Sacred Humanity (Part 3)
Updated: May 1
(A three part series adapted from my final paper for the "Subtle Anatomy" course I completed for Ramakrishna Seminary at Kali Mandir.)
Tantra presents the sadhak or bhakta with a precise outline in utilizing the human body as a sacrament of worship. We have the tattvas, which could be considered the principles or elements of reality by which our material experience is composed, with emphasis given to humanity. I would make the bold assumption that many of these tattvas would also apply to our non-human relatives; however, some are held as unique to humanity.
These tattvas are divided into three categories: Atma (self, non-sentient/jada), Vidya (knowledge, non-sentience plus illumination/prakasha), and Shiva (Consciousness, as in illumination gives way to Absolute Consciousness).
What could be considered exceptionally beautiful are the stones of categorized existence within the river of tattva. Beginning with atma, seeds of bodily functions bloom into the eventual garden of Pure Consciousness.
For instance, according to the Kalpa Sutra, one of many Tantric texts; there are twenty-four categories of existence within the Atma Tattva alone. Their characteristics include the five elements (earth/prithvi, water/apah, fire/tejas, air/vayu, space/akasha), senses and their corresponding organs, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkara), and primordial nature (prakriti) as attained by equilibrium of the qualities/gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas)
Furthermore, Harish Johari shares that individual soul, or “jiva is kept in contact with the entire order of creation through prana, the vital life force which comes as breath.”
To my humble understanding, it is the breath that becomes the vehicle through which Kundalini awakens, traverses up through the chakras to find union with Shiva, and then back down so we can continue our human experience, finding deeper and deeper communion with God and/as Self.
This realization was one of the magical moments of this course for me. Kundalini doesn’t rise to Shiva in a way that creates a “rapture moment” in which we cease to exist as humans. She travels back down, allowing us to integrate each experience of Consciousness into our very human lives, so we can offer these seeds of hope and clarity to others.
We Indigenous folk call this powerful Medicine. Liberation isn’t escapism. Liberation is realizing the beauty of this earthly experience as an opportunity to embody our innate divinity and come to know and understand that there is much more beyond what our senses perceive. Life isn’t an either/or situation… Life invites us to live in the space of and… allowing our humanity to marry Consciousness in a way that empowers us to serve Great Mother and Her children with love, compassion, grace, and boldness.
I don’t want to miss the gift of being human for the sake of transcendence… and, according to many a spiritual lineage, it truly is a gift. The world is saturated in divinity, if only we cultivate the awareness to witness it as such. It is the atman who is charged with bearing such witness, our souls in human form.
The thread that weaves the temporal (tattvas) to the eternal (Consciousness) is prana.
“I breathe forth like the wind, setting all the worlds in motion.” Devi proclaims in a retelling of the Devi Mahatmya by Devadatta Kali
Her breath creates us, and She then embodies our breath. How truly fascinating and wondrous to experience glimpses of True Reality, knowing we are Hers and She is us.
Sri Ramakrishna reflects on this sentiment saying, “…the Divine Mother, the Embodiment of Brahman, gathers together the seeds for the next creation. After the creation the Primal Power dwells in the universe itself. She brings forth this phenomenal world and then pervades it. In the Vedas creation is likened to the spider and its web. The spider brings the web out of itself and then remains in it. God is the container of the universe and also what is contained in it.”
Devadatta Kali beautifully states, “Know that we are all children of the Divine Mother Her essence drives our very life breath…”
The Maha Narayana Upanishad says, “Whatever moves in the universe, whether it is either seen or heard, whether it is within or without – it is pervaded by breath.”
The breath is responsible for the reaction and response mechanisms of our nervous systems as well. It’s worth mentioning here that when one is in a fight/flight/freeze response, breathing becomes shallow, we become engrained in our primitive/instinctual brain; severed from the “higher brain” of Consciousness which is what is described in psychology as the Prefrontal Cortex. Furthermore, this reaction/response can be linked to the muladhara chakra… that which is most human and connected to earth, associated with security and stability. If this chakra is blocked or imbalanced, it’s difficult for Kundalini to awaken and travel on; just as if this chakra is tended superfluously, we become obsessed with none other than material existence and wealth. The breath is what allows us to reconnect to the prefrontal cortex, expand beyond the space of activation within our nervous systems, and return to a place of homeostasis within mind and body; which allows space for spiritual growth and connection as well.
This is especially important when we consider that trauma, in many ways, detaches us from the ability to access the tools in which one can access spiritual attainment and safely practice Tantra.
A shadow results when light is blocked. When the Light of Consciousness becomes hidden by the blockages of painful experience, we forget who we are. Maya has hidden Herself. That same Maya chooses to reveal Herself when we become fortified enough to ripen appropriately. I’ve been able to bear witness to this time and again not only in my own life, but also in the lives of the trauma survivors I’ve worked with. As a trauma-informed yoga teacher and somatic mentor, I gently guide women who have been blocked from this Light by their own shadows of overwhelming experience into safer spaces of divine discovery.
And it all begins by learning to breathe, and resourcing into the muladhara chakra… allowing a felt sense between body and Earth. Once well-established here, flourishing begins… it’s something quite beautiful to behold.
And so, it is indeed the breath by which She creates and abides, rearranging all that is so we may (re)discover All That Is.
When we can manage the breath (pranayama) and invite the mind into submission to the breath (pratyahara and dharana), then we can truly enter a space of meditation (dhyana).
“The sages say that through meditation we develop our individual wisdom, intelligence, and memory – the buddhi – which is our vehicle for connecting the ultimate vision of being One with the Whole, or as the rishisput it, the whole in the one and the many… when we operate through the buddhi, instead of the rational mind and ego, we continually recognize the Self to be an instrument of Divine will and our actions to be the consequence of Divine Grace... Everything comes from the Divine.” 
Again, from a Trauma-Informed perspective, we cannot expect folks who cannot yet regulate their breath and nervous systems to fully immerse themselves in meditation. What can be accessible are practices of bhakti and sensory experience. It seems oxymoronic to encourage seekers of healing to first embrace their senses only to later discover a need to withdraw from them. There’s a reason for this methodology.
As a flight response, trauma survivors often dissociate from their lives… it happens so often, it may go unnoticed most of the time. The first step of healing is embodying. When we learn to choose feeling our feet on the ground rather than severing ourselves from the moment, we engage in the art of presence. Presence allows us to connect to the breath in a way that feels less threatening (especially if our trauma involves breathing). Breathing with subtle awareness allows us to concentrate and invites our minds into a space of ease and calm. From here, we can venture into the realms of meditation.
When we utilize practices of bhakti, such as japa, kirtan, and mudra; we engage our bodies and give our minds something upon which to contemplate. These also prevent dissociative behaviors AND encourage a sense of connection, belonging, and love. Many of the practices of Tantra engage the body in a non-threatening way, which can be prescribed appropriately by one who is both trauma-informed and appropriately initiated into such traditions. Though many of our practices as sadhakas are private, there are plenty that can be offered to the hurting masses who seek to connect with body and Soul. Again, I’ve personally witnessed this in my own life and those of my students. What a joy to share pathways to the lap of the Mother.
Within the realm of meditation awaits the possibility for Samadhi… for the Divine Union Shakti and Shiva, so that the soma of merging with our innate Divinity can become a somatic experience of humanity. As She seeks to return to Her dwelling nestled near Earth, She deposits nectar into each chakra, filling every cell of our being with a sacred Remembrance of Who We Are.
There’s nothing more potent in healing trauma than that Remembering… and it happens “in and through the body.”
So, whether or not we’ve survived events or periods of catastrophic overwhelm to our nervous systems leaving us feeling broken and unworthy; these practices are universal to all who long for Home. In Her, there is no more question of whether we’re loved… we are Her love embodied. The realization of this takes place in the body, so that we can release our grip on material reality and merge more and more with that which is Eternal.
 Johari, H. (2000). Chakras energy centers of transformation. Rochester, Vt.  Johari, H. (2000). Chakras energy centers of transformation. Rochester, Vt.  Kālī, D. (2006). The veiling brilliance: A journey to the goddess. Nicolas-Hays.  Swami Nikhilananda (1973). The Gospel of Sri ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna Math.  Kālī, D. (2006). The veiling brilliance: A journey to the goddess. Nicolas-Hays.  Tiwari, M. (2002). The path of practice: The ayurvedic book of healing with food, breath, and sound. Motilal Banarsidass.  Tiwari, M. (2002). The path of practice: The ayurvedic book of healing with food, breath, and sound. Motilal Banarsidass.  Hall, T (2020). In and Through the Body. Recorded by Trevor Hall on In and Through the Body. Independent.