Embodied Intimacy, Transformative Inquiry, Creative Emergence

The River Beneath the River ~The Sacred Journey of Individuation

Posted by on Jan 22, 2019 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 5 comments

The River Beneath the River ~The Sacred Journey of Individuation

It has taken me a long time to reclaim my inner throne, my true sovereignty. I was not taught to live this way. I found my way through sacrifice, through compromise, through stifling some of my deepest inner impulses. I put on a mask without knowing that it was a mask. Stripping away all of the protection, the defences, the armour, has taken me a lifetime. And I’m still on that journey. It doesn’t stop—it’s a journey that goes on and on, without an end, without a final destination. Becoming and Belonging. Learning to be myself, more and more fully, freely and truly. And learning how to participate in life, in this relational universe. Without holding myself back, and without compromise.

I am never separate, I am always related. The movement towards our deepest truth, aliveness and integrity is the movement toward connection. A connection in which I am still myself, still connected to the core essential nature of who I am. How can I go on becoming more and more intimate with everything and more and more myself at the same time? The mind stumbles around inside this paradox, unable to feel it in the body. And the direct experience is clear and simple, like the single note of a bell, on a bright mountain morning. I lived for twenty three years in a spiritual community in the Himalayas. It turned out to be a community that was living in the deep shadow of a wounded teacher. And even so, I could see, as the people around me practiced and evolved, that they became more and more themselves.

The journey of individuation is something that is often left out of spiritual teachings. As is the soul path. It is only now, during the last decade, that a balancing and integration is happening. A descent into the body, into the realm of soul, into the human soil that nourishes us most deeply. We may be able to tap into higher frequencies of consciousness, into the light of spirit, but we cannot embody those energies and capacities unless we become fully human at the same time. I remember when I first began to understand this. Adya Shanti, the American Zen teacher, said to me one day, “You can awaken to your spiritual nature without embodying any real integrity as a human being.” The truth of this took my breath away—I lived for so long without understanding this. Adya said to me, “So I pray, every day, that each person who awakens here on earth, finds a way to live with love and integrity.”

It feels clear to me that we will not make our way through the mess we are in now, without our higher capacities. On a collective human level we are numb, fragmented, violent, and helpless. We have lost our way. Only a deep integration of our human and spiritual natures can help us face the enormous crisis that stands before us. Meditation is not going to do it. Activism is not going to do it. Our collective human evolution stands at a threshold. We have actually entered a liminal space, without a clear intention to do so. In the liminal space, we stand between the worlds. There is no solid ground. The liminal is the in-between space, the space where things pass away, the space into which new life emerges. We are standing there now, or perhaps, not standing. Maybe crawling, stumbling towards a future possibility we can barely see or hear. This future possibility is not only something we are moving towards-it is calling us. It has a magnetism. It is our strange attractor. It is asking us to become whole, to meet this moment with all of who we are. To embrace that which we have shut away. To step out of our bubbles, and travel into the unknown, the borderlands, the wild places inside us and out, what we have been avoiding.

Broad River and Mountains

The soul has a wild nature. It is not domesticated. It knows how to walk in the liminal space, where that which is known and familiar has fallen away. It sees in the darkness. It can hear whispers long forgotten, voices that are half formed, waiting for someone to listen and bring them into the light of day.

To embody the soul is to expand far beyond my personality, into the depths and the uniqueness of who I am. I am, you are, unique without being separate. Like all journeys, the unfolding of my individuation needs a foundation. I cannot expand, grow and evolve into the vastness of my spiritual nature, I cannot open to the presence of the divine, without this ground. I can make trips into these higher realms, I can climb up the ladder into the light and receive messages from on high. But I cannot embody this deeper intelligence, the boundless nature of this love, until I descend. Down into the body, into the feelings that live in the body, into the earth.

The part of us that I call soul loves this journey, and calls us to take each new step. Once we align ourselves with the evolutionary energy of the soul, it will call us relentlessly. This movement towards the truth of who we are, the truth of what life is, what reality is, is like a river that we enter. Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls it “the river beneath the river.” For a long time we live in the river on the surface of our lives, the river of survival, of false belonging, of all the contracts we agreed to, in order to belong. There is a current that runs much deeper and truer, and we can dive down and feel the pull of that. The river beneath the river moves to a different rhythm. It is not frantic, desperate, and full of noise. It flows and it is also full of stillness and presence. It is intelligent, loving and full of power.

And it is alive. The soul is not a noun, it is energy, it is the movement of love and intelligence. When I drop deep into my body and feel this energy in my core, I feel a vast container, a connection with resources that are unbroken. The light of spirit, the love of our mother the earth, our living connection to the infinite pulsating web of life, is always there. It does not abandon me, I go away from it. I leave it when I become frightened, desperate, overwhelmed, lost. The pathway back home asks me, invites me to attune to these unbroken resources in the midst of my deep fear, my struggle, my rage, my helplessness.

In the beginning it feels impossible. Because there is so much deep wounding in our human nature. Generations of genocide, war, starvation, migration, imprisonment are encoded in our DNA. We are here to bring the love and light of consciousness all the way down into this darkness, the immensity of this suffering. Which is all a form of disconnection, a lack of full aliveness. Life itself calls us back into connection, again and again. The lost and abandoned parts of ourselves do not go away. They remain alive inside us, no matter how deeply buried, waving their hands, speaking to us every day through feelings, images, dreams, difficulties. Asking us to take the next step towards them, to say yes to what I have been running from, for so long.

Real meditation, embodied meditation, is not an escape from anything. It will eventually show me, if I am willing, everything I have been avoiding, the dogs I have been running from, as Thomas Huebl puts it, the ones that are coming up behind me, in the dark.

We are multidimensional being. We exists on many different levels, we vibrate on a myriad of frequencies and wave lengths. To embody the fullness, the depth, the wholeness of who we are is not a narrow path. It’s not just about opening the heart, although opening the heart and learning to love is an essential part of it. It’s not just about expanding the mind, learning to rest in the spaciousness of mind, going far beyond our habitual judgments and preconceptions, although this is also a necessary element in our unfolding. It’s not just about learning to feel, to embrace the passionate fiery nature of deepest humanity, although this also is an essential and much neglected dimension of our journey back home.

We are being asked to meet this moment with all of who we are. Nothing more or less. The integration, the sacred marriage that brings together the heights and depths of us, is what we long for most deeply. However far we have come, every step we took was sacred and necessary. And all that is required now is a deep, naked, passionate listening to where the deep river of the soul wants to take us next.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”


with love,


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Lianne Blanchet

    This letter is so beautiful and speaks to me in the midst of such a lost and confusing time for me.

  2. Sandy

    Shayla, this is so beautiful and meets me right where I am. Beautifully written. Thank you. Sandy

  3. Carol

    I cannot speak enough joy that your are writing these words, expressing the Soul’s truth and poetry. Quantum gratitude for you and your uncompromising heart.

  4. janet

    I stumbled on this today and it couldn’be be better timed. It is a beautiful writing. Thank you

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