Paul Muller-Ortega: The Map And The Territory
By Charlotte von Hemert
It’s one thing to have a theoretical understanding that we are each a unique wave in the vast ocean of universal consciousness. It’s another thing to have time-tested tools to help us tap into this experientially. This past Sunday I attended Paul Muller-Ortega’s half-day workshop where he shared practices that supported us with the latter. Paul is a widely respected scholar of Indian Religion and Hindu Tantra as well as a practitioner and teacher of the non-dual path of Kashmir Shaivism and Neelakantha Meditation, giving him a rather unique and multi-faceted understanding of various traditions and practices.
The workshop took place in a flower-filled room of The Center SF where a group of practitioners encircled a crystal Shiva Lingam and bronze Shiva Nataraja statues bathed in red and white roses and carnations. The theme for the workshop was fire, representing the fire of consciousness and it’s many different expressions. We spent the day immersed in a sequence of practices and discussion, and concluded with a powerful ritual offering to usher in a quickened and easeful transition to a more peaceful and benevolent era.
In this time of New Age spirituality where different traditions and practices (often originally meant for renunciates) are regularly blended together, it was refreshing and grounding to experience Paul’s teachings, which stem directly from the Kashmir Shaivism tradition and which were always meant for householders (people immersed in the day-to-day responsibilities of life, yet also on a spiritual path). The practices are therefore very life affirming with the aim of shifting our consciousness, creating richer and more impactful lives, and ultimately remembering our innate freedom and removing the illusion of separateness.
What I appreciated most about the workshop was how Paul shared ancient and esoteric practices in a way that was very accessible and practical for daily living—and even pointed towards ecstatic daily living. His deep scholarly knowledge of the tradition and practices helped satisfy my egoic mind and laid the groundwork for a more fruitful practice. It felt as if his words planted seeds deep into my consciousness, which subsequently sprouted to life once the surface mind and clutter got out of the way in the actual practices.
For example, the first mantra that we chanted was intended to purify and cleanse the inner and outer space. Listening to Paul speak extemporaneously about the mantra felt somewhere between rich intellectual discourse and spoken word poetry. He talked about appropriate pronunciation; the mantra’s relationship with fire; how versions of the mantra appear in other traditions; as well as recounted details of how sacred fire is used in traditional ceremonies. I sensed there was a whole world of experience and knowledge behind each sentence he spoke. Following this conceptual overview of the mantra, we moved next to the tangible and very applicable point: The simple mantra had the aim of removing lower vibrations, obstructions and places where awareness is stuck in order to cleanse the inner space and prepare us for transformational practice. He then emphasized perhaps the most key point of the day for me-- the importance of not mistaking the map for the territory-- recognizing that the only thing that can bring us to deeper understanding is the experience itself. With that, he guided us through two rounds of the mantra.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, he shared practices in this manner with the aim of increasing our capacity to go deeper inside to a place of insight, clarification and even helpful critique, and then beyond to our own depths. The practices shared were inspired by the quest to discover where consciousness resides and find tools to help us travel there.
After a thoughtful Q & A we concluded the workshop with a powerful, heartfelt offering and intention to take action bringing us out of this current era of injustice, confusion, inequity and suffering (referred to in the Sanskrit scriptures as the Kali Yuga) and into an ideal era of peace, wisdom, righteousness, and justice (Satya Yuga). Recognizing that while change needs to happen on all levels, profound, transformational, and radical practice is the foundation on which larger societal transformation takes place.
To learn more about Paul Muller-Ortega and his teachings visit bluethroatyoga.com.
Photos by Elizabeth Hergott. ©Blue Throat Yoga