Apart from the humidity and uber-crowded beaches, there’s another reason I know when summer’s come to Sydney – the water lilies that blossom in our courtyard pond. Because gardening in general, and tending a pond in particular, are not my strong suits, each year in the winter months when the lilies recede I harbour a small fear that they’ve actually gone away for good. And each year when summer comes, their gentle yet joyous re-emergence pokes fun at my spectacular lack of trust. They also remind me of an art tour of Rajasthan I took with my sister Janet, a month before this Big Breast Adventure began. Bet you’re wondering why, or maybe not, but you know I’m going to tell you anyway right?
Early on in the trip Janet had a rather instructive dream encounter with Lord Shiva, one of three Hindu high-gods responsible for the creation, preservation and continual destruction and regeneration of the Universe. No doubt it is inappropriate to describe any supreme being’s sudden appearance as ‘popping’ but that’s exactly how it happened. Lord Shiva popped up on the end of Janet’s bed in the pre-dawn hour of our first night in the Rajasthan countryside.
Away from the incessant noise and bustle of Delhi, the Muslim call to prayer could be clearly heard wafting across the fields around our lodgings. Janet thought it odd that a Hindu god would choose this time to show up, prompting her to ask dream-Shiva why this was. He responded that all prayers are heard by all divine entities, such as his good self, irrespective of the religious orientation (or lack thereof) of the person doing the praying. What’s more, all divine entities are moved to act on the prayers they hear. Fancy that.
Lord Shiva didn’t go into specifics, this being a dream and all, but to Janet and me, the take-home message was pretty clear. Being brought up in a staunchly Methodist-Christian household we were Sunday-schooled to believe there is only one true God. And despite being told that our Father in heaven knew the number of hairs on our respective heads, even as a youngster I had trouble believing God would have the time or the inclination to listen to my prayers, let alone act on them.
Lord Shiva’s assertion that there are ‘divine entities’ plural out there, all of whom are called to action regardless of the spiritual orientation of the prayer, was a complete revelation. It certainly goes a long way towards explaining why a Hindu god would pop up on the end of a Methodist’s bed in answer to a Muslim call to prayer. Very odd and yet, strangely comforting.
The significance of water lilies or lotus flowers in all this came a few days later when our tour group visited Pushkar’s holy lake. According to our local guide, the Hindu god of creation Lord Brahma, placed a lotus flower between the surrounding hills et voilà, the holy lake was formed and to this day, it is one of India’s most sacred Hindu sites.
By this time, Janet and I had done a little research and seen that several Hindu deities variously appear with lotus flowers. The goddess Lakshmi is depicted standing on an open water lily while a personal favourite of mine, the elephant god Ganesha, is often shown sitting on one like a meditation pillow. Said to be the ‘remover of obstacles’ Ganesha is also the son of Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati.
We asked our guide why water lilies are so prominent in Hindu iconography and his answer was twofold. First-off, the perpetual blooming and receding of the lotus flower is a metaphor for the never-ending cycle of life – creation, growth, demise then regeneration – the destruction/transformation parts of this cycle being Lord Shiva’s bailiwick.
The second reason is the everyday miracle of such a lush, pristine and perfectly formed water lily perpetually springing from dubious looking pond muck.
Interestingly, the meaning-laden lily isn’t just the preserve of the Hindus. It frequently ‘pops up’ in Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto religious iconography and even rates special mention in the Sermon on the Mount:
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass…how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? Luke 12:27
In my humble opinion, Jesus Christ’s exhortation to have faith packs a whole lot more punch when overlaid with Lord Shiva’s revelation that there’s more than one divine being out there to have faith in. I’m vastly comforted by the notion that there’s a firmament of divine beings to pray to and ask for help from; a plethora of paths to my own truth, and a cornucopia of rituals to choose from to achieve whatever state I happen to be aiming for.
Indeed, the whole premise of Alain de Botton’s seminal work Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion, is that even being an atheist doesn’t preclude one from drawing comfort and spiritual succour from the veritable buffet of religious themes, legends and rituals. Just choose whatever works for you – any spiritual port in a storm as it were.
I’m coming to the end of round 10 of chemo and have had my sixth bum-cheek, hormone inhibitor injection. I don’t think I’m imagining it but with each round, I feel more tired, inert and off kilter. My capacity to concentrate has slowed to a dawdle and yet, curiously, my brain continues to race around like a mad thing. ‘Retiring’ from formal work last December has registered in my tiny mind as a mere ‘change of sink’ as my dear, overworked mother used to refer to family holidays when I was growing up. While I used to obsess about business stuff, now I obsess about home stuff like reorganising our chaotic bookshelves or conquering the built-up soap scum on our glass shower screen.
To say my ‘spiritual storm’ continues would be the understatement of the decade and it brings to my fevered mind a wonderful scene in the final episode of The Newsroom. MacKenzie McHale (played by the fabulous Emily Mortimer) the hotshot executive producer of the fictional current affairs program Newsnight has just been promoted to News Director of the entire network. It’s a role she knows will bring ongoing, daily battles with the network’s owner about editorial independence and when MacKenzie expresses her concerns, Newsnight’s anchor Will McAvoy (played by the wonderful Jeff Daniels) says,
“There’s a hole in the side of the boat. That hole is never going to be fixed, it’s never going away, and you can’t get a new boat. This is your boat. What you have to do is bail water out faster than it’s coming in.”
Check the moment out here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWdEPuGZQfw
I’m still hopeful that the proverbial hole in my boat will eventually be fixed but in the meantime, here’s how I bail water in order to stay afloat on stormy seas. (I should issue a woo-woo alert here but if you gotten this far in this post, dear readers, it’s probably a bit late for that!)
When I feel overwhelmed, indecisive or that things simply aren’t going my way I say a silent prayer, surrendering the situation to a power greater than myself. It’s amazing how frequently handing over a problem, admitting that the situation is outside of my control and asking for help actually brings a sense of relief.
There are plenty of spiritual teachers out there who’ve fashioned surrender prayers that are really helpful in these situations, such as Tosha Silver’s Change Me Prayers and Gabrielle Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back. I’ve used some of these as a guide but I like to make up my own prayers pertinent to the situation that’s currently vexing me. My only rule around this is that all prayers must include a vote of thanks to the Universe, God, Archangel Raphael, Lord Shiva or whichever divine entity floats your boat, for all the good stuff no matter how small.
To call in healing for myself and others I use the powerful Sanskrit healing mantra Om Shri Dhanvantre Namaha. I first heard this as the Day 15 Healing mantra in Deva Premal and Miten’s 21 Day Mantra Meditation Journey . Here, Deva and Miten explain that this mantra is used traditionally in India when preparing food to maximise the nourishment and health it brings to those who eat it. It’s a bit like saying grace before a meal and I say it now over everything I ingest, even the chemo pills.
When I can feel myself mentally obsessing or tempted to lapse into worrying, I use every day things to trigger frequent episodes of mindfulness. This could be anything from tooth brushing to hanging out washing. For the time it takes to do those simple tasks, I concentrate fully on ‘the doing’ of them – the circular motion of the toothbrush against my gums or the pressure required between thumb and forefinger to open a peg. It’s like a holiday for my mind and it also infuses mundane, repetitive tasks with a weird sense of purpose – like finding the sacred in the ordinary.
And if all else fails and my chemo-brain has forgotten to actually do any of the calming rituals outlined above, I fall back on one of my favourite authors, Pam Grout’s two-word, magical panacea for everything: “Whatever it is you feel, whatever it is you think, it’s okay.”
Bless you for reading.