The other day, as I was preparing to go teach my evening yoga class, I had a pow-wow with my older kids to instruct them on what to do for dinner. I mentioned the bread I had just made, the leftover soup in the fridge, making sure that the little kids had enough to eat, and eating sooner than later. The vision I had in my head was of everyone sitting down at the table to eat soup and bread together.
After I changed my clothes and was back downstairs to gather my mat and guitar I noticed one kid at the table with 3 thick slices of fresh bread smothered with jam, someone scrambling an egg, and another filling a bowl with goldfish crackers.
“What on earth are you doing?!?” I asked in my sweet, calm, collected, perfect mother voice. This was not at all what I had in mind. Not at all. But, I was on a schedule and needed to leave. I used a sweet calm voice to reiterate that the little kids needed to be fed real food and walked out the door.
As I drove to the studio I knew I needed to get a little more centered than I presently was. With a few deep breaths and a silent prayer one of the first Hindu myths I heard in a yoga class came to mind. This may not be a perfectly accurate retelling, but this is what has stuck with me:
A group of monks were meditating in the forest searching for enlightenment and longing for unity with the source of universal power. In dances Shiva with his four arms flailing, making what to the monks sounded like a horrible racket. “Go away crazy man!” they shouted to the god dancing in their midst. And then, they sent a tiger after him to show how adamant they were about chasing him away. Shiva skillfully grabbed hold of the tiger by the scruff of the neck, pulled off its fur coat, wrapped it around his shoulders, and continued with his ecstatic dance. Poisonous snakes were pummeled at him, and again he choreographed them into his dance. Finally, the monks threw fire at the chanting, dancing, god to get him to go away. Shiva took that fire and danced with it— whirling with all of his arms and legs, his serpents and tiger skin, in a ring of fire.
The monks were seeking for awakening, for enlightenment, for unity with the Divine. Their peaceful, centered, focused meditation invited just what they were seeking. A divine presence did come to their meditation circle there in the woods, but it didn’t meet their expectations in any way. They didn’t even recognize the dancing Shiva as a god at all and exhausted every possible avenue they could think of to chase him away or even destroy him.
How often do we get just what we are hoping for, but it doesn’t meet our expectations in any way? How often are our prayers answered, but we fail to recognize the Divine Presence that is whirling in plain sight right in front of us? How often do we chase the very thing we are seeking away by every means possible?
And are we able— like the joyful, dancing Shiva— to take all the crappy things that get hurled at us and incorporate them into the joyful, ecstatic dance of our life? Can we take the attack of the tiger of lost employment, skin it, and wear it proudly? Can we tame the poisonous serpents of the death of a loved one and joyfully chant with them? Can we take the flames of poor health, accident, or anything else that we might think could burn or destroy us and DANCE with it? Can we take those things that seem scary, debilitating, and dangerous that inevitably come as part of this human experience and choreograph them into a life-dance that is thrilling, joyful, and achingly beautiful? Something touched by a divine hand?
As I pulled into the parking lot at the yoga studio I wasn’t too worried anymore about what my kids were eating for dinner. They were safe, happy, and eating exactly what they wanted to. I was getting what I wanted— it just didn’t quite look they way I expected it to.
And I had a perfect story to go with our peak pose of that evening’s classes—the dancer, natarajasana.
If you want to do a practice that leads to natarajansana I have one here for you! Please, give it a try and let me know how it goes.