Varanasi - Shiva's City
I woke up at 2am this morning to go to the Vishwanath Temple, also known as the Jytotirlinga Shiva Temple, in Varanasi. It’s usually only open to Hindus and they make it a challenge for foreigners to get in. Without thinking, I walked up, gave my passport and when asked "are you Hindu religion?" I simply said "Yes". What I didn’t say was that I’m actually all religions, all faiths and all philosophies. That’s the inclusiveness of the Veda. But sometimes it's easier (and faster) to just say yes.
As I walked inside, a security guard saw me, and led me to a place where I could sit down and see the ceremony being performed. I sat in my simplest form of awareness, witnessing the ceremony as the waves of energy reverberated throughout the temple. With people leaning/sitting/standing on top of each other, it’s an intimate experience to say the least. I swear I felt the guy sitting in front of me fart on my foot… but you get used to that in India.
As it came time to line up before making offerings, I joined the long line of Hindus and waited my turn. After a few moments, another security guard came up and took me to the front of the line. It was funny because I had no expectations and was happy to simply wait my turn. As I stood there, one of the Hindu priests threw the bright orange flower mala (necklace) that had been wrapped around the shiva statue during the ceremony right at me. In that moment I had a flashback of catching the drumstick stick at a Jack White concert. The guy next to me just wiggled his head and said ‘lucky’.
Luck might have to something to do with it, but it’s also about deserving power. The choices you make each day have an impact. Some may say we are actually choice less but that’s another story to tell. Deserving power comes from choosing to follow your inner voice, that fine level of feeling in the heart space, no matter how illogical it may seem. That intuitive feeling is nature’s way of saying "Hey. You. Yes You. Go there. Do this. This is your role right now. This is what you need to do." When you listen and act on this sense, you see that life has a natural flow to it. You’re living your purpose in each moment. And when you stick with it, no matter what challenges you face, when you commit to yourself and your own personal evolution, that is what creates deserving power. That’s what makes life flow effortlessly.
So I then sat and meditated at the side of the temple for a while. Just being, no trying, no expectations, just sitting there witnessing it all take place. I bowed in surrender and gratitude to the powerful energy of Shiva – the remover of irrelevancy and the master purifier. I had a bit of a headache as I left, but that’s to be expected when the Shiva energy has been working on you.
As I walked home, I had a little laugh to myself as I noticed the juxtaposition of my life experiences over the past 10 years. I used to get led to the front of nightclub lines, handed free drinks, do all-nighters and wake up with hangovers. I now stay up all night for 2:30am Shiva ceremonies, get into Hindu-only temples, led to the front of darshan lines, receive charged up flower malas and leave sometimes with a purification headache, but mostly in a state of calm, surrendered bliss.
It’s not to say I don’t enjoy partying anymore. But my priorities have changed. For years I searched for happiness, connection and meaning through romantic relationships, achievements and experiences. And although it felt good, sometimes incredible, the feeling never lasted. With the highs came the lows, and after enough lows I started to look elsewhere. I thought there’s got to be more to life than this.
That search led me to my mind and ultimately, to meditation. It’s been a wild journey and continues to be so. And of course it hasn’t been without its challenges. Resolving the past, feeling angry, hurt, lost, sad… it’s all been there. But the choice I made to embark on my meditation journey all those years ago has led me to experience a stabilised fulfillment and contentedness that isn’t dependent on the external world behaving in any particular way. There’s an inner strength and power that continues to grow each day.
As my young Varanasi guide said to me as we rode his motorbike home… "If you are scared, you do nothing. If you are strong, you do everything."
HEADING TO VARANASI?
If you’re thinking of going to Varanasi then I highly suggest you do so! It’s a place of ancient culture, rituals, incredible sunrises and the magical flowing Ganga river. Here are a few tips to make your experience that much more delightful...
- If you have the extra $, stay at a hotel on the Ganga with a view of the river. It’s worth every cent. I stayed at Rashmi Guest House in the Ganga View Room and although the space was tiny, the view made up for it. There is also another hotel down the river called Jukaso Ganga. Higher price range but bigger rooms and right on Ganga.
- Make it a morning ritual to wake up before sunrise, jump on a row-boat and cruise down the Ganga as the sun is rising. An incredible experience. It's also amazing to do at sunset and watch the Aarti ceremony (fire ceremony) from the Ganga.
- Walk the old town and imagine what life was like 2000 years ago in this city.
- Eat at Dosa Cafe and get the chocolate dosa... actually get all the dosas. Always choose ghee.
- Drink at Blue Lassi Shop, an establishment that has been serving up incredible flavored lassis for 70 years. My tip? The coconut mango lassi.
- Visit the Vishwanath Temple and take darshan… a powerful experience to be had!