I have a devotional practice I do called “puja”, which is a practice of gratitude for the blessings of life. It’s the heart’s expression of its innermost experience. It’s an expression of the longing for freedom and the awareness of the vastness of the universe that lives inside of you. It’s a way of expressing thanks for the gift of life, the blessings of love, and the opportunities of growth and awakening that come through a conscious lifestyle.
Puja is the awareness of the beauty and vastness of life assimilated into an artistry of offering. Puja can be very simple or as elaborate as you want. The offering is to yourself first and then in whatever ways you choose to share. I usually light a candle and incense and offer symbols of the five elements: earth (by offering rice), water (by offering water), fire (by offering a candle and lighting camphor), air (by offering incense), and space (all of the elements combined).
“In India, the reason why people go to the temple to be part of the puja is to meditate with eyes open. We’ll also get to close our eyes to see what we can see. But the reason for puja is to collect, to archive, and then to create an outward presence that places intention into forms. That’s just the beginning of it. Puja is “ritual” because it marks the threshold, enters into worlds of conscious and unconscious reality, because it can stir the soul and conjure the unknown that lies within. Like the best rituals, it makes its point that there is an incongruity, a space between the way things are and the way we wish they were.” – Dr. Douglas Brooks
Today while I stood before my altar ready to do puja, I gazed at the statue of Shiva Nataraja (the Dancing Lord) who represents the infinite possibilities of the universe. Much of the puja experience is about getting yourself into the “mood” of devotion. With my altar lit up with lights and candles, the Shiva Nataraja, the photos of my teachers, and the incense filling the air with the sweet scent of sandalwood, I felt the experience of devotion swell and blossom inside of me.
Just in that moment, the smoke from the incense wafted past the Shiva Nataraja murti, making it look enshrouded in a mysterious mist or fog. It was so beautiful I began to cry. Then an insight descended in the most gentle and loving way. As if by a feather touch of consciousness, I was filled with thoughts about the mystery of life. I remembered the Tantric teachings about concealment and revelation and how concealment is one of Shiva’s powers – the power to conceal the heart.
I thought about the notion that we can’t know everything. We can’t know where we came from or what the purpose of the universe is. But we can get glimpses. Tantra teaches that we can only know 25% of anything. 75% is always concealed. When I first heard this teaching, I panicked. I was afraid I had to hurry up and catch up on what I don’t know. But the fact that the universe continues to expand and accelerate means that even as I increase my knowledge, the edge of all that can be known is expanding. There will always be a 50% gap between the 25% I can know and the 75% I’ll always want to know but can’t know.I began to soften when I looked more deeply at how true this is. Have you ever discovered that the more you know the more you realize how much you don’t know? If we can’t know everything, then it requires us to fill the gap of the unknown that lies between ourselves and the infinite universe with something else – faith. In this sense, faith is the means by which we unite with the unknown of life. But what is faith really? How do we access it?
Faith is the power that gives you confidence or surety in the unknown. Faith makes the unknowable tolerable. It makes everything okay. Faith soothes fear. It fills the heart with a sense of solidity and security in what it can’t see. Faith becomes confidence in what we cannot know. It’s very interesting to check out the etymology of the word “confidence”. It comes from the Latin word “fides”, meaning faith. The root “fid” means fidelity, faith, or loyalty. To confide in someone is to show trust in the person by telling her or him a secret. It means to trust firmly.
Faith is like a muscle. It can be strengthened. Faith gets stronger when it’s practiced and then verified. Doubt erodes faith. Skepticism and looking for what’s wrong with something or someone comes from a negative belief system that can be based on the premise, “seeing is believing”. Faith is based on a different paradigm – believing is seeing. But you still have to use your common sense or you can get into trouble. For instance, blind faith can lead you further away from the truth. Blind faith, ultimately, is immature and leads to disappointment. Faith that you can fly is not grounded in reality. No matter how strong your faith is, if you jump from a tall building, unless you are superman and superwoman, you will die.
The faith I’m talking about is far subtler then trying to disprove gravity or science. It’s deeper. Faith is true for you because it has been tried, tested, and lives in your experience. Mature faith combines with wisdom, knowledge, years of study, and personal practice.
I’ve found that faith has helped me cope with life-challenges and has created a bridge of “confidence” to help me cross over difficult times. When I lost my first yoga community, I have to admit, my life came to a standstill. I didn’t know what to do. But I had faith that, through my yoga practice, I would be okay. In one of my darkest times, faith created a crack of light. Then when I lost my second community, I had to get up underneath myself and say, “I will not let this kind of betrayal happen to me again.” I founded Ashaya Yoga from the faith that I had in my heart. I had faith that the light of consciousness, the light of compassion, the light of the heart prevails. Faith taught me that when challenges come in life, it’s life giving you an opportunity to rise higher. With faith, impasse becomes a rite of passage and stumbling blocks become stepping stones. It takes faith to rise up out of the ashes and make your life great. In the end, what matters most is that you got back up.
May you strengthen your faith and walk with confidence into the unknown. May you have the confidence to stretch the distance between what you can and can’t know and may you fill that space with faith. When your faith is strong, you are invincible.