Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Transformative Power of Shiva

Hello Dear Yogis, and Happy Autumn!

At this time of year, when the growing season comes to a close and the earth prepares for dormancy, I am reminded of Shiva, the Hindu deity that embodies transformation and change. In the Hindu Trinity that consists of Brahma (the creative force that brings all forms into being), and Vishnu (the preserver, who sustains and balances all life),  Shiva is the destroyer, and is responsible for the necessary dissolution of all life forms, creating space for new birth.

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.

One can explore in great depth the myth and symbolism behind any of the gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. For some, the anthropomorphic images and stories can help them connect to the energy that lies behind the forms. However, it is not necessary for one to believe in a literal deity in order to access their power. We only need to look at life around us to receive their essence.

Autumn is a time when we can feel and see the presence of Shivaas we witness the falling away of what is finished. In every leaf that falls, Shiva is present. In every withering 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.

I offer you this chant that I often sing as an invocation to begin our yoga classes:

Om Namah Shivaya Gurave
Saccidananda Murtaye
Nischprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya Tejase

I bow to the goodness within myself, known as Lord Shiva, who is the true teacher.
This essence inside takes the form of truth, consciousness, and bliss
Always present and full of peace,
this essence inside is completely free,
and sparkles with a divine luster.

May our yoga practice illuminate the divine luster within us, and together may we bring light to the world. 

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