Tapping the source
I SAT IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE WOODEN PEW with my hands crossed in my lap and started repeating Hail Marys out of habit. It’s practically impossible to go to Malta, a tiny island country just 50 miles south of Sicily, without visiting more than a few of its 359 churches. And, apparently for me, it was also impossible to sit in one of the country’s most beautiful cathedrals and not pray, despite it having been more than 20 years since I’d gone to church regularly.
It did feel a little weird to pray, in a church, to a Catholic God while on a yoga retreat. But in fairness, this wasn’t a typical yoga retreat. I’d traveled to Malta with Perillo’s Learning Journeys— a company that specializes in spiritual travel—on a weeklong trip focused on wellness, gastronomy, and culture. Rather than the typical twice-daily yoga and meditation sessions offered on most retreats, we were encouraged to practice on our own—and then experience the kind of oneness with Source that happens off the mat: the divinity you feel when wandering around cobblestone streets, say, or eating just-baked bread drenched in exquisitely fresh olive oil.
To get to know Malta is to learn about the country’s history, which dates back to the dawn of civilization. The country went through a golden Neolithic period, the remains of which are evident in the 50 prehistoric temples scattered around the country—all built between 3600 BC and 700 BC, making them older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Particularly interesting to our group of yogis was learning about the statues of female figures found in many of these Maltese temples, collectively known as the “Fat Ladies” of Malta. Their generous thighs and bellies have led some archaeologists to hypothesize that they were fertility deities—signs of a goddess religion that the highly regarded mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell once called an expression of “that primordial attempt on humanity’s part to understand and live in harmony with the beauty and wonder of Creation.”
As we walked through the Ggantija Temples on the small Maltese island of Gozo—known for some of the best swimming, snorkeling, and diving in the Mediterranean—I couldn’t help but think about the vast array of world religions and how, historically, they’ve all served to help us seek greater meaning and feel a connection to something larger than ourselves.
While strolling through Hagar Qim, a prehistoric temple on a hilltop overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, I was schooled in primitive design: This stone structure, like all of the temples I visited, had a central corridor that cut through two (or sometimes more) chambers, ultimately reaching a small altar at the far end. Carved into the stone walls were elaborate designs, likely markings denoting the passage
of time. Stone furnishings, figurines, and other artifacts found in these temples, now on display in the country’s national museums, indicate that early Maltese society was likely a powerful matriarchy dominated by priestesses, female leaders, and mother goddesses. My heart was full.
After exploring Hagar Qim and another nearby temple, Mnajdra, I found a grassy perch overlooking the sea so I could meditate. As I closed my eyes, I felt an invigorating vibration wash over me—the same kind of charge I feel when I visit the Buddhist enclave in Crestone, Colorado, or when I hiked to Gomukh, the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River, in India. And as I really leaned into that vibration, sitting there with my eyes closed beside those ancient temples and silently repeating my given mantra, I realized what I was experiencing was not far from what I’d experienced in that wooden pew in the cathedral just a few days earlier—where I had found myself instinctively repeating Hail Marys silently like an old, familiar mantra.
In that moment, it was clear that one of the reasons I practice yoga and meditation—arguably the ultimate reason I practice—is to experience shakti, the divine, cosmic energy that moves through all of us. As a kid growing up Catholic, I was taught to find that energy through prayer. As yoga classes came to replace Sunday mass, I began looking to shakti’s many forms in the Hindu pantheon, such as Parvati, Durga, and Kali—powerful goddesses whom I could call into my practice to help me tap the universal source of energy, power, and creativity.
Here in Malta, these megalithic structures seemed to offer proof that we’ve been doing this forever. No matter the structure, whether a stone temple, church, or yoga studio, humans have sat—together, or alone, with the Source—in harmony with, and in awe of, the divinity running through our hearts, bodies, and minds. It is how we feel connected: to ourselves, to each other, to the place we live, and ultimately, to the beauty and wonder of the Universe.
OPPOSITE PAGE Armier Bay. THIS PAGE, FROM TOP Ggantija Temples; St. John’s Co-Cathedral; Hagar Qim. For more information on upcoming retreats in Malta, visit learningjourneys.com.