Recently I harvested the last of the cucumbers that grew so abundantly in my garden this summer. I also pulled the last of the withered tomato vines out of the ground, with gratitude for the bounty I had received. As I did this clearing away of what was finished, I was reminded of a beautiful prayer known as the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra:
OM tryambakam yajamahe sugandhim pusti vardhanam
Urvarukamiva bandhanan mrtyor mukshiya mamritat
Here is basically what it means:
OM. We worship and adore you, O three-eyed one, O Shiva. You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes all beings. As, in due time, the cucumber ripens and is freed from the vine, may we be freed from attachment and fear of death, and realize the nectar of immortality.
When we chant this mantra, we are essentially asking Shiva (the aspect of the Divine that transforms and liberates through dissolution) to show us who we are beyond this form, this body, this incarnation, and to help us to see that which does not disappear when the body dies, the essential Self that is infinite and eternal.
Shiva is the power of transformation and purification that lives in each of us. Shiva clears away whatever is old and no longer serves us. Shiva calls us to let go of illusion, to dissolve the egoic mind that keeps us stuck in our sense of separateness, and lovingly destroys all that keeps us from knowing our inherent divinity.
And, Shiva is also that state of Grace, that pure consciousness that is present when all illusion falls away. So, Shiva is both a process of transformation and the end result of that process.
Iconically, Shiva is represented in myriad ways. One common image is the Nataraj, or dancer, who dances wildly in a ring of fire, turning everything to dust. This fire dance symbolizes the circle of samasara, the earthly round of creation and destruction through which all beings pass.
In addition to being the destroyer, Shiva is often depicted as a contemplative, who after witnessing the suffering of earthly beings, sought to find a way to peace and freedom. This search led him into deep meditation, leading to the discovery of the yoga asanas and other practices, which he then taught to his wife, Parvati.
Shiva is also worshipped in the form of the lingam, a stone phallus. Elaborate pujas (devotional rituals) are performed in which the lingam is bathed in milk and honey, decorated with garlands of flowers, and smeared with fragrant sandalwood paste. The Shiva lingam represents the vast potential and possibility that lies within each and every one of us. So, although Shiva is responsible for destroying life, He is also recognized as an essential creative power.
Autumn is a time when we can feel and see the presence of Shiva, as we witness the falling away of what is finished. In every leaf that falls, Shiva is present. With every ripe gourd that drops from the vine, Shiva is alive.
Shiva is present when we say goodbye to loved ones who have come to the end of their life in this body and must pass on.
Whenever we must let go of an old habit or some way of being that no longer serves us, Shiva is alive in us, doing his dance of transformation, clearing us out and creating an opening for the new to come streaming in.
And, Shiva lives in us as we practice yoga and meditation, as we seek to unleash our own innate transformative power, through this path to peace. May our practice allow us to taste the sweet nectar of immortality.
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA