Sacred Commotion

There are days when reality unravels before our eyes. We are shaken, torn down, stripped of what we believe. A scandal breaks out at the ashram or yoga studio. A friend turns against us. The person we married turns into someone we don’t recognize, or wish we did not know. The banking system turns out to be corrupt, running a scam on us, and our savings are gone. The voting machines that are the basis of our democracy are rigged. Or you find out that dieting makes you fat.

We all have these days, and the list of shattering events is endless. Sometimes the betrayal is our private secret; other times it is also collective, happening to our whole group or nation. When you walk down the street, each person you pass may be trying to come to terms with a series of minor and one or more major shake-ups. In their inner world, they are shaking.

How do we deal?

This is Sutra 89 of The Radiance Sutras, a meditation on disturbance.

You are stunned, powerless.
You thought you knew
What was going on.
Now you realize
You don’t have a clue.
You are stopped in your tracks.
Everything within your skin is shaking.

Enter this shaking.
Right here, in the midst of commotion –
Get curious, look around inside with wonder.
Unmind your mind.
All the walls have fallen down.
Go ahead and dissolve.

The One Who Has Always Been,
Who has seen much worse than this,
Is still here.

ādhāreṣv athavā 'śaktyā 'jñānāc cittalayena vā |
jātaśaktisamāveśakṣobhānte bhairavaṃ vapuḥ || 112 ||

Inserting word boundaries, un-conjuncting the conjunctions, and doing other rude things to the Sanskrit, we see:

adhara – the foundation or base; athava – or; ashaktya – without shakti, powerless; ajnanat – without knowedge, ignorance; chitta layena – the mind dissolves;
jata – commotion; shakti – power; (jatashakti = the energy of commotion); samavesha – entering together, absorption into, co-existence; kshobha – shaking, agitation, disturbance, trembling; ksobhante – at the end of the disturbance; bhairavam – Bhairava; vapuh – body or form.

In other words, “When your foundation is shaken, when you find you are powerless and ignorant, then your mind dissolves. Enter here. Go through that door and become absorbed. You are already in the disturbance, so go all the way in with full attention.

“Enter that disturbance itself as a pathway to the Divine. You know nothing, so become curious and melt into wonder. Meditate on the disturbance with a sense of curiosity, and dissolve.”

There are a couple of words that have special meanings and extra resonance in the Tantra yoga tradition, extending the dictionary definition. Adhara is sometimes used to refer to the foundation in the sense of “the basis of perception” – the adharas are the eyes and ears, the nose and skin, everything by which you perceive. Samavesha means entering, and is used to refer to mystical entry, a gateway, and the merging of consciousness into divine awareness. And of course, Bhairava is untranslatable. We can try to elucidate, saying something such as, “A fierce aspect of Shiva,” but that does not explain much. We can say, “a station of Divine consciousness just preceding universal awareness.” In the sutra I used the phrase, “The One Who Has Always Been.”

The phrase, “unmind your mind,” comes from Lakshman Joo, one of the great teachers of this text, a master from Kashmir who wrote many books on Shaivism. (*The website for his work is at

Wow. Here is a meditation practice we all can do. Who hasn’t been shaken? Who hasn’t experienced an upheaval in their life? This tantra, this teaching, is calling us to accept agitated energy as a focus of meditation. Use the hubbub, the perturbation, as a doorway into a higher state of consciousness. When things unravel, seize the opportunity to re-ravel them.

A yoga practice can help in that we are training ourselves to accept great sensory richness in each moment. We learn to welcome the intensity of a breath, or a stretch. We willingly turn ourselves upside down, and enter all kinds of weird postures. As we practice, we are practicing to accept life in all its moods.

When I am faced with my powerlessness over situations, I don’t experience generic “commotion.” It’s very specific. Once I start paying attention to the unpleasant vibrations in my body, the jatashakti reveals itself as a whole spectrum of emotions and each one requires its own kind of attention. I am angry (krodha); I am sad (shoka); afraid (bhaya); disgusted (jugupsa) with myself or others. I find I have to tend and attend to each of these, using every bit of skill I have, to retrieve my ability to be in enthusiasm (utsaha), good humor (hasya), and free-flowing passion (rati) again.

This is why I think we all need to develop our own personal yoga of emotion. We need to study each of our major moods, map them out. Then bring them into meditation with us, and find the way through to the awakening on the other side.