When I was a young child, about 7 or 8 years old, I would have recurring dreams about a rapidly upward-rising energy lifting me up… only to then crash heavily back down to the floor. When I started exploring the deeper practices of yoga as an adult, these dreams returned. Only I wouldn’t crash. Instead, I would blast through the roof and continue ascending!
I learned as an adult, that in Yoga, this archetypal, ascending energy has the name “Shiva”.
Shiva is Consciousness.
Shiva is Supreme Reality.
Shiva is The Big Mystery.
Shiva is luminosity.
Shiva is the evolutionary energy.
Shiva is the power behind your awareness.
And "Shiva" transcends all your categories.
Many yogi(ni)s are familiar with the symbolic images of Shiva as a blue skinned, long-haired deity seated in meditation posture. In this form, he is the god of Yoga and its source. But Shiva takes many forms in stories. Man. Woman. Half-man, half woman! Solitary ascetic. Married father. He can bestow joy and happiness. He can be fierce and destructive. He may be an idyllic nature deity surrounded by animals. Or he might be surrounded by a retinue of ghouls, ghosts, and demons. You get the idea: he’s the full spectrum. He takes all shapes and accepts all things for Shiva represents God/Consciousness/Whatever You Want To Call It in the broadest sense of the word.
The popular mantra “Om namah Shiva-ya” first appeared in written form within the context of a larger hymn about 2 000 years ago. Some scholars believe the tradition may go back 7 000 to 10 000 years! There is a literal meaning to the mantra but essentially mantras are primal sounds whose combined resonance creates their powerful effects. Speaking or chanting a mantra allows us to shortcut the analytical and egoic mind to immerse ourselves into a current of primal sound and symbol. Shiva mantras start to open up the resonant field of an essential field of intelligence which is both an aspect of our self and of the Self at the highest level.
So, let's meet Shiva.
Imagine an ocean of light.
Imagine being immersed in this luminosity.
It is above you, below you, on all sides, and it even flows through you.
It is boundless.
It is alive.
It is intelligent.
Shiva is the primordial light of the cosmos, vibrating with consciousness. In meditation this level of presence might begin to open up as a felt sense of inner illumination or as flashes of light and insight.
Shiva as primal awareness is the ground of all being. I used to have a yoga teacher who would say, “Shiva is everything and Shiva is always aware of all aspects of itself at all times.” Within your psyche, Shiva is your Witness Consciousness: the deep, enduring aspect of your being beyond the personal ego. It is the part of you that can observe yourself meditating, working, playing… saying the wrong thing, hurting, falling in love. This deeper awareness allows you to feel more centered, calm, and able to take in the bigger picture of your life without getting too caught up in your personal drama.
Shiva is also the evolutionary intelligence. This includes the ascension of energy up the spinal column, one of the goals of yoga. This may lead you to an increased awareness of the subtle movement of energy within your body. As this aspect of yourself expands and parts of your being open up, you may experience inner sounds, images, or dreams.
You may just gently open with little ado. What I am pointing out is that the potential effects of speaking or chanting a mantra (and meditating) may manifest in a variety of ways: inner lights, sounds, images, dreams, and/or physical sensations, among other things. It’s all just the movement and release of energy. Everyone unfolds differently. But maybe you won’t have to deal with any of these distractions along the way! Just smooth sailing.
After many repetitions, mantras will eventually lead one to a sort of “revelation”: an insight into the Self. Mantras arose within the minds of sages in deep meditation and by chanting or speaking them, it is if we are magnetically drawn back to this state of unified awarenes. We can’t go actively looking for this though. All we can really “do” is release our usual hold on the body and on the mind. Surrender to experience. And there are always the immediate benefits of mantra (and meditation) such as relaxation, calmness, and increased energy.
There’s a lot more to say about “Shiva”. But I’ll just leave you with a few last thoughts: Shiva literally means “Auspiciousness". A lovely, evocative word pointing us towards the mystery of being alive. The deeper practices of yoga focus on awareness, breath, and pure sound to tap into multiple levels of universal energy, all the way back to the Presence behind presence itself: Shiva. Shiva is the light of consciousness, our most enduring sense of self, and the impulse for growth... worth getting to know better, don't you think?
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.