Last weekend, my kirtan-leading friend invited me out to her place to join her for a fire ceremony on the morning after the New Moon — a time, traditionally, favorable to new beginnings. It was cool. This time she gave me a booklet so I could chant along with her toward the end. That’s my favorite part, of course.
Around the middle of the ceremony we were singing “Om Namah Shivaya,” and she casually mentioned that chanting Om Namah Shivaya would be a good practice for me this month. I was like, Hm. Interesting. She knew a tiny bit about my partner’s job, just that something stressful was going on. I was certainly thinking about it that morning, and really looking for signs, guidance about what to do, how to be, when I was feeling like I was about to fall apart. So I took the suggestion to heart.
She also said something about her practice of doing the fire ceremony on the full moon — that it didn’t matter what the practice was, it was just making the commitment to do something with a certain specific regularity. So since then, I have been thinking about committing to chant Om Namah Shivaya a certain number of times every day for a month. (Apparently the standard number of times is 108; I just looked it up.) So, no more half-assing. I hereby commit to chanting Om Namah Shivaya 108 times each day for the next 31 days. Anyway, I have been doing it a little each day, when I thought about it; and so I was also wondering as I did it, Why this? My friend quoted Babaji as saying that the power of Om Namah Shivaya could stop an atomic bomb. But I thought there must be some reason why this suggestion had come to me, something about Shiva that I needed to learn.
Well, tonight Hawk went to bed before me so on a whim I got out a copy of Toward the One (a Sufi journal) that I’ve been working on reading since last October. I opened it up to a random page, and what did I find? That’s right, a whole 17-page article about the various aspects and qualities of Shiva! Aw yeah! Okay, I get excited about synchronicity.
Then, of course, the first quote at the top of the first page explained a great deal. I’d had the vague idea that Shiva was some sort of god of destruction (my impression was, the breaking down of the old and dead to make space for the new and lively). This quote said, “All pain is significant of change; all that changes for better or worse must cause a certain amount of pain, for change is at once birth and death.” Wow, man, that knocked my socks off.
The pain of change is exactly what’s been getting me down, on all sorts of levels at once, conscious and unconscious, big and small. Hawk’s firing and the uncertainty it throws us into about where and how we’re going to live after this summer has definitely been rattling my sense of security, my general orientation in the world. It’s made me feel very powerless, out of control (in good ways, I guess, for my personal growth, but it has NOT been fun); like I’m waiting to find out what aspects of my life I’m going to lose, what I’m going to have to replace. I’ve been on the pessimistic side a bit. I have not been graceful about surrendering control (or the illusion of control that I cling to foolishly). I haven’t been open to the cycle of change/pain/birth/death, the endless destruction and regeneration of life.
But it’s not just that situation; I think there’s also an element of this panic of change hanging around my thoughts of finishing massage school at the end of May, and defending my dissertation (if all goes well) in June. I’m a little freaked about what I’m going to do when those two events are over. It’s pretty much a blank after that.
I guess part of the message is that I can’t let myself get psyched out by this stuff. According to the article I’m reading, Shiva’s devotees have the practice of “acting contrary to their nature for the purpose of acquiring mastery over themselves,” and thus experiencing the liberation of their souls. Acting contrary to my nature, in this case, would be gracefully surrendering to the flow of life, not resisting, and thus not causing myself needless pain. “Shiva the liberator,” the author continues, “is often represented as an archer” whose arrows frighten awake “those who feel comfortable in their peaceful and superficially virtuous life” (Nirtan Ekaterina Pasnak 53-54). But Shiva is also described as extremely compassionate, repeatedly taking on harm or pain to himself to spare humans or gods from suffering (55).
Compassion in gods of destruction is comforting to me. It reassures me that whatever the outcome, there’s really no way for me to do it “wrong.” Having the intention to let my higher self take the reins as much as possible in my life right now couldn’t hurt. But when I am feeling like a big screw-up, it’s nice to know a god is not there to judge me or rate me, but merely to assist me. And then I do feel supported and guided. I start acting a little nicer to myself. I repeat to myself, I surrender. I tell myself slogans — Let Go and Let God. And maybe, a little bit, I start to really release and relax, to ease up on the death grip I try to put on life. Then, a little bit at a time, spaces open up where miracles can enter in.
Peace and love to all,