During these times of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread fear and concern, I’ve been asked to address what this means for our inner journey.
In our tradition of Śrīvidyā (and Śākta Tantra in general), we deal with calamities, catastrophes, and world events in extraordinary ways. In addition to using commonsense approaches of being safe and the practicalities of protecting ourselves as far as possible, we use these events as opportunities to dive deeper into sādhana. These events are fantastic opportunities to cultivate bhakti or devotion and to practice the challenging art and science of surrender.
It is one thing to pontificate about devotion to (Devī) Goddess in times of plenty and peace. It’s another to sink into absolute faith when things around us are falling apart.
While it may seem like the measures described here are specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, they apply to all events that threaten our existence concerning our health, longevity, financial stability, and potential losses.
The approach here is one of Devotional Pragmatism, which includes:
- Pragmatism: Do everything in your power to be safe and protected from a practical standpoint.
- Trust: Go about your life in absolute trust that whatever happens, it will be ok.
- Surrender: Pragmatism and trust are held in the intention of surrendering to Divine Will.
A. Practical Tips:
As far as the coronavirus goes, our knowledge about the virus and the disease is constantly evolving. We do know that it is highly contagious with an affinity for the elderly and the immune-compromised, and doesn’t seem to be interested in children. Most people who do get the disease (COVID-19) have a milder form and recover.
This virus spreads via droplets – the tiny drops you emit when you cough, sneeze and so on. It lives on hard surfaces (where your droplets land) for several days, and if someone, especially the elderly and those with weak immune systems touch those surfaces and go on to touch their mouths and noses, the virus has a field day since it loves lung tissue. It especially thrives when you cough or sneeze in someone’s face and will love you for giving it easy access to the lung cells it wants to get to.
To avoid the spread of disease, the following steps help:
- Cover your mouth and nose if you’re going to sneeze or cough. Better yet, if you have any condition that makes you cough or sneeze (even if it’s a common cold), stay in your personal space and don’t mingle with others. Why add to the panic? If you must go out, use a mask.
- Respect your personal space and avoid sharing utensils, etc. even with loved ones.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Wash your hands before you do anything – eat, cook, touch your face, or someone else. This tenet is true even in the absence of a pandemic. Don’t just turn on the water for the sake of it. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds with soap.
- Don’t touch surfaces in public places, and walk around without washing your hands. Think of toilets, sinks, doorknobs, gas pumps, store aisles, etc. Wash your hands and become adept at opening doors and flushing toilets without directly touching the surface. If you absolutely can’t reach soap and water, use hand sanitizer.
- Don’t place your personal things on communal surfaces – phones, makeup bags, whatever. Be mindful of your items and where they roam.
- Wash your hands and discard packing materials immediately when you receive packages by mail. Don’t place them on surfaces you touch, cook on, eat on, etc.
- Clean and sanitize your phones, bags, and other objects regularly.
- Change your clothes and wash up when you come home, especially from hospitals, labs, and other medical facilities, nursing homes, etc. Don’t transition to the couch or bed without changing. Wash your clothes in hot water. Avoid reusing clothing you wore to the hospital.
- Avoid unnecessary mass events, but remember that paranoia doesn’t help.
- Avoid gyms and other places where the sanitization of equipment and objects is difficult to ascertain.
- Finally, don’t panic. Educate yourself, but don’t monitor the news every hour of the day. Be mindful of your hands and things, and live your life.
- Reschedule any routine doctor’s appointments. Call your doctor and ask if you must come in or if prescriptions, etc. can be handled over the phone.
- If you’re sick with cold symptoms, avoid going to the doctor’s office or the hospital – call and ask if you should come in.
- If you’re having shortness of breath, fevers, and worsening symptoms, please do go to the hospital but wear a mask and call ahead to let them know you’re coming. Or, call an ambulance and describe your symptoms.
B. Immunity-Strengthening Tips:
There is no magic formula that will over-ride a suboptimal lifestyle to boost your immunity. Strong immunity is the gift of a well-regulated lifestyle, and one of good choices over the long-term.
Here are my recommendations.
Disclaimer: These recommendations come from my long-term study of Ayurveda and application in my medical practice. They may not make sense to you if you have no understanding of Ayurveda. If you’d like to learn more, there are many resources, including my book, The Heart of Wellness. If you don’t “believe” in “such things,” that is completely fine. Take what you need, or ignore all of this altogether.
- Maintain a regular schedule; wake up before 6 AM, go to bed by 10 PM. Eat at consistent times, and do not skip meals. Avoid eating after 6:30 PM.
- Get some exercise every day. Walking outdoors, if possible, is desirable.
- Lunch should be the biggest meal of the day.
- Dinner should be light and early.
- Always sit down to eat. Avoid watching TV or excitation during meals. Focus on your food.
- Avoid eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts. Favor cooked vegetables over raw salads. Avoid fruit and nuts.
- Favor whole grains such as wild, brown, red and other colored rice, rye, oats, quinoa, millet, barley (not pearl), sorghum, teff, amaranth, buckwheat. Favor legumes over hard beans.
Eliminate (STOP completely):
- Refined and added sugars: candy, cookies, cakes, pastries, sugary drinks, and foods.
- Processed foods: all packaged foods and most frozen foods (except some fresh frozen vegetables – check to make sure there’s nothing but said vegetable in the package).
- Processed meats: This includes sausage, bacon, lunch meats, and other processed meats.
- Salty foods (see below as well): potato chips, pretzels, pickles, canned goods (soup, broth, beans, vegetables, and fruit).
- Salt: to not more than a quarter or half teaspoon per day (including all the salt in all the food and drinks consumed in a day). Do not add salt at the table. Use other spices instead. It takes about 3 weeks for the taste buds to adjust to a no-salt or ultra low-salt diet.
- Fermented foods: such as breads with yeast and Indian foods such as dosa, idli, dhokla, etc.
- Caffeine: If you have palpitations, insomnia, anxiety or irritability, eliminate caffeine entirely.
Additional tip: Take two pinches of ground black pepper with a few drops of honey twice a day. This may help with your immunity when taken along with the lifestyle practices described above.
C. Heart-Opening Tips:
- Remember that life passing you by while catastrophes like COVID-19 occur. Although your life is disrupted in various ways, cultivate the perspective that life is precious and no time must be wasted regardless of the situation.
- Spend time with your loved ones being present, and reveling in gratitude for what you have.
- Spend time doing what you love doing, and find half a dozen reasons to be grateful and at peace.
- As soon as you wake up in the morning, chant the guru mantra while sitting in bed. If you have received one from your guru, chant that. If not, chant the following:
gurur brahmā gurur viṣṇur gurur devo maheśvaraḥ |
guruḥ sākṣāt paraṃ brahma tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ ||
Guru = Brahmā; Guru = Viṣhṇu; Guru = God Maheśvara (Śiva); Guru = the supreme Absolute before your very eyes; to that Śrī-Guru, reverence.
The grace that flows to us through the lineages of Gurus and Siddhas should be regarded as expressing all three aspects of the Godhead: creation, sustenance, and dissolution. The gurus that manifest in your life (teachers that aid your awakening & liberation process) should be regarded as proof of divine grace, evidence of the One’s infinite love for itself. Therefore let there be reverence to the auspicious Guru-principle, and to its embodiment as all our teachers!
(Transliteration and translation by Dr. Christopher [Hareesh] Wallis)
Place your hands on the top of your head, visualizing your guru (if you don’t have a guru, visualize your ideal, the teacher or deity you love and hold in high regard) standing in the space above the crown of your head. Visualize their grace and blessings flowing through their feet onto your crown, spilling over into and around yourself, enveloping you in a soothing, bright, white light. It feels like love and sweetness and is deeply healing and protective. Chant the mantra once, allowing the sound to resonate in that space. Surrender your worries and anxieties to the guru. May the guru’s grace melt all of your worries and give you strength, grace, and wisdom throughout your day.
- Cultivate a daily meditation practice. If you don’t have one, here’s a free course that’s available on my website: https://svatantra.institute/bliss-meditation/
- At the end of your meditation, add the following practice using the Mahāmṛtyunjaya Mantra:
Oṃ tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam |
Urvārukamiva bandhanān mṛtyor mukṣīya mā’mṛtāt ||
Tryaṃbakam = three-eyed one (Śiva); yajāmahe = worship/revere; sugandhiṃ = who is fragrant; puṣṭivardhanam = who fills with nourishment; Urvārukamiva = as a ripe fruit (cucumber); bandhanān = from bondage, from the stalk/stem; mṛtyomukṣīya = may I be freed from death; mā ‘mṛtāt = not separated from immortality
I worship/adore/revere Śiva, the three-eyed one, who permeates all of creation with his fragrant essence, and who nourishes all living entities. Just as a ripe cucumber is easily separated from its stalk, may He severe my bondage to saṃsāra and to the idea of death, so that I may realize that I’m never separated from my immortal true nature.
Just as with the guru mantra, visualize yourself being enveloped in Śiva’s healing presence. Now, silently repeat the mantra 21 times, allowing each syllable to resonate in the space around and within you. Bring your mind back to the mantra every time it wanders. Pay loving attention to each syllable, and the inflection in the string of syllables.
After the 21st repetition, visualize this light around you growing in all directions. It slowly fills the whole room, your entire home or living space, your neighborhood, your state, and your country. It keeps growing, enveloping the whole world. Visualize the whole blue planet in Śiva’s white light, which keeps growing into infinity. When you feel it has expanded as much as it can with your attention, repeat the mantra three times.
Now chant: Om śānti, śānti, śāntih!
Literal Translation and Meaning:
Peace, peace, peace!
Let the first śānti resonate at the widest level, encompassing the whole envelope of Śiva’s light across the cosmos, pertaining to all the unseen forces that rule our lives. Let the second śānti resonate at the level of all living beings, pertaining to everyone everywhere. Bring the third śānti to the envelope immediately around you, pertaining to your body and mind. Sit for a moment in stillness. Carry Śiva’s loving light with you and around you as you go about your day.
***You can also play the Mahāmṛtyunjaya Mantra continuously in your home – it doesn’t have to be loud or disruptive. Here is my recitation of this great mantra 108 times: https://youtu.be/Wci5E0k5PVc
D. Goddess Practice, Faith and Surrender
Chant or read the Devī Kavacam.
Devī Kavacam from the Devī Mahātmyam is a powerful protective chant. It acts as an armor (kavacam). In this chant, the presence of Goddess in various aspects of the environment and in the body-mind is invoked to facilitate the alchemy of the negative into positive, and fear into love. Reciting it daily provides the maximum benefits.
Here is my chanting of the Devī Kavacam along with the meaning: https://youtu.be/AsqcXUiI1uc
- Listen to it while driving, cooking, or other activity. However, while doing so, maintain silence and attention, and don’t multi-task.
- Contemplate the great war of the Devī Mahātmyam between the asuras (the forces of darkness) and the devas (the forces of light). While it may seem like these are wonderful myths, they are entirely applicable to every age and to external and internal conflict. In the present age, the war of the Devī Mahātmyam is manifested as the great calamities that are destructive, and the rise, amidst that of goodness and light in a growing number of people. Every time we convert fear to love, we become a deva. Every time we resist the urge to fall into the darkness of blame, panic, and hatred, we become infused with Devī’s fierce light that spills over into the world. Every time we surrender to Her will, we step closer to realizing our oneness with Her.
- Cultivate the ability to let Goddess drive. Realize that everything in existence is Goddess, including pandemics and stock market crashes. The great asuras of every age are Her manifestations too!
- In the Devī Mahātmyam, Goddess declares that she will always protect her lovers and deliver them to liberation. Learn to trust this. It is one thing to sing Her praise when things are going well, another to trust Her in times of calamity.
- If you were given the Navākṣarī Mantra, practice with it – chant it at least 108 times a day.
- Surrender to Her will. Nothing happens without Her will – even your ability to sing Her praise arises from Her will. Nothing happens without a grand purpose. It’s just that our limited understanding prohibits us from knowing such a purpose. Even if there was none, and everything happens randomly, it is still Her will. Our health, wellness, life, death, and circumstances are Hers to worry and determine. Become Her servant. Give her your head. Let Her have Her way with you – She does anyway!
- This is a good time for self-inquiry. I highly recommend Byron Katie’s The Work. Visit the website, read Loving What Is, watch some videos, and work with the four questions. You will come to see that life is always kinder than imagined scenarios.
- Practice dropping into gratitude and wonder for your breath and health that you might have taken for granted. Several times a day, stop what you’re doing and become aware of your breath. Give thanks for it, for your ability to experience the world around you, and to feel all that you do.
- Be kind and considerate to each other through these tough times.
Other chants and prayers that can be particularly helpful for healing, and for cultivating courage and love:
- Śrī Rudram and Camakam (both are available on my YouTube Channel [Mantra Sādhana])
- Lalitā Sahasranāma (available on my YouTube and SoundCloud Channels)
- Hanumān Cālīsa
- Āditya Hṛdayam
- Aruṇa Praśna or Surya Namaskāra
- Dhanavantarī Mantra and Stotram
Śrī Mātre Namah! Jaya Jaya Karuṇābdhe Śrī Mahādeva Śambho!
Join me on YouTube for a live video at 10 AM EST on Sunday, March 15, where I will discuss these principles and lead you through a meditation practice. Here is the link: https://youtu.be/FxMWb72jIJI
Image Courtesy: Simi Jois Photography