Breaking Mala

merry mala 013

Last year I went to Durga Puja, an annual celebration in honor of the Divine Mother, which is celebrated around the world. I was in Kashi Florida with my Swami and friends and we danced around the Ganga with torches, ate marvelous food and generally had a most excellent time.

The previous February I’d made a mala of ebony and skulls. This is when I learned how to make malas. I knew exactly what I wanted in a prayer bead design and I couldn’t find it. I could find ebony malas and there were an abundance of skull malas but nothing that was exactly right. I took it upon myself to learn how to make prayer beads and it was such a gift that I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted because now I am a mala wallah.

It is this same mala I have around my neck on Sunday afternoon following Durga Puja, after more delicious food prepared by a certain Swami Rudra Das, when I am packing my things for the return trip home. When I pack for a yoga weekend I am not messing around with a light duffel and make-up bag, not when sequins are called for on Saturday night. I have plenty to track down and stuff into my large suitcase, which I manage well.

Etsy Mala and Halloween 016 Upon appraising the scene I see that I’ve got most everything together. I lean down to retrieve my yoga mat bag and in the leaning over my mala explodes. Now you might say, “Prana Devi, come on now. Malas don’t just explode…” and wag your finger at me like you’ve caught me in a lie.

I say this to you; malas most certainly do explode. Also, sometimes they’ll slide off your neck like a lazy snake and hit the floor. That could happen too. But on this occasion I mean this thing blew off my neck and scattered across the floor like it didn’t want to leave the property when I drove off in my Dodge. I had black ebony beads caught in my hair that I shook out like victory. Skull beads fell out of the hollow of my collar-bone into my yoga mat bag. It was pandemonium and very exciting!

I scoop up what I can find. I place the  sad tassel on the bed with the remainder of the beads and wander off in search of a plastic baggy. A very nice lady is in the kitchen. She looks up to see me tap dancing in the doorway. I explain my situation.

She clucks at me while she finds the bag. She is sorry for me that my mala has broken, she says.

But no! I tell her it’s my understanding that when a mala breaks it is a most auspicious event. I liken it to getting enough coins in a Super Mario game and getting to level up, energetically perhaps, but it’s a good sign. Perhaps whatever the theme of your sadhana (practice) has been while working with that mala has come to fruition or there is new or stronger energy coming in to support the practice in a different way (when I got home I emailed Swami just in case).

I am not the one to ask about specifics of how this works exactly, but it is grand news, if not a little sad that my favorite mala broke.

The lady is excited at this news, too, as she says she always looked at a broken mala as an inconvenience at best. Well now you know. She kindly agreed to place any errant beads left behind in a prayer room in the house, which pleases me greatly.

When I got home I placed the beads in a glass bowl so they may rest. I had another mala to work with and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the broken one. I even thought of making it into something else by using pieces of it for a necklace or bracelet. Then one day I walked by the bowl and beads and felt this urge to re-string them NOW!

So I did. I have a working mala made of ebony beads and skulls that I’m going to take with me to Durga Puja again this year. I’ll dance around the Ganga with torchlight reflecting on the water and I’ll eat delicious prasad when the night concludes.

I was inspired to write this post because breaking is part of a malas job. It holds energy and then lets it go. It’s a tool of transformation if used with that intention. When I make a mala for myself, a friend or to sell in my shop it is with the greatest care for the finished design and the components while I work with them. I focus on crafting meditation tools that are able to stand up to long use, however, they are not meant to last forever.

I am adding a restringing option to my Etsy shop so that folks who have broken malas littering their altar drawer or kitchen window (sunlight is an excellent way of cleansing stones) can see their malas back up and running. If you would like them made into bracelets or another commemorative piece of jewelry we can talk about that too.

If you have purchased a mala from me and it breaks within 60 days of receipt I will restring it for you at no charge and guarantee it for another 60 days following its repair. If your mala breaks after the 60 days the fee will apply to restringing your mala.

Bonus! Care and feeding of your mala:

Please keep it dry to the best of your ability as wetting the cord, whether hemp or silk, will weaken and stretch it over time. Malas are typically worn as a necklace. Wearing your mala wrapped around your wrist for extended periods of time weakens the material. I love to sometimes wear my mala around my wrist for special classes with my Teacher and this is fine. Just be aware that it can cause strain. It is also nice to have a mala bag or box for the storage and transport of your mala. It depends on your preferences.

I am also a fan of sleeping with my mala. I like to place it near my bed or tucked under my pillow. Sleeping with your mala around your neck can be hazardous to yourself and your mala, especially if you are a busy sleeper. Keep that in mind and perhaps make or buy a little satchel in which to stow your mala beneath your pillow. Sweet dreams!

Your mala loves sunlight and moonlight (gemstones have their own preference). Cleanse your mala in the sun or beneath the silvery moon periodically. Repetition of holy names helps keep your mala clear as does taking it to darshan and kirtans 🙂 Have your mala blessed by a holy person if you can; if no holy person is available may I suggest having your cat sneeze on it.

Message me with questions. Is there anything I forgot on mala care? How do you take care of your mala?

shiva moon

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Throwing Shade

Last night at the restaurant, I served a table of eight people of varying ages. Whilst grating cheese upon a large portion of pasta, I overhear (I overhear a lot whilst grating cheese) “so and so….blah blah….throwing shade….blah blah…”

More than half the restaurant is closed now, so there are plenty of tables upstairs for servers to await their last tables’ desert orders and conversations to conclude. It’s a long hard process, this. I join my co-workers and without preamble ask, “What does it mean to throw shade?”

One woman in particular with an especially expressive face stops chewing her casserole and looks up at me through thick lashes. I wonder if she is doing it now, so I might experience it.

From behind me I hear, “Is someone messing with you?” It’s Sam, tall dreamy and about nineteen.

“Not that I know of.” I reply, but wonder what hornets’ nest I’ve stepped off in by asking this question.

The woman, now resuming attention on her casserole, explains between bites that throwing shade is when you give someone a backhanded compliment in an effort to be a complete asshole. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if that person knows you’re throwing shade or not, if one’s intention is to shade the situation with ass-holery then the deed is done.

To tell you the truth, what I thought it might mean wasn’t very far off. I thought it meant to cut your eyes at someone in such a way as to diss them; diss is a term used in the eighties and nineties meant to besmirch someone, or in essence, rudely “dismiss’ them. In my imagination, throwing shade included creative use of one’s eyelashes, not backhanded compliments. Kids these days, totally missing an opportunity to use their eyelashes the way God intended.

Today I am at my sister’s house where I have commanded my niece to demonstrate what she has learned in color guard practice. Because it is completely impossible to command a thirteen year old to do anything, she is standing in the yard and holding her purple flag, looking at me like I have lost my mind.

“Gimme that flag.” I command. She obeys this time. I proceed to dance around the yard, high stepping like any decent majorette. I also sling that flag around the yard like it’s a Samurai sword. I snap it to attention, swing it around, toss it into the air where is spins, spins, twirls and lands like it is thus magnetized into my waiting hand.

I am explaining how she needs to look more intense. Make those gorgeous Egyptian eyes sizzle! This is her time to stomp the yard if ever there was one. This is her moment not to be shy but to be awesome, purple flag and all. I snap the billowing flag’s pole to my hip and tell her to throw shade on the field.

I am imagining creative use of eyelashes and not backhanded compliments when I give her this instruction.

My use of modern slang floors my niece so much she nearly smiles. “Do you know what that means?”

“To be mean to someone.” I answer, choosing to use the loose interpretation I got from my more knowledgeable co-workers the previous night. I look at the tree to my right, whimsically thinking of its generous and cooling shade.

“Mom, I can’t believe she knows what that means.” My niece says to my little sister who then commands her thirteen year old daughter into the house, flag and all.

A little while later she asks if I know how to use my new Instagram account and offers to show me how it works, if I want her to. I take a rather long sip of my coffee and avert my eyes, not wanting her to know how grateful I would be for the tutoring.

Let me tell you something, in case you should look up @electricmala – the first picture I uploaded was of my cat. It just felt right. And the only reason I really got involved with it in the first place is because I want to promote my Etsy shop and see what those crazy yoga cats are up to. So there.

Be warned, yogis. Instagram is not for people who think # is still a pound sign. You will be greatly disappointed. In fact, this is now a litmus test for how old you are; whether you call # a pound sign or a hashtag. I don’t even know what that means!

Also, Instagram is not for people who want to read articles. They have no articles on Instagram, though  I did see a few motivational memes I’ll share this week to promote my class @URUYOGA

See how good I’m getting at this already? Apparently, @ still means one is “at the place to which they refer in the post”. See, not so scary after all. As in, I’ll be @URUYOGA tomorrow teaching at 4:30 and 6 o’clock.

And the best thing about Instagram? #catlady is a real thing.

 

Chain Linked Mala Connects

As a non-Catholic attending Saint Pius the Tenth elementary school, I was constantly on edge. I did not grow up in a religious family. I have aunts on my father’s side who are Baptists. My great-grandmother was a Baptist but never acted like one. On my mother’s side my grandmother went to the Methodist church on occasion; we were the Easter Christians who took up parking spaces so people who went every Sunday of the world had to park in Egypt. That was us.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Honey, read the National Inquirer like it was her bible. We were both intrigued with Bat Boy, she and I with fifty years between us. She had a rosary, but to my knowledge had no religious affiliation. I still have that black matte rosary with its rusted chain linked beads.

At Saint Pius, much to my dismay, we had a crucifix in every classroom. I spent my entire first grade year just getting used to looking at it. I much preferred the bronze or otherwise once removed from reality medium as opposed to the very lifelike version that lolled above Mrs. Jordan’s head while she tried her level best to get me to pronounce the word pen without the colloquially southern “Y” addition; as in “give me that damn pey-un.”

In the second grade Mrs. Alverez, with her blond mullet and insistence on art class, announced there was a small contingent of children from across the street – where the middle and high school is located – who take their entire lunch hour to recite the rosary in the grotto. I hadn’t heard much of this grotto, but I knew I walked outside its gate once when I was dressed as Betsy Ross for our school wide American history parade.

I felt intrigued with this rosary, though I never learned it. I saw glimpses and sparkling hints of jewels stashed within book bag pockets and silvery crucifixes that were molded in the shape of the Christ without the blood that made me look away.

As a student at Saint Pius, I attend all of the religious functions my class must rehearse as part of their school day. I remember the “first confession” rehearsal and the horror of it. I was standing on the red carpet looking down at my scuffed saddle shoes, which never made it past the first week of school unscathed, wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do next.

Much to my relief someone remembered I’m not Catholic, and unbaptized at that, and ought to be left alone. I did get ushered into a makeshift confessional where I looked briefly at the priest. I admitted to having fought with my sister. He excused me with a pardon of my sins.

There was “first communion”, which I also participated in on the periphery. I got to taste un-blessed wafers with Sister Therese, my third grade teacher. She also took us to where the nuns lived. There was a great crucifix in there and I wondered if it made it hard for them to sleep.

It might have been my third grade year in which I learned, still up to their old tricks in the prayer grotto, that those older children had received a commendation for their devotional efforts during lunch. Someone higher up in the church, a bishop or knight, sent them a special rosary. I imagine the card attached reading, “Keep up the good work!”

Let me tell you something, I felt white hot jealously when I heard those kids got a rosary. Let me clarify, I never learned the rosary. I still don’t know it. And let me tell you something else, too – I wouldn’t skip lunch. There was just something too delicious about that octagonal shaped pizza I liked to fold in half like a burrito. I wouldn’t miss out on that for an afternoon of starvation and heat stroke in the prayer grotto, I’m just saying.

There was a longing that stretched out beneath the surface of my eight year old thoughts. There was a secret wish to join the older kids in the grotto and look up at that large statue of Mary with Her outstretched hands, all white and glowing in the hot Alabama sun. I had an occasion to see inside the grotto once. There was a cement bench I just knew was hot in the summer and bone chilling in the winter. There was also green in varying shades everywhere and birds that sang like they’d just come in from my great-grandmother’s rose garden.

By the fourth grade I found myself in public school and rosaries, frightful crucifixes and octagonal pizza were the least of my worries. I had real concerns by then, like how to fit in without a uniform.

About eighteen years later I pick up one of the threads that wove through my heart. I found it to be chain linked and not quite what I initially thought it might be. I’d been practicing yoga for a while by now but hadn’t gotten too far beneath the surface.

Like lightening in my life I felt overcome, like when you have to sneeze and can’t hold it back because something might bust. The internet was still new to me, as far as shopping goes, but I took to its waters navigating sites and stores with deft skill, as though I wasn’t sailing those capricious winds alone.

My first mala is silver chain linked Rudraksha beads. It is a half mala, made of 54 beads, so if I wanted to practice an entire round I would have to go twice. I thought it would be the only mala I ever needed or wanted. I remember when it arrived in the mail, all shiny and light brown with its zip closure peacock blue storage bag (sold separately). I cherish this mala! I wore it under my clothes and around my wrist. The silver smell mingled with an essential oil and was faintly familiar.

The beads are dark brown now and the silver is the color of a well loved teddy bear with shocks of metallic light peaking through. That mala drapes over a picture, though sometimes I still pull it off my meditation table and chant with it in love.

This mala came in the mail so many years ago; before I knew who or where my Teacher was or had any idea where this path might or could lead, much less what I expected from it. I don’t necessarily have answers to all of those questions now, but I know where I belong and with whom.

I don’t want to credit how much I enjoy working with malas on my three years in Catholic school, but something there made an impression on me. I don’t think its a coincidence that Honey’s black rosary is held together with silvery links like my very first Rudraksha mala, to which I added a very small dog tag embossed with Shiva in meditation.

It is with this nostalgia for the half mala and the season of Easter, in which my Catholic-y tendencies surface, that I made a few half malas for my store, The Electric Mala. There isn’t anything traditional about them, but they’re colorful and beautiful and unique. The same can be said for each  one of us.