Shiva as the Lord of Dance


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 misalign, you are part of the dance of the Lord. This imp of forgetfulness is the representation of who we are when we forget that we are connected to the universe of all possibilities. Suffering is the result of forgetfulness. When you remember that grace has your back and that challenges only come when you are ready to rise up, you have a shift. You are both the imp and the dance of Nataraja. We are both human and divine simultaneously.

I practice to remember. I chant to remember. I am kind to others because we are all connected. How I act toward you is the reflection of how I am acting toward myself.

Cycles of Life: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva

Brahma: Creation

During puja this morning what stole my attention was the upper level of the statue where Nataraja’s two upper arms and hair form the cycles of life. In his upper right hand, he holds the damaru, a two-sided drum. This represents, Brahma the creator and the beginning of a cycle. The drum makes a tick-tock-tick-tock sound like a clock symbolizing that time is always ticking. Time moves forward. There is an urgency in that time on the relative plane is limited. The two sides of the drum are the spanda (pulsation) of life, or the heart throb representing the paradox of life. Two opposite things are always happening at the same time. For life to be sustained, the heart must contract and expand, the breath must come in and go out.

Vishnu: Sustenance

Directly left of his right arm is Nataraja’s hair (dread locks) which is horizontal. Shiva’s face is still but he vibrates with so much Shakti (life-force) or ecstasy, his hair flies out horizontally. His head is still, like when a bicycle wheel spins so fast it appears still – the paradox of two opposite things happening at the same time.

Shiva’s hair also represents the middle of the cycle – Vishnu, the sustainer of life. Shiva’s hair is said to have stopped a devasting flood by filtering the downpour of rain from the heavens into droplets of water. We have the capacity to live a moderate life of balance and freedom by not trying to do everything all at once. Through allowing the natural cycle of things to play out, we move through life with patience and an inner state of calm.

In addition, the droplets of water represent our capacity to savor the experience of life one moment at a time and to master our emotions such that we cultivate the capacity to feel our feelings a little at a time, rather than drowning in them all at once.

Shiva: Dissolution

In Nataraja’s upper left hand burns the agni, fire of transformation. This light not only burns and dissolves what holds you back in life, it illumines the path forward. In the middle of the night if you get up and you turn the light on, you can walk around the furniture rather than tripping over what you can’t see. When you are able to let go of something that has finished its natural cycle, you gain insight and wisdom that guides you into the next cycle.

In essence, the fire represents the fact that everything ends and comes to a natural conclusion, including our precious lives. However, when viewed from a higher wisdom, isn’t it true that whatever ends makes space for something new to arise? And if you cling to the past, you prevent the future from evolving? Are there ever any endings then? Well, in Tantra, the answer is yes and no.

Embrace Duality and Nonduality

Tantra embraces both duality and nonduality. There are, in fact, beginnings and endings that are real. And at the same time in nonduality, there is a oneness that connects everything to everything else. There are breaks in time between cycles. In the nondual you know that endings bring new beginnings and that the essence of life keeps going. Death is the continuation of life. Only the form changes.

We live within the cycles of life. Every day up and down. Every day the sun rises and sets. Tantra is about becoming really good at going up and down, without losing connection to your center. When you resist the ups and downs, you suffer. In Tantra, instead of resisting the natural ebb and flow of life, align with it. When you align with the natural cycles of life, you go to your heart where you recognize the steady essence of all that is beneath the ups and downs. Your true nature, revealed to you experientially, is the spacious luminosity of joy. Living in this knowing is the essence of the practice of yoga. When you are there, you will respond to life in more effective, efficient, and meaningful ways that bring about the highest experience for yourself and others.

So, when you feel limited, stuck, negative, sad, or hopeless, remember that there’s no real problem. You have simply forgotten. All you need to do is remember by looking at grace. But that is easier said than done. We have so many layers of stress and burden we carry around all of the time. Yoga helps but you need more than that. You need to understand and shift your perspective platform and try to see with new eyes – the eyes of grace. These eyes are free from doubt and pessimism. These eyes turn obstacles into opportunities, challenge into positive change, and impasse into a rite of passage.

Throw Your Cares To the Wind

Sometimes you just need to throw your cares to the wind. The other day I was so stressed out. It seemed like everything went wrong that day – I woke up with a sore hip, my massage PT appointment cancelled, one of my flights for a future trip changed and made it impossible for me to travel, and I burned my breakfast eggs. By dinner time I had had it. While cooking I put on some wild dance music and just started moving. I serenaded the spatula, spun the salad spinner, and twirled the marinating tofu. I started to have fun. In that moment a memory of a really funny joke entered my head. It was from the comedian Robin Williams who said in one his standup routines, I paraphrase, “We have so much stress in life that we need to take meds like Tylenol, Haldol, Tramadol, or Lustral. But none of these ‘ol’ meds work as well as F###-it-all!” I did my F###-it-all dance and laughed hysterically for two minutes. I felt so much better afterwards. (Here’s the link to the music and video on YouTube, Walk the Moon)

There is a limit to how much you can control. When you begin to feel like you are losing control, that might be a good time to do the F###-it-all dance! Letting go is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. When you let go, you stop pushing and trying so hard. You stop over-controlling the life situation. You become free, even if just for a moment or two.

Appreciate the Natural Cycles

We must appreciate the natural cycles of life. Nataraja dances the eternal rhythms of the universe into existence. These rhythms create a continuous repetitive cycle of beginning, middle, and ending –  the stages of every experience. Mastery is to locate which part of the cycle you are in and accept it. You need to see if you are attached. If you don’t want something to end, like a really good book, you get attached. But as we all know, everything must end. But are endings really endings or are endings really beginnings in disguise? Nataraja would say that both are true.

I invite you to shift your perspective platform to embrace both the dualistic view – we have beginnings and endings, as well as the nondual view – there are no real endings because after the ending occurs a new beginning always emerges, by registering for one of my upcoming programs. I look forward to seeing you there.