I recently returned from an incredible yātrā (sacred pilgrimage) in India with my teacher and saṅgha where we visited temples dedicated to Śiva and the five elements. One of the countless things I love about India is the immersion into the senses.
The sights of Devī and Śiva were mesmerizing. When I am in a temple I am always reminded of something we teacher told me. Not only am I looking at them they are also looking at me. Being in the presence of these deities that are dressed in dazzling colors and being worshiped with milk, honey and water is enrapturing. There is so much to see it is impossible for me to take it all in. The sounds of the bells, chants and crowds making their way through the temple complex anchor me. The smells of incense, sweat, smoke and flowers keep my awareness in the present moment. The taste of the prasad (offerings) where the food offered to the deity becomes the food we eat, which then becomes us feels like an integration of our experience. The feeling of bodies working in unison, and sometimes opposition, to get that moment with the deity fuels my longing for the reason so many of us are there, to be liberated. The heat reminds me of the power of transformation that comes with being in these sacred places.
Being in India and having the opportunity to visit these temples is a privilege I don’t take lightly. As I learn from my teacher these experiences are wonderful, but the real question is how do they impact our daily lives? It is one thing to have mystical experiences, but how can we use these experiences to go deeper into ourselves and process?
When I returned home my little meditation room felt more alive and potent after being in places where worship has continued for thousands of years. I felt more connected to my senses here and more devoted to the sweet altar that holds my prayers, intentions, sufferings, joys and longings. The loudness stoked my inner silence. The near constant movement strengthened my ability to be still. Sometimes by going out into the world more expansively I can come home to myself more deeply. By going into chaos I can find an even more profound calm.
We don’t need to travel across the world or go to temples to experience this though. We can use our senses in our daily lives to anchor us anytime and anywhere. Notice a sound you hear right now. I hear my heater. One of the temples we went to was dedicated to the space element, the element that holds all the other elements. Can you tune into the space that holds what you hear? Notice a thought you are aware of. Can you observe the space around that thought? Become aware of one of your struggles. Can you also become aware of the space that holds that struggle? When you reflect on the space in and around whatever you are experiencing what happens in your body? In your breath? In your mind?
What helps you access calm in chaos?