“Om namah shivaya”
The mantra was given to me sometime ago by a swami. It rolled around my head now as I sat practising Japa with an equal measure of detachment and familiarity. It was punctuated by the occasional magpie call as a mother bird called to her hungry chick outside. Her repetitive warble adding song to sacred.
The phrase impregnated with thousands of years of Hindu devotion, I bow to Shiva, the Destroyer, so that he might take some time out of his busy schedule to create and preserve a new life for little old me. I bow to your power, your Grace.
But amidst all this fervency, I suddenly stopped.
How many Hindus have spoken this chant in prayer? How many mothers have whispered it over the soft heads of their infant sons? How does it feel to see God in the eyes of a serpent, embodied in the slippery skin of a backyard snake-Shiva has blessed us with his presence.
I opened my eyes and followed the maggies as they poked about the lawn outside. The wattle was in bloom and it’s pollen crept around my sinuses and made my eyes itch, a kookaburra seemed intent on mocking me from a distance. Who the bloody hell is Shiva anyway?
I was struck with a sensation of small sadness. Here I was, faithfully practising…..what?
I love the practise of yoga. I love the tradition, the mythology, the mantras, the yantras and the philosophy. I love it deep down in the darkest depths of me, but practising Japa yesterday poked some painful longing in me…..where was my spiritual culture?
At the risk of disregarding the Yama of Aparigraha (greed or grasping), in that moment, I deeply wished that I had my own spiritual practises that ran through the heart of my Australian heritage. I longed for the familiar. The childhood link to love and peace and purpose. I felt a deep sadness that I had no fore-trodden pathway to my God.
I closed my eyes and sat in meditation.
Paradoxically, I do feel connected to Namaste-“the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you”. The greatest gift that yoga has given to me is the ability to see God in all beings, including myself. No longer a card carrying atheist, I have grown to see God as the collective consciousness that unites and equalises all things. God has become accessible and ordinary, called forth by compassion.
Visible in daily life, I am reminded of grace in small things. The gum trees that tower over my property like ancient idols or the smell of lemon myrtle as I brush past new growth in the garden. A fleeting glimpse of the Coucal Pheasant as it darts for the undergrowth, reminds me of my Shaman teacher, his connection to the earth and it’s creatures. I am blessed with so many reminders that don’t really pave my pathway, in my spiritual practice. Why not?
I don’t have mantras in my language.
My prayers are not my own.
My symbology is the mark of others.
The mother magpie approaches the open doorway and cocks her head to one side. She eyeballs me with a single-eye stare that questions my questions. Clearly God is present in this small moment. “What are you going to do about this? What is your pathway to the divine? What leads you to grace, love, peace? What will light your way?”
Watch this space. I can’t help but laugh as it occurs to me that Shiva just destroyed my spiritual practise in order to allow me to create and preserve my own path. Life is strange and beautiful, my faith restored in the divine, I will find my own way.