A Shakti retreat was held in the breathtaking, quiet wilderness of Petaluma. A gentle refreshing breeze fluttered through the leaves on a balmy summer day. We could hear the faint hum of the traffic we had just left behind.
From our cabins, we walked the shady trail through the woods, grooved in time by the footsteps of the people who have taken it before. We caught the attentive gaze of a deer family resting under the lofty boughs of the oak trees—relaxed, yet alert and acutely aware of our presence.
We started with just observing our breaths and chanting the universal and sound “om.” As the vibration of the sound merged with our minds and physical body we could feel our thoughts calming down and the body aligning with the ethereal sound vibration. We listened in awe as the gurus shared their experiences about yoga, meditation, nature, veda, ayurveda, vaastu, tantra, and mantra. We learned that our thoughts, food, and the air shape our lives, mold our minds and create a foundation for our physical health.
In its true ethereal sense, what is Shakti? Is it the blazing sun that scorched us or is it the tall tree that shaded us on our way? Is it the display of prowess or is it the nurturing tenderness of a mother? The true revelation of the Shakti that lies within us, unfolded in the next few days.
Shiva and Shakti, evolved as the masculine and feminine energies of the Sun and Moon, the mountains and the valleys, the fire and the gentle brook, the ebb and flow of tides, the majestic trees and their sweet-smelling flowers. We recognized the unique duality of cosmic forces in nature.
Shakti is Durga. Shakti is Shiva. Shakti is Devi. Shakti is Soma. Shiva is within Shakti and Shakti is within Shiva. The realization of their existence in duality and unity!
I had often marveled at the lush green rolling hills speckled with grazing cattle, or the deep sapphire blue of the sea blending with the vibrant coral hues of the sunset skies before. However, I had not experienced nature so intimately before. We were sensing the unique, distinct vibrations of nature, not just the colors and textures. As we breathed in rhythm with om chants, we witnessed our thoughts slowing down as we focused on every single breath. As our deliberate breathing became more natural and gentle, our wandering stray thoughts returned home to slowly fade away. Gradually all the cares and worries melted away into sweet nothingness—even the hum of the highway was no longer audible. We experienced a state free of anxiety, and devoid of ego. There was nothing to accomplish, nothing to prove, no one to impress, just being in the moment. Our yesterdays became a distant past. Our future did not matter. Our present is what we held in that moment. Yet, we were totally aware and alert, in a state of pure consciousness. This calmness was not a state of escapism. Our problems did not just disappear. It opened our minds to be aware of the infinite possibilities and spiritual realities that are always within us.
We allowed ourselves to harmonize with nature and that in turn rejuvenated our minds and spirits. Life was suddenly not about being chastised for our misgivings and failures. Life was about celebrating, respecting, accepting, and surrendering to nature and to the divine. Life could be a continuous festival of joyousness and vivacity as is the “Divine Play” or Lila of Shiva and Shakti. Every activity or moment can unfold an experience of Divine presence whether we are doing common household chores such as cleaning or cooking, working at our jobs, running our own companies, meditating, praying or serving others. It is about allowing the flow of divine grace and guidance in all we do for ourselves and for others.
There was no turning back. This special retreat has changed the way I look at life and at every relationship in life. I am not anxious of the challenges that lie ahead. I will deal with them in this new light, as they come.
The takeaways that can become part of your daily life:
Reach out to nature to heal my body and mind. Follow the age-old wisdom of “stop and smell the roses.” Never miss a chance to take a walk in the park or watch the setting sun.
Allow yourself to become a silent witness and spectator.
Entice the Devi with flowers and incense. Lure the Devi with a candle and mantra chants, into your environment. Invoke the Devi and Shiva in you. Recognize and acknowledge the Devi and Shiva in others!
Pray to the Devi to bestow upon us Shakti, the power, the strength, the courage, the wisdom and the grace, to accept what we cannot change, and change what we can and must.
Manju Banerje is a housewife and mother with a long-time career in the high-tech industry of the Silicon Valley.