Sunday, June 24, 2007

Death by Shiva!

One of the songs we sing in Sanskrit, "Suddhosi Buddhosi," translates as:

       You are forever pure, you are forever true
       and the dream of this world will never touch you
       So give up your attachment, give up all confusion
       Fly in that space that's beyond all illusion

"Give up your attachment...," this seems to be my theme song of late... Every day, it seems, is a new opportunity to let go on a deeper level. I thought I was X, and as soon as I let that go and decide to be Y, that too dissolves... Every rug gets swept from under my feet, every claim to fame, every identity...

Returning from India without a hitch, or so I thought, I soon discovered I had contracted headlice from the beloved orphanage in Rishikesh. I thought, "oh no, what a pain this is!," but never imagined that 3 months later, after unsuccessfully battling what seems to be a ridiculously resistant (mutant?!) strain, I would have moved from my beloved home of 2 years, fallen so behind on work that I'm counting quarters (it'd be pennies, but inflation...), and resorted measures as drastic as shaving my head. My crown glory - gone.

I shaved my head once before, about 11 years ago. It was a choiceful transformation - an opportunity to be newborn again, innocent. I sang and danced freely, lightened in my newness. I let my hair grow for 6 years before even getting a trim. I delighted in watching the beauty of nature as expressed through my hair - every step of the way a new curl, a new natural wave, flowing freely... It grew extraordinarily long, and except for one accident of the scissors, I let it stay that way. It became an emblem of the Divine Mother and Mother Nature in all her grace, power and glory. I honored her, I sang to her - "Jai Ma, Jagadambe Jai Jai Ma!" - victory, praises to the universal Mother. I became her - strength, bones, wisdom, grace, compassion... She healed me as her lifeblood infused me. Embraced in her ever-present arms, I sang - "you are welcome in the Mother, in her arms you are always whole."

At one point in India, all this grace fell away. Varanasi is known as the city of Shiva - "Kashi," city of light. But I found the light harsh. I saw ego everywhere. Little did I realize it was only my own I saw reflected/projected on everybody else. It wasn't easy. There was nearly nowhere to stay, so I found myself sleeping on a rock hard "bed" on a concrete floor in a building with no shower or hot water, swarms of mosquitoes in the bathroom, and a wedding party blasting techno music and talking at full volume till the wee hours in the room nextdoor while I tossed and turned in a feverish sweat.

I got into arguments with shopkeepers, felt alienated from the people I thought were my friends, slopped through cow-dung muddy wet streets... I stayed only for the music, or so I said. Varanasi is renowned for its wealth of master musicians and teachers.

The night before Shivaratri, the great night of Shiva, I was nearly trampled by Shiva devotees running the ghats. Nearly furious, instead I found it in me to laugh. What do I know, anyways, of this culture and its customs. The next night, singing and dancing on the deck of a houseboat on the Ganges river, the harshness broke. I suddenly saw this community of friends I was so blessed by - some old, many new - every person I had judged for their egoic struggles, now I saw as pure and beautiful - all aiming their crooked arrows at that same divine union, that same lasting peace. Suddenly not fighting anymore, I relaxed inside and welcomed in the Shiva energy I'd been fighting all along. What is this transcendent, still, invisible face of Shiva? What is the experience of pure consciousness?

I could sense that if I surrendered to it, stop grasping, pure truth will flow through my actions. With this prayer, I lit aarti lamp after aarti lamp and slid the little flower filled leaf boats into the cool nighttime waters of the Ganges...

And all the harshness I'd experienced leading up to this? - "neti neti," not this, not that. No my dear, you can't have your every wish. Set aside your judgment, your desires, be satisfied with nothing - only then will you find peace. Any other temporal, conditional peace will be only fleeting...

I returned to the States with a profound love for Shiva, for the peace of this surrender. Seeing how much suffering I'd engendered in my life through the continual egoic chasing of my desires, it became clear that my new, true path is to surrender to God's will. Like a song I wrote many years back, "taking hold of nothing, I fall into God's hands..."

Upon this return, it became clear that the idea of incompleteness was a total fabrication, and I couldn't even imagine a path other than the renunciate - why seek anything but God? So I put myself completely into the one thing I know brings me there - music.

And then I discovered the headlice. I awoke madly itchy one night, from a dream of shaving my head. I knew. I even found one that night - head coated in olive oil and tea tree, one fled and I caught it! Almost black, shell so hard it kept its form even after I smashed it.

I never found another. Somehow, they became too clever, too fast, too...? But I found eggs, and I could feel them crawling. For 3 months I battled them, with every over-the-counter, old witches remedy, housewives' kitchen concoction I could dream up. Even kerosene.

When it was to the point that I had to move (a whole story unto itself - unexpectedly, with 2 days notice, and yes, because of the lice), I realized I couldn't continue the fight. For what was I fighting? Mere vanity. Suddenly I became overwhelmed with the hilarity of the situation - how hard I'd been fighting to hang onto a story of what?! I can't even begin to articulate the stories, they're so many. But every one identified my hair as something crucial to my "me"-ness. And I could see how proud I'd grown of my hair, my emblem of the Mother's beauty. Even the Mother, in all her grace, must have laughed at my clutching pride.

So it was time to reiterate what I'd said so many times: I devote myself, wholeheartedly, to the 'renunciate' path. I die to my many personal attachments and offer myself to divine will. I trust that what Spirit has in store is stronger, more beautiful, and more necessary to life than anything my petty little mind can concoct. I let go of everything, completely. I trust that I will be sustained, filled with peace, and wholly satisfied if I set aside my personal will in service.... Om Namah Shivaya!

I still use my mind, my ego: it's a good filter/translator for the divine guidance I receive. And sure, I still get swept away by it for days on end, but then I return and remember my commitment to "renunciation." Sure, I may grow my hair long again, I may make wild love, I may become wealthy - these are not the things I have renounced: it's the stories, the meaning attached to them that has changed. Sometimes we have to renounce the things, however, even for a time, for the inner lessons to sink in...

I feel very thankful for these many blessings: losing my home, falling poverty stricken, losing my hair... As the false attachments fall away, I am left with a world of riches in its place. There is less distraction from the purity of the heart, the grace of song, the sweetness of friendships... I have no shields to hide behind - I have fallen naked, unprotected. I can let the true innocence of the heart shine through...

       You are forever pure, you are forever true
       and the dream of this world will never touch you
       So give up your attachment, give up all confusion
       Fly in that space that's beyond all illusion

       (Suddhosi Buddhosi Niranjanosi
       Samsara Maya Parivarjatosi
       Samsara Swavadam Tyaja Moha Nidram
       Na Janma Mrityu Twahi Sat Swarupe...)

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Friday, June 01, 2007


Some of you may know, but a week after returning from India, I discovered I had contracted headlice from the orphanage in Rishikesh. I won't go into much detail, but you can see from the phot-oh! that it took some drastic moves to finally eradicate them!

Suffice it to say that after battling daily for 3 months straight, I've chosen to give up the fight. It feels much gentler than what I've been through. Besides, I'm much more interested in dedicating myself to music than to fighting for my vanity...

I'm sure I'll let it grow back, as I tend to honor and allow Mother Nature to have her way... But in the meantime, I'm embracing this letting-go as a spiritual practice. If you read "Om Namah Shivaya," "Stop," or "Pancakes and Ice Cream" below, you've seen that I'm already in a period of 'renunciation' of sorts - of renouncing worldly attachments in favor of the embrace of a deeper truth.

I read an article recently about a woman who renounced the world in favor of living in solitude and silence for 10 years. After that span, she came back into the world with what appeared to be limitless vibrancy. In his article, "No Becomes Yes," David Whyte says of her, "She had an inexhaustible inner light that would endure thru the direst of circumstances. She had come to that light through the ability to say no to everything except the thing most precious to her, an inner focus based on her personal spirituality.... Out of those years of saying no blossomed a magnificent yes - a yes that could be followed fully because after all those years gathering her psyche into one single body of faith, every part of her would be uttering it. Yes!"

It is my intention to continue this period of 'renunciation' so long as it serves me in truly diving into the heart of truth. On the surface (besides the bald head :-) it may not appear as much - I still go out with friends, perform, enjoy the beauty of nature... But inwardly, the experience of retracting my thoughts, dissolving the grasping mind, and renouncing some traditional pleasures feels like an important step in embracing something more true than the fleeting breath of this world...

My altar ego...

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