Illumination

One of my favourite Vedic mantras is the Jyotir Mantra. I like that it is short and sweet, but its meaning has so much depth.

OM ASATO MA SAT GAMAYA

TAMASO MA JYOTIR GAMAYA

MRITYOR MA AMRITAM GAMAYA

In Sanskrit it has a beautiful vibration to it; in English it means:

LEAD ME FROM THE UNREAL TO THE REAL,

LEAD ME FROM THE DARKNESS TO THE LIGHT,

LEAD ME FROM DEATH TO IMMORTALITY.

This mantra totally sums up my time here in India. I felt so drawn to this place when I first began to plan over a year ago…something was leading me here to show me the “truth” about myself. Gazing inward is not an easy task; there are things we don’t want to see in ourselves or things we’ve been trying to push way down hoping we don’t ever have to deal with the pain again. But there are also wonderful things we never imagined in ourselves that can rise to the surface and blossom. Being REAL is allowing it all – the depth of feeling that can take us from sadness or grief to great joy and bliss.

I recall reading a particular translation of the Yoga Sutras where there was often a reference to an “illumined one”. I love this – it makes me visualize a light bulb over one’s head or a glow from one’s heart center. Lead me from my OWN darkness into my OWN light; let me hold up the mirror, wipe it clean, and really see my spark. Let me be that “illumined one”…Because when I can see the light in me, it helps me to see it in everyone else. Maybe this sounds all new-agey and “holy moly”…but seeing the light in others will help me on those days when I’m stuck behind a person at the bank machine who is slowly paying ALL her bills, or when I’m running late and the guy driving in front of me is going too slow, or when my son leaves Kraft Dinner in the pot to solidify overnight, or when my flight is delayed…

From death to immortality…hmmm. For me this is not about reincarnation or about “living” forever. It is about being okay with not being here. One of our guests, Yogi Ram, said it quite beautifully – “living life is about learning how to die”. In my last breath, I want to be able to surrender just the way I did when I had my kundalini moment – no fear, no regrets, no attachments. So if I have no idea when my last breath will be, I better make darn sure that every breath I take is filled with love, gratitude, and awareness, even if that breath is not an easy one to take. Not wasting time on the stupid stuff, not expending unnecessary energy on judgement or criticism or negativity, not wishing things were different. As an anonymous person wrote: “It’s okay to be gone, as long as when you’re here, you are really here”. That’s what makes the memory of YOU immortal…

So as I prepare to return to my own backyard, I silently re-play this mantra in my head as a reminder. Wherever my backyard is, I plan to truly BE there. To my family and friends, help me BE that light and hold up the mirror when I forget.

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The New Old Me

Oh sweet transformation…revelling in the blissful feeling of contentment and joy. Every day I’ve been feeling grateful and happy, and living in the moment. No, I am not walking around “in a cloud of patchouli” (as one of my teachers would say), nor have I traded my jeans for a crimson robe. While I chant mantras daily and welcome the expansive feeling of spiritual energy in my practice, I still crave a good latte and long for a pedicure. I still have my moments of frustration, impatience, and anger, but I have some new tools to help me manage them.

The “new” part of me is the happier, more aware self who knows without a doubt that I am worthy, I am valuable, I am love, and I have a voice. The “old” part of me was always just that…only I didn’t really see it. It was covered up by layers of doubt, guilt, attachment, and belief that I “should” do/be/act in a certain way. This experience in India has allowed me to peel away these layers to reveal that which was already there…

This will be a work-in-progress and many more layers will need to be shed. I realize I am living in a totally different environment at the moment than my “real” life. How will I be when I am back at my desk, when I’m in the packed grocery store line-up, when I’m doing piles of laundry? Is it possible to live an authentic life in our crazy egocentric “do more – achieve more” western world? Even the ancient yogis had advice on that without having a clue just how crazy the world would be…The Bhagavad Gita teaches that it IS possible to lead a spiritual life AND do your work in the world. Through love, right action, and letting go of the outcomes, we can make it. That is so encouraging to me…

Before I left, my sister said, “Don’t come back all weird…” Not to worry – it will be the new old me heading home, with a big smile and an even bigger heart.

Into the Mystic?

On the journey of spiritual self-discovery, us explorers are often driven by the search for that great mystical experience that will enlighten us…or at the very least, give us an answer, ANY answer to whatever it is we are questioning about life. Whether it is in the solitude of a cave in the mountains, a vision quest in the forest, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, sitting at home on your own meditation cushion, or even standing in the Produce department of the grocery store…sometimes we are waiting for that one big A-HA moment that makes it all seem clear (whatever “IT” is…). I have to admit that part of me was kind of hoping for that here in India – maybe I would have a big “samadhi” moment and I would be transformed from one who doesn’t get it to ONE WHO DOES GET IT.

Here in India, we are learning breathing techniques and meditative practices that all assist in cleansing our bodies and clearing our minds in order to create the conditions for insights to occur. Because we are immersed in the practice daily, there are many opportunities for clarity and there have already been a lot of “lightbulb” moments where we are starting to figure things out. But the big revelation for me came after a series of Kundalini classes.

In addition to our teacher’s signature Hatha-Raja practice and the Akhanda holistic yoga we are studying, we have been learning Classical Kundalini. This is an advanced practice that includes mantra, movement, and breath…LOTS of breath. So much breath it is rightly called “breath of fire”. It heats you up, and makes energy move, and when energy moves it comes out in very interesting ways. This release or manifestation of kundalini energy moving up can often be un-nerving and downright freaky. Some of us were shaking like mad, some had tears, some barely felt a thing, and some were just looking on not sure of what to think! At first it scared me…and like anything out of my comfort zone, I didn’t like it. I tried to resist and the shaking just kept on. After a few more classes, Q & A sessions, and the assurance that this is indeed ok, I decided to change my perspective and go to the class without expectation, judgement or negative attitude. That’s when the remarkable happened…

As we progressed through the chakras, an electric feeling moved up my spine and as the energy grew stronger I reached a crossroads point. I could resist or I could surrender…and I chose surrender. For me this was THE pivotal moment because I took a breath, relinquished all control, relaxed my forehead (I can still hear my teacher, Vishva-ji, telling me to soften), and gave myself over to the experience. I made the decision – this was so empowering! How many times in my life when faced with challenges have I held back, doubting myself, questioning, digging my heels in wanting things to be different? How many times have I fought acceptance and preferred to live in denial? How could I have thought this was freedom, when in fact I was still stuck in my own perceptions of what was right?

Surrender doesn’t mean giving up…it means giving over to what is. In that moment during my yoga class, I did not feel fear, I did not worry, I did not cling, and I didn’t even try to hang on to any blissful feeling. Without any attachment or aversion, in that moment I truly was just ME, completely free. It is very difficult in words to explain this…it was the most free I have ever felt.

What happened next was actually insignificant (even though it was the most incredible electric feeling that ran all the way up my spine, into my arms and legs, and up the back of my head to my ears) compared to my moment of choosing to let go. The great mystical experience turned out to not be the end result after all (i.e. the full body sensations of electricity), but rather it was precisely the moment before, when I chose SURRENDER.

In the days since, I have felt clarity like I’ve never felt. I have felt compassion, and unity and an even deeper love for my friends and family whom I miss so much. I have felt so happy, like a weight has been lifted. Turns out that I am not one who does not get it after all… I am one who feels IT. IT is connection, IT is love, IT is God…I am trying to practice this surrender in all moments and I have to say, it is a wonderful way to live.