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In Conversation with Dr. Louisa Punt-Fouche

Louisa Punt-Fouche is the quintessential “Wise Woman”, a Mystic, Jungian therapist, Yogini, Canteodora (storyteller), Custodian for Animals, Artist and Jewellery Maker.  Her presence radiates the strength and beauty of the Sacred Feminine.  I have known her for many years and more intimately when she guided me through a particularly difficult Dark Night of the Soul in 2005. This interview is a treasure trove of her Wisdom and a Gift to all of us seeking the Raw Truth of Feminine Embodiment. 

Prem:  I chose the title of this interview “The Art of Dreaming Deep” because when reviewing your work, I felt into its depth and richness, which is multi-layered through everything that you have done.  Of course, the art of dreaming is also intimately connected to your work as a Jungian therapist within the larger context of this “dream” we are all collectively living – You have through your work, your art, certainly lived this life deeply.  Can you share with us some of the deep wisdoms you have gained on your journey, and who/what have inspired you to “go deep”.

Louisa:  “May all beings everywhere be happy and free

               And may my thoughts, words and stories

              Contribute in some way to the happiness and freedom for all”

Who am I?  Why am I here? What is this phenomenon we call life? Why all the suffering and despair? Why the unhappiness? How does it all hang together? Evolution is after all a process of creating greater and greater unity or not?
 We all seem to share these questions – an innate human propensity to search for “the ultimate truth”. These questions are often considered to be the most basic definition of the human spiritual impulse.
It would be fair to say that my whole life has been dedicated to these questions and to the fundamental madness, absurdity and damaging illusions of our identity that accompanies this human endeavor. Life became a pilgrimage for me in this sense. It felt and still feels like a delicate unfolding of a certain sense of beauty, harmony, reverence and mystery. I do not claim to understand anything. So here goes…
“Once upon a time, there was a terrible drought in a part of the world where a lot of people lived. After all the ways to bring rain that the people knew had been tried, they decided to send for the rainmaker. A small grey old woman, dressed in different coloured cloths, climbed out of the covered cart and sniffed the air distastefully. She turned her head to the four corners of the world and then demanded to be left alone. She stayed in a small cottage outside the village and her meals were left outside the door.

The villagers were puzzled. They waited for three days and then it not only rained, but there was also an amazing downfall of snow, unknown at that time of the year. Everybody was so happy. They danced, clapped their hands and sang songs of the beauty of life, hope and new growth. One of the villagers, who could not believe what was happening, sought the rainmaker out and asked her how it was that she could make rain, and even snow. “I am not responsible for making it rain or snow”, she replied. The man insisted that there was a terrible drought, until she came, and that it rained and snowed after three days of her arrival. The wizened old woman took a long time to answer. “Oh, I can explain that. Where I come from, the people are in order; they are in Tao (order); so the weather is also in order. When I arrived here, I could feel that the villagers were out of order and their chaos infected me. So I remained alone, until I was in order or Tao, and then, of course it rained…..”

This story is a story that I adapted from a story that Jung loved telling when he addressed an audience. When our inner worlds are in harmony, it has an effect on everything else around us.

Women will know consciously and sometimes on a less conscious level, that their babies will stop crying, if they are in harmony, if they feel calm, if they live in beauty, if their choices are in balance, and if they strive to live from the  centre of their beings. Because you are forever in relationship to everything else, your inner harmony will impact on everything else.

Real change starts with the individual.

“Liberate your Mind – Embrace Life”

 Prem:  Your motto is to live a life in service of others – through what avenues has this played out in your own life?

Louisa: My life has been in service of others, like the old woman in the rainmaker story, who travelled far and wide, through the lives of many individuals and many villages. Like the rainmaker I knew that real change starts with the harmony that I am able to embody. In my hut outside the villages, I continuously practiced to be present, to be vigilant, to be receptive, to know my own shadows well enough so that I could stop them from intruding into the in-between therapeutic spaces, to be compassionate (which means to be unattached but fully present), to be generous and helpful, to be patient, to be strenuous, energetic and persevering, to learn to concentrate and to learn to bear and forbear the wrongs of others. Only then could real change happen, that reverberated throughout the chain of interrelations of all living forms.
Since the beginning of my human life, I found myself in the arms of The Great Mother. She visited me in my dreams and showed herself in the poetry I wrote and in the images that poured forth from my unconscious. Her presence in my inner world propelled my life into becoming a therapist, a friend, a companion, a mentor, a lecturer, a yoga teacher and a guardian and activist for the preservation of Nature and especially for the rights of animals.
The settings, in which I worked, were the neglected, objectified and abused life- worlds of children and women and of course also animals and everything about nature.

Prem: What has been some of the challenges on this journey and how did you use your inner resources to overcome them?

Louisa:  Life is about breathing in and breathing out. Life means giving and taking; exchange, transformation. It is not taking possession of anything, but a taking part in everything that that we encounter. It is neither a clinging to the objects of our experience, nor a state of indifference, but the middle way, the way of harmony, the way of transformation. We are transformed by what we accept and assimilate. We are transformed by the act of giving. We contribute to the transformation of others by what we are giving. Learning all of these lessons have been the challenges I faced and they appeared in myriad forms – predators, my own attachment and desires in relationships that led to intense suffering, letting go of the illusion of an individual self and self-pre-occupation which is the ultimate “sin”, physical challenges and pain.
Breathe in, and breathe out. Accept, assimilate and give to others of your wisdom attained through your wounds.

 

“You will find your path when you relieve yourself of your lifelong Illusion on the True Nature of Reality”

Prem:  Art including jewellery – making has been a huge part of your life – for many women who have been through the current education system the title “artist” is intimidating.  Who is an artist and how does art contribute to our healing process within the journey of holistic feminine embodiment?

Louisa: The world is in a continuous state of creation and of becoming. It is also in a continuous state of destruction of all that has been created. In the tension and force between these two opposites, the creative spirit is borne. Therein, lies the force, the chi, the energy of life which is a pulsating breathing living organism.

We are all artists and creators. We are recreating our human reality daily. We are also re-creating the divine presence in our lives daily, through images, archetypal symbols and metaphors of our choice – the language of the soul and the collective unconscious – whether we do it consciously or unconsciously.

We are not separate self-enclosed entities. We are beings that are forever in relationship to everything else, a web of interrelations – a living, breathing, constantly changing whole/organism. At the same time we are also aware of this whole organism inside ourselves. This knowledge and understanding of the true nature of your reality will propel the creative spirit to reveal its beauty through the harmony of all forms – which is art, which is healing.

“There is a place of no words

A place where the mob mind does not reach

That is a place of True Creativity

Creativity is Individual Freedom”

Prem: What qualities do us as women need to hone in order to allow our innate creativity to flow and flourish?

Louisa:  Once upon a time, and no time…..there was a woman, who has forgotten who she was…she had a dream…these are her words…

There was an old, old woman lying on the bottom of the ocean. She was huge. It was difficult to distinguish body parts, as she appeared so vast that only bits of her were visible at a time. She was crying. The sound of her despair was unbearable. I felt choked up with sadness but could not make a sound. It was like sound has become frozen in my throat and I felt desperate to let her know of my presence and empathy.

 Then I saw that she was pinned down by rope crisscrossing her body and nailed into the sea-bed. There were hundreds of little men working furiously to keep her down. At the back somewhere, I noticed a creature that looked like a grey blob looking at the activity. I felt very scared and so helpless. I knew that she was going to break free, but I also knew that her fury would know no end”.

The dream tells the story of the Old Mother Archetype, that is lying at the bottom of the ocean, (collective human unconscious), trapped by human ignorance. This dream tells the well-known story of the repressed and ignored life-world of the feminine or the mother archetype. She shows herself as an integral part of Nature or we can rather say that she is Nature.

Do not repress and ignore the Old Archetypal Woman in your inner life. Allow her to show herself through your instincts, your senses, feelings that rise unexpectedly and seemingly inappropriately. Listen to her when she tells you need to be alone; that you need solitude. That is her call. She calls you into the forest where she will teach you to remember what it feels like to feel deeply, to smell and to experience Nature to the full, to remember your power and the deeply innate understanding of the cycles of life…and so much more.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in Women who Run with the Wolves: Over time, we have seen the feminine instinctive nature looted, driven back, and overbuilt. For long periods it has been mismanaged like the wildlife and the wildlands. For several thousand years, as soon and as often we turn our backs, it is relegated to the poorest land in the psyche. The spiritual lands of Wild Woman have throughout history, been plundered or burnt, dens bulldozed, and natural cycles forced into unnatural rhythms to please others.”

The Old Woman touched my lips and I wrote the following poem about her. Later in life I made this etching…

Earth Angels

 There is an ancient understanding that

– every time opposites come together

in a creative act,

the universe sighs, 

like a small earthquake.

Something shifts

in the Ground of  your Being –

and you are changed

maybe just a little…

It is like the angels of the earth

grab you against your will

– and then suspend you

 swooning a little

feeling slightly stunned –

and then miraculously you

know a little more.

Being seeps into your pores gently

and ushers you into a  quiet clearing

free of desire, free of grasping.

An opening appears

Earth angels

become moments of understanding

flashes of higher truths, subtler revelations,

profound connections

and sometimes, just for a moment,

you can touch Eternity…

Prem:  You have so beautifully through your art and narrative enacted the role of wise woman – can you speak to us about your exquisite book “Webs of Enchantment”

“So she thought…

and felt a wrinkling within –

a dream dreaming her

in golden threads of

a web of enchantment….”

Louisa: I did this series of twelve drawings in the middle nineties. I worked on it obsessively, hardly stopping to breath for a couple of months. It was, I think, a spontaneous manifestation of the collective unconscious. It is impossible for me to say more about it. It sits in a place beyond words .The images and word-webs speak for themselves.

Bertie Olivier (head of department of philosophy, University of Port Elizabeth) wrote in the forword:

The images that populate the time-space of her work do not address us at the level of logic, but rather in the sphere of the collective imagination into which the artist has somehow, amazingly, had insight. These sometimes very intricately rendered figures embody and convey a realm of eloquent silence, where we rediscover the primacy of touch, the paradoxical interpenetration of being and non-being, the terror of time’s nihilating black hole, juxtaposed with the comforting wisdom of the feminine and its promise of rejuvenation, as well as the ambiguous arachnid image of “web”: comforting and yet frightening in its paradoxical combination of security and paralysis.”

Prem: Your art has encompassed powerful feminine archetypes.  You wrote an Afrikaans book “In Conversation with the Black Madonna” – Who is the Black Madonna and what would Her message be for women today?

The Black Madonna

Louisa: The Black Madonna is an embodiment of the Mother Archetype, as an alchemical vessel,   a holding space, a uterus, in which life forms are born and dissolves. [The science of alchemy can be regarded as a metaphor for the psychological processes of change and transformation in the movement towards individuation (Jungian concept pertaining to realize the Self) or enlightenment (Buddhist understanding of waking up to what we already know about the true nature of reality)]. She is also an embodiment of the Eternal Feminine, that is forever present and that can bear the light and darkness, the polar opposites of life, with an integrating power that is so fierce, that it can shatter universes.

The story I wrote is a true story about a woman’s struggle with physical pain, at the mercy of a relentless disease. Her encounter with the Black Madonna in Barcelona changed her life. She experienced the presence of the Black Madonna in her inner being and felt protected, loved and powerful.
She remembered who she was; powerful, strong, present to the immediate moment where life was happening, compassionate, in touch with her creative spirit that infected everything around her with her light and laughter. Through recognizing the Eternal Feminine in herself, she entered into the world, alive, awake and real. She is still living with unbearable pain, but with a zest for life that infuses everything around her with humour and light.
The Black Madonna’s message to all women is , “Remember me , I visit you in your dreams, in the music that stirs your heart, in the poetry that touches you deeply, in the movement of your hips when you dance your joy, in your solitude when I stroke your hair, in the moments when you feel unexpected excitement. Do not repress or ignore me. If I am ignored and forgotten, the intensity when I rise will be frightening and will fill you with fear. Even then, embrace me, listen to me and allow me as an important part of you , to become an integral part of your life. That will help you to remember that you capable to bear and forebear anything that you encounter; that you are capable of feeling deep compassion, without being attached and that you can give to others unconditionally.”

Prem: Since we are “dreaming deep” – as a Jungian therapist can you help us understand the importance of dream work and how it can aid us in understanding the mystery that we are living?

Louisa: 

“The energy of the centre point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is.

Who looks outside dreams.

Who looks inside, awakes.”

 C.G.Jung-

 The concept Mother Nature (archetype) refers

–         to the gross, physical world, an embodied life

–         the subtle disembodied world of dreams where we experience through images and thoughts, and 

          where space and time have a different meaning

–          and the deep sleep state where there is no body and no thoughts, no consciousness

 In this sense the phenomenon Nature refers to the living world, the universe, the cosmos, the natural forces and the constant change where everything is forever in relation to everything else.

“Beauty is the Revelation of Harmony through Forms”

Every day of our lives, we live through all three states. What we repress, ignore or do not register in our daily lives, often play out in our dreams at night in the subtle state. Dream work will enable you to become conscious of your known experiences as well as the neglected and repressed experiences.

Write down your dreams. Program yourself by putting a notebook and a pen next to your bed, as a concrete manifestation of your intention to interface your dreams.

Tell your dreams to your family and encourage them to share their dreams. There is no such thing as an irrelevant dream. The content of our dreams are created by our direct experiences of life, filtered through the level of consciousness that we embody. They are hugely personal and at the same time collective, because we all share and create the patterns of understanding and being, continuously.

Do not try and interpret your dreams. You will lie to yourself. You will super- impose what you know and what you want, upon the dream. Bringing it to consciousness, by choosing words to describe it, is already a very powerful tool to bring your images and symbols to the light. In writing it down, you will be aware that you are already changing the dream – do not be concerned – it is still you that is doing it. If you want to explore further, go to a trained psychotherapist that can guide you carefully through the quagmire of false generalizations, to your personal truth.

It is worthwhile to contemplate the possibility that we practice every day – how to die. There is an understanding in the contemplative traditions,  that we go through the same three states of awareness, when we die. To be more comfortable with the dream state as an expression of our own psyche in relationship, could be very helpful and counter fear, when you die.

You could also learn to become conscious of the dreaming and the deep sleep state where there is no body or thoughts (lucid dreaming). The deep sleep state is similar to deep meditative states, which is the aim of many spiritual traditions for your development as a sentient being.

Prem: Your spirituality is eclectic – The Sacred Feminine, Yoga, Buddhism, Non-dual Advaita, marrying all of these together, has resulted in a unique personal path, what advice would you give women who are just starting out on their spiritual journey?

Louisa: Find and follow your own path. Joseph Campbell and Jung refer to finding your own” moving force” or bliss. It is a creative force, like a feeling of butterflies on your stomach, whether it is exciting or disconcerting, that will lead you to finding a path that is yours.

All paths lead up the same mountain, to the same lake, to the centre, which is pre-eminently the zone of the sacred, the zone of absolute reality, where you will understand and experience answers and new questions in your quest to evolve.

Personally, the many hours spent in a Silver Oak tree as a child, opened a door to this feeling of excitement, my bliss, the beginning of my manifest story-line, my personal myth that I felt compelled to follow. There was a sense of fire, energy or a creative force that propelled me away from the chaos back to a centre point – an astounding direct experience of the more subtle manifestation of the mandala as innate ordering principle in my psyche or soul. There was an underlying sensation of being contained, held, and nurtured.

Reflectively, I know that my direct experiences of the tree transcended the immediacy of my circumstances and connected me to the shape of all shapes, the circle, and the archetype of the mandala as a shelter for my soul and all souls and the Old Mother Archetype underlying all collective immediate experiences as an integral aspect of the circle.

Prem:  You speak of a last book “A Life with the Mandala” – could you give us an overview of this book and what it hopes to convey to us through the sacred pattern of the mandala?

Louisa: 

The process of becoming “human” takes place in a circular movement away and towards the centre of our existence. We create a sacred space for ourselves into which we invite the Self to transform, just like a bird would build a nest for its young to hatch in – an ontological and cosmological reality. In this process of “becoming” human, we form images of how we experience the world from the centre of our bodies, in the hermetic vessel of the mandala”.(Louisa Punt-Fouche , 1992)

“Life is a long walk back Home”

 

Life with the Mandala is book of memories, dreams, reflections and musings (my apologies to Jung) about the archetype of the mandala as a sacred vessel for transformation , whether contemplated or created anew in whichever from ( art, built, danced or listened to like in the music of Bach). It is an attempt to put to words a life of exploration, contemplation and actualization of a universal archetype, which sometimes allows glimpses of an absolute reality.

I also attempt to share a life time of direct experiences of the mandala as a therapeutic vessel, in the therapeutic in-between space and to share my experience as a therapist about the complex and delicate unfolding of this archetype in the therapeutic space, to propel the patient/client to individuation and thus healing.

The importance of doing mandala work with a trained therapist is highlighted and emphasized. Popular claims of healing through colouring in mandala patterns, is misplaced and dangerous for fragile psyches. In the Buddhist culture, the construction of a mandala is supervised by the mentor or guru and in the Navaho culture, the mandala pattern is constructed by the healer who will help the patient through the passages of understanding, necessary for healing.

 Prem: One of your roles is that of a storyteller, a “canteadora” what do you believe could be the role of a storyteller in today’s world, and how could communities benefit from listening to stories?

“Once upon a time…..”

Louisa:  The storyteller is the keeper of the tribe’s history and imbued meaning of life events. Stories of a tribe hold the truth. Stories describe patterns of being, which become “myths” over time. Through myths be connect to the world and others and there is a sense of relief if we share our truths. Myths explain the forming of patterns, that when it grows into a way of universal way of being, it becomes an underlying archetypal reality.
On a more personal level, telling your story to another person or group is a wonderful tool to create order in your own psyche. The reason for it is that you have to choose words to hold and explain and communicate a direct experience of some aspect of your life. In doing so , you create order by bringing a conglomeration of  feelings, intuitions, sensations, instincts into words, often a symbol or metaphor to relay the impact of the experience. Metaphors and symbols are the language of the unconscious. Therefore, telling your story to another person is a healing and integrative exercise.
We create order in our own psyches by telling or listening to stories, we connect to collective patterns of understanding our experiences and it breaks through our human tendency to isolate ourselves, when we are in pain.
Therefore, in the context of this interview, woman must tell their stories, otherwise they will become more and more isolated, marginalized, ignored, objectified and abused. In telling your story or your grandmother’s story, or your daughter’s story, you will remember how powerful you are, how precious your human life is and how your tears of neglect is valuable to help other woman to pluck up the courage to talk.
Unfortunately, the universal story of the neglect of the Feminine Archetype at this point in time in the history of the world has hardly been told. The scars of Mother Earth and her animal children tell the real story of horror, abuse and ignorance.

Prem: Your life on an Olive farm sounds like a dream out of Tuscany….can you describe some of the highlights of your day living on a farm, close to nature, what in the environment inspires you…..

Olive Trees dancing in the Karoo

Louisa: To live so close to Mother Nature and therefore the Mother and Feminine Archetype, is a blessing. She is the Mountain, the Olive Trees, the sun in its unperturbed golden splendour and the aquamarine of the sky that reflects off the mountain. She is the devastating fire that raged a year ago and the flood that took the life of a young girl recently. She is in the eyes of the almost extinct Riverine Rabbit that I met three years ago and the songs of so many birds that I am still acquainting myself with. She is the solitude that I long for, but understand now, is only possible if I am detached. Solitude is a function of the mind…Silence…

Prem:  Do you feel through the depths of your rich life you have completed the circle or is there still more for Louisa, what stories still need to be told, what circles still need to be meandered around?

“Self Portrait”

Louisa:  The circle is never completed. Dreams will come and go and stories will unfold as life is happening. Nothing ends or starts. It is just becoming.

Navigating life, for me, has been like being in a small boat on the vast ocean.

“The boat is forever at the mercy of the rise and fall of the sea, which is at the mercy of the moon…which is at the mercy of… I can try and steer the boat, but that will be useless and a waste of energy. I will be where I am. In being present to every moment, I experience every moment directly without distorting it with, super- imposed ideas, or desires or expectations or unnecessary attachments. That allows a deeper understanding of what is unfolding from moment to moment. In that hovering attention to the moment, a deep reverence is borne and I feel the mystery of it all”.

Prem:  A Siberian shaman was asked by a traveller if, after the initiation one could still learn more and received the answer that one could go as far as one liked if ready to pay the price of suffering each time.  (Marie Louise Von Franz – The Feminine in Fairy Tales)Could you comment on this and the difference between conscious and unconscious suffering.

Louisa: The concepts “suffering”, “consciousness” and the “unconscious” are very ambiguous, multi-layered concepts; also depending from which platform of understanding you depart (Jungian, Freudian, Phenomenological, Existentialism, Buddhism, Taoism, Integral (and so on).

My understanding at the moment is the following:

“We have created patterns of becoming”

Over time, the living breath of the universe within us (our experience of inner reality) had frozen into a concept of an unchangeable individual self (ego), an immutable, eternal soul monad incapable of growth and development. This individual isolated self has therefore become completely self-preoccupied and has forgotten the true nature of reality – that the world is in a continuous process of becoming and dissolving. This is the true source of suffering, but also the source of all spiritual growth.

The realization of the nature and cause of our suffering is an arduous path, rife with challenges. This process is also a process of making that which is hidden and unknown (the unconscious), known (conscious). In Jung’s thinking, the unconscious is essentially the seat of the deepest sources of wisdom, while the conscious is the intellectual part of the psyche.

“The modern mind suffers from the odd prejudice that consciousness is a purely superficial outgrowth of reality, and that the more fundamental the power, principle or substance becomes, the more blind and unconscious it must be.” (Alan W. Watts) In this sense the “conscious” and the “unconscious” are seen in a dualistic concepts (good and unacceptable), with an implied judgment and further polarization and resistance from the individual to embrace an essential part of his/her being.

We suffer because we have forgotten our true nature. We suffer because the mind create wrong attitudes –  grasping (attachment, greed. desire), objectification of reality through  suppression, denial, repression, distortion of our inner experiences of the world, abandoning the subjective to the forgotten and hidden place in the psyche, the unconscious.

Ramana Maharsi says, “The obstacle is the mind, which must be overcome…”

The process of becoming is painful, until we remember that it is not a matter of becoming, but of being.

Prem:  Most paths concentrate on reaching for the light outside the body….your thoughts on: 

The body as the receptacle for the Divine

The integration of the shadow on the journey towards embodiment

Louisa: Change , transformation, becoming and eventually just being, happen through the direct experience that takes place in the present and “beyond and apart from experience nothing exists” (Ramana Maharsi). Yesterday was the present when you experienced it and tomorrow will be the present when you experience it.

Our first direct experiences of the world and others, happens through our bodies when we take our first breath. The breathing body is fully present to each life-giving breath. Each breath fills us with life-force or prana.

We need to recognize the body as a creation and a visible expression of the forces that constitute our innermost being. In this way it becomes ˋ temple of the mind, soul (emotions) and the spirit.

Lama Anagarika Govinda – one of my favourite teachers, writes

A temple, however, by its very structure reflects the qualities and functions of its indwelling spirit. A temple that houses a universal spirit must itself represent the universe…The functions of our body correspond to the functions and laws of the universe which gradually unfold and strive to become conscious within us”.

 The more we realize this process, the more individuation (integration and appropriation of hidden and shadowy bits of ourselves) will take place, until we realize that the universe itself is our true body and that we are not confined to the temporal physical frame.

The most vital function of our bodies is breathing, which is forever present. The place to start is through following your breath, and to discover the universal yogi within. I would like to share my experience of discovering my body after ˋ gymnastic accident at the age of 17. This is what I wrote in my diary…

The Lioness Guru

“After a lower back injury at the age of seventeen, my future mother-in-law introduced me to yoga for rehabilitation. I had no idea what it was all about and I swaggered into the class with my young agile body, hardened by years of intense gymnastics and literally froze in fear after looking into the eyes of my new teacher, my first yoga guru.  She was an older woman, deep into her fifties. She lived in a body that radiated an energy that I was not familiar with. Her older body and grey hair and the way she moved like a large cat, stalking every moment with such intensity and presence, turned my known life-world upside-down and inside-out.

It was something in the eyes – a presence, directness, an immediate presence that led me to a long forgotten but familiar sacred space, like a temple.

I felt like I was in deep water and that I was ferociously treading water, to stay buoyant. I feared drowning and my heart was racing. My breath was out of control and I panicked. Nothing that I have learned so far really helped – my courage, my vigour, my enchanting smile, my beauty, my learned behaviours and defences. The only thought was to separate myself from the immediate situation and to float away on a cloud.

And then, I gave up, feeling that I had no choice. I was drowning in the energy of an unfamiliar situation.  She growled at me, spat at me, poked me in the ribs, circling me like predator, until something deep inside me softened and I breathed into my belly. I was not treading water anymore; I was buoyant, held above the water by an unknown force.

 I moved my legs ever so slightly and felt present to myself in the moment. I met my greatest companion, life-force, prana became my greatest friend and challenge throughout life.

For a brief moment I experienced a hovering awareness that filled me with reverence, unconditional warmth and love. I was at home to my true reality, even if it was just for a brief moment.”

“God as Prana”

It is one of my regrets that it is impossible to capture moments where the dual merge into the non-dual in words. But what I do know is that those moments change you forever.

I knew deep in my bones that I am a yogi[2], have always been and that yoga is my destiny. I became a yoga teacher and have taught yoga for 33 years. I am still a yogi and will always be.  I understood that this path of yoga as a continuation of an intensive exploration of the ultimate question of “Who am I?” and that it entailed dedication, perseverance and practice.

 Silent “Seal” Guru

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness,

which unites your body to your thoughts”

-Thich Nhat Hanh-

 A couple of years later I met my second guru yoga teacher. I was pregnant with my first child.

I walked into her class. It was very hot. This class was full. I felt shy and tried to find an unobtrusive space where I could observe for a bit. It was silent, very silent, like a solidified silence. It filled the room with volume, largeness, unlimited wisdom. Then I saw her, sitting in a corner in a Lotus position or Padmasana. She lived in a huge body. She was quiet. She held her body erect and her breathing was hardly noticeable. I stared at her, surprised at her largeness, but also bewildered at her unusual form in a setting of yoga practice. I waited and waited, sitting quietly, but my mind was racing.

Questions about women, their size, beauty, the value of small and large bodies, women as objects of desire and many more bombarded my mind and destroyed all my good intentions to become more mindful. And then I heard a voice in my head, my own voice, her voice, the voice of the Universe or maybe all voices as One Voice, “…some questions can only be answered by silence…”

I started to cry. I buried my head in my hands and I was sobbing. I felt her eyes on me, burning into my head, my brain, my ignorance, my self-absorption and I cried. I cried for myself and all women who felt burdened by self-imposed injunctions of how to be or not to be.  The sorrow I felt was so much more than the little me. It was like a collective force bursting out of the deep collective unconscious, a tsunami, a large wave of remorse, pain, disillusionment. It broke through my normal constraints of socially acceptable behaviour. I felt surrounded by love and deep care by everybody in the class, although nobody moved, or opened their eyes or looked at me. I went home, deeply touched and shaken up. I was so ready to be taught by my new guru. I was so ready to start “new” journey with my body.”

She has perfected the art of sitting through years and years of practice. Her sitting has become spiritual. It has become a mudra. The word mudra means “a sealing posture or a seal”. Her human body has become a seal of a world of inner information that I felt I needed to decipher and understand.

Symbolically, the concept of a seal as an animal, which lives simultaneously on land and in the ocean, in deep silence and acceptance of what life brings, touched an undiscovered, hidden but known aspect of my unconscious that I experienced intensely at the time. It is difficult to know if it was a threat or a longing for light.

“Seal Gaze”

Much later in life I had a dream about a Seal and her amazing penetrating eyes that looked at me with such honesty, that I felt my being dissolve in the pools of true compassion that radiated an essence, beyond words. I wrote this poem in an attempt to capture the experience:

She is the legless ocean

She is the raging earth

Beached, battered and bruised

Birth of a fundamental intelligence

Radiating infinite consciousness

In silent selfless diamond eyes

Later in my pilgrimage I recognized the look in her eyes in the eyes of  Ramana Maharsi, my ultimate guru and teacher, the guide in my life. How can one describe those eyes? It was like looking into a pool of eternity, of such love and strength that it blinds you and sends you to a place, dark deep and absolute. His presence is deeply felt in an abode of no thought and  longing.

Prem:  Books that you recommend……..(.for further study for women who want to go deeper)

Louisa: 

Clarissa Pinkola Estes … read all her books, she is an inspiration and in her stories you will find yourself as ˋ wonderfully, gifted and powerful woman.
Marion Woodman… read all her books, like Dancing in the flames…
Geri Larkin….Stumbling to Enlightenment
Maureen Murdock… The Heroine’s Journey
Sheri Ruth Anderson & Patricia Hopkins…The Feminine face of God ( The unfolding of the sacred in women)
Jean Shinoda Bolen… Goddesses in Every Woman
Jamie Sams…The 13 Original Clan Mothers
Tsultrim Allione… The Mandala of the Enlightened Feminine

Prem:  Favourite artist/s:

Louisa: Marlene Dumas, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Käthe Kollwitz, Jenny Saville and so many more..

Frida Kahlo

 Prem:  Favourite piece of music:

Louisa: Sebastiaan Bach, The Art of the Fugue, with piano by Angela Hopkins.  For me, the Art of the Fugue is like a sacred archetypal text that touches the deepest interior spaces with its perfect form and beauty.  It opens a door to absolute silence…

Prem:  Favourite quote:

Louisa: Ramana Maharsi: Surrender is giving oneself up to the origin of one’s Being”.

Prem:  Prayer for the World:

Louisa: 

“May all beings have happiness

and the causes of happiness

May they be free from suffering

and the causes of suffering

May they always have genuine

happiness that is untarnished by suffering

And may they reside in great

equanimity, free of attachment

and anger toward anyone near or far.”

Prem:  In conclusion, what piece of wisdom would you impart to women living in this chaotic world, what are the “story” women most need to remember, and how can we live a deep, rich, conscious life, despite the challenges we face personally and collectively?

Louisa: 

Be present to your own life. Do not harbor on the past and the future.

Let go of your needs, desires, attachments and resentments.

Breathe in and breathe out.

Listen to the call of the Old Woman through your dreams, intuitions.

Then go into the forest (solitude), if she calls.

Share your stories and dreams with each other.

Lift yourself out self-preoccupation by doing something for somebody else or volunteer to clean the cages of neglected and forgotten animals.

Do not take yourself too seriously – there is a “you”, but also a “you “in relationship with everything else.

Do not allow yourself to be objectified, in other words you are not just a commodity to be showed off and used.

Honor your body. Do not buy into the body-beautiful stereotypes that the media is confronting you with. You have the body you need, to grow and evolutionize into an amazing, kind and wise being.

And so much more…maybe the following story will be more helpful:

“She wore a huge cloak of woven stories”

“Once upon a time and no time, there was and there wasn’t an old, old woman, who walked in the desert, alone. She grunted and growled and stopped ever so often to look at something in the sand or on the horizon. It was clear that she was searching for something. She wore a huge cloak of woven stories, glued together by all the tears that have been shed in the history of humanity. If you looked closely, you would see the glimmering of the wasted lives of so many women. Sometimes you could see their eyes, filled with fear and disappointment.. If you looked closely you, you could also see a train of animals following the woman, some of them only mirages and some of them more visible. Following behind the animals ….can it be?… plants, trees,  and even stones that is trying to escape extinction…following her… It was like a part of the earth was dissolving and following her, followed by fire, water and the wind.

 She mumbled and stumbled, cried …and then she stopped. She picked up a piece of bone and put it in her pocket…and so she carried on picking up bits and pieces of bones, stones, bark …fragments of life once lived. She ululated, lamenting the death of so many sentient life forms…Shuffling along…

And then she stopped…she carefully selected bits and pieces that she had gathered in her pockets. She looked at each piece for a long time and then placed it upon the sand, until the pieces started to form patterns, familiar patterns, …a woman’s torso, the hindquarters of a wild dog…oh yes, that looks like a tree…and so on

 She raised her arms and started singing, swaying from side to side. Her voice sounded like  a thousand choirs form the heavens and the earth creating music…oooo….mmm….aaaa…uuuu…that vibrated in your heart…

 And then something extraordinary happened…al the bits of life that she gathered the woman, the tree and the wild dog, came back to life and disappeared over the horizon.  The old woman’s song became the song of all the abused, forgotten, and neglected… and something stirred in the human consciousness…”

“The Old One”

So, take the hands of the old woman who lives inside you and go into the desert (solitude). Allow yourself to mourn the losses in your life, whilst actively searching and gathering the bits of yourself that you have lost. At some point the gathered bits will come to life and help you to re-enter your existence with more wisdom and compassion for others (the re-birth of altruism). And then you start the process again and again….

“To my daughter

and my mother, grandmother ,

 great-grand mother

to all women that got burned and hurt

wounds of

truth where the creative fire ignites

the  Spirit in all

where we sing one song

where our original faces shine

where we feel the still point

at the turning of the world”

“Artist impression of her Mother”

Copyright Louisa Punt-Fouche:  all stories and pictures are for your own pleasure and study and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author and artist.

Resources:

Webs of Enchantment, published in 2010 (writer and illustrator)

Daar is kewers in my ruggraat, in gesprek met die Swart Madonna , published 2012 – (writer and illustrator)

Order directly form www.blurb.com or directly from me at louisepunt@gmail.com

Riverine Rabbit/ Skaarser-As -Skaarste Oewerkonyn, published May 2017 (writer and illustrator)

(Both books are available at all the main bookstores. You can also order books from me at louisepunt@gmail.com)

Giclee Prints of  Webs of Enchantment and Riverine Rabbit of the Karoo  and the exhibition The Red Line  can be ordered from me at louisepunt@gmail.com.

Link to Olive Farm website:  Includes information on accomodation and retreats with Louise as well as art retreats:

http://www.kredouwfarm.com

Link to Shasha Beauty without Cruelty products:

 https://www.facebook.com/shashadonoharm/

 

“All and Nothingness”