Kula Grad Series: A Framework To Explain Your Life
By: Sena Shellenberger
*This essay was written as a course requirement by one of our recent Kula Collective YTT300 graduates. It is slightly longer than our standard blog posts and every bit as engaging. We are so proud to share it.
During the first week of my advanced yoga teacher training I was given a gift. It was the Inca belief system of the Chakana, which includes the ideology of the three worlds. Once I understood these worlds and my place in them it was as if something clicked and settled into place that I didn’t know was missing. I now have a framework that integrates the external world around me with my internal levels of consciousness. I have a deeper sense of belonging and more tools to help me process the ups and downs of life that I experience. In this essay I will apply the model of the three worlds to a major transition in my life.
What are the three worlds?
Similar to other ancient cultures, the Incas knew that there are worlds beyond what we see and experience daily. In the Inca framework our daily reality - everything we can see and touch around us - is in Kaypacha, or the middle world. The Inca’s holistic framework expands upon Kaypacha to include a lower world (Ukupacha) that is below us, and an upper world (Hanaqpacha) that is above us. This may sound similar to the idea of heaven and hell presented by Christianity, and there are similar parallels in many other cultures. Compared to the Christian worldview, my interpretation of the Inca view of the three worlds is that they are not places our souls go after death but rather representations of the levels of our consciousness throughout our lives.
Ukupacha - the lower world
This is where we explore the depths of our subconscious. Ukupacha is represented by the symbol of the serpent, or Amaru. This realm is known as the “shadow self” in Jungian psychology; it’s the place where we have feelings, desires and memories that we may not know about in our waking conscious state, or where we may have repressed feelings to protect our ego self. While these hidden parts of ourselves were likely once important for our survival we tend to hold on to them for much longer than necessary. These unresolved traumas or hidden desires in our subconscious inform our thoughts, words and actions, having a major impact on our lives. For example, I shut down when I felt strong emotions as a child because I felt it was unsafe; I was too young to understand. During therapy in my mid-twenties I uncovered that I still have the same defense mechanisms now as I did when I was young and in times of high emotions I tend to stop communicating or leave. Through the work I’ve done in somatic therapy, yoga and shamanism I am now aware of this shadow aspect of myself and the habitual reactions created by it. I’ve worked to shed these shadows that no longer serve me, just like the serpent sheds its skin so it can continue to grow.
The lower world is about work and service. By doing our work and journeying into the depths of ourselves we can find and reclaim our true essence that has been buried beneath our shadows, ultimately allowing us to be of service by offering our truest gifts to the world.
Kaypacha - the middle world
The middle world is our waking reality and is represented by the Puma, who helps us learn how to make our way through the jungles of our lives. Our work in this middle world is to recognize the belief systems that have been conditioned within us from society, culture, family, education and ancestors. We can then decide whether these stories are aligned with our authentic selves and whether we want to continue participating in them. For example, a common belief system is that we need a well-paying job at a corporation in order to be happy. By observing and bringing awareness to this belief system similar to a Puma silently observing its prey, we get to decide whether or not this belief system feels authentic to us. The Puma teaches us to destroy anything which is not authentic to our truest selves so that we are intentionally living in a way that is aligned with our purpose in life.
Hanaqpacha - the upper world
The upper world is where we can transcend our limitations, manifest our dreams and connect with the beauty of Spirit. The Condor and Eagle show us how to zoom our perspective out of our day-to-day tasks and remember our greater purpose. In this world we visualize and daydream, we connect with our inner calling and believe in the unlimited potential available to us to actualize our dreams. As the Condor shape shifts from walking on land to flying through the sky, so can we shape shift into new identities that align us with our greater purpose. For example, once we have identified our true desires we can put energy towards manifesting these dreams with tools such as vision boards, visualization and journaling, knowing and trusting that everything is possible and that we create our own reality.
Finding and reclaiming my authenticity in the lower world
After my first yoga teacher training I started opening to subtle communications from Ukupacha, or the lower levels of my consciousness. I started seeing my work life in a new way, questioning things I had never questioned before - why do so many of us get up early and take a 1.5 hour shuttle to get to and from work every day? Is it because we enjoy it? Do I enjoy it? Slowly these seeds from my subconscious started growing as I listened more. From my initial questions came a feeling of hopelessness; what I felt inside was at odds with everything I saw around me. I no longer understood the corporate lifestyle I had been a part of for so many years. I stopped feeling motivated and became less engaged in my work, breezing in at 10am in yoga pants and leaving at 4pm, feeling like an imposter the whole day. “There’s more to life than this. There has to be. I can’t sit inside all day, in white conference rooms with no windows!” I fumed. But what was out there I couldn’t yet see.
The depths of my subconscious slowly started emerging into my waking conscious mind. While I couldn’t put words to it I knew in my gut that my life didn’t feel right anymore. I saw the skin I was wearing as a Google employee and began acknowledging, without realizing it, the vast differences between the skin I was in and the needs of the Spirit inside of it.
Living authentically in the middle world
As time passed I looked for ways to be more authentic at work. I put more energy into teaching yoga at Google, and looked for new teams and projects that resonated more with me. I took a month off to see what else was 'out there.' While this helped marginally, I was still struggling and feeling disconnected from my purpose. After 1.5 years and a life changing experience with Cacao and Kula Collective during a vacation in Mexico, I finally made the decision to leave Google. I gave myself 6 months to do it, which was a sufficient amount of time to gradually transition, or so I told myself.
My authentic Self was no longer hidden in the murky shadows of my subconscious. I was taking steps to live a life more aligned with what I truly wanted. In February, Eagle came to me in a dream. She flew in from the sky and shapeshifted into a beautiful oracle woman with long flowing white hair and robes. She pointed to a dark, ominous sky out in the distance that was coming towards us. As she pointed, she looked towards me, to see if I saw what she was showing me. I did. 24 hours later, I went into my weekly 1:1 with my manager and quit, 4 months ahead of schedule. I had no choice anymore but to live authentically. Now.
Opening to love, beauty + infinite possibilities in the upper world
I believe Eagle was a messenger from the upper world, showing me that there was darkness coming and that it was time to leave. This messenger gave me the encouragement to take the leap that my soul wanted me to take, and instilled a level of trust in me that everything would be okay. My experience quitting my job way ahead of schedule with only vague plans of what I would do next was a fast lesson in letting go of attachments to plans and going with the flow. As I started releasing all of the stress I was carrying I started enjoying and relaxing into my newfound freedom.
The ability to listen to my inner guidance that I developed with my work in the lower and middle worlds enabled me to start manifesting my dreams. I had dreamed about a California road trip and a solo camping trip, and I suddenly had the time and resources to do both. I dreamed about traveling South and Central America, learning about Cacao and Shamanism. I wanted to know what it would feel like to stop controlling my path and let the Universe guide me. I stopped worrying about how I was going to make money and put my focus on following my dreams, which brought me to Peru where I’ve been for the last 8 weeks, and just completed a 300 hour yoga teacher training integrating yoga and shamanic wisdom.
Recently a friend approached me about co-creating a retreat together, and within a couple of weeks we booked the location, created a website and have two applicants. It has been a process of allowing, rather than pushing, and it’s deepening my experiential understanding that life doesn’t have to be forced, or hard. I find that the more I listen to my heart and trust that I will be provided for, the more love and beauty arrive in abundance.
Here’s to infinite possibilities.