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Stepping Back in Time, Stepping Through our Personal Stories

Normandi Ellis

During my last trip to Egypt I fulfilled a dream that I first had when I began writing my book Awakening Osiris. I had envisioned my decade-long studies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead as a kind of personal excavation through the process of my spiritual unfoldment. Through the Egyptian spiritual traditions I saw how the soul longed to merge with the divine through the beauty of the natural world. I could see then that I wanted to use what I had learned in my studies to lead others to see their lives as filled with spirit, as sacred story.

In 2009 Gloria Taylor Brown and I co-facillatated 18 daring souls through the process of writing spiritual autobiography using the temple and tomb texts as models. We became symbolic thinkers as we worked through the images of our own lives as if we were deciphering the hieroglyphs written upon our souls. We were tapping into the akashic records, delving into the deep layers of spirit.

Late one afternoon, we disembarked on Elephantine Island. After having passed through a flower garden, we began to climb along a series of winding stairs. Elephantine Island is in the process of an archaeological dig and what we witnessed were layers and layers of history, the mud of the river laid down over top of temples, and houses, and the city over thousands of years. It fascinated me to see the history of the island laid bare from the first inscription on a granite hump-backed rock made by emissaries of King Cheops during the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom to the early dynasty temples built to the goddess of the flood, Satis. We walked through a village past the house of the nomarch, Heka-ib, past Jewish bakeries and houses built above, to the now toppled and still ancient, but more recent temple to Khnum built by Queen Hatshepsut.

Going up through the layers of time I realized that all of us were on our own personal excavations through the layers of memory, moving past the cast-off skins of our former selves. We are like the forms that Khnum sculpted from mud, the product of the lives we have shed, picked up and molded from the past—both personal and historical, taking on new shapes as our souls evolve. Perhaps I am talking about reincarnation. Perhaps I am also talking about how every seven years, our skins cells die and new ones replace them. The woman walking around in this body is not entirely the same woman who inhabited the now sloughed off body of the girl who began to write poetry at age eight. Recovering, re-examining, and reintegrating that part of ourselves that we have stepped beyond is part of the task of making oneself anew. For some reason, I am thinking of that line from Leonard Cohen that calls our earthly manifestations “these rags of light.”

Standing on top of the Island at Khnum’s Temple, we stepped through a portal in time. The sun was soon setting over the western hill and a golden glow was rising up around us. The herons standing on their rose granite rocks were staring into the darkening waters, working to catch the last meal of the day. I was reminded that the hieroglyph for illumination is a crested ibis, the bird of the god Thoth who teaches us the magic of looking in, or meditation, or spiritual growth. Standing beside the base of a toppled column the 18 of us created our altar and promised ourselves to continue living deeply the truths of our lives. We pledged ourselves to the divine and placed our hands upon this “wheel of life,” the spinning potter’s wheel on which the ram god Khnum had sculpted us and our ka, our spirit double.

We paused taking in the exhilaration and the resonance of that moment. The waves of the river were lapping against the island, and I could feel myself vibrating with the motion of the Nile river, or the turning of the wheel, or the rays of light sinking below the horizon. It felt as if I could almost look across the expanse of my life. It was time to go and as I descended I could feel myself descending into the layers of time again–personal and historical and archetypal.

I use many journal writing exercises with students as a way to examine personal growth, solve problems, or find an entryway into the subconscious. When we returned I offered my companions a writing exercise called Stepping Stones, based on the work of Dr. Ira Progoff. Stepping Stones are a way of unearthing the deeper-than-conscious goals toward which steps are taking us. This exercise is an especially good one when we stand at a crossroads, or feel our lives in transition. To help us find the direction for the next phase of our lives, we created 10 notations or signposts that were the map of our lives up to this present moment. Each notation could have turned into its own story, but we each chose one transformation moment along the path to write about.

I invite you to think about how it might feel to be sailing down the Nile with a group of spiritual sojourners like these and with an open notebook and and open heart. Nicki Scully and I will be leading the Temple of the Soul trip to Egypt in March 2011. I look forward to seeing you there and hearing your story.

Entering the Temple of the Soul
a sojourn to Egypt with Normandi Ellis & Nicki Scully
March 7 - 21, 2011 (click for full info and registration)

Normandi has two books on Egypt forthcoming in 2011. A Field Guide to the Egyptian Mysteries from Red Wheel/Weiser and Remembering the Divine Within from Inner Traditions, the text that was the culmination of the first Egyptian spiritual autobiography trip.