Awakened to Grace (2016, revised 2020)
I was trying to nap in the back seat when the car hit the barrier and started to skid. Instead of the predictable survival response of fight-flight-or-freeze, a much deeper impulse arose. My mind went blank and with eyes still closed, my inner voice calmly uttered: “Your will, not mine.”
It was an exquisite and spontaneous prayer of surrender that surprised me and would probably surprise anyone who knew my backstory...
I was raised and very active in the Anglican church doing everything that was expected. Baptism. Sunday school. Confirmation. Youth group. Sunday school teacher. At age 19 I took the conscious decision to stop going, much to my mother’s dismay. I tried to explain the process of deliberation that led to me to this resolve, but she simply conceded by saying "you're too clever for your own good".
I had slowly grown more discontent and disillusioned by organised religion. As a rebellious teenager striving to find myself, I started to perceive the church as dogmatic, fear-mongering, hypocritical and ironically, also judgmental.
It was just a semester course but when the final Philosophy essay question "Is there a God?" was posed, I took it very seriously. My mind was fertile ground for this exploration. This assignment was the catalyst that immersed me in a variety of religious, philosophical and scientific documents. Suddenly there was structure, a purpose and a deadline (!) to earnestly seek an answer to this question that was already burning inside of me.
My conclusion was this: There is Something, but what exactly that Something is, I really couldn't say. I found no empirical evidence that gave that Something a definitive face, form or name, yet every religion's sacred texts offered a wide range of culturally-specific variations.
There was an explicit requirement for a leap of faith to close the gaps in tangible proof. This was a leap that I was not willing to take. That arrogant adolescent decided that believers needed something to make themselves feel better, to cope with the daily grind, even if that meant believing unsubstantiated stories. But she didn't need that.
To that version of me, the most profound questions in life were beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend and I felt content to die with unanswered questions. From then on I labeled myself “agnostic,” feeling liberated and self-satisfied by my newly acquired critical thinking.
From then on, my life would be guided by one fundamental principle: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Effectively, I retained the core values of Jesus’s teachings, the same values that underlie all spiritual traditions. That made rational sense and I could live with that.
And, so I continued during my twenties and early thirties. Somewhere along the way I realised that the word “God” carried a strong negative charge for me. Something remained unresolved but I learned to mute that voice by working hard and partying hard.
Only after 15 years of agnosticism did I stumble upon an all-embracing form of spirituality. While I lived in London I had a vivid dream, followed by a series of serendipitous connections, that somehow led me to magical Lake Atitlán in Guatemala in 2012. This experience altered my perception of reality forever. Coming face-to-face with the image from my dream completely blew my mind. I had arrived at the place I felt compelled to visit even though my mind didn't know exactly where that place was! It had become undeniable that Something exists beyond the mind and that that Something had guided me there.
Suddenly all those philosophical questions left unanswered came flooding back, now with more aliveness with the newfound possibility of being answered.
This epiphany came during my very first silent retreat at The Pyramids Meditation Centre. To my mind, I was simply there to purge all remnant corporate stress and learn to relax. But thanks to meditation and other yogic practices, my mind became progressively quieter. A deeper dimension of myself and reality was revealed as weird and wonderful metaphysical experiences, various insights while in retreat and in dreams while meditating upon the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and the Divine Tarot. I ended up living in Guatemala for 4 years of study and service, embarking upon extended silent retreats and different initiations. It was during that phase that I started teaching hatha yoga and offering healing modalities.
Through even more Grace, I discovered the Hridaya Yoga Center in a beautiful village on the beach in Mexico. When all the signs started pointing there, I heeded the call in complete trust. The profound non-dual teachings of the Heart put my spiritual awakening into clearer perspective, I learnt names for the metaphysical phenomena I had experienced as well as a clear methodology to create better conditions to reveal the Stillness that is our True Nature.
I described my first experience of a Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat as the feeling of “a kid in a spiritual candy store,” overwhelmed by the profound intensity I was feeling for the first time. I felt absolutely compelled to share these teachings, so I completed the yoga and meditation teacher training course in 2015 and offered the first Hridaya Retreat on African soil a few months later.
Listening to the Heart, but getting somewhat sidetracked from the mind’s perspective, I started serving as the yoga school's general manager and held this position for nearly two years. It was a deeply intense period of learning and unlearning, and of embracing aspects of my ego's shadow. Unwittingly I had transplanted the same self-sacrificing tendencies that led to two burnouts in corporate London to the unlikely context of a subtropical paradise, except this time with painfully more awareness of the mind's mechanics.
This experience left me feeling “tumbled, crumbled, humbled,” an experience best described by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul.” The Grace and wonder that I had so boldly come to expect, now demanded to be met with more effort. Rock-bottom came at the end of a solitary mountain retreat when even after a month of silence, prayer, meditation, yoga, and reflection I still couldn't perceive the presence of Grace. I broke down in complete surrender, my whole body convulsing with tears of despair. I broke silence and alone in my cabin I exclaimed: "Where are you?!". The loving response came as clear as day: "I'm right here, my dear." I burst into laughter as I felt all that heavy emotion instantly alchemise into joy.
That was the inflection point to what I now understand to be a necessary phase in my evolution. I could hear Sahajananda's words ring true: "Self-realisation may be glimpsed but deconditioning is a process." There are still many subconscious tendencies to dissolve. Old wounds to heal. As I continue with my practice, deeper layers are brought to the Light of Awareness.
It has taken a while to integrate all the lessons from those years. I'm learning to be more compassionate with all aspects of my humanity and of humanity, in general. This takes constant conscious effort, but during one silent retreat the realisation came that the effort is also the Grace!
And thanks to Grace, I have managed to move past my God-aversion and perceive the Absolute directly, beyond form and concept. Now, looking at the words used by mystics across all religions and philosophies to describe their direct experience of the Divine, it has become undeniable that they are talking about the same Something. It’s just the story - the packaging, the dogma - that’s different. Yet, it's precisely those differences that we are conditioned to focus on. This is what causes the separation, judgment, and conflict that is so painfully prevalent in the world today.
These days, my preferred name for this Something is... yes, you guessed it... Grace! She has a loving, nurturing presence that is helping me through my ego's current phase of deconstruction.
She has many names, many forms, and many faces.
Recently, I was reflecting upon the ever-growing list of people, experiences, lessons, and things that I have been blessed with in this Life. There is so much to be grateful for. As Meister Eckhart so eloquently stated: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you', it will be enough.”
It dawned upon me that the Spanish word for 'thank you' can be translated as 'graces'. Is that merely coincidence? In my experience, there’s no such thing in this sublime symphony we call Life.
Moving forward, my intention is to serve with more trust, more surrender, more compassion, more authenticity, and to more closely align my thoughts, words and actions with the Divine Will.
To support this aspiration, Ramana Maharshi's words offer some powerful scaffolding: “Grace is always present. You imagine it is something somewhere high in the sky, far away, and has to descend. It is really inside you, in your Heart, and the moment you merge the mind into its Source, Grace rushes forth, sprouting as from a spring within you."