"The world is a veil; pull it aside. Its comforts are snares; do not be caught. Its sorrows are fires; breathe none of their smoke. Beyond waking and dreaming, there is another intelligence. There is an elusive reality, glorious, overpowering, pervasive, changeless, and incorruptible. Yet we fall to disputing a single beam of light. Through the prism of self, we describe different colors with different words. We assume certainty and finality imagining that red contradicts violet, that green opposes blue. How far this is from the truth of things. From within this dream, you doubt what is real. In the waking world, you put aside your dreams. Yet asleep or awake, the world is false and fleeting. Shake off the sleep that you have called life, and the magic of these words will never diminish, the bowl of their excellence will never be drained."
~ The Trial of Paris by Da'ud ibn Tamam ibn Ibrahim al-Shawni
The week before I traveled to Albany to participate in a spiritual practice called Shiva Nights led by my guru, Her Holiness, Sai Maa, Laksmi Devi, I had a bout of food poisoning, I think. All I know is that something in me needed to be purged, and it was. It took most of that night, but I was rid of it by the next morning, though drained by the experience.
I have grown accustomed to these purgative experiences, as preludes to programs with Sai Maa. Without fail, some aspect of my life, about which I have been in denial, is brought to the surface so it can be washed clean. The transition may be rough, but the transformation is always worth the discomfort.
I have also come to understand that what makes the transition challenging or painful is resistance to the needed expansion. When we get locked into a pattern of thought or behavior, very often it is too close for us to see clearly, like holding a book right up to our face, or standing only inches away from a painting. The words or image become a blur. We know there is some meaning there, but our proximity distorts our view.
Shiva is part of the Trimurti, the triune Hindu God, expressed through Bhrama, the Creator, Vishnu, the Sustainer, and Shiva, the Destroyer. Shiva Nights is an opportunity for us to come face to face with the greatest impediment on our path to enlightenment, the ego. In order to reach attainment, we all must undergo a death and rebirth. We must die to the illusion, and relinquish all of the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs and concepts that perpetuate that unreality, all of the lies we tell ourselves about who we think we are.
My second Shiva Nights event, was truly a lesson in surrender, from performing seva, or selfless service in Sai Maa's room, to remaining present to the experience throughout the long nights of spiritual practice, to yet another purging that was going on in my Throat Chakra (I wound up with laryngitis Sunday morning when I woke up.)
Seva was exquisite. I was part of a team of four women, all of us were totally new to the process, but we collaborated well, worked efficiently, and enjoyed each other greatly. We mostly worked in silence, which amplified this act of reverence and devotion.
I knew this experience would likely provide me many opportunities to recognize the hold ego has on me. Initially, I thought I would be helping to prepare Maa’s wardrobe, as I worked as a Costume Designer for over 20 years, but instead I spent a lot of time washing dishes. The redirection of my efforts might have triggered some sense of indignation, but instead I felt blessed simply to be there and immersed my self in fully in the tasks I was given. Whatever was asked of me, I performed with humility and devotion. My act of service, more than anything, shifted my focus away from myself, and opened me to the grace of the Divine.
Later, I did get to draw on my aesthetic sensibilities and fabric draping experience, when I was asked to cover the hotel chairs and couch in white fabric, to create a sacred space for Mother Divine.
I was also tasked with helping to make up Sai Maa's bed, and arranging flowers throughout the rooms. While vacuuming the suite, I was even reminded of how much fulfillment I got from the job I had cleaning a professor’s home, during my undergraduate years at St. Lawrence University. It’s curious that I have never experienced any of the resistance to cleaning other people’s homes that I do with the prospect of cleaning my own, but that exploration is best left for another day. We fluffed a bit more and then went downstairs to await Sai Maa's arrival. After helping carry her luggage to the suite, I went back to prepare for the program.
The event itself was deeply transforming for me, a profound spiritual initiation. Leading up to the weekend in Albany, I was keenly aware of my intermittent sadhana practice, at times very focused and consistent and at others distracted and periodic, at best. I had asked Maa while in meditation for help with this.
Friday evening began with the administering of bhasma and kum kum, symbolic markings made on the forehead. Vibhuti, or ash collected from sacred fires, is drawn in three horizontal lines across the forehead. This bhasma, which literally means “disintegration,” reminds us of the ephemeral nature of life. Additionally, if we are to reunite with the Supreme Self, the “little-self,” the ego, must first be “burned to ash”. Our physical body, too, will eventually be reduced to the same. The ash that remains, after the disintegration of the false, represents the imperishable truth, that which cannot be destroyed.
The three lines represent the gunas or forces that create everything in the universe, seen and unseen. The lower line represents tamas, a state of inertia and darkness, the middle line symbolizes rajas, dynamic activity, and the top line is sattva, balance and illumination.
A dot of kum kum, made of ground turmeric, which is dried and powdered with a bit of slaked lime (not the fruit) that turns the rich yellow powder into a deep, red color, is placed beneath the bhasma, and is symbolic of Shiva-Shakti, the divine union of energy and matter, the foundation of all creation. The red dot or “tika,” symbolizes the transcendence of the gunas that the shkati, or creative energy can activate through the discipline of sadhana, or practice.
Steeped in meaning, adorned in white, we entered the hall in silence. Maa arrived in silence, as well, greeting us with nods, smile beaming and full of grace. As Maa spoke on the topic of discipline, a slow gradual change occurred. By the time darshan was offered, wherein the guru offers a blessing to each individual, Maa's demeanor was very intense, unlike I have ever experienced, except, perhaps, when Maa transformed into her guru, Sai Baba, before my eyes, during a program I previously attended in Albany.
There was an implacability and aloofness that was uncharacteristic. Once darshan ended, we began rounds of japa or chanting, followed by periods of meditation. At one point during meditation, I heard Maa near me. I felt really compelled to open my eyes. It seemed I could resist no more, and I did, and there was Maa in front of me. Our eyes met, and Maa pierced through me, forcefully saying, "Meditate!"
In that moment, I felt a shift occur, a shift out of my complacency. This lightening bolt of shakti, coupled with Maa's teaching on discipline, and it's critical role in the path toward enlightenment, had a powerful effect on me. The next night, Maa spoke of Baba's "eyeball erections," when Baba would penetrate Maa with laser beam eyes. I now knew what that felt like. It was similar to the shakti blast I received, during my Journey of Profound Healing, when Sai Maa expressed to me that if I wanted Maa to be my guru, I must understand she would not allow my ego to get any bigger.
Saturday night it was clarified for us that, in fact, it was not Maa who offered us darshan, but rather Shiva. This explained the unfamiliar energy Maa was emitting, and the detached air we all noticed, but could not reconcile. Then Sai Maa asked Trilokanad, her personal assistant, to explain that often members of Maa's "gang" will come through, using Maa’s brain and vocal chords to convey messages. Sai Baba, Saint Germaine, Arch Angel Michael, and the rest, evidently, all have very distinct personalities. Maa is completely unaware when this happens, and was not pleased that Shiva stepped in uninvited.
Little did I know Friday night that it would be the destructive force of Shiva that would propel me into a whole new relationship with my sadhana. When it comes to Shiva, it is always trial by fire. I reminded myself, I had asked for this, and I definitely got it. The reward of discipline is discipline, and the fruit of discipline is perfection, more specifically enlightenment. With that as my goal, surrender is critical. Resistance is futile, as the Borg would say.
Another thing I have learned over these last several years is that when I am preparing to write these blog posts, I can expect to receive assistance from unexpected sources.
One morning I was at the studio of renowned artist Jerome Witkin, who was a professor of painting at Syracuse University for decades. He had been working on a series about the Holocaust, and he was making the final painting, completing the opus he had been creating for some 20 years.
He asked me to model for him, calling me just about a week after my earlier mentioned purgation. Ironically, I would be posing as a woman throwing up, after having viewed a movie reel from the liberation of a concentration camp. The denial our country had been in, regarding the devastation and deprivation caused by the Nazi Machine, could no longer be ignored, and it was revolting and retched to behold.
I am very fond of Jerome, and every time I pose for him is a very rich experience. Though he has experienced a great amount of suffering, he seems to live a very charmed life, brimming over with extraordinary people, places and events. That day we talked about Music, Art, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theatre, and Movies. Somehow these topics weave together seamlessly. He ended by telling me I needed to watch a movie called Flight, staring Denzel Washington, directed by Robert Zemeckis. I told him I would.
As I sat down to work on this reflection, I kept being tugged toward the living room, guided to watch Flight. I kept resisting, because I knew the following day would be full of chores and appointments, and I wanted to be sure I had enough time to dedicate to writing. Self, my inner guide, was unrelenting, so I surrendered, leaving the laptop for the big screen.
I was not surprised to discover that thematically the film was right in tune with the focus of my writing. The hero, played by Washington, who might better be described as the “anti-hero” is a former navy pilot, who now flies commercial liners. He is riding high in more ways than one, and goes on a bender the night before he is to pilot a flight. He manages to crash-land his ill-fated plane with minimal loss of life, at once thrusting him into the spotlight as a hero.
Under the scrutiny of the government and the media he enters into a tailspin, fueled by alcoholism and drug use, both of which are supposed by the NTSB to be factors in the plane going down, which comes to light as a result of toxicology tests given all the crew members, evidence that his lawyer manages to get stricken from record. The suppression of this information does not make it go away, however. It only serves to amplify the Captain’s addiction.
What struck me in watching the film is that Whip Whitaker’s experience is characteristic of any mythical hero’s journey. He ventures into the unknown at a time of prominence, where he encounters challenges of various sorts. He then descends into a dark, mysterious place, performs certain rituals and is then called to return. I’ll refrain from getting too detailed here, so as not to spoil it for any of you who wish to view the film on your own.
Needless to say, the descent into darkness is the crux of the journey. Here the hero always must do battle with his shadow self. In the depths of the unconscious, the void, the realm of Shiva, the destruction of the ego begins to occur. In Whitaker’s case, as with most addicts, he had to hit rock bottom, the nadir, before any chance of redemption, but resistance to that expansion was powerful.
In deep denial, he claimed he could stop any time he wanted, that he was in control of his drinking. He was blind to his own bondage. He had surrendered to his addiction. It was only when Whip could not bare to continue perpetuating the illusion, could not stand to tell one more lie, that his salvation became possible. In order to be set free, he had to admit he was bound.
Sai Maa spoke of this bondage to which we are all subject. Alcoholism, drug use, gambling, sex, shopping - all are only symptomatic of a more insidious addiction, one that is at the root of all suffering, our addiction to the ego.
Maa asked, “Why it is so hard for us to surrender to God?” Why do we resist so desperately? Have we not already surrendered to the ego? How is that working? Why not give God a try and see what happens?
If we truly desire enlightenment, we must willingly journey into the unknown, yet the ego stirs up uncertainty, doubt and fear to keep us hostage, or it continually draws our attention to various distractions.
Surrender means to submit, to yield, to crumble, to cave. In the military sense, it means to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority. Do we not consistently submit to the authority of the ego?
To surrender in the spiritual or religious sense means we completely give up our own will and subject our thoughts, ideas, and actions to the will and teachings of a higher power. To give up our will, we must raise it in vibration, aligning with the Higher Will.
In the 12 Step recovery model, among other things, one must:
As I looked more closely at this model, I realized most of these steps strongly correlate to the hero’s mythic journey of transformation, which always begins with a struggle, leading to the decent into the unconscious. The hero or heroine caves into darkness, resulting in the rediscovery of Self. Along the way, skills are gathered, allies provide guidance or resources, atonement is required, and a reunion with the soul is necessary. Ultimately, the hero must share what he has learned with others.
In answer to my plea for help, the experience of Shiva Nights brought into focus my own ego addiction. I was in denial, thinking I had everything under control. In the dark of these two consecutive nights, I plunged into unfamiliar territory. In this crucible of intense spiritual practice, I struggled with myriad distractions and patterns of thought and behavior, which I am now aware no longer serve me. I battled my shadow self, and brought to the surface what needed to be cleansed, burned up in the sacred fire of Shiva. I was taught skills, provided resources and guided by others, laying a new foundation on which to reestablish my spiritual practice. I acknowledged and accepted my ignorance, and recognition of the Divine within me allowed for a joyous reunion with my soul, and I now have the opportunity to share my experience with others.
Our path toward enlightenment is individual, because no one else has ever walked it before. It uniquely reveals itself to us, and is carved out in each unfolding moment of our experience, manifesting the energies we have taken birth to bring into balance. Others have created their own paths before us and may serve as guides, but ultimately we must find our own way.
Our sadhana, or spiritual practice is like a machete we use to cut away at the thick undergrowth that obstructs the clear way through. Our discipline is the manner in which we wield the knife. If we are lax with our grip, our sadhana will lack focus. If we are too aggressive, there is likelihood we will injure ourselves in our over zealousness. As we remove the impediments, all distraction falls away, and there is nothing left separating us from Self. The ego generates obstacles, clinging vines of thought that string us up, pit falls of past patterning to trap us in emotional quagmires, believing that if we move we will surely drown.
Recognition of our current state of bondage is essential. We must be willing to come out of denial, to stop lying to ourselves that we’ve got it all under control. Surrender. Cease resistance and submit to the authority of our highest aspect, the Self. It is only in giving up that we can rise to the height of our potential. This is our (s)hero’s apotheosis, our crowning glory, when we are exalted, in full possession of our birthright and using our power for the greatest good of all.
Katrin Naumann worked for 20 years as a Theatre Artist, both behind the scenes as a Costume and Scenic Designer, and on stage, film and TV, as an Actor. She has been a lifelong adventurer on the path of Self discovery, which has led to her current role as Director of Inner Balance Life Works. Her holistic healing practice focuses on offering pathways toward (R)evolutionary Self Transformation. Katrin serves the community as an Energy Healer, Intuitive Spiritual Guide, Qigong & Yoga Instructor, Author, Public Speaker, and Workshop Creatrix.