Bhavana: Feeling Your Way Inward

By Annie (Aanandi) Ross

As a child, I lay in my yard, gazing up between the branches of horse chestnut trees.  Watching the big blue sky, even through branches, I felt its vastness.  It felt like infinity.  I wondered, “Where does all this go?  What is all this vastness?”  Swami Nirmalananda’s November Teachings: The Inner Sky gives me answers.  She quotes the Vijñāna Bhairava and gives us the translation:

Remaining perfectly still, fix your gaze on the pure (cloudless) sky to experience your Shiva-nature.  — sutra 84

Then Swamiji explains this universal experience:

The sutra documents the experience that has enticed me since I was a child, saying it gives you a pure yogic state.  This is not just for yogis.  This happens for everyone. …the sky is a symbol of the infinity of Shiva, who is both the sky and beyond the sky.  When you let the sky fill your head, even being dissolved inside your head, you discover that the universe is bathed in Divine Light, including you.

Now it makes sense to me that the sky is a symbol of the infinity of Shiva.  Shiva is both the sky and beyond the sky. Shiva is me (and everything) at the same time.  I already sense and feel the inner vastness of my being.  Now I understand my experience of gazing at the big blue sky.  What a glorious quick fix!

She tells us that the contemplation described by the Vijñāna Bhairava is called a bhavana.  Bhava means feeling, and bhavana means feeling your way into it.  Swamiji describes that even when you start with a visual, it becomes a feeling.  The visual that has become a feeling touches your heart and spreads through your body.  I’ve had this experience when I observe rituals honoring the Divine.  Waving the arati candle flame to honor Nityananda, Muktananda or Swamiji, I realize the ritual’s sacredness.  I feel this ritual as a pivotal point, where finite and infinite meet.  Both are present and alive. 

I realize this is true in every moment, in every situation.  Yet with sacred objects visible, the feeling of the finite and infinite meeting is particularly auspicious and accessible.  I’m not focused on the individual objects or people involved.  Rather, I sense the honoring and the love being expressed and revealed.  Divine Light shines through to be known.

Another childhood memory arises.  Way up on a hill near my house was a very big rock.  It was shaped like a turtle with head, claws and tail.  Friends and I would carry buckets of water through tall grasses up to Turtle Rock.  Then we’d wash the rock with water.  I don’t know what prompted us to do so.

Engaging in this action gave me a deep sense of honoring the rock.  This bhav extended to the earth.  I felt and knew the Bliss of Beingness.  Now, the memory of this delight reminds me of abhishek: the ritual of bathing a Deity’s murti with water, milk and honey.  In doing so, I feel and know the tantric reality of Shiva and Shakti.  I revel in these moments where finite and infinite meet.  I have an experience of embodied Consciousness in the very midst of life.  It touches my heart and spreads through my body, revealing my Own Self to myself.

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