Did you ever wonder why there is this trend among yogis to light candles and incense sticks around altars with some weird-looking objects? I mean beyond the obvious reason of dealing with the consequences of deep relaxation and ‘wind-release’ of their students? Or why on earth would a person lie in full prostration in front of a statute with three eyes, four arms with skulls hanging around the neck? What is the essence of all these practices? What is the point of all those symbols?

Navaratri

There is the yoga of the exterior called Bahir Yoga dealing with the body through asana and there is the inner yoga, Antar Yoga searching for the higher self within. The starting point of antar yoga is; if there is divinity in every particle of manifestation, there is divinity in the self of a human as a sentient being having the potential to be absorbed into oneness. Inner yoga aims to awaken the divine within.

As mere words and logic cannot capture such divinity, spiritual seekers relied on a universal language; symbolism. They used colours, shapes, elements of nature to conceptualise and experience divinity. It all starts with the feminine and masculine principles: Shiva and Shakti. Shiva, the masculine principle is one face of the medallion representing the consciousness, void, spirit, the opposite of matter. Shakti, the feminine principle is representing the power of that consciousness, the matter, soul, energy in all forms and shapes as the other side of the medallion. These are also principles reflected in science as the ‘+’ and ‘–‘poles coming together and building up the matter. The statute of a spectacular, adorned woman is just the symbol representing this high concept.

Such symbolism is not only rooted in Hindu culture where yoga comes from. Shakti is called the Pacha Mamma, mother of earth and time by the Andes tradition, Durga as the principle form of Mother Goddess in Hinduism, Mahamaya in tantra as the ultimate shapeless form of the divine Mother Goddess and revered in many other cultures as the great creator.

Shakti is creation in all forms. It is also the body of a human being in its flesh and bones; the mind generating thoughts and emotions as different forms of energy; the knowledge giving birth to concepts and values such as time, space, death, beauty, compassion, abundance. In short Shakti is the creative power in everything that we can conceive and beyond.

Tantra is a science of working with these energies. Tantrics observing the flow of life developed a technology around this practice. One step towards this practice is using the symbolism of the deities representing different aspects of manifestation. A divine body is visualized according to many symbols and myths that we can relate to as a reference of our practice. When a sadhak (spiritual practitioner) bows down in front of a shiva statute, s/he is showing reverence to the supreme consciousness; or when lighting a candle at a Goddess Durga altar s/he is paying respect to the divinity of motherhood protecting her children from harm and ignorance.

The technology for this practice is called mantra+yantra=tantra. The use of mantra’s, the sacred sounds resonating with certain frequencies and yantra’s, the sacred geometrical shapes carrying the form, function and power of a frequency are used as main tools of practice. This deep connection with universal frequencies also open the way to paranormal results influencing the course of life for some practitioners. A profound tantra practice may lead to awakening of Kundalini Shakti; the fundamental force of our being that remains latent otherwise.

Although there are many popular practices involving these technologies, a deep and authentic practice of Tantra requires guidance of an initiate, a teacher, a vessel to carry the light. Otherwise you know what they say; if you play with fire…

About the author

Dijan currently offers consultations and yoga retreats in Europe and Asia under her brand, Rasa Lila by Dijan. Join her at her ‘Navaratri Experience: Tantra of the Goddess’ retreat in Koh Phangan Thailand between October 10-18 to have a taste of authentic, traditional tantra.

There is a beauty to being a wretched spiritual tourist in India. Key parameters being low budget / wide time-span, you visit an ashram, then hop to a healer, maybe a vedic astrologer and each step you take is also a step away from your comfort zone. This distancing is such a trip that even a slight change in the perception of reality makes you believe that you started to understand. Usually as a baby on the path it is a mere adjustment in your delusion you call ‘reality’, ‘personality’ or ‘knowledge’. Well maybe none of the readers of this blog went through such experiences but it sounds like I am writing about something important when I put it like this.

Fire ceremony at Guruji's temple

Fire ceremony at Guruji’s temple

Hoping to break yet another pattern I let myself experience India in a new way. First I headed off to my second tantric puja. Last year I benefited a lot from the puja on Muladhara/root chakra; it went deep into some fears I have about being in this life. They are not erased after the puja but I feel more free and courageous following this purification. Also a major block against my creativity seems to be resolved. I am blessed in this life with many gifts which do not seem to find their way out of my system. This lack of creative impulse effeced especially projects that are more close to my heart but not so much in line with ‘what needs to be done’ in the institutions of life; such as academia, work, family…There are many reasons to have such a block going beyond the domain of muladhara but the gross force of just starting up and making it work comes from the roots. Right after the puja I found myself manifesting many little projects which I kept on postponing or didn’t even think of before.

Now we are in phase two; purification of the second chakra, Svadistana. Its job is to generate impulses, feelings, and obsessions. According to the yogis water element rules our consciousness as we are made out of and surrounded by mostly water. So, what does it mean to rule consciousness? There is a simple test one can do to understand the concept. If you manage to observe your mind throughout the day, without any intervention, any effort to direct it to a certain thought process, where does it go to naturally? Do you keep thinking about what you have experienced (or not) with your partner, the cool pants you laid your eyes on but couldn’t decide if you want to buy it, the comfi couch and screen waiting for you back home, plans around Saturday night fever, concerns about ‘what the hell am I going to do in this life’, internal dialogues with someone who pissed you off, holiday plans…What are the hotspots of your mind? Are you getting confused between your flooding emotions pulling you in many direction with the long-searched-for ‘inner voice’? Do you feel depressed when you miss the company of a close friend, a good book, a nice concert? The domain of consciousness under svadistana influence is rich; there is a long list. If you manage to purify this domain though you are granted with harmonious emotions and lightness, creativity and imagination as a bonus.

Ritual by the ocean

Ritual by the ocean

My puja experience was pretty abundant with lots emotional turbulences before and after. Initially I was really afraid of what kind of purification reactions I may have but it ended up being a very smooth ride. My skin is tick now after suffering under conditions below the least level of comfort at Guruji’s house. We started the puja cycle with a group of 101 westerners, ended up with 60 during this experience resulting from the survival of the fittest. The first stage of the puja process was over very quickly after lots of sadhana (spiritual practice) and nice talks among our slowly bonding group. One train ride en masse after we found ourselves in Puri. This is one of the most holy seven towns in India, located at the eastern shores. So Guruji decided to release our dark waters into the holi ocean of Puri. We experienced many magical rituals by the oceans; so powerful that I had to hop on my seat several times. However the trip turned out to be fully in line with the pleasure-indulgent svadistana consciousness. Puri happens to be a very touristic town as well and our group quickly discovered a restaurant at a fancy hotel during our unusually vast free time. Finally I understood what Indian food is really about. When you go to a regular Indian restaurant you may really enjoy the food but still have to admit that all dishes taste pretty much the same as they use the same mix of spices called masala. However I had a major revelation about the potential of evolution in life after tasting those tanduri cauliflowers melting into my taste buds leaving a bundle of joy behind after each bite. How can such a meaningless vegetable evolve to such levels of delight?

We were all very surprised by the gentleness of the sadhana when we were back at Guruji’s house. Of course there was some drama still among the hygiene-sensitive ones, as well as strong purifications such as heavy skin rashes, flu and all. That is the usual fun. As I walk on the path it is becoming clearer; spiritual work is quite a sado-maso experience.

After the warm embrace of Kamakhya we headed towards Tarapith where we will do the concluding work to fix the energies we have been working with in ourselves (whatever that means?!). Tarapith is the city of Tara; the Goddess of knowledge and compassion among the ten cosmic powers representing different phenomena of the great mother nature. As much as she may represent compassion, there wasn’t really an atmosphere invoking compassion in this town. To begin with, this time the rituals took place in cremation grounds rather than temples. It is quite common in tantric tradition to have spiritual practices in such places which reminds us how thin the line between life and death is and makes us confront our fear of death. There were many weird looking baba’s mostly wearing red, color of Shakti; the feminine energy with huge rasta hairs full of all kinds of beads and appearing half crazy half spooky. In Kamakhya it was common to see baba’s smoking weed in front of the temples as such drugs are also used by some tantrikas. Here alcohol seemed to be the preferred choice of vessel towards communion with divinity! In the midst of all these half-baked people of course one starts questioning again; ‘what the f. am I doing here?!’

From Mahamaya to BabaDespite all the facade around, it’s obvious that we can transform the space we enter. Our group all in red dhouti’s (a piece of cloth the men wrap around their waists) and saris (that may be more familiar to the reader) somehow created our own sacred temple in a way. Huge yantra drawings Manu prepared were put on the ground and women started decorating these yantras with colored rice. Perfect entertainment for someone like me who is obsessed with bright colors. Gurudji prepared additional yantras on the spot with a mix of colored rice and sand and connected all these yantras to each other with a thread. There were many locals gathering around us wondering what this huge group of foreigners are doing, so he also surrounded our space with rice. As if that border made of rice was an electric fence no one entered our space.

So we started with our practice without even any breakfast until the evening and opened our fast with the food prepared by Gurudji’s guru-sister (means that they shared a guru) Ma. We kept practicing in the same space for two more days from 9 in the morning until 8 in the evening, but somehow it felt like just a couple of hours. After a very strong closure Gurudji gave us the mantras to prepare for the next puja and it was OVER. Some members of the group couldn’t get enough and headed back to Gurudji’s house while others including me were on our way to Rishikesh right that evening.

It still doesn’t feel like it’s over though. According to Gurudji the effects of the puja will last for at least one more month, more purification reactions will come up and then the energy will be fixed. Honestly, I have no clue what the hell happened but I hope eventually we all will process this experience in our own way and see the effects.

From Mahamaya to BabaInitially I was thinking about a bit of touristy fun heading towards Varanasi or Nepal but Manu told me that most of the puja people would go to Rishikesh to join the satsang[1] of a master called Prem Baba. Why not, let’s see what this famous Prem Baba is about. I heard many times that seekers in Agama who may get tired or challenged of the tough discipline, methodology and other aspects of the teaching end up going to Prem Baba. In Agama there is a methodic approach to tackle problems and blockages in certain levels of consciousness commonly referred to as chakras in order to move them to higher, more refined levels. By moving the energy up you don’t necessarily resolve your problem but you gain a new perspective by stepping out of the state of mind/emotions which created that problem. This way you generate the capacity to evolve in a way. This is a very valuable technology. Some however were looking for another approach and their paths crossed at Prem Baba’s sangha[2]. I heard about him from people whom I resonated with in Agama, but all I really knew was that he is Brazilian and focuses on working with the heart. I am not really a seeker for a Guru; I had many amazingly valuable teachers in life and I continue meeting new ones. I also experienced moments of surrender but I never had the need to look for a master ‘under whose wings I would hide and who would free me from my suffering’. I mostly followed the flow of encounters. And that’s how I reached this day, the day I met Prem Baba.

From Mahamaya to Baba

After a looooooong but relatively comfortable train ride I was exhausted of carrying my by now 30 kg bag pack, so I just settled for the first semi-decent hostel room that we could find. It is so cheap here that Joceline and I decided to go wild and stay in single rooms for the first time during this trip. The bathroom is common but clean. There are for sure many other options in Rishikesh but we are just weary of moving from one place to another. Besides, in Tarapith we enjoyed a super luxurious hotel room for a ridiculous price, satiated with comfort. At least we are in a very central location, in a cozy setting and very close to the ashram hosting Prem Baba’s satsang.

Without even having a look around Rishikesh I just jumped into my sleeping bag for a chill night and a sleep full of vivid dreams; waking up in a rather grumpy mood. Before I could stop nagging about the bathroom and all, we found ourselves in the hall already. I looked around and immediately got irritated by the neo-hippy characters around in flowery-powery cloths, shawls, long, bushy hairs, a fixed slimy smile on their faces; all the works. While they kept hugging each other I was already questioning why I decided to come here to begin with. However I should put a note here; one shouldn’t assume that only patchouli smelling rainbow community is ruling this particular spiritual realm; there are many strikingly attractive, sparkling people in the hall. I guess there are around 200 people including a part of our puja group. I also have to admit, the hall was super-clean and beautifully arranged. Not to mention your typical free-spirited kids running around. So the atmosphere is full on spiritual in a new-age western style. Then started the bhajan. Not the type of bhajan where some wanna-be-musicians play around with a guitar and a harmonium; a musical feast performed by competent artists. Some join in, most not but no one loses himself and overpowers the beautiful vocals. Well, when the setting is like that what else are you gonna do; I allowed myself to sink into an inner stillness beyond all the doubt and sceptism; just enjoyed the magical music. All of a sudden the group rose up to their feet and Prem Baba entered the hall. A weight was lifted off from my chest and some tears dropped before I knew what was happening. I thought I just got emotional after the long trip, the bhajan but I admitted to myself that I never saw a smile so mesmerizing.

Satsang was in Portuguese although Prem Baba speaks English, but I guess the largely Brazilian crowd is one of the reasons for that. There is consecutive translation, which complicated the process a little. What to do. Prem Baba has a background in psychology; therefore he makes many references to this western science in his teachings and highlights the importance of the transformation of our relation towards our parents as our first heroes and villains in life. Some of my friends mentioned a retreat he offers focusing on this work. I thought about our long talks with my dear friend Vivian. We went very deep into the patterns in our life defined through our relation with our parents and Vivian has been a true mentor to me in that direction. Afterwards I went even deeper and pushed my own buttons big time dwelling upon the existentialist theories of Irvin Yalom and the like. I obsessed about this confrontation with family so much that my mother-issues appeared as the reasons behind many chronic health issues. Thanks to my dear teacher Laura I came to realize that going so deep and trying to confront all the darkness within are just suffocating and one has to go step by step; treat herself gently. In short, some of what Prem Baba was saying at his satsang was familiar to me.

He briefly talked about how we will have to suffer through several confrontations until we finally manage to bow down in front of our parents and be truly grateful for bringing us into this world and showing us many mirrors along the way. He stressed the importance of witnessing all kinds of bitter-sweet emotions without judging, reacting to or identifying with. While valuing the feeling of regret as a sacred teacher for ourselves he invited us to refrain from self-blame which carries a huge portion of hatred. It is worthwhile to contemplate on this distinction. Another important distinction Baba referred to is the difference between understanding and comprehension on a spiritual path. I can relate to that very well right now as I have no clue what Gurudji was doing; there is no way for me to understand it with my logical mind at this moment but I may be able to comprehend the intense universal energy called Shakti.

Following some discourses on these topics and more the satsang was concluded with another round of Bhajan after two hours. Prem Baba announced that he would accept the first comers and the ones who are leaving that day. I observed how many people started queuing up next to his seat. Despite all my scepticism towards these kind of salutations I also joined the que just to feel his energy up-close. I know from my experience in Agama that if you go close to very strong meditators it may feel like entering a magnetic field. While standing in the que I kept on observing what was happening. When their turn was on people one by one kneeled down in front of him giving a namaste and bowed down to his feet; some gave him flowers, others some cards or envelops. Too much for my standards; so what am I going to do?! Some kids were giving him their drawings and what I noticed was that he was looking at every offering with great attention, not just putting them aside. To some he said a few words to others gave just a greeting with a big warm smile on his face. Then it was my turn. The lights of my mind suddenly went off. I found myself in a moment of fullness where there is no space for any observation, doubt or intention. My heart felt three times bigger suddenly and wanted to come out of my chest so I had to put my hands there to keep it in; not because that is the way to greet! Feeling seen by him, warm by his smile; an ultimate acceptance and peace. I was struck so hard that a big knot from my heart dissolved. Then and there I accepted. Maybe it is not about choosing a guru or a path; rather having a divine inspiration to move on. That is more than enough.

[1] Literally meaning being in the company of the wise, satsang is a discourse by a Guru
[2] Spiritual community

A beloved old friend stopped by recently before I headed towards another continent yet again. After some desperate attempts to get some words out of me about my many adventures around the tropics he finally gave up and made fun of my inability to tell travel stories. I took a great relief in that! Finally my inner circle started to realize, I am not secretive; just incapable of telling stories! All I end up uttering is ‘ehhhmm, there was a beautiful sea, pine trees, very pretty’. Pathetic really! So I decided to put my stories into writing instead. It is an issue though to write about this specific trip as I am at a puja; a Sanskrit word used for a spiritual ceremony like a pilgrimage. No good can come out of details shared from a puja neither to the teller nor to the reader; so I will stick to our daily experiences and their reflections on me.

On the way to Mumbai I ran into Pema and Rebecca. Pema is an old friend I met first in Sundance and later at a Vipassana retreat. I got to know Rebecca on the island last year. She seemed like a quiet, introvert girl; then I got a chance to watch her dance the Hawaian Hula and was amazed by the mesmerizing, elegant goddess acting through her. I didn’t know that Hula dance is so naïve and feminine at the same time!

We had our first samosas together at the airport and took our flight to Nagpour in the center of India; a bus and a taxi trip later we were in Gurudji’s house. I prepared myself for a quiet, conservative environment with men and women in their separate corners as it is required in a vipassana retreat however where there are Agama people there is a joyful circus. Thanks to some of my fellows from the Agama Teacher Training Course, especially Joceline, I managed to find some refuge. Ironically Joceline was the only person I didn’t have any conversation with during the whole three months of the TTC. During this puja however, she turned out to be my savior. Together we stepped away from the loud and hyper-social into peaceful and reserved. She took me to a nice corner in Gurudji’s house to settle in and the journey was officially on!

On the way to my first big Puja: KamakhyaI took this trip inspired by my friend and teacher Manu. I thought if this beautiful man turned out to be so angelic after working with these masters, this is the direction I am interested in. Gurudji is a right-hand Tantra master following the guidance of King of Shambala; a sacred realm of enlightened souls. White or right hand tantra can simply be described as a path of awakening going through the force of life, universal energies and powers. In practice it is a highly shamanic path involving working with mantras (sacred sounds) and yantras (sacred geometric forms), meditations on cosmic powers of manifestation called Mahavidya’s, rituals involving several elements. I don’t want to go further with details of this path; need-to-know-basis let’s say. I joined the puja following many long conversations with Manu and also due to my curiosity of right hand tantric practices. Well if I am calling myself a yoga teacher, I should know more about what I am referring to sometimes, right? Besides I haven’t been on a trip with no clear idea about where I will end up. I keep on going to restaurants to eat dishes I’ve tasted before, to stores to buy staff I can put on my shopping list in advance, to destinations I have a clear idea in what kind of setting I would find myself in…Even last year when I decided to spend some months in Thailand on an island that decision may have been radical for some, but for me it was a place I have seen and enjoyed before to study a teaching that I have experienced and deemed fit before. In the current context there is a tiny factor decreasing the surprise element; most of the 101 participants are or were students of Agama. So some of them I even know personally which of course gives a feeling of security. However I want to believe that step by step I am still increasing my tolerance to ambiguity with this choice!

Manu warned us many times in advance that our western minds may be challenged by not only the harshness of the physical conditions but also the chaotic practice. We should expect many physical and emotional purifications and the only way to make it through is to surrender to the process. For the ones who haven’t been on a spiritual journey before; let me tell you that this whole concept of purification is a nasty business! The physical and emotional purification also means equally intense reactions to whatever is happening to our being and you may find yourself in rather dark holes that you weren’t even aware they existed within you.

Saoneer was logistically very challenging for most Europeans but as I had the experience of spending many nights in my own country’s villages, nesting in sleeping bags in cold gyms at youth camps during my college years and camping on the mountains for years I wasn’t really bothered much. For five days we went into a marathon of rituals and long hours of meditation with many mantras. However that part wasn’t so easy. This puja focuses on the root of our being, the Muladhara chakra. Muladhara is the gateway between our body and the nature surrounding us. Therefore our physical wellbeing and strength, our desires, needs, fears and anxieties concerning the material world, our patterns and addictions pumping up our ego are mostly managed by this chakra. Therefore many got seriously ill and/or had to deal with strong emotions and thoughts coming up while stirring the energies at this level of our being. On my third day in Saoneer a very heavy flu took me over. Amplified by breathing constrictions my emotions got so wild I couldn’t sleep anymore and had to turn on my computer and write down all the dark thoughts passing through my mind. In my teenage years where I believe my mind had a lot more clarity and sharpness I used to heal myself by writing. If there was a sleepless night, I would just let the words flow; so I wanted to do the same. I was totally shocked by what came out. I lived the darkest, ugliest, unhappiest, loneliest loser version of myself in those moments. When I read it now I am touched by the sincerity and the purifying effect of those words. In the next days of the puja more dark thoughts and anxiety, especially about money and career popped up, but it all got a lot milder after that night.

Physically and emotionally destroyed I asked myself many times in the middle of a ritual ‘what the f. am I doing here? Did I totally lose it?!’

By the sixth day of the puja we took off for Kamakya. Imagine 101 people and Gurudji’s extended family occupying the small airport of Nagpour! My record in travelling in a group was taking four busses full of AEGEE people from all over Europe to Cappadocia with three other friends and heading to Skopje again in a bus full of youngsters; so limited to road trip. Reminiscing all these beautiful events I keep telling myself how blessed I am for having such an amazing life; feeling so much gratitude for all these adventures I was allowed to experience! And now I add and upgraded travel experience, a plane full of people in one common direction and purpose! We all enjoyed this trip and the fresh air after staying at Gurudji’s place; especially the warm showers in Calcutta. Throughout the whole trip I enjoyed staying in the flow without making any prior arrangement other than buying the flight tickets and it all worked out beautifully.

On the way to my first big Puja: KamakhyaAnd Kamakhya! As many other tantric hotspot, this town is also wretched and intense. I’d imagine to witness some divine esthetics and artistic expression but either due do the overpowering of vedantic paths or the negative influence of the magicians following black tantra that’s hardly the experience. However these towns are indeed energetic hotspots and it is hard to miss it. In that sense Kamakhya was truly special and I felt very good in a strange way, although I didn’t recover from my mean flu. According to a myth Shiva gets too comfortable in his deep meditations and neglects his chores of destroying the universe, while His fellow God Brahma keeps on creating and Vishnu keeps on preserving. So his fellows beg the Great Mother; the divine Goddess to send Shiva a consort to keep Him in action through her feminine power. The Mother agrees on one condition; she will take a worldly form of Sati, Shiva’s consort if the men on the world remember and respect her divinity. Shiva and Sati enjoy a great love shaking mountains with their ecstasy. However as the time pass men forget the divine nature of Sati, the feminine and neglect her. When Shiva and Sati were not invited to a gathering of all deities and gods, Sati gets upset and decides to leave her body after entering a state of deep meditation. When Shiva finds her dead body he gets so furious that he tears the sacrificial body into pieces and let’s each piece drop on the earth. Each piece generates earthquakes and tornados wherever it lands. The details of the story changes according to the teller but their common point is Sati’s yoni fell on Kamakhya; therefore this town is considered as the yoni of the Great Mother; the universe. There are smaller and larger temples for different deities; each one of them with a small, dark sanctum sanctorum for the goddess full of incense. Many Bengali’s sacrifice goats for the Great Mother, making the whole scene even more dramatic with real blood running through the gates of the temples. Beyond all these experiences, I left a piece of my heart in the main temple; devoted to the Great Goddess and one of her many faces.

Kamakhya is definitely not a place for a regular tourist to visit, but if you are on the search for a connection with the feminine, the power, the source she can tell you many stories. While listening to them I kept wondering about the stories hiding in the mountains and valleys of Anatolia and my mother country beyond the Caucasus where my roots lie.

Photos: bbtomas.com

Charlotte pays a visit to a revered artist whose work she would like to display at her gallery. Welcoming her warmly to his secluded studio, the artist gently removes the cover revealing his latest work. ‘The canvases you are about to see … are the apotheosis of every great idea I ever had. It is the closest I ever come to the pure universal god force. The yoni!’ [1]

Some years ago 49 women came together on the beautiful island of Koh phangan to go into the depths of femininity for five full days. We started our journey with the eye-opening perspective Agama provides based on chakras and the level of consciousness of each chakra producing our understanding and experience of femininity. Afterwards Maha went deeper explaining how emotions work, starting from natural instincts of self-preservation turning into moods defining our patterns of behavior. Emotions are very precious, they are the flavor of life, and they shouldn’t be repressed; rather expressed. The trick of the game is about the choice of what to do with that emotion; key word being ‘choice’. Do I have the will and freedom to choose where my emotions lead me to? Can I face my emotion, observe it and decide what to do with it? Instead of looking for justifications for jealousy, anger, victimhood, can I choose how I react to these emotions in my life? The mind that generates emotions also hosts the power of discrimination; the will to choose the beneficial, the harmonious. It is a matter of cohabitation made possible by awareness. I can make a choice only if I am aware of what is going on without identifying myself with the mixed messages of strong emotions. That was another eye-opening perspective. I remember a very tough moment in my life. Many years ago I was in a very difficult situation of being attacked personally and as a team with my fellows by a group of young political animals in front of around thousand students from all over Europe. The events building up to that tension for months combined with the intensity these political games played during our general assembly simply broke me; I lost sight of what is going on inside and out. I remember crying non-stop. My lovely shiva at that time avoided any pampering during the whole day while all that craziness was happening and in the evening he just told me ‘intelligent people can control their emotions’. Of course I was very pissed off about this remark, how dare he insult my intelligence?! Well, it takes some emotional maturity to understand the value of this guidance.

Besides all these little light bulbs switching on in my head, these five days caused a shift in my whole understanding of femininity. In fact, I realized I was trying to live my entire life as a man under the mask of ‘strong woman’. I confronted my de-masculating acts towards men around me and how these acts harmed my own femininity. Maha used an unforgettable analogy for feminine power; a samurai sword in a velvet cover. I took this analogy into my arms and put it under my pillow that night.

ak2During these days we were asked which part of our body we like the most. Among all the generic answers like eyes, legs, boobs one of the women came out with ‘my yoni’. What? How can a woman consider her ‘yoni’ as the most beautiful part of her body? I’d understand loving your yoni, feeling the power of your yoni but seeing it as your most beautiful bit?! The next day we were asked to wear an outfit making us feel feminine. That same woman came with her yoni totally out in display. After the initial shock, suggesting myself to be open and all, I looked at her yoni. Well yes, she is kind of beautiful. Another shift in my mind; it is not only about hers, yoni is beautiful. Then a secondary shock wave; I also got one of those! So I went home and looked at myself (down there obviously), but not in a new-agey ‘we need to love and accept our body’ kind of way. I looked at her for a long time intently. I started to say nice words to her, first following the instructions of our teachers, then improvising with my own words. Yes, it is possible to actually make peace with her; she really is a lotus flower; to be loved and cherished. I announced my peace accord with my yoni at the end of the workshop and thanked the woman who inspired me to do so.

And from that moment on everything changed.

There are two important symbols in Tantric yoga; yoni and lingam. If we go beyond the reductionist Freudian symbolism it is easy to observe the polarity of the feminine and masculine symbols manifested in all phenomena. The relationship of yoni and lingam appears between mountain and valley, fire and water, electricity and magnetism, sun and the moon. Yoni literally means the source; and her higher meaning is the source of creation; just like a woman’s yoni being her source of creative energy. Feeling this power is indeed the closest one may ever come to the pure universal god force. Having said that, mere words don’t suffice to address this topic. One needs to experience her power and Anish Kapoor made me relive all these experiences through another channel of creation; through arts. Visiting his exhibition, getting goosebumbs by looking at his amazing work is a genuine, powerful yoni puja[2]. It is not my place to comment on such a high level of art but I can just recommend if you ever get the chance to see his work, just fix your gaze upon one of his yoni statues for some minutes and see what happens.

[1] Actually he uses another word, but I prefer to use the Sanskrit word for vagina; yoni. And please try to ignore your scepticsm towards Sex and the City; these series may have used and abused sex, alcoholism, fashion, relationships and many other things but they did put lots of critical issues concerning femininity on the table.

[2] Puja: ritual

I have this habit of doing some accounting of my life. Checks and balances in previously undefined intervals. Definitely avoiding birthdays and new years loaded with emotions. I mostly choose random hiatus moments between
transitions in life to do this exercise. Moving from one city to another, from one profession to another, from one connection to none or another. Funny, for many people those phenomena in life: home, profession, social circle remain pretty much constant. My restless fiery drive keeps me on the move, even if all other variables remain more or less constant (not that they ever do)

So I arrive in Srinagar; making another move towards a new puja mind and heart burdened with my accounting exercise. I ask myself where was I and where did I get to? Which of the many lives I have visited really suits my  complexion? Where do I want to go? All I heard was a dark silence in my head. Not a happy one: an audible, almost touchable darkness covering everything else underneath. The response of the heart was even worse. Total numbness, as if I don`t love anyone, especially myself; as if there is no love flowing in my direction. Again a dark, nasty numbness blocking all the sweetness and joy out there. The mind generates all kind of explanations from scientific (PMS, reaction to remedies as a healing crisis, anxiety due to leaving yet another settled routine…) to spiritual (purification before the puja, loss of connection with the flow, a temporary darkness shadowing the soul). And the very mind is annoyed of all these attempts to explain the so-not-significant-nor -interesting state of my being and
just wants to enjoy the voluptuousness of suffering. Yes; we human beings tend to enjoy that dark hole, dig our nose deeper and deeper into our own crap. The cheerful curiosity and enthusiasm of my travel companions excited for their first puja experience feels like a burden on my shoulders. I feel invaded by these bubbly states; I take a deep relaxing breath only after meeting old friends who have travelled this path before, who are happy to be here but calm, just ready. Yes, joy, lightness, flirtation not welcome, I get annoyed even witnessing them. Here is a good question; is this the exact time to dig deeper and search what is the underlying cause of all these reactions? Am I just escaping a tough process of self-confrontation? Or is it my intuition telling me to accept this shit on the surface and surrender to the process of the puja trusting that some truth will be unravelled just by being in this flow. As for now, I am following the second option. I watch the amazing green while others are chitchatting. The contact with the cracks in the mountains, the bluish transparent colour of the rivers, my rebellious pony annoyed by its sherpa, the reflection of the trees on the lake is sooo much more fulfilling than any human connection right now. Although it is the very human contact – or lack of it thereof-has probably pushed me to this state.

After entering the military-camp like airport of Srinagar and getting lost in the city we touched base with the puja group. As said before; finding my little community gave me comfort; a few greetings later I could slip into my silence waiting for the intro meeting to start. But then I saw Guruji walking towards me in the crowd. Despite the two strong puja experiences mostly taking place in his home I never had much of a personal contact with him. It was part of my surrender to his work; not asking for a particular attention to my ego. So he reached me smiling while I was sitting in the circle with my fellows; I gave him a greeting which in my body language translates as humble and sincere but a bit formal. I thought that he’d move on to go where he was meaning to head to. Then I realized he indeed stood up from his seat, crossed the garden just to give me a loving hug. Yes, they kind of know what we actually need.

Kashmir

This puja aims to purify Anahata, the heart chakra. I want to have a clearer understanding of what is going on\wrong in that level of consciousness. What is preventing `love` from flowing in and out? What is making me feel heavy, void of joy and enthusiasm, killing my playfulness at times like this? What is making me afraid of being hurt? All that and many more questions about the heart. It is one big topic by itself so I come back to the puja experience. During each puja we visit a sacred tantric hotpot and do a specific sadhana (spiritual practice) there. This puja started with a trip to Kashmiri mountains to attend the Amarnath Yatra. Amarnath hosts the cave of Lord Shiva. From the cracks
of the cave walls appears a little waterfall. Each year the Mother carves a lingam out of the frozen waterfall representing the masculine principle; supreme consciousness. Play of Shakti carries the sadhaks (spiritual practitioners) to Lord Shiva. It is my habit to avoid reading about the venue we`ll visit. I prefer to know nothing, have no expectation and just accept the experience. This time I tried the same although it was more difficult as we had to be prepared to go through a rough hike up to the cave, prevent altitude sickness, bring warm cloths and have all of our documents in order for the official registration process. Having received multiple emails and warnings
about the conditions I didn’t know what to expect, but now that I have the comfi pony-ride up and down behind me I cannot help thinking back of my mountaineering days climbing up much tougher and longer tracks on foot with 80 lt. backpacks. Still it was great fun to ride on a little pony watching the breath taking view of the mountains (and
imagining the sarcastic smiles of my mountaineering buddies at the back of my neck). Such an amazing combination of green and blue. Mountains not covered but decorated by the trees grouped in forms of crescents. Numerous waterfalls; transparent wild rivers uniting all the hills. I can still visualize the beauty when I close my eyes. The logistics was primitive but very comfortable given the fact that we were a more than 3 thou km altitude. Numerous tents were set up by the cave. Their doors facing each other across narrow alleys. At the entrance of each tent there were little stands displaying malas, spiritual artefacts and many many tiny little objects I have no interest in. Further inside the tents the stand owners arranged blankets and pillows on a platform to rent the space to the visitors. It was so comfy and cosy to share that space with 9 other fellows; visiting the Lord and coming back to our own little cave, meditating together all dressed in white supporting the ones suffering from the high altitude just by being there. The entire camp is built on this support. People calling you to their tents offering Prasad, a whole meal for free for sadhaks, almost feel offended when you don’t accept their invitation.

I cannot write much about the actual practice there. I visited the Lord twice and on both occasions he took away a big chunk of the load in my heart I was carrying.

Now we are back in Srinagar; much sooner than planned, practicing, visiting a few remaining references of Kashmiri Shaivism teachings, admiring the amazing nature, buying pashminas for the loved ones back home and waiting for the second round in the middle of India.