Answering Spirit’s Call: Not Business as Usual A Mystic’s Path by Cynthia Winton-Henry When the plane engine caught fire on my way to Australia my pilgrimage officially began. Up until then all signs pointed to business as usual, if it's usual to run an improvisational arts organization during a recession, take monthly plane trips to dance with a Mom stricken by Alzheimer’s disease, or suddenly lose a gaggle of dear friends as they depart to distant longitudes. I was being guided to the Hidden Monastery. Usual or not, I was off to Australia. It was 2010. Sitting next to the window I did my little pre-takeoff ritual. I touched my Thai meditation beads blessed in Chang Mai, my glow in the dark Mary that I found at her Cathedral in Mumbai, and my Franciscan rosary from Bangalore. With my eyes closed I visualized the plane connect up to my Higher Power. Suddenly, a small shadowy figure appeared in my prayer, took a pair of scissors and snipped the connection. “Ohhhhh youuuuuuuuu!” I muttered,” and shook my head at such a naughty trickster. I noticed my heart and still felt at peace. I know what it feels like to be afraid on a plane. Trusting my body, I snuggled into the curve of the plane wall. Off we went. Thirty minutes later, 30,000 feet over the Pacific, fire streamed from one of the right engines. Stewards walked briskly. The cabin got strangely quiet. Our primal spines stiffened, elongated as if preparing for the potential jump into eternity. I grabbed the hand of my seatmate, a stranger. Finally, the pilot came on, confirmed that the engine was afire and that fortunately jumbo jets can fly with three engines. Just to be safe, he was dumping a boatload of fuel into the ocean and heading back to San Francisco. 1
The story made the news in the U.S and Australia and I somehow made it to Australia the following day, doing a tango with fear each leg of the way. When I got home a week later I was sure the cosmos was picking on me. Telecommunications broke down left and right. My zippers were busting. My systems were flooded with a loud spiritual static. I remembered that on September 23rd, in a dream I had seen the Tree of Life that grows out of the world. Horribly, it was cut off at the top of the trunk. All of its branches were gone. I’d also had a visceral premonition that my husband was in danger and y non-profit, Body Wisdom, Inc. had clearly joined the glut of dream organizations that were losing financial blood. Executive directors, founders, boards, and staff were desperately shedding people and projects after the 2008 economic meltdown. I wasn’t sure if my organization could or should afford me a salary. As “She Who Navigates by Ease,” as a disciple of Mystery, I summoned all of my improvisational tracking devices: synchronicity, spontaneity, the bones of religion, art training, academic reasoning, recovery, the InterPlay practice, years of refined intuitive technologies and the wisdom of ceremonial leadership. Still, I felt awkward and abandoned. My ground of being was coming unglued. My caterpillar-self was disintegrating into goo. I desperately needed a roadmap and a guide. Just then, Gretchen Lawlor, who teaches astrology to at-risk students, emailed an alert that Venus was in retrograde. When a planet goes retro it’s a sign to “slow 2
down.” Venus, the planet of love and relationship was asking for a review of deep relations. While my male relations felt solid, the female ones were in a big shift. Mom was dying. My 21-year-old daughter was struggling to make her own life. Close female friends were moving away, and I could hear the Divine Feminine Everywhere scream, “ Will the sky fall before you honor me?” When I skyped Gretchen for a personal appointment her white hair filled the screen. Her mischievous laughter shook her chest as she offered playful wisdom as a reader of star maps. She rang her small bell three times to start the session. After that every other word was, “Oh my God!” She saw my stars signal enormous change. My planets were sitting conjunct on every line. Yes, everything was getting a deep pruning. I was now on pilgrimage. I new that nothing would be the same. I began a journal to track what was coming. October 23rd in a dream I hid out in a bathroom with my InterPlay colleague so we could enjoy ourselves. We felt inept around offering a place for InterPlayers to stay. Upon waking I felt the profound absence of my organizing energy. I couldn’t produce one more thing. I wondered how I’d tell people I would no longer be writing my regular Monday emails. Reading the Writer’s Almanac I saw it was the birthday of writer and explorer Alexandra David-Neé el, born in 1868 in Saint-Mandeé , France. 3
She died September 8, the date of my wedding anniversary, and was buried in Varanasi in 1973, the year I graduated from high school.
At the age of 6, she never went to sleep without having read and meditated on a verse from the Bible. At 12, her young brain was tormented by the mystery of the Holy Trinity. At 15, she was influenced by Epictetus and the Stoic philosophers. She was a young adult when she went to England alone in 1883, and returned only after having spent all she had in her purse. At 17, she accomplished what she called a real journey. On a foggy morning, in a frilly dress and dainty boots, she boarded a train from Brussels to Switzerland. A few days later, her mother went to Lake Maggiore to collect her penniless daughter who had crossed the Saint Gotthard pass on foot and visited the Italian lakes carrying nothing more than a raincoat and a copy of "Epictetus' Manual". At 18. On a heavy fixed pinion bicycle, her belongings on the handlebars, without a word to her parents, she left her home in Brussels to visit Spain. At 21 with inherited money from her parents, she used it all to go to Sri Lanka, working as an opera singer to finance her travels.
She joined various secret societies and reached the thirtieth degree in the mixed Scottish Rite of Freemasonry - while feminist and anarchist groups greeted her with enthusiasm. To get into the city of Lhasa, off-limits to foreigners she disguised herself as a Tibetan woman having become fluent in Tibetan. She met the Dalai Lama, practiced meditation and yoga, and trekked through the Himalayas surviving by eating the leather off her boots. She once saved herself in a snowstorm with a meditation that increases body temperature. Locals thought she might be the incarnation of Thunderbolt Sow, a female Buddhist deity. Alexandra became a Tantric lama in Tibet at 52 years old. She wrote Magic and Mystery in Tibet (1929) saying, "Then it was springtime in the cloudy Himalayas. Nine hundred feet below my cave rhododendrons blossomed. I climbed barren mountaintops. Long tramps led me to desolate valleys studded with translucent lakes ... Solitude, solitude! ... Mind and senses develop their sensibility in this contemplative life made up of continual observations and reflections. Does one become a visionary or, rather, is it not that one has been blind until then?" She died in 1969, at the age of 101, a few months after renewing her passport. She influenced the Beat writers, especially Allen Ginsberg, who converted to Buddhism after reading some of her teachings. According to her last will and testament her ashes and those of her disciple Yongden were mixed together and dispersed in the Ganges at Vârânasî, by her friend Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet.
I took her, this adventurous pilgrim, courageous artist and mystic with an off the charts spiritual resume, as a guide for the next leg of my journey. Over the years I’ve heard voices and heeded their instructions. Before this they rarely offer names. That was changing. I was about to make direct contact with a long stream of mystics who would willingly present themselves if I ask for counsel. I badly needed their company in order to let go into a WAITING that is not empty hoping, but rises from a clarity and a quest for a thing that no one can see, yet was coming. A passage from the I Ching said, 5
The rain will come in its own time. We cannot make it come; we have to wait for it. The idea of waiting is further suggested by the attributes: strength within, challenge in front. Strength in the face of challenge does not plunge ahead but bides its time, whereas weakness in the face of challenge grows agitated and has not the patience to wait. October 27.th Pronoic astrologer Rob Brezny offered to Gemini’s like me. “In parts of Europe (a truffle’s) taste is so highly prized that they can sell for up to $6,000 per pound. In my opinion, the truffle should be your metaphor of the month... I expect that you will be in the hunt for an ugly but delectable treasure, or a homely but valuable resource, or some kind of lovable monster.” I remembered that in 7th grade I signed my name with a mushroom, fashioned mushrooms out of clay and gave some to mom, who placed them by her front door where they welcomed me until she died. Also in a reading a psychic once shared that I was to eat mushrooms in the forest as a practice. I’d later learn how full of vitamin B12 they are and good for depression, a health concern for someone like me whose system works hard to regulate so many expansive experiences. October 27 I had another dream. Hurrying to catch my train, following a famous male celebrity, I took the stairs down. A woman stopped to thank me for something that I’d written when suddenly I realized I didn’t have my purse or wallet that I must have left them on the last train. With luggage and a carton of Marlboros in hand, I asked an attendant to see if my purse has been found. It had not. After I woke up I researched Marlboros” only to discover that they were originally a woman’s cigarette. They didn’t sell well until they were rebranded as the iconic firestick of rugged, loner cowboys. In my dream I had a whole smoking’ carton in hand but had lost my identity and resources. A few of my feisty male ancestors came into focus. William Wentworth, an early Puritan, defended a New Hampshire garrison in 1689 against angry Penacook Indians, who were fighting back for their 10,000-year relationship to river and land. Another grandfather, Hiram barely escaped an Indian war party outside of Denver while driving a wagon train of supplies through Indian land. 6
Marlboro men? I had my Marlboros and luggage. In a global landscape that felt increasingly hostile, this journey was just beginning. I felt it viscerally. I’d need more than therapy and astrology. Fortunately, I knew a spiritual director who was also a dancer, somatic therapist, Buddhist Meditator, and hospice chaplain. We began to meet weekly. With his support my soul came center. I didn’t know it at the time but I we were being guided to the Hidden Monastery. My obsession with the Divine, with spiritual intelligence, and the dance of life demanded to be front and center. All I had to do is claim my place as a mystic in the modern world, no weirder or harder than being a dancer. Neither grants you any credibility. But, oh, the wonder! With the prayers of other pilgrims in my bundle I made my way through the dark following the Mystery of Love. Julia Butterfly Hill wrote, “I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. So it is my feeling of 'connection' that drives me, instead of my anger and feelings of being disconnected." And ee cummings gave me this. “Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud) and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) (I support other mystics, contemplatives, artists, leaders and sensitives. To learn about spiritual direction, retreats, and mystic tech teachings go to cynthiawinton-henry.com)