June 20th, 2017
Aum asatoma sad gamaya tamaso ma jyotir gamaya mrtyor ma amritam gamaya
For the solstice I had big plans to write on a mantra I very enjoy. From the Upanishads (some of the OG texts on Hindu spiritual life and practice), it acknowledges the consistent transformative nature of nature – that all is always changing – and appeals to Aum, the vibration of all things, to lead a transition toward spirit. One might say it’s a prayer for immortality, and so stretches to the depths of the yoga practice. I have always seen the prayer to taste the nectar as a metaphor for absolution from a fear of dying. Years ago when I first really listened to the mantra (oh, these songs we listen to in yoga class are ancient prayers that carry with them eons of experience?!?!), I was struck with the practice of sipping in the nectar of the moment as best I could. I began acknowledging – out loud, and often – that I might be going soon. This birthed in me a sense of urgency, and a new peek into relationship with these funny fleeting shapes we get to live in and play with called bodies. While I was really sitting with the practice saying adieu like “I hope we get to see each other again,” and making plans like “Maybe tomorrow… if I’m lucky,” I fell really in love. Looking through, I see how the mantra helped me to keep calm in the face of quite a delicious drowning, as life turned topsy in a wash of passion and authentic partnership. For the first time, I tasted loving that did not disturb or rewrite my own story, and only brought more light and positive vibration to my every day. What a sweet gift of nectar.
The literal idea of the mantra is to move from : asat (untruth), to sat (truth); tamas (inertia, darkness), to jyot (divine light); and from mrtyor (death, impermanence), to amritam (the nectar of eternal life and bliss). I like to read it like thusly:
Aum, lead me from unreality, obscurity, and fear of death to reality, illumination, and eternal bliss.
I quite like the story of my own process with the mantra, but wanted to tell a bigger picture. Yearning to share a shade of the idea of how big this prayer can be, I thought about all of the ways to play translator to these powerful words, and I got stuck in the mud of tamas. Maybe my curiosities about if the Sanskrit word for death is the root word for martyr are not the way to go for a solstice supplication. Instead of a literary probing, here’s the poem that popped out instead. Happy solstice. Love, Suki
As time comes to pause
and the sun stands still
toes in the mud
surrounded by snail shells, floating.
Their story rides below the surface
as their soft bodies are gone
and only brittle bits of a home remain.
You imagine that their life was good
full of laughter
and sunlight streaking from above the surface tension
into the depths
of a pond’s murk, and quiet.
It is in these deep spaces
Here, the snails are celebratory
for each duckweed bit that drops
for the diffuse light
down in the mud
for another day respiring
at a snail’s pace
whatever that may be.
It is here that fish burp
sending up bubbles that tickle your ankles
in the shallows
where the sunglow still reaches.
from one height to another
from darkness to lightness
and back around again.
you say aloud
into the willow’s branches
and the message