We are all powered by Shakti, and when we practice Yoga, we are invited to notice that every thought we think is a sparkle of Shakti across our inner senses; every heartbeat is a pulsation of Spanda Shakti, the vibratory power of creation; every breath is a wave of Shakti. In each moment of our lives, the Shakti in us is interacting with the Shakti in the world around us. As individual beings, we are participating in the life of the world with its infinite layers and forms of Shakti: from subatomic particles to the dance of galaxies. Shakti is everywhere and she is ever mysterious. Our lives are a play of Shakti.
Like any good Sanskrit word, shakti (?akti) has many meanings. The first definition is “power, ability, strength, might, effort, energy, capability.” Then comes “faculty, skill, and effectiveness or efficacy (of a remedy).” Shakti is also The Supreme Being, the Goddess, the energy or active power of the Divine. Shakti is creativity in all forms and can be destructive – a weapon such as a spear, missile, or sword. In the war that started just after Krishna and Arjuna had their little talk in the Bhagavad Gita, Shakti is the name of a fearsome weapon used by Karna, Arjuna’s older brother, who is fighting against him. All these definitions only hint at the infinite energies referred to by the word shakti.
Meditation is a process of being intimate with Shakti as she pulsates in us and rejuvenates our bodies, hearts and minds. The techniques of meditation invite us to engage with her many subtle forms. These have great names – yogashakti, mantra shakti (the power of sound), pranashakti (the universal energy appearing in us as “the life force”), dharana shakti (the power to understand and grasp the deeper meaning of the sutras), dhyana shakti (the power to melt into meditation), and samadhi shakti (the power of joining with, becoming absorbed into, bringing into harmony.) All of these shaktis, and many others, occur to us spontaneously and feel completely natural. We are made of shakti and all these energies are already inside us, flowing along quietly, keeping us alive, whether we notice them or not.
Let’s look at shakti as “skill,” for there is a whole set of little skills we need to employ as soon as we start to play with pranashakti. One of the joys of meditation is the gift of melting into the flow of shakti as the brilliant and caring intelligence of life. There is an ever-changing texture of energy as we are renewed. If you ask a meditator what she is experiencing moment-to-moment in her practice, she may say, “I feel soothed by the flow of prana,” then a few seconds later, “I feel at home,” or “I feel nourished by subtle shakti,” and then, “I feel electrified and inspired.” Each of these textures arises spontaneously and unpredictably, lasts for a few seconds or minutes, then gives rise to the next. We feel alternately restful, cleansed, understood, heard, felt, held, supported, and renewed. A major skill in meditation is to accept all these impulses that arise naturally, as blessings and forms of pranashakti.
Here are some more skills to explore in your practice:
Let meditation be the most natural thing in the world, an extension of your exploration of life. There are many hundreds of different meditation techniques; choose the ones that affirm your essence.
Welcome surprise and sudden shifts, from relaxation to excitement to restfulness again, as part of the natural flow of experience.
Regain your instinctual curiosity. While you are meditating, many different energies, or shaktis, appear and dissolve quickly as life heals and renews you. If you are curious and welcoming, they will teach you about themselves.
Tolerate the intensity of your longing for love. The urge to merge, the longing to melt in love with the essence of life, is one of a human being’s strongest urges. It’s unstoppable. In meditation, we give in to the yearning for love – this is one of the shaktis that informs the whole process.
Learn what effortlessness is. When you allow your attention to be called to something you love, the flow is effortless. Effortlessness is a great skill; it emerges spontaneously from operating in accord with your essential nature, or prakriti. Effort only comes in when you try to block out your thoughts and feelings.
Love calls us to freedom, and love calls us to action. There are two incredibly strong impulses of life which are the power source for meditation: one is the movement toward inner freedom, the other is the impulse toward action. First, you want to relax and be free in yourself, then you want to jump up and express yourself. These are the two primary cycles of meditation, so welcome both with open arms. It is even okay to sit there vibrating with excitement, wanting to jump up the entire time you are meditating. Usually these two impulses alternate every few minutes whenever you are practicing meditation, but some days you are mostly on one side or the other. One of the great arts of dancing with Shakti is to embrace the play of opposites.
It is always startling to recognize that we are never separate from Shakti in any way, and never will be. Every spark of life in each of our cells is a flame of adoration to the mysterious divine energy out of which we are made.
Dr. Lorin Roche began meditating in 1968 with the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra as his guide, and his translation of the text, The Radiance Sutras, is available from lorinroche.com.
Come to Esalen for a 5-day immersion in the joyous practices of The Radiance Sutras, May 12-17 2013, in Big Sur, California: Esalen.org. There will be a Sutra Jam at Shakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California, May 19: Bhaktifest.com.