Scorched • 4 March 2011

I had plans for Shivaratri, for Godsakes. And they did not involve doing the dirty halala dance with my toilet while devotees partied in the street. No. Shivaratri is night of the destroyer. I’ll bow to the mushroom cloud, or to the blue long-lashed HE-Man of a god. Or to his incarnation as an infinite pillar of fire. Way to show the burning bush a thing or two there, Shiva. You god of the void. Teller of the cosmic punchline.

But that doesn’t mean bowing to my toilet bowl is funny. No sir! Not even on the Festival of the Void.

I get a little enamoured of wild lady Chamundeshwari up on the Hill, and affable Ganesh on the swiveling headlight of every motorbike in town. But this here is Shiva country. March is Shiva time, too: dessicated trees, an oven of psoas-melting heat, a ratcheting barometer for rains that won’t come until May, and all sensible friends departed for someplace comfortable.

Shiva temples dot the city: in Gokulam, incense from the puja on KRS Road mixes with the screaming 4:00 am train and the wail of Muslim morning prayers, plus sometimes the orderly Krishna worshippers with their tambourines down in the street. SKPJ’s Shiva puja was at the temple on Balal Circle in old Laksmipuram; that’s where I wanted to be on Wednesday night. But the most powerful temple, to my casteless heathen eye, is tiny and neglected, at corner of the Palace grounds. Stone linga worn smooth with village people’s luck-touches, and with the milk libations of priests several centuries more sober than the visiting white people who gawk and giggle, afraid to let this be real.

Yeah, there are a lot of penis sculptures around here. Come on, stonecutting is hard work! Shiva shorthand is a phallus. Not a phallus trying to double as a skyscraper, or a phallus made geometric and euphemized “obelisk.” We’re making Shiva here. The fundamentally creative god of destruction. Of course he’s just a phallus.

Anyway, I had plans. All that dead-serious priestly stagecraft, devotee energy even asana tourists can feel, a night of drumbeat and wail, followed by a night of actually good dance party thanks to Shoaib (the very same). And finally, a trip out of town to gulp fresh air, anyplace with green things and a breeze.

Instead, Shiva came to my house. I mean, my house. Did scorched earth in the stomach, then the small intestine, and then the large one. And then took the designated exit. It lasted three days.

Shiva… Ashtanga… Shinzen. Now there’s a funny trifecta (not funny haha, funny brutal), at least when combined with food poisoning that’s landing on a parasite I’ve been hosting for more than a month. Were you here in 2007, when Cody asked: Body awareness, what’s it good for? Experiencing this little gastric apocalypse in intimate tri-partite detail, I remembered that question.

Shinzen’s thing is that Suffering = Pain x Resistance. Perceive what’s physical pain; perceive what’s identity stuff and emotion wrapped around that pain; and tease the two apart in order to divide down the grasping and identification that traps you in suffering. Ok. But how much does a girl really want to know about the cramping contortions of her fascia or the acid-boil of intestinal mucous? How “meditatively” to notice the blood draining out of the body and pooling in the gut, even as pain shoots up the spinal cord and drives a cold, shuddering sweat up the arms and neck? But Shinzen is impish about pain: he suggests one enjoy personal insults because the zing they send through the emotional body “feels like a massage.”

Add the ashtanga lens. Practice sews its god-seeking nadis onto the three nested diamonds of the pelvic floor, then stitches their awareness straight up the spine, through the body, into the sense of self. Do the technique every day for a few years… and then suddenly it starts to kick back all kinds of weird new information.

And then there was this Shiva business. I noticed it was not possible to venture more than 10 feet from my commode, and thus that I’d have to miss asana practice due to illness for the first time ever, and furthermore miss a lot of Shiva partying. So I decided I’d have to turn sickness in to practice (monasticize it, as Shinzen says) but also, a fortiori, turn it in to Shiva puja.

It sucked. In a way. The worst moments were homesickness for Ann Arbor and frustration over missing philosophy class with Narasimhan. Lots of clinging and identity-hangups there. I remember less well the two nights my guts boiled, while I alternated between washroom and bed, and while the Shiva drums pulsed the air and the ground all the way from KRS Road. But at the time, lying there watching my stomach flesh vibrate and feeling successive coils of intestine give up the fight, I had plenty entertainment. It was like watching the movie 300 on repeat: skirmishes and freak-outs along the winding road to annihilation at Thermopalye, or in this case, my toilet.

That’s Shiva’s job. When the manifest gets too mucky, he rolls in with a phallic flamethrower and burns down the house. But that’s just the beginning.