The first teaching as a Tantric Yogini, is believe nothing except your own direct experience.
A direct experience is of course, every moment of every day. From the mundane to miracles. They are all moments that give you the opportunity to heal, or shine.
Sometimes the most traumatic experiences of our life are also our biggest gifts. To make this change from the story of trauma to gift comes through the willingness to change our perception. After all, Yoga is not about changing your reality, it’s about changing the perspective and perception of your reality. From the doer, to the witness. To dissolve the attachments of good and bad. This comes from much awareness, sometimes a lot of hard work, but always with the magic of Grace. Divine Blessings.
I have been very blessed in this lifetime to have multiple direct experiences of Grace (translation: I’ve gone through some really traumatic stuff!). And its one of these that I wanted to offer the elephant community in hope that it inspires someone to take a second look and find the miracle in their shadow.
When I was twenty one I was diagnosed with severe Endometriosis. (March just happens to be Endometriosis awareness month.) The extent of the hold that I experienced this disease meant that I was given three choices. Have a hysterectomy, go through 6 months of drug induced menopause and/or have laparoscopic surgeries every year and a half to two years to keep it “in control.” Endometriosis is considered to be an “incurable” disease. Meaning, we don’t know what causes it, so we don’t know how to fix it. Six months into my nine month teacher training (after menopause and 3 surgeries in 4 years did nothing) my surgeon couldn’t find a single trace of the disease, but the extent of scar tissue meant that I had a very slim chance of ever getting pregnant.
Skip forward to June 2008. I met the man was going to marry, and of course, children came into conversation pretty quickly. We decided that we would actively try for a year and see what happened. Failing that, we would adopt.
It was in December of that year that I along with some students went back to my Guru’s ashram in India to do Karma Yoga (seva) for a month. I went to India with the book “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth”, a prayer in my heart and some hair wrapped around the fertility tree in Kolkata’s Kali temple for good measure.
The first day of our trip I was asked to chose 5 of the students I had brought with me to come and work in Paramahansiji Satyananda’s rock garden outside his private residence. Excited we followed a Swami in and started work. It was serene, silent, surreal. I was pretty sure Paramahansiji was in his house, even though I never saw him.
As I worked, a bird flying out of a big tree not 10 meters from me caught my eye. I watched it spread its wings and fly away and then didn’t give it a second thought. A few minutes later Sarah (not her real name), was asked to go and get a brick from the other side of the garden. She did and as she walked back, she started to swat at her hair. She thought there was a single bee buzzing around her, but we could see that the bird had disturbed a whole hive and there were hundreds starting to swarm and sting her.
Knowing that the woman standing next to me, Mandy, was deathly allergic by a single bee sting and seeing Sarah start to panic, I dropped my tools and ran over to her. I grabbed her by her arms and told her to hold her breath. I dunked her in a barrel of water trying to drown the bees so they would stop stinging her. As she came up for air I told her to run and turned to dunk myself in the barrel. To my disgust there was a film of bees an inch thick lying on top of the water, there was no way I was going in there, so I started to panic. As I turned to run, Mandy told me later, that all she could see was my whole neck just black with bees.
If you have ever been attacked by a swam of bees you will know that you can’t see them… only hear them. So I also started to run. Swearing like a sailor, to Guruji, at Guruji, at anyone. Thoughts running through my mind — “If he was so omnipresent, compassionate, enlightened, how could he let this happen? On his own front doorstep!”
I thought maybe if I yelled my mantra out loud that they would magically disappear This was not the case…
I made it to the Puja area before Swami’s started to run towards me with a blanket. They would throw it on me, and I would throw it off, cause they were trapping the bees under there with me. Then they would throw it on me again. I got ushered into a bathroom by a female Swami, my clothes stripped off… and bees that were trapped in them went flying everywhere, re clothed I was taken to the meeting room where Sarah was sitting. Both of us in tears, both of us completely in shock.
Two Swamis with tweezers on each of us counted around eighty bee stings each from the neck up and hands.
They had two doctors on the grounds to come and check us and gave us the option of going to see someone outside the ashram for a second opinion. My only question was if I was going to have a life threatening reaction. They said that if i hadn’t by then, it was unlikely, so I opted to stay put.
Then, wrapped in blankets, walked in the four other students and the Swami that was gardening with us. Mandy, with wide eyes and herself in shock told me, “I didn’t know what to do, so I knelt down next to the wall. Put my hand on it to keep myself as still as I could, and started to say my mantra silently. All these bees were flying around my head, then flying into the wall and dieing. Not one touched me, I could feel this force field coming off me and not one touched me.”
With the stings removed and the venom starting to affect our bodies we were taken back to our room. For six hours we rotated from the squat toilet with diarrhoea, to a bucket for vomiting. Then we passed out with fevers.
The next morning I was dreading to even leave the room, everyone would know, everyone was looking. I looked like I had overdone it on the Botox. No wrinkles on my forehead, no eye lids, huge lips, hands. Everything was swollen and I still had a fever.
We were invited to Darshan with Paramahansiji. Groggy and weak we sat in his presence for an hour and a half and both of us walked out with our fevers gone and able to hold down some food.
I could have left the next day and still had a lifetime of experiences to digest and integrate. But I stayed out the rest of the month and traveled home to my beloved for Christmas.
As I put my feet on North American soil my world went on fast forward. Within a week my beloved proposed marriage to me. Ten days later, on the first day of my first ovulation after returning from India, we conceived.
Astonished, and baffled, I called one of my teachers to deliver the news. Knowing of my previous diagnosis and my lack of being able to conceive before India they were delighted to say “Its the bees!”
Confused I asked her to explain what she meant. She said that BVT, Bee Venom Therapy, is used as an antinflamatory for rheumatoid arthritis and MS, and is also the totem of fertility.
For years I had been trying to work at balancing the excess fire in my system and mind. I could see how it could take 80 bee stings in one hit to balance my fire, and bring by body into the frequency of fertility.
The only thing I could think about while they were removing the stings was that I didn’t want to believe, I couldn’t believe that anything terrible would happen to me in the home of my Guru. That one day I would understand and would be able to look at this experience from a positive mindset. And here it was. My prayer for a child was answered through a blessing from the bees.
We named our son with “madhu” for a middle name. Meaning “sweet like honey” to acknowledge and honour the Divine blessings that brought him to us. When he was one, we took him back to the ashram and the head Swami confirmed that it was the Divine blessings through the bees that brought us our son.
As a yogini, I believe that there is an all pervading omnipresence that is the source of everything. God or Atman if you will. To believe that there are good things and bad things that happen, is to believe in the illusion (Maya) of duality. If we look at everything traumatic event in our lives, and look at the blessings or good things that came as a result of those icky things. Then we can really start to live our lives from the place of non-attachement (viragya) to good or bad. We open ourselves up to the possibility that everything just is. For us to heal, or for us to shine. But always, for us to evolve.
edited by Greg Eckard
Founder of Pura Luna Lifestyles, the Living Yoga Society and a native of New Zealand, Shivani Howe came into her career after she found herself needing to take a new approach to life. In 2001, she was diagnosed with advanced endometriosis, and began looking for alternative ways to relieve her body of this supposedly incurable disease. It was then she discovered the ancient philosophy of Yoga. The age-old art brought harmony to her life and body, and unraveled the stresses of her illness from its source. She moved from New Zealand to North America in 2002 where she obtained formal certification as a Yoga Teacher in Toronto (500 hour registered course with the Yoga Alliance) and is now herself registered as an registered E-RYT 500 herself. Each year Shivani takes a pilgrimage back to India to further her training and perform seva (service) at the feet of her Guru’s Paramahansa Satyananda Saraswati and Sw. Satsangananda Saraswati in Rikhia Ashram, India, where she has been initiated into the Satyananda Lineage as a Karma Sannyasi. She is looking forward to teaching workshops on Mantra and Lifestyle at the Whistler Yoga Confrence in May. (www.whistleryogaconfrence.com) She is passionate about life, Yoga – on and off the mat, writing, hiking, and playing with her two year old. Her greatest teacher. To find out more about Shivani click here.