Karuna: Hi, I’m Karuna, I’m the founder and executive director of Mind Oasis, and I am here today with Michael McSwain. I’m very excited. How are you, Michael?
Michael: I’m good. Thank you for having me.
Karuna: So this is Meditation, Happy Hour, Tea, Talk, and Truth with Karuna. And I like to take my guests down sort of a journey of their own spiritual path and sharing about their offerings in this world. But before we go anywhere else, my first question is the same for all of my guests. And that is, what has your day looked like so far today?
Michael: What’s my day been? OK. The question today is Sunday. OK, so I. Got up this morning and started preparing, I taught a workshop this morning. Oh, and it was my final workshop with this incredible group of beings who I have been working with for two months. And so we kind of dissolved the mandala this morning, so to speak. And it was just a beautiful time together and so rewarding. And also when you cross that finish line and something is done, then just at least for the rest of the day you’ve got that. Oh, I feel I got no worries left in the world. So I have had that feeling and then I met up with an old creative director. We went upstate and went to a little park and just kind of strolled around and had a coffee and caught up. And then I came back. And now here I am sitting with you.
Karuna: Amazing. And Michael, where in the world are you?
Michael: I’m in New York City. In the East Village.
Karuna: And are you from New York City or are you a transplant?
Michael: I’m a transplant. I’m from North Carolina originally.
Karuna: You must have worked hard on that accent. I hear it in your mom who sometimes attends, but I don’t hear it as much in you.
Michael: Yeah. You know, it’s there and it’ll come out at times and I will use it strategically at times, but it might show up at some point during our our chat.
Karuna: I was thinking invoking the Southern charm.
Michael: Oh right, right, right. Yeah. You have to invoke it every once in a while, especially if it’s a skill for me, you know.
Karuna: Absolutely. Michael, tell me a little bit about your path. You teach on Mind Oasis as a meditation teacher, which means you have some qualifications to teach meditation. And I happen to know personally that you’re stellar at what you do. So tell me how you have come to the world of meditation and teaching and sharing.
Michael: So I would say my journey into meditation really began with I was actually on an overnight flight to Paris.
Karuna: Oh, it always starts with Paris. That’s right. Let me grab my coffee.
Michael: Ok, so I’m on this flight. This is 2016, actually January 2016 and I was on my flight. I get to Paris and as soon as I get there, there’s one thing in my mind. I just want to go have the most amazing croissant I’ve ever had in my life. That’s it. Like that’s my goal right now. And so I go and I check into my hotel somewhere in Paris, somewhere in the touristy area of Paris. I asked the the lady at the front desk where, you know, this is a great question in New York City, by the way, like we all know in the U.S., not all croissants are made the same. Some are really good. Some are not so good. It’s not a question that you ask in Paris, though. I mean, just put that up. So I’m like, “hey, can you tell me? I just would love to get a really good croissant. Can you tell me where to go?” “Of course”, this lady looks me in the eye and I’m sure in her mind, she’s like, you stupid tourists, you stupid American, just walk yourself out the door and find a car. But her answer to me was. Here’s my French accent, “just follow your heart and it will tell you where to go.” And so, of course, she was like being a little smarmy with me, but I didn’t hear it that way. The way I heard it was. Oh, right. Follow your heart. Like this thing that people have been telling you to do your whole life. And what does it really mean? How do you really do it? It just like everything clicked for me in this moment and so I went out in the streets of Paris with this, OK, I’m going to try it. Anyway, I walked into a cafe, I had a croissant. It turned out to be a magnificent croissant, it was really good. And so I just spent the rest of the weekend, wandering around like, OK, where do we go? Tell me what to do. And I got really excited, like I had discovered this truth about life again, like this is what they meant. So I came back to New York with this mission of I’m going to figure out what it really means to follow your heart. I’m going to document this and figure it all out. Really shortly after that, it was in March of 2016 that I attended a passenger meditation retreat, which was the most crazy thing I could attend, 10 days of silence. Is this place a cult? All these thoughts are going through my head, I was really nervous about it. But I went one night and I did it. And it was obviously life changing. And I actually met a friend there who became my neighbor. Four hundred miles away, meet this guy who lives literally next door to me in New York. And so we became friends and his name’s Brian, and he started to challenge me to start going and doing yoga, so I started doing yoga. He’s like, come and do this yoga teacher training with me, with Michael Hewat and Janet Chesney and Mike. And then, you know, the rest is history. And then I got into yoga teacher training and then meditation, teacher training and then dharma training. Once you take a bite, it just keeps going. And simultaneously back in 2016, I also met my teacher, John Churchill, he was doing a retreat in North Carolina. And the woman who is running the retreat, she also ran the retreats for an astrology workshop that I went to every year for several years. And so she’s like, “I think you need to come meet John.” And there was this whole component of just listening to my heart that really opened up the world to some meditation.
Karuna: Your 2016 was my 2013 and interestingly, my 2013 also involved a quick stop to Paris. And there is this book that I stayed at an Airbnb with my really good friend who has transported himself to Holland. And so we took the train and went through Belgium and got to Paris. And I was probably on the search for the perfect glass of wine. But in the meantime, there was this bookshelf of just all these amazing books. And there was a book by Osho and it was called I think it’s called Real Sex. And I was like, oh, my God, I’m in Paris. And there’s this book calling me that says Real sex. I have to take a peek. And what I found so fascinating about it was it was all about the healing of the divine feminine and divine masculine and how so much of the strife in our world, if we were able to better heal these two aspects within ourselves and in relationship to one another, how our world could actually appear to us as more peaceful. So I love that you were in Paris following your heart’s desire. I know that one really well.
Michael: Yeah, well, that’s beautiful. I love hearing that. And also I’ve learned. Don’t ask. “Could you recommend a wine in the style of a Bordeaux?” Don’t ask that question in Paris either.
Karuna: I ended up stopping asking questions because I realized that French people, by and large, don’t like Americans and they just kind of sneer at you anyway. So screw it. Why even ask the question? That was my experience. So, Michael, you touched on it. I’m happy we went there. You are a potent resource for astrology. And those are my words. And I’d like you to talk a little bit about your journey with astrology.
Michael: Sure, so I got started with astrology. Actually, I’m back in the day and I was very anti astrology, I thought it was a whole bunch of woo, woo hoo stuff and I can actually point back to this moment in North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I was waiting tables at this restaurant. And it’s funny, I waited on this guy who there was something familiar about him. And I was like, how do I know this guy? And I was asking him, it was like, “have I waited on you before?” He’s like, “No, I don’t think so.” And I was like, “Did you ever come into Starbucks?” Because I used to work at the Starbucks down the street and he’s like, “Oh, I definitely never went to Starbucks.” And I was like, OK. And I was like, “well, it’s so strange. You just seem so familiar.” And he’s like, “oh, well, I’m an astrologer, perhaps you’ve studied with me” and I was like, “I’m sorry. Like I did take Astronomy 101 at USC.” But he’s like, “no, astrology like the Zodiac. And I was like, “oh no, I don’t believe in that. I guess we’ve never met before. Well, enjoy your meal.” Fast forward moving to New York. I’m living in the East Village again. I’m waiting tables. I’m having the best time, in my mid 20s living in New York City. It was really fun. And I started having this roommate who lived in my apartment, and she was really into astrology and she would read this horoscope to me written by Susan Miller of astrology every month. And it would blow my mind how accurate this thing was. It was like there’s something to this, how could this be so accurate? And so I started looking into it and I just sort of got obsessed with it and then I learned you can actually get an astrology reading. And so I went and had my first astrology reading with this guy named Adam, who I ended up taking a certification program with him later. But he did my reading and it was like two years of therapy in two hours. There is a weird energy that happens and it’s mysterious. I don’t know if I can even fully explain it, but it is powerful what happens to you when you’re in an astrology reading. It really just kind of hit me and I went with Adam to get to do a one year astrology training program and the very first book he had us pick up and start reading. This was my very first astrology book that Adam Alanboss told me to pick up and start reading first. It’s called The Inner Sky by Steven Forrest. And so it was like Christmas, 2012 that I start reading this book and I’m sitting there with my highlighter. I’m just loving everything about this book. And I’m like, I’m so cool. I’m studying astrology. And I turned to the back cover and there’s a picture of this guy that looks like the guy I waited on. And then his bio says, Steven lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It took me another seven years to become his student. But I did. So since about 2013, I’ve been studying with Steven Forrest. And that’s that’s how I got in.
Karuna: So that’s so cool. I want to make the cheesiest joke about how the stars aligned, I can’t help it, but it’s amazing.
Michael: Yeah. And quite literally, when you look at the charts, you can see there’s that signature between us is in there between his chart in my chart.
Karuna: Amazing. So tell us just a little bit. Why does astrology seem to be so true, why do the stars align in that way?
Michael: Well, I’m happy to answer that question, and you can come to my workshop. I think there’s a couple of things that happens in both our spiritual practice as well as in the the classical study of astrology, wherein we’re looking to find this level of wholeness that seems to be missing in our lives. We’re looking to tap into this bigger energy or this bigger picture of what’s really going on out there and seeing like, is there something I’m missing here, is there a deeper intelligence, is there a divinity to this? We ask all these questions and we keep searching and asking why. And I think that’s true for a lot of people. I know there’s a lot of people who are studying like, oh, just the gravity of Jupiter being over here. Impact. Me winning the lottery over there, no, I don’t think there’s a gravitational force that’s pulling this part of your hand in this direction. But I think there is a deeper holographic nature to the way that we are as a being is a wholeness, and that taps into the way that we are as a community of beings, there’s a wholeness and that taps into the planet. There’s a wholeness. When you bring all the ecosystems together, there’s a wholeness. And then when you tap even bigger and you could even go smaller, when you go down to the cellular level, there’s a wholeness. When you go down to the atomic level, there’s a wholeness. There’s a whole system at every single one of these levels. And astrology just happens to be this large system present at the layer of here’s the sun and here’s all the planets and we can with extreme precision. And with an extreme ability to predict forwards and backwards what’s happening there, we can tap into that wholeness and that whole anomic nature of things that are going on. So I think that astrology is just being able to see a pattern and understand that there are cycles of things that are going on at all times and astrology is just one layer of tapping into that. And it’s a really good one.
Karuna: Yeah, it has captured humanity for a very long time, hasn’t it?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, at least three thousand years that we know about.
Karuna: So you do have a workshop coming up on Mind Oasis so let’s go there. It’s called Astrology and the Spiritual Path, and it’s on the 15th of October, which is a Thursday night. And of course, you can find out all about it on mindoasis.org. But since you’re here in the flesh and Zoom, tell us a little bit about the workshop and what someone could expect that attends.
Michael: Yeah, so I’m super excited about this workshop. It’s going to be such a fun thing to just dive into astrology through a very fun lens, we will take a little bit of a scientific route through things. And really, the idea is No. One to tap into that bigger picture and see who are we humans really like in this bigger grand scale of life and reality. And then once we get that bigger picture kind of zeroing in and looking at the deeper intelligence that’s at play and all the systems around us and the systems of nature and the systems of our psychology and the systems of the planets above and then the systems of the seasons, there’s all these systems around us. So seeing what that deeper intelligence is and what it can do to help us with understanding what the right path for us is and understanding that there are different paths and that if we look at the picture of our own birth chart and there’s a number of tools that we have to our disposal. So we’re going to look a little deeper with those tools and how to use moon cycles, how to use horoscopes, how to use in natal chart readings, how to look at all these things in order to help tell you what is the path that is going to move you in that direction of your highest and greatest potential.
Karuna: Awesome. Very cool, so I have a couple of questions that I think are relevant to this time that we find ourselves in. So my first question to you is. We had a wonderful Shaman on the podcast a few months ago, Brenda Salgado and her path, or one of her paths, is looking at the Mayan calendar. And in the Mayan calendar, we’re in the end of a cycle and we’re moving into a new cycle. I think it’s called the sixth sun cycle, which is very hard to say if you have a lisp. So what I see in my world is a lot of transformation and change. There’s a lot of kind of natural disasters. And obviously there’s a pandemic on our doorstep. There’s plenty of unrest and sort of unsettling, it feels like, in the ether’s. I’m just curious, from an astrological lens, do you see anything in that whole bigger perspective along those lines or do you have any insight into these times that feel sort of rough and tumble?
Michael: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, it’s a big question. And there’s a number of different answers. And I would say both astrology as well as so many of the great spiritual traditions that are out there and when you put the two of them together, like particularly, I know that we’ve studied deeply in the Buddhist path and there’s this idea that there is this suffering of existence that we live in and we often are just blind to it, but it’s been there. And 2020 has been this year that has woken us up with this pandemic that has totally in many ways shut down our lives, it’s shifted our lives. It’s changed things. But it’s also forced us to wake up to all the pandemics that have been in our lives all along that we weren’t calling pandemics.The pandemic of poverty and of homelessness and racism and of pollution and the pandemics of misogyny and the pandemic of trafficked human beings. Things that are going on around us and really 2020 was the year that we finally were like, oh my God, there is this thing going on. So when you married that idea with an astrological perspective, we are in this really interesting time where right now the planets, Jupiter, Pluto and Saturn are all conjunct in the sky and in Capricorn and that really kind of opening moment of that cycle became the first conjunction between that. There’s three planets really began around January 10th, and that’s really when we started hearing the reports of this thing called the novel coronavirus. And it’s interesting when you look at the conjunctions between Saturn and Pluto, they really do. You can look at them and see there’s often a pandemic that happens in conjunction with them. And their last conjunction was in the early 80s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. So it’s really quite fascinating to see that yes, that message was in the sky. And that kind of opening of that was January 10th, 2020. We actually have that formation coming back around again and happening again on December 21st, so we’ll see what that means. I don’t know if that means it’ll be a closing chapter or if that shifts into something else. We’ll see what happens. But the astrology is there for that and then the other not to take us into too political of a direction, but America itself is going through, you know, the planet Pluto has about a two hundred and almost fifty year cycle and America is approaching its Pluto return at that point where Pluto was at the moment that our country was founded. And we’re quickly coming up on that. And I will point everyone, there is an article that you can look at. It’s in Vanity Fair and it’s written by Michael Lutin. So if you look at horoscope. USA, Michael Lutin, Vanity Fair. You’ll find this article and read it, and you’ll kind of be like, well, you know, Ellie, WTO in El Utian. It’s an article that was published in 2006. And so it’s one of those that stood the test of time pretty well. Interesting and I’ll leave it at that because it’s there’s an intense level of information. If you have the appetite, go for it.
Karuna: Ok, so a couple of things. I think we just got to hear a purr come through the microphone. Who’s your friend?
Michael: Yes, I have a cat here. He’s actually playing with some food now. Jason, you want to come over here? His name is Jason Cat, and he has been good. He’s been hanging out with me here. He is a black cat. And he is a total rascal.
Karuna: And he looks frisky as hell.
Michael: He’s very frisky. And he likes to wake me up in the morning by punching me in the face. He’s like it’s time to feed me. But he’s a sweetheart. He likes to cuddle. And we have the same birthday. And he’s named after the famous Buddhist monk, Jason Koppa.
Karuna: Oh, my gosh. How did I never put that together before? I love it. That’s so funny, Michael. So good. All right. So to recap. Oh, wait. Before we recap about your wonderful workshop coming up in mid-October, you can find information at the Mindoasis.org, the 15th of October. You also teach once a week on community meditation. What are your meditation sessions like? What could someone expect if they come to one of your sessions?
Michael: So right now I’m teaching on Thursday mornings. I think it’s at 8:00 Central Time, and that’s 9:00 Eastern Time. The thing that’s so cool about our community meditation practice is you get to come and sit with the same group of folks and sometimes you get some new faces, but you always have this group of familiar faces. And I really love to come together and say what’s going on? What are you facing in your practice? Are you facing a lack of motivation or are you facing your mind’s racing over here? You like what’s coming up lately in your practice? And then I really try to help work that into whatever the practice of the day is going to be, is to really address those things that are coming up. And sometimes if we’re not working on any of those things specifically, I’ll actually use the astrology of the day to generate our practice.
Karuna: So I know your session is really popular and I think that’s part of it. Plus, you have a great voice and you have a wonderful cadence and all that good stuff. So before we wrap up, because it’s Tea, Talk, and Truth, I typically make sure that we hit tea. I personally had coffee. Did you have anything? Tea or water.
Michael: I have some water here.
Karuna: Ok, so we got through the tea, but yours is water and mine is coffee, it’s the emptiness of the tea and then we definitely did the talk too. We got through the talk and all of the wonderful astrology and spiritual paths and and Jason Koppa, I can’t believe I never put it together. That thought is a riff on Jason Koppa. I love it. So finally, we have to wrap up with your truth. So what is your truth? And you can answer it in any way, shape or form you like. What is your truth, Michael?
Michael: That’s one of those things you can think about for a long time. One of the most powerful truths that I have been living my way into and understanding deeper every day is that it’s hard for us to ask for help. But on this planet, that’s what we’re here to do, we got to ask for help. We got to recognize when it shows up. That’s the other hard thing to do. And then also recognize that we are the help and remember that people who are hurting, we can have compassion for them and recognize that leads to more hurting and we can have compassion for that not let that trigger us to then further that hurting, we can be the point that stops it and say, no, I’m going to approach this situation from a healed place and I’m going to shift this. Because healing will create more healing, Hurtfulness will create more hurt, and so we really have that choice where we can stop and say I have a choice, do I want to be hurt or healed here and move forward, act accordingly?
Karuna: I love it, the access point of healing, I sort of feel like I want to give you like an amen to that brother because healing really is where it’s at.
Michael: Yeah. And I want to give an amen to one of my teachers, Jenna Chessani, because that is a lesson that I learned from her for sure.
Karuna: Yes, she’s a bright light and we are so fortunate to have her as a part of Mind Oasis.
Michael: Yes, absolutely. She’s incredible It’s a really cool community that is here and that is here and everywhere. And then we get to not only have these just beautiful, amazing teachers to learn from each other, but we have this community that comes together and just holds the energy of this. It’s something special happening for sure.
Karuna: Thanks, Michael. I have to tell you, I’m going to echo that a little bit. This I don’t know. Last night I was just really feeling it. We have a fire that’s burning very close to my home. It’s not threatening to my home. As the crow flies, it’s 40 miles, which is actually quite a ways away in the mountains. It’s an hour and a half drive to get there, but it’s at the Shambhala Mountain Retreat Center, which, of course, is where precious relics are. And when I went to that stupa the first time, you kind of walked down a path and I came around like a forest grove and looked up and I spontaneously like my knees buckled and I just burst out into tears and I feel like it’s the first time in my life where I had this really authentic prostration that was undeniably not Karuna, but instead this energy within me. So when I received notice last night that this fire we don’t know if it’s affected the stupa yet, but has affected that land in that retreat center, it was really hard to feel anything other than despair. Like I just felt like gosh 2020 has been hard and now this beautiful place that is the first connection of a prostration beyond the person I call Karuna, my heart just hurt. And so I started an email to the people this past week who have come to my community meditation sessions. And I just said it’s tough right now. I need you to please come to my Sunday morning session, even if that’s not when you typically practice and like 15 people came today or something like that. And it just felt so good to have 30 minutes together. We meditated on rain. Yeah. And I was thinking about it and start to rip anyone else. Like, I know that there’s good apps out there, but I was like, damn, that’s what mindoasis is about. It’s about the fire and being able to reach out to humans that I know and to have them show up for each other. I’m so happy you’re a part of our community, Michael, and I’m so excited for your workshop. What’s it called again? Astrology and spiritual path. I will be there with bells on. I can’t wait. My personal reading of my birth chart was like twenty years of therapy in two hours while it explained a lot about who I am and about reasons why maybe as a child I didn’t quite fit in or why I felt ways that I felt it was it was really healing for me as well.
Michael: Yeah, it’s super powerful stuff for sure. It sounds like you got a good one.
Karuna: Yeah. Well, Michael, thank you so much for joining us and have a great rest of your day.
Michael: Thanks Karuna.
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