Tonight is a celebration of the Hindu festival Shivaratri, or the “great night of Shiva.”
One of the legends related to this celebration tells the story of Shiva saving the world from the disastrous effects of a poison that emerged during the churning of the sea (Samudra Manthan). According to this legend, the Demons and Gods joined forces to churn the ocean in search of the nectar of immortality, or Soma. During this churning, a poison emerged that threatened all of creation. Shiva came to the rescue and drank the poison, however he didn’t swallow it. Instead, he held the poison in his throat and through his yogic powers, transmuted the poison into nectar so it could be swallowed. His neck turned blue due to the effect of the poison on his throat, and henceforth he became known as Neelkanth or the “blue-throated one.” This great feat is honored through an all night celebration in honor of Lord Shiva, on the 14th night of the new moon, during the month of Phalgun (February/March).
This story illustrates an important lesson: that the “poison,” the challenges and obstacles in our lives, can be digested, transmuted, and transformed into divine “nectar” or spiritual awakening.
For the past 14 months, I’ve been writing a lot but sharing very little. I’ve been in a time of digesting, transmuting, and transforming the experience of loss into gain. Death into life. Poison into Nectar. My partner of over 7 years, Matthew Ahern, died unexpectedly on January 7th, 2015, due to complications from emergency heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Experiencing the loss of my best friend and partner has taught me and continues to teach me so much about life.
As a dedicated student of Ayurveda, the “science of life,” it makes sense that a lot about life can be learned through the experience of death. We learn so much about something through the experience of its opposite. Over the next few months I intend to share more about my journey of loss, what it’s teaching me, and how the teachings of Yoga and Ayurveda are helping me get through it.
During this auspicious New Moon time, I encourage you to reflect on what challenges or “poisons” you are digesting and transmuting into the “nectar” of spiritual awakening. You may wish to meditate on or perform offerings to Shiva, the destroyer, to help you during this time of transformation.
The following mantra is a great way to pay respect to Lord Shiva:
Mahamritunjaya Mantra (Tryambakam Mantra)
ॐ त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिंम् पुष्टिवर्धनम् ।
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ।।
oṁ tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭivardhanam ǀ
urvārukamiva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt ǁ
Translation: OM. We worship the Three-eyed Lord who is fragrant and who nourishes and nurtures all beings. As the ripened cucumber (with the intervention of the gardener) is freed from its bondage (to the creeper), may he liberate us from death for the sake of immortality.
Significance: This mantra is said to be beneficial for mental, emotional and physical health and to be a moksha (liberation) mantra which bestows longevity and immortality. This mantra is addressed to Lord Shiva for warding off untimely death. While its energy protects and guides the initiates, the practice of mantra re-links consciousness to its deeper and more abiding nature and repetition of the mantra constitutes Japa, the practice of which develops concentration that leads to a transformation of awareness. The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra is intended for healing, rejuvenation, and nurturance.