I’ve done a ton of intense serious sadhana (spiritual practice) over the course of my heart path. Changing my life-conditioning, letting go of self-limiting concepts of not enoughness, releasing imprints of worry and fear, all of which takes a lot of hard work. I’ll admit that there have been periods of time during intense practice that I was not a happy camper. I was seriously going after the unreachable enlightenment. Or shall I say the unreachable “fantasy of enlightenment” that only created more pain and suffering.
It wasn’t until one of my teachers gave a Satsanga (gathering in the company of truth) entitled, “Seriousness is the highest crime in the court of god!” This teaching stopped my heart for a moment. What? Seriousness is a spiritual crime? Combined with the Tantric teaching of Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Cosmic Dance), I realized that perhaps I was taking my spiritual practices and this whole thing a little too seriously.
Something clicked inside of me. Suddenly I became more open to having fun. I so longed for laughter, lightheartedness, and joy. This teaching shifted my perspective on everything. I started looking for joy. I started looking for lightheartedness. And I found it. I remembered that when growing up, my dad was such a comedian. He could crack me up with a simple facial expression of raising his upper lip on one side only. His silly sense of humor uplifted my spirit when I was down, and I enjoyed doing things with him. He was fun to be around because he enjoyed life.
During a meditation recently, I opened my heart to joy and images of my childhood flashed before my eyes. I was flooded with memories of laughter, joy, and silliness which was a big part of my life. Somehow though, when I first began my spiritual practice, all of that disappeared. I had forgotten my joy.
Tantra is about embracing and celebrating the full spectrum of our being. This idea is beautifully expressed in the teachings of the Navarasas (Nine Rasas). A rasa is an emotion, but it’s more than that. It’s like a flavor. Rasa actually means juice, taste, or flow. It’s the practice of being in the flow of life, being open to our emotions, and to the experience of life, to taste life and savor it. Mastering the rasas is like being a connoisseur of life.
As we study the Eight Attributes of the Absolute in the March Pillars of Peace monthly classes, we’ll open to the understanding that these attributes of the universe are really the attributes of our highest self. One of the eight attributes is Ananda which means ecstatic bliss and joy. Ananda is the reason Nataraja is dancing. He’s so electrified with Shakti (his consort) and his own ecstatic nature, that he can’t sit still. He must dance! He dances for joy! He dances the eternal rhythms of the universe into existence. His dance is what creates the universe. It’s what creates him. He is the dance and the dance is creating him all at the same time.
Hasya, one of the Navarasas, means laughter, joy, happiness, or lightheartedness, and it corresponds to Ananda. In my experience, Hasya is easily forgotten in the presence of other more pressing and serious endeavors like earning a living, taking care of an elderly parent, taking care of yourself, or doing a spiritual practice. All of these things are important and necessary, but not at the expense of Hasya.
I’ve been trying to bring more lightheartedness into my life. Just this morning I taught a class that I call “Funky Monkey.” It’s a class I teach in Pillars of Peace once a month to lighten things up. I put on my favorite jazz/rock/funk music and we move. I had so much fun today rocking out in Warrior Lunge Pose, doing the Funky Monkey Plank Pose, the Cat/Cow Jiggle, and Ecstatic Abs Core Workout! I focus on the rhythm of the music and then just move, guided from within. It’s fun! We all move together bringing dance movements into each posture and then once in a while we break out into wild free dancing. It’s such a celebration of life. After the class I felt inspired, energized, and much lighter. My heart opened and I felt the presence of grace in me and all around me.
Taking time each day to give yourself some joy is a very healthy practice. When you smile, laugh, and do something fun, you release the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Ultimately, laughter opens your heart and reduces stress. Happiness makes you forget your troubles, even if only for a moment, so that your nervous system can recharge and regroup.
All that’s needed to bring more joy into your life is to set your intention for joy. When you allow yourself to look for the good, you’ll find it. Look for what’s funny or amusing in life and you’ll see it. Read a joke book. Watch a funny movie. Listen to one of the late-night comedian monologues. Or, have a nonsensical conversation with someone - anything to crack a smile. It’s good for your health and good for your body, mind, and heart. I look forward to seeing you on the mat. Maybe you’ll join me for the next Funky Monkey Class?
Namaste (pronounced, Naaaaa I’m Gonna Stay!), Todd and the Ashaya Yoga Team