Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guest Post: The Lingam Puja, Dear Love Edition – July 2015

Continuing the focus of some of my recent posts on the practice of Lingam Puja as a meditative ritual honoring the sacred dimension of queer men's desire and sexuality, here is a reflection by Br. Bob on his experience of leading the Puja as a daily practice for a week this July just past. Br. Bob is a full-time minister who has explored the embodiment of spirituality for the last several years through various workshops that he's attended and at which he's assisted. What he shares below bears vivid witness that authentic ritual grows from the roots up out of the practice of a community that takes ownership of the form.

This summer I had the opportunity to assist at a week-long workshop at Easton Mountain in upstate New York: Dear Love of Comrades, which is the first-level intensive offered by the Body Electric School. Each morning, the men attending the workshop were required to choose among several meditative movement practices, which included a yoga class and a meditative hike. I had experienced the Lingam Puja meditation practice offered by David Townsend two summers ago at another Body Electric week-long intensive. I had found it then to be a good meditative practice to begin my day, so I wanted to offer it for this new group of men.
I contacted David and asked for the ritual format, which he graciously shared with me, and set about assembling the necessary supplies before I left for the workshop. It was interesting for me to learn where I could find camphor to use as incense for the ritual, as well as a few of the other items. I was excited I could bring into the ritual the singing bowl I’d acquired a few months ago and that is part of my daily personal morning practices.
Arriving the day before the workshop, I found the area around the large carved and charred wooden phallus overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. David had told me about his experience of walking on the weeds when he created the space two years ago, and how it had been a meditative process unto itself for him. So, that Sunday afternoon in the high heat and humidity, I started doing the same thing, walking clockwise in ever-growing circles to flatten out the vegetation so others would perceive it as a ritual space. In short order the meditation circle began to be as evident as my sweat-soaked clothing! Finally, I decided it was time for me to get relief and go cool off in the outdoor pool to relax.
The next day, I enlisted the help of another man who would be a participant in the workshop. We used collapsed cardboard boxes to flatten the circle better and make the space even more welcoming. Being someone whose vocation involves celebrating rituals and leading others in them, I still felt some apprehension about how participants would receive this new-to-them ritual, and how I would feel in leading it.
The next day, I awoke early before my alarm, showered,  and trekked out to the remote area where the Lingam Puja circle was located to set the remaining ritual pieces in place: a sarong to decorate the lingam; small citronella garden candles for the perimeter of the circle to provide a sense of the holy – but also to help ward off the insects. I lit the candle near the lingam; chimed my singing bowl; lit a few pieces of camphor to incense the area; and set up three small vases to receive the flower offerings of the brothers who would gather.

Then I went to greet the brothers who would participate, and in silence we walked out to the Lingam Puja circle as they gathered a wildflower or two to make their offering. I welcomed them formally one by one into the circle and made a bindi on their foreheads using ritual powder obtained from an Indian grocery store near my home, where I also found the camphor. Then after being welcomed, they placed their flowers in the vases on the stump altar next to the lingam and chimed the singing bowl.

Then after an opening prayer, we took turns stating our intention for the day and having that intention bound to us by tying a red thread on our wrist. Following that, we silently walked clockwise at our own pace around the lingam until it was time to close the ritual. As we walked in meditation, men would reverence or embrace the lingam, light more camphor incense, or perform some other action meaningful to them. Once I chimed the end of our meditation time by ringing the singing bowl, we gathered arm-in-arm around the lingam and chanted Om three times to formally close the meditation and then offered each other a morning embrace.
I found that the challenge of leading the ritual and keeping track of time initially distracted me. But as the week progressed, I became more at home with it. My apprehensions decreased, and I felt more in union with the rhythm of it. I also found-- surprisingly, for I am NOT a morning person--that I would awake every day without my alarm and look forward to my solitary personal time when I would re-set the ritual space for that morning’s practice. I loved the peacefulness and connection with nature that it afforded me before I had to “be on” in exercising my leadership of the group’s practice. And I was challenged the one day when rain threatened and a brisk breeze made keeping the altar candle lit almost impossible!
I was also moved each day by the group’s practice - how different men would experience emotional connections in themselves and with the earth and with spirit through this simple yet profound action. It reminded me so much how our capacity and commitment to be “present” – fully focused and intent on an action – allows us to be connected to and become conduits of spirit. This then allows us to connect with spirit in others and in creation itself. This basic truth is something that I learn and experience and witness over and over again. It reminds me that I am always a student and learning all the time. No matter how regularly I engage in spiritual rituals or practices, there is always something new for me to be open to experiencing. I simply need to surrender to the spirit’s invitation and trust it will reveal what I need to do, if anything.

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