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Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The last several days, I've experienced a series of insights...if you will. For background, you need to know that in February 2009 I spent three days in the hospital being treated for a clot in my heart. At that time the doctor....not the most sympathetic, or empathic man, for that matter, I have ever met.... informed me and my children that I had a 50% chance of living one year.

To say that I was shocked is an understatement.

I had always enjoyed remarkably fine health, exercising daily, and generally living a highly active life. Suddenly, all of that changed.


Coming to terms with one's mortality, I can assure you, does not happen in the blink of an eye. When my daughter, a minister at Ananda Spiritual Community in California, suggested I had best take a look at my fourth chakra, the heart chakra, I knew she was absolutely correct. I honestly could not say that I held any anger or intense resentments about any thing or any one, but I promised to reflect on it further. Maybe I would become aware of something I had overlooked, someone I had unfairly judged.

For the past twenty-two months, I have lived with the awareness that death might be lurking around the very next corner, always puzzling what it all means spiritually. And yet, let me hasten to say, my heart has improved significantly. When I was in the hospital, my heart was pumping at 18% of capacity....when it hit 35% of capacity six months later, I was elated...I'd been told it would never get that good again. And just a couple months ago, I learned that my heart now pumps at 65% of capacity....which is considered very fine and quite normal, thank you!

Still, I have an obstruction in the right muscle....or sometimes they say a blockage in the heart....it can be pretty confusing. And I haven't really figured out what's going on with my heart chakra.


Recently, I found a book, Journeying East, Conversations on Aging and Dying (books.google.com/books) by Victoria Jean Dimidjian, published by Parallax Press in 2004. In it, she interviews nine spiritual leaders, mostly Zen practitioners. Rodney Smith, Seattle Insight Meditation Society, concludes his interview “On Living and Dying Without Pretension” with the following: “Thinking in terms of time, living in terms of time is the very blockage of the heart.”

And, serendipitously, it seemed, all at once my world shifted....living with the awareness of death for the past twenty-two months is my spiritual path....everything and every one shares impermanence. And, if I can live in openness, with a sense of the eternal all round, even the obstruction of my heart metaphorically, spiritually, and physically may mend itself.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Yurt

Speaking with a friend who is building a yurt in Hawaii, I was reminded of the yurt I lived in for several months at Ananda Spiritual Community in California.  This is a rather long blog, a section from Knowing Woman, Nurturing the Feminine Self.

The Yurt

The minister at Ocean Song, an Ananda-operated property on the Northern California coast, had invited me to help her develop a guesthouse and retreat center. After I returned from Israel, my daughter, two-year-old grandson, and I drove over to see the spectacular property, located on rolling hills a mile from the ocean. Pleased with what I found and eager for a ministerial opportunity, I prepared to move.
The day before I was to leave, the Ocean Song minister phoned. “I’m sorry, Jo,” she said, “Don’t come. Swami Kriyananda has decided to return the property to the owner.”
I scrambled to find a place to live—a guest cabin at the Old Retreat—and a job, writing publicity for The Expanding Light. A few weeks later, a yurt on the hill above the dairy became available and I drove over to see it.
Parking my car at the end of the road, I followed a deer trail up a steep hill through trees and small bushes. Turning a bend, I saw a small, round structure nestled against the hill one hundred feet above me. On its lower side, peeled poles supported the canvas building; on the upper side, a three-foot porch fit the curve of the land. Modeled after the homes of Siberian nomads, the yurt was twelve feet in diameter with a dome roof; crisscrossed, two-inch lathes framed the interior fabric walls.
Inside, under the window and next to the sink, a two-burner Coleman stove sat atop a small storage cabinet. Kerosene fueled the lights and space heater; when the temperature rose above freezing, I would have cold water from a hose outside. I moved in immediately.
I slept under cozy blankets on a four-inch foam pad laid out on the varnished, yellow pine floor. On clear nights, stars filled the sky; deer foraged outside, so close—and the canvas walls so thin—I could hear them chewing. One evening as I drifted off to sleep, a doe and a yearling grazed nearby. An owl hooted a quarter mile away, startling the deer; the ground vibrated under their hooves as they ran, setting up a resonance I felt in my half-sleep.
One week out of four, the full moon shone through the un-curtained windows. Soft shadows spread across the polished floor. Month by month, I moved my pad and blankets, following the moon south and west. Old books warned of moon madness if the full moon shone on one, but I knew differently. With the full moon came a fullness of being—an intuitive knowing beyond rational thought, identification with the heart of nature.
As the weather warmed, I bundled up and meditated entire mornings on the sheltered north porch. Birds flew in and joined me, then moved on with a tiny flutter. At the porch edge, three-inch long, leathery green salamanders stretched, absorbing the heat of the late winter sun. One morning, I felt a stir of air, a tiny vibration near my cheek. Carefully, slowly, I lifted an eyelid to see what was causing it. A yellow and gray hummingbird with speckled throat feathers hovered at my mouth, its beak dipping for moisture between my open lips.
Meditating, reading, and writing, I built a castle of silent joy, a hermitage of the heart. Alone, I enjoyed a kind of global immersion. Peaceful and serene, I resisted going out, knowing my unity would be shattered. Leaving the yurt broke my connectedness with God, with the land, with deep silence.
In sharp contrast, when I was with others, I experienced a loss of self. I became the zeitgeist of the moment for as long as the connection—with a friend, family member, or guest—lasted. Relating to others for hours while I was with them, I was unaware that my energy was draining away. Leaving them, I experienced our separation as a great loss, accompanied by overwhelming sadness.
Both conditions—being with others or alonesatisfied me; however, the transition from one state to the other caused emotional devastation. I had experienced this loss all my life without knowing why. For many years, busyness had covered the hole in my heart; now, the emptiness seemed related to my habitual denial of self.
Each time I went out, I coached myself: this time, this time, I’ll feel at home among my spiritual friends. But it never worked. When I was with other devotees, I pretended, as I had always done. Anandans told me I looked sublimely happy; guests called me Joy. Like a small white hand in a soft leather glove, I acted as if I belonged in the community while my heart’s perpetual turmoil threatened my self-control. Life seesawed between the truth I perceived and the reality others appeared to live. My fragile self swung back and forth, a pendulum pointing first to my knowledge, then to Ananda’s truth, oscillating between awareness of my duplicity and my need to be accepted. If only I could be like them, I thought, I would be at peace.
The problem lay in me: because I had not found my true Self, like many, perhaps most women and men, I externalized my valueif they loved me, I would be happy.
At Easter, I waited tables at a wedding banquet. As usual, pretending joy I did not feel, I observed the festivities from the sidelines. (“Smile!” my grandmother had instructed when I was nine. “If you don’t smile, people will think you’re angry.” Taught from an early age to always appear happy, at the end of a long day in the governor’s office, my face had sometimes ached from smiling. By the time I arrived at Ananda, I had a perfect false smile.) As soon as I could leave without being noticed, I slipped away. Crossing the greening meadow, I entered the woods above the village. Safely hidden, I began to cry.
Ten minutes later, as I neared the dairy, a car approached on the road behind me. Swami Kriyananda and Rosannathe beautiful, young Italian woman he had married the previous summerwere returning to the Hermitage. They stopped to offer me a ride. Suppressing my inner tumult, I smiled a greeting.
“How are you?” Swami asked.
A God-given opportunity for spiritual guidance, I thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Fine!” I answered cheerfully, “Although it’s not easy being a single, older woman in gatherings like the one we just left.”
“What do you mean?” Rosanna asked.
“With people or alone, I’m happy; moving from seclusion to being with people, or reversing the process—from the group back into seclusion—is hard. Swamiji, do you ever experience that?”
“I can’t say that I do,” Swami answered.
At the turnoff to the yurt, I jumped nimbly out of the car, wished them a joyful Easter, and waved as they drove away.
A few steps up the trail, I sobbed aloud.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Chakra Diaries

I just posted a review of The Chakra Diaries on amazon.com, and it occurred to me that my readers might also be intrested......

Coming from a background of more than thirty years of meditation and chakra awareness, I found The Chakra Diaries by Becca Chopra a welcome addition to the literature. Most writing about energy in the spine, chakras, and meditation is pretty academic and esoteric. Chakra Diaries never goes there. Writing about the seven chakras (from the base of the spine to the crown of the head) and a variety of men and women characters, Becca Chopra brings these energies and actions into a world we all inhabit.

Spiritual center by center, chakra by chakra, Becca explores the effect of energy in each one, noting how one feels when the energy is blocked and showing how it is when one's energy flows freely. Religion per se may be passe for some of us, but spirituality is even stronger today than it was fifty years ago.

I especially liked the people we meet in Chakra Diaries, their unique attitudes about life, and their authenticity. Clearly, the author has listened closely to how men speak and think; her characters are appealing people who work with the positive and negative in life and one way and another work out their issues.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is Emptiness?

Emptiness..what is emptiness?, my sister telephones. My mind spins with possibilities, all ways of describing the indescribable.

It's a great subject, dear to my mystic's heart. Just last week at the Meditation and Conversation group I am trying out, I focused on Aum, Om, the sound that comes out of Emptiness. And now comes this serendipitous opportunity to consider it a bit more.

Implicate Orders

The response in terms of physics might be Physicist David Bohm's theory of implicate orders. His idea is that all creation...sky, earth, people, animals, atoms, stars and oceans....come out of nothing. Each was an idea before becoming a reality on the physical plane. Bohm has implicate orders inside of implicate orders, like Russian dolls that nest one inside the next.

In the Beginning was the Word

St John, in the Bible, says “In the beginning was the word, and the word was made manifest and lived among us.” Where did the word come from? From nothingness, the void, emptiness. Vedanta says the sound of Om is actually God; Om is the sound that comes out of emptiness.

Silence is the Altar of God

Another expression, “Silence is the altar of God” from Paramahansa Yogananda, the great Indian yogi, suggests the same emptiness or nothingness. In this case, the Unformed, the Unmanifest, Emptiness is called Silence.

Tao Te Ching

Or consider the Chinese Tao Te Ching that begins, “The Tao that can be named is not the One.” Again, the Tao is the unseen emptiness from which all actions, all things flow.

What is emptiness? Not absence. Rather, overflowing potential.

Mystical Intuition

What does it look like, how does it taste, what is its smell? What is its meaning? Obviously, it's unseen, it cannot be smelled or tasted or felt, nor can it be heard. But perhaps it can be intuited. Meaning is not tangible and hence, has a life apart. We intuit the Source of All Things, using senses beyond the physical body.

Vastly more powerful than all the nuclear energy on the globe—immensely more expansive than all created things, emptiness speaks to the inner knowing of each mystic, ultimately lives in each of us.

Out of the darkness...out of emptiness, God said let there be Light.

Your Comments

I'm sure much more can be said about Emptiness and Silence....I'd like to hear your “take” on my sister's question, “What is emptiness?”

(c) 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010


Hi. Thanks for clicking over to my blog.

My name is Jo Garceau. Two years ago, when I was seventy-six, I published a book, Knowing Woman, Nurturing the Feminine Soul. A number of readers requested that I expand on the ideas I wrote about, and especially to share my reflections on spirituality, heart health, shamanic astrology, growing older, and current issues.

Allow me to introduce myself: raised Roman Catholic in the 1930's, I married and had four children, three sons and a daughter. When I was thirty, I began to volunteer in politics. One thing led to another and after running political campaigns in Washington State, in 1969, I became assistant to the governor. After leaving government, I worked as a part time campus minister at The Evergreen State College while enrolled at a seminary offering an off campus degree. Later, armed with my new Master's in Human Values, I spent eight years in an ashram in California (more in the book, much more!) and have been meditating since the early 70's. Spirituality is the focus of my life.

My youngest son, Greg, and I share an apartment in Vancouver, Washington. Another son, Paul, lives in Portland and is single. My daughter, Suzanne, has lived at Ananda ashram in central California with her husband and four children for many years. Two of my grandsons are away from home, one at college and the other looking for work in Seattle. My fourth child, Warren, recently moved to Provo, Utah to continue drama studies.

I an a Shamanic Astrologer with a Gemini 10th house, which means I am eclectic about my work and like to stay involved. Before I retired as a customer service agent, I started a tiny business that does many things. Sometimes one area is "hot" and another cold and so I manage to make a little income one way or another... I read astrological charts in person and by phone, including for clients overseas. I book appointments for my teacher, Daniel Giamario (see shamanicastrology.com...I am listed there too), sell books over the internet, sell my own books directly, and work one day a week at a local metaphysics store, Celestial Awakenings....

In February 2009 I suddenly learned that I have what I prefer to call a "heart issue"....apparently not a heart attack, but arrhythmia and a serious blood clot. My first doctor coolly delivered his opinion: "You have a fifty percent chance of living one year." Perhaps the best description of my condition is congestive heart failure. By combining alternative and regular medications and disciplines I have recovered significantly in the past 21 months. I currently attend Qigong classes twice a week and swim at least once a week, and know I should do more. The medications have slowed me down and I limp a bit, and it is hard to walk as I used to. I wear a pedometer to measure my daily activity.

Over the past two years, I have offered discussion groups on Knowing Woman and on the astrological Turning of the Ages. A couple weeks ago, I began offering a free weekly meditation and conversation. So far, people seem pleased.

I want this blog to be interactive. Your comments, questions and suggestions are important to me. Please introduce yourself, and let me know what you are thinking about, what you would like to know and what you are doing. Together, we can build a community of wise women and men.