You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.
Thich Nhat Hanh
One night I said a mantra once and a spectacular inner experience began rapidly unfolding. It was as if something grabbed me and pulled me down into the earth herself. I startled in surprise, opened my eyes, and was almost as quickly plunged back into a deep state of consciousness.
Out of this single mantra ("Om shreem Mahalakshmiyei namaha") was released a dynamic play of energies, expressing themselves as multiple forms of universal growth and nurturing. Immersed in the Earth, I felt the musical hums of the soil, water, the alchemical combining into the harmony of new life, and a crescendo of growth as a seedling rapidly thrust upwards, through the soil, towards the sun. There was the sense of teeming, unceasing, unstoppable energy recombining into infinite forms. It was ecstatic. The entire experience felt like an explosion of energy and unfolded like a time lapse video. It lasted, oh, about 2 temporal seconds which is when I was pulled into a profound state resembling sleep. But the echoes have lasted much longer…
Mantras are vast fields of spiritual energy which contain interpenetrating levels of consciousness. When I awoke, I felt like there had been four very distinct resonances within this field. Maybe there were more but I was only capable of attuning to these four at the time. Some quick research clarified things for me. There was Lakshmi, the source of all abundance; Bhumi Devi, the Earth; Sita, the force of fecundity and nurturing; and Tulsi, the Queen of the plants within the Ayurvedic system. Four interconnected Earth energies. Four Earth "Goddesses". I've already blogged about the first two, today I would like to expand on this experience by looking at the latter two and additionally what this meditative experience taught me about mantras.
SITA: THE EMBODIMENT OF NURTURING
An avatar is a Sanskrit word that means "descent, alight, to make one's appearance" and refers to the unmanifest taking form. Sita is considered one of Lakshmi's avatars and the daughter of Bhumi Devi, the Earth.
Sita has been lauded for centuries as the the model wife of the epic story the Ramayana. She is considered a paragon of familial devotion and sacrifice. But Sita precedes this story as an ancient Vedic fertility deity where she is the potency of the Earth, the primordial capacity for growth. Sita literally means “furrow” in reference to the agricultural trenches made by the plow. Over time Sita assumes a more human character until she becomes the heroine of the Ramayana and represents the human embodiment of archetypal feminine qualities.
In brief, baby Sita is found laying in an agricultural field by a King. She is recognized as the daughter of the Earth and also known by the name Bhumija, the daughter of Bhumi. Bhumi specifically refers to "soil". As a young adult, she marries the virtuous Rama and their marital life unfolds filled with challenges. (Maybe you can relate?!) At certain points in their lives, Rama is banished to the forest and she remains by his side; she is kidnapped and when she is returned to him, he suspects infidelity; she undergoes trial by fire and survives unscathed; nonetheless she is banished again and raises her two sons alone becoming the first single mother of mythology. When the children are old enough, she returns them to their father and Rama, overcome with regret, begs her to return. But she's had it. She cries out to Bhumi Devi, the Earth, to take her home. The earth opens and embraced by her mother, she disappears, never to be seen again.
Sita is many things within this story for it can be appreciated on multiple levels. She is, among other things, an extension of the Earth's fertility and abundance. As a human embodiment of the feminine, she epitomizes the qualities of devotion and nurturing. It is not so much that throughout her life she passively devotes herself to her husband but in my own opinion, that she just is true to her own nature, her own Dharma, as an avatar of the feminine capacities of unconditional love, selfless giving, and a holding space for family. Her family duties fulfilled, she then returns to the source of her own feminine empowerment: the Earth.
Sita, as archetype, is an aspect of the human psyche: she is the force or capacity within us that nourishes and nurtures others. She is the mother that cannot stop giving.
TULSI: A FORCE FOR HEALING
Tulsi is another avatar of Lakshmi. Mythology states that Saraswati, in anger, cursed Lakshmi to be reborn as a plant. Vishnu, the preserver deity, consoled her by explaining that this had been predestined: she would be known as Tulasi (Tulsi) and capable of purifying all levels of existence.
Tulsi means "the incomparable one" and is considered to be the Queen of the plants within the Indian Ayurvedic system of healing. Tulsi, otherwise known as Holy Basil, is considered to have almost magical restorative properties and to be a woman’s plant specifically. Within Ayurveda, all natural forms are considered to be the home of universal forces or "deities" and the Tulsi plant is thus worshipped as the embodiment of the Goddess herself.
Tulsi is an embodiment of vitality and abundance in plant form. Additionally, she has the capacity to connect one to her own source energy.
So let's get personal now, shall we? Much of my adult life had been spent feeling disconnected and longing for the natural enviroment of my childhood. My youth was spent climbing trees, wading in streams, and exploring the woods. I felt, as we do in childhood, intimately connected to my surroundings. As an adult I cultivated a love of wandering and travel, which partially arose from a fundamental sense of disconnect from my urban surroundings. What happened that night in meditation basically brought me much of what I felt I lacked in my life. We are offshoots of the irrepressible, abundant creative energy that manifests all forms. I now feel viscerally connected again to a particular channel of this energy but instead of now seeking this connection outside, I can connect to it inside. Certainly brings new meaning to "being grounded" and "feeling rooted"!
MANTRAS CONNECT US TO THE FABRIC OF EXISTENCE
When we chant a mantra we are entering into a resonant luminous field of energies enfolded within the vast interconnected fabric of consciousness. We are yoking our intelligence to a greater intelligence and tapping into specific forces and wisdoms. Certain mantras encode the universal energies and archetypes that manifest as natural forms in nature and our psyches. We can have a visceral experience of their consciousness which can engender a great appreciation for all forms. Of course, mantra is not necessary to attain this but does allow us to connect with said energies and expand them within our own being. Jung introduced us to the concept that visual symbols were powerful keys to forces within the psyche, well, so are sonic symbols.
I loved how this experience was inherently musical. Out of the fundamental vibratory pattern of Lakshmi unfolds the fecundity of the Earth, the healing vitality of plants, and woman as the "soil" for fertility and devotion. Maybe avatars are simply the harmonics unfolding from a fundamental vibration!
To close, such experiences are drawn from teachers and lineages for spiritual "knowledge" is like a river that flows from being to being. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and privileged to have a generous, skilled teacher and to have benefitted from other teachers in the past. Mantras are considered to be empowered by the consciousness of the teacher who gives them to you, thereby creating enhanced opportunity for your own progress. It's up to us to then provide a fertile, nurturing soil for the cultivation of the flowering of own consciousness. It's a phenomenal tradition that nourishes me on a daily basis, care to join me?!
The ancient traditions of yoga provide us with so many tools to expand our awareness and deepen our sense of Self. Join me Monday, Nov. 13th for an evening of Mantra and Meditation hosted by Transitions NDG. More info here.
Fifteen years ago my life changed significantly. I had, what is called in Yoga, a spontaneous Kundalini awakening. I had never done yoga and had absolutely no context for the experiences that started unfolding within me. At that time I didn't even believe in spiritual awakening! Today I would like to share with you some of my experiences, my learnings, and how the deeper practices of Yoga helped in reigning in and expanding this energy.
SO WHAT IS KUNDALINI?
The esoteric goal of all Yogas is the awakening of the primal energy of Kundalini. “Kundal” means coiled in Sanskrit and Kundalini energy is envisaged as a serpent coiled three times around the base of the spine. Hatha yoga practices aim to prepare the body and nervous system for the increased flow of energy that is Kundalini. The goal is to raise Kundalini energy from the base of the spine to the top of the head resulting in the spiritual realization of unified consciousness. Yogic imagery aside, Kundalini is essentially the experience of your unfolding and the means by which you unfold.
MY STORY… IN BRIEF!
About 15 years ago, inspired by a family member who was studying Mindfulness Meditation, I began meditating by myself, for long periods of time. After a number of weeks, one evening I descended into a state of calm, unwavering peacefulness. I intuitively felt afterwards that this meditation had somehow created a deep shift within my being.
It is said that Kundalini can awaken through, among other things, deep meditation, yogic practices, trauma, illness, or Shaktipat: the "descent of grace" through an awakened teacher.
Dreams followed, typical of awakened Kundalini. In one telling dream, I was flying rapidly through an architectural labyrinth as if pulled into its subterranean depths. I arrive at the centre to find a statue similar to the one here on the left. When I see this statue, I am immediately rapidly thrust upwards, up and out, through the roof of the temple. Years later I learned that this statue is a Shiva Lingam and the symbolic representation of the Yogic deity Shiva, the evolutionary aspect of Consciousness. At that time in my life, I had never seen such a thing nor even a picture of one.
THINGS START MOVING!
At this point, life was pretty much still just clicking along, status quo until I decided to join a yoga studio to strengthen my bad back. That's when the spontaneous body movements caused by Kundalini energy flow started. I later learned these are called kriyas. The first time it happened to me, I awoke in the middle of the night to see both my arms fully extended upwards into the air, spiralling gracefully. "How beautiful!”, I thought. My arms responded by falling heavily back onto the bed. Just one thought had muted this deep dancing impulse! The only thing that was different in my life was Yoga and meditation and I was pretty sure they were shaping my life in ways I couldn't have foreseen.
Some people have very intense kriyas and may even find themselves entering into a flow of yoga postures, never having studied yoga. Kriyas are simply the flow of the body's innate intelligence working though energetic obstructions. It is as if one is being given a massage, from the inside out. I continue to have kriyas daily but can easily shut down the experience if I need to ... such as at work, socializing, or just being out and about. Yup, just imagine how your active mind is constantly shutting down these deep instinctual impulses arising within you!
Shortly thereafter I serendipitously came across a book on Kundalini in a bookstore and to my surprise, joy, and well, some skepticism, I now had a context for my experiences. Eager for connection, I then went from urban yoga studio to yoga studio to share my experience and get additional information. My questions to Yoga teachers were met with strange looks, silence, or "Really? Yeah ... I've heard of that". (I know now there are lots of knowledgable yogi/inis within this big city and where to find them. Also times have changed.) I became frustrated and felt lonely and isolated. My husband, while doing his best to be supportive, was even more challenged with this whole scenario. I responded by throwing myself into my Hatha Yoga practice, propelled by this energy actively and viscerally moving inside me and seeing this as my only way through a confusing situation.
In addition to kriyas, awakened Kundalini can manifest in a variety of ways including: spontaneous breathing patterns, breath retention, and muscular locks; the powerful release of emotions; a sense of subtle pulsation or throb within the central channel of the body; expanded intuition and insight. I personally experienced all of these at certain points in time. I also powerfully descended into repressed memories which retriggered intense feelings of sadness and fear. At times I questioned my own mental stability. Not surprising, given that I myself was a community mental health worker providing services to those suffering from chronic depression, mania, and schizophrenia! As if life wasn't already intense enough. And then it got more intense.
The heightened activity in my nervous system was becoming palpable. I began to experience a feeling of electricity throughout my body, dizziness, trouble walking at times, and you could even see the nerves firing rapidly underneath my skin. I basically felt like a Christmas tree: with sensations of electricity in my spine, my head, and nerves jumping throughout my body. The neurologist was rushing tests but prior to getting tested, I went to see a Chinese acupuncturist who cleared up this feeling of excess electricity in one session. "Detoxification" she said. It worked.
Hatha yoga practices seek to fortify and purify the mind/body through asana, breathing practices (pranayama), mantra, and meditation in order to strengthen the “container” for the increased flow of energy that is Kundalini. Individuals are warned to not "awaken" Kundalini forcefully and especially without the guidance of a skilled teacher. Why? Because as Kundalini moves through your system it purifies by releasing obstructions and latent emotional or physical issues. When a Kundalini awakening becomes overwhelming it is referred to as "Kundalini Crisis", "Spiritual Emergency" or "Kundalini Syndrome".
At this point I decided my life needed change and I left my job as a community mental health worker permanently. Within a few months I met a woman who became my teacher for many years. She had trained extensively in India within the Tantric tradition: a broad, complex philosophical system. (Tantra is not necessarily sexual, as we think of it here in the West, but rather harnesses Kundalini energy, which also expresses itself as our sexual energy.) Tantra does not attempt to control Kundalini energy, as in Hatha Yoga, but rather advocates partnering with this innate power within consciousness. As my teacher chastised me one day, "You don't figure out Consciousness, Kara! You surrender to it!" Her own teacher, when asked why the awakenings within their lineage were so sweet, had responded by explaining that Kundalini was not seen as a libidinal force, as in psychology, but instead as the awakening of the Goddess Shakti: a Goddess to be adored and to dance with.
I continued to throw myself into practice. For years, I awoke at 3am and practiced until 7am. It was a very powerful time in my life. My meditations felt as if my head was illumined by a brilliant light. Subtle body experiences continued. When lying in bed, I occasionally would feel as if a layer of my body was detaching from my physical body while remaining attached at the head, and the subtle body would be doing yogic postures around my physical body! And yes, this felt strange!
Currently things feel pretty normal. I no longer live with the intensity of experiences that I used to probably for a few reasons: some purification/release of traumas and emotions has already occurred, I'm a busy almost-full-time single mommy of a 9-year old, and the use of sound, specifically mantra has had a phenomenally powerful, beneficial effect on me. Mantras are considered some of the deeper Yogic practices and can configure our energy in powerful ways. They provide an anchor for meditation. They are calming and of course, science corroborates that deep states of calm can be healing. They have a powerful effect on the body, certain sounds said to correspond to specific points, and can act as a form of "ultrasound". They purify bringing to the surface of our awareness emotions, memories, and images. They simultaneously reconfigure our state, emotions, and the flow of images and thoughts. I continue to release and shift but with much more ease and acceptance now.
And herein is the key. Lawrence Edwards, American psychotherapist and Kundalini expert, points out that the unfolding of Kundalini is really the greater and greater relinquishing of our own will to the Larger Will. For our entire life the will has always been focused on getting what it wants. The challenge with Kundalini awakening is to allow the will to become more transparent to deeper forces. Meaning surrender. To Presence/Consciousness/God whatever you like to call it.
My own personal unfolding has been challenging at times. I lacked context beyond the paradigm of abnormal mental health and let's just say surrender was never my forte. But where my will has served me is that I decided no matter what happened to not give up, to never stop. Why? Because even though my unfolding began with difficulty, I continue to learn about my own being and Being. Because I'm a better person for all these experiences and insights. Because after exploring a few different systems I kept returning to the Yogic system with increased respect and awe. It is a powerful way to work with our body/mind and to tap a rich, meaningful experience of being a human being. It is practical and effective. It is empowering. It is also beautiful. As a student of psychology, I always wanted to learn about the beauty of the Mind only to learn later it is truly about the beauty of the Great Heart. It's been quite a journey. And I feel like it's really just beginning.
“You see, the Kundalini in psychological terms is that which makes you go on the greatest adventures. …It is the quest that makes life livable, and this is Kundalini; this is the divine urge.” — Carl Jung
Kundalini does not cause physical or mental conditions per se but is said to bring these latent imbalances to the surface. If you feel you are experiencing a Kundalini awakening that has become challenging and are having health issues, whether physical or psychological, you need to consult with a doctor or a mental health professional.
Curious about how sound and mantra can beneficially reconfigure your energy and tap deep states of consciousness? Join me Thursday, Oct. 12 from 7-8:30 at Cafe Zephyr in Montreal for a workshop. Cafe only open to participants. $10 donation suggested. More info here.
All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is.
Anything else is sentimental drivel.
That night my meditation ended quite differently.
That night some dark, sad stuff had been arising and there I sat, again, just trying to hold it all. Meditation done, I went to bed. As I was slipping into that liminal state between wakefulness and sleep, something strange started to happen: I felt as if a huge dark cloud was shifting out of my body. It surprisingly took the shape of a large black wolf seated beside me on my bed. “The psyche speaks to us in pictures”, I reminded myself. I took a deep breath and just tried to go with it. The wolf leaned down and started devouring me. As quickly as the experience arose, it dissipated, the pieces breaking up and blowing away. The moment was over and I slipped into sleep.
The next day, I received an email from a friend asking me if I was interested in joining a creative project that has been going on for 29 years every summer in the deep Canadian woods. It’s called The Wolf Project.
The Wolf Project was initiated by Canadian contemporary composer R. Murray Schafer who is well known for promoting the inherent wealth of the natural soundscape. It began as a bit of a creative lab for Schafer along with his singers, production staff, and friends. The basic idea was to return to the source of sound and the source of all, nature, in order to tap primal energy for artistic inspiration and transformation. While half the week is devoted to creating artistic "encounters" and their performances, the focal point is really a ritualistic piece of operatic theatre created by Schafer and company called "And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon".
The basic story: the Great Wheel of Life is imbalanced due to the arrogance of humans. The polar archetypal energies of the Wolf and The Princess of the Stars must be united so harmony can be restored. Wolf rages throughout the world through various incarnations seeking the love of the Princess for healing.
For psychological pioneer Carl Jung, archetypes were instinctual behaviour patterns that became manifest as images, myths, and dreams. These universal patterns, sourced from the collective unconscious, show up in our conscious cloaked in different guises relevant to that particular person, place, and era.
The Wolf, as archetype, is a rich one. It symbolizes, among other things, our instinctual defensive and aggressive natures. From Egyptian to Scandinavian mythology, in fact the world over, the Wolf resurfaces as the embodiment of our primal, protective wildness.
Within the human being, this archetypal energy is sometimes represented as the Hunter. (Who is also a character in “And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon”.) The ancient Yogic tradition has the hunter Rudra who is the Rigvedic God of the Storms. His story is a telling one. Initially nameless, he goes to the depths of the forest and he screams. Brahma, the Creator God, thus names him Rudra, which means “The Howler” in Sanskrit. (The adjectival form “raudra” also means fearsome, awesome, cruel, and violent.) But Rudra’s suffering continues unabated. He weeps inconsolably. His tears summon the purificatory rains and Brahma recognizes him as a Healer. His energies transformed, Brahma bestows Rudra a boon of seven other names, each representing an aspect of his being. Among these names is “Shiva” which means “Blessing” or “Auspiciousness”.
This beneficial, transforming aspect of consciousness is personified within Schafer’s “And the Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon” as The Princess of the Stars. She is drawn from the stories of the Cheyenne and Ojibway people who revere Star Woman, an aspect of the providing Earth. But throughout the ages and across the globe, the star has been a powerful symbol of an archetypal energy within consciousness that guides us, a symbol of our own inner wisdom. In Sanskrit the world for star is “Tara” and is derived from the Sanskrit root 'tAr', signifying protection. Within Yogic mythology, the deity Tara suckles Shiva after he has drunk a poison unleashed from the depths of the Ocean of Consciousness. Her maternal instinct saves him and also restores balance to the world. Within Buddhism, Tara is a female Buddha and the embodiment of compassion.
But these archetypal, instinctual patterns don't just manifest as images of course, they also have sound forms and Tara, as an aspect of Shakti, represents the feminine animating power of the universe and particularly the power of the Word. "She" is the multitude of possibilities and meanings that shine through sound. The Princess of the Stars/Tara/Whatever You Wish to Call "Her" holds the capacity for unification and transcendence through the Word.
At the other end of the spectrum is the capacity for primitive sound to release us from our emotional fetters. Such was the anecdote one of my private students related upon my return from The Wolf Project. Before I had gone away, I had given her a garland of sounds thought to be a powerful method to unblock the throat. “How did it go?” I asked. “Fine. But one day I just wanted to scream and scream. So I did! I hope the neighbours didn’t mind”, she quipped. I smiled to myself for Wolf also represents the primitive power of the voice to release and transform emotions through primal screams, wailing, and guttural sobs.
While I was writing this blog I happened to pick up an old meditation journal from just a few years ago replete with visual sketches and written entries. I would jot down any images, sounds, thoughts, perceptions that arose during meditation or after. The over 500 entries pay testament to the fact that it was a particularly intense period of my life with lots of changes to navigate. There are sketches of vast landscapes, images of destruction, and images of growth. I smiled as I noticed most of them have a star shining on high.
But the very last entry in the journal surprised me: “Dream: A large black wolf enters the room and approaches me. I embrace it.”
Sometimes the storms of our lives are short and intense; sometimes we need to navigate longer cycles of unease and uncomfortable transformation. It’s important to remember there are deep aspects of our being that are often “overseeing” this. The kindness of others surely supports us but most importantly it is our own capacity for self-compassion and acceptance that allows us to integrate our emotions and the more challenging components of our being.
Now despite my esoteric leanings I am essentially a practical gal at heart. So how might we actively work towards transmuting the acute anger and defensiveness which may occasionally threaten to consume us? How do we stop it from destroying our capacity for inner harmony and to be in harmony with others?
Schafer advocated getting out into nature:
Listening to the healing sound of the winds,
The beating rain,
The voices of the waters,
The howling of the wolves.
Nature not only inspires, it informs us in the deepest sense of the word. We can even focus so intently that we attune to the implicate order enfolded within things. Such was the experience of the Rishi(ki)s, the ancient forest-dwelling poet-seers, whose sonic revelations have become the Vedas, India's sacred repository of sound.
These revelatory mantras are thought to arise from the deepest, primordial levels of existence. Within the Yogic system, primal vibration becomes sound waves which combine into complex rhythms and harmonies, resulting in natural patterns and forms. Mantras are considered to be the sound forms of these archetypal vibrations. Short mantras, such as the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, pattern powerful movements of energy and encode elemental properties (earth, air, water, fire, ether). Longer mantras may encapsulate and structure qualities of being and states of personality which correspond to the sonic form of psychological archetypes.
Now mantra is often defined as "a tool that protects the mind". Why? As we start to dive into the depths of the unconscious through meditation, mantra provides us with a sort of protection as we begin to encounter the more primal survival aspects of our being: aspects of the Shadow, the Wolf. Mantric sounds also act as ultrasound, purifying the mind-body, resulting in images, inner sounds, and feelings rising to the level of awareness. Through this process of purification, mantras trigger and align ourselves with latent archetypal fields within the psyche resulting in a sense of harmony. So much so, the master Yogi/ni can become consciously aligned with the unified field.
Arising from universal forces, mantra is the language of nature. Schafer understood this elemental connection between nature, sound, and consciousness. By working with these universal patterns manifesting as myth and music, I believe he sought to transform the fabric of consciousness itself. Healing within and without.
Did I experience healing out in the woods that week? I think I did! Whether I was waist deep in water hauling my canoe over a beaver dam, stringing a tarp over the fire in the driving rain, or marvelling at the meteor showers in the presence of my daughter and heartwarming company, my soul felt fortified. What happens to us if we lose the tenuous threadlike connection we currently have with the natural world? I don't want to imagine. So I think I'll take my kidlet canoeing tomorrow, listen to the loons, and marvel at a sunset. Because essentially, that's what the universal creative force is: the impulse for joy, playfulness, and marvel.
If you are curious about harnessing the power of sound for transformation, I will be giving a short talk and chanting/meditation session Thursday, Oct. 12 from 7-8:30pm at Cafe Zephyr, hosted by Transitions NDG. More info here.
How are we to make mantra relevant and practical for igniting enduring transformational change? Because this is what the tradition promises. Mantras are considered among the deeper ancient Yogic practices. So how do we harness their energy and apply them to our modern lives?
I decided to commit to a traditional 40-day sadhana (daily practice). I thought I would share a little as to how I went about it for those of you new to mantra and those of you who wish to take it a bit deeper.
I’m hoping it makes the esoteric practice of mantra more practical and accessible to you. I’m hoping it might help you organize your practice, while keeping a certain flexibility. And I’m hoping it will catalyze deep shifts in your being, as I believe the tradition continues to do in mine.
1. Choose a mantra. I picked a simple mantra I have used before but not explored in-depth. Most of my teachers have been Shakta or Shaivite teachers, so I picked a Krishna mantra: Om kleem Krishnaya namaha which could translate as, "I surrender to the energy of desire, beauty, and creativity". (To learn the mantra, you can access it in the free "Resource Library" I am creating which you can access immediately by creating a log in and password by clicking on the LOG IN/REGISTER link above.)
2. Establish a structure and stick to it. I chose 40 days. If this seems daunting, try 21 days. Still daunting? How does seven sound? I decided upon 1 hour per day of chanting and meditation. I was loose within this boundary as to how long I chanted and how long I meditated. If you have 20 minutes a day, devote 20 minutes! It doesn't need to be one chunk of time either; you could do 5 minutes here and there for a sum total of 20 minutes. If only 10 total, then so be it.
3. Journal. You may want to have a journal in which you write down any insights, images, feelings that come up for you during this time. No need to analyze things or become fixated on any experience. Allow it all to pass through you. But still, the journal might help in clarifying any insights that come through your practice.
This is what I knew about "Krishna” going into this: I knew there are many Krishnas. There is Krishna the infant, an image of Consciousness manifesting as a baby. There is young adult Krishna, who plays his flute and frolics in an idyllic forest with multiple female lovers. I was most familiar with Krishna the charioteer of the Bhagavad Gita, who imparts lessons on living a dharmic life to Arjuna, a soldier. I also knew that the word Krishna means “Dark”. And that was that! So I began.
I’ll share some journal notes as to how this unfolded for me in meditation over the 40 days:
Day 1. The most brilliant flash of golden light I have ever experienced within my inner vision.
Day 2. Image: I am a passenger in a car, being driven deep into the depths of a forest at night. The car feels like it is on auto-pilot.
Day 3. Image: The Goddess Kali looming towards me, tongue lolling out!
Day 4. An absolutely enormous black bee.
Day 6. The sounds “swa-yam-ba-yu” keep surfacing in my mind after meditation. I have no idea what this means. (OK, I caved in and Googled it. Wikipedia informs me that: “Svayambhu (स्वयम्भू) is a Sanskrit word that means 'self-manifested', 'self-existing', or 'that is created by its own accord' ... Krishna is said to be the self-manifested svayambhu form of Brahman as the first cause of creation”. OK, cool!)
Day 9. A little girl in a tutu spinning and dancing playfully.
Day 15. A baby. A man and a woman kissing passionately. Kali again.
Days 18-20. Nothing.
Day 24. Fear surfacing during meditation.
Day 25. A man lovingly attending to a woman’s feet; there is a black spot on the woman’s toe... Overall a very erotically charged meditation!
Day 28. A hot air balloon.
Day 30. A ceramic cow being painted sky blue.
Day 34. Honey flowing out of a woman's mouth.
And there was more. Some of it was very personal, specific to me, and I have chosen to keep this to myself. Many days there was nothing. But as you can see, you may have images, sounds, lights, physical sensations, or emotions. They may be fleeting. They may be strong. They may be ugly, benign, or captivating. Some of this may be the effect of the sound’s energy, pushing through obstructions within your being, releasing locked up energies. Meaning: some experiences will just be manifestations of your imbalances. Great! Or you may have absolutely no images, sensations, etc. and that’s OK too. (Hey, no imbalances! ... Just joking.) I tend to be very visual, you may not be. Maybe your experience will be more emotional, maybe more tactile. Maybe you will just feel more relaxed and centred. Have no expectations. There is no right or wrong. Just stick with it. Trust yourself and trust the tradition. Mantras “encode” a sort of revelation about Consciousness, which starts to come through with focus and surrender. More importantly, you are creating an energetic shift within your being that allows you to function from a different place. The more it goes, the more you start to embody the energy held in the mantra.
So, back to Krishna. Right from the get-go, I felt as if I was being drawn into the depths of my being. As we descend into our core, through the "psychological forest", we may encounter emotions and pure animal desires along the way. Yet within the field of “Krishna”, they become filtered through the heart, alchemized into a sweet devotional love, which is called “bhakti” in yoga.
This is also the state of Eros or sacred union. From our deepest nature arises desire; desire for deep connection and bonding, not only sexually or in other love relationships, but consciously with the field of love itself. Experiencing both makes our life richer and provides expression for deep, important aspects of our selves.
“Krishna” is this unifying field of love that collapses all polarities... which he also playfully embodies! He is the totality: light and dark, male and female, spiritual and physical. While Shiva embodies the whole yet is transcendent, Krishna is more present, immanent, and relatable. The counterpart to his sublime form is Kali, dark mother Goddess, who may appear when it is time to liberate some internal obstacles. Just as Krishna integrates the darkness of life, "he" incorporates the fullness of the Feminine. His beloved Radha, a passionate young woman, is considered integral to his being. Their divine relational play, or "Lila", is the interplay of all universal energies.
Krishna is thus the ecstatic creative aspect of being, whether expressed in ourselves as the universal urge for procreation or expressed as the artist/musician becoming an instrument of the creative will. Prior to this sadhana I had known nothing of Krishna's relationship with bees; I confirmed it later. Vrindavan, the idyllic forest where Krishna abides, is said to pulsate with a black radiance from the swarms of black honeybees. Krishna himself is associated with these bees, their honey being symbolic of the golden flow of sacred wisdom: the goal of all Yogas.
And on a more practical daily level?
Krishna is the experience of the wide-open heart. I remember one teacher saying in exasperation, “You don’t need to keep protecting your heart. When your heart is open, it protects you!” When your heart, not your head, is driving, you are more able to skilfully navigate whatever is arising in your outer life.
When you are operating from the heart you also experience a felt sense of being “in” love, independent of any other person; a good place to tap into whether you have a significant other or whether you don't. Take responsibility for your own state!
And Lila. My daughter's name is Lila which, as mentioned above, means “The Play of the Universe”. I thought of her greeting me one morning with, “Four is really fun, mom. How four years old can you be today?” And I remember her leaping about in a sparkling lake, hollering, "Come dance with me in the waves, mom! Can’t you hear them singing to us?”
This is "Krishna": spontaneous, pure, playful. Loving. Heart wide open. Connected. It is the abode of the child. The refuge of the ardent lover. And the realm of the poet or musician who resonates with the energetic dance.
Ready for the dance? What will be revealed? Life is living itself through you, as you. Step into the Heart and be embraced by life's sweetness.
There's a lot more to say about Krishna! If you would like a little more, I have added the mantra with context, pronunciation, and sound file to the free "Resource Library" which you can access immediately by creating a log in and password by clicking on the LOG IN/REGISTER link above.
There will be workshop on Monday, August 7 from 7-8:30pm at Cafe Zephyr in NDG, hosted by Transitions NDG. They are great people working for positive change, both outer and inner! Suggested $10 donation. More info here.
Krishna painting image: Wikimedia
Krishna forest statue: Wikimedia
A yogi/ni strives for physical and mental balance. Not just to maintain a sense of inner peace but because it is believed in yoga that mental waves vibrate and radiate out into the subtle atmosphere. Thoughts are considered imperishable because energy can never be destroyed, only transformed. Gulp. Now that’s a daunting thought!
The above photo sits on my bookcase. It's is a photo I took years ago travelling in the Yukon. This image makes me think, "As above, so below" to which I sometimes add, "As on the inside, so on the outside". I look at it often because it reminds me to be calm and inspires a state of serenity I wish I could sustain.
Luckily for me I also have a hypersensitive young child who seems directly plugged into my inner state. She has an uncanny way of knowing what I’m thinking and feeling, and exhibits great talent for mirroring it all back to me. She helps me keep my act clean. Thank God for intimate relationships! They propel us towards growth like nothing else can—even more than those attempts to "get away from it all"!
Our thoughts are dynamic forces. They create our inner life and stimulate resonant experiences in our outer life. We all know this to some degree but this was really driven home once when I was away on a retreat.
Some years ago now, I went to a yoga centre for a five-day retreat in which a high-ranking Tibetan monk chanted mantras many hours a day while we participants laid on the floor, snuggled up in our blankets and cushions. There were occasional drums, horns, and bells punctuating the chanting. I loved it! I surfed in and out of deep states of consciousness, released blockages in my body/mind, and felt both relaxed and elated when it was over.
On the last morning, participants were doing the usual rounds saying their good-byes. I was quiet, not wishing to ruin the state I was in by interacting with others. My mind was immersed in a beautiful state of stillness. As I folded up my mat and put away my blankets, I noticed the monk’s young male assistant across the large room and in that moment an innocent thought leapt forth, “He’s cute!” He immediately turned around, smiled at me, and started walking towards me purposefully. I jumped, turned around, and hightailed it out through the nearest door!
I scurried down the hall, my sense of beautiful stillness completely disturbed. Now I felt like … hmmm… a stew cooking on the stove. (Ok, it’s not a great metaphor but it’s the only one I can come up with!) Feelings, thoughts, and emotions of different densities, weights, and sizes seemed to be cooking at different speeds, floating at different levels, and moving at different rhythms within my body/mind. I was acutely and viscerally aware of a mélange of energies that were usually below my radar. In short, I felt pretty weird.
Without going into the details, the day more or less continued in this manner. This state of hyper-awareness wore off within about 24 hours though and I was back to good ol’ mostly unconscious. It felt much more comfortable.
I’ve had a few similar situations since in retreat settings where the fabric of the moment becomes so tightly woven. It only happens under the energetic wings of an auspicious master teacher. A few "lessons learned" were much less quaint than my cute guy story.
Needless to say, I do not live in that profound state of connection and unity in my regular, daily life. As a householder, a mother, and an employee my days are busy. So is my mind. But those experiences changed me.
Your thoughts, attitudes, and emotions are Shakti.
Shakti means power.
How are you using this power?
What are you doing to yourself?
And what might you be doing unconsciously to those around you?
There are a variety of yogic techniques to shift our mental states including asanas, pranayama, and meditation. And of course, mindfulness techniques derived from the Buddhist traditions are increasingly popular. But mantra is the classic yogic tool to refine the mind.
The mind is based on words, which are based on sound vibrations, that sustain particular images, emotions, and feelings. Mantras tap into beneficial archetypal energies latent within our being and also align ourselves with these same archetypal structures outside of our being. By shifting the prevailing vibratory pattern through the use of mantra we can dissolve or transform negative thinking habits. Japa, mantra repetition, not only reigns in the conscious mind through the use of a mental anchor, mantras also work on the subconscious level as well. While affirmations have become the rage in conjunction with positive psychology, mantras are different. Instead of starting at the level of the conscious and through repetition working an affirmation into the unconscious, mantras are drawn from the deepest levels of Consciousness itself.
So on a practical note:
And take a good look at your life. How might you be sustaining situations through internal negative thought patterns and harmful emotions? Your thoughts are creative, whether you are aware of it or not. Luckily a yoga of sound provides us with methods to make deep and enduring changes in our psyches to promote harmony, both inner and outer.
I have been having great success teaching private sessions virtually. For this month only I will be offering 20% off 20-minute sessions, which are normally $25 dollars. Go to Private Sessions here on my website and enter the coupon code "mantrayoga". Then contact me in the form provided and we'll schedule a session.
I will be part of a summer solstice celebration on Thursday, June 22 hosted by Transition NDG at art space, Meteque. Learn traditional mantras to the Sun to energize an inner sense of radiance and illumination. More details will be up soon on the Events page.
I make it a priority to meditate and do other deeper yogic practices daily. It's not easy. Trust me, my life is busy. But as busy as life gets, I make it happen.
Now why would I prioritize this? I have my social life, I love travel, the outdoors, and the arts. Isn't that enough? Why would I want to commit to a spiritual practice? Well, this is what immediately comes to my mind:
Let me quickly tell you a little story, that for me, exemplifies the challenges of integrating the mystical into daily life. Many years ago, my bad back had landed me in a yoga studio. I started off as a die-hard rational gal not at all interested in the spiritual aspects of yoga. After a few months I attended my first intensive weekend workshop with a visiting teacher. At this particular workshop we did yoga postures and I was introduced to Sanskrit chanting. I had studied classical singing for years so I particularly loved this relaxing, meditative approach.
At home the next day I sat and chanted and chanted. I finally stopped and just sat with my awareness focused on my breath. And then this experience started unfolding within me. I started to feel like I was falling. I felt like I was falling storeys and storeys downwards within myself. As the sensation intensified and fear began mounting, something inside me told me to stay with it and I managed to maintain my focus pinned to the breath. Suddenly I felt my awareness “land” (thump!) in the pit of my belly. I breathed a sigh of relief… only to find my energy now beginning to expand outwards across the horizontal plane. I was beginning to feel like I was huge. Like I was miles wide. Again, the energy seemed to reached its limit and then rested… I breathed another sigh of relief. At which point a tone started emitting from my heart center.
The volume began steadily increasing.
It was becoming deafening.
I was swimming in sound waves.
I felt like my entire physical body was breaking down into sound.
Suddenly an image exploded from my heart center in an outpouring of light and as it began rapidly expanding…
my partner at the time happily burst into the apartment hollering, “Hey, babe! What’d you make for supper?!” The entire experience, sensation, image, light, and sound, rapidly collapsed back into a single point and I was left sitting stunned on my living room cushion.
“Spaghetti”, I managed to gasp.
And so it has gone ever since: the struggle to balance a dynamic inner life with my outer life. Balancing the mystical with the mundane: work deadlines, laundry, school lunches. Social obligations. Family obligations!
Motherhood does certainly pose it’s own particular set of challenges to creating the time and space to consistently tap a deeper level of consciousness. Meditate with your baby? Do yoga with your baby? Great gig if you can get it; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It especially might not work if you’ve just tried to sleep sitting upright for 3 nights in a row cradling a croupy, choking infant. And then one day, you find yourself a single parent and suddenly time seems even more precious.
Of course, you don’t need to be a parent to feel overloaded. Shift work. Multiple jobs. Long commute. Whatever. Few of us have the luxury of time as we struggle to juggle the multiple demands of our fast-paced, demanding lives.
Not only are we too busy, our culture just doesn’t seem to value the mystical. It’s “flakey”. “Out there”. And my personal favourite: “It’s ‘woo woo’ ”. Which points to another issue: we even lack vocabulary and context for deep states of consciousness and genuine spiritual experiences.
So how to balance the mystical with the mundane? This is what I have found works for me:
So maybe I can summarize all this with just: be consistent and be kind to yourself!
Spiritual practice can deepen our sense of Self, heal an inner sense of fragmentation, and align our disparate energies. Not only will this affect us, it will spiral out, affecting our loved ones too. It's worth it, even if it is a challenge. Almost everything depends on our inner state.
Just to add, not everyone has strong experiences when they meditate, do yoga, or mantra and neither is it necessarily desirable. At that point in my life when I began Yoga, maybe I had just allowed myself to get too small. Yoga is about connection. If you neglect your deeper sense of self you start to whither. Pieces of yourself become fragmented, splinter off, become harder and harder to access. It happens so slowly and insidiously you might not even realize it. You become tired. Energy is limited. Time to go on another trip? Take another training? Doing so might just be a bit of a quick fix when what you really need to do is rest … in your Self … and allow it to expand and assume its proper dimensions.
Join me Sunday of the May long weekend to learn mantras to draw yourself into deep meditative states. There will be a one-hour workshop at Yoga on the Park in NDG. More info here.
There will also be a mantra and chanting session from 7-8:30pm at Cafe Zephyr in NDG on Monday, May 22. The cafe will only be open to participants. Transitions NDG will be hosting this. They are a cool, lovely group of people! More info here. To register beforehand: email@example.com.
If you are interested in free resources on mantra, just go to "Log In/Register" on the upper menu and create a user name and password for yourself. You will have immediate access. I will add to these monthly. You may also wish to "Like" my Facebook page to be updated on new resources.
You meditate, do yoga, or other practices not only to relax and for physical health but to transform your own consciousness, right? To become a better person, to show up more fully in your life, to be more present for those you care about, and to deal more skilfully with those that are difficult to care about.
While physical yoga creates a resilient body, mantra creates a resilient mind. The mantric tradition is meant to take you beyond the constraints of what is psychologically binding you to ordinary states of consciousness: to insecurity, to fear, to pride. Through mantra we awaken to spiritual fields of energy and in doing so restructure our sense of self! Mantra allows us to open up latent aspects of our consciousness by “purifying” through sound: liberating some obstructions (maybe the energies around some memories, habits, patterns) or just stimulating more resilient structures from which the self can better function. Structures which are thought to be the archetypal forms of consciousness. Imagine consciously cultivating and expanding inner qualities such as discrimination, strength, and fearlessness!
Meet the field of archetypal energy called “Durga”. Durga is complex. She is Adi Shakti: primal, boundless energy. Her name in Sanskrit suggests "Fortress" or "The Inaccessible One". As a deity, she’s sort of fertility goddess meets warrior princess meets maternal saviouress. In fact, she’s even more than that. In many Yogic tales, she is the source of all other Gods and Goddesses. We recently explored this energy, among others, in a "Sound and Meditation for Centering Workshop" at Yoga on the Park.
There are a number of stories about Durga and in most of them she is a demon slayer par excellence. In one such story, Mahisha, half man, half buffalo, has unleashed mass destruction upon the earth. The gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva feel helpless so they release their energies back to the primordial source. Their forces coalesce into the radiant brilliance that is Durga.
She has 1 000 arms.
She wields multiple weapons of light from the gods.
She rides a lion.
She single-handedly (or many-handedly, I should say!) destroys Mahisha's army and then engages him in a battle that lasts thousands of years. Mahisha rages, shape shifting from a buffalo, to a lion, to an elephant, and back to a buffalo. She finally pins him down with Shiva’s trident at which point their eyes lock. He is released from the buffalo’s body as a hero wielding a sword but too late, she beheads him.
I really wasn't very familiar with such stories when I started to explore this energy. The mantra is "Om dum Durgayei namaha", "dum" being the seed sound (bija) for this entire field of energy. After weeks of evening practice, one night my chanting came to an end and I shifted into quietness to meditate. As I did, “Durga” opened up inside of me. I startled in surprise as the experience expanded because it felt so… other. It just didn’t feel like “me”.
I felt as if there was a seal around my body, concentrating energy inside of me.
I felt like a container for a pathway of brilliant light.
But my mind! My mind felt luminous, clear, and “sharp”.
Since ancient times, Durga has been considered to be the archetypal energy within consciousness that overcomes negative forces. She is the clarity of the discriminating mind connected to the intuitive heart. Durga is the energy that tames the lower instincts and transmutes their energies, fuelling discernment and lucidity. She is the aspect of yourself that protects you. And she is the force within Being-ness that restores equilibrium.
Mahisha, which means “buffalo” in Sanskrit, represents the primitive instinctual energies and corresponding egoic obstacles to wholeness and happiness … including anger, fear, and laziness. Possibly you are familiar with some of these? Like our own egos, he actively twists himself into a variety of distorted shapes. If you have a child, you watch this lovingly unfold on a daily basis as one psychological defense mechanism transforms into another in an effort to maintain some semblance of “face”. (“A giant spider made the mess on the wall!... Uh no, um, it was you mom!”) With the adults in your life, these defense mechanisms can sometimes be a little less endearing.
On a much deeper level, Mahisha is the supreme embodiment of the force of destruction for the buffalo is often associated with death itself. So this battle is more than just about good over bad and re-establishing balance, it's ultimately about unifying all facets of consciousness. Durga is also known as Mahavidya or Great Knowledge. Before Mahisha dies, he has a clear vision of infinite awareness beyond his own limited perceptions. The penetrating light of Durga's gaze causes Mahisha to revert back to his true form, that of a hero with a sword (a symbol of natural order and truth). In that moment he transcends his small sense of self, symbolized by losing his head.
The yogic path, beyond the benefits of physical relaxation and wellbeing, is meant to bring up our "stuff" in order to liberate a pathway for expanded consciousness. Sometimes it might feel like a bit of a battlefield! When we are faced with our own "demons" (angers, fears, uncontrollable desires), it's best to bring out our best weapons. And herein lies the power of the mantric tradition: by tapping into these sounds we bring to life latent creative structures within our own consciousness. Structures which expand the sense of a strong center, deeper than most chaotic, disorganized states we may get ourself into. As we work with “Durga”, we step into the experience of the Self behind the self: the active dynamism of the light of Consciousness. It is a felt sense of openness, lucidity, and awareness as the ultimate source of power. And this is why Durga is often portrayed with one hand in Abhaya mudra: the gesture that communicates, "Have no fear".
Would you like to learn more about Durga? If so, you can sign up to access a library of free resources I am creating including additional insights and how to pronounce the mantra. Simply go to the menu at the top of this page, click "LOG IN/REGISTER" and create a password. You'll have access immediately. I'll be adding resources monthly!
If you would like to go deeper still, I am available for private sessions. Find out more here.
Come experience firsthand! I've been leading monthly mantra and meditation sessions at Yoga on the Park in NDG. Discover how mantra refines your consciousness and leads into deep states of meditative absorption. The next workshop is Sunday, May 21 from 1:30-2:30. Information here. There will be another chanting and brief meditation session at Cafe Zephyr hosted by Transitions NDG on Monday, May 22 from 7-8:30pm. Info here.
1. Photo of Durga Puja (Durga standing on buffalo head):
Author: VedSutra, Source: http://vedsutra.com/media
2. Photo of Simhavahini Durga image Mysore:
Photographer: Christopher J. Fynn
In Yoga, the Feminine is considered to be the vibratory, dynamic force that creates the universe. This force is called Shakti. Shakti means “Power”.
Certain yogic traditions compare Shakti to a cosmic dancer or suggest the cosmos is her dance. I once had a teacher who suggested I partner with the Shakti within my own body and dance with her.
What exactly does this mean? What would this entail? How do we dance with the force that creates the cosmos and our bodies? And what will happen to us if we do?!
First, let’s just get a hold on the concept of Shakti. As mentioned, Shakti is the divine feminine and the kinetic force that drives creation. Shiva is the name for the divine masculine principle of transcendent awareness, the Witness of the cosmic dance. These are metaphysical principles, of course, transcending gender. The energies of Shiva and Shakti are present in both males and females. But the Yogic tradition, as with many other mystical traditions (and depth psychology) conceptualizes the Universe as an interplay of opposing forces: spirit and matter, masculine and feminine.
Ready to meet Shakti?
First, imagine Shiva as an ocean of silent, effervescent light.
Imagine suddenly a wave of energy begins to move across it.
Imagine simultaneously an eruption of crystalline, playful laughter
which creates endless ripples of energy,
ripples that begin to ricochet off each other,
creating more waves, ripples,
and spiralling vortexes of energy
which eventually become all forms.
Shiva and Shakti. The light of awareness and ecstatic vibration.
Light and sound at play in sheer delight and joyous creativity.
Our entire world and field of experience arises out of subtle vibration and sound. The movement of Shakti encompasses everything from black holes to the energy that fuels our beating heart. Shakti is the life force pushing up the vegetation that we eat, to the energy behind our thoughts. Shakti is the hurricane hurtling across the ocean’s surface, to the flow of creative inspiration that moves the dancer, musician, and poet.
“She” goes by many names depending on the particular school of thought. She is “Maya” (Illusion) the force that veils a deeper unity with a multiplicity of forms. She is “Prakriti”, the material universe. She is also known as Devi, the Mother Goddess, who births a variety of secondary female energies out of her primal matrix including, among others:
So how does this apply to us on a practical level? Well, because you can attune to the variety of frequencies of Shakti vibrating in different forms and experiences. By first attuning to the subtle world of vibration, you can then go deeper, sinking into the field of resonant stillness. And ultimately the Yogic goal is to even transcend this, attaining the formless state of Samadhi.
How to do this? This can mean being attentive to the felt sense of energy humming in the natural world. I remembering reading about a Hawaiian Kahuna who one day sat beside a bubbling brook only to follow the sound of the water back to the source of sound itself.
We can also attend to the energy of our thoughts. I had a teacher who would often suggest tapping into the felt sense of emotion that would arise with self-talk or emotional experiences … and then dropping the story, laying bare the energy pulsating underneath it. Or it can also be helpful to view all meditative phenomena (lights, visions, movements, inner sounds) as Shakti, the movement of energy, thereby avoiding becoming fixated on any experience and getting “stuck”.
We can also attend to the throb of energy within the body, surrendering to it and letting energy guide us. This might mean loosening your approach to meditation by engaging in dance or movement beforehand or by allowing your body to sway rhythmically in meditation until you naturally arrive at stillness. It means being a bit more playful.
“She” is also the creative power of the word and known as the goddess Vāk. Harnessing the power of sacred speech is another way to dance with her. The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet themselves are called “Shaktis” (powers). They are also called the Matrikas (same root as “matrix) or the “little mothers” which birth all forms. By chanting mantras you resonate with beneficial, primordial energies that can balance your system, release obstructions, and expand your sense of self.
So, as you can see, there are many ways to work with and dance with Shakti.
Or you can just fall in love. In fact, love and desire are considered one of the highest, more subtle forms of Shakti and within the Tantric tradition are personified as the goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari. Lalita means "She Who Plays" and comes from a root word meaning “spontaneous”. Tripura means “of the three cities” and is a reference to the human being. Sundari means "beauty". Adi Shankaracharya, an ancient yogic philosopher, wrote a famous poem to Shakti called Sri Sundari Lahiri, which means Waves of Beauty.
When I say you can just fall in love, I don’t mean necessarily with one person... or an idea, or some beautiful place or whatever else we typically chase after and fixate on in our external life. This is fine as long as you recognize the source of joy is actually the throb of Shakti herself. What I mean is falling in love with it all. Beauty and ecstasy are the underlying energies of all existence. The yogic path invites you and helps you to attune to these waves of beauty. In doing so, you just might consciously become the dance itself.
Intrigued? Join me March 19th from 1:30 to 2:30 at Yoga on the Park as we continue to explore different mantras as doorways to meditation. You can register here.
You’ve heard about the multiple benefits of meditation: diminished stress, increased energy, reduced depression, plus potential benefits for the likes of pain, insomnia, immune function, and creativity among other things. Meditation has become popular. Meditation has become, dare I say it, hip. This is a good thing!
But what comprises meditation… really? Is it emptying the mind? Concentrating the mind? Is it that flow state wherein painting, jogging, and gardening, if done in the proper “mindset”, constitute meditating? How is Sufi spinning meditation? And what about certain types of repetitive prayer?
Meditation encompasses all of these because meditation is somewhat difficult to pin down. Different cultures have developed different methods to achieve different goals during different times in history. Some of these goals include: vibrant health, equanimity, compassion, Nirvana (the elimination of the Ego), and Samadhi or Unity Consciousness. The method of meditation determines the outcome.
According to the Indian yogic tradition, meditation is called dhyana and the goal is Samadhi, which is realization of the individual self and of the universal Self. Dhyana is achieved by sustaining dharana, concentration, on a meditative object. By concentrating on a meditative object you eventually stop associating with your fleeting thoughts ("Don't forget to pay that bill”, “I can’t believe he did that to me”). You become increasingly aware of the deeper stratum of awareness beyond thought. In some traditions, this is called the Observer or Witness Consciousness but eventually this too dissolves back into a state of unified consciousness.
There are basically three typical “objects” or anchors that facilitate meditation. You can focus your awareness on:
1. A kinesthetic sense of the body and/or the breath;
2. Images whether external, like a flame, or an internally generated image, such as a "deity"; and
3. My personal favourite, a mantra.
Mantra recitation is called japa, which means “ to mutter”, and involves the repetition of Sanskrit words or short phrases. Silent, internal recitation is considered the most powerful but beginners are advised to recite mantras aloud to enhance focus. You can chant certain mantras. You can speak them. You can whisper them. Eventually you recite the mantra internally. You can do all of these and you can mix it up a little if needed. When it feels natural, you succumb to the inward pull and you just rest there… in silence… until thoughts become compelling, which is when you reintroduce your anchor.
Mantras harness the inherent energy of Sanskrit sounds considered to be the archetypal, primal sounds of the universe. These sounds arose within the minds of sages in deep meditation and are thought to emerge from the deepest (or highest!) levels of Consciousness. So what makes mantra so powerful is that the process embodies the ultimate goal.
The effects of meditating are many and varied but I have found mantra offers particular benefits:
As I was writing this, I asked myself why I meditate. I was a surprised at the answer that leapt forth: “Because I love myself”. Well! I meditate because I want to honour and embrace my inner field of experience: bliss, fear, boredom, love, anger, sadness, peace, joy. Paradoxically, I also meditate because I want to go beyond my inner world of fears, desires, and thoughts to something more subtle yet enduring.
Meditating with a group is an important and powerful way to begin your meditation practice. It reinforces your resolve and sense of discipline. Chanting or reciting together generates a strong field of entrainment and synergy to jump start your practice. Grounding yourself within a tradition supports you and guides you.
Mantra is one of the most ancient spiritual practices and considered to be the source of Yoga as we know it in the West. Mantra is an invitation and a doorway into deeper consciousness. Step in and meet your Self.
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.