Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
When the Mirror Turns
Category:
Mind

A participant in one of my Hindu Tantra workshops at Esalen Institute asked me, “what does meditation mean to YOU?” This is Hindu Tantra, not neo-Tantra, popularly known as “California Tantra,” so my response was not about bendy body positions or everlasting orgasms.  My response came from my own meditation experiences.

No one had ever asked me this question. And, I realized that I too had not asked the question myself, at least out loud. I deflected the question to my colleague and co-presenter, who, in his usual warm style, smiled and said, “the question is asked to you, you answer.” Off the cuff, I replied, “meditation to me is when the mirror turns inward.” 

This response has stayed with me, and, as time flies by, the “multi-layers of the turning of the mirror” has brought rich dimensional reflections. The mirror is our essential nature, but it is also the whole universe that we observe and that observes us back.  

Mirrors are common metaphors in Hindu Tantra, providing insights into reflection (bimba) and counter-reflection (pratibimba), into images and projections. Yet, pre-modern mirrors do not project exact reflections like modern mirrors; they distort and warp images. Such a mirror alters what is presented but also provides insight; in the same way, we may look at the self and the world using the mirror of mind and soul. Perhaps these subtle mirrors are more like two-way mirrors, and, if we look closely, we can see the truth gazing at us from behind.

In Hindu Tantra, the physical body is made of the five elements, called pañcatattva, the great constituents: Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal), Air (Vāyu), Space (Ākāśa). These days, we know that these elemental forces affect the natural world. 

Climate shifts impact our beautiful planet. Volcano eruptions and earthquakes cause great destruction. Too much water brings floods, which bring drowning and death. Fire and rising temperatures burn everything, leading to annihilation. Tornadoes and high-speed winds thrash our world. In a more positive light, recent pictures released by NASA from James Webb Space Telescope reveal how expansive the cosmos is outside our little planet. These are the forces of the elements.

We know all this. But do we consciously assess and think about our physical bodies? Do we pause to assess the tattvas inside and outside us? Do we recognize imbalances? Do we have the skills and will to take adequate measures to cope with our changing physical world while we simultaneously achieve a better balance for ourselves?

Hindu Tantra also assigns physical properties to the elements: earth is solidity; water is cohesion; fire is temperature; air is motion; and space is the spatial dimension that accommodates the other four active elements. We can learn to use all these forces.

The natural world is sacred, alive with beings and forces, visible and invisible and in this complex matrix we live, we breathe through our physical bodies. But the elements are not metaphorical; they are embodied in us and as us. 

Most of us have two arms, two legs, and a torso, equalling five. We have five fingers on each hand, and five toes on each foot. The five elements are present and active within us. We experience them all the time.

Consider being on a mountain, feeling the warmth from a fire, the urge to splash into cool ocean waters. We are even affected by open spaces that call to us. Space can affect people differently. Some people experience closed spaces and feel claustrophobic, and others are distressed when they experience vast, open spaces.

Hindu Tantra works with these same energies, guiding them in the body for specific purposes, using direct yogic means: physical posture, breathing, visualization, and mantra. Tantra recognizes these elemental energies to be primordial unborn unceasing divine forces. Those forces have generated the external world and are embodied in our own bodies. 

If all this resonates with you, consider trying the following practice. You may allow a minute of visualization for each element, or you can take up to twenty minutes for each element. 

Meditation Practice (recommended as an everyday practice) 

Sit in any position that feels right today, just be stable and comfortable. Take five deep breaths in, and gently exhale. We breathe hence we live. Just breathe. I say this because as soon as I guide people on meditation and say breathe, I find more than half the room taking loud deep breaths and soon the exercise of breathing becomes a competition. 

Now gently visualize your body (visualization is key in many Tantric practices). Starting from your toes, convert it into ONLY an EARTH body. Nothing else. Just EARTH. This earth body rises up, and slowly your entire body is that of earth, except for a needle-breadth passage, vertically running from your crown to your root; you will keep open this passage throughout the practice. Observe the texture, density, color,  smell, and weight of the earth body. 

Next, FIRE rises from the toes and burns that visualized earth body. If fire induces panic for you, then gently breathe in and out until you feel comfortable and can let the fire rise. Once the entire body is enflamed, except for that needle-thin passage, observe shifts in your body. 

As you pay attention to the earth and fire, then visualize WATER gently falling from the skies;  the water cools you as it trickles to your toes. Now a gentle breeze (AIR) flows through, and your body transforms into atoms and molecules, into particles. Allow the particles to float away in SPACE. As they glide, follow one of them; allow yourself to go on an astral journey, along the path of the stars (astramārga). After a while, when you are ready, gently come back to your physical body. 

Let us go on a collective journey building awareness of the elements, of our vast cosmos, and of ourselves. When I lead retreats and classes, I find the majority of people asking for answers to their deep-felt questions and/or solutions to their problems. My response continues to be that the blueprint is embedded in us. In other words, the response to the question, the key to resolving the problem has always been within us. We have to learn to listen and be comfortable in the mirror looking back at us because some days when the mirror turns within, the image is not pretty. 

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Sravana Borkataky-Varma co-leads Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Legends of Lust and Love, November 11–14, 2022 with Keith Edward Cantú. The pair return February 17–20, 2023 to lead Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Freedom and Self-Sovereignty.

Register Now

About

Sravana Borkataky-Varma

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. She studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, lectures at Harvard Divinity School and University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and co-founded a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal.

When the Mirror Turns

About

Sravana Borkataky-Varma

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. She studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, lectures at Harvard Divinity School and University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and co-founded a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Mind

A participant in one of my Hindu Tantra workshops at Esalen Institute asked me, “what does meditation mean to YOU?” This is Hindu Tantra, not neo-Tantra, popularly known as “California Tantra,” so my response was not about bendy body positions or everlasting orgasms.  My response came from my own meditation experiences.

No one had ever asked me this question. And, I realized that I too had not asked the question myself, at least out loud. I deflected the question to my colleague and co-presenter, who, in his usual warm style, smiled and said, “the question is asked to you, you answer.” Off the cuff, I replied, “meditation to me is when the mirror turns inward.” 

This response has stayed with me, and, as time flies by, the “multi-layers of the turning of the mirror” has brought rich dimensional reflections. The mirror is our essential nature, but it is also the whole universe that we observe and that observes us back.  

Mirrors are common metaphors in Hindu Tantra, providing insights into reflection (bimba) and counter-reflection (pratibimba), into images and projections. Yet, pre-modern mirrors do not project exact reflections like modern mirrors; they distort and warp images. Such a mirror alters what is presented but also provides insight; in the same way, we may look at the self and the world using the mirror of mind and soul. Perhaps these subtle mirrors are more like two-way mirrors, and, if we look closely, we can see the truth gazing at us from behind.

In Hindu Tantra, the physical body is made of the five elements, called pañcatattva, the great constituents: Earth (Prithvi), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal), Air (Vāyu), Space (Ākāśa). These days, we know that these elemental forces affect the natural world. 

Climate shifts impact our beautiful planet. Volcano eruptions and earthquakes cause great destruction. Too much water brings floods, which bring drowning and death. Fire and rising temperatures burn everything, leading to annihilation. Tornadoes and high-speed winds thrash our world. In a more positive light, recent pictures released by NASA from James Webb Space Telescope reveal how expansive the cosmos is outside our little planet. These are the forces of the elements.

We know all this. But do we consciously assess and think about our physical bodies? Do we pause to assess the tattvas inside and outside us? Do we recognize imbalances? Do we have the skills and will to take adequate measures to cope with our changing physical world while we simultaneously achieve a better balance for ourselves?

Hindu Tantra also assigns physical properties to the elements: earth is solidity; water is cohesion; fire is temperature; air is motion; and space is the spatial dimension that accommodates the other four active elements. We can learn to use all these forces.

The natural world is sacred, alive with beings and forces, visible and invisible and in this complex matrix we live, we breathe through our physical bodies. But the elements are not metaphorical; they are embodied in us and as us. 

Most of us have two arms, two legs, and a torso, equalling five. We have five fingers on each hand, and five toes on each foot. The five elements are present and active within us. We experience them all the time.

Consider being on a mountain, feeling the warmth from a fire, the urge to splash into cool ocean waters. We are even affected by open spaces that call to us. Space can affect people differently. Some people experience closed spaces and feel claustrophobic, and others are distressed when they experience vast, open spaces.

Hindu Tantra works with these same energies, guiding them in the body for specific purposes, using direct yogic means: physical posture, breathing, visualization, and mantra. Tantra recognizes these elemental energies to be primordial unborn unceasing divine forces. Those forces have generated the external world and are embodied in our own bodies. 

If all this resonates with you, consider trying the following practice. You may allow a minute of visualization for each element, or you can take up to twenty minutes for each element. 

Meditation Practice (recommended as an everyday practice) 

Sit in any position that feels right today, just be stable and comfortable. Take five deep breaths in, and gently exhale. We breathe hence we live. Just breathe. I say this because as soon as I guide people on meditation and say breathe, I find more than half the room taking loud deep breaths and soon the exercise of breathing becomes a competition. 

Now gently visualize your body (visualization is key in many Tantric practices). Starting from your toes, convert it into ONLY an EARTH body. Nothing else. Just EARTH. This earth body rises up, and slowly your entire body is that of earth, except for a needle-breadth passage, vertically running from your crown to your root; you will keep open this passage throughout the practice. Observe the texture, density, color,  smell, and weight of the earth body. 

Next, FIRE rises from the toes and burns that visualized earth body. If fire induces panic for you, then gently breathe in and out until you feel comfortable and can let the fire rise. Once the entire body is enflamed, except for that needle-thin passage, observe shifts in your body. 

As you pay attention to the earth and fire, then visualize WATER gently falling from the skies;  the water cools you as it trickles to your toes. Now a gentle breeze (AIR) flows through, and your body transforms into atoms and molecules, into particles. Allow the particles to float away in SPACE. As they glide, follow one of them; allow yourself to go on an astral journey, along the path of the stars (astramārga). After a while, when you are ready, gently come back to your physical body. 

Let us go on a collective journey building awareness of the elements, of our vast cosmos, and of ourselves. When I lead retreats and classes, I find the majority of people asking for answers to their deep-felt questions and/or solutions to their problems. My response continues to be that the blueprint is embedded in us. In other words, the response to the question, the key to resolving the problem has always been within us. We have to learn to listen and be comfortable in the mirror looking back at us because some days when the mirror turns within, the image is not pretty. 

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?


Sravana Borkataky-Varma co-leads Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Legends of Lust and Love, November 11–14, 2022 with Keith Edward Cantú. The pair return February 17–20, 2023 to lead Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Freedom and Self-Sovereignty.

Register Now

About

Sravana Borkataky-Varma

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. She studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, lectures at Harvard Divinity School and University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and co-founded a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal.

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
When the Mirror Turns
Category:
Mind

Leading up to her November workshop, Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma gifts our readers with an everyday meditation practice, explores the five elements of the physical body, and reveals how she feels about her own practice and Hindu Tantra: “Meditation to me is when the mirror turns inward.”

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Sravana Borkataky-Varma co-leads Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Legends of Lust and Love, November 11–14, 2022 with Keith Edward Cantú. The pair return February 17–20, 2023 to lead Tantra: The Body and The Release, an Esalen Signature Series | Freedom and Self-Sovereignty.

Register Now

About

Sravana Borkataky-Varma

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. She studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, lectures at Harvard Divinity School and University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and co-founded a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal.

When the Mirror Turns

About

Sravana Borkataky-Varma

Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. She studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, lectures at Harvard Divinity School and University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and co-founded a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal.

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