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.
 

Say It Loud—Now!

With the passage of legislation in Florida restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, the “Don’t Say Gay” movement is gaining national momentum. Similar legislation is in progress in multiple states. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who marched for our rights in the 1970s­–1990s can hear echoing in our ears the rallying cry we chanted then: “Say It Loud: I’m Gay and I’m Proud!” The right to be who we are without fear or shame; the end of hatred and violence directed at us.

In 1975, a group of teenagers sprayed mace in my eyes for holding hands with my girlfriend in public in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2014, almost 40 years later—also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in public—my partner Anne and I were married after 31 years together. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Huge changes in those years; huge shifts in the collective consciousness. Even rainbow lights on the White House when same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states in 2015. And now this frightening backlash. But we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced again.

Human rights are in jeopardy world-wide. In the United States, immigrants and Asians have also become targets for hatred and attack, along with Jews, Muslims, and people of color from diverse cultures. Hard-won women’s rights are threatened as well. ”Make America great again” translates as the desire to erase from existence anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant patriarchal paradigm (white, Christian, heterosexual). This is the face of fear of difference, growing stronger and more widespread. I am reminded of the oft-repeated quote by Martin Niemoller regarding the systematic purging of groups in Nazi Germany: “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.” He continues naming group after group and finally ends with: “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” Chilling history lesson. It’s on each of us now, at this time, to speak—to “say it loud.” Don’t wait until you are left standing alone.

So here we are, witnessing threats to the growing universal acceptance of all peoples. What we thought we had moved beyond is once again at our front doors. Anita Bryant was not the last antigay vigilante. The Klan still exists. But giving up and living in denial is not an option. We were born for these times, like it or not. And we came here to do it differently. Not with fighting and aggression but with peace and kindness. The individuals who act from hatred are filled with pain themselves. In our hearts we have to hold empathy for all.

So I urge you to “Say Gay,” to say “Black Lives Matter,” to say “Stop Asian Hate.” Say it with conviction but not hostility. I encourage you to speak with truth, love, and compassion to everyone you encounter in your life, whatever they may believe. And to live that truth every day. We must continue to remind ourselves that love is stronger than hate, and fear is an illusion that can dissolve in the presence of a courageously peaceful open heart.

Why Am I Here?

You may ask yourself this from time to time. Not just in reference to a particular place but also here on Earth, in this life. The answer to both is the same: Love. You are here to love—every person, event, experience, and complicated nuance in your life. Why? Because love is who you are at your core; you were born out of love, human and divine, and to express it is part of the human and planetary design. It is as natural as breathing, and as essential to life. Love is woven into the fabric of everything, and it is renewed and enlivened by our expressing it on a daily basis. Without that living manifestation of our core essence, we and the planet would shrivel and die.

Sometimes the path of purpose can be hidden, seemingly impossible to find, but it’s really quite simple. We aren’t here to make lots of money or a name for ourselves, to accumulate possessions or stocks and bonds. Those are distractions, side events that eventually we see through and move on from. The human course is not necessarily self-evident, but gradually our life experiences awaken us to who we really are at the soul level. We finally see the truth that George Bailey did in the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life: No one is a failure who has friends, and kindness and generosity made him the “richest man in town.” Without his presence, no one else in his life would have fully lived who they came here to be. Same with each of us. You affect many more people than you know.

You came to this Earth to speak your truth, to be your unique soul-self in the world. Not everyone will hear you. Not everyone will see you. And that is fine. Those who are meant to cross paths with you do so. There is a divine orchestration taking place in which we each meet whom we are destined to meet at just the right moment, and together we sing in harmony the musical notes of our connection. Our songs, individual and collective, are part of our awakening to the presence within each and all of us. We are actually awakening to Spirit itself, whose voice is ageless and limitless.

So, at those times when you feel lost or uncertain, take a deep breath and remember that everything is happening for a reason. Your purpose lives in the fiber of your being, and you breathe it into the world with every breath. In the moments in which you are most compassionate, empathic, and peaceful, it glows like gold and touches the hearts of all those around you. Your purpose is God’s purpose. Your reason for being is life’s reason for being: to manifest love and shine that light within your life. Together we all become one greater light on Earth and fulfill our common purpose: to embody loving-kindness in our human form. That is why you are here, why we all are here.

Soul Presence

The world is changing so fast we can hardly keep track of it. Reports on what is or isn’t happening clash with one another on a daily basis, both in the media and among those we know. “Reality” as a perceivable, agreed-upon entity no longer exists, if it ever did (the emperor’s clothes have disappeared). Time as we knew it has also ceased to exist. So how do we navigate this seemingly chaotic and uncertain path before us? One clue is that it is no longer a place for human identities (names, family roles, job descriptions). What lies ahead is completely unknown and can only be approached as a spiritual mystery and soul adventure.

We are moving ever more rapidly into the time of Soul Presence. It’s been a long time coming. And I don’t just mean since the flower children of the 60s called out the Age of Aquarius. I mean millennia. Thousands and thousands of years in the making, with incarnation after incarnation of spiritual seekers and masters moving forward and shining an ever-brighter light. Today we have finally reached the era of collective enlightenment. No more gurus, priests, leaders, or authorities of any kind. It is dawning on each of us that we carry the wisdom and light inside us. God is within, not sitting on a distant throne issuing orders. God and soul are one. We living beings on a living planet are One.

When we awaken fully to that oneness, our separate identities and polarized world views will dissolve. Our souls will emerge in full presence and meet with loving-kindness and compassion, instead of the competitiveness and self-centeredness that formed our old personalities. The harshness of ego gives way to the softness of soul. Fear of survival and the illusion of control are replaced with trust in a perfectly designed divine unfolding. That is why so much is falling away and there is no longer truth or time. We have no idea what is ahead, but more and more we can see a light shining, from within us and from the Earth herself. “We are stardust; we are golden,” Joni Mitchell wrote so many years ago. And the flowering garden of light in our future is being born from that golden stardust that makes up our souls.

When you begin to align completely with your soul, you see and live with God vision because there is no longer a perceived separation. God/dess and Soul are one experience. Within you arises a growing commitment to peace, love, and generosity of spirit. The self apart from other no longer exists. We replaces I. Heaven and Earth come together in our consciousness and in our experiences. Heartening to think of, but how do we live it in the days ahead? Imagine it and it becomes real.

What would such a world look like to you? How would you live without an identity—neither parent nor child, employee or boss, one gender or another, one opinion or its opposite? What would life on Earth be like without rigid parameters but only fluid Presence? This is where we came from; the soul emerged from this dynamic place of pure being and unconditional love. This is the divine vision for humanity, actually for the entire cosmos. And beneath all the arguing voices and warring factions on the planet, this is what exists now. We’ve never really been separate from one another or from our Source. It was an illusion we lived out for the experience of individual karma before returning to oneness. God came to Earth as each of us to immerse itself in all the possible variations of consciousness. How else could we then know the ecstatic coming together that is oneness of Spirit? At the soul level, we were aware of the greater overview or design, but as separate incarnated personalities, we’ve been finding our way for millennia. And now is the homecoming.

So look around you and let go of everything you’ve known before. Forget the past and live in the present moment. The soul only knows Now. Within that is infinite possibility. Presence without limitation. “Eternity in an hour” and “Infinity in the palm of your hand” (William Blake). God vision, which lies at the heart of everything in the universe. The wise words “Let go and let God” were repeated again and again for a reason. We are finally hearing them clearly. When you surrender completely, there is nothing else. Soul Presence. Remembered paradise.

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.