I woke up before dawn this morning and had such an urge to go for a walk. So, I put on my yoga clothes, laced up my shoes, and headed out into the early morning newness. I decided to get some green juice at the local café. They make it with green apple. It’s amazingly good.
As I walked, I noticed the sky was laced with pink and gray clouds that looked like layers of dots scattered amongst the blue. I climbed the short hill that lies between my place and the café, and came across the most gorgeous sunrise. It was so breathtaking that I couldn’t keep walking. I had to sit down to take it in – to really take it in. I realize that “taking it in” now means something to me…much more than it used to.
About six years ago, I went to India for five weeks. I spent one of those weeks in Varanasi, a city considered to be the most holy city in India. It’s one of the oldest, continually inhabited cities in the world. People of the Hindu faith go to Varanasi to die, because it is believed that dying there can bring salvation.
Varanasi is situated on the Ganges, the river named Ganga Ma, or Mother Ganges.
This river gives life and healing. It carries the dead to salvation. And, there are multiple cremation sites right on the river, sites where funerals are held, bodies are cremated, and the remains are put directly into Mother Ganges.
During my stay in Varanasi, on two different mornings I took an early boat ride along the Ganges. The first was with a group of people, but the second was with just the owner of the boat and me.
It was during this second early morning trip that I learned to sit with the rising sun. During the boat ride, the sun began to make its way into view. The owner slowed the boat down so I could observe the people of Varanasi coming down to the Ganges to pay homage to Mother Ganges, and make their way into the holy water. As they did, they faced the rising sun with their hands folded in prayer.
The depth of devotion, both to the river and to the sun – Mother Ganges and the sun, Surya, captivated me. I watched as they performed their rituals, bathed, and even meditated. It was beautiful. The air was filled with devotion, filled with the feeling of the sacred being remembered in prayer. I could feel the divine in the air. I felt as if I was breathing the divine in with each breath. I found myself called to instinctively and intuitively pray to the Sun.
As I prayed, I felt as if I was with the world as a living, breathing entity.
Everything was alive. For much of my life, I’d learned to see the world as object, as a backdrop. The sun was an object in the sky that I learned facts about in school. The river Ganges was an object I knew almost nothing about. When I sat in this boat on Mother Ganges and observed this sacred ritual, I began to understand that not all people see things the way we westerners do. Not everyone treats the earth, or a river, or even the sun as objects.
The world is alive. Not just as an idea, but in reality. We are, too. We are alive, not just as an idea, although many times it can feel that way. We are alive in reality – in a living, breathing, sacred reality.
As a human being, I am in relationship with this world. I often try to remind myself to notice how I am relating to this world. Am I paying homage to the very life that sustains me, that supports my being here? Do I honor it in my actions? Do I revel in the joy it offers me? Do I sit in wonder as the sun rises in the morning, making another day possible? Do I take this world in, receiving it into me with love and gratitude?
As I sat with the sun this morning in San Francisco and really took it in, receiving it into me, I could feel my sense of the sun shift from object to something vibrantly alive as I moved out of my head and into my heart. The mind seems to objectify things fairly easily and quickly. But the heart? The heart honors life. The heart knows aliveness. The heart recognizes sacredness. The heart floats in devotional waters.