After many failed attempts at BIG change in my life, I accepted that the work of clearing my inside and outside clutter was continuous, it had to be a lifestyle. There was no final goal to be met, no end in mind, just a newly born commitment to and faith in, the beneficial process of ongoing reflection and deliberate editing of my life.
Change Beyond the 20 Minutes of Meditation
Making time to disengage with the world regularly was vital in this ongoing process but I had no clue how to make these activities a lifestyle. I knew meditation was good but after a year of practice it felt as if I did this one thing and everything else in my life was still scattered, un tethered and chaotic. My eating habits were extreme, my sleeping habits were unbalanced, as were my relationship’s. It could have been the practice I was using at the time, I’ll never really know. What I did know was that I wanted to press the reset button on the whole of my life but knew that big extreme attempts would lead nowhere.
Inside Scoop on a Tradition of Intentional Living
I was gifted a window into a model of pressing that reset button in a big way through my husband. He is from India and introduced me to an annual celebration called Navratri. This holiday showed me what was possible on a whole new level.
Navaratri loosely translated in English is 9 days of mother divine. There are infinite layers of rich meaning and purpose in this beautiful holiday but for the sake of space on this post I will be fairly brief in terms of what I want to convey.
My in laws are from the north of India (every area has their own version) near the city of Delhi and celebrate Navaratri by first preparing in the weeks leading up to it. These preparations consist of scanning the home for items that need to be fixed or replaced, cleaning every object, piece of furniture and room, repainting walls that need it and donating items that are no longer used. Also to whatever extent is possible, debts are repaid and the home is lastly decorated with fresh marigold flower garlands, oil lamps and rangolis as shown below (intricate mandala designs formed with colored powder that are meticulously laid by hand).
Gear Up for The Heat
In that time of thorough preparation, one decides to what extent they will sacrifice their conveniences during the 9 days. There is a spectrum from the most austere of fasting on water, to a regimen of eating only fruits and nuts and still others simply give up one of their usual three, meals. Some also make a commitment to dive deeper into their prayer and meditation practices by increasing them.
To Each to His Own
There are no hard and fast rules, people follow this tradition according to their pace and ability. The idea is that on those 9 days, conveniences are sacrificed and restraint is practiced for the benefit of gaining the strength to live more virtuously.
Flex The Discipline Muscle Through Restraint
Restraint when it comes to diet is the most common since it’s the hardest. The belief is that if you can practice restraint in eating, it’s is much easier to restrain any violence in speech(cursing,gossiping,lying etc.), thought (jealousy, greed, spite, resentment etc.) or deed(stealing, hurting another, murder, overindulgence in food, sex etc.)
Navaratri usually begins in the beginning of October depending on the lunar calendar. This 9 day holiday is devoted to the feminine aspect of creation, the mother. The days are divided into 3 parts consisting of 3 days where a specific Goddess is either prayed to, meditated on and/or sung to.
Battles, Gifts and Transcendence
The first 3 days are dedicated to the warrior Goddess, Durga. Her many images depict her in battle with gnarly demons, her many arms holding various weapons, including a lotus flower, all while riding a tiger. The next 3 days are devoted to Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of spiritual and material abundance. Her images usually depicts her peacefully seated on a lotus with two of her 4 arms holding lotuses and the other two showering coins with open palms. She is usually depicted between 2 elephants. The final 3 days are dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, pure knowledge and perfect discrimination. She is usually depicted sitting on a white lotus with a white swan nearby, holding a Veena (Indian harp),a book (looks like a stack of dollars wrapped in string) and beaded prayer mala.
The Deities as Representatives for Universal Life Passages
The meaning behind the sequence of Goddesses worshiped was explained to me as follows. Durga represents the inner battle we must all pass of shedding our own falsehoods and ignorance on the path of realizing the self. Praying to her is paying respect to this many layered, universal threshold and a request for strength to attain that self knowledge and win this battle sooner rather than later. It’s only after having gone through the heat of facing our own darkness that we can, with a sober mind and heart, be able to manage wisely the spiritual and material gifts that come of it.
From Battlefield to Attainment
Lakshmi represents the fruit that life rewards those that have passed through that threshold of growing pains. That fruit being the inner maturity to accept life on life’s terms and be a wise steward of the blessings of bodily health, spiritual health and material abundance.
Being a Steward of Blessings
After having gone through the fire of conquering our ego and ignorance, then enjoyed worldly pleasures and spiritual health, we are then ready to transcend it all with higher knowledge of the inner/higher self. Saraswati represents this form of detachment and higher understanding. She also represents mastery of expressing this higher understanding through the arts and the sciences.
The Hero’s Journey Leads to Letting go
On the last day, an abundance of delicacies are made and gifted to neighbors and extended family members. This is done in celebration of one’s success in completing the efforts of restraint and prayer for the full 9 days. It is also an attempt to strengthen relationships and soften grudges that may have been created previously, through the act of feeding each other delicious treats.
Tools for Saner Modern Life
Upon first learning of this extensive holiday I was floored with how practical and dense with life wisdom it was. It has over the years, left an ever deepening impression on me of the value of pressing the reset button on our lives through daily, weekly and annual rituals.
Resetting Everything, Inside and Out
The sequence of mind, body and environmental processes within this holiday made absolute sense to me. Clearing one’s environment of physical clutter, clearing one’s financial clutter and then turning inwards to clear one’s bodily, emotional and mental clutter through fasting, prayer and meditation pretty much covers the gamut of life’s fundamental areas.
Litmus Test of Real Inner Change
The grand final of reaching out to our community, with a level of hard won inner maturity, to right our wrongs and let go of any grudges, makes this 9 day process come full circle. Talk about putting your affairs in order!
A Parallel in Judaism
Upon explaining this holiday to a Jewish friend of mine years ago, she shared that it sounded very similar to what her family practiced around harvest time in the fall. I can’t remember for the life of me what the name of it was! She explained that her family practiced doing their best to clear debts, clear clutter in the home and additionally clear grudges within relationships by apologizing face to face for harm done.
Universal Human Truths
Amazing to consider how two very different spiritual communities could have such similar traditions. I started thinking that there must be more around the world with similar traditions. These types of traditions are universal for a reason. Humans have found what works in terms of getting the results they want. Practices like these have been time tested as pillars of whole and fruitful lives.
Learning From Those Near The End
The late and famous, Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s work on death and the dying, made it mainstream knowledge in the medical profession, of the critical need of those nearing the end of their life, to prepare for it by putting their affairs in order and tying up loose ends in their relationships.
Why Only Nearing Our Death?
What would life be like if we all did our due diligence regularly to keep our affairs in order? How would we respond to the arrival of our death?
I imagine a life lived with a full heart, courage, wisdom, followed by a peaceful death.
Communities Creating Rhythms
Having scheduled time like this to reboot in such a thorough manner, can create a rhythm in our lives that anchors us among the inevitable changes that shake our equilibrium. They also serve as a great way to gain self knowledge. During times of trial, they can serve as a coveted respite and when life is in our favor, a time to savor and celebrate. It’s easier said than done when we live in the U.S., Instead of India where the 9 days are traditionally non-working days. We in American society don’t have that luxury but can still create our own traditions.
Creating Our Own
We need these reminders more than ever today and can still use the power of rituals to our benefit. We can create and commit to tailor made daily, monthly and yearly traditions that have us take a step back, reflect and harness the clarity that comes of that, towards answering the million dollar question….
What do I really want?
I have a friend that schedules a complete one person retreat every year in a lake house. She is mother and executive with a full plate and so makes plans months in advance to be able to completely disconnect for 2 weeks, no phone, no computer, minimal contact with other humans. Just her, the lake house, her dog, her journal, food, hiking shoes and a bathtub.
I know of a retired grandmother who made a business out of scheduling retreats for women in fun settings, where she provides a plethora of scrap book materials, food and wine. Women leave behind their daily responsibilities and dive into creating albums, gifts, mementos and just plain art.
Vow of Silence at Home
I have another friend that makes the last Sunday of every month a day where she completely unplugs from her phone, tv and computer, fasts on a thin veggie soup she makes for herself and takes a vow of silence, not speaking a word for the whole day
New Years Resetting Exercise
In this three part series of posts here, here and here I shared how creating a ritual for myself before new years, made all the difference for me in creating meaningful and doable resolutions and keeping them. This ritual lays a foundation of having created a clean slate that is ripe with potential for creating that which has been quietly tugging at my heart.
Try out different ways of pressing the reset button on your life and let me know what your experience is!
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