The Sanctuary Project

“Every little thing is gonna be alright.” – Bob Marley

 

I recently spent several months with my iPhone camera amassing footage of my posing a simple question to people I encountered.  Some friends, some strangers.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I would find on this little journey, but I knew it could only be inspiring.  The desire to do this came upon me long before situations in my personal life became unexpectedly dire, and suddenly the project went from being fun to urgent.  Add to that a concerning world landscape presently in our midst, and there blossomed this resonant anchor to the question of where we go for our sense of sanctuary.

Take a look at some of the answers I was blessed to witness, and then take a moment, or several, to think about your own.  Never has there been a more crucial time to turn inward and build practices or rituals that help to assuage suffering.

Featuring a beautiful musical underscoring by my dear friend & composer Chris Hardin, and a diverse group of individuals (from a prison inmate to a Buddhist monk) bravely willing to open their hearts and share.  I invite you to enjoy The Sanctuary Project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

 

My World Broken Open

Parched earth

 

All of last year, I made bold claims about 2014 being a paradigm-shifting year. I even went so far as to say that this gut feeling was not just personal but global.  I still make the claim, frankly; still feel it happening all around me.  But as for my own personal shift, thus far it has unfolded in ways I did not see coming, and have with equal measure both cursed and taken into my embrace like a greedy child.   And the year’s only halfway up.

First off, a confession.  A good part of my “predictions” about this shift were shaped by the practice we’ve all come to be familiar with in this trending age:  The Secret.  And I was doing as prescribed.  Manifesting.   Walking in the world as if.   For the record, a good part of the claim, as well, genuinely resided in my gut’s intuition.  But let’s focus on the other for a minute.

One thing that happened to me this year was a very large, very significant book prize that my novel was in the running for.  I didn’t tell a soul about it.  I knew that winning this could potentially change my life, especially in light of the fact that my book is published under my own established imprint, and not a traditional publishing house.  I spent weeks and months twisting myself into “manifesting” pretzels walking the walk, and praying every day for an outcome that would break open my little life.  I went so far as to say publicly that my life would change significantly in 2014.  I wouldn’t say why. I didn’t want to jinx it.  Plus, a little mystique is never a bad thing.  It would just happen, my life would change, and it would be so huge that no effort from me would even be needed to break the news to my world.  MY world would become THE world.  Well, break open it did, my little life.  But in ways that are only visible to me, that have nothing to do with material achievement, for sure not the book prize I had coveted, and certainly nothing to do with others’ perception of me, which has always been a significant engine for me.

(I wear the mask almost too well of marching to my own drummer and not caring how I come off to others, but I am secretly and remarkably fragile in that area.)

I did not receive that book prize I had worked hard for and claimed as mine with all of my manifesting might and rhetoric.  And it was a blow I did not recover from very easily.  I have (fast forward to right now) indeed recovered, but it was a mountain to climb.  A mountain that included several summits where the air was so thin my lungs felt crushed.  No, I can’t ever resist an obnoxious metaphor.  Hey, maybe there’s a clue why I didn’t win the book prize.

But yes, the mountain summit.   Lung-explosion.  Enlightenment.  All those things associated with the spiritual trek that is Everest most certainly happened to me in the days following the book prize letdown.

Did the author who took home the honor practice the principles of The Secret, I wondered in jealousy and bitterness?   And if so, was it because he or she had mastered a technique that I hadn’t?  I was downright irascible in wondering why not me, when I had manifested the Hell all outta my shit.  Almost busted a vessel in my neck with all my manifestin’ (can you envision the dance? . . . sorta Mick Jaggerish?).

Life is never that follow-these-simple-steps-and-the-world-is-yours  neat.  Never.

And so, I took the proverbial backpack that was ready for global domination off my back, didn’t sell my car, didn’t give up my apartment, didn’t say “so long, suckas!” and instead stepped back and reassessed everything.

I thought about how people pray, and how I prayed during all of this.  I not only prayed to win this book prize, I asked those I know who call themselves prayer warriors, and are genuine lights in this world, if they would put in a good word.  With whom?  is always an issue for me, as I do not subscribe to the literal anthropomorphization of God as some “he” who grants wishes.  Yet I requested prayer.

In fact, here’s me in a spiritual nutshell, which surely promises to disturb both the devout and the atheists in my life, so this one is especially hard for me, the people-pleaser, the one who’ll do anything not to rock the boat:

I am a person who is open, who is not so arrogant as to insist that something doesn’t exist just because it might be something I haven’t personally experienced.  I do believe there are numinous mysteries and truths beyond what we can see and feel and document in an empirical way.  After all, this world is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, ad infinitum, of what is, and what we yet know.  I believe in interconnectedness and life force, yet how to name it, to intellectualize it, is useless folly, the most concerning of those follies for me being the literal definitions of God as a deity who wields miracles and punishments in equal measure, and has the human attributes of jealousy and vengeance.  I’ve always believed in prayer even when I wasn’t so sure about “Him.”  Because for me, higher power is indefinable.

I have great difficulty using the word God, because it’s such a polarizing, even incendiary, word.  Wars, folks; history is rife with examples of hypnotizing ideologies in the name of God.  And, as a result, my own mental association with the word brings with it an agitation I would rather not welcome into my spiritual space.  I DO often speak of our “god-realized selves” as being the very manifestation we should each be seeking in our spiritual work.  Yet to say “God” the way I’d call someone by their name feels unnatural.  I find myself using almost ANY word or phrase before using God.   The Divine.   Higher Power.   Source.   Sacred Spirit.   The Presence of Absolute Good.  It’s just semantics anyway.  The minute we label it, we’ve lost it.  Yet I understand the need to label, as language is what we have.  We simply cannot conceive of higher truth without assigning form.

But, yes, I do believe that we are more than our bodies, more than our biology.  And I think the early 20th-century French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin got it absolutely right.   We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

To be honest, these are just today’s beliefs.   Tomorrow who knows?  And I’m good with that, because what I do know for sure is that I know nothing.  Our entire journey here is meant to be a constant and repeated awakening and unfolding.  If we were meant to know everything, to have the skinny on life and the meaning of life, we’d be done with our job here.  The design is right in front of us.  It’s perfect the way it is.

Anyway, I prayed.  And I asked others to pray.  There was a part of me that wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea that the universe conspires to do our bidding, and all we have to do is be willing to show up with conviction.   That’s the basic rhetoric of The Secret, isn’t it?   And which runs in complete contrast to my deepest belief that shit happens and some dreams don’t come true, and the real lesson is to learn to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with some amount of grace, humility, mindfulness, and vigilant compassion; instead of living in the cotton candy, law-of-attraction universe where we think we can get anything we want.   But I digress.

Gist of my prayer:   “Please let me win this book prize.  And I vow to be worthy of the gift.”

See how I even put the humble little spin on it?  That I wasn’t just asking for something, I was offering to give something in return.  Prayer as bargaining.  Somehow I seemed to miss the spiritual lesson of:  “Hey, be worthy anyway. Period. ”

And yes, all spiritual lessons begin with “Hey!”   At least, they should.

Or even (alternate prayer technique):  “I claim this book prize as mine.  My time.  My shot.  I’ve invested a lifetime at the task of fine-tuning my voice as a writer, and it’s my turn.”

The truth is, it’s everybody’s turn.  Anyone who’s ever devoted their time and energy to something creative, productive, elevated and elevating.  But we can’t all be named Miss America.

And so here’s what I find most perverse about that kind of praying.  Asking for that gift, knowing that there were thousands (I don’t actually know a number) out there all praying, hoping, crossing fingers, sticking pins in voodoo dolls, dancing naked under full moons, rubbing genie bottles, whatever, for THEIR lives to be changed too, meant that I was not only asking to have my prayer answered, I was asking for everyone else’s to NOT be.

Think about that one for a minute.

I was asking for others’ devastation.  Granted, devastation is a great bit of hyperbole, but it definitely was how I felt, in actually believing that I had a shot, that  walking in the world as if  was my bitch, that I had mastered her, and that she was about to pay up.

And then she didn’t.

Yes, devastated.  Because I had decided that my life wasn’t good enough as it was.   And I was ready for the Great Escape.  And I was way too eager to believe in ANY used car premise that was promising to aid me in that.

I had actually long ago stopped believing in that kind of prayer.  But this was a clear case of desperation so deep-seated that I pulled out every gesture, every chant, every angle, every good deed, every loophole, every prayer approach that I had long ago lost faith in, to make this happen for me.  Actually, losing faith is not accurate.  It’s not exactly that I stopped believing it worked.  I had come to the realization that I no longer believed in its intrinsic selfishness.   “Dear God, gimme…”

Had I won that book prize, I would’ve gone down in my own history believing till my death that it was because “God is good!”   I’d’ve conveniently ignored that such a premise would also mean that God wasn’t quite so good to all the other writers vying for the same prize.   And how does one work that into the deeply held narrative that God works for us all?  I see that as a fundamental problem with conventional belief, especially so because I can see how easy it is to get whipped into that euphoria when things are going smoothly.

Here’s how I actually do believe in prayer.  And if the sore disappointments that occurred in the earlier part of this year weren’t enough to jolt me right back to what I know, slap my face, and tell me to “snap out of it!” then nothing was bound to.   Prayer is not about change out there.   Never has been.  It’s about change within.  Not about asking for, from some exterior source, but about getting aligned with one’s own sapient marrow.  Appealing to that deeper, higher resonance, frequency, and vibration (actually, that’s probably the closest definition of God than anything else I can perceive) to help us AWAKEN.   A cup that’s too full can’t receive any new information or lessons.   We need to empty ourselves daily.   That’s the purpose of prayer and meditation.  So that we can get a handle on how to skillfully receive whatever life has decided to deal us, with amazing grace.   Truly, it is the difference between acceptance and resistance.  Between desperate attachment and effortless release.  Between willingness and willfulness.

I am a writer.  I will always write.  Regardless of its impact and acceptance.  Regardless of awards.   I release everything else.

Now, all of that said, and for the record, I am genuinely indebted to, and lifted up by, those prayer warriors’ efforts and the love that was behind it.  Praying on behalf of someone else is truly an act of benevolence, and that will never be forgotten in this house.

I’ve been reading Alan Watts this year, who has blown my mind in ways that . . . Well.  Damn.  Just damn.  He talks about the wisdom of insecurity (the name of one of his books, in fact), of knowing that struggles and stumbles happen, and being braced for it.  Not only braced for it, but breathing it in, working with it, dancing with it, doing our part for balance and recognizing each stone as a lesson, a great epochal story, not allowing ourselves to be sucked in by delusion and resistance and by desperately cocooning ourselves in material comforts, and convenient denial, and the desire for permanence, versus the fact of flux.

I know that the desperation to escape my life, and the genuine belief that a book prize, a credit on a resume, a label, was going to give me a sense of security, was all about needing to do everything in my power to distance myself from flux.

Well, we’d all better start embracing flux, because, baby, that’s what we’ve been given to work with.  But that’s not bad news AT ALL.   There is beauty in flux.

“The poets are often at their best when speaking of the transitoriness of human life . . . that images, though beautiful in themselves, come to life in the act of vanishing.   The poet takes away their static solidity, and turns a beauty which would otherwise be only statuesque and architectural into music, which, no sooner than it is sounded, dies away.” – A.W.

The great mis-belief that we can attain a certain thing, and that that thing, once possessed, will remain static and unchanging forever, so as to never let us down, and that this is what our life’s work is supposed to be towards, is a pretty great lie we’ve been sold.  And believe me, I was one of the first in line to buy.

I was meant to read Mr. Watts, and others like him who have blown my world wide open, in this year 2014, this year that I claimed to be a paradigm shifter.  Be mindful what you wish for!   Because, these sages have shifted my shit all out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more frightened, and more alive.

2014 has virtually overtaken me with mystics, philosophers, artists, innovators, original thinkers, pushers of envelopes, those unconcerned with zeitgeist, creators of their own movement, a little off, a tad quirky, willing for and honored by their own inner fool, nobody’s darling as the poet Alice Walker says, and therefore the world’s hope, the hope of the future, the hope of the very magnificent RIGHT NOW, the hope of sustainable energy, the hope of eternal beauty, the dark and the light, the smudgy, the clean.  These have been the manner of righteous godlings that have upturned my soul, and have, especially in this year, broken my world wide open.

I observed Lent this year for the first time in my 50-something years on this earth.   Not even Catholic.   Just felt compelled.  I did prayer and fasting for 10 days straight (40 was too ambitious, yet I did want to raise the stakes by doing a full-on juice fast, instead of just giving up one thing).  I even documented it right here on this blog.   I let quiet and introspection and privation take over my life for those 10 days.  I was in the very thick of it when the big book prize disappointment happened, when I lost people (plural!) too young to be dying, when health issues even snagged my pace and slowed me down a bit.   None of this was happening before I started.  And I began to wonder, what the hell door did I just open!  It was a roller-coaster experience, and I wanted to break windows on many of those days.   I didn’t.   Instead I braved through, faithed through, did a lot of facing, and came up for air forever changed.

I’m not even sure I can quantify for you how.  But I have, ever since then, been in the midst of a tremendous transformation, and am frankly looking to be even more transparent and disclosing, more accepting of every facet of who I am, including the parts of me that are deeply flawed, more willing to offer compassion to those flaws than to try and shake them off with denial, because they make me uniquely me, more willing to say them out loud to others, which actually lessens their hold, instead of living behind a shroud of shame, or worse, behind a shroud of pretense and spin, which I’m surrounded by far too much, living in L.A.   I am using my writing these days, especially this blog, to explore my own spiritual growth through rigorous honesty.  I am incredibly proud to have cultivated the courage to look inward, and to lay every flaw AND virtue, equally, on the table for examination.  I feel for the ones who are so fragile or in denial that they can never allow themselves to face their beautiful imperfections.   Without that tool, and that desire, to do so, how do we ever blossom, grow, evolve, heal, break through?  Breakthroughs generally tend to be accompanied by some pain, but always result in true liberation.   I have decided that I am in this . . . all of it . . . every bit of my spiritual practices, my blog-writing being, surprisingly, one of those . . . for the hard lessons and the powerful transformations.

I have been twisted, yanked, torn, and shaken by spiritual epiphany this year.  It has been illuminating, if not always pleasant, and it has, yes, done what I said 2014 was going to do.  It doesn’t even remotely resemble what I had in mind.   Funny how that works.  And releasing my attachment to THAT outcome has been an arduous process, but release it I have, and I am breathing deeper and more fully because of it.  Oxygen, heavenly oxygen!  It may not look like anything to anyone observing my life.   But it’s happening.  It’s happening so big and bold that I’m a bit nauseated trying to keep my insides still.  The Earth of Me has opened up and rumbled.  And, as I have to keep reminding myself, the year’s only a little more than half up.

I said this in an earlier article, and I feel compelled to say it again here.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure, unpredictable, it will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure, AND loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  To spin our wheels trying desperately to never be touched by pain or struggle – or flux – is futile and foolish.  Yes, we can intersect.  And we should.  Yes, we can make change.  And we should.  Yes, we should try and rise to our highest potential wherever we can.  But there is no magic pill.  Don’t be disappointed.   That, either, isn’t bad news.  It’s the best, actually.  It means that every effort holds just that much more meaning.

I have the unshakable feeling that our world is presently experiencing both a great enlightenment and a mad fall simultaneously, and the wonder of which force will ultimately tip the scales, and the knowing that we must all stay engaged, stay conscious, continue to evolve, and opt for amassing a healthy arsenal of sapience and sentience.  I’m not a political or sociological analyst, and my writings will never be a partisan rant.   I am only an authority on my own psychological and spiritual growth, and on how I choose to show up in the world and contribute, and on my efforts, always, to try and up that ante daily, in order to be my own greatest, god-realized self.

As the earthquakes become more and more prevalent around the world, so does the quaking of all our ideologies.   What’s in store for us?   And are we ready?

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.