Thursday, August 6, 2009

making the rakshabandha

Today is the full moon of the month of Shravana, the August full moon, which belongs to the goddess Sarasvati who is wisdom and learning, art and the gifts of the heart come to form in the embodied grace of recognition. It’s also Rakhi Day, especially important in north India as the celebration of sisters for their brothers, the bond of affection and of hope appearing in the rakhi, a bracelet tied to the wrist. There’s a sweetness and simplicity to Rakhi Day and, truth to tell, it fosters no great body of reflection in the sources of the yoga tantra. But an occasion to savor the grace of protection is always welcome. In Sanskrit, it is raksha-bandha, the bond of protection. And I will spare you here the long etymology I am so fond of explaining that I do it again and again, the one that takes you from the Sanskrit verbal root raksh- all the way to bagels and lox. Everything is connected. Sometimes the route bends in ways that can make us smile all the way down to the bottom of our being.

Of course, in the customary sense in India the connection of sisters to brothers reflects not only the bonds of immediate sibling affection but of a girl’s hope that when she leaves the natal home her brother will continue to be her advocate with her new family, he securing that privilege by being the helpful and always near maternal uncle. In youth particularly the rakhi is a sign that hope always brings with it vulnerability but that hope invites us to welcome rather than dread the unknown that lies over the horizon of our present recognition. We turn to those we can count on and remind ourselves what in life really counts. Rakhis tell a story of relationship in time, mark a place, and offer another way to find our identity. With the rakhi we say, “I have been there for you and I will be there again. I am with you here, now. And we are bound to one another, like this.” Could anything be more human?

The relationship that emerges in maternal uncles, that person who we call in Tamil “maamaa”, extends far beyond the boundaries of kinship ---for any close family friend or even helpful acquaintance might be called “uncle.” And the same is true of “aunties”--- one has so many “maamee-s”, thank goodness. That some are very dear and others less is clear only in the relationship itself but the notion is rooted in the same hope: we protect one another when we can create a boundary and know how to reach across it. What counts too is the acknowledgement ---so the bracelet---and the effort to make that connection mutually with a sign of affection, and in this month tied to the wrist.

We hear a great deal in yoga about non-attachment, about loosening the bonds to the mortal, limited, and conditioned experience of our humanity so that we might taste the immortal, unlimited, and unconditioned. But I think in Rakhi Day we have a chance to hold closer to the mid-line that joins the two and brings us closer to the gift of embodiment, to that place where these feelings and concerns can come together, where they co-mingle. For what better experience is there in our embodied, temporal lives than those occasions, conditioned as they are, when we are given the chance to remember, to reflect, and to recognize the presence of the unconditional? And how important it is that we bring those unconditional feelings of affection into the life we are really living with others, in bonds of relationship that mean to protect one another? Look out for each other. It’s not a complex message but like most of the important ones, it’s not always as easy as it appears. I’ve always loved that there was a day just for this, where we can celebrate an innocence of heart that reminds us we are bound to each other by the choices we make to do just that: look out for each other, be present for each other, and remember that everyone longs for that connection to be real, the one that goes straight to the heart. Happy Rakhi Day!