I barely noticed as a sweet Indian boy with a big smile placed my banana pancakes on the dusty plastic table, I was engulfed in the stories being shared by two Buddhist monks who had come to sit with us. Also distracted and entranced by the ocean eyes of the beauty I was traveling with sitting across the table from me. Trying to stay focused on the maroon-robed devotees as they offered up their wisdom I glanced over the orange cotton prayers tied around their wrists. The woman monk wore an onyx ring, I desperately wanted to ask her about it but felt they had deeper offerings than chit chat about material things.
We had arrived the night before after an 8 hour car ride from Delhi. Despite driving up the wrong side of the highway with colourful trucks hurtling towards us several times we were safe and sound in a small cafe in the backstreets of Bodhgaya, India. We had met with the monks to make philosophical small talk and ask any questions we might have before heading to the Bodhi Tree. The conversation turned to Sujata, the young woman who had fed Buddha a bowl of rice to break his fast right before he became enlightened.
Story has it that Sujata had seen Siddhartha (soon to be Buddha) sitting under the Bodhi Tree in his emaciated state and offered him a simple meal of rice and milk. He had been fasting for seven years, as soon as he ate he felt life and love rush back to his heart and this was the ignition of his path to enlightenment. Many people that I spoke to in India said this story was a symbol of taking the middle road, not the extremes, that by consuming a simple meal he was then able to attain peace and connection again sending him into his deep meditation and creation of the 4 noble truths that are the undercurrent of Buddhism.
Some stories say that Sujata and her friends were singing a song around the time of feeding Buddha and the lyrics said that one should not give too much pain to himself nor enjoy too much relaxation. One should always follow middle path.
I considered this message in my own life. There have definitely been times of extremism. Pushing myself to edges, retreating to the void and then finding flow in the middle path of sweetness, balance and delight. It has been my experience that the middle path can be misconstrued as border-line boring at times and being seduced by extremes can feel more like living. But reflecting on it now, today, the middle path feels like the best of all worlds and a sweet awareness that everything is at our fingertips and freedom is where it’s at.
It was time to go visit the holy ground. Walking past countless stalls offering mala beads and sacred symbols we stopped on the side of the road to regroup, dodging the cows and scooters.
Huddling together for a sweet pep talk a friend offered up chocolates coated blueberries, infused with edible plant medicine. Sure to heighten the experience. We each took one, gulped it down and then prepared to hand in our electronics, go through strict security and enter the sacred site where Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree and became enlightened through deep meditation.
Walking through the huge gates of the sacred compound I was hit with a cool breeze of calm, a shift from the hustle and intensity of the streets of India. With shoes off and earth under my feet I began to walk through the gardens taking in the sites of the serene monks gathering and the beautifully manicured surrounds.
As a group, we came to sit under the tree, without a word but side by side we dropped into a collective chill. I don’t know if it was the energetic power of this holy site or the plant medicine beginning to work its magic but suddenly I felt the most powerful sense of grounded presence wash over me, like everything I had every done in life had brought me to this exact moment and all I needed to do was allow myself to tune in and listen.
Seated in lotus with the sun beating down on my back I connected to the rhythm of my breath, pulsing in and out of my body. With every inhalation feeling more connected and with every exhalation becoming more rooted into the Earth. I began to feel into what connection and groundedness looked like. With each inhale I imagined a silver thread, almost like a chain necklace running up through my spine, spiraling out the top of my head and reading up to a star, my star, the one that held all my wisdom, all of my ancestry. And with each exhale feeling that silver spiral come back down through my body and as it hit the base of my spine splaying out into two huge silver hands and diving down to wrap around all of Mother Earth.
This spiraling up to celestial wonder and diving down to wrap around Earth continued rhythmically for some time. At one point I felt the silver cord stay anchored to my star so tightly I thought I might be stuck, trapped, but then I reminded myself to move and undulate acknowledging full freedom, I could still dance but the anchoring into light was providing powerful stability.
Suddenly it felt like time to walk. As I made my way around the temple 8 times I began to sing, a mantra. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. The same mantra I had sung to myself alone in a hut on an Island in Indonesia when I needed support, the same mantra a sung walking up the side of Mount Fuji, and the same mantra I had used to bring me back into remembrance every time I had felt lost.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
I would later learn that walking around the temple was called circumambulation. According to the Buddhists, any prayers, meditation and positive or negative karmic activities played out in Bodhgaya are multiplied eight times.
Coming back to the tree and sitting directly under its branches, bathed in twinkling sunlight I decided it was time to ask for what I needed. I suddenly felt a surge of energy urging me to give thanks, to prayer, to ask and receive guidance. I bowed my head towards my heart and said, “Dear Mother, giver of life, provider of all abundance, everything I have, everything I have known is because of you, I bow before you in my deepest gratitude I am here to serve you. I am a vessel for creativity and wisdom. What would you have me know? What do you need me to understand? Anything, I am open and ready.” I sat softly and patiently for a moment not quite knowing what to expect. I heard nothing. Again I asked “if there is anything you need to share, anything at all I am listening”
As I opened and surrendered a message came softly but clearly to my heart. She said to me “the divine is in your spine” the divine is in your spine
Of course in all of my humanness, when I later remembered the message, I wanted to define it, work it out, understand what that actually meant.
In all honesty I think it was confirmation that the work I am doing, the movement I am sharing , the gifts I have been given are to remind us all that when we drop down into the fullest experience of embodiment then we can richly connect with the divine, whether that is through ecstatic dance, hooping, devotional movement practice and self-pleasure when we connect with the center of our movement and intelligence in our spine we can truly experience the divinity of life. Sounds pretty epic and deep but I really think what she was saying was “just keep dancing in any way you know how”
Did I really need to go on a spontaneous trip to a small town in India, sit under a sacred tree, and go deep into visioning and listening to tap into this message? Hmmmm Probably not but it was a supremely powerful experience, a super cool story and a great reminder that moving our bodies, opening our voice and then dropping into stillness will always be a channel for messages to be received. I walked, I chanted, I sat and listened so the inner wisdom could make herself heard.