Apprenticeship to Love: Meditations on this Path to Authentic Relationship, March 13, 2024


I did not think I wanted "Kali" to show up in my life. Nevermind Chhinnamasta.

And yet... How else to retrain my body-mind to receive what is already here for me to enjoy, to be nourished by?
I spoke again with Leroy Gordon today. This was the third in our four-part series on the four archetypes often used in men's work. We'd started with the Warrior. Then the Magician. Today, the Lover. (Soon, the King.) As Leroy walked me through this archetype and how he uses it when working with men I was reminded of something he'd said to me some time ago: Our real work, as men, is to receive what the feminine offers. All the rest is preparation for this work.

When I teach men in a retreat or a program I am only helping men to prepare. The real work is the day to day, with their wives or lovers, their children and colleagues. With themselves. This goes for me too.

So there is practice. To prepare. And there is living, to receive. But my habit —and it is the habit of all of us, I think and I observe— to become habituated. Even rigourous practice will not prepare me for the way habit and routine dull me to life and love and the wonder and awe of being in Her presence. To break this I need ritual.
I was introduced to Brene Brown's work on vulnerability at a time when I most needed it, but was also most invulnerable to it. Later, the truth of it crashed through and, thanks to becoming aware of my need to be vulnerable, I narrowly avoided ruining my life. I've done this before, courted or experienced ruination as a way to become intimate with what is most real and true for me.

Thus began a daily ritual. I call it my "vulnerability practice." Four short phrases. Repeated, daily. They break me open to my tenderness.

I prescribe this practice to those who work with me. The phrases aren't my own. Like so much that is true, they're simple things. They slow me down. They make me pay attention. They are my ritual, and in sharing them with my students I don't expect that it will become theirs. But I do hope, that after 40 days of practicing it, something breaks for them. Some habit of protecting themselves, and that they either continue with the practice as a ritual, or they find or create something that they, too, practice daily. A way to break their hearts open to life. And love.
In my conversation with Katie Dove some weeks ago she reminded me of the obvious (because that is how it is: in my haste to know and do things I forget the obvious, and need to be slowed down, reminded, maybe even broken open on occasion). There was no breaking here, except for my rush to say and imagine what wasn't necessary. Instead, Katie Dove reminded me that there is a sacred space in all of us, and between all of us, when we create the time to experience it.

When I do my ritual vulnerability practice I am breaking the flow of thought and action that brought me to this moment with my pen and paper. I am reminding myself to breathe. To slow down. To feel the emptiness within, and between us, that needs only to be felt to become holy.

This morning I could feel my hastiness pulling me towards the page of writing these or related words. A tug of impatience. And, feeling this small and persistent tug I remembered: I have a ritual to perform, and this ritual is here for me precisely to answer this impatience, with a pause.

In this pause I write:

  • I am sorry.
  • Please forgive me.
  • Thank you...
  • I love you.

You may know these words as the "Hawaiian Prayer" or the Ho'oponopono prayer. It is a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness within oneself and with others. As I write, ritually, every morning before I begin this writing, I extend the lines into a small prayer for this life, and for love.
A marriage begins with a ceremony, a ritual crossing of a threshold. Even for those who have been together for some time will, if they participate in the ceremony with an open heart, experience a change. It is my intention, following on the words of Stephen Jenkinson, to conduct wedding ceremonies that "change the world" of those who participate, the wedding guests as much as the wedding couple. That begs a powerful ritual. I'm just beginning to experience how powerful these rituals can be.

Nevertheless, even the most powerful wedding ceremony will succumb to the dullness of marital cohabitation. In terms of the yoga of polarities, we become depolarized. We may still resonate, but the sharp sparks of polarity fall to spark.
Ritual is not about polarity. But it may be used to that effect.

Ritual is not about connection. But it may be used to that effect.

We asked our Sacred Intimacy retreat participants —and I've asked many, many more since then— for their "three words about intimacy." The most common words: vulnerability, trust, safety.

Ritual is about vulnerability. It should break me open, this daily prayer I make to life and love. And, more often than not, it does. Sometimes the tears fall.

Ritual is about trust. I trust that, with daily and reverential practice, it breaks me open to the richness of this moment and what the flow of energy that sweeps through all of life, brings to me.

Ritual is about putting aside my desire for safety. Instead, I am surrendering myself to something so simple and apparently transparent that it should hold no mystery, no magic. And yet, it does. I am changed and there is no safety here in this not-so-brave new world. There is just me, trusting that all of my preparation is enough, perhaps just barely enough, for me to receive it all.
Marriage will slowly —or quickly— become stale. If we have visions of bliss, of the forever honeymoon, most of us will be disappointed. Some great number of us will confuse the inevitable with our specialness. Confused, we will abandon the marriage, and maybe try again, with someone new, to outrun the dullness of habit and harmony.

Sometimes, or maybe at the end of a long run of confusion and false starts, we realize that here, in this habit of dullness, lies a deeper truth. About ourselves, each of us, and this thing we think we want to make.

I did not choose Kali or Chhinnemasta as my bedmates. But I was lucky, and there I've found them. With the help of rituals I am able to step, with them, across a threshold into an unknown. And, finding myself in pain and longing and graced with the company of a wise guide or three or four, I've come to know how good it is to be vulnerable and tender to life. How the breaking open of this heart is what is required for love to flourish. Not bodies or fluids or sweet words. Lovely things, true. But I am luckier for having, finally, experienced the liberating and nourishing effect of the feminine in my life. Not a pleasant liberation or nourishment. A liberation to a way of loving that reveals me. A nourishment that deepens me. A way of being that is sacred. And these small rituals I practice, they allow me to hold this heart broken open to receive all that flows through and around me.


🌀 …You meet everything as you meditate, chant, breathe, move, all the polarities, the pain and the pleasure, the horrible and the beautiful, the delightful and the dreadful, your tears and your laughter. Again and again we meet these fluctuations between polarities and the more often we can stay put as we do, the less and less personal it will become. In essence we all meet the exact same themes, dressed in different memories, situations and people, but at the end of the day we are all on the same journey. A journey to untie the knots.
… The second knot [to be untied in ourselves] is called Vishnu Granthi and is located in the region of the Anahata Chakra. This knot ties our awareness through attachment to our emotions and to other people. It causes the desire for emotional security. In the Trinity, Vishnu is about sustaining and leads us into the desire to hold on, giving us a hard time to feel comfortable with the transient nature of life. If possible many of us would really love to have the security that we would never lose our loved ones, our job or our own life. This desire to hold on, not letting go, wanting things to stay the same, in most of us is very strong and can tie us down quite a bit.
...[It is] the deity Kali who resides in the heart centre. [With Her help we]... learn to pierce through the transient to discover that which is eternal and that our desire to live forever can serve to liberate oneself as it propels us into the search of that which doesn’t die, one’s True Nature. We then turn the attachment into a catalyst for our spiritual progress answering the call of the desire to live forever with a spiritual answer. (Kundalini Yoga School, Shakti sadhana, Day 40)

🌀I test you. (My beloved, my Oracle & Siren)


Day 13 of this month's practice, to let these thoughts and feelings move through you, with less resistance:
Please read through first, then ...

  • Set two alarms, for times of the day when you have a five-10 minutes to become conscious of who and how you are in this day.
  • When the alarm sounds, wherever and however you are, take a few moments and:
    • Ask yourself: What habits close me to life? What rituals open me to life? How important is it, to be alive, to feel the joy —and the terror!— of life coursing through me? Am I willing to do what it takes, to be alive?
    • Then, follow the short practice here:
      • Stand, or sit, and bring your attention to your posture.
      • Feel the ground beneath your feet or sit bones, tilt your chin slightly to lift your chest open and straighten your neck.
      • Take a deep breath, through your nose, and hold it gently for the count of six. Relax the breath for the count of eight. Repeat three times.
  • When you’re done, sit or stand for another minute or two, breathing gently, slowly filling and emptying your belly. Here, as you breathe into your fullness, ask yourself, Do I feel right? Am I in alignment with the man or woman I am? Do I even have an inkling what that might feel like? Do I even have an inkling of what it feels like to be out of alignment with myself?
  • Notice if your body-mind feels somehow changed. And whether you notice a change or not, be content with yourself, exactly as you are in this moment.
  • Continue with your day until the next alarm sounds, and repeat.