Sunday, May 3, 2009

Worshipping Carrots





At one time I was fascinated by Native American Shamanism. I still am. I believe it is at least in part the influence of Don Juan and Carlos Casteneda. Of course, movies on Native Americans helped too, as did books like James Michener’s Centennial. Though a lot of things about them fascinated me, my central interest in American Indians remained in their ways of creating altered states of consciousness – you know, the mushrooms and the meditations and so on. I had also read Terence McKenna’s Food of the Gods, in which, among other things he talks about the Soma plant our ancestors used as part of Vedic rituals to extract juice from, which was drunk as part of the rituals. Soma plant and Soma juice are praised in the highest imaginable terms in the hymns of the Rig Veda.

So when I came across Leslie Kenton’s Journey to Freedom: 13 Quantum Leaps for the Soul, I immediately bought a copy of it. It is one of the most beautifully produced books ever, the formatting and the colour scheme breathtakingly beautiful. [Incidentally, it does not take much to take my breath away, though that does not apply to this book. It is truly beautifully produced – with no pictures.] I saw the book and I had to have it. It is fairly expensive – mine is the 1999 edition and the price printed on it is 9.99 pounds, and Rupa’s subsidised price 6.00 pounds. The front cover of the book quotes The Sunday Times as saying, “Explores the power of shamanism and shows you how to do it…. Life transforming.”

Leslie Kenton worked for fourteen years as health and beauty editor at Harpers & Queen. She is the author of a large number of novels and other works, including The New Joy of Beauty, described as ‘every woman’s bible to health and beauty.’ Journey to Freedom combines the ancient techniques of shamanism with organic health technology. A beautiful combination, I would say.

The book, as the subtitle says, has thirteen ‘quantum leaps for the soul’. I am giving below the first one, which is a simple, beautiful exercise. Occasionally, in my stress management workshops and creativity workshops for corporate executives, I use an exercise close to this, in a combination with certain other exercises from Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

[By the way, I just conducted, three days ago, a stress management workshop for the Confederation of Indian Industries, Jamshedpur Branch. This was at the prestigious Centre for Excellence, set up by Tata Steel. The participants included two practicing doctors, one of whom was a psychotherapist. I could not use this exercise there, though, for reasons of time. Instead, I had a basic meditation, from the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition.]

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Quantum Break 1: Inner Reaches of Sacred Space

Introducing the exercise, Leslie Kenton says, “This is an exercise which you will use again and again throughout the thirteen quantum leap programme. It starts your daily practice. I give it in my workshops as a means of beginning to connect up ordinary reality and the mythic realms. But it is also for more. In practising it you will discover your very own sacred place of silence and natural beauty – a sanctuary of absolute safety and a place to which you can return, no matter where you are, or in what circumstances you find yourself. Use it for healing, for renewing your physical and mental energy, for cleansing your body or your psyche and for tapping into creativity wherever you wish.”

Here are Kenton’s instructions for Quantum Break 1.
§ Sit on a straight-backed chair, or on the floor if you prefer. Take three or four nice deep breaths through your nose letting the air escape gently through your mouth on the outbreath.
§ Close your eyes.
§ Put your imagination into gear. Let your mind go back to some place in nature which you have seen and which you especially like. This is a place in ordinary reality, not somewhere from a dream or a story. It maybe a place familiar to you, say at the end of your garden. Or it can be somewhere you have visited only once.

A small break from Kenton here.

One of my own favourite locations for this is a place known as Vasishtha Guha in the lower Himalayas. This is between Rishikesh and Uttar Kashi, somewhere near Phoolchatti, as I remember. I have visited the place only once, in the early ‘70’s, spending a couple of hours there. It is easily one of the most beautiful places on the earth.

Vasishtha Guha is on the banks of the Ganga, in the midst of the sacred Himalayan Mountains. She is quiet flowing here, and takes a turn, making her more sacred. There is a streamlet running down into the Ganga here, forming a cascade right next to Mother Ganga. The cascade forms a little pool of water before it runs into the Ganga – the pool is blue and indescribably beautiful. The sounds you hear are that of the waterfall and the serene music of the Mother Ganga, against the eternal silence of the Himalayas.

The famed Vasishtha Guha here [Hindi, Gupha] is the cave where Sage Vasishtha is said to have meditated. My friends and I entered the cave and sat there silently for a while in meditation. One of my friends who sat in meditation in the cave with me on that occasion is today Swami Vasishthananda.

To continue with Leslie Kenton:
§ When you have found the place you like, sit for a moment quietly remembering as much about it as you can.
§ Now see what happens when you activate your senses.
§ What do you smell?
§ How does the air feel against your skin?
§ Sense the earth beneath your body. What is it like?
§ What do you see?
§ Are there any herbs or fruits or flowers around you?
§ What do you hear?
§ Is there any water there? If so, can you hear it?
§ Touch it?
§ Drink some of it if you like.
§ What does it feel like? Taste like?
§ Are there rocks nearby? If so, pick one up in your hand and feel the weight of it. Is it rough or smooth?
§ What is the atmosphere like? Is the sun shining? Is there mist? Rain? Feel it on your body. Let it penetrate your clothes.
§ Let yourself sink into the beauty that surrounds you.
§ In a very real sense this beauty is you. All that you see in this special place is part of you and you are part of it.
§ Are there any others there with you? Animals? People?

Another small aside from Kenton. After asking about other people there, she asks if there are nature spirits or angels there. I am not very comfortable with that. I know nature spirits are very much a part of Shamanism, and angels, part of western spiritual and religious traditions. And of course, we are talking of quantum leaps. And Kenton is suggesting the exercise in part “as a means of beginning to connect up ordinary reality and the mythic realms.” But still.

Well, if you have no such discomfort, of course please go ahead and ask that question to yourself.

To continue again with the quantum leap:
§ Forget for a few minutes any concerns you may have about your day-to-day life. [Don’t worry, you can think about them again when you return from your sacred place if you want to.] For a moment, just let these things lift away from you. Allow the wind to carry them high into the sky and far away. Just get in your skin in your sacred place and breathe softly.
§ This place is yours and yours alone. You can return to it wherever you need help with an answer to a question, whenever you need healing, or clarity, renewal or refreshment.
§ Let yourself sense the energy of love that surrounds you. It is embedded within your very body by the beauty and the friendship that you take in.
§ When you are ready, give thanks for the friendship and the beauty around you and say goodbye for the moment to your inner sanctuary, knowing that you can return to it whenever you like. The more often you return the richer the experience will become and the more valuable will be the fits you will bring back for yourself and others.
§ Now, very gently, in your own time, open your eyes and come back into the room.

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Simple and beautiful, isn’t it? Do give it a try. Leslie Kenton reminds us to take the phone off the hook for ten minutes before we enter the exercise. Yes, ten minutes is all it takes!

I have given this post the title Worshipping Carrots. What about worshipping carrots? Well, when I began this piece, my original idea was just to introduce Journey to Freedom and quote Kenton’s small piece called Carrot Worshippers from the book. Later I felt it will be more valuable if I spoke about the meditation, too. Yes, I have used the right word. Quantum Break 1 is a light meditation. And a wonderful way to begin the day with. Or to end it with. Or to get in touch with serenity any time of the day.

After writing this far, my feeling is it is better not to quote the passage about carrot worshippers here. It is something very meaningful written in light vein at the end of the book. Go for the book if you want to read it.

Journey to Freedom: 13 Quantum Leaps for the Soul is published by Thorsons, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. In India, Rupa and Co are the distributors.

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