of these touched my heart that day. In his talk, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of “no-birth” and “no-death”—the continuity of all being in the cosmos, or “interbeing” as he called it. “It is possible for a wave to live its life as a wave, and to live its life as water at the same time.” We are waves that have arisen into form from infinite consciousness at birth, and we will return to formless “water” at death. Nothing is born or dies, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s view; there is only eternal Presence always. Panache too continually speaks of the infinite divine Presence beyond form.

This is the wisdom I have been repeatedly guided to on this breast cancer path. As I gradually released attachment to my body’s appearance and my past identity with it (form), I found myself becoming more and more fluid (formless) in my day-to-day life. Surrendering to that fluidity brought deeper trust and acceptance of all of life/death/eternity. I was experiencing the flow of interbeing in which there is no birth or death, just awareness. Loving awareness. It is something that can’t be explained through the mind but only experienced through the heart and soul. This is our life’s journey, every one of us. Each path unique, yet all connected in infinite consciousness. The waves and the water as One.

So in the ashes of what appears to be a life or an experience ending is only the phoenix rising continuously. And fear falls away in that rising and that continuity. Peace. Radiation begins and ends, and the grace of a rainbow appears suddenly in a gray sky. That multicolored light is always present. Our true nature is timeless, formless, eternal. We are the multiverse expressing magnificence in the world.
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Note: My last radiation treatment (surgery and chemo also complete) was on 1 Tijax in the Maya calendar. Tijax stands for healing and miracles. Who could ask for a more perfectly aligned synchronicity?

Inside the Rainbow—Book Excerpt*

There are at least 7.8 billion ways of seeing a rainbow, each one perfect and true. A scientist sees refraction of light. A poet sees transcendent beauty. A child sees magic. A spiritual seeker sees the gateway to heaven. Someone who has suffered great loss—a loved one, a home, a job—may see a sign of hope in the midst of their pain. What if our individual experiences of the world, of Nature, are how we discover meaning in life, how we connect with our souls and find God, or Spirit? What if spiritual connection is not about struggling to understand mysteries but instead just opening our eyes to the extraordinary beauty before us? Step inside the rainbow itself, and a world of vibrant color and divine light opens up all around you.

In the film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy imagines a distant place beyond the rainbow where dreams come true. When she actually travels there, she discovers that her dreams have already come true within the home of her own heart. This home that lives in each of us is our soul’s connection to all of life. When we come to know Nature as a reflection of that connection, we understand that Spirit is embodied in everything we see. Inside the rainbow is your soul’s home.

It is not really necessary to travel to Oz or across vast continents to ancient holy shrines to live your dreams or find God. Every time you walk out your door you have that opportunity. Nature herself is a sacred temple that encompasses the entire world. In every tree, flower, butterfly, or rainbow is Spirit’s essence, the source of all life everywhere. The experience of God can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. It can have many layers or just one. It can be ecstatically joyful or quietly peaceful. It can be all of these simultaneously. Because God is everything. There is nothing that we perceive or experience that is not God, including ourselves.

God lives within our souls, so all that we see outside us reflects this inner core of peaceful, loving awareness that encompasses the universe. It’s impossible to describe Spirit in one definition, or in language at all. The greatest sages have said that the truest experience of God is in silence. Words limit the magnificent splendor that is divine consciousness.

All my life, even as a small child, I found that Spirit lived in the stillness of the natural world. I didn’t have words for it then because I wasn’t raised in any religion, but my heart always recognized the beauty and wonder I saw all around me in the birds and trees and flowers. It was an experience I have carried with me and deepened throughout my life. And it is available to every single person on this planet.

You don’t need to attend a religious service or spiritual program to know your soul and God. You just have to open your mind and your heart to the possibility that God and Nature are the same thing. If you do, I promise you, the entire world will begin to shine with a light that defies description. And you will understand at the deepest level the sacredness of the natural world.

The miracles and wonders in Nature awaken our own sense of the miraculous and wondrous, which is the Spirit inside us. The God within you and the God in Nature have been with you all your life, just waiting for you to see them as part of the oneness that includes all of us on this planet.
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*My new book, Inside the Rainbow: Soul Connection in Nature, can be purchased online in print or digital form at Amazon: https://amzn.to/3vvBuLo.
Book Launch/Reading on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLV7VxUU47k.

Breathing Lessons

If God resides within the breath, what does it mean when you are “short of breath,” with inflammation in the lungs? That was my status, post chemo—another one of the side effects, which takes 4–6 weeks to resolve. Meanwhile, my breathing was slower, my walking slower, everything slower. Was this God’s way of getting me to slow down (even though my life is not fast-paced)? Perhaps the message here is “press the pause button on everything and just be in the stillness of the breath, in which God is ever-present.” Nothing is more important. “You’ve dropped all the pieces of your identity; now just rest in the absence of identification, the presence of divinity.” This is what I am hearing, what I am receiving. Another gift of this experience. Because when you find yourself struggling to breathe (as I did one night recently), you are awakened to the slender thread that holds you to life: one single breath at a time is your lifeline to aliveness. And to God.

When I sat in silence, completely still, awareness of my breath filled my consciousness. Spirit too filled me, and I found myself asking for guidance on how to navigate a path in which there is no longer anything but my soul breathing life into form. The answer that came back clearly was “Love.” If there is meaning in life, it is love itself, the face of God present in all things. Love is the North Star guiding us even when we can’t see it. When all else falls away, there is love in every breath we take because it is the source of life.

As I walk this path of breast cancer, there is much that is unknown, but I do always feel the presence of love—in the hearts of those closest to me, in my own heart, and in something greater, an infinite beingness which humans have named God. The “Great Mystery” that we try so hard to define and understand is best known through the experience of love, looking into the eyes of another or at the wonders of the Earth. Not surprisingly, we often find ourselves breathing deeper at these times, filled with awe and gratitude. Our breath connects us to everything, internal and external. Perhaps this is the greatest wisdom of all: the breath, God, and love are all the same thing. You are closest to God and love when you focus on your breath, realizing you are part of the divine trajectory of all life.

Ironic that the main symptom of the current global pandemic is loss of the ability to breathe, easily or at all. Is humanity symbolically losing its connection to the breath of life (and God)? The Earth “breathes” through its forests and plants (oxygen–carbon dioxide cycle); the oxygen they produce sustains our lives. Yet we are killing them off at an alarming rate. Perhaps we are all, individually and collectively, being shown the importance of something we take for granted: the air we breathe. Because without it, we cease to exist, one and all. The message is clear: Stop business as usual; protect the environment, our shared home. Quiet your mind; remain still long enough, and you will see the connection between your own breathing and everything else, including God. The sacredness of each part of life on Earth will become clear. And your breath is your best teacher.

After my own recent experience of not being able to catch my breath for several very long minutes, I felt a new sense of its preciousness. Later, sitting alone in the darkness of night, I had such a profound awareness of my own breathing. It filled me with Life, yes, but it also filled me with peaceful Presence. Within one single breath is the spirit that holds the universe in the mind of God, and love in the heart of all creation. This seemingly invisible process holds the keys to both planetary life and divine connection. May we honor it as the irreplaceable gift of grace it is.