Shiva Sutras, 3:27: katha japah/Ordinary talk of life is the recitation of mantra.
I’ve always been a homebody. It’s part of my sign—Cancer—and though I wouldn’t call myself “domestic” (cleaning is not my forte) I can definitely identify with the idea of the crab’s shell as its protection. Home is safety, protection, comfort. My own private space is my refuge. Every time I’ve moved, and it’s pretty much always been into a bigger, better place, I’ve mourned leaving the old one. I always walk through all the empty rooms one last time.
Seemingly “momentous” occasions don’t generally happen at home, but if you think about it, everything that’s most important does. Home is the place where our relationships with loved ones play out, where we really allow ourselves to feel our emotions, where everything that makes up day-to-day life happens. The rhythm of our regular days might not always seem exciting or memorable, but we depend upon it. According to the Shiva Sutras, which was a required text for my yoga teacher training: Ordinary talk of life is the recitation of mantra.
If you start with the concept that the divine stuff of the universe is everywhere, in everything and everyone, moving through the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday life becomes the process of reciting mantra, of connecting with yourself and with the energy of the universe every day. The things that feel ordinary and foundational to our lives are actually the things that can transport us to the divine—at any moment at all. Being grounded in the ordinariness of life is the very thing that can help us attain the bliss that is already within us.
Last night I was paging through Sally Kempton’s book Meditation for the Love of It, looking up mantra (of which the sound of Om is one). But what caught my attention instead was a section called “The Space Between the Breaths.” It’s called madhya — the still point between two phases of movement. The pause between your inhale and exhale, or the end of each swing of a pendulum, before it goes back the other way. “All movement,” Kempton writes, “arises out of such a point of stillness. That still point is an open door into the heart of the universe.”
This is a stunningly beautiful concept, I think. There are so many ways to think about it. It’s the beat between your heartbeats. The time right before you wake up or fall asleep. The pause before you answer a question that may change your life. The tipping point between balancing and falling. The split second before you kiss someone. The instant before something good or bad happens. Those times when, in the moment, you are able to step back to look and to think, This is something I’ll never forget.
Kempton quotes Julian of Norwich, a medieval saint: “God is at the midpoint between all things.” Spirit, the Universal, the Divine — however you want to think about it. I imagine there is an incredible amount of energy and power in that space, waiting for us to enter and to claim it.
I couldn’t get over this beautiful excerpt from the Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot (who’s pretty much God in my book):
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards.
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there have we been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
Tattoo number two is a done deal. It’s a simple black Om, on my inner right forearm. (The other one is on the inside of my left ankle; it’s a yin-yang-ish version of my zodiac sign, Cancer.) It took the guy 10 minutes, and the pain was completely bearable. We had a nice chat, and I even watched him put the ink in.
It looks gorgeous.
I felt kind of badass.
My lovely friend Miriam came with me, and we had lunch, a great walk around Montclair, and a browse around a used bookstore, too. Om, indeed.
Om (or Aum) is a sacred and mystical syllable in Indian religions. It is very often the first word of Hindu texts, because it’s an incantation to be intoned before (and after) a reading. It’s considered the name of God, or — and I love this — the vibration of the Supreme.
Om is the sound you chant at the beginning and end of yoga class. It’s a mantra. When everyone’s in sync, it sounds like a beautiful harmonic.
One of the things I really love about Om is the idea that it is “the primordial hum of the universe.” It’s the sound in the background, the constant buzz of life. I love that in a spiritual way, because for a long time I’ve considered God to be the higher order in the universe. The utter elegance of mathematics, all the symmetry in nature, and even the way analogies work in words are all proof to me that the universe is ordered on some level. That there’s a diffusion of spirit that keeps things going. Whether or not it has a consciousness, I have no idea, but it doesn’t matter to me. I like to think of it as disembodied, actually, as energy. And Om is the sound it makes.
For a while I was hesitant to get an Om tattoo. I wondered, is it kind of cliché? But then I started to think about it the way I think of my older daughter’s name. Kate is a very popular name, but I love it, and I’ve always loved it, and there was no question in my mind once we found out that she was a girl that it would be her name. Everyone else could have named their kid Kate too, and I’d still have chosen it. I didn’t get an Om just because I’m into yoga now. It really speaks to what I’ve believed for most of my life but didn’t really have a name for until I truly came to yoga and learned more about it.
When I was first considering it and tossing it around, a woman I know told me I should think about the fact that it would be there on my arm when my girls get married and I’m the mother of the bride. Like that would be a bad thing. I can’t remember if I asked her or just thought this: Why is it okay to wear a cross or a star around your neck but not to have an Om tattooed on your arm?
In the book Om Chanting and Meditation, author Amit Ray says:
Om is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos, whatever we can see, touch, hear and feel. Moreover, it is all that is within our perception and all that is beyond our perception. It is the core of our very existence. If you think of Om only as a sound, a technique or a symbol of the Divine, you will miss it altogether…. It is the eternal song of the Divine. It is continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.
I can’t really improve upon that.
One of my teachers said recently that chanting Om validates your place in the universe; it’s a way of saying I am here. What better reminder to have on the inside of my forearm?