As we move towards the Winter Solstice and the turning of the calendar, I have a prize for the weirdest thing I’ve heard all year. It goes to the actress and soap opera star, Stephanie Beacham. In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour she said that being in Celebrity Big Brother – the reality television programme in which a group of B-list celebrities are locked up together and relentlessly scrutinised by television cameras – was just like being on a Buddhist Retreat or in an educational programme at the Findhorn spiritual community. The only difference was that in Big Brother she was being paid, instead of having to pay. ‘It was great fun,’ she said.
This bizarre statement had me wryly smiling for several days and admiring her for being able to startle me. Perhaps we should look forward now to a season of Big Brother in which the house contains only bishops, rabbis, imams, gurus, shamans and Reiki masters. Would that be heaven or hell? Drop that seed thought into your visualisations.
In that same interview, Stephanie Beacham also described one of the most significant moments of her life when, in her late teens, she had a full-blown, classical spiritual experience. Without expecting it or doing anything to create it, she was suddenly transported into an altered state of consciousness in which she was able to see and feel that the whole world was one single system in which everything was interconnected and pulsing with energy. In one single ecstatic moment, she experienced the full wonder, magic and coherence of all life – and understood the spiritual dimension of life.
A dramatic awakening
I always love to hear about those epiphanies when people are dramatically awakened out of their usual daily consciousness into an awareness of the spiritual dimension. But I also found myself wondering if Stephanie had the tools and strategies to develop her rapture. I remembered a friend once exclaiming to me about a young man who had just woken up to spirituality and who was simultaneously ecstatic and confused: ‘He has no tools! No spiritual tools at all!’
In the same week as the Woman’s Hour interview I also found myself asking whether the Pope too possessed the necessary spiritual tools. He came to mind because at the interfaith peace event in Assisi, the home of St Francis, attended by him and 300 representatives of other major faiths, these spiritual leaders could not bring themselves to worship together in the same room. Instead they all retired to their private spaces in order to pray for peace simultaneously and avoid possibly offending or being offended by the religious practices of the others. This dismayed me because at the first of these Assisi gatherings initiated by Pope John Paul II in 1986, the religious leaders prayed and worshipped together. For this occasion the current Pope gave different instructions. He takes the view, like many clerics and theologians, that it is unhealthy for different forms of worship and belief to be combined or ‘synchretised’ because it dilutes and weakens core faith.
Your spiritual toolkit
This is surely precisely where the practical ‘tools’ of spirituality can be so important, because these strategies work more deeply than just psychological belief and faith. These same tools and techniques can be found at the heart of all spiritual approaches helping people to deepen and expand their spiritual experiences. Here are examples of just three of the better known. I am sure that you will not be surprised by any of them and if I could package and put them in the Christmas stocking of every spiritual seeker I would.
The first strategy in the toolbox is the ability to ground, earth and centre – to calm down and sink comfortably into the temples of our bodies. What a gift!
The second is the skill of compassionate detachment, the ability to step back from our immediate feelings and thoughts, and then guide and manage them.
And our third Solstice gift is the strategy is of being able, carefully and consciously, to open and close our energy fields. Then, when we want, we can open up more fully to Spirit. Equally – sometimes I use the metaphor of a tulip closing its petals at night – we can also close down appropriately so as not be overwhelmed or over-stimulated.
This is one of the great benefits of a magazine and community like Cygnus, isn’t it, that we can see beyond the differences of belief and faith, and that we also appreciate the practical wisdom available to guide our spiritual development. These are good things for us all to celebrate and enjoy. They show that in this time of economic and social challenge we also understand and appreciate the true jewels and gifts of life.
On behalf of all the wonderful people and spirits involved in the community and family of Cygnus – readers, writers, publishers, editors, website managers et al – I wish you a wonderful Christmas, Solstice and New Year. Blessed Be!