Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Living Wisdom of Mirabai

Mom canceled our plans to go to a Patrick Ball concert last night, because she had been to see the Living Wisdom School play the night before and was so impressed she wanted to see it again with me. So we went to that, and I'm more than happy that we did. I would recommend that everyone go see it, except that last night was the final show.

Every year, LWS puts on an original play about the life of a great spiritual figure. In the past they've done Buddha, Jesus, Moses, St. Francis, Martin Luther King Jr., Kuan Yin, Yogananda, and others. This year it was Mirabai, a 16th century "mystic poet princess of India." I'd never known much (well, anything) about her, nor have I ever been particularly interested in devotional poetry such as she wrote, but this was a wonderful way to learn. What really struck me, though, was an overall sense of how truly uplifting the whole production was for everyone involved -- actors and audience alike.

The cast is made up of about 60 kids, ages 4 through 14. A few of the larger roles are played by more than one child -- there were five Mirabais, for instance, who would sometimes take scenes individually and sometimes work together (it sounds odd, but made sense in practice). This probably makes it easier for the littler kids to make it through a full length play, but it also lets more of them have more types of roles. And nearly everyone had multiple roles, even if they weren't Mirabais. The way Mom put it, this gives everyone a chance to experience lots of different ways of being -- they can express their royal nature, their devotional nature, their warrior nature, their peacock nature, etc., one right after the other. It's like the karmic actors concept I wrote about recently, but compressing multiple lifetimes into a single play.

And a lot of these kids really rose to the occasion in their roles. The three primary Mirabais, all age 10, were especially impressive. They tended to look kind of like you'd expect awkward 10-year-olds in costume to look, but it was amazing what they put into their performances once they started speaking. The smallest of these, in particular, had such a powerful presence that she seemed to be just absolutely channeling Mirabai herself when she was reciting some of the poems. Another of them sang a song in some Indian language, which of course I couldn't understand, but which was just so heart-achingly beautiful that I couldn't do anything but stare at her and cry the whole way through.

Of course, watching all of the kids was an absolute delight. They're all wonderful and they're all putting so much of themselves into such a good work that it's impossible not to just sit there and love them. Even crying through Mirabai's song, even during the treacherous or tragic parts of the plot, I just had an immense grin on my face and in my heart the whole time. And I realized that this is giving us a glimpse -- on a human scale -- of the sort of love God must have for us. We may be acting out all sorts of wonderful or ridiculous things here on Earth, being a priest in this lifetime or scene, and a warrior in the next. But He loves the souls behind all that, just like we love the children doing the acting, and a constant sense of joy and love permeates everything as the true core of what's going on.

I'll leave you with one of Mirabai's poems. Perhaps not the most typical of them, but the one that still makes me laugh when I think of the five little girls in blue dresses up on stage, reciting the last lines together.

Mira Knows Why
The earth looked at Him and began to dance.
Mira knows why, for her soul too
Is in love.
If you cannot picture God
In a way that always
Strengthens you,
You need to read
More of my poems.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Karmic Actors, and Forgiveness

I've recently been listening to a lot of Asha Praver's talks and classes, which are all available to download from the Ananda website. A couple of points really caught my attention as a very elegant description of, well, everything that truly needs to be summed up:
  1. The spiritual path is a continual process of becoming aware of and understanding the laws of cause and effect at progressively subtler levels. I find this fascinating for the sheer range of human experience it covers, i.e. all of it -- from a clueless jerk who doesn't understand why nobody likes him, to a guru who can describe the karmic path of your soul across lifetimes.
  2. This learning is part of the overall quest to seek joy and avoid suffering. This sounds like a rather selfish cause, and at a lot of the lower levels it does manifest that way, but the point is that you eventually realize that only divine joy and not worldly joy will really achieve this fully. So it's okay. :-)
In the course of this quest, our souls try to have literally* every possible experience, trying to figure out what will make us actually, lastingly happy. The more we do so, the more we learn and the more we evolve spiritually. Paramhansa Yogananda teaches that if we have no desire to do a particular thing (e.g. commit murder) that is only because we have done it enough in the past that we've learned it doesn't work. And absolutely everything that people do, including both committing murder and being murdered, is a continuation of this learning process.

I like this because I try to make a habit of learning whatever I can from whatever happens in life, whether good or bad. But it also has important implications for the topic of forgiveness, which I think is a major lesson that's been trying to work its way through my life for some time now. David Praver spoke about this at the service today, specifically about just accepting whatever comes as being for our own ulitmate good, learning, and enlightenment.

This isn't to just completely condone any and all actions, of course. If someone hurts me, I should still find the best way to resolve the situation, and not just give up and take it. If I'm being cruel to someone else, I shouldn't justify it, but try to catch myself in it and make a change. But I suppose that's because I've already had -- somewhere in the past -- the experiences of just giving up, or of being mercilessly cruel, and now I'm ready to start doing better.

The important point in terms of forgiveness is to recognize the essential role other people play in this process, even if it seems horrendous or hurtful. Tormentor and victim are each going through their own necessary experiences, while at the same time acting as a foil for the other. And they will each flip and take on different roles for different experiences, if not in this lifetime then in another. A movie wouldn't be very interesting without a villain for some conflict, even though that actor isn't inherently an evil person and may play the hero in the next movie.

Deepak Chopra makes this point beautifully at the very end of Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment (a parallel to his Buddha book that I wrote about previously). The narrator is an old Himalayan yogi who met Jesus and has been sharing his story with us:

Sometimes I went to the bright line etched between this world and that. I met Jesus there. We never talked but simply bathed in the radiance that conquers all illusions.

I didn't tell Thomas about these journeys. He would have believed me. But he never would have believed that Jesus brought Judas along.

"You are a great soul," I told Judas. "You were willing to play the villain on earth. You must love Jesus very much."

Judas was modest about accepting praise. All he would say was, "The earth is God's child. How could I not help a child?" It was understood among us that without Judas, there couldn't be this new thing, Christianity.
[pg 249]

Isn't that a glorious way to look at Judas? "You must love Jesus very much." May we all aspire to see that level of good in everyone around us.

- - - - -
* This is one of those things that is easier if you accept the idea of reincarnation, but which still conceptually "works" even if you restrict it to just one lifetime. For instance, I've at various times noticed myself in one relationship acting out the reverse role of the same issue from a previous relationship. Even if one role felt very foreign to me, it was as if some part of myself had to check, and try it out, just to make sure.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Waltzing in Bozeman

After the Dance Lacey and I flew out to Bozeman, Montana this weekend to visit Antonia for her birthday. (And in the process, met Keri, another visiting friend who, it turns out, lives just a few blocks from me.)

I must admit that I was moderately terrified of leaving comfy California for somewhere with highs that barely cross freezing temperature. But it turned out to be not too bad. Going to the Norris hot springs at night was quite a contrast, though. It's very daunting to change into a bathing suit in 20° weather and make the scurry over to the warm water. (Which you want to go into slowly because of the dramatic temperature change, but also quickly to get out of the cold.) Then your body gets all cozy but your head is sticking out in the freezing air. Golly. But the core warmth stays with you for a while afterwards, which is really nice.

Apple Pie We spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the weekend. In addition to actual meals, we made oatmeal raisin cookies, brownie bites, an apple pie, several lemon cheesecakes, and perhaps other stuff I've forgotten already. Most of these were snacks for Sunday's event. Oh, and Antonia has the most wonderful gigantic drawer of tea. It's an absolute delight to behold and sample from.

Cross-step Waltz Lesson On Sunday night we had the "excuse" for the whole visit: Bozeman's first ever Waltz Night. Antonia has always liked Friday Night Waltz out here in the Bay Area, and has been wanting to take the concept out to Montana for a long time. So she organized it all and I agreed to help by teaching a cross-step waltz lesson and DJing.

Me and Antonia It was a very satsifyingly successful dance. Not a huge group for what I'm used to, but for a smaller town and a brand-new event, it was very good. We had contra dancers and tango dancers and ballroom dancers all show up, and we did the usual FNW sort of mix of dances, plus a contra and a circle mixer. The last waltz was fun, too, since we developed an amoeba of about 9 or 10 people that found several amusing ways to all dance with Antonia at once. A lot of folks thanked us for running it and seemed very happy about it overall, which made us all glad.

After the dance, we had a celebratory late night "dinner," which in my case consisted mostly of ice cream and cheesecake. Which didn't help me sleep much last night. Which in turn made it harder to get up at 5AM for the plane flight this morning. So I'm probably going to go to bed soon....