Remover of Fear

In My Meditation Today- I was guided to replace the word “worry” with “wonder”. Replacing worry/anxiety with wonder means, I go from a place of feeling that life is conspiring against me to the knowledge that life is always for me. So for, e.g., if I am worrying about something going on in my children’s life- I am in essence saying that I do not trust that Life/ God/ the Universe has their back. Replacing all worrying thoughts with ” I wonder how this will be resolved” starting today.

The verse below is the second verse in the Durga Sapta Shloki and the seventeenth verse in the fourth chapter of the Devi Mahatmyam. This chapter is primarily a hymn that describes all of the wonderful attributes of the all pervasive Goddess.

 

Durge Smritha Harasi Bheethim Asheesha Janthoh

Swashthaih Smrta Matim ativa subham dadasi

Daridryadukhabhayahaarini kaa tvad anyaa

Sarvopakarakaranaya sadardrachita

 

Remembered in distress, you remove fear from every creature.

Remembered by the untroubled, you confer even greater serenity of mind.

Dispeller of poverty, suffering and fear

Who other than you is ever intent on benevolence toward all?

 

Besides reciting this every morning, I have used this prayer mostly when I am afraid of something terrible happening to someone I love. When my daughter was driving from Denver, CO to Birmingham, AL in the middle of a terrible snowstorm for, e.g., or when my son was travelling to Myanmar recently during of all the turmoil the elections there had caused. However, I knew this verse had more to teach me and that the fear that this verse speaks about is far deeper than the ways in which I have interpreted it so far. So I asked for guidance. What was it that Durga / Source/ God wanted me to put out to the world about this verse?

As I contemplated what this verse meant to me, I began to think about all of the different ways in which I experience fear. As I have talked about before, there is a constant fear of not being enough. It manifests as the fear of not being liked; of being a bother or a burden, of not being important and therefore not deserving attention; not having enough money; of not being special – all various manifestations of somehow not measuring up.  Then there is the fear of what people think about you, not because of your attributes but because of how your husband somehow does not measure up; inadequacy related to professions your children might choose,  what type of person your child is or who he or she will marry. – These are very prevalent fears in Indian society. Children in India are often told that the worst thing they could do is to sully the family name – by doing something that they “should not” per societal / cultural norms. The whole notion of honor killings is an extreme version of this fear of being looked down upon by others – the fear of not being quite how you “should” be.

The whole notion of honor killings is an extreme version of this fear of being looked down upon by others – the fear of not being quite how you “should” be.

What about the fear of becoming the victim of an attack or your children falling ill?  When I sit down and let myself examine why that situation frightens me as much as it does, it once again comes back to the fear that I am not good and therefore terrible things happen to me. In my particular case, I did lose my mother in a plane crash, an uncle to suicide and a baby to premature birth. So it feels like life has proved again and again that she does not have my back; that I am not unique.  

The longer I sat with all the different facets of fear that I experience in my life, the clearer it was that all of them boil down to the underlying fear of not being good enough. A complete rejection of the truth that I am divine.

Additionally, I realized that not only do I refuse to recognize that I am a reflection of the supreme source, but I also restrict divinity between the parameters of what I deem “feasible” or “possible”. I often write up a job description for God.   Pray for a solution to allay a fear but then direct the unfolding of the situation.  I say I trust, but then I have caveats about the type of solution I want for a particular problem. I surrender but expect answers in my time frame rather than in divine time.

Given this new recognition of what “FEAR” is, how could I use this verse? I could recite it every day fully cognizant of the fact that my most basic fear is that I am not enough. As with each verse so far, the essential reminder is that I am a reflection of God, and the lesson is to lean back into that knowledge and trust that all is really and truly well. As I said at the beginning of this post, practice “wondering” how the situation will be resolved instead of worrying and controlling.

How does this apply to you? Become aware of all the different costumes fear wears when she plays in your life. What is the fundamental lie in your life that allows fear to get a foothold? Seek guidance from the power that brings you comfort to help you learn the lesson that fear is here to teach you.  If it helps you, have the English translation of this verse with you and refer to it when you find it difficult to let fear go.

 

 

Mahamaya

In My Meditation Today – Today, my mind was going round and round repeating the same old thought in many different words ad nauseam. As I sat down and took a few deep breaths and focused on the thought, I was suddenly able to see the thought as a part of me that was walking agitatedly around in circles. It was as if there was this miniature me that was pacing up and down in a room close to my heart. As soon as I separated the agitation and began to observe it, the thought had less power over me. I could then metaphorically place a hand on its shoulder and talk to it and calm it down.

 

The verse below is the 55th verse of the Devi Mahatmyam (the grand story of the Divine Mother) which presents a trilogy of myths concerning the all-powerful Divine Mother, Durga, and the fierce battles she waged (wages) against throngs of demonic foes who threatened the stability of the world.

 

It is the second verse I recite in my daily morning prayer. It is the first verse of the Durga Saptashloki – seven verses from the Devi Mahatmyam. Reciting these seven verses is considered equivalent to reciting the entire 700 verse scripture.

 

Jnyani Naam Api Chetamsi Durga

Devi Bhagavati Hisa

Balaad Aakrishya  Mohaya Maha Maya Prayaschati

 

The blessed goddess Mahamaya seizes the minds of even the wise and draws them into delusion.

 

The verse describes how the Divine mother keeps pulling us back again and again into “Maya”, or illusion.  I struggled for a long time with the term “Maya” in Hinduism. As far as I am concerned,  the thought that the entire world was an illusion and that we were all caught up in this illusion was a useless concept. It did not help me weather the depths of despair at the loss of a loved one to death or addiction or unabashedly experience the unadulterated joy  (and frustration:)) that motherhood was. However, over the past couple of years, I have developed my interpretation of Maya, and now this verse has become a powerful way for me to bring myself back from the brink.   

To develop an understanding of my interpretation of Maya, let me take you on a tour through my head on a typical day when I am completely enmeshed in it. I open my personal email in the morning and the first email in my box is a writing coach advertising her services. She has big name clients and the services she offers seems exactly like the services I need. I am sorely tempted to sign up, but it costs $600 a month.  I go back and forth to and from the signup page.  In the end,  I sign up feeling elation & guilt at the same time. The happiness soon gives way to an all-consuming guilt as I drive to work and is in full production mode as I sit down to focus on an important project. The intention is to be productive, but I am not because  I am spending a lot of my energy listening and responding to this little person inside my head who is having a fantastic morning yelling at me for being irresponsible. The little person has my husband’s face & voice, even though my husband, poor guy, is blissfully unaware of what I have done. As I continue to try and get some work done, my daughter calls me. I answer the phone and respond, but it ‘s hard to focus as I continue to answer to the miniature husband in my head while listening to her. She senses that I am not present, and the call ends in a desultory fashion. Well, now I have a little person with my face and voice yelling at me, “See! You are such a useless person. Not only have you gone and wasted all this money, you are not even capable of being a good Mom! Oh my goodness! You have hurt your daughter beyond repair; she is going to feel abandoned. Isn’t the one thing you have promised yourself? To always to be there for your children?”.

As I continue the fight on these two fronts and trying to work,  a coworker walks in, and as I am discussing the project with her, we realize that I have been approaching my task the wrong way.   Hardly a surprise since I have spent half the morning defending myself from an imaginary, accusatory husband and myself!  Now I have a third thing that I can beat myself about – this time,  it is, “OMG!!! – What must that co-worker think of me? I cannot even work through the simplest of problems without help. I am such a low lying piece of garbage!”

Does this spiral downwards ring a bell?

In my interpretation of Hinduism, this is Maya – the illusion that a lot of us live in most of the time because we believe our thoughts and we allow them to pull us into the terrifying world that we create. As we spiral down, we also spiral away from the truth that we are reflections of the divine.

So how does this verse help? Once I began to call this spiral of emotions Maya, the message of this verse is profound. I understand that Mahamaya keeps pulling me into the spiral, so I can see through the maze and recognize the ever present divinity within me. She does not just pull me into the spiral; she pulls me through it.

Brass LampNow when I see myself spiraling down this rabbit hole, I remember the verse and I think, “Ohhh – this is Mahamaya, pulling me into an illusory world.”, I am then able to stop and become an observer of these thoughts as ways in which Maya is “dragging” me into the illusion. As I do this, I am brought into the present moment both emotionally and physically.  I feel into my body to see where I am feeling the constriction and the stress. When I have identified it, I visualize Durga dancing there – she is with me, she is in me! That space in my body becomes a little temple. This temple within has a shiny, bright brass lamp lit up, and I am in there in front of her with a temple bell.  As this vision becomes clear, I  feel a warmth around my heart;  I sense my heart opening, my breath slowing down; a smile replaces the frown on my face;  gratitude the fear in my heart. I ring the bell around Devi’s dancing figure, welcoming her presence in my life; reveling in her iflower-trayntimate connection with me. I place some flowers at her feet, and I lay myself down, my heart full of gratitude for one more instance of her both pulling me into Maya and then helping me come back to the truth of who I am.

From this space, acutely aware of divine guidance, I make decisions knowing that it was the best one I can at that moment. The decision made, my inner critics are silenced as I settle into a renewed awareness of my divinity.

How does this apply to you? This spiral is one all of us are familiar with regardless of the particular religion we practice. The next time you find yourself getting wound up like this, visualize the image of your God in the physical space in your body where you feel the constriction that the spiral has created. Welcome him / her into the space and express gratitude for the situation that has brought you a little closer to your God / source. You will feel yourself moving from tightness and despair to a warm open space.

 

 

 

Ganesha

In My Meditation Today – I decided to tackle the ever-present question within me about my worth and value in a new way. Given that I believe that each one of us is an expression of God – I decided to face myself figuratively, touch my feet and honor me for all that I am, have been and am becoming. Deciding to treat me and my journey with the same respect and awe that I typically reserve for great masters.
Since Hindus begin every auspicious event with a nod to Ganesha, this first blog post is dedicated to him and his role in my spiritual practice.

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Shuklam Bharadaram Vishnum

Sashi Varnam, Chatur Bhujam

Prasanna Vadanam Dhyaneth

Sarva Vighnopa Shantayeth.

I meditate upon the smiling face of he who is clad in white, is the color of the moon, and pervades the universe; May he remove all the obstacles in my path.

I start my morning meditation practice with this verse. It is a verse that is often used to invoke the Spirit of Ganesha – the elephantheaded God of Hindu mythology. His elephant head allows him to uproot obstacles in his path easily. Hence, Ganesha is universally accepted by all Hindus as a force that removes obstacles in one’s path. He is invoked at the beginning of every auspicious event.

When I started thinking about this blog post, a long forgotten encounter with Ganesha came to mind.  I had just turned 8. My favorite uncle was ill, and all that I could gather from the hushed conversations of the adults around me was that the situation was grave. On this particular evening, we went to a Ganesha temple by his apartment on our way to visit him. It was a little stone cavelike structure. The scent of incense and burning oil lamps overwhelmed our nostrils as soon as we walked in. In the center of the structure was a stone sculpture of Ganesha, set in a glass pentagon on top of a pillar that was just a little shorter than me. The room itself was dark but fluorescent lights lit up the sculpture. As I stood in front of him, my eyes were shut tight, I pressed my little palms against each other, and clenched my jaw “Please, please, please make him better,” I implored softly to a God, who in my mind was ensconced in the stone sculpture. He was an entity outside me to whom I had to plead my case.

My uncle recovered and my prayer to Ganesha that night became a distant memory. Several decades later, I was dramatically led back to Ganesha and what he would represent for me. I was in the middle of my doctoral program. I was further ahead in my career than I had dreamt of being, having completed a master’s program, worked successfully as a consultant statistician and in a doctoral program. However, the questions of self-worth still loomed large, and I was beginning to see those same issues of worth developing in my daughter who was in middle school. Despite my admonition to my kids about all of us being expressions of God, I did not behave as if I believed it. The way I showed up in my marriage, at work and all significant relationships was with a lot of shame, blame, fear and victimhood. It was small wonder then that my daughter was slowly developing the sense of unworthiness that I was demonstrating.

Every morning, I lit an oil lamp and routinely repeated a set of prayers to the various Hindu Gods on my altar. It was a time in my life when I was juggling several roles, and my faith was a little shaky. So most mornings, I would usually repeat these prayers by rote while my mind raced ahead to all the things I had to do. On this particular day, I was filled with selfpity, a profound sense of being unworthy and worry knowing that the same feelings were developing in my beautiful young daughter. I stood at the altar in my house, struggling to find the faith that had been my anchor in years past, mindlessly repeating the prayer above. Without warning or prompting, my prayer spontaneously changed to a mesmerizing visualization. In it, as my daughter and I stood in front of a picture of Ganesha, a little replica of Ganesha moved into our hearts and started cleaning out. He wrapped his trunk around the darkness created by the sense of unworthiness, self-doubt and powerlessness and plucked it out. As he did that, the little flame within our hearts became bigger and brighter and the sensations of self-pity, guilt and shame were replaced with a sense of trust and peace.

I came out of that visualization with a deep knowing that the only obstacles we face are within and that Ganesha is not an entity in a picture or a sculpture outside us. He is the power within that recognizes these blocks and helps release them.

It has been twenty years since that incident. Both my daughter and I have come far in our careers, our spiritual journeys and our sense of self.

However, as the beginning of this blog post demonstrates, I continue to struggle with the questions of self-worth. My meditation still starts every morning with the verse above, and I use the visualization anytime unworthiness, self-doubt or worry about my daughter rears its ugly head. I trust that every day our flame glows brighter, and we get a tiny bit closer to being true, unfettered reflections of the divinity within us

About In My Meditation Today

These blog posts, not in chronological order, are a description of my journey. They also describe interpretations of Hindu deities and mythology that are uniquely mine and have helped me on this path. I would love to hear what you think about my interpretation in the comments section below.