Greetings! I hope you’re having a wonderful summer. Although I’m super busy teaching and traveling, I’m having an excellent summer. I just finished teaching the Teacher Renewal and Radiance Gathering at Angel’s Rest Retreat in Leyden, MA. It was incredible! The students were among the most receptive, open-hearted, and compassionate yogis I’ve ever had the honor of being with. We had wonderful asana sessions, deep philosophy, early morning practices, meditation, contemplation, journal writing, kirtan chanting, and therapeutics. In addition, we performed puja (a sacred ritual to honor the five elements), and had some sacred circles of sharing that opened everybody’s heart. The theme of the week was based on the transformative teachings of the Saptah Tandavas (the seven dances of Shiva Nataraja).
Upon returning home I had numerous insights about the Nataraja including the idea that grace is constantly being dispensed. But we are usually asleep to it. Grace is difficult to experience because it’s beyond our senses: can’t see it, smell it, hear it, taste it, or touch it. It’s easy to miss and easy to ignore. Grace is invisible and moves behind the scenes.
What is grace really? Grace is the power of the universe that reveals your true nature which is joy. Grace is responsible for everything that happens. It’s what makes you breathe. It makes the universe function, planets spin, and the sun rise and set. It’s what makes things come into existence, stay a while, and then dissolve back into the cosmos. Grace creates and sustains the entire universe, including all of us.
Within the statue of Shiva Nataraja, it is said that all the secrets of the universe are revealed. After many years of study and contemplation on the Nataraja, I have come to recognize the power of this icon as a metaphor in my life for living a more full, aligned, and joyous life. But specifically pertaining to the idea that grace is constantly flowing, but invisible, there are certain inferences from the statue that this is not only true, but the way life is meant to be.
In Tantra, life reveals itself through secreting itself. The Sanskrit term for this is “rahasya”. The universe is not keeping a secret from you intentionally. But rahasya refers to the idea that there’s more that meets the eye at the surface of life. If you want to know yourself, you have to go deeper. You have to look under the surface of things. Rahasya (concealment) can be explained in another way. Music is music because not all of the notes are played at once. Some notes are played while others are concealed. If all of the notes were played at once, you would get noise! Some of the greatest jazz musicians based their style on this concept. Miles Davis was famous for playing silence. He would time it just right by not playing any notes. Then as if by surprise, he would lay a note out there that was perfectly timed. This in turn would trigger a huge creative response musically from the drummer and other musicians.
Nataraja is dancing upon the back of Apasmara Purusha (the imp of forgetfulness) which represents the ego that forgets it’s part of something bigger. It represents each of us in our individual condition. The ego has the ability to isolate itself from the dance, from others, and from itself, which is the root cause of suffering. This “imp” also represents the Anava Mala (one of three ways we contract our consciousness.) The anava gives us the sense of lack or feeling of “not enoughness”. It’s a feeling and belief of being less than, not full, or full of shame. Shame is the notion that “I am flawed, there’s something wrong with me.”
Here’s the invisible inference. Even through Nataraja stomps down on the ego, he doesn’t kill it. The ego is allowed to live. And what’s really cool is that the eyes of Apasmara Purusha are cast up at Shiva’s lifted foot (Kunchakapada), the lifted foot of grace. There is an invisible thread from the eyes of the ego to grace which, to me, brings a very positive message of hope and that in spite of our struggles, everything is okay. And that within our struggles are the answers we seek. It’s only through the limit that we come to experience our limitless nature. What’s more, the entire dance of Nataraja is balanced on the back body of the Anava Mala. What this says to me is that YOU are the point the universe has been trying to make. Ego is the way the universe experiences itself in you as you. Although the ego can separate itself from grace, when aligned with grace, it becomes a powerful force for good.
Another symbol of invisible grace is in Nataraja’s lower left arm. This is the arm of concealment (Nigraha) which crosses in front of Shiva’s heart. However, his lower right hand is in the Abhaya Mudra, a consoling mudra which means, “Have no fear.” Even though your heart is concealed, it’s okay. It’s supposed to be that way. Chill out! Without concealment, revelation could not happen. Likewise, the joy of remembering your true nature can only happen if you forget. This is known as the blessing of forgetfulness.
In the tantra it is known that in the journey of yoga whenever something gets revealed to you, or you have an insight, there is always 75% concealed. We can only know 25% of anything. We live primarily in a universe of mystery. And you might think that as you get older you will accumulate more knowledge and catch up to the 75% that’s concealed. However, not so because the universe continues to expand and accelerate. You will never catch up. Best you can do is know what you can know and embrace what you can’t. Have no fear!
For me, this is such a loving teaching because having moments of perfectionism, which I sometimes do, knowledge of this teaching frees me up. I often think I should know more than I do. Knowing that I can only know 25% of anything, makes me relax and accept that I’m okay just as I am.
Finally, even though the Nigraha arm conceals the heart, which we all experience from time to time by building walls around our heart to protect ourselves against pain, the hand of that arm forms the Dola Mudra, which is a pointing mudra that points down to the Kunchakapada, lifted foot of grace. So even though you are concealed, confused, or scared, grace is the answer. Concealment is the reason grace exists.
I encourage you to keep dancing throughout this beautiful season when the sun is at its highest angle. Please consider taking a course with me at Kripalu this summer Aug. 12-14, or attend my In-Depth Yoga Therapy Training, Aug. 25-28 in Atlanta, GA, or Nov. 10-13 in Arlington, MA. I’ll also be teaching at a beautiful retreat site in West Virginia Sept. 9-11.
If you really want to explore the in-depth teachings of tantra philosophy and the Ashaya method, please come to my Ashaya Yoga 200-Hour Teacher Training course starting Sept. 21 in Bethlehem, PA. We offer a 50% discount for repeaters and $300 off for teachers who’ve taken a 200-Hour Yoga Alliance approved training before. I look forward to seeing you.