Meditative Penance for Difficult Times

With upcoming transits to transits, things might get messy for both individuals and the collective. Saturn has been in its domiciles of Capricorn and Aquarius since December 2017, and as the greater malefic, Saturn can bring more hardship to society and the mundane realm as a whole. Generally speaking, the times that Saturn is in its domiciles can be challenging, especially when the outer planet makes hard aspects with Mars, Pluto, Uranus, or the South Node. The last few years have seen a global pandemic, and in that context a lot of people have experienced trying times. Looking at the sky weather, there are some further difficult times in 2022, especially in the periods from March 7th to April 16th and July 6th to August 21st. At these times, Mars and Saturn will have hard aspects by degree and sign. Other planets will be in the mix too, like Uranus, which will be square Mars by degree starting March 19th and ending on March 28th. From March 26th to March 30th, Venus will be besieged by Mars and Saturn by degree. In July, Mars will conjoin Uranus in Taurus and will be square Saturn in Aquarius. Mercury, the Sun, and Venus will be opposed to Saturn in Aquarius and square Mars and Uranus in Taurus. The nodes will also be in fixed signs. People could experience difficulties at these times, but there is a tool that they can use. It is tapas, or extreme practices and meditation to burn off karma. I will explore the concept of tapas and give an interpretation of the concept and an adapted way of performing it.

Though tapas is preserved as a traditional form in India, it is by no means an alien concept to Western spiritual thought. In fact, it fits the traditional Greek prayer structure which stipulates giving A for receiving B from a deity. The reciprocity between an individual and the gods in ancient Greek religion parallels aspects of tapas. While tapas consists of doing extreme things to get release from karma incurred, the belief in reciprocity allows the individual to define the parameters of the exchange. Though it is up to individual interpretation its got a basic structure of exchange. Tapas is also an exchange, but predicated on suffering and hardship. The two concepts share similarities in that they function as a type of metaphysical exchange.   

The concept of tapas can be adapted and modified to the Western tradition. The idea of doing meditative practices and applying it to a reciprocal relationship with deities is more than viable. The motivation for the tapas, karma, can also be applied to reciprocity between a deity and an individual. Indeed, negative aspects of life that are related to karma or that can be defined as karma are sometimes part of prayer for people. One can focus on potential difficult times and apply a meditative approach to alleviating it. So, a meditative practice focused on resolving or lessening life difficulties could be the goal of an adapted form of tapas. The adapted tapas I want to discuss is called meditative penance. The reason I call it meditative penance is that it is focused on using meditation to mediate negative and harmful parts of life. Penance means an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin. This definition focuses on sin, which has some relation to the concept of karma. From either perspective, the individual that performs the tapas or penance knows that there are reasons why they have to experience difficulties and challenges. So, penance is a good word that somewhat captures the meaning, though the meditative penance I envision doesn’t fit the extreme self-abasement or mortification that is part of the conventional definition. This from of meditative penance, unlike tapas or penance, doesn’t have to be that extreme. The extreme aspect of tapas seems to come from the idea that it is supposed to offset huge karmic debts. In some cases, this might be a necessary path for someone. However, it is possible to do a milder, more moderate form of tapas. This is the meditative penance I envision. In some petitions or deals that people make with the gods, people will offer things that have monetary value. They may give lavish offerings or money to temples. They may also do good deeds, do charitable works, or help others. They might make personal vows to behave a certain way or do a certain thing, like abstain from a specific food, follow a daily routine for a specified time, or do some specific thing as an offering to the deity. Meditative penance is different though, because it solely deals with meditation, be it sitting or standing. It must be noted that though it is a moderate approach, it still has a connection to the extremity of tapas. Meditative penance could be thought of as a weaker version of tapas. In fact, just the act of meditating can be quite toilsome and challenging for most people. There is something to be said for the difficulty of meditative penance because for many people, just sitting still for a set time is painful, uncomfortable, disruptive, and challenging. I believe meditative penance is its own thing, and can’t be compared exactly to other forms of deal-making with the gods.

To do meditative penance, there are certain considerations. These include divining the parameters, which should include the level of difficulty, the amount of time needed, the number of sessions required, and the physical form the penance should take. Likely, the best way to decide upon these many possibilities would be to reflect for a certain period of time, to meditate, and to elicit responses from the surrounding environment. It would also be necessary to do divination to get guidance. The level of extremity would be hard to gauge without experience. Research or subjective opinion might be a way to arrive at a level of extremity that works. The amount of time needed should be based on one’s own limits and the level of extremity. The longer the meditative sessions, the more extreme. One can do it daily, every other day, for a set number of days based on a special number, or do it certain days based on a busy schedule. An alternate way would be to just do the meditative penance as much as possible and see how much it offsets. Research could help to arrive at many of the answers for the meditative penance, especially the physical form it takes. Whether it is sitting or standing, includes poses or gestures, has any physical gesture that is symbolic or spiritual, all of this should be determined. There can be other factors, such as no drinking water or eating food for a period of time before and after the meditative penance, to add to the difficulty. There can be props and items that are used to add to the situation, as well. Saint Symeon lived on a pillar. Likewise, the meditative penance can be done in a certain kind of weather, like rain, or on a mountain peak, or on a rock, or even an exercise ball. The possibilities are endless. As mentioned, there are plenty of materials in traditional cultures to model the meditative penance upon. It should be remembered that it is up to one’s discretion as to what they feel is deemed necessary to offset rough times, or even bad things that they have done in their lives. 

I will now explain an example of meditative penance for the upcoming transits of 2022. Saturn and Mars will have hard aspects, and the two planets will be invoked in a ritual at the beginning of the meditative penance. The ritual begins in the night, on the hour of Saturn. After lighting a candle and incense and pouring a drink offering, a traditional hymn to Saturn is read aloud. After a short prayer and request, the meditative penance is announced. It’s important to announce the meditative penance at the beginning, and do it in a sort of reciprocal way. Afterwards, the candles and incense are extinguished, and a timer is set. “Lord Saturn, now I will meditate for twenty-five minutes to lessen the difficulties I will face in my life in March and April 2022. Please accept this offering of my time and focus and reduce the harm that I will have to experience in return.” The practitioner sits on a cushion. A hand gesture that represents Saturn is held. The focus is on Saturn and the intent of the practice while sitting with the gestures in the hand. The timer rings and the meditation ends. “Oh Saturn, please accept this meditative penance in return for a reduction of the troubles, pain, and damage I will take in the upcoming transits that will conjoin Mars.” Now that the Saturn part of the meditative penance is over, the same thing is done for Mars.

The method can be used with planets, gods, or God. It is applicable to many traditions. It can be used with astrology or without it. If someone expects difficulties and harm due to tarot, dreams, the course of life, a feeling, or whatever, they can pray to a god just the same and then do meditative penance. Also, a corresponding god to the planets that are transiting can also be called upon if one works with another tradition. For example, a follower of the Norse gods could work with Saetere and Tyr as representatives of Saturn and Mars. So, meditative penance can be used for either any difficult or negative things one experiences, or in anticipation of difficult times. Astrology is a good tool for predicting hard times, but isn’t by any means the only method. Then, the meditative penance can either follow the planets directly, the gods of the Greek and Roman religions, or the gods of other traditions that correspond to the planets. One possible scenario is someone has a leg injury and has months of difficulty ahead related to work and healing from the injury. The person is a Christian and does meditative penance that calls upon God to get through the challenging health issue and work situation. In other words, it doesn’t have to be tied to astrology or the planets, though that is the main approach mentioned in the example of a meditative penance that is given.

Meditative penance is an adaptation of the Vedic concept of tapas. Less extreme than tapas, it is similar in that it utilizes the form of meditation and asks for an exchange of the timing and experience of hardships from the normal course of events by higher cosmic forces. Meditative penance can be an effective tool for offsetting  or lessening difficult transits. Though the approach mentioned focuses on astrology and planets, it doesn’t have to be connected to either.




Photo Credits

  1. A sage medidates in a cave. Photo by Midjourney. Prompt: solar rays around a sage meditating in a cave. Username: @david.k9
  2. Photo by Midjourney.  Prompt: altar and incense smoke rising before Harpocrates the sun god. Username: @davidk9
  3. Stone relief, Egyptian Gallery, Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany, by Gary Todd from Xinzheng, China, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons