you are undressing now —
in the skies of my mind or wherever else you have wandered,
undressing down to a self that is completely yours,
along the rivers of grace, call it love,
call it a slow rising of a god
you hold inside your body

Grace trumps all.

Historically, grace had several meanings. In Christian religion context, it usually refers to the notion that God might grant us something unexpected, a gift, to bless us or save us. In Buddhism, a similar state exists, known as flow or grace, where we allow the natural flow of the universe, like water, like Tao. In Hinduism, devotional or bhakti literature references grace as the ultimate key to spiritual self-realization. And if we look at the word itself, grace has its Latin root of gratus, meaning grateful, which assumes a level of humility, kindness and compassion.

In times of strife or hardships, as humans we usually have two approaches that we can cultivate. One is to gain back control and power over the situation: things get messy, run away; injustice strikes, start a fight; someone betrayed you or took advantage of you, seek revenge; love didn’t work out, look for a new lover. This path is tempting indeed, especially if we’ve been deeply disappointed or hurt by someone. Anger rises especially if we’ve been struck down by injustice. What’s even more tempting is that power is effective. In this approach, the intention is to control; if we gain control over the thing, then we’ll be in charge and it won’t hurt us or disappoint us again.

The second approach is grace. I often think of grace as the intersection where patience and gratitude meet. It may seem like too little, too small or just not enough – but that’s not true. I am not advocating us to be martyrs by always being “grateful” or allowing things and people to walk all over us, or take advantage of us. Anger is a needed and purposeful emotion; it’s a sign that our boundaries have been crossed, so it is absolutely natural to feel angry, though we must know how to channel anger in healthy way, rather than destruct everything and everyone around us. We need to have good boundaries and know our limits. But some battles are not worth fighting – because it doesn’t help anything anyway. One of the greatest lessons in life is understanding that true power comes from within. Like we discussed in What The Snow Queen Knows, our heart is our greatest power, it is our greatest magic. The heart is also the initiatory pathway for higher consciousness. And grace is truly powerful, and truly wise.

When we allow our shadow side to take over us, to be tempted by the injustices, we might do a lot more damage, not just to others but also, to ourselves. I’ve known way too many people throughout my life, who out of anger, wrath, jealousy, envy, lust, pain and pride, have caused harm onto others – only to one day be consumed by guilt, shame, and the consequences of their actions, thereby destroying their own lives. When we seek revenge or payback, or want to abuse our power, what we are actually desiring is either “to do onto them as they’ve done to us” (i.e. we want to make them feel like they made us feel) or we desire to heal. When the intention is to harm another, regardless of the reasons why, it is immoral and it is never right. What we need to focus on is how to heal and move forward with our own life; we do this through grace and by transforming the emotions through the heart, and our mind’s perspective.

I once saw a painting of a woman holding a rose, the thorns through her fingers, as she was bleeding. Yet she didn’t even seem to realize this because she had gone numb to the pain from holding them so tightly for so long. Sometimes we need to remember to open our palms.

Grace trumps karma too.

Decisions are always there to be made, no matter what has happened in which life.

This is a very important aspect of karma and how its wheel turns. Some people believe that when someone comes into their life, someone who has done them wrong in the past and owes them karmic debt, even from five-hundred years ago, they are free to “collect back” and “return the favour”; they feel they can do them wrong also without any consequences. But that’s not how the wheel turns. Every time karma shows for us, in whatever shape or form, it is our own decision what to with it and how to respond.

We can choose to keep the cycle turning, or we can choose grace, thereby stepping into a new vibration, opening a doorway to a higher consciousness. The hands of karma will take care of all people anyway and everyone will have consequences for their actions – we can never stray too far from who we are and what we’ve paved for ourselves. But it is in our own decisions, when we seemingly have the upper hand in something, the more control and power over a situation, that we can reveal who we truly are. These are kind of initiations that life presents us with. And our decisions pave our way forward.

Let me tell you a story as we delve into the esoteric symbolism and these concepts further. The Bulgarian folk tale The Golden Girl is one I heard as a child, though its narrative would be familiar to you perhaps, as there are versions of it in all cultures throughout history. Stories and tales reach and speak the languages of our psyche, and streams of consciousness are shaped in the form of archetypes, so that we can understand these streams better – and have a deeper understanding of life and self.

The Golden Girl, Bulgarian Folk Tale

The Golden Girl

A widowed man, who had a gentle daughter, married for a second time, but his new wife was selfish and not of kind heart. She preferred her own daughter, who was just as unkind as she was, and made the man abandon his child in the forest. The young girl found her way into a old woman’s house where she was sheltered and given three tasks to complete. She took care of the animals, no matter how scary they looked; she took care of the old woman cooking warm meals; and she took take of the house cleaning and tidying up.

For her good deeds, the old woman, who was actually a sorceress, took the girl to the nearby river, spoke some magic words, and when the river turned gold, she dropped the girl into it. Once she emerged, the girl was shining brightly all of gold, with a chest full of pure gold coins.

The old woman also showed the girl towards her home – though upon returning, the stepmother became so jealous of the gold coins that she sent out her own daughter into the forest, believing she’d get even more gold. In the old woman’s house however, the unkind daughter showed her true colours by being mean, rude, arrogant and ungrateful for the shelter she was given. Without a word, calm and unbothered, the old woman took the girl to the river, “Thank you for what you’ve done dear girl, now the river will pay you back what you hold in your heart.”

The river whispered in understanding, and as the girl was dropped in its waters, they turned all black, and the girl emerged with a chest. A chest in which, however, were all snakes and lizards. When she returned home, the stepmother became so angry seeing her daughter without any gold coins; and not only that, but the girl was all painted in black mud from the river. No matter how much she was washed, there was an aura around her from the fingers of negativity that she possessed in her own heart.

As for the golden girl: she continued to shine brightly even without the gold that the stepmother had stolen from her. In fact, she shined so brightly, that her light reached the skies where a prince from a distant land lived. Upon seeing the golden light, he wandered in search for it. When he reached the village, the stepmother decided to trick him: she dressed her daughter in golden clothes, all with jewels, but again, her dark aura shone through. Nothing could hide the heart – and we all know this: all masks eventually fall and all is revealed. In time, the prince married the golden girl, despite the ashes in which she was covered, and it is said their love still shines as the moon and the stars above us – and we can see them no matter where we are.

Inside the Symbolism

There are many esoteric nuances in the tale, as is very common with all old tales. In every story we see the archetype of a witch, a sorcerer, a sorceress, the crone, or an old grandmother living in the woods. These archetypes however aren’t necesserily good or bad, most of them are neutral, just like all else in life. They do however act as those who initiate us and how it all manifests depends on our own hearts.

Initiations take us from one state of consciousness into another for soul growth, into a maturation of the psyche, or at the very least, they allow us the opportunity for a doorway to open. Whether we pass through it or not, depends on our own choices. Initiations usually have three phases: separation, challenge/descent, and returning.

The separation phase is when we awaken to a reality beyond our known and following that new awareness, regardless of how subtle or grand, we make a conscious choice to walk away; we separate from the known and/accepted ideas, beliefs and conditions, to find out what’s true for us. Often times this means separating from the group and embracing our individuality. This is a hard phase because the choice to do it requires a lot of strength and courage, and the ability to be self-reliant.

Next is the phase of challenges, which we will face on our lone wolf walk through the woods, as we face the shadows of our own selves; of all the conditioned beliefs and self-limiting thought patterns. We need to face and confront our deepest darkest aspects – with the intention of integrating them, lovingly and compassionately, reaching self-acceptance. 

The final phase is the returning; the coming back to pure love and the core of who we are, or towards the thing we initially started our initiation for.

In the old female mystery schools, initiatory rituals and ceremonies were often times performed for the priestesses especially involving water and rivers. These initiations involved cleansing and purification, on all levels of the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual, so that the priestess can then open a new psychic channel of greater inner power and manifestation.

There are a lot of people who choose to go the other way: they think they can use dark magic and spellwork to get something they want. However, these have high karmic consequences that can go up to seven generations forward. Furthermore, whatever they manifest, not of the purity of their own heart, will always slip away from their fingers like sand – they will never be able to hold onto it, because it is not truly of resonance to their own energy.

The Golden Girl is a story, which tells of the disturbed harmonies within us. The stepmother treats the two girls differently in a very extreme way, which speaks of the separations we may cause in life, and how absolutism sinks nuances into the water like stones. We see how it is precisely in our difficulties and confusions that we can reveal who we are. When we practice gratitude and appreciation even for the small gestures, like the golden girl did towards the old woman when she was given a shelter, we step into the vibration of grace. For ingratitude, however, retribution will come. It may not come at our timing, or when we think it should, but it will come, like the rivers of fate eventually. No deceptions will be enough to escape these rivers, for these rivers know the secrets of the heart, and what is beneath the shroud of our skins.

In our world today, kindness and appreciation are greatly unvalued. People are so used to getting everything for free that they rarely express gratitude. Like we discussed in The Importance of Receiving and Interdependence, where we talked about the meaning of the monk’s alms and the need for equivalent energetic exchange, we need to understand that everything is interdependent – no one will last too long if all they do is take. In the old days, when someone entered a temple or came across a person who gave them comfort with words or gestures, they’d give back something in turn or donate – so that the energy is exchanged. With such an exchange of energy, the wisdom and comfort they received was settled into their consciousness, and they established a bridge to it, a connection to it, that will continue the natural flow.

We can never stray too far from who we are. And this is something very apparent through the symbolisms of the tale. The negativity in the second girl’s heart is carried in her aura no matter how much she’d wash herself after. And it is visible to those who have the eyes to see.

The old woman in the forest knows and masters the secrets of the river. She knows the way in which the lost can return home. And she justly balances the karmic scales.

Love always reincarnates as love; and greed always reincarnates as greed. It’s never a new clean slate – it is only a continuation. 

Folk tales remind us that our true selves are most clearly shown and manifested when we encounter the unexpected, the unknown. It is for this reason that the characters often wander off in a foreign land. The trials in the unknown realms are what will shape us, reveal us, deepen us. They allow for a deepening. There are always choices to be made. And this will pave the destinies.    

When we are faced with injustices, of course we should seek our rights and stand up for ourselves. We should also set clear boundaries in life, so that people don’t take advantage of us. And yet, still, injustices will happen. In these times, remember grace, remember what’s in your heart and what your values are; remember your guiding star, so that you don’t lose yourself.

Love, compassion, kindness and forgiveness are the key always. And it is grace that marries them into one – and this is what shapes them into human hands and human hearts. 

We all know this. When our own hands have been touched by someone else’s grace, they scent of its perfume long after. And then we touch others’ too. And so it all continues. And no wind will ever end the skies of such love. 

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Cover art: Iris van Herpen, Transmotion by Valentine Bouquet.