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A long time ago I sat 10 hours a day for a month in the Himalayas on a Tibetan retreat intensive with a high-level lama. I was the only western woman there. The theme was: “you are going to die”. Not very appealing.

I was 20 years old, brimming with passionate lust for life and an all-consuming fire to fully awaken. But why meet death now? I can do that when I am old and wrinkled, right? It made no sense to my mind, but deep down I knew I must attend.

When I entered the monastery high in these beautiful snowcapped mountains, enveloped in palpable stillness, I had no idea that we would meditate on death and the reality of impermanence every moment every day.

Alas, since I had committed to staying, I sat through these grueling meditations, slept on the bare floor wrapped in an old wool blanket, drank disgusting yak tea in the cold morning air at 5 am, and gave myself to this wild, weird death ride. Oh gosh, we had to prostrate not once or twice, but 50 times or more every morning. It got me warm at least, but out of breath, sweat-drenched I learned to swear.

At times I thought these smiling monks are plain nuts to engage in such a practice, where you imagine in great detail that everyone you love died (I wept for hours) that the people you don’t like died (that wasn’t so bad:)) And then you die, your flesh rots is eaten by worms… You had to feel every sensation, emotion, the terror, the survival grip, the thoughts to find somewhere safety, permanence, something to hold on to, an escape from this stark reality, the itch to run was full-on… But there was no way out, except to quit. Believe me, I was tempted.

Every day with the first sound of the immense gong these words were spoken: “you are going to die.”

I slept with them. I fought with them. I ate them with a bowl of rice. I couldn’t stay on a conceptual level, that would have been a waste of time. These words were like a blow to all the made-up stuff in my head. And they cut ruthlessly through pretty spiritual delusions. Sometimes I sobbed, was furious, or laughed, sometimes I felt a respite of stillness and rest. That crazy drama kept changing constantly. I don’t know how, but at some point, I was utterly emptied out, exhausted, I finally gave in and surrendered to the truth.

Because, what remains when all else falls away?

The gates opened. Freedom took hold of me, unlike anything I had ever known, a peace that surpasses all understanding, and a love… so big it swallowed me whole. There was more, way more. What remained was and is the greatest gift. But that’s for another time.

Why am I sharing this? Well, it’s that death thing again. There is a reason that in many traditions, especially in the root lineage of the feminine way, you meditate with a skull, you meet death before you die.

I look into the world and see how much is driven by fear- this incessant running away from the reality of impermanence, death, and having no control over life. But that desperate attempt to make it all safe makes us act insane. Because no one is exempt from pain, loss, and death. No matter how much you try – you won’t get away.

But there is true freedom and peace found when you meet courageously what is. When you look death straight in the eye and shake hands. And open, surrender to this truth of life. With that liberation takes hold, in the midst of all whats going on. Amidst the ugly and beautiful, pain and joy, birth and death, light and dark, unwavering a flame shines.

Forever and always.

This remains.

That’s what we celebrate and honor at Winter Solstice, Diwali, Hanukah, and Christmas. We kindle it when we meditate, help someone when we stop for a second to face and meet who and what is here. When we walk the talk in real life, through challenges and good times, and remember,

This flame is the only safe haven there is.

It was storming and rainy when I arrived in the old Cathar land in France to take shelter in a tiny Chapel on top of a hill. The wooden door creaked and only a few candles were lit. Dim light softly illuminated the exquisite statues and paintings of women saints and Mary Magdalene. One man was sitting bowed in the wooden pew, praying. Silence, thick stillness enveloped the air. I joined in meditation, feeling her. An hour later the man turned around and simply introduced himself to me. We talked about our connection to her and the Magdalene, and it felt auspicious when he invited me to come to a secret cave, also called the womb and birthing cave. It was a three hours journey away, somewhere in the mountains, and hard to find.

It’s the kind of place you must feel called to and have a guide, a hidden power place not a spiritual tourist attraction. All hair rose in recognition. ‘Yes’, I said excitedly. Was I mad? I shouldn’t go with a stranger and a guy I don’t know, I already had learned that as a child. But something in me knew that this was right and he was safe.

After a long drive and hike, I shivered as I faced the entrance, which was beyond anything I had ever seen. She beckoned me to enter through the yoni shaped rocks. What happened was life-altering and profound for me, but too intimate to share in words here. It was in this depth of darkness where she revealed herself, the way of the feminine, so different than we have been taught.

Yes, she veils herself, covering her naked soul. Not only to hide for fear of violence or in submission to oppression but for another reason – a deeper one. You see, you can’t just rip her veils apart and march in there. You will never find her, for she will not show herself that way. You have to prepare yourself, to discover her, and touch each layer with your nobility, sincere adoration, and true love. Only then will the pedals of the flower unfold and she may grant permission to enter this sacred cave, so you may receive what was hidden in plain sight. She may offer you the grail, which they have been searching for since ancient times. And let you sip from the exquisite red wine, the intoxicating nectar of everlasting life, which restores the weary, heals the broken, wakes the dead, and utterly enlivens your heart, belly into your very bones.

Maybe that is what salvation really means: to come truly alive. And this is the feminine way of awakening: enlivenment. The matter is sacred and your pain, joy, and hand are her. She calls us to walk into the real union of divine and human, a way that honors all life and the blessing she bestows upon you at this moment now.

I assure you, you will not meet her by transcending this form and world, by disappearing detached into a faraway sky, but by daring to go into the deep dark unknown. Even, if you must crawl on all fours into the cave. And then, in her inmost sanctuary she will strip you bare of all you imagined yourself to be, reveal your worst fears and all the clever ways you denied, silenced, and pushed her away. Sheer rage, grief, and terror may emerge as her untamed power rises from the wet, musky ground below and takes hold of you. Oh yes, we are as frightened of her as we are of love itself.

Why are we so shaken by creations’ power? For centuries we burnt her at the stake, repressed her wisdom and wildness, tied her in shackles for the imagined crime of being Eve, the evil one. We desecrated the earth for a God, we believed, is beyond form and what is so vulnerable and human. And then we poured asphalt over her breathing, living body too. Even the common spiritual path treaded today is often taught in a conceptual, whitewashed way, thereby denying her very existence- so vibrantly alive here on earth, in relationships and beating in your heart right now.

We yearn for her, to experience this pulsing thread of aliveness, this intimate oneness with all beings, in our bodies, at the kitchen sink whilst washing dishes, and as we meet each other in a coffee store.

She is here, Siempre. She will not be quieted and disappear, she keeps showing her face in the mirror and your friend’s embrace. She breaks through cement, just as the ocean has taken over Venice. The truth returns, again and again, no matter how much we want to control, she has her own way. Gentle as a dove she caresses you and with a feather-light kiss dissolves your sturdy walls of defense into a flood of tears. You hear her deafening, fierce lioness roar into a world that raped her: This shall not pass! Veiled, she walks the streets and wakens people from slumber. She uplifts the fallen ones, embraces the lost and outcast.

And she rises up for you, our earth and all that is sacred, igniting us to show up for the great turning. For, through her power, we can turn even the most horrific situations around and help in these times when our survival is hanging by a mere thread. You may have seen and heard her more frequently of late on the streets or felt her rumbling in your own belly and heart.

The yearning for her is answered, as we allow the dams and shackles to break, to weep all our tears and laugh all of our laughter. Just like the women experienced whom I have guided to the holy cave. On their knees they surrendered to her, to embrace what’s lost, to let this pure life power surge through the womb and ignite them. They were taken home into love. To embody and live it.

She beckons that we recognize this truth- she is made manifest through our bodies and luminous faces, the trees, rivers…and she has incarnated as your voice, hands, and feet. As you stroke your cat, dog, another body, you are touching her. Let her take the lead in your life. She will take you and raise you into who you really are. She will give you the courage to stand up and act in benefit to all in your labor of love.

She is here. Honor her and if she calls- follow her. She will show you a greater love than you may have ever known before.

With love, Nicola

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