The path of the Spiritual Warrior is one of seeking…for the specific reason we are here on earth. We continue on the journey with a cursory introduction to two practices that have been integral to my own personal development…meditation and Bhakti Yoga.
Fear Is Our Friend
Human beings are a rich, complex brew of life experiences, genetics, choices and fate. Not all methods for enlightenment will work for everyone, but meditation has been a common practice throughout time and geography.
Caveat emptor – developing a communion with the inner self isn’t the sweet, soft experience many think. It’s difficult, dirty and damn scary on multiple levels.
Many of us have trouble sitting still for a few minutes much less for deep contemplation. This is so natural that our antecedents created a system to prepare the body and mind for long periods of meditation – hatha yoga, the practice of specific postures called asanas now common in the West. Yoga is translated as the union of the feminine moon and masculine sun energies necessary to awaken the Kundalini, our connection to the Universe and the divine power within.
Meditation is my primary method for self-discovery. When I began my practice many years ago, I wondered, how many thoughts could be scrambled in one person’s head? How could I turn the volume down on any of them when all I wanted to do was make to-do lists? Most importantly, how was I supposed to keep from falling asleep when back then sitting down for 10 minutes straight sent my overworked body straight to dreamland. There were also times I disconnected, with no recollection of where I’d been once I’d returned. These obstacles were easily surmounted with time and practice. What took much longer to deal with were the moments the Inner Critic gained a bully pulpit.
Fear is the biggest obstacle in a Warrior’s battlefield. We’re all afraid of something, but more specifically meditation can bring up the fear of what we might find in our shadow selves, the parts of us that we keep hidden even from our own conscious mind. The ironic nature of spirituality is that these very fears are where we need to concentrate our attention. When we are so terrified of something, we often manifest it into our lives either as events or through re-traumatizing ourselves in our heads. By confronting fear in a safe environment, we diminish the anxiety around it to the point where we can develop tools to manage and work with it. Fear isn’t always an evil waiting to sabotage our lives. It can point us to where we need to focus attention, and it can also reveal protective insights.
For those new to meditative practice, it’s a good idea to participate in guided meditations or take classes offered in most cities by a variety of groups. Trauma survivors frequently have repressed memories or can get triggered by their emotional states very easily, so they in particular should exercise caution and develop a practice with care and safety being foremost.
I’m a Type A personality who used to strive for perfection in order to feel worthy of love. My close friends will smile at the use of the past tense, but I will admit to having been far worse than I am today – a text-book example of someone mired in disappointment, confusion and anger toward myself. It took a long time to learn how to love myself and to be as kind to me as I would be to you, with a heavy dose of “fake it ‘til you make it” along the way. Now I can appreciate the so-called imperfections that make us love one another because that is what actually makes us human.
Meditation does offer peace, but one that comes from having earned it. As the Shambhala Buddhist lineage teaches, awakening takes courage and kindness. We must be brave enough to confront the fears that place obstacles in our lives, and kind enough to accept that our humanity is our most precious gift to the world. Perfection is, in truth, dull and stagnating, while the chaos of imbalance creates movement.
AS WITHIN, SO WITHOUT
While meditation is time-tested, guru-approved, self-discovery can take shape in many forms. What helps you connect to yourself, incites your passion and makes you feel happy, joyous and free?
We’re social creatures who crave touch and connection to other human beings, but at the same time require personal space. We thrive amid a balance of inner contemplation and community interactivity. Under the Hindu umbrella, the spiritual devotion of Bhakti Yoga fills both these fundamental needs.
Bhakti, usually referred to in the West as the yoga of service, means cultivating a close relationship to the divine so that we may be nourished by the ultimate unconditional love. Kirtan is a Bhakti tool to develop that connection by repetitious chanting of the names of Gods and Goddesses. If you chant kirtan, what led you to this? How does it make you feel?
The Hindu pantheon is unlike the family of Greek gods who act more like a dysfunctional family than deities. Hindu deities are manifestations of the incomprehensible Source much like rays of the Sun. While there are hundreds of them who tend toward worshiping each other, the main energies fall into three areas: creation, preservation and destruction. The specific manifestation of God that resonates for you is a signal of what you need in your life, what your spirit is calling out for.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, helps us overcome obstacles, initiate new ventures and retain our childlike innocence. Krishna, the flute-playing, carefree lover and his beloved Sri Radha are a major focal point for those in search of the cosmic chase between lovers and the divine. Lord Rama and his patient wife Sita represent fidelity, virtue and good overpowering evil. The monkey God Hanuman is the devoted servant to Ram who uses his ability to persevere and fight in selfless service.
My primary kinship is to Lord Siva, the Destroyer in the Hindu trinity. He is feared because he is linked to death, yet he is all-loving and compassionate. He is the Regenerator because his destruction creates growth just as the Earth recycles waste into fertile soil. Siva transforms by breaking us out of bondage to the ego, illusion and expectation, represented by the three white lines across his forehead. Through this destruction, we can change distorted thinking and negative behavior, broadening our perspective and how we relate to the world.
Siva is the ultimate teacher, the one who gave us dance and yoga to relieve tension and alleviate suffering. He is most often depicted in meditative repose or in the cosmic dance of Nataraj with his hands in Abhaya Mudra, a gesture that stills fear and provides courage. When we call out to him, we are asking him to help us destroy the impediments to our spiritual progress. His son is Ganesha, who Hindus pray to first above all others for peace and prosperity.
Siva is also the Warrior God for divine cause, a fearsome sight to behold against ignorance. His consort is the sweet Mother Goddess Parvati, who transforms into the ferocious, tiger-riding Goddess Durga to protect her loved ones and the wrathful Kali-Ma to save the world from demons. These manifestations of energy serve as the protector for the Spiritual Warrior. I pray to Lord Siva not just because confronting the fear within his embrace leads me to a new level of understanding and self-examination, but also because I feel his love envelop me like a shield.
Kirtan Ki Jai!
Kirtan is a powerful tool at home alone, but Bhakti Yoga also entails being part of Satsang, a community of fellow devotees. Many of you have experienced the power of a kirtan concert, the primal energy released by the vibration of those gathered around you.
My dear friend and brilliant musician Jai Uttal says it best: “Kirtan is the calling, the crying, the reaching across infinite space – digging into the heart’s deepest well to touch and be touched by the Divine Presence.”
I’ve attended moving kirtans at Hindu temples in India and America, where Indian communities also gather in residences to sing. But as an Indian-American, I’ve found a home in the Western Bhakti movement. The seekers of the divine in this Satsang have a pure spirit that is beautiful to behold, and they have become part of my family. I haven’t found many other Indian-Americans tempted by the sweetness of this community. It’s surprising to me that I’m often the lone brownie in a sea of Indian-clothed chanters. Unfortunately, many of my Indian-American counterparts are devoted to paving their way in the world and are losing touch with an ancestral spiritual practice they consider to be old-fashioned. They have obviously not heard the kirtan raps of MC Yogi, the jaunty rhythms of Tina Malia and Shimshai, the ethereal beauty of Snatam Kaur or the bluesy wails of Acyuta Gopi. And the musicianship that powers the kirtan scene is tremendous. When Jai’s tabla master Daniel Paul is joined by AKS’ Ananta Govinda and the Mayapuri’s Visvambhar Sheth, the energy surges to new heights of ecstasy.
Chanting has the power to break open our hearts so that love can flow all around us. But how does it do so? The ancient mantras of the Eastern religions are said to be descended from the spiritual realm, specially formulated to bring about certain breathing patterns and to generate the flow of energy through the chakras. They soothe the mind and turn us inward. The very act of repetition alters consciousness, letting our minds fixate on the words so that our hearts may open unimpeded to the divine.
Singing kirtan at home is a profound gift, but chanting in Satsang offers the type of healing that comes from being in relationship with others. Those of us who are healing internal rifts may shy away from others out of fear or self-protection, creating even more anxiety and depression that stems from alienation. Connecting to safe, loving human beings is the key to opening our hearts to our internal mechanisms for healing. When you chant with someone, you learn who they are by gaining a glimpse of their connection to spirit, the most genuine form of communication in existence that goes far beyond how well we can hold a tune.
Research has shown that those who somehow connect to even one other person have a higher chance of breaking out of the addiction cycle. Part of being a Spiritual Warrior means understanding when to fight alone and when to bring in reinforcements. We travel this road with other Seekers, finding strength, understanding, awareness and hope in our relationships with one another.
The image that comes to mind is from a trip I took to Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My companion and I decided to climb the Dunn’s River Falls, not understanding until the last minute that the only way to make the precarious scramble was to create a human chain. We held hands to build a circuit far stronger than our individual bodies. While the person before me guided and I aided the person behind me, there were times when I supported my leader and when my back was propped up by many hands.
It is imperative to learn from those who are ahead of us and to give back to those who are stepping in our shoes. But we also have a lot to offer those who have helped us and to learn from those new to the path. Spiritual Warriors always remain students as well as teachers.
Just as God exists within us and without, we are both alone and connected to every living entity in the Universe. These dualities may seem as contradictory as the concept that we have free will woven with fate, but life is not black and white – it is a synchronous shade of gray. Each flower of a rose bush offers its unique beauty during its time on earth, and the plant continues to produce new leaves and buds. We love each other for our individuality and for how that contributes to the community as a whole.
Peace doesn’t come from having everything we think we want, unfortunately. It dawns with the acceptance of reality no matter how painful the truth is at first, and the understanding that change is a natural consequence of our evolvement. Allowing the imperfection of ourselves and the world means accepting vulnerability and frailty in a true test of the Warrior’s spirit. Once we admit who we truly are with our beautiful soup of attitudes, opinions, behaviors and regrets, moments of peace blossom.
I invite you all to become Spiritual Warriors if this isn’t already your path. What do you believe is the meaning of life? Why are you here? What is your purpose or mission? Go deeper within to find the mystery that you alone can solve.
Find out if other readers believe they have a purpose in life.