June 1, 2021
I hope this finds you well coming through the Memorial Day weekend, both with a renewed sense of some normalcy with family and friends and just some time to refresh. I spent much of the weekend reading and preparing for our Session on Natarajar tomorrow, which will be more storytelling and myth than has been. There's so much more and tomorrow will take you through some of the essentials of the mythology and imagery with clarity and care. More about that in a moment.
When I really take a break I read things like some folks eat comfort food. I have comfort reading and my list is actually kinda’ short---Mahabharata, the Iliad, Tolkien, and Patrick O’Brian. I drop in on Rilke, Dickenson, Keats, and the Bard too. Actually, there are a lot of things that bring me comfort when I’m especially tired of thinking about “now how am I going to describe or explain that.” I’m thinking of you when I think about putting things to words whereas my pure comfort reading invites me merely soak in the familiarity, like a plate of momma's pasta: I let Tolkien or O’Brian do all the work and I just enjoy listening, whether reading or actually listening. But when I think about what most draws me to my versions of “comfort” in any of these works it is that all of them have one or another kind of tandava that comes from the heart of Rudra and Kali. Lemme ‘splain some.
Tandava is the dance of possession, it’s when you gotta’ move and that your movement, inside and out, physically and emotionally, when the whole of your being is wholly involved, thoroughly engaged. Tandava is samadhi without the chill. You see we associate the word samadhi with calm and equanimity, and in the Patanjali-sense of yoga with the idea of release, attenuation of movement, with nirodha or ceasing. But we Rajanaka as the children of the non-binary Natarajar think of samadhi as calm rage, as a fury of deeply focused passion and care and intense concentration, at once deliberate and spontaneous, something that is calculated but wholly uncontained by the purity of its being “born together” (sahaja) with no second thought required.
Tandava is Rajanaka’s reinterpretation of samadhi, not as the relinquishment of passion or feeling but rather a mind not released from thought, a whole person making the deepest connection with all that we can feel and think. We arrive at equanimity because there is so much attention paid (hence the place where consciousness (-dhi in Sanskrit) is in same-ness (sama-, thus samadhi). The ancient Rudra is blood red with passion and howling at the moon but as calm as Alec Guinness as George Smiley or Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kali Ma, well, she’s the momma who never loses her cool even as the blood drips and the demons piss with fear. You get the picture. But in both we see the proto-tandava, the elemental passion and thought, the care directed towards being as cool as Toshiro Mifune doing his samurai schtick and as furious as the unexpected tsunami, tha afternoon in Tokyo when a really ticked off Gozilla decides to make an appearance. Unleashed calm may seem paradoxical but that is precisely the point.
Now Frodo and Sam are running towards the fire. O’Brian’s Aubrey reminds us dozens of times “there is not a moment to lose.” Achilles may be taking his time to enter the fray---and it does take the death of Patroclus to get bring him to his turning point and who has ever had more patience with the nihilists than the heroic Yudhisthira of the Pandava? But in every case there’s that tandava thing: an inexorable calling from the heart to bring into motion the intentions and actions that must be engaged now, because there is a past and the need for a better future. What is calculated is spontaneous, what is chosen is made to look effortless but that is because virtuosity is making something difficult look easy. Worthwhile things are hard things and the “trick” is no trick at all, it is to make it all appear seamless even when flawed, decisive because doubt is now another empowerment, anxiety isn’t under control but neither is it controlling: the dance goes on and you have to decide whether you’re in or sitting it out.
Now sitting it out isn’t rest or taking a break or recovery---sitting it out is abdication, apathetic, inattentive, or passive and that is the unwholesome opposite of tandava. We need to become as persevering and diligent in the power of rest as we are engaged in the fight. Learning to rest may well be harder even than rising to the occasion of the activity because rest is work. Yup, think about it. If rest isn’t a critical aspect of our work then we have reduced rest to procrastinating, to the languid and indifferent. Now all of those things happen to everyone too so let’s not get too high minded here: the best of us indulge the shadow of rest less than perfectly. It’s only human to make these ordinary “mistakes” and it’s the job of yoga not to punish or merely admonish ourselves for making them but rather to figure out how to live in greater salubrity. Living with yourself is life’s most challenging privilege.
In today’s NY Times there’s an interesting piece called “How to Take a Break.” I can’t say I endorse or agree to all of the proposals in this article but it does raise the important issue, which is that we humans need time to rest and need to make rest a part of our lives as important as any work. As I’ve already said, I don’t think of rest as the opposite of work but rather both active and restful time as integrated into a life of purpose and meaning. Just how you do this for yourself is crucial. It too is tandava, as the Rajanaka call it.
I’ve had some rest this week and my focus and passion has improved over the last two days. I mean I can notice the effects of an efficacious “downtime,” even if that’s nothing more than a power nap. Oh and here’s the link to the Times bit: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/29/business/dealbook/quality-work-breaks.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
TOMORROW, we resume the Wednesday Course on Natarajar, Tillai Koothan, the Dancer of the Amaurosis Forest. We’ll be talking more about tandava of course and about the structure of the mythology and storytelling tradition that brings us more deeply into the yoga, the engagement we need with our hearts, our bodies and minds. I warmly invite you to come. We’re going to tell great stories, the kind that matter, the kind that change your life.
Saprema, with affection,
ps you can find that ^^^course now archived on rajanaka.com.