Happy Maha Shivaratri to you and yours!
Maha_Shivaratri ("the Great Night of Shiva") is said to be one of the four most sacred/blessed nights in a year for a spiritual seeker.
Meaning: On the 14th day of the waning moon in the month of Phalguna appeared a pillar of light (having neither beginning nor end), shining like billions of Sun. And that day is celebrated as Mahashivaratri.
Celebrated every year in the Hindu month of Phalgun, Mahashivaratri is of the most spiritual significance. Although this celebration is rooted in the Shaivism tradition of Hinduism, its true meaning is full of mystery and has universal significance for people of all faiths. It offers an individual a possibility to experience Self-realization (one's own blissful nature). Astrologically, Maha Shivaratri is the time when cosmic stars and planets are positioned in a manner that promotes spiritual illumination.
Let us celebrate “Shivratri” in its true spirit by understanding its actual meaning and significance. It is vital to understand who Shiva is and what 'Ratri' (night) really means.
The word "Shiva" denotes the name of the innermost Self/Spirit/Consciousness, which exists in all beings. In other words, your true nature is called Shiva.
Please note that Shiva means Consciousness, but the word "Ratri" does NOT mean the night. The deep sleep state is the real "Ratri" in the word "Shivaratri." There exists bliss in the deep sleep state but without remaining awake in this state, how can one ever know what this bliss is? Therefore, Jagran (remaining awake) in the deep sleep state is the main requirement of the MahaShivaratri celebration. In fact, Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the state of being fully awake in deep sleep.
The best way to celebrate Mahashivaratri is to repeat the mantra in each in-breath and out-breath. The mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" means I am Shiva. Shiva denotes the name of the innermost Self/Consciousness/Awareness, which exists in all beings at all times in all places. Shiva exists within and without. Shiva is divine Consciousness, and God is the same Consciousness.
The mantra Om Namah Shivaya has five syllables in Sanskrit [Om is not counted because it is not a syllable]. "Om" sound is the seed of all mantras. Every syllable has its own power. "Na" represents earth. "Ma" represents water. "Śi" represents fire. "Vā" represents air. "Ya" represents ether. Since a human body is made up of the five elements -- earth, water, air, fire, and ether, it is purified when repeating the said mantra. Have you ever thought that the human body consists of 72% water, 12% earth, 6% air, 4% fire and 6% ether? The proportion of salt to water in the body is the same as in the ocean.
To whom does Om Namah Shivaya refer to? It refers to your own Spirit/being. While repeating the mantra, be aware that Shiva is the Spirit that lives right within your body. "Namah" (bow) means your mind surrenders to the Spirit within, thus becoming one with the Spirit.
How to repeat this great mantra? Without being fully aware that there is no difference between the mantra and your own Spirit, the repetition of the mantra will not be effective. So repeat Shivaya by identifying yourself as Shiva. This unity awareness is essential.
To repeat this mantra, you don't need any ritual, auspicious time, or special place. This supremely powerful mantra destroys all your sins. Everybody - a woman or a man, a child or an old individual, good or bad, can repeat this great mantra.
Please note, there are two types of mantras, one live/conscious (called chaitanya in Sanskrit) and the other, dead (jad in Sanskrit). A mantra when given specifically to a person or a group of people by a Self-realized being who has actualized the mantra is considered “live.” A mantra that is either found or given by someone who has not actualized the mantra would be considered “dead.” The live mantra gets its power from the lineage of spiritual masters that have repeated it and passed it down through the guru-disciple relationship. There are many mantras but the one given to a disciple by a master is that which bears fruit and brings the disciple to the source of the mantra, the disciple’s own innermost Self/Spirit. Always repeat the live mantra ONLY.