The Woman In the Basement

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Today we are sharing this article from SAND presenter Ellen Emmet originally published in Inzicht Magazine.


Where music thundered, let the mind be still
Where the will triumphed let there be no will.
What light revealed, now let the dark fulfill.

-May Sarton.

I will take two pens to write this.
One can dip into the ink of understanding.
Under the reign of the sun.

May the other dip into the ink of my body where the known mingles with obscurity, rippling its promises and uncertainties, echoing through my blood,
shaping my longing,
under the moonlight.

And perhaps I will be graced by the third invisible pen….


Nepal many years ago.

I am in my early 30’s and I am struggling:
A young woman, battling depression, with an eating disorder.
I have ceased to menstruate and feel a devastating disconnect from myself and the natural flow of Life.
Too young and too lost to drop into my own inner Orient, I have come to the outer East seeking help.
An Ayurvedic doctor holds my hand. 
In his gentle and faltering English, he tells me: you have mother crisis, mother crisis.

Every morning in Darshinkali, Nepal, I come down a long flight of stone steps, at the confluence of two rivers, and sit in an ancient, makeshift temple to the Goddess.

Day after day I come and witness the Indian woman in the blue sari, guardian of this shrine, as she tends to the altar with the large red stone, the body of the Goddess.


I sit on the edge of the shrine, and I cry. I recognize my soul here;
my heart belongs to this woman’s tribe and my body feels mysteriously connected to the Deity.

Yet the pathways to heart, body, and soul need mending.
They are broken and I am bereft.

One morning the woman comes and clasps my hands in her warm ones. 
Another morning
she brings me her baby boy to hold.
We do not speak words.


In Rishikesh a few weeks later, I have a dream:

I am walking in obscurity following a group of Indian folk.I see them walk down into a muddy area, cross through it,
and come out the other side unscathed.

I want to follow suit.
As I walk into the mud,
I drop deeper and deeper as if in quick sand.
As the mud rises, I continue to sink, about to drown in the sludge.
Terrified, my arms fling up and my voice resounds in a cry for help.
In the next scene I am in the river Ganges.
I am all at once flowing with her waters and resting deeply cradled in her bed.
Flowing and resting all at once.

Both experiences are numinous, embodied and magically simultaneous.
I make a sound so primal and archaic I cannot tell if it is the sudden rush of birth or the release of death.
At the very end of the dream, my discursive thoughts come back and simultaneously the river dries out. I wake up.

Over the years I have remembered my dream yet have been tempted to overlook the mud, the darkness, and especially the despair at the end of the dream when mental activity concurs with the drying out of the river.


2001– as two tall towers come down in flames,
I have moved to Northern California.

To a land where the air whispers of freedom and the ocean of the wild.
I have come to explore the discipline of Authentic Movement. 

We are a group of five women. 

Both as movers and as witnesses we discover states of being which we struggle to put into language. Our guiding principles are surrender to the unknown and trusting our body both personal and collective, as the portal, the altar, and the shrine.

We learn to wait, to descend, to cross thresholds of resistance and defy the rational mind.  To open our bodies to personal and impersonal experience and to be moved. 

Each time, we step into the paradox of speaking the unspeakable to one another.

And often we are pointed back to a shared experience of silence and stillness which we recognize as the backdrop of Awareness for all experience.  

In this longing:

“I see you walk three times around the stone bowl.  Now you lie on your back, slowly and carefully stretching your limbs, opening your arms, offering your palms up, breathing.  You are open, you are waiting.” 

In this opening:

“I see you kneeling on the ground.  Your cupped hands are making repetitive parting gestures.  You are opening the earth, opening the earth.  I hear you cry into the ground, calling, calling… I see you rolling onto your back, legs bent, slightly apart. You are crying as your pelvis moves up.

In this waiting:

I see you, I feel a descent into a deeper darker place within my body.
I see you, I feel present… I am presence.
I see you, I feel my body shifting in an indescribable way. Will I be able to remain present?
I see you, my body is a stone bowl being chiseled piece by piece into a larger vessel. It hurts. It must be.
I see you, I feel gratitude.


All along I have been reading Indian sages such as Nisargadatta Maharaj, Krishna Menon and Ramana Maharshi.

A second current is urging me along a parallel and more philosophical path.

One day through synchronicities I meet my teacher in the tradition of nonduality, Francis Lucille. The words that I hear him say, ‘Consciousness knowing itself’ trigger a glimpse into my true nature of Awareness, ever-present and limitless. 

With him, I drink at the well of higher reasoning and self-inquiry. My mind dissolves in understanding. My body bathes in the yoga of nonduality, where the felt belief in separation is surrendered into an openness that is free of limits.


For many years I align myself solely with the direct path of Advaita as expounded by my teacher. 

In effortless compliance to his teaching and to the newfound understanding pointing towards the absolute, I turn my back on what I had been exploring so instinctually and earnestly. 

A split in my psyche is renewed and reinforced. 


At a retreat one day, as a preamble to a question, I say to my teacher:
-I was born a woman-
He corrects me:
-You are not born,
you are not a woman-

I feel a resounding YES in this recognition.

Yet at the very same time, somewhere in the basement of my psyche, the feminine protests: 

-NO! I am here, I am real. 

(She is barefoot, her hair unruly. She has been devalued and pushed away.)


One night a dream.

I am sitting in a classroom in which a male nondual teacher is taking questions.
A young woman on the other side of the room stands up.
As she asks her question, she is pulling silver out of her mouth in a graceful numinous gesture.
The teacher tells her harshly that she is not making sense.
As I stalk out of the room, I speak angrily to the teacher:
‘you’re stupid’.


Over the years I have had to turn back towards that which did not fit in the perfect formulations and pathways of the doctrine of Advaita.

I have been called, caught, chased, brought back to my knees by the very same current that was tugging at my sleeve from the very beginning.

I have named this many things: the hidden face of God, the feminine realm of experience, the body, the personal and collective unconscious, the shadow.

Sometimes more simply and reverently, Life, the ultimate teacher.

It/She had come to find me years ago in the voice of the Ayurvedic doctor in Kathmandu, in the small shrine in Nepal, in the warmth of the Indian woman’s hands, in my despair and in the images of my dreams.

Rising through the interstices of certitudes.

Through the dried-up river of my body and the flow of the Ganga.

This dimension of my experience is concerned with unfolding and connecting.

At the very same time and almost paradoxically with resting and not knowing.

It values and includes the body: The body of the woman, the body of the river, the body of the psyche, the body that is the obscure, that grows and decays, that is a vibrating field of listening, that speaks a language that is alive, silver and intense and topples the ego off its certainty-throne over and over again.


Today the Jungian tradition on the one hand and the tantric tradition of Kashmir Shivaism on the other, are the forms that meet my soul, body and mind.

With deep reverence to the mystery of the psyche, the Jungian approach is a descent into the more dimly lit corners of my experience, where I open to the symbolic language of dreams and visions and to the hidden face and messages of the personal and collective unconscious. The rageful woman has come up from the basement along with many other parts of my psyche to be heard and integrated. Here, truth and light are not held as absolutes in the God realm but are nurtured and integrated from the dark wilderness of my unknown, where life’s source resides.  Here, I am willing to enter a conversation with that which is attempting to be known. It is a true confrontation and not an easy path. Everything I took as my identity is challenged, including my spiritual identity. I go accompanied.


And deeper still, in Rumi’s field, ‘beyond ideas of wrong doing of right doing’, prior to concepts and convictions, (however luminous and spiritual), the Tantric Kashmir approach invites me  to listen to my felt experience without any aims or objectives. Here I simply recognize the geography of separation, taste the contour of my limits, see the positions of security, the lines of physical and psychological defences expressed in my convictions and mirrored in the tension held in my body. 

This listening becomes a burning altar to which thoughts and resistances are offered as they arise. Tactile sensitivity gently blossoms. Emotions unfold fully as life’s waves, delivering their energetic message whilst burning away the agendas and leaving the body awash with sensitivity and availability. 

Life becomes a moist language that arises, flows, and dissolves in its vibrating and silent womb.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestation.

Yet mystery and manifestation
Arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness withing darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Tao Te Ching-

We invite you to listen to a recent conversation with Ellen on our podcast Sounds of SAND.


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