Shiva is the power of destruction, dissolution, or transformation in our lives. Nothing entirely new and innovative can be created without this strong, and often unsettling, force that turns the tables on the status quo, normality, and habituation. Without Shiva, our lives would be dull and uneventful—one long Groundhog Day, playing the same scene over and over again. Yet the word destruction strikes fear in our hearts; we freeze at the very thought of losing what is dear to us. Of losing everything.
Hurricanes like Irma, Maria, and Harvey embody this extreme aspect of Shiva. Monumental raging winds and rising water completely obliterate the old, often leaving thousands homeless and grieving the deaths of friends and family. In the aftermath, something new is eventually created, but loss of home and loss of life are not easily assimilated or accepted. Those affected may experience emotional trauma as well as financial burdens. These human crises break our hearts. How do we face life at times like these?
Not easy. Granted, hurricanes are not daily occurrences, but loss of one kind or another is. There is not a day that passes in our lives that we don’t lose something—or believe that we do. Life on Earth brings us face to face with the end of relationships, jobs, living situations, and life itself. We cannot avoid it. Grief at times like these is entirely natural, but our beliefs about those experiences shape what comes after. Unless we can move on and create something new afterward, despair may take hold. This is where faith comes in. Trust in some greater, ultimately benevolent presence in the universe, and in the compassion of our fellow human beings. Belief in a positive outcome, whatever the circumstance.
Recently, I took part in a weekend spiritual retreat that was the energetic equivalent of a hurricane. Everything that had been superimposed on my soul’s essence over the years was wiped out, dissolved. This had been happening bit by bit anyway, but now I was becoming something like a clean slate. There was nothing to attach the memories of my old self to anymore. Both liberating and painful. The painful part was that my recent experiences of oneness and illumination were also gone—or at least seemingly so. I could feel no connection to God whatsoever. Or to anything or anyone else. I felt as if I were ghost-walking through my own life, lost and alone. An island on which all lines of communication have been knocked out.
Gradually, however, I began to gain some insight into what was occurring. I was being asked to go further and dive deeper—beyond surrender and trust, to faith. Faith that God, or Goddess, was present even when I couldn’t feel that presence. Faith that everything was happening for a reason: to ultimately bring me to an even more expansive awareness of God/dess within me. I couldn’t completely experience that until what had come before had been dissolved. Within spaciousness, life unfolds, the Divine manifests. Slowly, this has occurred, like restoring downed lines after a hurricane. Day by day, moment by moment, I am feeling divine connection again, and with it, a deeper faith in its ever-presence, which reconnects me to the world as well.
This kind of process can be set in motion by any great loss or unforeseen ending, in the course of which we are swept clean and sent on our way again to experience life at a deeper level, beyond what we thought was final. We learn that even in the worst of times, if we reach out to one another and open ourselves to new beginnings, we will survive. Faith replaces fear. It is the bird singing in the darkness, reminding us that dawn is at hand.
Often we believe death to be the ultimate ending, but it too is transition, transformation. God consciousness, embodied in you and me, is never-ending. Our souls know this, and it is this inner faith that will carry us forward if we experience loss or disconnection. Eventually, the creative force of life fills us with divine energy, and we are transformed yet again through the powerful hidden blessing that is Shiva.
There is a song in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton in which the character Aaron Burr says, “Death doesn’t discriminate/Between the sinners and the saints./It takes, and it takes, and it takes/And we keep living anyway…./If there’s a reason I’m still alive…/I’m willing to wait for it.” I found this to be one of the most moving and human moments in the show. I felt his pain and longing deep within me. We all could speak some variation of those words, really. Sometimes you wonder what life is about, why people have to suffer, and what the point is to your being here at all. Yet, you continue; you wait, hanging on to something inside that tells you that you are here for a reason, even if you can’t seem to see it clearly.
Yes, you are here for a reason. We all are. Sometimes we catch glimpses of it, a momentary peek at the big picture, but the curtain drops again, and we become distracted with the day-to-day worries and preoccupations of life on Earth. Still, an inner wisdom—call it soul awareness—carries us forward throughout our lives. This part of us knows that life is not meaningless. There is something greater that holds us in a gentle embrace of loving connection. We are beginning to experience the presence of that connection more and more as our individual awareness expands and our hearts open. Some call it God, some call it universal consciousness, some call it just “mystery.” It doesn’t need a name or label. This Presence is with us always, whatever we call it or don’t call it.
In my own life, I’ve found that even when I’m feeling most alone, I soon come to realize that I’m never apart from this divine being-ness, which exists within me as my soul. Part of life’s journey is experiencing the illusion of disconnection—until we finally understand we are always connected to God, or Source. It is present in our very breath, the life-force energy that fills us in each moment. And in each moment we are given the opportunity to become aware that the reason we are alive is to experience all that life on Earth has to offer, to fall in love with that experience, and to share our love with others.
In actuality, you don’t have to “wait for it”; the reason for being alive is with you at all times. It’s in your heart and soul. You just have to repeatedly and consciously remind yourself that you are never disconnected from the love that animates your life. In each moment, we live our reason for being here: We see it in the splendor of the stars and galaxies and the beauty of nature; in the eyes of a dear friend or family member when we are open and vulnerable; in the smile or kindness of a stranger when we least expect it; and in the compassion and caring we give to others in the midst of crises or challenges. In spite of pain or loss, in spite of disappointments and grief, there is always the miracle that is love. It is the reason for life. It is our human legacy.
Some of the most profound spiritual wisdom tells us that everything and everyone is God and that all that we do is in service to God. I’ve taken that in at deeper and deeper levels the more expansive my spiritual practice has become. Lately I’ve found this awareness popping up at surprising moments to remind me of God’s presence everywhere in my life.
A few weeks ago, I was taking the subway into Boston, and there was an older man at my subway stop, toothless, with a crumpled cardboard sign that read “Homeless Vet.” He greeted everyone who walked by with “Good morning.” As I passed him, I looked into his face, and the thought “This is God” unexpectedly passed through my consciousness. I turned around, pulled out my wallet, wished him “Good morning,” and gave him some money. “God bless you,” he said. I could feel my heart expand. As I boarded the crowded rush-hour train, someone rose from their seat and got off. The woman in front of me held out her open hand to the seat, looking at me and smiling, as if to say, “It’s all yours.” I sat down with tears in my eyes, feeling the angelic energy of the man’s blessing carrying me within the flow of life. God’s presence in everyone….
Then, yesterday I was sweeping the steps leading to the basement, a rather dusty, sneeze-filled task. Cleaning house is something I can only sporadically see as cheerful “service to God.” I’m usually kind of gritting my teeth to get through it. As I was sweeping the broom back and forth, suddenly, unexpectedly again, I thought: “This is God,” meaning myself this time, as well as the broom and the dust. If God is everywhere, s/he is here now, experiencing step-sweeping through my human form. Would s/he be irritated? I asked myself. I don’t think so. God, or infinite consciousness, embraces everything as a part of oneness. If I am God, as we all are, complaining doesn’t enter the picture. God, as me, would be dancing down the steps, broom in hand, celebrating another aspect of humanity/divinity on Earth.
“This is God” has now become a reminder mantra for me that re-centers me in my connection to something greater in every moment. It can be applied to everything, animate or inanimate, human, animal, bird, butterfly, flower, tree, chair, rug, on and on. If I pass a stranger on the street without really seeing him/her, I may be missing a direct encounter with the Divine. If I stumble over a stone in my path and curse it, I am cursing God. Why do it? Bless it instead. If everything is unfolding perfectly exactly as it is, then stumbling was part of my soul path somehow. I may only find out much later what the actual blessing was (perhaps to wake me up to being fully present!), but in the meantime, I need to remind myself that there is nothing that happens that isn’t an integral part of my soul’s journey, that isn’t grace. And that there is no one who isn’t God, including myself and every sweet soul I meet along the way.
I seem to be living on the edge in my life. By that, I don’t mean hanging precariously in a danger zone. I mean delicately balanced between one paradigm and another, old and new, memory and present, personality and soul. Actually, the truer description is that my soul is fully present in the new paradigm, and “I” am increasingly aligned with that pure being-ness, observing remnants of old memories floating by me. I have a sense that this is where many of us are now, as the world “turns upside-down” all around us, and we step over the edge of certainty into mystery, and beyond. We are learning to live from an awareness and a soul presence that is continuously evolving.
So much is happening and not happening, everywhere at once. At times, I am floating in the space between the memory of who I once was and the timeless presence that is my soul. However, more and more, I am immersed in my soul’s wholeness, viewing my personality and my life story as if from a distance. This has been a process of gradually expanding into a deeper connection to spirit, which can often transcend stories and past memories. Last month, this all played out in one intense afternoon at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, a nature/spiritual sanctuary where I often walk or sit in meditation. As I passed beneath the towering old trees at Mt. Auburn, I stepped into a kind of life review in which I experienced both my own mortality (singularity, separation) and God’s infinity (oneness).
Gazing at the play of light reflected in the water of Mt. Auburn’s Spectacle Pond, suddenly I became acutely aware of my own eventual death and the shortness of my time on Earth. Perhaps because my birthday had just passed, I found myself looking back over my life with a pang of grief in my heart: it was all so rich and wonderful—and so brief, in the greater scheme of things. So many years had passed, and how many remained? And how would I live them? An urgency filled me, a deep desire not to waste a minute, to step fully into every possibility. Yet, at the same time, I felt suspended in time, with no desire to act or move at all. All I could do was cry at the bittersweet poignancy of human life and the ephemeral nature of my physical form.
After a time, I walked to Willow Pond, on the other side of the cemetery. As I came over the hill, I saw a pair of blue herons circling low overhead, like two avian sky dancers embodying grace and beauty as they flew. One landed at the top of a tall willow and stood in profile, preening like a prehistoric bird in paradise. Indeed, everything around me seemed Eden-like: large clumps of purple, yellow, pink, and white flowers that were magnets for dozens of bees and butterflies; a kingfisher calling loudly and diving to spear a fish; swallows swooping to catch insects mid-air; red cardinal flowers, wetland grasses, and willows encircling the pond. I sat beneath a tree whose branches hung low over the water and felt as if I were in another dimension. God’s dimension, where divinity dripped from every plant, tree, animal, bird, and butterfly. In this magical space, death did not exist. Everything was eternal, infinite. My heart and soul were at peace.
In the space of a few hours, I had moved from solitary sadness to euphoric connection. So much so that as I left the pond, the mere sight of a familiar old oak tree along the path, its massive trunk and branches reaching heavenward, reduced me to tears again, this time from the deep inner knowing that the expansive consciousness we call God or Goddess lives in all things, always. We carry that formless presence within us, and the more we open to our own soul’s light, the more clearly and consistently we see it everywhere. That was my journey that afternoon (and our collective human journey now): to come to fully understand that God’s loving presence is not limited in any way, in life or death, Heaven or Earth. Those of us who incarnated at this time are here to live that truth so completely and powerfully that separation is finally dissolved within a planetary oneness and radiant light that reaches the far corners of the cosmos.
In the United States, there are societal rules about when silence or quiet is called for: in temples, churches, and meditation halls; in libraries and classrooms; in funeral homes and cemeteries. This is sanctified silence, the kind that is recognized as fitting into the social structure. The underside of these rules is another kind of silence, the silence of dissociation or noninvolvement, which can translate as complicity: “When there is conflict, keep your mouth shut,” “Don’t get involved,” “It’s not your problem, so why make trouble?” The threat of potential or escalating violence runs through these admonitions. Best to ignore whatever you’ve seen or heard. Only many of us don’t have that option in our lives. And now, increasingly, none of us have that option.
Loud, vocal, and acted-out hatred is playing out in city after city in this country. The kind of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and homophobia that has always existed but is now being given a green light by behavior and attitudes at the federal level. Nazism and Klanism is in full-out resurgence in this so-called “land of the free.” That freedom was about money, maleness, and white skin when this country began, and it still is. Yes, we have come a long way, but the segments of this society that don’t really want an egalitarian, balanced social framework are still clinging to the illusion of superiority and power. That is the old patriarchal paradigm that is so full of cracks now that even talk show hosts on late-night TV are addressing it. No, we are not going backward, but the labor pains we experience as we birth a new way of being on this planet can be intense and at times frightening.
There is no turning back, however. We signed up for this specific soul incarnation to be part of something monumental. So what do spiritual people, committed to love, peace, and harmony, do at times like these? We can limit exposure to the constant bombardment of negative news alerts, meditate more intensively, and hold love in our hearts and in our lives, but is that enough? Having come of age in the politically active 1960s and 70s and lived that to the full, I know that is part of my heritage, but I also realized over the years there is more to it. I have learned the immense importance of energy and of how our own life force and inner being affects everything around us. The world will change and the paradigm will shift, not from the force of will power and pushing against, but from the steady peaceful walking forward together into a vision of something more open and inclusive. The dynamic energy of transformation—from fear to love.
This vision has a voice, and it emerges from yet another kind of silence: the silence of the soul. On a spiritual path, we often center ourselves in the silent peace at our core. That very silence can give rise to the voice within us that expresses the vision and speaks for the freedom and rights of all people and all beings on this planet. You can remain peaceful and loving and still speak out against injustice and hatred and for unity, connection, and sister/brotherhood. In fact, it is our responsibility to speak up. This can take many forms: in writing articles, in signing petitions, in sending letters and emails, in attending nonviolent marches or gatherings, in joining community groups based in diversity—and, especially, in not letting racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, or homophobic remarks or behavior pass by us, unaddressed. You don’t have to be perfectly articulate or eloquent to honestly and calmly speak from your heart about universal love and human compassion.
Over the years, I have discovered that silence fills my soul at all times. I carry it with me, and it informs my entire life and connects me to the presence that is God. From that place, I share my heart’s vision of a world based in loving-kindness. From that place, I know with everything in me that I am not separate from any other being on Earth and that our voices were given to us for a reason: to speak to one another. From that place, there is only one voice, the voice of love.