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A Jewish Shiva and the Hindu Shiva

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"By thought the ego was made; by thought the ego's power can be unmade. But the thought must be directed toward a higher entity, for the ego's willingness to attack itself is only a pretense. Direct it constantly to the Overself, be mentally devoted to the Overself, and emotionally love the Oversself. Can it then refuse to help you?" -- Paul Brunton

My father died in late December. Dad was 87 years old and spent the last year of his life fighting end-stage cancer. He won. My father was cancer-free when found after a night lost in the cold mountains of Georgia. His sudden death turned the family in a tailspin.

I have many fond childhood memories of a humorous, musical, intelligent man of faith who became more eccentric as he aged. He singlehandedly raised us six children and as we grew older, I experienced Dad as a man of extreme contradictions. He was easy to love but often difficult to keep loving. At the time of his death, I felt a need to contemplate our complex relationship and come out as "finished."

As a spiritual seeker, I've studied a number of the world's philosophies, with the purpose of finding common truths and points of divergence. Gleaning meanings in archetypal stories and the words of realized sages helps in my journey toward deepening consciousness and awakening into awareness. Part of the path involves coming to terms with the ego, cultivating it to the point where it can be let go of.

In the past few years, I've made something of a return to my Jewish spiritual roots; not a full homecoming, as it were, but a comfortable resting in the heritage of my birth. I carry in my heart clear memories of standing in shul beside my father, our voices singing prayers feelingly together. Other times, our heads are bowed and my small hand is held by his encompassing one. Never had there been a more appropriate time than after Dad's death for me to "sit shiva," the Jewish period of introverted mourning.

For a full week, I didn't leave the house. Mirrors were covered. I sat on a low stool or mat on the floor. I meditated. I even requested limiting my visitors (they're traditionally encouraged during shiva). I wanted to be alone, even while my husband hovered in his concern.

Interestingly, even after shiva was over, it wasn't over. A snow storm trapped us in the house, and during the night after the memorial service, I came down with a battering case of the flu; it kept me flattened for days. It was as though I sat shiva for another full week. I was knocked right down into it.

Throughout, I periodically pondered how the Hebrew word shiva has the same spelling as the Hindu deity Shiva ("auspicious one"), who is sometimes seen living the life of an all-knowing yogi atop sacred Mount Kailash. Additionally, having both fierce and beneficent forms, Shiva is appropriately known as both "the transformer" and "the destroyer." He represents destruction of the ego; his process allows for birth into the diviner self.

And this is where my meditations primarily rested, as they generally do -- or aspire toward -- the diviner self. It is potentiality originating from the region of the heart when activated by devotion, aspiration and openness. Call it the soul, Atman, buddha-nature or the Overself, it secretly operates at all times due to its inherent love and outpouring of grace.

Even now, as I ponder Shiva in my unconventional shiva, I feel no worries over the mixing of traditions. I have chosen to creatively align with the positives of being my father's daughter. And as my thinking gently returns to the Overself, I feel a warm pinpoint of comforting energy radiating outward from my heart.