Monday, March 14, 2011

The White Swan of My Spirituality

© Lorcan Keating

This photo is by Lorcan Keating, who lives and works in San Francisco.  Lorcan successfully captures the vast subtleties of the world around him with his lens, focusing primarily on San Francisco neighborhoods and wildlife.  He can be found on Facebook.
Swans are revered in Hinduism, and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan's feather does not get wet although it is in water. The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa or hansa, and it is the vehicle of many deities like the goddess Saraswati. It is mentioned several times in the Vedic literature, and persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities are sometimes called Paramahamsa ("Great Swan") on account of their spiritual grace and ability to travel between various spiritual worlds. In the Vedas, swans are said to reside in the summer on Lake Manasarovar and migrate to Indian lakes for the winter. They're believed to possess some powers such as the ability to eat pearls. They are also believed to be able to drink up the milk and leave the water from a saucer of milk adulterated with water. This is taken as a great quality, as shown by this Sanskrit verse:Hamsah shwetah, bakah shwetah, kah bhedah hamsa bakayo? Neeraksheera viveketu, Hamsah hamsah, bakah bakah! (Source: Wiki)
It’s been a long time since I was completely stress-free.  I’m convinced that when stress is turned up high, it blocks any good vibes from getting through, particularly when you need them the most.  It took almost a month after leaving the office, but I’m feeling much better than I was previously, and just in time, too.  Sri Karunamayi begins her U.S. Tour in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Leslie, Elizabeth and I were fortunate enough to be one of the first people to see her here today, on the first day of the first city in her tour. She landed in San Francisco International Airport, direct from India, after being in the air for 16 hours, and made her way to the family hosting her in Fremont.  We were there with about 25 of other devotees to meet her. I want to be as open and relaxed as possible so I can absorb as much of her positive spiritual energy as I can.
Sri Karunamayi is revered in India as an embodiment of divine motherly love, due to the love and affection that she showers liberally on people, animals, and even plants, the spiritual knowledge and guidance that she gives freely to all of humanity, and the humanitarian works that she has undertaken. "Amma," as she is affectionately called by her devotees, is simply the Telugu word for "mother," Telugu being Amma's native language. (
I’ve looked forward to this visit for weeks, and it was precipitated by several days of intense and deep thought. Everything I’ve had rolling around in my head, along with residual sadness, came to the surface to be inventoried. This has happened before.  I re-evaluated by work experience, current relationships, and what I’d like to do with my life, where I’d like to focus my attention, going forward.  I thought about the people I love, my creative efforts, and the current state of our fragile world.  All this and more then bounced into my dreams last night.  First, I was in a giant ashram full of different rooms and women wearing spiritual whites and sari’s running around getting ready for Amma’s visit (an obvious corrrelation).  Then, I was in an office in a new, temporary job working for a woman who clearly didn’t like me (deja vu).  Granted, I’ve had this particular dream more than once since being laid off.  I was doing a Power Point presentation for her and couldn’t get it right no matter what I did.  She fired me finally, and I left the office building carrying a queen size mattress (an awkward burden, much like rejection), dragging it, down a large, dark woodland road (an unknown dark place).  As I walked, a tall blonde woman I didn’t recognize crouched by the roadside to nurse her baby (nurturing new ideas and directions).  A long parade of white domestic cats, all shapes and sizes, padded ghostlike across the road and into the woods behind her. They were on their way to Amma’s program, too.  I’m no expert on dream symbolism, and I usually have little interest in white cats, but I can guess on much of this.

I don’t insist my family attend Amma’s programs.  I get wrapped up in it on the days I can be there, but Elizabeth is usually in school, and Leslie is usually busy running everyone around.  They end up in the background, waiting and watching.  I figure a person doesn’t have to directly participate to benefit from the wonderful vibrations of Amma’s positive spiritual energy.  It’s like a contact high.  You don’t have to smoke the peace pipe to get the buzz. However, this home visit, outside of her programs, is special and typically for devotees who help.  I don’t feel like I did much, not compared to The Bay Area Coordinator’s efforts, but I was invited for the third time.  It is a unique opportunity to have special time with Amma outside of individual blessings and before more structured programs focus her attention on the hundreds of people (typically thousands in India) who bring their sorrows, wants and worries to lay at Her feet, revered as She is as the Divine Mother's earthly representation and Saraswati.
Amma in Fremont on March13, 2011
The family that hosts Amma is a traditional Hindu family, and so are many of her devotees.  When we entered their home, one of Amma’s bhajans (spiritual songs) played.  The house was decorated in Hindu fashion just for the ocassion and filled with a diverse blend of people; some traditional Indian, some hippy looking types, and others completely Western in appearance.  There were white sheets spread out all over the floor.  Color is of particular importance, although I don’t know the details.  Amma asks us to approach her in all white at programs, as well.  She arrived with traditional fanfare, looking no worse for the more than 24 hours spent traveling, and spoke to us in her sweet voice, as people clattered and chattered in the background.  Her children were anxious this day, nervous even.  Thank the heavens She’s arrived because Mother Earth is shaking all to pieces.

In her brief darshan, Amma focused on planetary influences and was very sad about what's happening in Japan, indicating that human greed and selfishness is at the core root of these disasters. She reminded us about the Sri Mrutyunjaya mantra, an ancient vedic healing mantra, and told us about the many homas they’ve performed in India, focusing on this month specifically.  Check out the mantra here. You don't have to sing it.  Just play it, and it works by healing and warding off negative energy whether you believe in it or not.  She mentioned that human beings are struggling psychologically with depression, anxiety, and confusion. Yet, she also laughed easily with us, assuring us that San Francisco is a very spiritual place.  Then, she blessed the Prasad, and it was passed around.  Candies, nuts, and other treats infused with her spiritual energy were given to everyone.  By the time she wrapped it up, I was completely buzzed, thoroughly high on her pure, spiritual vibration.  I watched her walk through the small crowd toward her personal room for the night, and noticed that her braid, the tiny tip of which peaked through the bottom of her shawl, was almost down to her knees.  

She is the white swan of my spirituality, and when She glides quietly and gracefully away from those of us who want and need her attention so very much, I miss her immediately.

Due to my personal disdain for modern day religion, these spiritual experiences are the closest thing to “religion” my family and I have. My love for the Divine Mother resides in my heart, my devotion or bhakti is personal, and as far as I’m concerned the Goddess is everywhere and for everyone.  She has many faces so Her children can find one to identify with. The Holy Mother, Virgin Mary, Athena, Hecate, Saraswati, Durga and even Kali are all aspects of the same to me.  I believe very strongly that we all have the right to our personal faiths without persecution, and I don’t appreciate it when others cram their experience down my throat.  This has never happened to me in the 10 years I’ve seen Amma.  The Hindu trappings, like the ancient religion itself, are not prerequisite to being in Her presence. I take what I want and need from the experience and leave the rest.  It was unnerving initially, but I’ve noted that some people who return learn to release that intimidation and adhere to the Hindu practices in programs when it’s spiritually necessary or done out of respect.  Like taking yours shoes off at the front door.

No matter what the guidelines are, and no matter if I do or don’t adhere to them, what matters is that Amma has made an enormous personal impact in my life; greater than my parents, my grandparents, and all my relatives put together. With the exception of Leslie and Elizabeth, She has been a singular most positive influence.  She helped me access and realize my worthiness, and gave me spiritual and emotional healing at a time when I was drowning in my own broken nature. She’s also been there in very tangible and somewhat unexpected ways.

Now, as I sort through the feelings accumulated over the last year and a half, I’m relieved by the certainty that my Spiritual Mother is here to help … just as She helps all her children.

Learn more about the upcoming Bay Area Program here.

Jai Ma …


Eartha Stone said...

She has a beautiful grace in her voice, it's truly a healing. I've had it on repeat for a little while now.

Donna L. Faber said...

That's terrific! Good news is that it works just by playing it ... an awesome vedic secret. D~

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