Carolyn Cowan - "The Mantle of Grace"
Interview by Renate McNay.
Renate: Welcome to Conscious TV. I am Renate McNay and my guest today is Carolyn Cowan. Hello, Carolyn.
Carolyn: Hello, Renate.
Renate: I actually met Carolyn a few months ago attending a Kundalini Yoga Class and I loved it so much and also Carolyn’s teaching and her knowledge on the body and I decided to invite her. Well, here she is and thank you for being with us today. So in my research around you I found a lot of course on your website which is full of great stuff anyway. One can get lost in it. And also on Wikipedia. I thought: What a great story of transformation you had and also incredible suffering with trauma, pain and addiction. And what was for me fascinating to find out, was, that it was actually David Bowie…
Carolyn: Oh yes,
Renate: Started you on your path of transformation.
Carolyn: Interestingly that is in there. My path of transformation actually started with one person before that. Who was a woman. My first teacher was a woman, who was called Mother Rytasha, who in the seventies was a model. Actually in the sixties and seventies she was a model. But in the late seventies was one of my friends. And she became a Hari Krishna. And then she was still a friend. And at the point where I knew I needed to do something, because I was really suffering too much with what I was doing to myself, I thought again to see her. And every morning I would go to see her at about 6 o’clock in the morning. And she started to teach me about the other side of what was possible. And then I ended up doing a video with David Bowie and at that point I really was crashing with addiction. And it was him, yes, who took me to my first Twelve Step Meeting.
Renate: So what were your addictions?
Carolyn: That’s an interesting question. Certainly drugs and alcohol and, you know, if the next question is: “What drugs did you take”?… And then we took heroin. I had a step brother who was a heroin addict all his life and even at my early … I got sober when I was thirty-one, and even then I was just never drawn to that. So I used a lot of other stuff. I started using when I was eleven with him actually, interestingly. And my addictions were also alcohol, very seriously. Alcohol, gambling, big on gambling. And then I think what’s very interesting is when one gets sober. You know, when I got sober I put down what I would call substance abuse, drugs and alcohol. But then the gambling. Right from the beginning, I stopped smoking right from the beginning which was actually very painfully difficult, three months of real hell. And then from there you kind of discover layers beneath which have, you know, what you are doing with your mind, how much your mind is addicted to thought processes, anxiety, stress, recreating traumatic events. So recover has been an interesting gradual, gradual. It’s funny looking at the peonies, (bending down to the peonies on the table) seeing that all those petals are open and - recovery is a bit like that, you just get closer and closer to: It’s ok, I can bear myself.
Renate: Yeah, you said - I was reading that - whatever you did without alcohol and drugs, you could not escape your pain.
Carolyn: No. No.
Renate: It’s great suffering in the mind.
Carolyn: Yeah, I think what’s very interesting is, you know, I work now with a lot of addiction. People drink and use and take drugs using them for a lot of different reasons and sometimes it’s just boredom. And sometimes it’s habit. But for some of us it’s really to escape how we think and feel. And I think, eventually there is no more escape. There is nothing you can do to blot out or to stop remembering and I got to that point where I could not drink anymore. There were no more drugs that would stop it. I couldn’t sleep, you know, I couldn’t smoke any more cigarettes. I suppose it was kind of almost getting sober or kill myself. It was really the option. Which is an interesting place.
Renate: Do you think so ?
Carolyn: I do, I mean I do, yeah, I do.
Renate: Yes. So then I guess it was David Bowie who just came in into the right moment in this place you have been.
Carolyn: Yeah. I think it was an interesting moment because on some weird level I was phenomenally functional. I was at that point, I was thirty-one, it was 1991, I was probably the most successful body painter, make-up artist. I was working huge jobs. I mean massive jobs, massive working.
Renate: You worked with incredible names like Brian Ferry, Freddy Mercury, Elton John.
Carolyn: Yeah, and then I was also working in advertising making a lot of money, spending all of it on drugs. And so I was really highly functional on one level. But on another level, internally, I was falling apart and I competed against all the best makeup artists in the world, I got this job, flew to Ireland, smuggled drugs into Ireland. And the night before I was due to filming I was in a bar on my own, drinking whisky, taking Coke and turned up the next morning, had a Coke, took a coffee, smoked a cigar, must have been delightful. And David Bowie was six months sober and someone else in his band at the time was fourteen years sober and we were in Dublin, there wasn’t much going on. I sort of felt like I was a bit of a project for three days. Yeah. What are we gonna do now? Let’s get her sober, and that’s what they did. Really was a concerted effort, just like I couldn’t stop taking drugs. Each night it was like: Ok, see if you can survive the night without using. And I couldn’t. So eventually David said: “I am taking you to a meeting” and David, Barry and I walked into an NA meeting in Dublin which was quite seismic as an event.
Renate: Was it that way also he got sober?
Carolyn: Yeah, he got sober, it was that recovery, yeah. So walking into a meeting. Well, going anywhere with him in Dublin, you’d walk in and there’d be this very interesting thing - there would be this realisation: It was him … more realised … and then suddenly the whole …. It was like massive, like an earth quake, happening around the room. And the same thing, going into this meeting of all these old men sitting around in a room in Dublin - just like: Oh my God! But what was really interesting was: He took me to this first meeting and it was the right thing at the right time. I tried going to meetings in London with a friend I was trying to help get sober, not really owning my own problem. And at that point it was the right thing. And I literally there and then stopped drinking, gave my drugs to another member of the band, stopped smoking, came home, did not sleep through months. I was a complete insane maniac. It was hideous.
Renate: So what was it actually that helped you do that?
Carolyn: Ahm, I think it was the compassion, I think it was actually somebody seeing me. The compassion of being seen. I was very secretive. I was very able to maintain this high profile work, well paid. And nobody really knew quite ‘what I was doing’, in inverted commas. I did write a piece of web block afterwards what was in my handbag when I got sober. And I had a flick knife that long (shows about 20 cm), I had a roll of poker dice, I had several blades, a gram of coke and a lump of hash and two hip flasks and a pack of cards .
Renate: What did you want to do with all that?
Carolyn: Well, it was…that was kind of - I think it’s interesting looking back because that was 1991 and, you know, I am a mother of teenagers now. I have two teenagers. How we live now and how we use drugs and how we drink is very different. I mean, I don’t drink, I don’t take drugs and haven’t since that day. But I look around me at the teenagers and the friends I have. And in the 70s, 80s, early 90s, I mean: the freedom. I mean we didn’t have bad friends, we did not have anybody photographing you at the time and we worked and dealt with ourselves in such a different way and there was so much possibility and identity could be so free and now…
Renate: There was more creativity.
Carolyn: And now it’s so constrained. I mean I was working on things and I was dressing in ways, and now I have still got some of the clothes I wouldn’t…
Renate: You were heavily into punk.
Carolyn: I was a punk, I was one of the first punks and look: I look like a punk.
Renate: I went with the guy that ran Boy, in 1976. I mean I was hanging out on King’s Road when the punks and the skinheads were fighting. It was an amazing time, it was soooo adventurous and the things we were doing changed everything. I mean now I can go to Camden and can see people being punks and it’s just like: Yeah, I remember that, I remember that. And I can be looked at as if I know nothing and I’ve done nothing but actually I know that there was masses of us who were changing culture, changing fashion and changing history but also we were maniacs in what we did. And I mean some of the stuff I did on some of this pop videos, the amount of drugs we took, the amount of drinking. You know you just go for days, you wouldn’t sleep for days. I’m not gonna name any names. Let’s not do that. But it was fun.
Renate: It’s amazing what the body actually can endure.
Carolyn: I know, I know lots of people. Do I have consequences? Yeah, of course I have consequences from all of that. But I also got several ones when I was 31 and the body is amazingly regenerative. You know, if I take something like a medication for a cold, I really find that deeply unpleasant because it’s not too similar as to taking cocaine. So I don’t do things like that because I find certain things quite triggering. But essentially I survived. I am amazed I survived. But it was a great time. So also by the end of it I really hated myself, which was interesting. A very interesting sensation.
Renate: Yes, I would like to talk with you about that. But first I think you completely left this scene.
Carolyn: I didn’t have a choice. I was known for what I did and I worked with people. I was known for my creativity and I was very creative and it was a time when we were allowed to be very creative. You are not really allowed to do that now. I don’t think. I was working with a lot of people who were in the same mind set, we were all out there being mad, doing mad things. A lot of these things worked really very well but I got sober and of course I jeopardised everything in a way. People who I worked with, and we all did these mad things, didn’t trust me because I’d got sober. Therefore I couldn’t be a team player. And everybody else at that point in the industry I think sort of didn’t trust that I was sober. I had a reputation for being one of these maniacs and I lost everything. I got sober and within a month I was on a shooting in Yemen actually, interestingly, one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. I got taken to Yemen, to do an American Express commercial with the irony of which is surreal and we were working with Mujahideen fighters. And there wasn’t terrorism at that point. But while I was in Yemen everything I owned got stolen. I came back, my flat had been burgled and I had nothing and then at that point - Margaret Thatcher - when the interest rates went up to 19% - I lost my flat. So my flat got taken and I had negative equity in my flat and I lost my car, I lost my boyfriend, because I was sober - and I had nothing, nothing left. Within about 2 or 3 months getting sober I lost every single thing that I had. Everything.
Renate: In a way life. That kind of life…
Carolyn: It was very, very interesting and I ended up living in a bed site actually and with nothing. And I had to go to an ex-boyfriend and say: “Look, I really do have nothing. Can you help me for a bit?” And begin again.
Renate: So you started - was this after or before you got a photographer ?
Carolyn: It was at that point being a photographer. I had money saved to pay my tax and my VAT and I spent it on a Hasselblad camera - I think it was about 450 Pounds - and lenses and at that point everyone was using film. And I decided I wanted to be a photographer and so I went to Ilford and I said: I am a photographer and I am going to go to India and photograph nomads and they said: “Fantastic, we will give you all this film”. And I went to India and stood there, kind of couldn’t think of where I was going to find the nomads .
Renate: But you also tried to find a magical spark in people.
Carolyn: Yeah, and I am interested in that.
Renate: And so what is that for you?
Carolyn: What is the magical spark in people?
Renate: How do you see it? How do you find it?
Carolyn: You are jumping away into something different. So expand your question a bit.
Renate: Well, what I have in my notes is that after you left the drug scene and became sober you became a photographer.
Renate: And you were just saying that you got a Hasselblad. You went out and then you photographed nomads.
Carolyn: Well, I went to India and had decided I wanted to photograph nomads. But I got to India and I hadn’t really thought about where to find the nomads. So I arrived at Bombay airport and then I remembered somebody talking about somebody up in Gujarat. Gujarat is the air of India: Never Eat Shredded Wheat. And so I went there. I went to see this person which was at that camp in the desert of the north of Gujarat. A very strange place to go to. And he said: Yes, I will take you to the nomads. His father was a king in the area and his father was a ruler of something like tens of thousands of nomads and so for about three months I stayed on this camp and we went looking for nomads and photographing nomads with the Hasselblad. And it was amazing because this part of India was very little known, it was very little visited and it was very rare for any of these people to see a white person. I not only was a white person but I was a white person with white hair and I was taking pictures going round with shepherds dressed in camel shoes and fantastic turbans and wearing extraordinary tribal gear, sleeping in fields, traveling around. And I was photographing these tribal people and with this film that had been given to me by Ilford. And it was an amazing experience. I went back three times and then I ended up working with photographing sterilisation clinics and sick women and children in clinics all the way through India. So I accumulated these amazing photographs, came back to London and went into the independence and I got these fantastic pictures and they said: Fantastic! We’ll do a series and they did - the whole thing on me and the pictures and then I won an award and then, you know, bit by bit. But in terms of people and in terms of taking pictures and I think in terms of what I have always done, even as a make up artist and body painter, is really I tried to give somebody the space to kind of bloom. I think I hold - now that I am a teacher and I am a therapist - I hold a space that says: Its ok. Be yourself. It’s safe. Be yourself. Who are you? Because whoever you are is fantastic. We are all fantastic but we get very limited by our stories, we get limited by our response to our stories. And some of our stories are fantastic. And then I don’t regret my story for a minute but I think the challenge is to find a way to stop resisting your story.
Renate: You said in the moment you got bored with your own story healing began.
Carolyn: Yeah, I think when you really get bored of who you are and how much you are suffering I think that’s a pivotal moment for a lot of people. I can’t bear this any more, I can’t bear how I feel any more and it’s at that moment…
Renate: How did you get out of that?
Carolyn: Out of what?
Renate: Out of this story, this suffering story?
Carolyn: Ahm, I think first of all by getting sober - the thing about using was I used to forget. I used to forget. I wanted to forget, so I couldn’t go to sleep without music or some kind of sedative. I couldn’t wake up without something to wake me up, I was using everything, from tranquilisers to sleeping pills, to weed, to alcohol, to different drugs and experiences as well. And when I stopped all of that there was just this. It wasn’t silence. You think there’d be silence but there wasn’t, there was just a relentless remembering of all the things I tried to forget. And I am not now at this point in my life that came kind of recounting tales of hideous things. Now it doesn’t matter, it’s fertiliser, it’s made me who I am. But waking up from all of that numbness was very painful and it was a series of gradual steps. For a long time I was very… I couldn’t have stayed sober without 12 Step Recovery. It changed my life. I have enormous gratitude to NA and AA and then I got involved in SAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous. My history meant that who I was in my body, in my physical body. And my response to the other was …ahm…fractures, let’s say that word. And I found it all of a sudden, I started to learn a lot about myself and I think, when I look now, I am fifty eight, so I was sober when I was thirty-one, now I am fifty- eight, you know if I look back, everything I went through, there was a point in which it all shifted. We talked about the mantle of grace at one point and for me of surprise it was a mantle of grace coming down and I think when I was young and until I turned thirty-one I couldn’t understand why, why, why is it like this, why did these things happen? Why is it so awful? And now I can look back and I can make sense of it, and it has value. I don’t regret anything but I think the interesting thing about getting sober and the way that I move forward through my life has meant that now I am comfortable. I don’t have a reaction or rejection of who I am or my story. I am completely comfortable with it. And it makes sense. And, actually, I don’t think I’d be who I am, able to do what I do if I hadn’t been through what I went through. So there is quite a sort of glorious freedom actually.
Renate: So a lot of forgiveness must have happened.
Carolyn: Not for a long time. I thought I forgive and I can…I find that very interesting. You know, we originally met because of these conversations about spirituality, to a degree. And there are people I don’t forgive. Why should I? Would that make me less spiritual?
Renate: Well, I find it interesting. I found in one of your blog. Is it blog or blogs?
Carolyn: It’s a horrible word, isn’t it? Oh, it is blogs.
Renate: This spiritual journey is an abstract concept.
Carolyn: I think it is, don’t you think so?
Carolyn: I find it hilarious, I mean, if you think about religion. Religion is almost a series of rules, precepts, that you have to adhere to
Renate: It’s concepts, just taking other people’s concepts on.
Carolyn: You mean if you become religious? If you become religious you have to follow a series of rules.
Carolyn: I mean I find it abstract and don’t object to religion per se. I mean be religious I don’t have problems with it. I love the iconography, I love the music, I think the churches are fabulous, some of the most beautiful mosques I have been in are just mind-blowingly beautiful and, you know, religious people - fantastic. But I don’t want to be religious. But then, ok, so let’s be spiritual. I mean, I have been teaching, I have been sober for twenty-seven years, I think. And in a part of the 12 step recovery process, as it’s meant to be a spiritual practice, you know, and then you are sitting there in these rooms with all these rules up about how, you know, the rules of recovery, let’s say there are steps, not rules, they are steps. And then you got the principles, twelve principles. And then if you know anything about recovery, it does not matter, but in 99.999 percent of the case is: God is a man.
Renate: Yes, I went to a catholic school. That’s what I learned.
Carolyn: Right, so did I. I was on the catholic school. So my experience of catholic schools was I would have to stand up and the priest would say: “Nobody can speak to her because she is a protestant.” So no self-respecting catholic would speak to a protestant. So I am going to burn in hell for ever, my parents were divorced, they’ll burn in hell for ever. And at the same time that man would let me go to his house and drink and smoke cigarettes when I was thirteen, fourteen. And, that’s fine, absolutely fine, you know, whatever. But you get to this point where you say: “Ok, I am a Kundalini Yoga teacher. I am supposed to be spiritual.” What is that? An abstract concept?
Renate: No, I looked up after I read that, I looked it up in the dictionary what they say. And they said: A spiritual person is somebody who knows that we are One and we live accordingly.
Carolyn: One what?
Renate: We are One, we are not separate.
Carolyn: One with what?
Renate: We are all connected.
Carolyn: Ok, ok and, ok, so we are all connected. Absolutely. Ok, and so then what?
Renate: And we live accordingly.
Carolyn: And what does that mean: We live accordingly?
Renate: Well, we try to …
Carolyn: Now I feel I am interviewing you now
Renate: You see, I want to come back to one experience you had when you were young, where you said the whole universe opened up to you.
Carolyn: So you saw a glimpse of something which is bigger than what you knew by that time
Carolyn: Yes. I did. And, yes, it was an extraordinary experience.
Renate: And you are still impregnated by that experience.
Carolyn: Impregnated is an interesting word.
Renate: No, sorry, imprinted by that.
Carolyn: Maybe. Influenced?
Renate: Maybe. Yes. But you told me when we spoke on the phone, that you still can feel it.
Carolyn: Oh, I can still can see it, too.
Renate: Right. And that is what I would call a spiritual experience
Carolyn: Yeah, I’ve had several spiritual experiences, I’ve had amazing experiences. Ok, but what’s very interesting, something I find very interesting is: I am charismatic, I am good looking, I am a yoga teacher, I am a therapist. People spend their lives sitting there, looking at me. People are making assumptions. They make assumptions. There is, ok, I am a yoga teacher, so within just that field alone there is a massive amount of assumptions and projections and decisions that are made about me. I am a therapist, people sit and they look at me for days and months and years. Lots of different people. Everybody comes and they sit and they make decisions. So I am not just moving through the world going in one with the universe, thinking: And what does that mean? I am actually having to consciously deal with, respond to and live with a thousand projections put upon me all the time, so I have to think about: What is it? I am a Kundalini Yoga teacher. The expectation is that on some level perhaps I should absorb Sikhism, I should be wearing a turban, and I should have ten men telling me how to behave and how to dress, and, OMG, I am really naughty, I cut my hair, I am not wearing a turban. Sometimes I don’t wear white, and a lot of the time I don’t wear white. Therefore: Who am I? There is a constant question, not just from myself, but also the other is always…I spilt something on my clothes last week before teaching a class. So I did not wear white, I wore what I was wearing which was a black dress. “You are not wear white?” “I know, but you are still being fine…” “But why aren’t you wearing white?” “I spilt something on my clothes”. “Yeah, alright…” Well, and the next week the same person turns up saying: “Oh, nice to see you in white”. And it’s a very interesting thing because there is this constant adjuring, this constant judgment. And so I am always interested in: I am fine, I don’t mind, say what you want to me. But actually my life is made and experienced and gained by constantly living with this questioning of : What is it, what is it to be spiritual? How do I actually experience that and manifest that? Because in Twelve Step Recovery they say that religion is for people who are trying to save themselves from hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there. Which is nice. But, then, what makes me spiritual? Do my beads make me spiritual? I mean, just the fact that I’m not smoking a cigarette makes me spiritual? Am I not spiritual if I swear? Do I suddenly stop being spiritual? What happens if I go out and have a piece of chicken? Have I just ruined my twenty-two years of being a yoga teacher? It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Carolyn: If I light a stick of incense, will I be forgiven? And all of a sudden is spirituality defined by Hinduism? And so then what happens if most of my spiritual connection comes actually from people and saying: Here is the space to be yourself and I am a god now, I am a beekeeper. What has that got to do with that with anything that anybody in my world considers spiritual? Absolutely nothing.
Renate: Yeah. So I know you are also a great meditator?
Renate: And Kundalini Yoga helped you transform a lot. And you are - I forgot now, what I wanted to say, but for example there is this one thing I want to read out because it really touched me. You know, we can talk about being spiritual and not spiritual, but it is about: What do I feel inside? And in every class I am with you that’s where you are guiding us.
Renate: That is who I am, no matter what people are projecting or thinking and so forth. Now in times of devastation, when that lifted, you said when the mantle of grace descends and you realise that you have taken a step through a door and nothing will ever be the same again and you see how divine life is here on this planet. Now, that doesn’t come through thinking, saying that, that comes through a deep feeling. And realisation of your own divinity.
Carolyn: It does, it does, yes, it does and it seems to hear you read back to me something that I wrote because sometimes I read things that I have written and I think, Gosh, isn’t that interesting? Did I really?…I mean I believe it, absolutely, but….Yeah, so, being there, where do you want to go with that? Because I can go in a million places with it.
Renate: Where would you like to go?
Carolyn: Well, we had a conversation prior to this interview, which was kind of interesting, because I never really…I teach all these classes and I work with all these different people, whether I am a photographer or whether I am a therapist or running workshops. I don’t really express ever aloud my relationship to the Divine or what I consider to be MY spirituality. Because actually I think it’s something that we can each develop personally. But there is a lot of assumptions made and projections about what it should be. So I found it interesting the idea that I would come here and that would be something that I could try to verbalise because I never do. And I think that over time and playing with the universe I now think that there is an internal relationship with the Divine. And then there is an external relationship with a different aspect of the Divine. And I think that how we experience ourselves internally is very different to the rules and the structures that are put on us externally and I think that the more that one can become aware of the difference between those two things and how we create safety in both of those worlds, because they are two different worlds, is actually a very interesting experience of the Self. I feel very strongly that there is a Divine. We all, you know I believe there was the Divine as a seed wanting to be known and that need to be known created an explosion. It’s literally what is in chapter I of John in the Bible. But it’s also the Bing Bang. And we get into something suddenly very interesting. So all of us are part of the divine expression of longing to be known and that the entire universe is being made up of tiny moments of the Divine, all recreating themselves over and over again. What I perceive and believe and desire and create within myself is what I experience outside. And they are two very, very different things. Because if I am anxious and I am unhappy and I am stressed and I am telling myself that I am bad at what I do and I am useless and I am not functioning properly, let’s imagine that dialogue of anxiety. And I don’t just mean me, I mean generally. Then the universe goes: Oh fine, we can do repetition, we can do dull, we can do depressed, we can do unhappy, that’s no problem. With out what you think, that’s what you get.
Renate: How did you realise that?
Carolyn: Because actually honestly and truthfully I think, I believe that what’s lost for women is the power of quantum physics. I believe that we are the creators of the universe and that we are actually phenomenally powerful and the more we harness that the more the universe says: “Ok.” But I think that part of the drama at the moment is the need to silence women and to make us forget. I mean we have centuries of being made to forget. We have no history. The History of Art is a book, classic piece for studying, for anybody studying art, has not got one women painter in it. History of Music I think maybe has one female composer. There is nothing written about us. Every history that ever existed was burnt in the witch hunts. Between 9 and 27 million women I think is the number of women they think were killed in the witch hunts and all of that wisdom was gone and we are essentially now trying to remember. And one of the things I find very interesting about things like training to be a Kundalini Yoga teacher is that there is a large part of it. And for me going through the training in the nineties was like: I know all of this, I am being reminded to remember. And I think that it’s incredibly important that we remember and not just serve rules. But that we actually remember who we are, that we remember how powerful we are. And as a teacher that is my role, I think. And I think that’s the outcome of everything I went through is how you turn poison into nectar. What is the alchemical process, what are you doing with your energy and your power? You can give it all away and you can wait to be chosen. There is a very interesting thing there about being fifty. I am fifty-eight now. I remember turning fifty and thinking: I am done. I won’t be chosen anymore. I am done. Have done my breeding, I have done all of it. Now it’s mine. And that’s a really interesting thing and all of a sudden everything shifts. And then how clear I am being in terms of the answer. But as I think of spirituality and if I think about energy and if I think about internal and external I think that we are all of us, men and women and those of indeterminate gender, we actually when we start to harness who we are we create massive change. And at the moment we get lost we get distracted, we get suffocated and lost in the internet, in social media.
Renate: Yes, exactly, we lose ground, we…
Carolyn: We choose to loose ourselves. And I think you actually have to remember. Yes, the mantle of grace, your Divinity. You have to remember that actually you are creating the universe over and over again.
Renate: Well, it’s one reason why we started Conscious TV and you are sitting here because we are All….And I see that All in the classes, in your Yoga classes, in your message you put out there in your DVDs and so forth, this compassion behind to help people change.
Carolyn: It’s a funny thing, isn’t it? Because you say that, I perceive myself as somebody sitting by a doorway and saying: “It’s that way”(pointing in one direction). Well, it could be that way (points into the other direction). But, you know, I know where the door is. Or certainly I know where A door is. And you can pick it up, you can go through the door or not. You’ll go through the door when you are ready and this might be not your door. But I certainly have a series of thousands of experiences that tell me when you remember yourself, when you can connect to yourself when you can bear yourself all of a sudden the whole world is a very different place. And that’s an amazing thing.
Renate: And you have the whole process of transformation in you. And for me the way I see it is is: this is an energy which is working with the people, a transformation of addiction, of trauma, of everything you used to have and you transformed. That is what you provide. Where people can tap in.
Carolyn: I hope so. I do hope so. I think there is an energetic thing… I would be interested to see if I can lay out more about my belief system which is that you have in the middle, you have this idea that there is Normal. Somewhere in our minds we think, most of us think, that the Normal exists. I know I have met people who are normal. They are quite strange. I know there are some people out there.
Carolyn: I met somebody the other day actually when I was teaching yoga, and I met somebody and was just astounded by how normal she was. I found it quite interesting. You know I meet a lot of people who are very unhappy because of yoga and being a therapist but I met somebody who was profoundly normal and it was so refreshing. They do exist. So we all measure ourselves against some vision of Normal and particularly social media creates this phenomenally and I think what most of us are living in is a kind of what I would use the word hinterland. So the hinterland, if this was normal, the hinterland is all this space around here which is filled with trauma, addiction, anxiety, depression, mothers, women who have abortions and miscarriages, women who have still births, people who self harm. It’s this world of moaning souls. Really moving around, very unhappy. Lost. And then there is a second layer of the hinterland which is nurses, people who bring up and live with disabled children, people who deal with dead bodies, grave diggers, doctors, they are the outer lands of the hinterlands, people who perform abortions and autopsies and butchers. Yes? And actually every single one of us is carrying the most phenomenal amount of gold. We are experiencers on our knowledge. We apparently have forgotten how much we actually know. We forget how important everything that we go through makes us. And the alchemical process is actually to remember that everything you have gone through is your gold. It’s the most powerful thing that you have about you. That does not mean: Become a therapist, it doesn’t mean: Get sober. It just means: Get in touch with your exquisite, because even if you are the most dejected, lost person and you still know you’ve seen way beyond anything that most people here would ever even believe to be possible and those realms where most of us are living forgetting - we’ve been trained to forget how extraordinary we are. So I suppose in a way I think my job is to help people remember by recognising that there is a process to go through and then that turns into nectar.
Renate: Yeah. And as you mentioned before it’s like petals are opening up till we find that Divinity. So let’s talk a little bit about Kundalini Yoga.
Renate: Kundalini Yoga was very important in your own process.
Renate: And, I was doing yoga since over forty years.
Renate: And I did Ashtanga yoga and Hatha yoga and Yin yoga and whatever is out there. But when I did my first Kundalini class with you a few months ago I was so impressed with what is happening inside my body. And that was partly also your teaching and your knowledge because you…What was so impressive for me is that each posture you gave us to do you would explain what is going on in the body, which hormones are activated, which neurotransmitter and how we raise dopamine and seratonine and how we calm our nervous system. And I don’t know if there is something you can say about trauma and the nervous system. And you know Kundalini Yoga works a lot on the nervous system. By the way I wanted to ask you, did you ever have a Kundalini experience?
Carolyn: Lots, many. And it still goes on.
Renate: And there are people scared of having them.
Carolyn: Oh, yeah, they will have lots. Yeah yeah. And it still goes on. Because I am one of those people, if I am bored I’ll go. Like this realm of…
Renate: Were do you go?
Carolyn: I’ll do something else. But the realm of Kundalini has not stopped expanding. And I, for me, if you take religion out of Kundalini, it’s quantum physics. It’s just pure quantum physics. That’s what it is. It’s about understanding. We make contracts. So if we come back to the nervous system and we come back to trauma we are made up of contracts. Our relationship to our history and our relationship to our projection…so how we are past and of future. Our history and our projection. Most of us are living in pain of the past or fear of the future. Very few of us are right here right now. But our relationship to our history is a series of contracts. Yes? Somebody says you are fat, you are ugly, you can’t sing, you are stupid. Somebody else says you are brilliant, you are fantastic, you are phenomenal, very different experiences of the Self. You know if you haven’t on top of all of that then have experiences that profoundly violate your sense of your Self, your boundaries. Let’s imagine it’s a car crash or one of your parents dying or somebody violent towards you physically or sexually, you are fractured. Your sense of your Self is fractured. And somehow you’re diminished. You have a crack through your Self. And everything in the world has access to trigger that sense of failure. So a lot of us are battling with our histories and our bodies hold that. So let’s imagine, you know, let’s imagine there is somebody there that is reminding me of something that happened to me, my body will contract in response to that. Just as it would if that was a dinosaur coming to eat me. The body doesn’t really know the difference. Or if I think about something that could make me frightened my body will contract just as much as it would if that person was that or that dinosaur. The same thing. So we have contracts in our mind. My mother said I was this, my step father said, I was this. My father said this. This happened. We have a contract with it. I am always going to be fat. I am always going to be diabetic. I will die of a heart attack. Backwards and forwards. Yes? What we do when we look at working with the body, that can be through trauma therapy, that can be through yoga, it’s about conscious movement. Running on a treadmill can make you feel good. Yes. But if you are watching a porn movie or if you are watching a violent film while running on the tread mill that’s one kind of experience which is driven by adrenaline. It’s very specific experience of the Self. Your heart rate goes up, you got adrenalin pumping through your body, you are stressed watching something, it’s like being on a bumpy flight watching a violent movie. You know what I mean. Very odd experience. Virtually going to like a Kundalini class, and the first thing I always do is I show everybody in the room how to stretch, a very specific kind of stretch, that says to the body: You are safe. There are no dinosaurs. That man isn’t standing there. There isn’t a historical story right now in your physical body. I give permission to the body to go: Ahhh…Ok..
Renate: And, sorry to interrupt, what else you do is: you set an intention for the class.
Carolyn: Yes, and that’s the quantum physics. So I give permission for you to be different. I give permission that you can step out of your story. And not just you. Me too. I am playing as well. Ok, there is an intention set, that’s the quantum physics. We are going to work with this. I think there is one of the nice things that separates Kundalini from other forms of yoga. You have permission to actually switch on that ability. We have all got it, we have just forgotten.
Renate: To let go of our story?
Carolyn: No, I mean, I don’t think it’s possible to let go of your story. I am who I am because of what happened, but how I respond to it is that needs to change. I have a contract with my history in my body, so if I am stressed my body goes tight and if I’m relaxed everything goes: Haaaahhhhh. If I am stressed, I am in the past and I am in the future. If I am contracted I am in my past, I am in my future, I am not here. So one of the really interesting things about being a trauma therapist or being a yoga teacher, is if I say to you: “Do that, just do that (leaning backwards with her arms wide open) all of a sudden you have said to the body (breathes out deeply) I can feel it happening: It’s ok. I am safe.
Renate: You come here.
Carolyn: I am safe. It’s ok. You see? Actually, there are no dinosaurs. Ok, if there are no dinosaurs and I don’t have those stories and I am not in that contract and I don’t have those projections, right here and right now I can have a really extraordinary experience. And I can experience myself for a period of time as present, which is extraordinary. If I’ve lived in stress for that period of time and I can have all of these hormones changing, so immediately that stretch or a version of that stretch releases all the stress hormones and then the postures say: It’s ok now, we can release serotonin into the system, we can make you feel safe, we can release dopamine into the system. You feel you can love yourself, you don’t need the drugs or the porn or the self harm to love you or the stress or whatever it is you do. I can feel safe. So the mat is really an extraordinary place because it’s right here, right now. If you let it be. And so bit by bit the more you do the more you get to experience yourself as right here, right now. And then bit by bit that becomes quite fascinating. And then bit by bit that actually becomes more pleasurable, then the pain in the past will interfere in the future. So it’s a very transformative process.
Renate: And being here in this moment. And I know one of your bibles was Eckhardt Tolle…
Carolyn: Yes. It’s interesting you say that, because a book I was given early on in my recovery on my first trip to India in Bombay at a Ravi Shankar concert - amazing thing - I sat net to this Indian man who was beautifully dressed, and he was shaking his head all the time. I couldn’t understand sitting in this concert, he was shaking his head and I turned to him and said: “Why are you shaking your head?” He said:”Because it’s just so incredible what he is doing”. You aren’t clapping in India, you acknowledge that by Oh My God, that’s amazing. We went and had a coffee, he went out to a bookshop, he bought me “I Am That”. Sri Nisargadatta Maharadj.
Renate: Oh, really?
Carolyn: Which is what Eckhardt Tolle bases all his work on is the Advaita Vedanta. That was one of my earliest spiritual books, it was I Am That.
Renate: You couldn’t get anything better.
Carolyn: Exactly. I so had gotten that book, whenever it was. It was 1991.
Renate: So. Yeah, we talked about being here really and being here is the only reality.
Carolyn: Well, when you are here, here is magnificent. It’s like sitting here with you. What an amazing exquisite thing to be asked to do to get to know you like this or to actually experience myself completely present. For some people it’s terrifying. And the hardest bit is being ok with it not being a mad high or a mad low but the magnolia of stillness for some people is very, very frightening. But it’s extraordinary, the potential of now is phenomenal, absolutely extraordinary. So yes, I am fascinated by now and stepping out of that contract. So in terms of trauma, in terms of history, in terms of the body it’s about trying to become present. So if I’m out of the past I’m out of the fear of the future. This is exquisite.
Renate: Yes. And I would say because I know that from my own experience, having done a lot of work on my mind. Why do I think that way and what’s going on in my mind to putting awareness into… or consciousness into my mind into my thinking. Otherwise we are completely lost, believing our thoughts and running after our thoughts.
Carolyn: I don’t know how much time we have left but…
Renate: Five minutes?
Carolyn: Ok. I remember, when I was trying to learn, trying to learn, to watch myself. So not drown in my story past and future, but trying to learn to separate and see it, because that’s part of the ability, that’s part of the shift is to be able to watch it. So you step out. Then I remember walking in a park in Brixton or somewhere and I remember walking by a pond and a man walking towards me and I am thinking I really want to push him in the pond. I really, I really want to push him in the pond. But it was the first time I realised I was watching my mind. I was watching my mind. So I want to push the man in the pond. And then all of a sudden I could see that in fact what I almost have is a metal bar in my mind. A large aluminium metal bar. And there is a giant till roll and it’s somewhere in my mind there is a giant griffon with fingers like spiders that never stops and this till roll of everything I ever think is just gigantic, moving, constantly moving. There is this chatter that goes on in my mind all the time. And for the first time in that moment I remember - to me it’s a spiritual experience - enable to push the till roll to the side, hear the sound of it sliding across the bar and just think: You can go on over there because I want to push him in the pond, but, isn’t that interesting?, it will never stop. I will never be able to stop it. But how much I engage with it is what’s really interesting. And then from there, you know, I then learned: No, I’m gonna go to sleep, I’m not gonna think. Wake up in the night? No, I’m not gonna worry. I need to sleep and then I go to sleep. Now I will think about the thing that bothers me but it will not be overwhelming and I will not be consumed by it. And I think we take a series of steps and now as a therapist and as a teacher I think my job is to hold people’s hands as they take the steps and some people stop and some people get frightened and then you take them up the next step and it’s a process bit by bit to say: “You can stop your mind. You can become present. You can change. Your history does become fertiliser. It doesn’t define you.”
Renate: That’s right. So we have maybe a couple of minutes left and when we spoke on the phone and I asked you: “Do you feel free in yourself ?” and you said, you wouldn’t call it that way. You felt peace now.
Carolyn: Yeah. I’m not free. I have children.
Renate: No, free, meaning: It’s a certain freedom inside of us. We feel free when we stepped out of our mind.
Carolyn: Oh yeah, I mean without question. Yeah, I really do, yeah. I find that that’s the best bit about it, that’s the best bit. And it IS a journey and what I am interested now is: Now what happens? Because the journey is not over.
Renate: It is never over.
Carolyn: No. People say: Oh my God, you had such an interesting life. And I say: Excuse me, I am still having it.
Renate: It just started.
Carolyn: I am still having, you know, what’s gonna happen now? What’s gonna happen tomorrow? And I am really interested. That’s why I think I still teach Kundalini, because I haven’t reached the edges of it. I’m really excited by what I continue to feel and continue to experience and continue to understand. Because it is…My daughter gives me lectures on atomic physics, because that’s what she studies. And it’s just like: Yeah, that’s the Kundalini. That’s that energy that we have all forgotten and I get she’s quite cross when it’s men who take it over…No, no, no, that’s Our energy, that’s what WE do, it’s this ability to create the universe. And that comes from inside, it really does. It comes from how you are inside.
Renate: Beautiful. A nice ending.
Carolyn: Yeah. Nice!
Renate: Thank you very much for being with us.
Carolyn: No. Thank you for asking me. It’s an honour.
Renate: And sharing with us your past which is beautiful and I also would like to tell you, Carolyn does a meditation now with us on…
Carolyn: I need to teach you breath. A Five Second Breath.
Renate: We learn the breath. So stay tuned. Good bye for now and hope to see you again soon.
Carolyn Cowan - Five Breaths Mediation To Help Calm The Nervous System
So my name is Carolyn Cowan and I am a Kundalini Yoga teacher amongst other things and I’ve been invited by Conscious TV to teach a meditation and we just had a long conversation about being able to be still and present and so it occurred to me that perhaps in the massive array of the meditations that I could teach there is a very specific breath that gives a very extraordinary experience of the Self. I you think about when you are stressed and anxious, that’s your sympathetic nervous system responding to experience and thoughts and visions and ideas and when you’re calm and peaceful that’s your parasympathetic nervous system calms everything down, When you’re stressed your cortisol levels are high. Cortisol is a hormone that we need because it creates motivation.
But too much of it, when we are constantly anxious and stressed, is actually very bad for the body. So the job of this meditation is to lower the cortisol, is to lower the stress hormones and as the stress hormones go down we have a positive hormone called DHEA that rises. Now one of the things I find very interesting about being a yoga teacher is the expectation, always, that the breath should be big. That the breath should be huge and that we need lots of oxygen. But actually we can also experience ourselves as really trusting ourselves. And when we experience ourselves as really trusting ourselves then our responses are very gentle. So the invitation with this breath is that you are very, very gentle, there is no sound to your breath and your breath is not deep.
So let’s begin. First thing we gonna do is stretch. And the reason I ask you to stretch is we need to relax the vagus nerve. If you relax the vagus nerve you will become more present direct healing to conversations that we had earlier on. So if you interlock your fingers and stretch (now demonstrating the whole procedure), pull your fingers apart, stretch your chest and your head and your neck, stretch up and twist, powerfully twisting, stretching out your shoulders and your chest and stretch. And then come back down with your arms. Your right hand goes in your left. My right hand is on top of my left. So my hands are just soft in my lap. It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting on the bus, in a chair or on the floor. It doesn’t matter. So you are just sitting comfortably, your thumbs can touch or not and you close your eyes and just notice there is quite an interesting response to the stretch which is a softening you can notice. A softening inside. And so now your mental work is that your inhale is five seconds. You count your inhale. (stops for five seconds).
Your exhale is five seconds. (stopping again). And you keep breathing. Eyes closed, tongue pulled back, pressed up inside your mouth underneath your nose. And as you sit here with your right hand in your left you just let your breath be fantastically gentle, so you barely feel your diaphragm. And if you are a very stressed or anxious person it may take you a while to trust yourself to slow your breath down so if your breath is three seconds inhale, three second exhale, that’s a good start, that’s ok. But ultimately you want to have a five second inhale (stops again five seconds) and a five second exhale. No sound to your breath. It doesn’t matter what you hear, if it’s the radio or kids or extraneous sounds, sensations, just let them be there and just allow this incredibly barely breathing gentle sense, it’s not a deep breath. It’s the most gently that you can breathe. And what you start to do is to lower the oxygen in your body.
You start to trust yourself and the breath becomes more and more gentle. Soften your shoulders, relax your face, your ears, your throat. (pauses). And just let this breath be soaky smooth. Imagine you are pouring Guiness over velvet as you breathe and it’s just fantastically soft. And bit by bit it becomes more gentle (pauses). And bit by bit you discover that you can trust yourself to breathe so gently and so lightly. And that in trusting yourself your body softens and you become very relaxed and gentle. And it’s about being gentle in response to yourself. We are harsh to ourselves, we are unkind and we push ourselves too far, too fast (long pause). I can hear a clock with ticking. And it’s actually quite nice to help me count. And the counting lets the mind be anchored in the breath (long pause).Take a long deep inhale and exhale, notice there is a really strong pleasure in having your hands together, it actually takes you out of the polarities of positive and negative.
It takes you to a place called the neutral mind. Notice if you separate your hands you want to put them back together, there is a very comforting sensation. But notice also the gentleness that comes with the breath. It’s a good practise, it will help you sleep, it helps you be kinder to yourself and others. It helps you to relax your body and turn down the stress. When we are in stress we are not trusting ourselves or the universe. So play with the Five Second Breath. It’s a very, very, very lovely breath and interestingly it expands itself into all kinds of things. You can do it when you are walking. It takes a while to get to be able to walk and do a Five Second Breath. But when you are sitting, traveling, whatever, it’s very nice way to play with the Self.
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