By Sue (Shuchi) Cilley
Oh, Shivaratri! The night Shiva’s veil of maayaa thins, when you can become enlightened in that one night. The Ashram’s 2019 Shivaratri Retreat was the program I’d been waiting for — for years. From the moment we walked in the door on Saturday evening, everything was preparation for Shivaratri night. We were being prepared to dive deep inside on Shivaratri, that Monday night.
For five days we were immersed in an impeccably choreographed dance. There was not one moment that was not aimed toward Self-Knowingness. Gurudevi Nirmalananda’s presence. Swami Shrutananda’s presence (then known as Vidyadevi). Long, delicious, deep, layered asana classes. Hours of chanting. Hours of meditation. Hours of discourses. Aratis, again and again. Visits from Ashram residents. An Ashram lunch. At every turn we were propelled ever deeper and deeper. So many subtleties, so many techniques. All the power of the Svaroopa® sciences powered by Grace were on display. All the murtis were alive. The vibrations of Consciousness whispered and thundered, all at the same time. And then, after the night of Shivaratri, we were prepared for returning home, bringing the depth of our experience with us.
I first heard of this night many years ago when I took Foundations. That Foundations happened to be in February over Shivaratri. Who knew? I distinctly remember Gurudevi, then known as Rama Berch, coming in for the evening session. She brought her harmonium, and we chanted Om Namah Shivaya. I was enchanted by it all, including her description of holy activities in a far-away place. They were just ending in India, in a village called Ganeshpuri.
Many years later, I was in Ganeshpuri for Shivaratri. We pilgrims periodically joined the line dance that went on for days, in a room at the Nityananda Temple. We chanted the names of Nityananda, circling his murti (enlivened statue). Sadly, Gurudevi banned those of us over “a certain age” from staying up all night. Yet walking back to our room in the late evening, we were treated to a procession. Nityananda’s murti was traveling in style, borne in a silver palanquin by two men. He was out visiting the Ganeshpuri neighborhoods, offering darshan. He had quite a parade with him.
One year, my husband and I stayed up all Shivaratri night at our home in Maine, along with a guest. Three of us, chanting the names of Shiva, Om Namah Shivaya, and meditating all night. We ended with a sublime Guru Gita chant at sunrise.
Oh Shivaratri! Those previous experiences of Shivaratri, over many years, had primed my yearning for the Ashram’s Shivaratri last year. The long night of sitting with Shiva, this time hearing the ancient stories of Shiva, Sati and Parvati from the ancient epics. Ancient stories personalizing the cosmic forces at work in the universe and our lives. For me it was a night that was beyond time, beyond place, beyond reason, where the dimensions stretched simultaneously from my feet on the floor to the vastness of my own Self.
When I did arati in the morning, I was doing it in multiple locations. I was in Ganeshpuri and in Downingtown all at the same time. It’s sublime even trying to write about it now. I have been fortunate to have pilgrimaged several times to Ganeshpuri, to have sat at Nityananada’s feet and at Baba Muktananda’s feet. My Shivaratri Retreat at the Ashram, sitting at Gurudevi’s feet, was the same experience.
And then, of course, we got to go home. Did I get enlightened? Probably not. Am I different? Yes.
I feel as though I’ve walked out of a long tunnel into the sunshine. It’s an inside job. It’s so clear and steady. All I need to do is to position myself again and again, so I can receive the Grace that flows so abundantly from our Guru. All the practices thin the veil, but attending programs when the cosmic forces are similarly aligned is like rowing home on a rising tide. Ecstatic and effortless. See you at the Shivaratri Retreat next month!