Happy Full Moon! Today is Jyeṣṭha Pūrṇimā – and we are right at the end of the ferocious Indian summer, transitioning into monsoon season. The main practice for this day is to bathe in holy rivers, (although any large body of water will do). We encourage you to revisit a previous issue where we wrote all about the ritual bath and its importance.
For today, let’s dive into another related topic – the spiritual role and symbolism of water. Water – āpa, also called jala, is one of the pañcamahābhūta, the five great elements out of which life and the natural world is composed.
Each of the elements is connected to and influenced by the others. Each one is also linked to a spiritual power. In this tradition, water is linked to the mind, to consciousness itself.
Like consciousness, water is the medium out of which all life emerges. Water is also very, very free, constantly changing forms and rarely still. Water, like the mind, mirrors and reflects whatever it encounters. Like the mind, water can be gentle or life-saving. Or, it can become poisonous or a raging flood.
Water begins its journey in a very high and pure state – is there anything more instantaneously nourishing and life-giving than fresh mountain spring water? As it descends down, it may start to dissipate and lose its flow, never making it to the ocean. Alternatively, it might start to freely mix with whatever it encounters, and become muddied and polluted as a result. What was once pure and benevolent can quickly become its exact opposite.
We understand this entire world to actually originate from and also be sustained by consciousness. Our individual minds are streams descending from this pure and perfect Consciousness (capitalized here because it refers to the Supreme Presence). The further away we move from our source, our minds also tend to dissipate – becoming so scattered that we lose our flow and purpose altogether.
And, we too become filled with things that cloud and muddy us. The natural state of the mind is very powerful, creative, and pure, just like crystal-clear water. Remember how your mind was as a child – how curious, open, and forgiving? However, as we move through life, we inadvertently pick up all kinds of junk – some of which is dark, heavy, and totally toxic.
Like water, consciousness also needs ground (bhūmi) to hold and direct its journey. It needs breath (prāṇa); it needs oxygen to stay healthy and flowing. If it has become too polluted, it needs fiery heat to help lift and separate it from what it has become entangled with. The word tapasya, austerity, connotes this sense of heat and going through the fire, and it is the fire of austerity that heals our consciousness back to its natural and free state.
The way we navigate water is also how we must learn to navigate our own consciousness. It makes no sense to stand in front of the ocean and demand that the waves stop – because it is their essential nature to move! And yet, during meditation and spiritual practice, we demand that our thoughts and feelings stop, and we feel that we have failed if we are unsuccessful. What we need to do instead is either learn to surf these thought/feeling-waves, or else deep-dive down inside the ocean of our minds. There, far below the surface movements, we discover the space where everything is permanently and eternally still.
There are so many lessons for us to learn from water, and on this day we have such a wonderful opportunity to literally dive into them! As we bathe in the pure and vast rivers, we also bathe our minds, because they are governed by the same principles. Within the river, we connect with our source and also our destination, for they are the same. Standing on the banks watching the flow, we remember to gather our energies and continuously keep moving forward towards our goal. And, like the rivers, we can strive to live in such a way that we bring life, beauty, and nourishment everywhere we go.
-If possible, bathe in a river or other large body of water such as the ocean or a lake. Offer your gratitude for the water, and spend time with the water, watching it and reflecting on its nature. Let your mind experience the power, freedom, and flow of pure water.
-When you bathe in the morning, whether it’s a shower or a bath, take a handful of water and visualize that it is water from the Gaṅgā, or any other holy river. As you repeat your main mantra, slowly pour it over your head, and experience that you are actually bathing in the holy river.
-As you meditate, chant, or perform sacred practices, you can visualize your own consciousness, your own mind, as an endlessly moving stream of water. Instead of judging the movements, appreciate them, while also gently focusing and directing them to flow in the direction of their source – the oneness from which all things emerge.
-The moon is also traditionally linked to the mind, emotions, and also water. And of course we know that tides are created by the gravitational pull of the moon. So there’s a particularly strong connection between water and the full moon, almost as if the water leaps up to touch its light. On the full moon, we invite you to notice and reflect on this relationship between the moon, emotions, and consciousness.