I have had a very mysterious connection with Shiva all my life. My staple diet of books early on in my childhood was a series of mythological comic magazines, called “Amar Chitra Katha”. In the whole collection, my favourite was the one on Shiva, his reincarnation and stories of how he wooed Sati and later how Parvati wooed him. But most of all, I loved the aspect of the intense penance he would undertake, his diligent practice, his unbreakable devotion to his tapasya. When I was in my teens, while my peers would have posters of Bollywood stars, I would gaze longingly at Shiva, the ascetic’s picture in the books I had, and fantasize about him.
When I turned 7, I had my first experience of snow and the recognition of the mysterious pull that many come in search of in India. My mother initiated a family pilgrimage to the holy sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath and Haridwar. I remember waking up at 4am for the morning aarti and taking a dip in the cold-as-ice Ganga (Ganges). I have hated cold water almost all my life. And yet during those early mornings, with teeth uncontrollably chattering, I watched people light up diyas as the sun rose unceremoniously, I was moved by the fire in me. Something was awake, alert within me, and I became aware of that. Of course this was just a glimpse. When we trekked to the formidable Kedarnath, we were hit by a snow blizzard and we had to spend 2 nights quivering to the bone in a tent which felt extremely inadequate. That is when my maternal grandmother was with us. She was as diligent about her worship of Shiva as Shiva was with his practice! This is where I got to see her strength for she uttered not a word in complaint, inspite of her ripe age. Had we been hit, she would’ve perhaps been happier dying at his feet in that tent. Since a very young age I remember her beginning all the cooking of the day with the chant, “Om Namah Shivay”. Every day after a bath she would spend time worshipping Shiva. This was even when they had extremely little as a family.
I never really thought much of this connection until a few years ago when I stepped into Rebirthing Breathwork. This is an incidence I share rarely because I have personally felt too awed by it myself. During our Breathwork training, we had to undergo one session lying next to a huge fire. I was wary of fire ever since a childhood incident when, on the day of Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) which happened to coincide with my birthday, I caught fire. Since I had another trainee who was taking my session, I was a little comforted. As I started breathing, my whole body started experiencing cool waves. This was quite contrary to what I had expected. It was a kind of pleasant healing coolness, like menthol running along in your veins, pumping into the heart. Just breathing into that experience, fully surrendered, I suddenly found myself being held by a blue hand on my left wrist. I turned to see Shiva standing there. I was suddenly in Kailash, a place that was in blue twilight, neither dawn nor dusk. I was a little girl who he led on top of the mountain and then I sat in his lap. I felt very alert, with a lot of energy moving through me. He then told me, telepathically, that I need to learn something from his disciple, Babaji. I didn’t know who that Babaji was. But I wasn’t in a place to ask questions. Like a rapidly flowing river, the vision was unfolding. Before I knew it, the vision ended. I was soaked in ten times more coolness than earlier and was soaked in deep joy and happiness. It was as if my heart chakra had broken loose. As I breathed more and more, I was inundated with only gratitude. The session ended. Later, the trainees sat in a circle and each of us shared about their experiences. The person sitting next to me started sharing and spoke about Mahavatar Babaji and I was a little stunned. He spoke about connecting with Babaji and also shared of having seen how Babaji is a disciple of Shiva. Without me even asking, I realised that the Babaji in my vision was no ordinary Babaji, which earlier I assumed to be some old, wise man walking along the street like a fakir.
After that session, I could not wear anything in my left wrist. Energetically I knew it wasn’t possible. While I was quite fond of Swiss watches prior to my Breathwork training, after this training when I put one on inspite of instinctively knowing that it wouldn’t work, it broke. I tried to get it repaired, but in vain. I tried to wear rudrakhsa and that too couldn’t be worn. Crystal bracelets, charms, sacred threads, nothing would last. I started feeling at home with a bare wrist and would smile as I could connect to Shiva’s touch on my wrist, every time I connected back to that vision.
I also had an incident when I was visiting a close friend of mine after that training. I was still unaware of Mahavatar Babaji and hadn’t researched. This friend had a roommate who believed a lot in Mahavatar Babaji, which I found out later. As this roommate was sharing some situation she was stuck in at that point in her life, I felt the light in the whole room change. I energetically felt a presence enter the room, fill it with a different kind of sunlight, and enter me. Before I knew it, I had a strange sense of observing my body rather than being the body. I started speaking words that were very high level truths, pertaining to her life situation. As I was speaking, I could see energetic switches turning on and off different lights within her body because of the words. She was energetically receiving something. Soon after the energy transmission got over. The sunlight in the room turned into “regular” sunlight. I felt back in my body and saw my roommate with folded hands and head bowed in front of me. I felt terribly awkward. What was supposed to be a regular chat had turned out to be something far beyond imagination. I thanked her for the experience. She exclaimed, “That was Babaji!” with the delight of a child who had found out that Santa Claus was real. I didn’t know what to say. I still had no idea about Babaji. So I told her that I don’t know what happened.
After my Breathwork training when I went back to my IT office that I used to work in to fund my spiritual quest, I had a very emotional breakdown with the realization that all my life I was averse to my body. I was averse to being on earth. I hated it here. I hated being born. I hated this whole damn cycle of birth and death. I also had a crashing sense of despair that no matter how beautiful, wonderful, powerful and elaborate my visions are, or how easily I can transport myself astrally (which I was doing a lot during that time), it would mean nothing if I hadn’t learn to live here on earth as an earth being, fully in tune with my body, fully living the wisdom I had gathered through the body. At that moment, I resolved internally to learn to be in the body instead of drifting off. I resolved to master pain, instead of being averse to it. I found a wonderful Yoga teacher in the most synchronistic way who helped me immensely to connect to the body and feel it with 100% attention. Since that point on, I knew clearly I was being guided by a higher force.
Much later I found out that 2 of the spiritual teachers who have been a very strong influence in my life were ardent Babaji devotees. Moreover, I was taken aback to see Leonard Orr, founder of Rebirthing Breathwork, pursuing the search for Babaji in physical form. I couldn’t connect to this quest of his and his team, for the wisdom was very direct and clear to me, that that was not my path. Breath soon became my one point focus, my devotion and my offering to Shiva.
Why I felt compelled to write this post was because last month, through Diwali, I felt the energy of Shiva come back into my life very strongly. I was spending my birthday in Auroville, Pondicherry. There I met an amazing lady who was a strong devotee of Yogananda. She was very well read and we seemed to have a strong connection. After speaking a lot about Kriya Yoga, sharing her experiences of meeting Yogananda through her meditations, she handed me a book called “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography”. She told me to read it. I have been distancing myself from books for quite some time now for the simple reason that I have been feeling too full of knowledge that had become a roadblock in my spiritual progress. It blocked me from connecting to people at a soul, heart level. And so as an effort to give up this knowledge, I had given up books. Hence I was very wary when she gave me this book. But I still went ahead and read it since the energy with which she had given it to me was distinctively different. I opened it at a random page to read it later that night and was surprised that it opened to a chapter on Fire, and how Sri M, the yogi-author, had experienced the opening of his chakras by sitting next to fire. The whole science of the spirit of fire was explained by him as Babaji had shared with him. This description almost completely matched my experience of Breathwork with fire. Moreover, the understanding of fire as a Spirit, beyond seeing it as an element in our physical universe that he had given was almost the same as the understanding I had arrived to while having sat with fire in my Breathwork training workshops, except that it was more detailed, more understood. It helped me clarify my own understanding even more. I could feel how much I have fallen in love with fire ever since that Breathwork session.
As one synchronicity unfolded, another one was weaving itself. A few days later, I happened to sit across a wonderful, blessed Australian woman who was from Tiruvannamalai, the home of the self-realised saint, Sri Ramana Maharshi. This is a power spot in India because of Arunachala, the sacred mountain of this temple town where monkeys and peacocks roam about unabashedly even today.
When my guru went to Thiruvanamalai about a couple of years ago, I knew I would too someday. I’ve loved to follow her path like a copy cat in the hopes that I’ll be as self-realised as her. When I started talking to this resilient Australian woman who quit music to run a school for rural children with her Indian husband, in the course I expressed my desire to visit Tiru. She spontaneously invited me to come to Thiru and stay with them. Before I knew it, my roommate at Auroville, this Kriya Yogini and I ended up going to Tiru together. However, inspite of all my desire, I was initially extremely reluctant to leave my “home” Auroville to go to a place for a full moon walk around the sacred mountain, which was said to be thronged by people. My separation trauma came up. I fretted, debated with myself endlessly, stressed and grew restless. I almost cancelled the trip when I realised with a start that I was repeating my birth pattern – that after taking ten steps in the direction of what I wanted, I hesitate at the last step. Instead of fully giving myself in the direction of the pull that it moving me, I hold back. I stepped back and let go. Incidentally, the day we left for Tiru from Auroville, I ended up falling sick. I came down with a terrible stomach, weakness in my legs and had fever all the way in the journey. I knew something was processing. I was not meant to do the full moon walk encircling the mountain, the pradakshina (Sanskrit), among those many people. I had only 24 hours in Tiruvannamalai before I got back. That entire day of the full moon I spent in bed, in a mansion that we were ushered into by the heartful Australian lady, whose house stood in prayer right in front of Arunachala.
The next morning I felt a lot better. I was still wondering what the connection was to this place as I was walking into Sri Ramanasramam, the Ashram of Sri Ramana. Before I could even question what I was feeling, I broke into tears. When I heard that his meditation chamber was there behind, I knew I had to go there and meditate. I meditated for almost an hour during which I was overcome with tears. I felt my heart turn into an expansive still ocean and had a vision of every person that I had held felt hurt from diving into that ocean. I felt washed. There was very little time left for me before I left for the airport to catch my return flight. But I felt compelled to lay my feet on the mountain. I had heard that people could trek barefoot to the Skanda Ashram at the top. An hour and half before I had to leave, I asked my hostess to drop me off at the Ramanashramam again so I could walk up to Skanda Ashram. I started my journey barefoot with a friend of mine. No sooner had I started, that I felt a lot of panic come over me. I started feeling very exhausted and felt that I couldn’t reach the top. Or if I did, I wouldn’t be able to make it in time for my flight back. I didn’t know whether to give up or keep pushing myself. I was about to affirm with my usual self talk that yes I could do it, when it struck me that this was again a feeling from my struggle in the birth canal, where I had given up after crowning. As I kept climbing with a lot of resistance, one tiniest step after another, I heard an inner kind voice say, “Ask the divine to intervene”. I felt a lot of peace come over me. In that moment it occurred to me how affirmations and self-talk can get in the way of true helplessness which in turn is an invitation for the divine to enter. The exhaustion left me and I continued climbing, halting every once in a while. We reached the Skanda Ashram. There was immense beauty and serenity. It was nestled among big beautiful boulders and radically growing trees. We sat inside for sometime and then made our way downwards on another route to the Virupaksha cave where Sri Ramana was meditating in silence for many years and where another saint had taken samadhi such that his body was instantly converted to ashes. Looking at the time before entering the cave I could see that we were running late. I barely had 5 minutes to spend there before we had to rush down. I entered the cave thinking I’ll again come back later some time to spend more time. The silence inside was infinite. There were people meditating in perfectly still postures. A single lamp was burning steadily, unmoving. I closed my eyes. All there was, was silence. Even sounds of people coming in and moving seemed like flecks in that space of deep silence. There was no form to it. After sensing what seemed like more than 5 minutes, we got out and made our way down. As I made my way to the Chennai airport, 3 and a half hours away from this town, I was in deep, childlike joy. My heart was open as I had only remembered it to be in those crazy sweet moments of my childhood when nothing mattered. I was chatting merrily with the cab driver, a local of Tiru. We talked about Shiva, our mutual admiration and love for this Yogi of all yogis. The conversation seemed to come from somewhere else within me that had never seen light. He commented how happy I was, how my face was bright and lit up. He then told me the story of how mountain Arunachala was mythologically Shiva’s endless matted hair. This opened up deep remembrance of how I would fantasize about Shiva as a child. Shiva as a lover. Shiva as a father. Shiva as the protector.
The next 3 days after that I spent in and out of soaking bliss, bursting into tears most unexpectedly feeling a deep connection to Shiva, feeling again those cool waves that I had felt with fire. “Om namah Shivay” became a sweet kiss to this Shiva. I realized the many levels at which my partner makes me feel like I am uniting with Shiva. I felt another level of oneness open up with him, as I glimpsed Shiva’s energy even more in him. Every single time earlier that I had felt this sense of oneness, I had dismissed it as an illusion. This time, my mind was so quiet, there was no reaction. I was only feeling, remembering, resonating. I was finding Shiva in me. That is all I cared about.
Before my birthday trip I had put the intention to have my heart chakra opened. I also wanted my self-doubt to clear and the fire of clarity to illuminate me. All of this happened in such subtle, beautiful, mysterious ways. I feel immensely grateful to learn the gentle ways of Shiva. I had often projected that this Shiva energy burns away all illusions, and often interpreted it to be a harsh authoritarian energy. I realized that that was a projection of my own mind coming from the patriarchal past lives in me. In truth, Shiva, or Consciousness, or Oneness, is just an energy polarized by our perception of it. I am humbled by the gentle ways Shiva or Consciousness has seduced me. I surrender to it more and more each day and just keep asking Shiva to keep me in His embrace.
Deep gratitude to all the souls who participated in this journey. It is a common love for Shiva that intertwines us all.
If you wish to do Rebirthing Breathwork sessions by Fire, please write to me at [email protected]om.