I invite you to try this with me, even if you don’t think of yourself as someone that does magic. Try it with me as a thought experiment.

Let’s start by considering the possibility that ritual can change you. I don’t mean this to say that it can be a substitute for doing work on yourself, or for having a varied and flexible mental health toolbox, rather that our psyches are squiggly and weird places that are subject to metaphor and ritual, which can be one of those tools. We can call this ritual “magic,” but we don’t have to. I’m less invested in the vocabulary than I am in the syntax, and all the roads up a mountain lead to the top.

So if the language of “magic” works well for you, we can use that. If you’d prefer to consider this an exercise in psychological and somatic processing using tools drawn from the work of Eugene Gendlin, Starhawk, Halko Weiss, and Bessel Van Der Kolk, that’s also fine. The important thing is that you try this with a sense of curiosity and openness to the possibility that it’s not meaningless.

Usually, in ritual, we start by invoking spirits, elements, deities, ancestors, whatever beings are our allies in our working. We do this as a way of feeling connected, of asking for help, of knowing as we begin to stretch our consciousnesses that there’s something out there and that if we exceed the boundaries of the self, we won’t tumble into the void.

Feeling connected might feel impossible right now. Maybe you’re alone in your house. Maybe you haven’t seen another person in a long time. Maybe your eyes are too tired to see another two-dimensional face through a screen. Maybe the fear and dread that’s been bombarding you from every direction for months has built up on your skin and turned into a protective shell and now it feels like nothing can get in anymore. That’s okay! If it’s awful, it’s not because you’re doing it wrong. It’s because it’s awful.

But it means that reaching out for connection is scarier, because everything inside feels so raw and fragile. Like the faintest push would tear us open and break us into pieces.

So let’s be a different kind of connected tonight. A different kind of brave. Let’s look inside together. You do it where you are, and I’ll do it where I am, and even though we’re in different places, we’ll be doing the same thing, and that’s a kind of connection.

Let’s start by feeling the furthest out parts of your body. The boundary, the easiest part to find. Feel gently and curiously into the tips of your ears, your toes, the skin on your lower back. Every place where not-you kisses you, the enfolding bright membrane around everything you feel. It’s not time to do anything or feel any kind of way about it yet, just notice that it’s there. Notice your nerves, the way they devour sensation without identifying or judging it. Try pressing your fingertips together or stroking your palm down your upper arm or running your hand through your hair. All of these sensations are stars in the constellation that is you.

Let’s go a little deeper inside and feel your muscles. Just inside the boundary if your skin. You could push your fingertips gently into your arm or leg, or squeeze and release them, to feel the way they move. Feel the beauty in the way they slide against each other. Maybe your cognition identifies the sensation as pleasure, and maybe as pain. Maybe you’re just noticing it and you can’t tell what it feels like. It’s just you. It’s just more stars in the constellation.

Maybe something hurts, and maybe that hurt has feelings attached to it. Maybe it’s something that’s been hurting for a long time, and you’ve stopped noticing it because it’s been so long, and when you turn your attention to it, suddenly the pain and the sadness so deep and frightening, like an ocean that you’ve been swimming in, and you just realized that you’re so far out that the bottom is far, far away and the shore is far, far away and it’s just you and the depths and the sky and it’s so much. That’s okay. You don’t have to be doing anything other than this right now. Feel the waves move over and through you. You’re not going to drown tonight. Just look up at the stars.

Are you ready to go a little further in? Feel where your bones are. Your organs. What does your heart feel like? Your lungs? Your belly? Can you press your fingers against your collarbones, your spine, your skull, until you feel the firmness and smoothness of your skeleton? Move a joint back and forth and feel it slide. Feel where the cradle of your hipbones carries your insides, the softness and the hardness. More stars. Every little piece of this is right. Every little piece of this is lovely.

As we’re exploring the simple experiences of what it’s like to be a body in space, let’s see if there’s any part of it that feels just kind of fine. Any part of the whole constellation of your body that isn’t in pain, that isn’t screaming for care, that you can feel into and be present with and that just is.

Maybe it’s inside your chest. Maybe it’s the way your shoulders spread. Maybe it’s just the very tips of your fingers when they touch each other, or your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Maybe it’s just a square inch of skin inside your left elbow. Let’s explore all of the water droplets of sensations in the cloud of your consciousness and see if any of them are okay. Maybe even nice. But maybe just okay.

We’re going to use that sensation as a door to go deeper inside. Stay with that sensation, let yourself wriggle around in it like you’re tucking yourself into a warm and comfy bed, sink deeper into it and let it expand around you. The deeper you let yourself sink into it, the more you can let the peaceful feeling of it blot out the rest of the world.

The outside world will still be there later. It’s okay for you to take a break, I promise. Just for a little while, let’s try to let the terror seep out of our frozen muscles and be replaced with the gentle welling up of this quiet okayness.

Wherever that feeling is centered in your body, I want you to feel an opening. Maybe it looks like a door sliding open, or a drawbridge lowering over a protective moat, or a spacecraft’s airlock letting you in out of the cold. Maybe it doesn’t look like anything, but just feels like a little bit of air moving where it couldn’t before, or a little bit of space to breathe into that you couldn’t breathe into before. Nobody can enter this door but you. Everything here is yours.

So we’re going to take a slow, deep breath and enter the opening.

What’s inside will look different for you than it does for me, so I can’t tell you what you should be seeing. You may not even be experiencing it as a vision. It might just feel like something you’re imagining, or it might feel like a story you tell yourself. Whatever it’s made of, and however you’re experiencing it, it can be as rich and lush as you dare to make it. What do you notice around you? What do you hear? What does it smell like? This place is perfectly protected. Perfectly safe. What does that feel like when you notice it? How can your body tell?
As you’re going inside, don’t lose your connection to your body. Hold the dual consciousness as gently as if you’re walking the edge of a dream. Hold it like a soap bubble. Feel your own gentle touch on your skin.

Now, there’s a place inside you that contains the deepest essence of what you are. This is the part of you that, if everything else was broken down or stripped away, if you couldn’t remember who you were or what you were doing, if you couldn’t speak or move, if you were alone so long you forgot there were other people, if everything you valued and cared about and thought had been broken — this is what would be left. This is your holy of holies, the deepest sanctuary of what makes you alive and real.

It’s important to know, when we’re looking for this part of you, that there’s nothing that can hurt this or take it away from you. You can’t damage this or lose it, nobody but you can even touch it. It’s inherent in you being alive. You don’t have to worry about breaking anything or hurting yourself. Just hold it gently like a soap bubble and let yourself feel it.

The place where this part of you lives might be hidden. It could be a secret room behind a hidden door in a house. It could be the center of a labyrinth, or the locked engine room of a ship. Maybe it feels like a little “no” hidden deep in the folds of your mind, or a gate that’s grown over with vines and roses. Don’t be afraid. Nothing here can hurt you. Everything here is yours. Feel the starlight on your skin.

In your mind, reach out and put your hand on the entrance. Notice what you feel. Is it warm? Does it feel alive? If you’re wondering whether you’re noticing something or imagining it, don’t worry. It’s the same thing here. Know that on the other side of this barrier is something gorgeously and irreducibly you. You know it more completely than anything else in the universe. Its brightness can’t be diminished — it shines through everything you do and leaves an aura behind every movement of your body through space.

Let’s take a few breaths and let the anticipation move through us. You can go as slow as you need to go. Maybe you’ve been afraid of what’s in here. Maybe you didn’t want to know. Maybe you thought it was something monstrous or poisonous, and you’ve had to keep it locked away all these years to be safe. Maybe you’re quite certain that if you step into this sanctuary you’ll tumble into an endless void. Maybe the most frightening idea is the fear that there’s nothing there at all. Keep breathing.

Nothing here can hurt you. Feel the starlight on your skin. Let the warmth surround you.

It’s time to open the door.

When you step inside, everything that you might have expected to see dissolves because what’s really there is a little animal. Just a little creature with soft paws and a little wiggly nose. Maybe it’s a bunny, or a squirrel, or a little dog. It’s just a gentle mammal with bright eyes for seeing and a pink tongue for tasting and soft ears for hearing. It’s got a heart that beats and lungs that expand and blood that moves in an endless tide. It was born and it’ll be alive for a while and then it will die, just like every mammal that’s ever been. The deepest and most secret and most indivisible part of you, the thing that’s been so mysterious and secret and even frightening for so long, is a little mammal that loves with its whole heart and likes to eat snacks and hop around in the sunlight. That’s all that’s ever been in there. It was never supposed to be anything else.

It’s okay to laugh. The first time I found this I laughed with relief for the longest time. If everything else is taken away from you, if everything else breaks, if everything else dissolves from suffering and fear, if there’s nothing left — this sweet creature is what’s left. On your worst pain day, on your worst dysphoria day, on the days that you can’t get out of bed, on the days that you snap at everyone and cry until you’re dehydrated, this sweet creature is there. It’s the part of you that nothing can hurt or diminish. It’s just there with its bright eyes and its wiggly nose and hoppy little feet.

Can you feel how wonderful it is to know this? Can you feel the relief and wonder at the absolute truth that at the very base of you, you are a bright-eyed mammal and the only thing you really, truly have to do is love with your whole heart and hop in the sunlight and sometimes eat a snack?

Stay with your mammal a while. Get to know it. What makes the mammal that your body is happy? What alarms it? What calms it down when there are loud noises, and what tells it that it’s safe? How does your mammal feel when you stroke it gently, and how does that make you feel? What does your mammal-like to look at, to listen to, to taste?

For the next twenty-four hours, we’ll be having experiences together. We’ll see art, we’ll hear music, we’ll watch performances. I invite you to invoke your mammal into this space, to bring it with you on the journey we’re about to embark upon together. Let it hear nice music and see beautiful performances. Give it delicious food and sweet sensations. Pet it gently and wrap it in warm blankets, or stretch out with it and snooze in the sun. This time is a gift that you’re allowed to have. There’s nothing else you’re supposed to be doing.

When you’re ready to go back into the world, tell your mammal that you’re not leaving it alone. You know it’s there, and you’ll be back. You can step out of the sanctuary and know that it will always be there, it’s a part of you. You can close the door gently, and if you want to put whatever locks and safety mechanisms were there back in place, it’s okay. If you want to leave it a little more ajar than it was before, you can also do that. You can come back to this any time you want to.

You can travel back along the passageway that you found, knowing that every footstep you take is in safety and love, that the starlight is on your skin, that this feeling of peace belongs to you. As you emerge back out into the fullness of your body experience, passing through the portal that you opened, letting your presence in every part of your body unfurl like a blooming flower, settling deeply and gently into your organs and bones, blossoming outwards into the blanket of muscles under your skin, crystallizing into every nerve ending in every part of your skin, your toes, the tips of your ears, your lower back, breathing the way your mammal breathes, letting your heart pump blood the way your mammal pumps blood, seeing with your bright eyes and tasting with your pink tongue and knowing in every heartbeat and every breath that this is yours, that secret place full of sweetness and relief, you can visit it any time you want to, it’s yours, everything there is yours, it’s all just stars in the constellation that is you.

Follow Andy on Medium: https://medium.com/@AndyEyeballs

Shir Yaakov Feit

About

Shir Yaakov is Kol Ḥai's founder and spiritual director.