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Shiva Rea: Labyrinths and Cowrys

On a beach in Costa Rica, a trail of shells leads to a journey of insight.

On the morning of my winter solstice retreat in 2011 in Nosara, Costa Rica, I woke up with unusually clear direction: “Collect 108 cowry shells.” This seemed an impossible task, as before, in all my many travels, I had collected only a small number of cowry shells—less than a handful. I had found a precious few in Bali, Brazil, Kerala, and Nosara, where I have made a pilgrimage for the past few years, and I had found another few during New Year’s visits to Costa Rica in a magical place that is a sanctuary for nesting turtles.I began my morning with a long ritual walk on the beach, a time for reflection. I walked for three hours.Between the ebb and flow of the waves, every few steps I found cowry shells. It was as if they had been strewn along a magic trail. Each shell was empty of its former inhabitant, and each seemed to me like a tiny yoni, a symbol of woman’s creative power. After the walk I had more than 108 cowry shells. I put them all in a case I had bought in Bali as a place to gather offerings.On the long walk back, I came upon a local artist creating a large labyrinth on the beach, an ancient p …

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