Monday, January 23, 2012

shiva, the destroyer

Summer in New York and practice at Broome Street Temple.
The Shiva alcove is around the corner.

A couple weeks ago a friend invited me to a puja at his home here in Mysore. When I arrived, he was already in full Vedic swing, chanting Sanskrit mantras adeptly as he made offerings to his soapstone Shiva Lingam. As he chanted away, I closed my eyes and settled into my half lotus. My mind drifted to last summer, when I was in New York, practicing at Broome Street Temple, Eddie Stern's studio in SOHO.

There's a little room there, dedicate to Shiva, where Shiva's lingam is also the center piece. An oil lamp was almost always lit. And the stone shone by wick light. I was particularly drawn to that part of the Temple. When I realized that people would sneak in there after their practice and meditate a little, I started to do the same, so long as the space was empty.

I remembered one moment particularly. I had just finished a sweet short meditation, deep after self practice. I must have been inspired, either that or completely insane--because what I did next was pretty much the equivalent of hurling myself off a New York City skyscraper without a parachute, no net below, no safety harness, nothing. Silently the words formed in my head and in my heart, "Shiva, destroy me." It was an act of faith and of total surrender. It was an act of insanity, as well.

First, I want to explain that ever since my first trip to Mysore in 2010, my life has been all about change. Some of it really extreme. I'd ended my commitments. I quit where I was living. And moved into storage. But I felt free and my heart, full. When I had uttered that prayer, I meant to invite more change, because I felt sure that more had to come--that whatever transformation had begun on that first trip had to continue. I wanted to graciously throw myself into the fire and be renewed.

Sometimes the vision we have of ourselves is not entirely clear, however. Sometimes, we have to take better care of our requests. I always forget what a keen listener the Universe can be. I always forget that divine forces may not have the time to dilly dally with details. I always forget that the Universe would probably appreciate specificity. Finally, I always forget to be compassionate with myself.

To summarize the summer after that request was, well...I could say things really shifted after that. Really, it was some seriously seismic shifts. The earth underneath me rumbled. My human building swayed, cracks appeared on the surface. My foundations were shaken. The tremors went on forever. And I think I'm still experiencing after shocks.

I don't mean to get all hocus-y pocus-y but I believe there is real power in prayer, real potency in intention. And now remembering that moment of self-offering, I can't help but think: no freakin wonder!

As hard as the daily asana practice is at the shala, it feels pretty light and easy compared to the aftermath of being shaken so completely. Though, I reckon, the practice is contributing to the "destruction," that it too is an agent of this extreme change.

Sometimes I have to really laugh at myself. I come here to go deeper. I mean to surrender but then end up struggling and fighting the winds of change that I have so eagerly invited. I doubt that I'm the only one hereabouts.

But the other day, as my friend did his puja to Shiva, I came to an understanding that I am the master of this movement in my life, that I have actually asked for it. So, I--more cautiously, this time--decided to recommit to my not so humble request, knowing full well that I'd been taken seriously. I added, however, "Please, Shiva, be gentle with me."

So, the good work continues in my yoga practice--both in the asana practice and in my life. I look forward to the renewal that comes with destruction, to the rebirth that comes with each metaphoric death, to rising like a phoenix from the ashes.


  1. i admire how you give a precise description of your practice

  2. nice reminder to take stock of all the changes that happen when we follow the practice.

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