My prayer time and meditation practice has felt rather stale and empty lately. The emptiness I’m ok with because I want to be emptied of all my silly stories and ego patterns. Yet, even in this necessary spaciousness, I’ve sensed that something essential has been missing, though I could not put my finger on it.
Well, they say that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives. My partner Herb recently gave me a lovely miniature bronze statue of Shiva Nataraja. Nataraja means “Lord of the Dance”. This figure symbolizes the heart of both Hinduism and of our human experience.
The statue depicts the contradictions that define our lives. In Shiva’s upper right hand is a drum that beats the sound from which the universe was born. In his upper left hand is fire, which destroys creation, reminding us of the constant cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. The ring of fire represents everywhere that this dance occurs, which is the whole of the universe. And the statue sits on a lotus flower, symbolizing that the whole of the universe rests in the human heart or consciousness.
What Herb and I find most intriguing is the only moving part: Shiva’s hair. The hair strands winging out to the side of his head look like a halo and are reminiscent of the Biblical character Samson, whose locks gave him great strength. The tradition is that Shiva’s hair, usually wrapped up in a pyramid atop his head, starts to unravel and flails with reckless abandon as the dance becomes wild and ecstatic. He is fully embodied, sensuous, and on fire with life.
Oddly, Shiva’s face is impassive. His expression represents that tranquil nothingness out of which all creation springs, reminding me of the emptiness I’ve been experiencing in meditation. It identifies neither with the joy of creation nor the pain of destruction, but rather holds it all with an accepting perspective. His gaze is eternity; his dance is the temporary, fully-engaged rhumba of the here and now.
I am realizing that this symbol speaks directly to my own spiritual path. I have focused so much on the gaze of eternity, that I’ve been missing the dance of life. Both are essential experiences. So, I’m starting to experiment. My morning devotional time still features quiet, but I’m also incorporating movement, vibrations of a singing bowl, images from my dreams that lead to inner dialogs, St. Francis’ prayer spoken aloud while standing, and the warming beams of the sun’s early rays. The silence and the sensuous are starting to spill over into the rest of my day, enabling me to experience that tango between the infinite and the finite.
While I don’t have any hair to fling wildly in ecstatic dance, I am sensing the drumbeat of the universe in my own heart…and in my spontaneously tapping toe.