DONNA: I wanted to thank you for your time first of all, and let everyone know in case they don’t know your work or are unfamiliar with you…you are the author of several works having to do with female empowerment. Your book is Embodying the Feminine and you also have an audio, Awakening the Feminine Body, as well as various other works on female awakening and empowerment. And you are also the founder of Awakening Women.
DONNA: If it’s ok with you, we have a little tradition on Awaken and we like to dive right in and talk about that notion of awakening, especially since your work is called Awakening Women. First of all, what is awakening? If you wouldn’t mind jumping right in?
CHAMELI: Ahhh! To me, awakening is ongoing process. It is like a blossoming that never ends. It is shift of our sense of self from the soap opera of the little small personal me, to realize ourselves as part of a bigger unfolding. To me, awakening is not so much a personal, individual journey for me; it is a collective process that we are all part of and that we slip into.We participate in it’s unfolding when we release the energy from habitual automatic patterns. In the yogic language, we call this the granth is. Some would call it the blocks…some would call it ego…I like to call it “ice cubes,”in the sense that it is frozen life energy and it’s frozen shakti, that coagulates.
DONNA: I like that.
CHAMELI: Yes, it is the very same energy that is frozen in these patterns, once they are melted and released into the bigger soup… it becomes your life force. So, we can kind of get trapped in… that’s why I don’t like the word “ego”so much…because we can get trapped in this battle of pushing away parts of ourselves, and we can spend lifetimes doing that. Here… in the way that I practice with it, is more in embracing into the fire of presence, into the fire of awareness, where this energy releases from the ice cubes. And the frozen energy that was frozen in fear, for example, is the very same energy that becomes your creativity, your connection to source. Because the way I see it, there is no… there’s no place to get rid of anything. There’s no outside here. This is one totality.There is no division to be found. So, when we freeze these… when we identify with this frozen energy, there’s nothing new happening there; there’s just repetition of patterns but we didn’t even choose.We’re born into them and we just keep repeating them. There’s a bunch of these frozen beliefs…this frozen energy that kind of forms who we take ourselves to be. That’s what we could call a “personal identity,”that’s what we call “me”in my story…my soap opera. And once we begin to melt them, our sense of self shifts, to be just this little habitual patterns…to being this magnificent, creative energy that takes forms as all things…
DONNA: That’s beautiful!
CHAMELI: …and that we can participate in. Yes, thank you!
DONNA: It emcompasses this idea of a transformation, or an alchemy…because rather than try to fight against some part of ourselves,we’re just using that energy and becoming whole, which is what I always thought healing was, to become whole. So we’re integrating those frozen parts into who we are fully, rather than saying that’s bad I need to conquer that, or fix that.
CHAMELI: Mhmm, yeah. I like the word you used, alchemy.It is very precise I feel.
DONNA: I really enjoyed your TED Talk. In watching and preparing for this interview, I watched that talk. And it was so powerful. You talked about doing exactly that… kind of using that fire side of ourselves and using it to become stronger…more empowered. And it made me want to explore that further, especially since so much of your work is oriented toward women. What is the difference between a female spirituality, or a female spiritual journey, or female awakening, and just awakening?
CHAMELI: Mhmm. First, I just want to track back to something you said about using the fire energy to become stronger. Another way that I would speak about…how I would say it, is that we would use the fire, for example, of anger, of sexuality, or any kind of strong shakti… like a strong energy. We would use that heat to unfreeze habitual patterns and this identification with the smaller me. So for me, in my practice, feelings…they are not an impediment or a hindrance to awakening; they are actually waves we can ride into awakening. Then from there,we don’t have to actually become more power… empowered… we don’t have to build up a new ice cube now. It’s like just “empowered woman,” or “spiritual woman.” We meld, so that we can just return from habitual patterns back into the dance of creativity we are a part of. And that is uniquely expressed through each one of us.
And what I… why I am exploring this together with women, is that we have very little role models and maps of how awake consciousness expresses itself through women. And so, I’m curious about that…because I’ve experienced in my life and in my spiritual path, a lot of suffering coming out of me…trying to fit into the maps that were available to me. I tried… I compared my own experience with the maps, and books, and paths, that were created by men. And kind of not fully realizing, until I did, that the expression of awake consciousness was filtered through the male form. And if I was trying to compare myself to that, I will always fail, I will always fight against my own nature. So, for me, the practice…and through the woman’s body, through the women’s circle, where it leads us, is to the awakened consciousness, which doesn’t have any gender.
So, the deeper I go into this practice, the more… the less meaning masculine and feminine have for me… which is a paradox, ‘cause I’m the leader of the women’s circles. But… the awakening of consciousness is not the end of the story in the feminine path, and in the path we could call the “embodied path,” which is for men and women. Which is the exploration of how consciousness is expressing itself through our bodies, through our lives, through our sexuality, through our work, through our relationships. Which is the part of spirituality so many people are drawn to today because for so many of us, it’s not our destiny to sit in the monastery or sit in the cave, which so many of these maps were created for…monks. So, they didn’t address, they didn’t need to address, like end of the story was just awakening from the personal to the universal, and then you can just sit very still and bask in that. And for me, that was a great shift in my life.
But once I opened my eyes and started to speak…especially to my partner, you know, I was not so enlightened anymore. It was like, I got it, I lost it, I got it, I lost it. And I think that is a dynamic many recognize themselves in. And that’s where I discovered that, wow, there is a whole ‘nother set of practices.There is a whole ‘nother piece of this path which we have to kind of explore for ourselves.I mean, there are many… I’m very inspired by the wisdom teachings, but also to stay loyal to how the living, breathing spirit expresses itself through women today. So that’s… I’m curious about that.
DONNA: So a female’s practice is more body-based?
CHAMELI: Yes. Definitely. Definitely. We enter… there’s a beautiful model in the tantric path, which I’m inspired by, and it’s that Shiva Shakti… many of us have seen Shiva Shakti in the symbol of them making love. And in this… in this context,Shiva then would represent the formless aspect of spirit and Shakti is how that formlessness takes form. And in many maps, the journey is from form to formlessness. And then… so literally, it is Shakti rising in the body, and then merging with Shiva consciousness. And for many maps, that is where the story ends. But in our practice, that’s actually the beginning. It’s where Shakti and Shiva merges and then she brings Shiva back with her. It means that she brings presence, awake consciousness into form. And there is this saying that the love making is so total, that he has penetrated her…so he’s inside her. So, this is why, just like the scientists are discovering now, if you penetrate deep enough into form, you find energy, you find space, you don’t find “a thing.”This is what all the yogis have been speaking about since the beginning. That nothing of this is actually as solid as the human brain has it interpreted it to be. So, this is why we can be… we can dive in through the body, through the feelings and access the same shiva consciousness, the same spaciousness. And it’s a more challenging path because you go into the jungle of the feelings, of sensations, and all of this stuff. But, the reward is that you don’t have to…awakening your freedom is not dependent on a certain state of calm and peace.
CHAMELI: You see what I mean? It’s like we find that spaciousness in the midst of any expression.
DONNA: You know, this is fascinating because you’re talking about this kind of jungle of sensations that makes it not as easy as it might seem. I’m thinking of fresh ears listening to this for the first time, thinking Oh, isn’t that lovely? Do you dance around or something?You know? But, you’re saying no because you’re dealing with all these complicated emotions and sensations that you navigate your way through. Where as, in the traditional, mental based path, Gyan Yoga, which we can maybe call it…I don’t know if you would agree… we’re dealing with thoughts, which is just as difficult of a web to negotiate our way through, and try to find our way through the noises of the mind on our way to that still point. And so, you’re saying it really is comparable and it requires just as much diligence to get to the stillness beyond the temptations of other kinds of sensations. Would that be…?
CHAMELI: Yeah. Yes and it’s not a goal to come to the stillness, either, but it is… like, you were mentioning before…it’s that alchemy…it’s that we learn to, instead of going into automatic resistance to our experience… even spiritual ideas can create that kind of, Oh that doesn’t fit into my idea of what spirituality is… We try to harvest…we try to… cultivate the capacity to stay awake with a lot of energy, without having to create drama, or a big identification with it. It’s our life force, it’s our life energy. And we use it then also to melt those tracks, where energy habitually goes. This is literally also in the physical body of the neurological pathways of habit. For example, in your brain… you know, if energy goes along a certain track, it will repeat doing that for a long time. And this takes some effort to change it, but we have found ways that we can really… that’s why I love to practice in the women’s circle, too…because we can use a lot of our support and there’s a specific shakti, a specific intelligence in the women’s circle. I will even call it like an “archetype.” Or, the circle in itself is a teacher. It is a guru. And it is created by the women coming together in this dedication. It is as if the circle has been here since the beginning of time. It is just different packaging of the women creating it.
DONNA: Can you tell us more about that women’s circle? And I’m sorry to interrupt.
DONNA: … who might not be so familiar with the circles and you. This is part of your practice and you organized these circles.Can you tell us what happens in these circles and how is this a form of practice?
CHAMELI: Yes. As you pointed out, it is very body based. It is a space where we will try to leave out our concepts and ideas of how spirituality should look like and then explore together. Okay, how does awake consciousness express itself through this form? There’s no specific recipe for that, if you’re not trying to become a certain kind of woman; that is just another ice cube that won’t satisfy the intelligence of the heart…that just knows… that we are living, breathing… the intelligence that we are. In our circle… I’m a student of mythology, so we are using a lot of the goddess mythology as our maps. And it is a… yeah, it is a practice that just deepens and deepens and opens and opens every time I dive into it. The mythology… you know, I come from a background that is more advice based.
In the beginning of my practice, there was an awakening to the formlessness and then there was an idea that any story will trap me… that I should kind of stay away from strong feelings. It was a lot of ideas that actually…created in the name of non-duality…created a duality. So for me, the study of myths has been a big surprise and I’ve been studying and teaching this now for…I don’t know, seventeen years or something, and it just keeps unfolding and opening for me. The mythology is for me… it is like a bridge that goes from the personal experience in the body… the myths are inner yoga maps of awakening…of how we can practice within our own body.
But it also creates a bridge into the relational aspect, or into the collective, into the political and historical aspects. And it all weaves together, where you begin to see the way the human mind creates all of these aspects of our lives into different boxes, that we fragment them, as if our spirituality is something else that is social justice work. The myths…they are like a web that weaves all of it together, to engage with them… awake consciousness in a whole different way. Like, you are woven into the wholeness…into the totality of who we are. It’s very exciting work.
Well,in our circles, we do a lot of singing, a lot of devotional practices, a lot of dancing, a lot of touch…we use a lot of respectful touch as a way…just accessing that intelligence of the body. We are riding on feelings, not because feelings are so important, but as energy, strong energy that we can…you know, when an energy rises, it’s like a wave. It rises up to the surface, up to the peak of the wave, and we… some of us learn to express their feelings, for example, a big step of liberation. But, that’s not the end. Once we have learned a type of feelings as energy, we can actually ride that up to the peak of the wave, and then down. Back into the ocean again. We have like fuel… for phwrrrr! For just coming back to the source of that feeling, which is the source of all things.The same source of all expression.
Read and watch Part II Here: We Are Part Of A Collective Unfolding