Tiruvanamalai, Tamil Nadu, India.
My bare feet walk upon cool marble floors. Making circles around the altar. It is 6:30am. I walk and ardently await the singing. Men and boys chanting in devotion. Ancient Sanskrit sweetness.
The moment they begin there is a stirring in my heart. Tears flow. They flow in remembrance. They flow in recognition of the Union of the divine masculine and feminine that I hear coming through their voices, their souls. Reverence, purity. The essence of the mother. Of the father; before the forgetting, before the upsetting of truth. Before the confusion. Before the misperceptions, before time and space. From the emptiness. It is the frequency that births creation. The seed of love that blooms eternally. The holiest of hallowed sounds.
I stop walking and stand at the southwest corner of the altar, facing their backs. A wave of heat washes over me. The fire of truth. Burning away old layers of everything that is not pure. I feel like a pillar that could shape shift into arms cradling these men. I embrace my namesake. The divine mother overcoming darkness with light, death with love. Remembering the essence of my soul. The masculine in me. Acknowledging the feminine that has over given, over compensated, turned away from myself. Dismissed the truth. Can I reclaim all the pieces of myself that I have thrown out of reach? I know they are not lost completely because I feel their essence, like fireflies flickering in the dark.
There are moments when I feel I may never leave here. This town, this mountain. The sweet smiles of knowing. The tug of war inside myself – justifying staying, justifying leaving, in those moments when I can’t stand the stench of the drains, the cow shit, the sewage on the sidewalk, the noise, the neglected animals, the poverty. But then I get swept into a charming interaction with a sweet soul with light shining out of their eyes who can see who I truly am without me uttering a word or I’m lured in by the impeccably kept temple which is so peaceful and alive with prayers and offerings of love or the old lady on the corner selling fragrant flowers. She has spent hours and hours meticulously stringing them up only to sell them for 50 rupees – happily, religiously, every day. And all of this is life, revealed in everything externally – internally.
All these souls; they come here to be with the mountain. To be with Shiva. To burn in the fire of truth. To burn through the layers of resistance to everything that is not love. To see clearly. To sink into the knowing of self.
There is a decidedly calmer energy within the walls of the ashram. I notice myself taking a breath as I walk through the gates. Taking my shoes off and feeling the sand under my feet feels good. My feet are always dirty here but I love being shoeless most of the day. Here you even take your shoes off before walking into the supermarket.
After the puja I walk bare foot up the mountain, despite having a couple of blisters. I need the rocks and the sand beneath my feet. I need to feel the earth, the mountain. I am later than I want to be walking up but I decided to be kind to myself and have a good breakfast first. I have a feeling my journey will take a while. Thankfully it is slightly cooler today and I am grateful to have eaten. The humidity is still stifling but I praise the clouds for covering the sun at least for a few minutes. Half way up I run into Ananda – a beautiful, spiritual man, all dressed in white. He knows who I am – an ancient recognition. Of course I realize in this moment that I am not late. This is divine timing. We exchange a few words, embrace and are on our way. He reminds me to be thankful for all the blessings in my life so that more will be bestowed. Two minutes later, as I am contemplating my blessings, I run into a friend who I haven’t seen in 12 years. We met in Canada right after a decidedly deplorable time in my life. He tells me he is moving here and suggests that maybe we should meet later. He says it would be good to chat and that maybe he could make up for his behavior from 12 years ago. I draw a blank. I don’t even remember what happened between us. He seems relieved. We make no plan and leave it open to synchronicity. As I continue walking a memory of our time together is triggered and I realize why I have bumped into him. It is yet another layer of pain burning away. His immaturity and emotionality, his jealous ex girlfriend. That’s all I remember. I don’t need to recall the situation exactly. Only to know that the mountain is supporting the burning away of every situation like this that has occurred in this life and beyond. All the agony, all the layers of misunderstanding. Everything that has torn at my innocence, disappointed and created deep sadness in my heart.
I continue walking up to the cave and decide only to go to the small cave. I am followed by one of the young cave dwellers who offers to take me to the feet of the dancing shiva higher up in the mountain. He has such sincerity and gentleness, a sweet smile and open face, so I agree to follow him. Not realizing the walk is going to be a bit steep and challenging. Something I am not too prepared for. Something that in the past I would not have batted an eyelid at but as we go further I am unsure. I brace myself with my hand as I step over a rock and lose my balance and bend my finger back. It hurts. It reminds me of all the joint pain I’m working with; an outward manifestation of all the stored up aggravation and suffering. Tears well up. I try to explain to the boy what is happening. He is so kind and compassionate and immediately starts chanting Om Namah Shivaya and rubbing puja ash on the affected finger. He explains that if I stay on the Shiva mountain I will be healed and I will become stronger. He gifts me a sacred rudraksha bead and tells me the mountain has gifted it to me. I am blessed. I continue crying. I take his hand for a moment and he smiles. It’s all I can do to thank him as I have no words. He takes out 2 small packages of ash, wrapped in newspaper. One white and one purple, representing Shiva and Shakti, which he rubs on my forehead. He holds my hand and accompanies me down to where we started. We part ways and I continue down to a lower cave which Ramana Maharshi spent 17 years in. On the way down I meet a sādhu sitting on the path who notices my tears. He wipes my face with his rough hands as I bow down to greet him. I open my eyes and look into his – his long white beard and orange robe blurry with all the tears. He says a prayer for me and I continue on. Arriving at the cave brings more crying. A mixture of sweat and tears saturate my entire body and I sit in the cave steeped in a releasing of whatever is arising in myself. It is burning, cleansing, necessary. I feel fragile but peaceful. In full acceptance and gratitude.
Upon leaving I decide to return to town a different way. Unbeknownst to me the path takes me through a hillside village, which is so fascinating and quaint and every person I encounter greets me in the sweetest way. Almost like they can see right through me into my heart. Knowing the softness and rawness inside. There are tiny puppies; so skinny, stumbling as they walk because they’re so weak. Men playing a game on the crumbling sidewalk with stones. Women drawing mandalas with chalk on the street outside their doors. I feel like I’m in another time, another life. Softly, quietly, respectfully walking. Greeting these beautiful souls without words. Absorbing this holy, tender moment.