Just of few days over a decade ago I found myself on top of the world. I was in India, in the Himalayas sitting in an old and ancient Shiva temple with the whole world spinning around me. It was January, 2000 and one day past the mark of the new millennium.
To say this place is magical would be an understatement. I obviously felt it, but I was not alone. The animals would run into the area, when being chased for their very lives in the hunt, and the predators would respect it’s sanctity. It is a sacred place. I place teaming with spiritual, and sexual, energy.
As darkness fell, I came to the temple, lohi wrapped around me, carrying a mat. The Himalayas are cold at night, as cold as my Minnesota home, and this was winter. You needed to prepare, put on layers, socks, something to keep the earth from stealing all of your warmth, something to wrap up with. I left my shoes behind at the temple threshold, set my objects around me, wrapped up, turned off the flashlight and began to meditate.
Meditation was not new to me. I had been initiated into the Himalayan tradition by my guru. I had a practice, I came prepared with mantras, personal and ancient. While sitting down to meditate wasn’t new, the experience of the temple certainly was – and wasn’t.
As I sat down and ran through my beads, the world slipped by around me. I was sitting in the temple, with it’s huge lingam dripping somewhere beneath the earth. Silence fell. It was the middle of the night. I could hear a panting breath, one of a large jungle cat, as I sat. Seconds, minutes, hours – time stretched out around me. The world spun around me. It was cold, the temple floor uncomfortable, adjusting I went on, slowly breathing, repeating the words in my mind.
Eventually, sleep was making its demands upon my body. I reluctantly returned to bed.
The desire to not be enlightened
Two years later, I made a second pilgrimage to the temple. Again I sat in the temple overnight. I was more prepared this time, determined to stay in the temple longer, throughout the whole night if possible. Again, it was January, cold, winter in the mountains. And again, I could not endure the entirety of the long hours when nights are so long at that time of year.
There are certain things I have realized between those two times, things I think I’ve always known. Returning to the temple the second time and sitting down, I realized I never left. There is a part of me still sitting there right now. I am saying the words, personal and ancient. When I return to the temple, I rejoin myself. When I sit down to meditate, I rejoin my selves. I can feel myself, sitting in the temple, sitting in my house, sitting in all the places and times that I’ve sat down to meditate.
It’s this that has given me some peculiar ideas. There’s an old game played called Leela. It’s what the children’s game chutes and ladders is based on, but in Leela, it’s snakes and arrows. The game plays like this, you start in heaven, nirvana, and go off to the world. There, you have your life, your lives until you finally after many lifetimes reach enlightenment and return to where you began. However, in this game, you can choose to return to the beginning and live life again as a guide to your friends, companions, family members who are still playing to help them also reach the end. When all have finally reached enlightenment, the games ends. Each square on the board represents something in life and has a narrative about it. There are setbacks (snakes) to move you backwards in your lives and arrows to propel you forward more quickly on your path. You play with a personal item: wedding ring, earring, nose ring, bracelet or whatever you keep with you personally, like a key.
That temple in the Himalayas, that game, me still sitting to meditate, made me realize that I am still sitting in all of those places. But, we perceive things backwards. We think of ourselves as imperfect, flawed, with so much to overcome. What do I need for enlightenment, what will it take to reach heaven and be with God? How do we break this cycle of birth and death?
What we don’t realize is we are already enlightened. We may not be aware of it, like we may not be aware of so much in life going on around us, going on inside us, but it’s there all the same. We are sitting in heaven, meditating, saying words personal and ancient. We are present in all of our lifetimes all connected together. We are not imperfect beings trying to reach perfection. We are perfect beings trying to live, and experience the imperfection, randomness, dirty lives of existence.
We choose to live. We choose to keep reentering the game, over and over again. We’ve come from heaven, from creation, from God. We then chose to experience life, to it’s fullest in many forms. Some are pleasurable, some are painful, some easy, some hard. We have forgotten, but we chose to live life, we choose to live, and we fight and struggle to keep it and keep doing it. We strive to experience, to continue creation, to keep creating new things.
This life, like all of the others are connected. I am still sitting in that temple. If I return to it, I will still struggle to understand, have I had a life outside of it? Have I always been here? I remember living a life somewhere. As I sit down to meditate, I feel myself still there, still hear the large cat panting in my ear, still hear the dripping of water. If I let myself, I feel myself someplace else, enlightened or reunited with all of my lives, all of my selves sitting together.
Shivaratri is upon us this week. The festival dedicated to Lord Shiva. This year I have chosen to remember his temple in the mountains, whose name I have withheld, for it is a sacred place, a place of pilgrimage. I have chosen to write this down.
This Shivaratri I will sit down to meditate and I will go to his temple. I will sit there, with its cold air and ground, a place that people and animals can agree that is sacred. I will sit and try and be one with myself and offer it up to him.
You don’t have to sit, light a candle. Be happy you’re alive. Say a prayer of thanks.