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
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.
Now 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 intimate 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.