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 can’t always see what is coming. Nor can we always see what is churning deep within our psyche. But Shiva’s other hand is Abhaya Mudra (Have no fear) symbolic of hope. With the Abhaya Mudra, Shiva is saying, “Chill out. Life is meant to be the way that it is. Life is a mystery. Concealment is a part of life. Do not let fear stop you from dancing. Don’t let it stop you from fulfilling your dharma.” Fear and shadow are integrated into the dance.
I had to own that even my hero, Shiva, who could do no wrong, who represents the Absolute, makes mistakes. This idea resonates strongly with my personal history of the fall of two of my teachers and communities through scandals of abuse of power. And yet the beauty and freedom these experiences harvested in my life, including the birth of Ashaya Yoga, would have never come about otherwise. I would not be who I am today if it were not for these tragedies. And who could have planned for them?
Now I see that Shiva is even more “human” than I thought. Or perhaps the myth’s deeper teaching is to help all of us recognize that we are divine, that whatever happens on a human level also happens on a divine level. In other words, your humanity is your divinity. The main lesson I received from the Immersion was that Shiva dances for both ecstasy and strife.
The questions that arose for me were: How can I make my dance be about my ability to move through my fears and accept the challenges that come my way? What would be the possibility for my life if I were able to accept the fact that everything changes, and I can’t always stop bad things from happening? Can my dance include the joy that comes when I look fear straight in the eyes and choose not to let my fear or bad things that happen stop me from following my heart?
When I trace my journey back to when I was a jazz professional, who knew that I would become a yogi? Then my transition from becoming a monk to getting married, from living out the rest of my life at the ashram to traveling the world is beyond comprehension. I had no idea any of this would happen. None of us do. This is the mystery within which we all must choose to live.
The myth of Nataraja has helped me so much to continue to follow my heart and make my life a dance – but now it’s not only for the joy and ecstasy, it’s for the strife and shadow too. I continue to grow myself and learn how to align with grace.
May you expand your reasons for dancing to include both ecstasy and strife. This is the path of radical affirmation.