Shivani Ray is a meditation teacher and performing artist. Born into a Yoga and Shaiva Tantra tradition, her specialty is working with the power of creative inspiration, sacred intuition, and embodied instinct. As a teacher, she strives to protect the purity and integrity of ancient wisdom while also applying it practically to every day modern life. Shivani is a member of the California Bar and holds a J.D. from the University of Southern California and a B.A. from UC Berkeley. For more information, visit her website.
This month marks nine years since my beloved grandfather passed away. I was doing Reiki on him as he passed, one hand on his heart, another on the crown of his head, sobbing, knowing that he wasn’t coming back, that nothing I did was going to wake him up this time.
He was the manliest person I’ve ever met… at 6’1″ he was the tallest, biggest person in our family, with a deep voice and a lion’s chest. He could be so stern, so unyielding, with everyone in the family except for me – the only girl in our family; with me, he was soft as butter. If I couldn’t sleep, he’d rub my head and sing to me. I’ve cried into his chest even as a young woman, and I can still hear him shushing me and patting down my hair with his giant hands.
Dada was fearless… he’d been through more hardship and trauma than almost anyone I know – including losing his mother at age 6 – but he never lost his sense of adventure and mischief, even as an old man. More than anything he used to tell us that the most important thing in the world was to have courage. In fact, one of his most common responses to our fear would be to toss his snow-white mane of hair back in laughter and say in Gujarati, “What are you so afraid of? If you do it, is someone going to stuff you in an elephant’s ass and sew the hole shut?” It never made sense but the thought was vulgar and ridiculous enough that we’d start laughing and forget our fear entirely.
Throughout my life, he’d constantly remind us of Dada’s Three D’s: the three qualities that he believed were most essential to living a good life. Discipline, Dedication, and Devotion. Discipline: to do the right thing at the right time with the right limits in the right way. Dedication: to give oneself completely to whatever we had undertaken, and not to give up. Devotion: to always work with love for God, for others, and from the space of the heart. I remember him sitting us down once at the dining table – I must have been 11 or 12 – and saying all this, adding, “One day, when I’m gone, remember this. Remember me by remembering this. Promise me you’ll remember”.
My grandfather was deeply spiritual but his spiritual life primarily took the form of service. I’ve never met a man with as deep of a longing to give. He used to walk around with clothes and toys tucked into his jacket and hand them out to kids and poor people on his afternoon walks, just to surprise them and see their faces light up. During a bad drought, he set up a free water tap on the front of his house for poor people to use as they wished. Because he himself was never able to study, and went through enormous hardship as a result, he paid for the educations of hundreds of students. He started out as a poor man and then gave unbelievable amounts of money to hospitals, schools, charities, shelters for the blind and disabled, temples – no one left my grandfather empty-handed, even me – he always had some gift or adventure to surprise me with, whether it was fireworks we blew up in the backyard or diamond jewelry.
He was a lion, he was an elephant, he was a rock, he was a king. He literally fought to save his family time and again, and I’ve heard so many stories. One particular story I heard from a few different people, including him, was a night where he biked to the hospital through waist-high monsoon floods with my asthmatic toddler father in the basket, slamming down my grandmother’s gold bracelet as collateral until he could get money. The security guard refused to let them in as a matter of bureaucracy, even though my dad would have died. My grandfather grabbed him by the throat, screaming that if anything happened to his son that night he’d pay with his life. The man relented and let them in. My grandmother and my father are still alive; my grandfather is not. Dada taught all of us that there are times when you have to be willing to fight, to be aggressive, to roar and use your voice, to refuse to take shit lying down, to do whatever you have to do to defend and protect life.
I don’t know what else to say – there’s so many memories. The man was larger than life, but he was also just my grandfather, a man that I adored and who adored me. I miss him and there’s nothing to be done with that pain except to try to live by his teachings. I remember this one daily: in the very last email I got from him, a few weeks before the accident that eventually led to his death, he ended the letter by saying: “The only way to remove darkness is to bring light. You are doing the same. Love, Dada”