It’s Shivarathri—the Hindu festival of Shiva, Lord of the Himalaya, bringer of change, definer of contradictions: he is both detached ascetic and passionate sensualist, a flesh-and-blood man and a nebulous idea. He has a thousand and one names, and no name at all. He walks amid ancient civilizations on the banks of the Ganges and runs fierce in uncharted wilderness. He is the Lord of Animals and keeper of human hearts. He is death and healing. Shiva dances amid flames, his long hair whipping around him, his drum a blur of savage sound, yet he sits eternally silent in stillness. He is an arrogant warrior that howls with a demon horde and a gentle sage who speaks quiet wisdom in heaven. He is the space between moments.
Live cobras are his adornments but he sits upon the striped skin of a dead tiger. He is arcane and recognized, shadowed and bright. Notorious and respected, perfect and flawed. Imbued with light and too dazzling to look at, he is only revealed in darkness.
He is celibacy and fertility: an impulsive, temperamental lover and a faithful, patient husband, a nomad and householder. The Goddess pines for him, her love unrequited; he throws himself at her feet. His love for her almost destroyed him, the Destroyer. Beholden to none but answerable to all, beyond existence but rooted in the soil of our world. He is the remote sweep of the Himalaya and the lush immediacy of the jungle. He is a bastard and a saint, brutality and compassion. Lord of the dark night, a crescent moon rests above his brow. Shiva is reveler and revealer, unraveler. My life-long patron.
I am named for the moon. Saumya: as gentle and serene as the moon. If you know me, you’re laughing.
Shiva moves me and stills the world. I am always sleepless around Shivarathri. Some degree of insomnia is my natural state (there’s a reason my blog is called nsomniasaum!) but in this month when the snow is heavy on the ground and the moon is waning away to nothing, sleep seems to abandon me completely. I feel called to wander, to dwell, to think late and deep. While my work is a natural extension of my spiritual principles, right now I feel the call of the primal. I lose interest in my responsibilities; it’s a struggle to stay hitched to reality. Last year I had the sense to take a vacation around Shivarathri: the jungle in South America was the perfect complement to my urges and mood. This year I am faced with an overflowing inbox, numerous half-completed tasks and a growing, growling restlessness. Rather than follow my instincts, I have stubbornly (and half-assedly) been bumbling around and trying to get stuff done. I did just take about a month off of work to have and recover from surgery, so there are pressing worldly matters to attend to.
But slowly, surely…my motivated, practical and driven nature is subsumed by the mystic in me. I want to withdraw, to walk forest paths and follow my thoughts, to hear the wind and the wildness. I feel myself simultaneous rising beyond and sinking into myself. There is no stopping it.
The paths to my forest may be snowed in, but I don’t need my body to wander. My thoughts are sometimes wildfire, other times as quiet as the sky. Again and again, an ancient chant tolls in my mind:
Om Namah Shivaiya: Praise to Lord Shiva. I am the namesake of the moon in your hair: the crescent, cupping darkness. We are the same.
This is my current truth: I am the object of my own longing. Everything I reach for is contained within me. I am responsibility and chaos, fetters and freedom, spirit and flesh. Ever changing and never changing. Shiva and Saumya. The river full at my feet, an empty moon above. Darkness lights my way.