Saturday, June 02, 2012


I took monastic vows today, accompanied by the assumption of my new spiritual name: Tandava. Neither of these events requires the other, but they go well together. A spiritually meaningful name can act as a beneficial focal point or affirmation, and the change itself is an interesting exercise in non-identification with one of our most identifying aspects: our names. I have to admit also that I simply thought “Brahmachari Graham” sounded a bit dumb, and so if I were ever going to get a spiritual name, it might as well be now. So, with that bit out of the way, there are a lot of interesting things to say about the process and reasoning behind the specific choice.

I first encountered the term “Tandava” earlier this year, when I was learning a chant for the Shivaratri kirtan. The chant goes “Jaya Shiva Shankara, Voom! Voom! Hara Hara / Hara Hara Hara Hara, Voom! Voom! Hara Hara.” I was just absolutely delighted and tickled by the voom-vooms, and mentioned so to Dambara, who informed me that this is the sound made by Shiva’s dance, which is known by the name Tandava.

Fade that into the background, and fast-forward to the night I decided to look for a new name for myself. I went by the library and checked out a dictionary of Sanskrit names. I flipped through it a little bit that night, noticing how it was arranged alphabetically and also in thematic groups. I planned on making a systematic search through it, writing down potential candidates to review later, gradually narrowing down the list, etc. Then I woke up the next morning and had a name. So much for plans. I looked it up to make sure I’d remembered correctly, then the book just sat around on my table for a few weeks until I returned it. I told Asha about the name, and she liked it enough to pass on to Swami Kriyananda, who said it was a beautiful choice and gave it his blessing.

The association with Shiva appeals to me because Shiva is the Mahayogi, the great meditator, but is also active in the world -- it’s his dance that creates, sustains, and finally dissolves all of creation. He dances his Ananda Tandava, a dance of joy, to celebrate and enjoy creation, but he is detached enough even to destroy it all (with the Rudra Tandava) when the time comes. That wholehearted joy and enthusiasm, combined with inner detachment and freedom, is very much what we’re trying to embody at Ananda, and in the Nayaswami order.

The dancing aspect of Shiva is known as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. I had to laugh when I realized that connection. Several years ago, I was given the name Anachoron by Eric, who always assigned new names to friends he referred to on his blog. He explained that it was from the Greek: anax (lord) + choros (dance). He didn’t even know at the time that the melody to “Lord of the Dance” (a.k.a. “Simple Gifts”) had been my personal theme music for years.

And this brings me to why I like the specific connection with dance, which I expand to include all of music, since dancing for me was always just another way of being a musician. I’m not drawn to actually get out and dance much anymore, but it feels right for my name to commemorate the transmutation of it into spiritual qualities. Dance and music gave me a lot of my early experiences with spiritual principles and attitudes, before I even knew I was on the spiritual path.

Attunement is one of the most significant of these principles. I’m reminded of Richard’s “what can you dance to this?” exercise that he would often do at the end of a Social Dance course. He would play a wide variety of music in quick succession, switching from style to style, and from simpler to trickier tempos and rhythms, challenging us to find the right dance for each one. Every time the music tripped us up unexpectedly he would call out “What’s wrong with the music?” to which the correct and resounding answer was always “Nothing!” The music is simply something to attune ourselves to, letting go of whatever we were just doing a moment before, letting go of our expectations, and finding the right way to move our bodies with what’s trying to happen around us. Similarly, the Tandava dance I want to do is not a dance of my own creation, but movement in attunement with God and Guru, whatever music they may play for my life.

In dancing, of course, you don’t have only the music to consider, but your partner and the other dancers on the floor as well. Though trying to express the ideals of the music, you have to bring them into physical manifestation in a practical way. What is your partner’s level of ability, and how can you work with it? How much space do you have to maneuver? How can you adapt creatively to sudden changes and unexpected obstacles on the dance floor? And through all that, how do you maintain your connection to the source of the inspiration? Inspiration naturally changes to a certain extent as it gets “translated” into a physical manifestation, so you have to stay open to seeing how it will work out, and not get fixated on one particular idea.

Dancing this way is an expansion of consciousness. You become intimately aware not only of your partner’s every movement and momentum, but also the enjoyment and ease with which she’s dancing. You get a sense of the dance from her center as well as from yours. Leading and following happen as much by magnetism as by physical movements. Along with the focus on the partner connection, your awareness also spreads out across the dance floor (especially in a traveling dance, like a waltz), to the other dancers, to the musicians. When you have all of this in a perfect flow, the self-consciousness just drops away into a pure, joyful experience.

Dance can also embody the quality of calmness in the midst of even intense activity. Many times in fast waltzes and especially polkas I’ve deliberately slowed and deepened my breathing, centering myself in the spine, even as my feet moved faster and faster. This was a way, I realize now, of focusing and directing my energy precisely where I needed it, as we do in meditation, in the Energization Exercises, and eventually in all of life.

And so that’s some of what I had in mind in choosing “Tandava” as a name and an affirmation for how I’d like to develop: focused energy in meditation and activity, expanded awareness, compassion for others, and a joyfully engaged enthusiasm combined with the ability to let everything go when needed.