Sarah is a dynamic teacher of embodied feminine awakening and the author of the memoir, Being Self-ish: My Journey from Escort to Monk to Grandmother, which chronicles her dramatic life journey, ten years of meditative retreat, awakening, and her process of becoming a teacher of embodied emergence.
She is also the founder of “Selfistry,” an educational model for cultivating the artistry of being human, which integrates eastern and western philosophy and psychology with meditative and embodied somatic practices, creating the conditions for a deep encounter with Self and Soul.
Last summer Sarah and I co-led a remarkable, week-long transformational process at Esalen, and we will be doing so again this July 24-29, 2016. The workshop is called Embodying the Intelligence of Your Heart and Soul. During our dialogue, Sarah described one of her signature practices from Selfistry which she’ll be offering during the workshop. This somatic exercise explores the full embodiment of the three realms of being: stillness (representing the Self, or any form of the mystery or divinity), movement (representing your human, small “s”, self, and all the unique ways you as an individual move through life) and the witness space or awareness itself.
There are still spaces available for this intimate, enlivening experience.
I really loved my conversation with Sarah. It was quite rich, and provocative. We talked about “incarnational non duality” as distinct from reductive interpretations of nondual spirituality. Reductive “hinayana” nondual spirituality emphasizes annihilating the small self to realize the universal Self as a radical alternative to ordinary embodied living. Instead, incarnational non duality sees through but then freely embraces and dances into life as the surrendered small self, letting go into being the Mystery appearing as this unique human body — even while resting as the Self of awareness itself.
After a wild youth Sarah lived a life of meditative retreat for a decade. About seven years in, she cracked through her sense of small self, coming to know the universal Self as her real nature. But a second breakthrough followed; she realized her freedom was radical, so she didn’t have to leave the embodied life of the small self behind. She arrived at a place, a ground of being, that was free to express itself through any dualistic experience, including the moving life of embodied movement, sexuality and relationship. Her teacher at the time hadn’t yet distinguished this for himself. Finding the freedom to live from the ground of the universal witness ultimately opened the way for her to make the free choice to emerge back into life and to embrace and celebrate her small self as a dynamic expression of the universal Self.
Sarah spontaneously discovered the insight expressed by the critique of spiritual bypassing. Her Self-nature had no need to coolly disengage from the world, but was free to lean passionately into incarnate life in all its dynamism.
Interestingly, she declined to criticize people who choose to transcend and annihilate the small self as being involved in a “spiritual bypass.” I pointed out that some practitioners focus on a practice and realization that’s something like that of an Arhat, the person who awakens to nirvana and is liberated. We can see that Mahayana Buddhism criticizes this as an incomplete realization, pointing instead to the Bodhisattva, who willingly defers his or her radical liberation from conditional experience, vowing first to liberate “all sentient beings.” Rather than applying this distinction to her former teacher, Sarah expressed curiosity, wondering if perhaps the Arhat’s private liberation might be the authentic path of certain individuals. She says she can only be certain that it is not her path.
Over time, Sarah has become more skillful in moving her attention back and forth (“toggling”) among perspectives in the dance. She moves between Self, self and the witness consciousness. There is a pivot point where her attention can flow “as if it were a dance, a piece of art.” Intention is never stuck for too long in one place so that her personal human expression is always transducing the free energy of the universal Self and returning all experience to that universal Ground.
This fluidity is right at the essence of what I have so appreciated in Sarah as a human being. During our dialogue, I read two quotes from her memoir that point to this:
What if the experience of emptiness is not what leads us to a spiritual death but is actually the source of our capacity to truly meet life? It’s my experience that the whole point is not to radically self-destruct, but to gradually reconstruct. Freedom from suffering happens when we remove our unconscious conditioning and live in conscious alignment with the emptiness, but not by dying into it.
I read another passage from her memoir where she quoted her husband Steven, observing Sarah in her process of emergence:
I was reading about how transcendence and getting lost in experiences of emptiness is the result of an unbalanced masculine approach to the spiritual path. Without the feminine approach along for balance, it’s easy to slip into an unhealthy detachment from life. It’s like trying to fly with only one wing. You never take off.
An important stream of contemporary spirituality is exploring how radical freedom affects the expression of our embodied humanity in us as individuals and as groups in relationship.
At my request, Sarah also gave a energetic, moving retelling of how she and I first really connected at the Integral Living Room a couple of years ago. During a group exercise that I led which asked each group to take a different perspective on our global meta-crisis, Sarah felt the voice of the feminine arise in her, and she “let it rip.”
Perspective by perspective, she moved about the room, poetically and poignantly embodying the full spectrum of being, toggling back and forth from Self to self to witness, speaking from first, second and third person perspectives. One moment she gave the reassurance that “you’re okay, you’re loved, you haven’t done anything wrong. I’m holding you in unconditional love.” The next perspective she took, she warned us to “get off your asses, wake up and do what you need to do…”
She described the energy released by the pull of different perspectives as a cyclone. Her most powerful message from the second person perspective was to “love each other, take care of each other, help each other…find ways to be collaborative and creative.”
Sarah and I resonate deeply in our incarnational approach to non-duality, but the way we express our feminine and masculine natures in our teaching is very different. And yet there is a balance that comes into the space, particularly because of the strong somatic element of Sarah’s teaching. That somatic element seems to catalyze the understandings and the deep sharing and devotional openings that I’m able to facilitate with my soul work and integral heart teachings. Register and learn more about Embodying the Intelligence of Your Heart and Soul.
You can listen to the entire dialogue with Sarah here.
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