Shiva Nataraja Dances for More Than Just Ecstasy!

The Tantra Immersion: Path of Radical Affirmation at Kripalu Center a couple weekends ago, was a huge success! I co-taught with three world-renowned scholars of religion, Douglas Brooks, Bill Mahony, and Constantina Rhodes. It was such an honor and life-transforming experience for me. I am grateful to all those who attended and served to make this a great event!

During the Immersion, much light was shed on the dance of Shiva Nataraja. I learned about a series of myths that portrays Shiva’s dark side. At first, I was very sad and disappointed to learn that Shiva had a shadow. I said to myself, “Who, Shiva, the great light of consciousness? He is perfect. How could he mess up?” But as Douglas Brooks taught, Shiva goes to the forest which represents the place of shadow and light and all things twisted. The forest is the place of deep reflection and integration of the nature of life in that you cannot control it. Though you can make plans and have a vision for your life, you cannot control how those plans will play out. I remember a joke from years ago, “If you want to make God laugh, just show him your plans.” This particular myth had everyone on the edge of their zafus wanting to know what comes next. The myth was better than any season TV drama you could stream on Netflix!

One of my insights is that the forest represents life’s authenticity – the place that houses our truest experience of not only the victory of the light, but also the deepest darkest places of the heart. Remember one of Shiva’s arms crosses his heart which represents that the heart (and life) is partially concealed. […]

We Live In a Call and Response Universe of Grace

Just like most kirtans (Sanskrit chanting session) that have a call and response rhythm, (the leader chants a line of the chant by him/herself followed by the group responding by chanting back the same line), we are in a constant call and response rhythm with grace. Sometimes grace calls and you respond, and other times you call, and grace responds.

What I’ve noticed lately is that grace is constantly being dispersed. But I’m almost always asleep to it. Last week was different. I began noticing how grace was absolutely working in my life. The more instances of grace I became aware of, the more I observed that grace truly is happening in every moment, not just to me, but to everyone.

The key to following your heart and having a spiritual connection to life, is having a deep-seated belief that grace is happening all of the time. If I could just tune into it all of the time, my life would probably go a lot smoother, or at least I would enjoy the cosmic joke or Lila (Lila in Sanskrit means play, sport, or game). What is great about this idea is that the Tantric tradition considers life a dance, a play, or a Lila. In fact, the universe is constantly playing a game of hide-and-seek with us every day. This is why I try not to judge myself when I sleep through a grace moment or forget that I’m divine. If I never forgot my connection to source, I wouldn’t have the joy of remembering!

Last week there were several distinct moments of grace that turned my world around. I got a new title for my car which requires a new registration and new plates. I […]

Shiva Nataraja: Navigating the Cycles of Life

As I was offering puja (a ritual of devotion) this morning to Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Cosmic Dance), I reflected on the great wisdom this deity represents. I pay homage to these teachings by offering various elements of the heart like flowers, rice, water, a candle flame, fruit, and incense. Afterwards I always feel refreshed. The puja is a way to restart and clear the past to begin again from a place of wholeness and positive vision. It’s like pressing the life-reset button.
Imp of Forgetfulness
Nataraja, standing on one foot on the back of the “imp of forgetfulness” (Apasmara Purusha), or the ego (that’s us!), does not kill the ego. He permits it to live. He just keeps it at bay under the foot of the dance of the universe. The deeper symbolism is that the entire universe is dancing on the “back body” of your ego. (Remember that your back body is where the universal hangs out. You cannot see your back body. It’s the mystery of life.) Your ego provides the dance floor for grace. Hmmm. That’s interesting. Maybe I need my ego. Yes, that is correct. Tantra teaches that YOU matter. What you think, say, and do is really important. The universe helps those who help themselves. Grace requires effort to be received. “The winds of grace are always blowing. But you have to set the sails.” Sri Ramakrishna.

The imp has his eyes cast upward to the lifted foot of grace above him. As long as your ego is aligned with grace and you remember the bigger energy (basically you remember your heart and the deeper purpose of what it’s all about), you will thrive. Either way, whether you align or […]

Freedom & Bliss

The temperature was a perfect 32º F, at 1:30 p.m., crystal blue sky and sunny. I had on my red and black ski shirt with one layer underneath and a single layer pant. Wearing my red headband and my new Smith sun glasses, I held my skate ski poles firmly in my hands in disbelief, skis on, standing in front of the lodge at my favorite place to ski, Notchview Reservation in Windsor, MA, ready to go. “Could I do it?” “Would I have to go slowly?” “Would I be in pain?” I was about to find out…

My heart thumped with the exuberance of a teenager. I was so excited to try out my new hip on skate skis. My smile broke ear to ear and off I went. A little timid at first, I was amazed – no pain. As I warmed up after a few minutes I began to dig in as I loved to do before my bone-on-bone hip a few years ago. Having skied since age five, my body knew exactly what to do. It was second nature. I gathered up speed and roared down the trail, down hills, up hills and around turns, whizzing by people, dominating the trail with authority and prowess! I am back! My hip is back!

After a quick 45 minute sprint, I returned to the lodge glowing more brightly than I can remember. I told everyone I saw, “I just skate skied for the first time with my new hip!” “Congratulations”, they exclaimed back to me. My joy was contagious. As I walked into the lodge a woman asked me how the skiing was. She told me I had the glow of great conditions. I […]

Release Blame & Bring Comfort

I sometimes think in my fantasy I am a transcended yogi free of blame and suffering. But that’s not true. I had an experience recently that revealed to me how quick I am to assign blame.

Somehow if I can blame someone for something that’s irritating me, it justifies my discomfort. I feel righteous in some way that reduces the pain of guilt or shame. It seems silly to think that projecting anger toward someone or something is a way of unburdening myself. But really, does that help? Does blame unburden anyone? Well, yes, in the short term but never in the long term. Blame is a way of venting pain or discomfort in an attempt to quickly relieve myself of the pain, hurt, anger, embarrassment, or humiliation. It’s an attempt to solve the problem quickly so that I can get on with my life. (Code for skimming over my pain and not embracing my shadow as though life should only feel good always.) This isn’t anyone’s fault. Our nervous system is wired for moving toward pleasure and resisting pain. This is a survival mechanism we absolutely need.

But there is another way to deal with discomfort. It’s yogic: hold the posture and breath into the pain. In asana practice, we are encouraged to go to our edge of discomfort, pause, breathe into it, become aware, release and let go of tension or self-judgment, and try to bring comfort to our discomfiture. Yoga is the life training to “hold the pose” of the unknown and the uncomfortable momentarily before doing anything, deciding anything, or assigning blame.

This moment of awareness is the gap, like the space between two trapeze bars. If you can put a space between […]