I think that if I paid close attention I would find that every day of my life has a “theme” or a thread of coherence and grace. Since I don't always pay attention, days go by which seem random or wasted. But then there are other days where I notice that all the threads have been woven together into a tapestry and presented to me – since I'm finally paying attention – as a gift.
Yesterday was one of those days.
Yesterday started a few evenings ago when Eli and I were wandering around, not quite sure where we were except that we were in the neighborhood of Sri Aurobindo's ashram. We saw people going into a building and followed them. (We do this a lot – it works wonders. We find ourselves in the most interesting situations – like weddings for example. But don't worry, we never follow people up dark stairwells or down narrow alleyways into opium dens).
We removed our shoes, followed the flow of foot traffic into the building and right away we felt a definite presence of deep peacefulness. We were still not sure where we were. We rounded a corner and saw a large raised rectangular structure covered with flowers arranged in beautiful patterns and mandalas. People were around it on their knees praying, or sitting a little was further out and meditating. The whole area was deep with stillness. Finally we started to piece the clues together and realized we were at the grave of Sri Aurobindo and “The Mother”. It felt like coming into the presence of a huge magnetic / gravitational field. We didn’t even have to check in with each other – we just settled in to sit there a while.
That was our introduction to “The Mother”. I didn't – and still don't – know that much about her or about Sri Aurobindo. But you can't be in Pondicherry without being aware of them. On a mental level I'm not interested in studying up on them. My “study plate” is full and overflowing with material I need to assimilate. The thought of adding more study gives me indigestion. But on an energetic and experiential level, I'm getting “schooled” in “The Mother”.
In spite of the power and peacefulness we felt at the grave of the Mother, I still wasn't sure I wanted to go up to see Auroville, the town built by her. But since the beach is up that way and Eli definitely wanted to go to the beach, we made a trip of it. Auroville is an intentional and experimental community, a town of 20,000 residents from over 40 countries. In the center of Auroville is the “Matri Mandir”. We went through a process of watching a video, and calling a number to get permission to go into this giant structure. They make you go through quite a process and I am guessing the reason is to avoid casual tourists streaming through a sacred space. It's too much trouble and too may steps for someone who is only casually interested.
We will get to go inside the Matri Mandir on Friday and sit a while to meditate. For some reason, they don't say meditate but “concentrate”. This makes me laugh. I get a picture of myself with wrinkled brow, trying hard to concentrate, maybe getting cranky about it and saying “Sshhhh! I came all the way to India to Concentrate and you are disturbing me! Or they may want you to get concentrated – like frozen orange juice. Yeah – I bet that's it.....concentrated human potential.
Even though we have yet to go inside the Matri Mandir, Eli and I both noticed that the feeling of the whole area was the same as that which we had experienced at the grave of the Mother.
The structure itself is a huge golden dome with four entrances, each dedicated to an aspect of the Divine Feminine – or “The Mother”: Maheshwari, Kali, Laksmi and Saraswati. (Yoga Nerds will recognize these four goddesses).
Well! As you know if you come to my classes, I love the goddesses and the stories about all the Hindu deities. So I was happy. Maybe that goddess-happiness made me pay better attention as the day moved along because the four goddesses commenced to show themselves to me in a modern sort of way.
We went to the conference next. (I mentioned in a previous post that, thanks to Chris, we are “Special Invitees” to a conference on Spirituality and Leadership). At the conference I proceeded to recognize the four faces of the goddess (there's more than four total, by the way – but these are the four that have planted themselves firmly on my path this day).
First I met Laksmi. Her name, Alicia, didn't fool me. She presented a paper on the Beguines, a community of Christian women, who seamlessly wove together spirituality and service in a way that was full of grace and what Alicia called “dailyness”.
The goddess Laksmi represents the qualities of beauty, joy, laughter, abundance and captivating grace. It was wonderful to see Alicia in action, captivating her audience with her fine rhythm and intelligence, and weaving through it all her joy and her infectious laughter. I think everybody fell in love with her. Everybody always falls in love with Laksmi.
I also met Kali, going under the alias of Ranjana. She is a seriously powerful and important woman, president of the largest bank, and the “Vigilance Commissioner” for the Government of India. I was glad I was sitting and quietly behaving myself at the back of the room because at one point she stopped her talk, fixed her gaze on two people and barked at them to stop talking immediately as it interrupts the speaker. (I could almost see heads rolling under the terrible wrath of Kali). This truly impressive woman seemed a clear embodiment of the goddess Kali's attributes of strength, courage, overwhelming will, impetuous swiftness and world shaking force.
Then came Sarasvati, under the name of Birgit, a French woman who has studied and written about the Benedictine Order of Sisters. Her physical build, which is petite and exact, was one clue, but she really blew her cover and revealed her true identity as Sarasvati because her voice gave her away. When she speaks it’s like a bell ringing, with perfect clarity and intonation. Her pronunciation is both precise and melodious. Her presentation was full of intelligence. She definitely seemed like Sarasvati, the goddess who represents close and profound capacity for knowledge, careful flawless work, and a quiet and exact perfection.
Finally I met Maheswara. She was there in the form of a very large black woman named Vivienne, from Virginia, who was presenting passages from the Bible to teach that the way of True Leadership is the emptying oneself of power and being a servant-leader, like Christ. (Can you believe I am in India!?) This woman – like the goddess Mahesvara – seemed to me to represent sovereignty, surpassing majesty and all-ruling greatness.
Well! You might think that was quite enough Goddess-Mother stuff for one day. But that evening as we were walking back to our ashram guest house after dinner, we sort of ended up becoming part of a parade to honor the Mother Mary. There was music and chanting and the rosary being prayed in Tamil. A man came up to me a filled my hands with flower petals – maybe all the mothers got a handful of flower petals? We followed it all back to a large shrine (or was it a small temple). When we went inside it was just like going inside a Hindu temple with all the ghee lamps and incense and so on. But instead of Hindu deities, the place was filled with pictures of Christian saints. And at the center of it all was – you got it – the Mother Mary holding the infant Jesus. We made our offerings.
And finally went home to sleep.