April 2020
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The Message and the Medicine

The Message and the Medicine by CJ Shelton

Magnolia bloomThere is an ancient Sufi saying that says, “When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit rejoices for what it has found.” A crisis of global proportions certainly has a way of driving this point home, but the cause of what is making us cry out in frustration and anguish right now is serving an essential function.

When things first started to unfold in mid-March with the Coronavirus, the message that kept repeating for me was how much this event was long overdue and how very much it was needed. Now, that may sound insensitive, but from a shamanic perspective, “dis-ease” and “symptoms” on such a great scale are a clarion call that something is out of balance. And the more out of balance something is, the stronger the “medicine” that is needed to set it right again.

One of my favourite spiritual teachers, Caroline Myss, has been doing a series of webinars exploring the higher perspective of Covid 19. Aptly titled Riding the Phoenix, the series looks at the pandemic as an inevitable part of a much greater cycle.

The legendary Phoenix is a long-lived bird of ancient Greek myth that cyclically regenerates itself and is born again. The story is famous for what it symbolizes – life and death, creation and destruction. A Phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

This passage from describes the legend of the Phoenix beautifully:
The Phoenix BirdIn the still of the night, just before sunrise, a magnificent creature builds its nest. You stop and watch as it carefully puts each spice, clove and branch that lies before it in place with meticulous detail. As you watch, you are struck by the tiredness of the creature which is clearly evident, though in no way takes away from its beauty.

The sun begins to rise and the bird begins to stretch. Its feathers are a beautiful hue of gold and red. It is the Phoenix. It cranes its head back as it sings a haunting melody that stops the Sun itself in the sky. But then a spark falls from the heavens and ignites a great fire that consumes both bird and nest … but don’t worry. In three days, the Phoenix will rise from the ashes, born again.”

In the first webinar of her series, Caroline Myss asks the very big question facing all of us right now:  “What will be turned to ashes as our Phoenix descends?”

The Phoenix knows that the key to its immortality lies in its willingness to surrender, to let go of that which it has outgrown and no longer serves it. Like the Phoenix, we too have parts of our lives and parts of our world that need to be surrendered. And while many of those decisions are being made for us through restrictions and personal rights being taken away, what is important to recognize is that we still have the opportunity to consciously choose what we are willing to surrender to the fires of transformation.

Whatever the fire is taking from us, and however we emerge out of this, what the myth of the Phoenix offers is the hope that, out of the ashes, something new will rise again.

To understand the myth of the Phoenix is to also see it as a metaphor for the way of Nature. Whenever things go too far in one direction, Mother Nature has to re-establish a state of balance. And to bring that balance about, she does whatever she needs to, no matter how tragic and unforgiving it may seem from our human viewpoint.

We must acknowledge the coronavirus, not as the punishment of a wrathful God, but as the nature of the Divine seeking to re-establish balance through a cyclical process of birth, death and rebirth. As both the Bible and 1960s band The Byrds gently remind us: 

Ecclesiastes quoteTo everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose
Under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8/The Byrds, 1965)

This is a time when we must each look into our own lives at what is turning to ashes. To everything there is a season ... then, when the Wheel has turned, and turned again, what emerges from those ashes will be medicine for the world.

There are also other important questions we can be asking ourselves during the Phoenix’s descent:  What haven’t I been missing doing during this “pause”?  Who am I without my old life? What is this experience teaching me? How can I use this learning to become more conscious, more awake, more aware? And even, what is actually good and positive about this situation?

If we don’t use this time well and learn from it, it is reasonable to assume that something else, equally as devastating – like bio-weaponry, nuclear disaster or climate change – will more forcibly take us into the next phase of Nature’s cycle.

To quote Rainer Maria Rilke:  “How we squander our hours of pain. How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration to see if they have an end. Though they are really our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen, our season in our inner year, not only a season in time, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.”

This epic event, this life and world changing “pause” can, as Marianne Williamson says, “Either make us bitter or make us better. We each have a role to play. Now is not the time to play spectator and hope someone else will fix it for us. Our playing spectator is what got us here. This needs to be a time of deep thinking about what our responsibility is on this planet …”

From a shamanic perspective, if all we do is suppress our individual symptoms, the resulting disharmony and dis-ease will continue to be a reflection of the deeper disharmony created by the way we have collectively behaved – carelessly, recklessly and irresponsibly. And those symptoms will morph into something else if we don’t get to the root of them and heal them.

Fawkes and Harry PotterAs any Harry Potter fan knows, the tears of a Phoenix have immense healing powers. It is the only known cure for basilisk (snake) venom which, interestingly, is the very creature that originally lured us out of Paradise.

Phoenix tears are capable of reviving someone from any injury, even if the person is at the brink of death. For us, with the tears of the Phoenix now within our grasp, it is okay to shed a few tears of our own; to let ourselves be angry. Or fearful. Or grief stricken. Our emotions have something to tell us and, like the tears of the Phoenix, they too have the power to heal.

Damh the Bard, a pagan folk singer, recently wrote about his own experience during this time:  “I’m aware of an underlying bubbling of fear. The surface of the water might be calm, but just underneath the currents are churning, trying to pull me in different directions. A couple of weeks ago I let those currents drag me down. For a moment I lost rational thought. I surrendered to that bubbling fear and lost control. I got angry. I took my dog for a walk to calm down, and as I walked, so the turbulence subsided and my thoughts became clear again … and as my mind slowly cleared I made a decision ...”

What are the decisions you are making when raw emotions bubble up from beneath the surface of your waters? Are you suppressing them or embracing them? Are you able to sit with yourself and ask those emotions, “What are you trying to show me?”  

In Nature, time is not linear. It is cyclical and spiral, always returning to the same starting point, but each time around with new vision and new life … but not until after the old has been cleared out first. Nature works in kairos time, which means “big time” or “sacred time. Time that is outside of time.

Within this model of “time-moving-in-spirals” we will soon be moving into the hope and joy of hitting the “re-set” button. But we must not forget the fear, the anger or the grief of the dying time, because to be fully human means to hold and weave all of these different layers of meaning, emotion and nuance together at the same time.

Like Nature, any great story or myth follows a similar sequence of stages:  a separation from normality, followed by the enduring of a dilemma or ordeal, followed by a period of reintegration and, finally, rebirth. This sequence is a template for initiation.

As author Charles Eisenstein says about the pandemic: “Now the question arises, Initiation into what? What is the specific nature and purpose of this initiation? The popular name for the pandemic offers a clue …  coronavirus. A corona is a crown. ‘Novel coronavirus pandemic’ means ‘a new coronation for all.’”

Sun's CoronaThe word corona also refers to the ring around the sun, a phenomena only seen during a total solar eclipse. And, it is interesting to note the significance of the sun in the Phoenix’s story. The Sun is what the mythic bird sings to in praise and is able to stop in its tracks with the sheer beauty of its song. But while the Sun is in awe of that song, its fire is what initiates the destruction of the Phoenix and the process of transformation.

The truth of the Phoenix’s tale of death and resurrection, and of Nature’s seasonal cycle, isn’t that we deny the reality around us or sit and wait for things to return to “normal”. A resurrected life means we embrace all of the wounded-ness, all of the fears and frustrations, both personal and collective, and see them as places where grace and the transformative power of the Divine can enter in. When we do, then, like the Phoenix, we too can emerge from the ashes of this pandemic, whole and purified, with new wings to fly back to Paradise on. This is the message and the medicine.

The Studio has Moved Online Temporarily

This pandemic has meant I've had to adapt in numerous ways, but I am blessed to have been able to move some of my regular weekly classes online. It has been a wonderful transformation and has kept my students connected.

For The Mystic’s Circle we have been meeting every Thursday evening via Zoom to share thought-provoking and higher perspective discussions about current events. If you feel you might benefit from these “soul support” circles, please email me to be added to the notification list.

For those on Facebook I have created two new private groups, one called "Drawing Together with CJ" for art students/art lovers to share their work and the work of artists they admire, and one for "The Mystic’s Circle" where I am sharing links to articles, videos and other resources of a spiritual nature, many of which we have been discussing in the online gatherings. To take part in either group, just click on the active links in this paragraph or the images below to be taken to Facebook where you can request to join.

The Mystic's Circle
Drawing Together
As for workshops ...
no in-person sessions at the studio are scheduled at this time as I am waiting to see what the government announces about timelines for opening up and resuming group activities.

But Coming Soon! The best part of this downtime is that I am using it to explore ways of offering online learning and workshops in the future. It will take a bit of time to figure out the logistics and technical side, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, I hope you are doing well, feeling healthy and staying creative, whether it is keeping yourself busy with art, needle work, baking, making music or walking, spending time with family and all the other wonderful things we often don’t make time for ... but I am still looking forward to when we will rise, like the Phoenix and be together, in person, once again.

With gratitude and many blessings to you all for your continued support.

CJ Shelton
Artist, Instructor & Facilitator

Dancing Moon Designs
Illuminating the Creative and Spiritual Life
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