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A spiritual adventure spanning three continents and as many ancient wisdom traditions, Fire of the Phoenix Initiation blends travel memoir, expert storytelling, spiritual history, step-by-step exercises, and initiation practices to guide you through your own inner journey. • In India, you’ll traverse the realm of ego and shadow, guided by a cast of Hindu gods and goddesses. • In Australia, you’ll travel through the realm of dreams, guided by Mother Earth, Aboriginal elders, and Dreamtime beings. • In Peru, you are delivered into the realm of light and spirit, guided by Q’ero shamans, descendants of the Inca. At once entertaining and informative, practical and mystical, transformative and brimming with enduring wisdom, Fire of the Phoenix Initiation weaves together past and present to lay pathways for a new future. Nine Essential Practices at the conclusion of the book provide you with a map for living your new life. A healing adventure for heart and soul not to be missed!

BODY, MIND & SPIRIT: Shamanism

FI NDHO RN P RES S www.findhornpress.com

$15.99 US / $20.99 CAN / £9.99

Tanya S. Lenz

Tanya S. Lenz is a writer and educator initiated into the shamanic lineages of the Peruvian Andes. A lifelong student of dreams, literature, medicine and healing practices, and world wisdom traditions, she holds a Ph.D. in medieval British literature and is the author of Dreams, Medicine, and Literary Practice: Exploring the Western Literary Tradition Through Chaucer.

Fire of the Phoenix Initiation

A Healing Adventure for Heart and Soul


Fire of The

Phoenix Initiation m

Transform Your Life with the Ancient Spiritual Wisdom of India, Australia and Peru

Tanya S. Lenz

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Š Tanya S. Lenz, 2016 The right of Tanya S. Lenz to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998. Published in 2016 by Findhorn Press, Scotland ISBN 978-1-84409-692-3 All rights reserved. The contents of this book may not be reproduced in any form, except for short extracts for quotation or review, without the written permission of the publisher. A CIP record for this title is available from the British Library. Edited by Michael Hawkins Cover and Interior design by Damian Keenan Printed and bound in the USA Disclaimer The information in this book is given in good faith and is neither intended to diagnose any physical or mental condition nor to serve as a substitute for informed medical advice or care. Please contact your health professional for medical advice and treatment. Neither author nor publisher can be held liable by any person for any loss or damage whatsoever which may arise from the use of this book or any of the information therein.

Published by Findhorn Press 117-121 High Street, Forres IV36 1AB, Scotland, UK t +44 (0)1309 690582 f +44 (0)131 777 2711 e info@findhornpress.com www.findhornpress.com

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CONTENTS

Prologue: The Reading

........................................................................................................ 

PART ONE INDIA: Through the Golden Door

9

..................................................................... 

11

1 Ashes to Ashes: On the Banks of Mother Ganga .............................................  Exercise: Into the Fire ..................................................................................................  2 Faces of the Goddess .............................................................................................................  Exercise: Seats of the Goddess ...............................................................................  3 Where Fear Feeds the Budding Blossoms of the Heart ...............................  Exercise: Moving from Fear to Love ..................................................................  4 Tears of Incense and Shadow Made Light ............................................................  Exercise: Defeating the Predator ..........................................................................  5 Touts, Sweets, Miniature Paintings, and a Healing .......................................  6 Return of the Goddess ........................................................................................................  Exercise: Feeding the Goddess .............................................................................. 

12 25 27 35 37 48 50 60 62 77 85

PART TWO AUSTRALIA: In the Womb of Mother Earth

............................................... 

87

7 Rainbow Serpent Dreaming ...........................................................................................  88 Exercise: Sand Painting ...............................................................................................  99 8 Ghost Gum Dreaming ........................................................................................................ 101 Exercise 1: Ghost Dancing ..................................................................................... 117 Exercise 2: Death Masks and Honoring the Ancestors ...................... 118 9 Egret Dreaming ........................................................................................................................ 119 Exercise: Dreaming with the Earth .................................................................... 126 Exercise: Egret Dancing ............................................................................................. 129 10 Butterfly Dreaming – Healing Love from Grandmother .......................... 130 Exercise: Honoring the Divine Sacred Feminine Within .................. 137

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PART THREE PERU: On the Wing with Condor

139

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11 From the Golden Sunlight Far Away ........................................................................ 140 12 The Roar of the Mountain ............................................................................................... 154 Exercise: Saminchukuy ............................................................................................... 165 13 Ambrosial Dews of Heavenly Nectar ....................................................................... 166 Exercise: Dreaming a New World ....................................................................... 171

Epilogue: The Jewel Ceremony ................................................................................... 172 Ten Essential Practices ....................................................................................................... 174 Glossary ........................................................................................................................................ 175 About the Author .................................................................................................................. 176

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Prologue

The Reading

A

white-haired crone hobbled into the room where I stood. Hunchbacked from age, she gripped a gnarled walking stick as she moved to and fro like some kind of winged creature, her fringed wrap flowing around her squat body. I watched as she slowly lowered herself onto a wooden chair before a small table. There a single candle burned, filling the room more with the smell of sandalwood than light. “Sit,” the old woman croaked, gesturing toward an empty chair across from her and casting a glance in my direction. Her shiny-gray eyes pierced me like lightning. Diverting my gaze, I looked toward a tiny window mounted in the opposite wall. It neatly framed the rocky slopes atop which the cottage perched. Peering through its thick glass, I saw rolling green hills dotted with white and storm clouds building in the distance. The old woman collected her thick round cards, haphazardly strewn across the table, into a neat pile. With her stiff, swollen hands she shuffled them once, twice, three times. Muttering in a language I did not recognize, she pulled three cards from the stack and laid them before me in a horizontal row, face down. Sliding a long yellowed fingernail under the first card, she turned it face up and let it fall to the table. “Death.” Her voice was deep and dry. She sat with her eyes closed for a long while, scarcely breathing, before continuing with words that came in waves. “There will be a time of trial. Tests will be visited upon you. One after another. There will be long stretches of emptiness. Fallowness. Darkness. There will be heartache and struggle. There will be fire and fear. There will be movement and journeys over water and through air.” Pausing, she concluded, “All of this is to end. All of this is to yield to something else, something more, something…different. Death is never to fear for it promises rebirth.” Opening her eerie eyes, she turned the second card face up and let it fall in the same manner as the first. “Hanged Man,” she announced, her voice trailing down. Once again the crone sat with her eyes closed. After several 9

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minutes, her chin drooped to meet her chest and I believe she may have fallen asleep before she raised her head and spoke. “There will be a time of in-between-ness. Droughts and floods. A severing of old ties that would bind and restrict. A slaying of demons in whose power you and yours have remained for far too long. There will be a time of suspension that is paradoxically a liberation. There will be initiation into the ancient ways of knowing. A reorganization of being. You are not to fear. You are to keep faith and continue. Don’t look back.” I watched, unable to move or think, as the crone turned the third and final card face up. “Judgment.” She rocked back in her chair before speaking. “There will be a time of ascension. Led by the sun children. A time of freedom…newness…hope. A time of coming together, in many and varied ways. There will be much to do. It will be arduous. You will rise up and come down again. You will spiral like the celestial bodies through space. Do not be fooled! — this is but the beginning.”

10

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PART ON E

INDIA

Through the Golden Door

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Chapter One

Ashes to Ashes: On the Banks of Mother Ganga Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. — J OHN M I LT ON

I

n the stillness before dawn, I opened the door of my hotel room and walked the length of a dark hallway, pausing at the top of a steep staircase. Reaching for a railing and finding none, I placed my hand on the rough, cold wall for balance. I slid one heel down the front of the first large stone step, and then the other heel down the second. Slowly in this way I wound my way down the crooked spiral, stopping more than once for lack of light and the uneven steps. After what seemed a long while, I arrived on the ground floor where I inched across the pitch-black lobby to a heavy front door. Opening it, I inhaled warm air laced with the stench of garbage, urine, cow dung, and acrid smoke. Peering into the darkness, a tinge of fear pricked the back of my neck as my eyes made out a figure standing at the bottom of another steep flight of steps. This, I would soon discover, was the boatman who would escort me on a sunrise tour of the sacred Ganges River, Ma (Mother) Ganga as she is affectionately called in India. When I finally arrived beside him, I found that the boatman stood no taller than my shoulder. He wore a simple white cotton shirt and his broad bare feet peeked out from beneath cuffed pants. I knew at once that I could trust him. As I shook his strong, calloused hand, his face broke into a warm smile that lit the darkness with an almost-full set of crooked teeth. “I am Kumar,” he said, placing his other hand over his chest before starting down the cobblestone alley at a startlingly quick pace. “Come…this way!” he whispered urgently, motioning for me to follow. 12

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I followed as Kumar led me through a web of narrow twisting corridors that must have been difficult to navigate even during daylight. This was my first introduction to Varanasi, having arrived after dark the previous night, so the lay of land and buildings were left to my imaginings. Rounding a tight corner, we just missed colliding with an enormous white cow breakfasting on a pile of garbage that had accumulated in a nook. She didn’t bother looking up from her meal, let alone move, as we pressed our backs against a high wall to pass her. As she stood there in her majestic enormity, munching a garland of red and orange flowers, it seemed that she was conscious, to some degree, of her sacred status in this land of Hindus. As we passed, she turned one of her soft brown eyes toward us. The large brass bell that hung with the soft flesh of her neck clanged softly in the pre-dawn stillness, joining the sound of men chanting in the distance. Continuing on our way, we passed several small shrines already, or perhaps still, glowing with candlelight. The sound of our footsteps echoed off the close high walls that bordered the walkways on both sides. As we neared the river, a large group of pilgrims fell in behind us chanting “Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram Ram,” a name for the Hindu concept of Brahman, the supreme reality underlying all of creation. The men wore bright, loosely wrapped orange and white clothing that glowed like embers in the night, contrasting beautifully with their dark brown skin. Their earnest devotion was palpable. “Hindus come to Varanasi from far and wide to wash away the sins of a lifetime – or many lifetimes – in the arms of Mother Ganga,” Kumar explained over his shoulder in heavily-accented, sing-song English. “Some people walk a circle around the whole city. Many times for weeks they walk. They stop at shrines and temples on the way for worshipping. But most people come to this small place by the Ganga. In this short length, there are more than 100 ghats. These are the steps or landings leading to the river. Here in Varanasi,” he continued, looking back and up at me, “many ghats have their own temple or shrine that marks an important event.” His black eyes sparkled as he increased his pace. “Come! You will see!” When we reached the shore of the holy river, the sun had still not risen. Kumar led me to his small canoe-like boat and offered me his hand as I carefully stepped in. The boat wobbled as I sat on a wooden plank facing the helm. He untied a thick dirty rope, took hold of the oars, and we set out into the water. In the peace before first light, I immediately fell under the spell of 13

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the river’s magic. The rhythmic sound of the water lapping at the sides of the boat wooed me into another world, for how long I don’t know, and I barely noticed when another boatman pulled even with Kumar’s canoe. Leaning over the side of his craft, he caught my attention when he held out a plate full of various colorful things. Quizzically I looked to Kumar for some explanation. He told me that it was a gift for the river – a prayer offering. “It is very good,” he said, smiling mildly, his head bobbing back and forth. “You should accept. He is only asking a few rupees.” My cynical self protested this touristic appeal. But from another place – that place into which I’d been pulled so effortlessly moments before – I was utterly enchanted that this man had taken such time and care to prepare and present this beautiful gift for me and for the river. “Why not?” I thought, giving him the rupees. He smiled and stretched over the sides of our crafts to carefully place the plate in my open palms. Looking closely now, I saw that it was a simple white paper plate of the sort I’d used countless times at home, at summer barbecues and gatherings with friends. It was piled high with dark pink rose petals and bright orange marigold-like flowers no larger than a quarter in size. One side of the plate held a small container of bright red bindi powder. In the middle a small white candle burned, casting a halo of light over the vibrantly colored flowers and spices surrounding it. Lifting the plate to my nose, I inhaled the intoxicating smells. Part of me wanted to protect or possess all of this fragile, sensuous beauty rather than setting it afloat on the river and yet it was precisely this sacrifice that made the offering sacred. “Put the bindi powder at the third eye here,” Kumar said, pointing to the center of his forehead. As I did so, he continued, “This will focus your thoughts. It will open and protect your third eye – the inner seat of enlightenment.” Still holding the plate in both hands, I closed my eyes and gathered my thoughts into a silent prayer. Opening my eyes, I then leaned over the side of the boat and carefully set the little bundle on the water. I watched as the waves tossed it this way and that as it drifted toward dozens of other prayer bundles that enveloped us in a swirling mandala of flickering lights. Kumar rowed steadily as the sun rose above the horizon to one side of the little wooden craft. “There,” he said, nodding in the direction of shore, “that is the ghat of Hanuman, the monkey god. Do you know Hanuman? 14

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Hanuman rescued the goddess Sita after the demon Ravana kidnapped her. This is a good story but veryvery long – too long for now. On your next boat ride I will tell you the story,” he said, flashing a grin. “Behind you,” he continued, “is Manikarnika. This is where we started the boat ride. Manikarnika is the main burning ghat where the dead bodies are taken.” Kumar’s comment sliced right through my reverie, though I had read about the open cremation fires in Varanasi. Turning and surveying the shore, I clearly saw smoke rising from three separate fires. “‘Manikarnika’ means ‘jewel of the ear’ – what you wear in the ear, yes?” “Earring,” I replied, nodding. “Yes-earring,” he repeated. “It is said that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, dropped her earring into a well at this place – a well that is older than the river herself. You can see that this is a veryvery old place, full of stories, gods and goddesses, blood and sweat, and the fires that give birth to life. Manikarnika is one of the most sacred ghats for the Hindu person.” “Why?” I asked, still gazing at the smoke rising on shore. “Here the cycle of life and death is played out for all to see. It is not like in America, where no one wants to think that they will die one day. Here, we accept death in every moment as a necessary part of life.” Listening intently to Kumar, I decided to explore Manikarnika more fully after the boat tour, though at that moment I could not know how intimate I would become with it in the coming days. “And here it is time for the morning bath,” Kumar said, looking toward a group of bathers who had suddenly appeared on the opposite shore. They greeted the rising sun with a chorus of salutations and chants. “Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges, typically at dawn, washes away sin,” Kumar said. I watched as men and women, naked and clothed, received the blessings of the water, untying the fetters of samsara with every touch of the sacred river. Some waded in, carefully wetting their colorful saris and wraps while others completely immersed themselves, holy water dripping from every hair and pore. Their prayers and chants echoed around us as the rising sun warmed our faces. We rowed past the hotels, shops, restaurants, and other buildings that lined the river, many of which were covered with colorful paintings or Sanskrit symbols. The sound of the oars dipping into the water and the gentle swaying of the boat again pulled me into another place. We rode in silence until we reached a loud on-shore performance that was just concluding. 15

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“This is the Ganga Aarti ceremony,” Kumar announced, letting the oars rest above the water as we watched. “This ceremony is taking place every morning and evening. You should visit tonight! It is veryvery popular, for local people and visitors also.”

F Here, Kumar turned the boat around and we began our return trip up the Ganges. Mesmerized by the sights, sounds, and smells, I felt I was among the countless souls that had through time come to these waters to drink, wash, bathe, and pray. I wanted to stay longer in this glimpse behind the veil, and we arrived too soon back at Manikarnika. Kumar secured the boat with the rope and I stepped ashore just below the smoking cremation fires. Thanking Kumar for the tour, I paid him and then asked if he would consider being my guide awhile longer, if he knew about Manikarnika. “Of course I know Manikarnika. I was born in Varanasi and I have lived here all my life.” Accepting my offer, he too stepped ashore and we made our way toward the cremation tiers. It was a relatively peaceful walk, as Varanasi was still mostly asleep, the intimacy of night not yet broken by the beggars and touts that would, inevitably, soon appear. “In the West, it seems there is an ignorance – or an ignoring – of death,” Kumar said. “Is this true, do you think?” “It has been true, but I think it’s changing,” I replied. “You would like to learn, yes? Let me show you. Burning is learning – cremation education,” he said, laughing with the polished delivery of a practiced actor. No doubt he had repeated these words many times before, to tourists just like me. Though it was trite, it was also true: many westerners might benefit from a little education where death is concerned. “To the Hindu, to die in Varanasi offers moksha, or freedom from the cycle of rebirth. That is why so many Hindus go to great trouble to travel here as death approaches them.” “Over here,” he pointed to his right, “you can see the burning bodies.” Following him, I again saw three open fires burning, as I had seen from the river. Not unlike campfires, they were made from simple stacks of wood. “You can see the burning bodies,” he repeated, pointing. My stomach turned as I caught sight of a single foot sticking out of the nearest fire, the torso to which it was originally attached apparently having already been 16

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consumed by flames. Despite the indescribable stench that stung my nose and lungs and the grayish haze that hung in the air, I kept my eyes fixed on the fire, undeniably fascinated by this open display of death that so thoroughly showed the simple truth of the phrase “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” “At Manikarnika,” Kumar continued, “bodies burn day and night, and the fires are lit using a flame kept inside a building close by. It is said that this flame has burned continuously for many centuries and it has never been extinguished. “You can see here,” he continued, gesturing toward the cremation tiers, “that there are three levels of burning. The bodies burning on the lowest level are lowest caste. The bodies burning high are highest caste. In India, the castes are of course inherited and determine social rank and position,” Kumar explained. “The caste system is a deep part of Hindu beliefs such as reincarnation and these beliefs spill into Indian society.” I marveled at this sign of the all-encompassing power of the Hindu social and religious system. If caste extended even into death, and beyond it into rebirth, no wonder Hindus came seeking liberation by dying in Varanasi. “We do not burn babies who have died,” Kumar continued matter-offactly, “or pregnant women, young children, sadhus, or those dying from leprosy or snakebite. In Hindu tradition, these people have purified while living or in their death, so they do not need burning. They are tied to a large rock and placed freely in Ma Ganga,” he said, waving a hand and lifting his eyes toward the river. “Manikarnika is a very popular place to be burned. Many people are here living in this building,” he said, gesturing toward a tall dark structure directly behind him. “They are waiting to die. They are poor and wood is expensive so they are always looking for money to help buy wood.”

F The sun was already bright, and I wanted to explore Varanasi before the day became too hot. Thanking Kumar for the “cremation education,” and again for the boat tour, I pressed several rupees into his hand. He smiled appreciatively, his head bobbing. I then turned to face the task of finding my way through the maze of passageways. “Burning bodies so early in the morning will wake you up!” Kumar called after me. Glancing over my shoulder, I met his gaze as the faintest 17

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smile crossed his lips – a smile born not of irreverence but rather of a deep familiarity with and acceptance of the natural, inevitable rhythms of life and death. “Seeing the bodies burning, one sees that life is impermanent. Are you ready to die tonight?” he asked. This last question was almost too much. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, not out of fear but because his words touched some other deeply-rooted nerve. Clearly, I thought as I walked, Varanasi is an ancient place of power and spirit, and Manikarnika is at the very heart of it. According to Hindu tradition, Varanasi is the birthplace of Lord Shiva, the god who destroys and transforms. This mythic fact was everywhere evident in the form of Shiva shrines, temples, paintings, and other types of devotional art. Shiva and death are inseparable from Varanasi. Shiva destroying life means death. And yet when he transforms, he maintains the ability to conquer death, which means eternal life. Varanasi has in fact also been known as Kashi, the City of Life. This name, together with the cremation fires that burn within the city walls, capture the twin forces of life and death. Indeed, the very seed of life and creation lies within the ashes of death and destruction. Both Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and transformation and death, bring the message that we must first part with what is not serving us, and say goodbye to our false selves, before we can truly create and be fully alive. In this sense, Death is not the end of the physical body, but the process of putting to rest all the rotting debris from the past – the wounds, experiences, relationships, and beliefs that drag us into a living grave and prevent us from embracing life with arms wide open. It was these spiritual truths that glinted in Kumar’s eyes, I thought, walking slowly along the riverbank in the morning sunlight. By not denying death – by rendering it not only visible but an undeniable part of daily life and recognizing this through funeral prayers and chants, ceremonies, an ever-burning flame, and even the smell of cremation ash clinging to one’s own living skin – life is spurred. Living so intimately with death reminds us to live each and every moment of our life fully and to do today what must be done to be ready for death tonight. Walking along the ghats pondering life and death, I watched a line of five men hard at work washing the day’s laundry. Standing calf-deep in the river, they faced a series of giant rectangular stones jutting out from the bank. 18

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Centuries of use had worn smooth indentations into these rocks, which the men used to slap, rub, and twist saris, kurta and kurti, underwear, scarves, shawls, bed linens, rugs, and all manner of other fabrics. As they hung the colorful materials on a long thin rope stretched taut, or laid them on stone steps to dry in the sun, the riverbank became a colorful patchwork mosaic of bright yellows, pinks, greens, reds, purples, indigos, oranges, deep blues, and whites.

F Turning away from the river then, I noticed tiny buildings lining the narrow passageways that surrounded the ghats. Built from the ground up, these dwellings were interconnected in a way that formed an odd tube-like structure. They were dark with short wooden doorways, some no higher than three or four feet. Such architectural features held the stories of the ages, bearing witness to Varanasi’s rich history as one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Walking further through the labyrinth of alleyways, I came upon Kashi Vishwanath, or The Golden Temple. I later learned that a shrine dedicated to Shiva had originally been built at the location, but in 1669 invading Muslims destroyed the building. At some point, an emerald lingam was recovered and dropped into a well, and it was around this well that the Golden Temple was then built. The lingam as a symbol of Shiva is widespread in Varanasi. Although it may be taken as a symbol of a patriarchal religion, one can also find lingam and yoni together – symbols of the male and female, respectively – which together create life. The narrow street leading to the temple was so crowded that I could barely maneuver my way through. The temple entrance itself was jammed with uniformed security personnel, local Hindus coming to worship, and tourists. When I asked one of the officers what was going on, he explained that the heavy security was routine and necessary to protect the 1,500 pounds of gold plating that covers the temple. I was slightly disappointed to learn that non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple. Admittedly, however, I was relieved to escape the masses of people and rest in my hotel room. Later, near dusk, as I stepped out for the evening ceremony, I again heard the voices of men chanting prayers drifting through the passageways and over the tops of buildings. As I walked the chanting gradually grew louder 19

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until I stopped, turned, and saw that the chanting voices belonged to six men who together carried a flat plank of wood. On the plank laid a corpse completely covered with flowers of every imaginable color. With equal measures of reverence and boredom, people, cows, dogs, and children all instinctively parted to make way for the body. Death was certainly part of the very pulse of daily life in Varanasi. The flow of bodies to the cremation flames was as sure and as steady as the flow of Ma Ganga herself. Varanasi lives the truth we cannot escape – that in this and every moment, we are all both dying and being born. Resuming my walk, I soon arrived at Varanasi’s main ghat, Dashashwamedh, where people were already gathering for the evening Ganga Aarti. This puja – or ceremony involving invocations, prayers, songs, or rituals designed to show reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine – is performed in Varanasi twice each day, as Kumar had indicated, once in the morning and once in the evening. Dashashwamedh is said to be the place where Shiva sacrificed ten bulls. I watched as a group of men dressed in bright orange wraps stepped onto an elaborately decorated stage that glittered with brilliant splashes of white, gold, and orange, and took their places facing the river. As sitar and tabla music began pouring over the crowd from outdated loudspeakers placed on both sides of the stage, the ceremony began. Sitting on the steps, I was immediately mesmerized by the men’s synchronized series of movements, accented by incense smoke and accompanied by chanting. The movements, configurations of incense burners, instrumental music, and chanting became increasingly complex as the ceremony progressed. Though the symbolic nuances were lost to me, the exquisite artistry and choreography were obvious, not to mention the positive energy generated by the ceremony and the crowd. India is one of few places where such deep spirituality is part of everyday life, and I relished every moment. “Impressive, isn’t it?” My ears perked at the familiar sound of English spoken amid this otherwise exotic scene, and I turned to see a very tall man smiling down at me. He must have been close to seven feet tall. “I’m John,” he said amiably. “Nice to meet you,” I replied, looking up and shaking his outstretched hand. “Mind if I join you?” “Please do,” I replied, smiling, happy to have some company, especially the company of a kind-faced man who spoke English. John and I chatted as 20

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we watched the remainder of the lengthy ceremony. He was studying medicine in Germany and had been touring India for several months already. We exchanged stories and tips from our lives and travels, and before I knew it, the ceremony was drawing to a close. As the crowd began to disperse, John suggested finding a restaurant in the area for dinner. I readily agreed. Since I was traveling in India alone, I had not been going out after dark in the interest of safety. With John by my side, I wouldn’t have to worry, and I was eager to see what Varanasi had to offer in terms of nightlife. “Earlier today I passed a restaurant that was advertising free live music tonight. I think it’s that way,” he said, with a nod of his head. “Let’s go!” I said. The restaurant was a short walk through streets that were just as narrow as those closer to the river, but less confused. When we arrived, the place was packed. While waiting for a table, we enjoyed some excellent traditional Indian music. The trio was comprised of sitar, tabla, and flute, and they played within arms’ reach of where we stood. When we were finally seated, the waiter hospitably said he would bring us the best items from the menu. John and I looked at each other, shrugged, and agreed, laughing at how easy it was to “go with the flow.” And the meal, when it finally arrived, was absolutely divine. We feasted on several dishes, but we didn’t know exactly what we were eating. One was made with lentils and spinach; another featured chick peas in a light brown sauce; a third was apparently a vegetable curry with very subtle spicing – all served with rice, naan, and chai. It was long past dark when we left the restaurant, fully sated with nourishing food, relaxing music, and warm company. We were greeted by a waxing crescent moon that poured silvery light on us from above. John insisted on escorting me to my hotel for my safety and his peace of mind. I have to admit that I was relieved at his offer. Standing an amazing six feet nine inches tall with blond hair and a strong build, he made quite an impression. Walking beside him, I not only felt safe but also a little bit like a celebrity. Men, women, and children turned to stare at him as we walked by. One Indian man literally dropped what he held in his hands and whispered hoarsely, “So high…so blond…very good!” I smiled at him, suppressing a giggle. Small children stopped in their tracks and stood with their mouths gaping as we approached. A giant had joined their midst! We waved and smiled at the children, and as we turned a corner we heard the faint sound of a commotion in the distance. The street under our feet shook just a little, and I thought I heard the pounding of hooves. 21

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“What is that noise?” I asked John, tipping my head to listen. Before he could answer, we heard a man cry, “COW COMING!” Grabbing my hand reflexively, John pulled me back around the corner, shielding me with his body just as an enormous white cow came barreling through the narrow walkway with a bull in close pursuit. John and I stared at each other with saucer eyes before waves of loud, nervous laughter overtook us. “Those two tons of hamburger-on-the-hoof nearly made hamburger of us!” I joked, gasping. “Don’t get in the way of a bull chasing a cow in heat,” John replied, grinning. “Especially not in Varanasi!” I added. When we arrived safely at my hotel, John asked if I would join him for some sightseeing the following day. “How about meeting at the Durga Temple tomorrow morning?” he suggested. “It’s about mid-way between here and my hotel.” “The Durga Temple…is that the one that’s also called the Monkey Temple?” “Yes, and since we non-Hindus can’t enter the temple itself, we’ll probably get to know the monkeys in the courtyard quite well,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to breakfast with a monkey or two,” I said, as we agreed on our plan. Thanking John for saving me from being flattened by the local deities, I wished him good night and headed up the stairs to my cement-walled room. Its one tiny window was situated high on the wall opposite the bed and opened onto a courtyard. I had not planned to stay so close to Manikarnika. My original Varanasi hotel reservation had fallen through, somehow, and this place was the best I could arrange, calling at the last minute from a phone booth. Flipping the light switch, I flopped onto the bed. Thinking over how I had landed here, at the foot of the cremation fires in Varanasi, India, I sighed. “I surrender,” I said aloud. “Again. Still.” In fact, I had surrendered long ago to the mystery of Mother India and her beguiling ways. My being there was evidence enough of that: for years, she’d been tapping my shoulder, whispering in my ear, beckoning me to visit. One day I simply said yes and booked a flight — alone, as this was between me and India, with no room for outside agendas. Why we’re drawn to certain places, people, endeavors, and paths is part of the mystery — as unknowable as the origin of the universe itself. India in particular simply has a magic – a power – to call you, to take you by the hand or by the scruff of 22

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the neck, whichever is necessary, and put you in your proper place, wherever that may be. The question of why Manikarnika was my proper place right now was not something I would solve this night, and it only briefly crossed my mind before I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed of a towering figure wearing garlands of skulls. His hair burned with flames that illuminated his frightening face smeared with what looked like ashes and dried blood. He beckoned me to follow him down a long dark staircase. Compelled by some force that I had no power to resist, I followed. Down and down and down we went, winding our way around a spiral stone staircase until we reached a heavy door with an iron ring handle. My guide pushed the door open and we entered a large empty room where a roaring fire burned in a central pit. Waiting on the opposite side of the fire was a strange figure in a long black hooded cloak. Straining to see in the dim light, I thought I could see the figure’s thin frame. In a flash, I saw a lizard-like tail with scales emerging from beneath his cloak, but when I blinked it was gone. We sensed one another like wild animals sniffing the wind, responding to the slightest movement. I made sure I stayed on the opposite side of the fire from him. “Who are you?” I asked. Silence. We stood in a thick cloud of tension for minutes before he turned slightly toward the fire and I glimpsed the face behind the hooded cloak. Only then was fear fully unleashed in my blood. My breath came in quick, short gasps and my nose twitched uncontrollably, for inside the hooded cloak was a holographic image that morphed from a pair of burning red eye sockets, to a white skull, to a black void. “Who are you?” I asked again, unable to hide the urgent edge in my voice. “You know who I am.” He was sinister and unmoving and I knew then that this was Death. “What do you want with me?” A loud chilling cackle filled the room and echoed up the stairwell. After a pause, he answered, “You know what I want with you.” “No, I don’t,” I said. “What do you want with me?” “I’m right here by you, at your heels,” he jeered. “Aren’t you with everyone?” “Some more than others,” he replied coldly. 23

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I paced back and forth on my side of the fire, never taking my eyes from him. Despite my wariness, I suddenly found myself in his grip. He had grabbed me as quick as lightning and turned me upside-down over the fire, my hair within inches of catching flame. He laughed with twisted pleasure. “I could throw you in and burn you to a crisp.” “Why would you do that?” I asked, a response that only brought more laughter. “Because I’m Death!” An overwhelming sense of vertigo overtook me and I found myself spinning in two directions at once through a long milky-white tunnel. Apparently formed from pure energy, I could move my hand through the side of it. When I reached the tunnel’s end, I dropped onto a tropical sandy beach under a cloudless sky. Calm water the color of sapphires lapped lazily to shore and there wasn’t a living soul anywhere to be seen. I was surprised to notice that I wore a light green velvet dress, fitted and long enough to brush the sand. “That’s funny,” I thought. I hadn’t noticed what I was wearing before, but this dress was certainly strange. My hair was also longer, reaching to the middle of my back. As I turned toward the beach, I walked directly into Death. “You again?!” I said, recoiling backwards. For a long moment I looked at him, and somehow, through that looking, in that moment, my fear dissolved. When I turned to walk along the beach, Death walked beside me, ocean-side, appearing as ridiculously out of place as I felt. Together we made an odd couple indeed. My breathing gradually slowed as my fear receded, and I decided to try some small talk. “So, Death,” I said nonchalantly, “how are things with you?” He didn’t answer. To break the silence, I began humming Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” We walked for some time, our footsteps coordinating with the rhythm of the tune. And then I began to dance. Right there on the beach, I kicked off my shoes, held my long dress in hand, and spun circles around Death as I sang what I remembered of Schubert’s lyrics. “Leave me alone, you savage man of bone! I like my life so let me live – go and leave me alone!” Although he seemed to soften imperceptibly at my dancing and singing, the savage man of bone remained. Again, I asked him what he wanted from me and again he didn’t answer. “Well,” I said, catching my breath and changing tactics once more, “how about a party?” No sooner had I uttered the words than my guide with the 24

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skull garlands reappeared. A roaring fire, small band, and full beach bar quickly followed, materializing directly before us. “Can I get you something to drink, Death?” I asked. “Maybe a piňa colada or a mai tai?” He said he’d have a Bloody Mary. Before I could laugh, he snatched me about the waist and threw me head first into the fire where I watched as the reddish-orange flames devoured my flesh until nothing remained but pure white bone.

Exercise: Into the Fire

Both the figures of Shiva (Hindu god of destruction and transformation) and Death bring the message that we must first part with what is not serving us, and say goodbye to our false selves, before we can truly create and be fully alive. In this sense, Death is not the end of the physical body, but the process of putting to rest all the experiences, relationships, beliefs, and wounds that drag us into a living grave and prevent us from embracing life with arms wide open. The following exercise facilitates this process of remembering, resolving and releasing. Before beginning the ceremony, first read through the instructions in their entirety, gathering materials and making preparations. 1. On one or more pieces of paper, write everything that has been difficult, traumatic, sad, distressing, or otherwise troubling in your life, from your earliest memory to the present moment. Write all that comes to mind, without censoring yourself. You can write in any style: a rambling list, a story, a poem or song, a dialogue — whatever feels right. You might even draw images. 2. When your writing feels complete, roll up the paper like a scroll and tie it with a short bit of string or thread. 3. Prepare a fire. Outdoors, you can build a fire in the wilderness or on a beach, or use a barbeque or commercial fire pit. (Check and adhere to local regulations and any fire hazards that may be in effect.) Indoors, you can use a wood fireplace or set a candle in an aluminum pie pan away from fire alarms, carpets, and anything flammable. Whatever method you choose, be safe. 25

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4. Light the fire. With scroll in hand, close your eyes and recall everything you wrote. Bring up all the feelings and thoughts associated with the items on your list. Then take a deep breath and blow all of those feelings, thoughts, and memories into the scroll. Do this as many times as you need to in order to release fully. 5. Place the scroll into the flame (with a pair of tweezers if you’re using a candle). Watch it burn completely. If anything remains, bury it in the earth. 6. After the scroll has burned, check in with your thoughts and emotions, and even your physical body. What differences do you notice? Spend a few moments sitting with yourself. You may wish to journal, make a voice recording, or otherwise note your experiences. 7. Continue checking in with yourself over the next few days, noticing any differences. 8. Repeat this ceremony as often as necessary.

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Chapter Two

Faces of the Goddess Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

A

gentle breeze chiming through the leaves of the trees in the courtyard outside my room woke me. Images of the beach and fire quickly receded as I swam up through layers of sleep. Opening my eyes, I was overcome with relief to find that my experience had been a dream and that I hadn’t really died. Jumping out of bed, I danced and leapt around the room, blissful to be alive. “I’m not dead!” I announced to the world, opening my arms as a rush of pure joy surged through my veins. The visceral sense of being reborn was unlike anything I had felt before. Little did I know that I’d experienced just a preview of what was to come. Still not yet fully awake, I knew one thing: I had to go outside, into the sun. Slipping into my favorite purple capris and a light blue tank top, I grabbed my yoga mat and set out for an area away from the ghats where I’d seen a flat patch of green the previous day. As I walked, the early morning sun pouring down around me, I said a prayer of gratitude: Thank you for my life, for the breath in my body, for this new day, for the sun, the river, the flowers, the children, the elders. Thank you for this beauty and this body to enjoy it in – my eyes, ears, legs, feet, brain. Thank you for my health. Thank you for that horrid dream. Thank you for allowing me to wake from it. Thank you for the dark and thank you for the light. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As I walked through the early morning, I passed old women with colorful scarves wrapped around their heads and shoulders, and sadhus sitting in lotus holding out their palms for money, and small children, some looking up at me shyly, some giggling, and others greeting me with loud “Hallo’s!”. I smiled and waved to them as I walked. I passed a temple dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant god, and quietly recited a few rounds of a mantra 27

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dedicated to him: “Om gum ganapatayei namaha” (“Om and salutations to the remover of obstacles”). As I walked, I thought about my dream, puzzled at why Death had been so hostile. At least on a conscious level, I was more inclined to agree with an understanding of Death as necessary, merciful, and even beneficent. I decided to attribute my dream to processing yesterday’s introduction to Manikarnika as I finally reached a quiet space removed from the activity and congestion of the ghats. Unfortunately, it was not removed from a construction crew and their noisy equipment. How could I have a peaceful practice with the “beep beep beep” of trucks in reverse constantly interrupting my concentration. With a resigned sigh, I unrolled my mat to face the rising sun. Construction noise was, after all, a relatively inconsequential intrusion on this otherwise tranquil morning. In the back of my mind, I heard a voice say, “Try to witness your annoyance from a place of detachment.” Good idea! I thought. As I did so, my attention returned once again to the beauty of the morning, and the sound of the construction noise faded at once. Stepping into Samastihi, Mountain Pose, I closed my eyes, bringing my big toes together and my hands into prayer. Lifting my face to the warmth of the sun, I inhaled the faint sweet smell of incense drifting on the gentle breeze. Exhaling, I bowed to the sun, the sky, the river, the birds, the wind, the Earth, and India, and all of creation. Pausing, I felt them receive my offering and embrace me in return. Lifting my arms toward the sky, I thanked the sun, relentlessly giving of life and light, infinitely strong, apparently as eternal as time itself. As I moved my body in rhythm with my breath and the energy of the day, I laughed silently at my “heavy metal” back-up band, the construction crew. Through it all the sun’s light was constant and strong. Deep within I knew that, in the end, peace and life and creation would always return on the heels of noise and death and destruction. I knew that one day all the songs of all the living creatures would prevail. Long after the machinery had fallen silent, victim to its own greed, the songs of wind and water and sun and earth would remain. These songs are everywhere; they are enduring and powerful and true. As I lifted my arms once more to greet the blue sky and the golden sun, I felt at one with the endless beauty all around me…would that every Sun Salutation could be so delicious. 28

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When I had finished sweating my prayers, I packed up my mat and headed for my hotel, singing the Gayatri mantra to the beat of my steps: om bhur bhuvah svah tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi; dhiyo yonah prachodayat Among the most ancient of mantras, the Gayatri is a hymn for enlightenment sung to the sun, earth, air, and heavens. It is said to benefit and purify those who chant, hear, or read it. Many years ago, I had been in the habit of reciting it while running, as a kind of moving meditation. Now it popped into my mind less often, but when it did, I enjoyed chanting it. It had become an old friend. When I returned to my cement-walled room, I stared at the shower, which consisted of two fairly large buckets, a drain in the floor, and a tap in the wall which, I soon discovered, ran cold water only. It was time to figure out how to take a bucket shower. I’d read about these showers in my guidebook, but was not at all certain how to go about it. Returning to the lobby for direction, I approached a woman who looked like a tourist. “Excuse me,” I said, clearing my throat softly. “Yes?” she asked, meeting my awkward gaze. “Would you happen to know how to take a bucket shower?” She smiled and then laughed. “Of course – I was the same way,” she said with a British accent. “First you’ll need to bring one of the buckets in your room to the front office of the hotel. Ask them to fill it with hot water. Then fill the other bucket with a mix of hot water and cold water from the tap. At that point, you can wash yourself any way you like. I personally stand in the bucket and wash, like this,” she mimed the actions of how she showered. We laughed at how silly it was. “Thank you,” I said. “Not at all – good luck!” she replied. After hauling buckets up and down a frighteningly old dumb waiter, I finally enjoyed my first bucket shower. It wasn’t bad, and at least I was clean. Many places and people in India do not have showers, let alone hot water. Once again, I was immensely grateful for something that is too easily taken for granted. When I was dressed, I ventured once more into Varanasi to find the Durga Temple, where I’d agreed to meet John. Trying to ignore the smell of Manikarnika that inevitably met my nose, I quickened my step. Winding 29

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my way toward the river, I caught sight of the Durga Temple in the distance as I rounded a sharp curve. With its distinctive stone multi-tiered spire, the temple was difficult to miss. In another few minutes, I was waving to John who was talking to a young Indian man dressed in jeans and a white buttondown shirt. “Ciao!” John greeted me with a broad smile and quick hug. “This is Mani,” he said, introducing his friend. Mani shook my hand warmly and held my gaze with deep brown eyes. “I met Mani last week after I intentionally lost my way in the city,” John explained. “Sometimes I do that as an adventurous way of sightseeing,” he said, raising an eyebrow mischievously. “Sounds like something I would do,” I said. “Though I’m more likely to lose my way unintentionally.” We laughed. “Either way, getting lost can lead to momentous findings — and people,” John said, winking at me. “Mani and I ran into one another not far from Benares Hindu University. He’s studying Hindu philosophy there. His English is excellent and he’s like a walking book of interesting information. We talked all afternoon yesterday about Hindu myths and religion, architecture, philosophy – you name it, we talked about it.” “Very impressive,” I said, nodding appreciatively toward Mani. “Thank you for telling us about the Durga Temple.” “Of course,” he answered. “I’m quite fond of sharing my knowledge about my culture, and I feel it is my duty. In India, as you may know, we treat our guests as gods. We take this very seriously. And even gods and goddesses need to eat, right?” Mani asked. “So let me first show you where to get an authentic, Varanasi-style breakfast.” John and I looked at each other, smiled, and trotted after him like a couple of hungry puppies. Mani guided us through twisting cobblestone pathways to a tiny store window where an old man leaned over the counter. His face, hands, hair, and clothing were coated in a thin layer of flour. Catching sight of Mani, he nearly ran to meet us. “This is my grandfather,” Mani explained, and then spoke to him in Hindi, apparently introducing us. The old man looked up at us with a kind, nearly toothless smile. He beckoned us to join him at his little store, leading the way with quick strong steps. Slipping behind the counter, he placed into each of our eager hands a warm chapatti, a fried flatbread no bigger than a tea saucer. This was quickly followed by two small spiced cookies served in a makeshift “bowl” made from a large dark-green leaf pinched together and held with a small tooth30

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pick-sized stick. These breakfast treats were the perfect accompaniment to a cup of chai served in a small red clay cup. We enjoyed the delicious snack while standing and chatting to one side of the storefront. “Does your grandfather make the baked goods himself?” I asked. “Yes,” Mani replied. “He is a very talented baker. He is not my grandfather by blood, but he feels and acts like a grandfather to me. He was a very close friend of my actual grandfather, who died several years ago. It was an unusual friendship because of the caste difference. Many people disapproved but that seemed to make the bond between them stronger.” “The caste system is still very strict here?” John queried. “In many ways, yes.” Mani replied. “It is an integral and, some would say, inextricable part of our culture. I, for example, am allowed to attend university because I was born into the Brahman caste. Others cannot because they were born into a lower caste.” When we were finished with the excellent breakfast, we threw our leaf bowls and clay cups onto the street, following local custom. Although I felt a guilty pleasure watching my cup break into several pieces on the ground, I reasoned that this system could be more environmental than the plastic cups we used at home. Bits of broken clay cups could be seen in most street corners and garbage heaps around Varanasi and what was not swept eventually disintegrated back into dust. After thanking our host, and giving him a few extra rupees for his hospitality, we turned back in the direction of the Durga Temple. Arriving at the temple grounds, Mani said, “Would you like to walk around the building? There are some extraordinary stone carvings to view.” John and I agreed, falling in on either side of Mani. “Durga is an embodied aspect of Shakti,” he explained. “Shakti is the divine or cosmic energy that in Hinduism is the creative feminine force that is the source of all things. One of Shakti’s many faces, Durga is a fierce warrior goddess. She appears in many different guises, but is often portrayed with yellow or red skin, carrying various weapons in her ten hands, and riding a tiger or lion. Born from the flames that issued from the mouths of the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, it is said that she emerged after the gods had been banished from heaven by a group of demons. Durga rescued the gods by killing the demons in a bloody battle. Indian rulers of the past have called on her to bring success in battle.” Pausing, Mani pointed out some of the intricate stone carvings, decorative paneling, and sculptures we were passing. “This is all so finely done!” John marveled. 31

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“It’s truly remarkable,” I agreed. “Why is there a temple dedicated to Durga in Varanasi?” “According to legend,” Mani replied, “the statue of Durga that resides within the Durga Mandir simply appeared here – as if out of nowhere. Many believe it was not made by humans. The temple itself was probably built about 500 years ago. It is said that Durga protects the city from the South. She is also the wife of Shiva, of course, and Shiva is everywhere in Varanasi.” “Wait,” I said, thinking back to my boat tour with Kumar. “Wasn’t Parvati Shiva’s wife?” “They both are,” Mani answered, laughing. “One of my professors once said that Hindu mythology is like an enormous tapestry: you cannot follow just one thread, or tell just one story, because they are all woven together, and as soon as you follow one, you inevitably run into another. This one goddess can have dozens, if not hundreds of different forms and names.” “How do you keep it all straight?” John asked. “Despite hearing all the stories over and over through my childhood, it still does get complicated, even for me. The myths are very old and have been transmitted orally, so there are often multiple versions, depending on region and so forth. Stories change every time they’re told, it’s said. But to simplify, Parvati is another embodiment of Shakti, the divine feminine. She is what you might call a reincarnation of Sati, who is in turn another face of Shakti. Sati is also important here in Varanasi. As the story goes, Sati was Shiva’s first wife. After Sati’s father, Daksha, insulted Shiva and excluded him from an important sacrificial ceremony, she took her own life by fire. Shiva was overcome with anger and grief, and unable to part with his wife’s body. So he placed her over his shoulder and travelled with her all around India, crying out her name over and over again in grief: ‘Sati! Sati! Sati!’ The god Vishnu came along and, seeing this tragic situation, became very worried. To bring relief, he took up his bow and arrows and cut Sati’s body into 51 pieces. These pieces fell to rest all over India and a shrine or temple appeared at each location. Today, each of these sites is known as pitha, or a seat of the goddess.” “Myths can be so gory!” I said, glancing at John with a mixture of awe and revulsion. “But this one actually reminds me of Isis and Osiris.” “You’re right,” John said. “If I remember correctly, Osiris was an Egyptian god who was murdered by his brother. Like Sati, his body was cut into pieces.” 32

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“His sister, the goddess Isis,” I continued, “collects the pieces of his body. She then transforms herself into a bird who soars over Osiris’ body, restoring life to him with her wings. It’s a remarkable tale of the power of the feminine to bring life from death, but Osiris became known as the god of the dead.” “This does sound quite similar to Sati and Vishnu,” Mani said thoughtfully. “Who would think that dismemberment would be so popular!” “Myths do address truths about the human experience,” John said. “And both of these myths convey the idea that life and death – creation and destruction – happen together. They are two sides of the same coin.” A chill ran through me as I suddenly recalled the previous night’s dream. “Yeah, but it’s important not to get stuck in the death part,” I said. “Especially in these stories, it’s obviously a metaphor. And there’s something about dismemberment – it’s necessary for deep transformation.” Mani nodded thoughtfully. “That’s true. And it is important to notice that new life always follows the death. There is no exception to this. Sati, you see, is reborn as Parvati and she again becomes Shiva’s wife.” “So Durga, Sati, and Parvati are all expressions of the same divine feminine principle?” I asked. “Exactly. And let’s not forget Kali, who is also a face of the feminine divine. She, like Durga, is a fierce warrioress who slays demons. Her name means ‘black’ and also ‘time.’ Her skin is black,” Mani said as he stood and began to act the part of Kali as he described her. “She holds various weapons in her hands and her tongue hangs from her mouth, red with blood. She often appears standing on top of Shiva’s body, showing the idea that her creative energy gives life to all things. Kali is a force that is both destructive and creative at the same time. She hangs around cremation grounds because the cremation fire is the place where Agni, the god of fire, ultimately destroys all attachments through transformation.” A chill again ran through me at the mention of fire and cremation grounds. “Kali is the goddess that most fully embodies a profound concept that is fundamental to life on earth,” Mani continued. “That is, where there is death, there is also life; where there is creation, there must also be destruction. In this way, Kali may be Shiva’s closest female counterpart because Shiva is the male embodiment of creation and transformation. People honor Kali as the goddess that ultimately promises freedom, if you can recognize and release what must die so that the new may be reborn.” 33

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“So Kali is an aspect of the divine feminine personified,” John summarized, “together with Durga, Sati, and Parvati, and they are all wives of Shiva, the divine masculine personified.” “Yes!” Mani said with a broad smile. “And to give you even more to think about, Kali, Durga, Sati, and Parvati are also aspects of the divine Mother. Adding yet another layer, when my own mother told these stories to me and my sister when we were young, she would say, ‘If you look deeply, you will see aspects of yourself in each of these gods and goddesses. They are important teachers.’ “Looking back, I realize now that she must have been reminding herself also that these goddesses had something to teach her about the feminine and motherhood.” “These goddesses and myths definitely present powerful images of women and the feminine,” I said. “They do,” Mani agreed. “But perhaps the most important realization is the continuity behind the various forms. In other words, all of the goddesses and gods in the Hindu pantheon are not only concepts, but they are energies that exist in our world, in every culture and every time: energies of creation, destruction, transformation, death, birth, the masculine, the feminine, romantic love, motherly love, and so on. “Mythology provides the masks and clothing for these concepts and energies, transforming them into gods, goddesses, heroes, and villains. Instead of mastering Hindu mythology, or any other mythology for that matter, it may be more important to look behind the masks. Why do these energies persist? Why are they important to understand? How are they part of us? How do they impact us? Where are they at play in our lives?” “That will give us something to think about on our journeys ahead,” John said. Nodding in agreement, I added, “It is amazing to be in a country where the goddess is still alive and well, and I am fascinated by all the faces of the goddess in India. But what about Indian women today? In Varanasi, for example, I don’t see many women out on a daily basis – it’s mostly men. Why is this?” “India is a land of great contrast,” Mani said. “Here you will find everything, and often in direct juxtaposition: light and dark; unbelievable riches and equally unbelievable poverty; inspiring saints like Mother Teresa and criminals that kidnap, steal, and torture. In the case of women, too, you will find those who are as liberated as you are, but also those who are still 34

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Fa c e s o f t h e G o d d e s s

suffering under the tyranny of abusive marital or other situations. Much also depends on caste, education, and the particular area of India. Areas of the north, as you’ve noticed, are still relatively patriarchal, but if you travel to the south you will find some matriarchal communities very much alive and well.” “India is truly a marvel in its diversity,” John said. “I’ll look forward to the south, then,” I said. “I’m ending my trip in Kerala.” “You’ll like it there, but it is quite hot, so pack some cool clothes,” Mani advised. “Speaking of hot,” I said, “I feel as if I’m getting quite a sunburn. Maybe it’s time to find some shade.” “Actually,” John said, glancing at his watch, “I need to get back to my hotel and pack my bags. I’m leaving tonight for Mumbai.” I gasped in disappointment. “I didn’t know you were leaving so soon,” I said. “It snuck up on me too. Until we meet again,” John said with a sad smile. We thanked Mani, exchanged contact information, and parted ways before I walked back to my hotel to wait for the cool of evening.

E x e r c i s e : Se a t s o f t h e G o d d e s s

This exercise invites you to recognize aspects of your self and your life that need to be honored, mourned, celebrated, released, and/or simply seen. 1. On a single sheet of paper, draw a map of your life, from the present moment back to the first moment. Consider including regions representing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies; different time periods and ages; your relationships, work and career, religion and spirituality, sexuality, creativity, etc. Be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. 2. Next, create a symbol that will represent a shrine or temple, like Sita’s pitha – seats of the goddess. 3. Place your symbol in each area of your life map where part of yourself has been irrevocably changed or laid to rest, whether due to loss, grief, change, trauma, or some other force. 35

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F I R E O F T H E P H O E N I X : I niti a tion

4. Honor each temple, each part of yourself, each force of change that you have symbolically commemorated. Express whatever needs expressing. Consider what ways you may have benefitted from the experiences; cultivate gratitude and forgiveness. Above all, honor each part for their courage, bravery, and strength. 5. When the exercise feels complete, let it all go, once and for all, making space for something else – something more – to begin emerging and growing from it.

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About the Author Tanya S. Lenz

T

anya S. Lenz is a writer and educator initiated into the shamanic lineages of the Peruvian Andes. A lifelong student of dreams, literature, medicine and healing practices, and world wisdom traditions, she holds a Ph.D. in medieval British literature and is the author of Dreams, Medicine, and Literary Practice: Exploring the Western Literary Tradition Through Chaucer. She lives in the Pacific Northwest. To join her for classes, workshops, and more, visit souldustacademy.com. A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated by the author to nonprofit organizations working to better our world.

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692-3_Fire-of-the-Phoenix_cover_fire of the phoenix cover 01/03/2016 10:32 Page 1

A spiritual adventure spanning three continents and as many ancient wisdom traditions, Fire of the Phoenix Initiation blends travel memoir, expert storytelling, spiritual history, step-by-step exercises, and initiation practices to guide you through your own inner journey. • In India, you’ll traverse the realm of ego and shadow, guided by a cast of Hindu gods and goddesses. • In Australia, you’ll travel through the realm of dreams, guided by Mother Earth, Aboriginal elders, and Dreamtime beings. • In Peru, you are delivered into the realm of light and spirit, guided by Q’ero shamans, descendants of the Inca. At once entertaining and informative, practical and mystical, transformative and brimming with enduring wisdom, Fire of the Phoenix Initiation weaves together past and present to lay pathways for a new future. Nine Essential Practices at the conclusion of the book provide you with a map for living your new life. A healing adventure for heart and soul not to be missed!

BODY, MIND & SPIRIT: Shamanism

FI NDHO RN P RES S www.findhornpress.com

$15.99 US / $20.99 CAN / £9.99

Tanya S. Lenz

Tanya S. Lenz is a writer and educator initiated into the shamanic lineages of the Peruvian Andes. A lifelong student of dreams, literature, medicine and healing practices, and world wisdom traditions, she holds a Ph.D. in medieval British literature and is the author of Dreams, Medicine, and Literary Practice: Exploring the Western Literary Tradition Through Chaucer.

Fire of the Phoenix Initiation

A Healing Adventure for Heart and Soul

Fire of the Phoenix Initiation  

A spiritual adventure offering wisdom teachings, meditations, exercises, initiations and essential practices for healing and transformation.

Fire of the Phoenix Initiation  

A spiritual adventure offering wisdom teachings, meditations, exercises, initiations and essential practices for healing and transformation.