Namaskaram

A greeting. As in hello.

A flowing sequence that typically begins a practice of yogāsana.

A movement prayer that punctuates a class or performance of Bharatanatyam.

I have been focussing a lot lately on the movement prayer version of Namaskaram. A few dance classes ago my teacher, observing my Namaskaram, suggested, can you do it with more feeling? Since, I have begun to open each of my yoga practice sessions by repeating the dance Namaskaram three times, with greater attention/intention before I follow it with my Surya and Chandra Namaskaram variations.

I asked my dance guruji what each element of the dance Namaskaram signified. His response taught me that different schools of dance practiced different variations of the Namaskaram.

Some of the common elements: a sweeping motion to acknowledge the eight directions; touching the earth that we would dance upon, bringing this blessing up to our eyes, and releasing the blessing back to the earth with outstretched hands; reaching prayer hands up to acknowledge the Divine love that holds us in being, drawing prayer hands to the third eye to acknowledge our gurus, and finally bringing prayer hands to the heart to acknowledge our companions on the path.

And then Supratim Talukder, my teacher, did something that quite took me by surprise: he made the sign of the cross, observing/asking this is your Namaskaram?

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic in a very devout and loving family. Attendance at weekly Mass and a celebration of the main feast days in the Christian calendar were part of the air I breathed. Making the sign of the cross as I intoned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit was a gesture that commonly punctuated other prayers. It was something so much done as to have become somewhat invisible – again, like the air I breathed.

Seeing my teacher (brought up as a Shaivite Hindu with a special devotion to the Bengali saint Sri Ramakrishna) make this gesture, made me see it in a new way. It held up a mirror…

A new question emerged: How does the tradition in which I was brought up inform my spiritual sādhanas of yogāsana and Bharatanatyam – and vice-versa?

A new area of exploration and inquiry.

Thank you, Guruji.

Q&A with Fr John Flader: A new Sign of the Cross

sankalpa

When performing, my Bharatanatyam teacher said, if you lose your focus for one second, you’ve lost your audience.

The connection is broken.

He went on to say that his impression of people practicing yogāsana was that they did a posture, then came out of it, did another posture, and so on – and that the thread of sustained awareness was absent.

Svadhyāya opportunity…

Yogāsana is a sādhana I’ve practiced for a long time, but what depth is there in my practice? How often is my practice just one posture, another posture, another posture… with my mind flying in a dozen different directions? To be honest, it’s most of the time. So once again, my new sādhana of Bharatanatyam has nudged me into taking a fresh look at my more established sādhana of yogāsana.

My sankalpa: to find the thread of sustained awareness that transforms āsana practice (and me) into a conduit for the flow of the Divine.

Thank you, Guruji.

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broken open

My heart is full of so many things right now. Real time connections with dear friends on the ground in suffering India no longer allow me to create an abstraction of the news reports I read daily.

My heart breaks.

Again and again.

Compassion means, literally, suffering with. Which implies connection. On the deepest level, we are connection. So – what to do in the face of so much suffering? Can I allow my heart to break open more and a little bit more with each breath? Can I use that heart broken open to allow love to flow? Can I trust that somehow, somehow love will find its way, will inspire the right gesture at the right time?

This is my sankalpa.

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in gratitude

Latest development.

My Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder of Kolkata, is teaching me the steps in Ananda Natamaduvar Thillai, choreographed by Srimat Vanda Alase Hazra.

To be clear, I am only discovering the beauty of Bharatanatyam belatedly in this lifetime, and realistically, I will likely never take my expression of this particular piece anywhere beyond the walls of my own practice space.

But.

This is enough.

More than.

I have watched my teacher’s video recording of this piece so many times. It explores some of the rich mythology and iconography of Lord Śiva. To be able to get inside of these images takes my appreciation of the piece to another level. It is embodied prayer.

I am beginning to grasp the idea that a dancer does not pretend, in the dance, to be a devotee, god, or goddess… The dancer enters a state where he or she experiences this as a dimension of reality. And when one watches this, that experience is like a lightning bolt straight to the heart. The viewer too drinks in the experience. The viewer too becomes...

To have this possibility of experience – both as rasika (viewer or, literally, taster) and as dancer – is a gift beyond what I imagined possible when I embarked on the journey of Bharatanatyam study.

In gratitude.

Om Namah Śivāya

Supratim Talukder dances Lord Śiva in Ananda Natamaduvar Thillai

happy international dance day!

I’ve been practicing and teaching yogāsana for many years, but a few months ago took a Hanuman-sized leap into the world of Bharatanatyam: Indian Classical dance.

I’m 62. To be honest, I’ve had many doubts about my capacity to explore this exquisite dance idiom. At one point I even – and I say this with a degree of shame – wished I had another face, another body. I was forced to confront this – and eventually settle into the truth of who I am and where I’m at in this lifetime. This venture really churned up the oceanic depths of my self, revealing the hālāhala, the poisonous attitude, that I had hidden at my core.

My teacher, who at 26 is the inverse of my current age, has been a providential guide on this journey. Where I saw limitation – he sees creative potential. This has freed me to begin to look at myself in the same way. There is no limit to creative potential. It is the Divinity that inhabits each of us.

On International Dance Day I want to offer a profound thank you to Supratim Talukder, my Bharatanatyam guruji. May he and all dancing spirits continually find new ways to celebrate the ecstasy of embodiment .

Om Namah Sivaya!

yogāyoga

Mid to late afternoon, after tea, after reading Tagore. I lie down on the couch and curl up like a comma. Not to sleep, but to go quietly inside and think things through.

Today, I am considering the collision of world-views.

A few blog posts back I considered this distance that separates in the air you breathe: the inevitability of the separation that results from being coiled into our cultural cocoons.

The divide is fractal, existing not only on the macro level of culture, but on the micro level of any two individuals. We are all blind, in varying degrees, to the ground upon which we stand. We look out into the world, thinking that we see objectively. But the really real is veiled by the innumerable beliefs we hold about it.

What to do, then? Just give up and sink into the false conviction that only my world-view is real?

It occurs to me that attempting to bridge the gap is why we’re here. Here, now, in apparent isolation from everything else. Our attempts to find connection may often be clumsy and miss the mark. But we can’t give up the project.

This conundrum reminds me of the title of one of Tagore’s novels: Yogayog. That is, yoga + ayoga. Yoga – connection, and its opposite – ayoga – separation. The former is the ultimate reality that underlies everything. The latter is the relative reality in which we spend most of our time.

May we support each other in the attempt to bridge the gap and find connection. The survival of everything depends upon this.

grace and transformation

Our life, like a river, strikes its banks not to find itself closed in by them, but to realize anew every moment that it has its unending opening towards the sea. It is as a poem that strikes its meter at every step not to be silenced by its rigid regulations, but to give expression every moment to the inner freedom of its harmony. – Rabindranath Tagore: The Problem of Self from Sadhana.

Or perhaps life is like the highly codified art form of Bharatanatyam.

One must first learn the rules of this intricate dance idiom in order that the Divine might find expression through it. The latter cannot happen through force or calculation, but only and ever through Grace.

When it does come together, Divinity dances among us and we are utterly transformed.

I experience this in Supratim Talukdar’s expression of Arekar’s choreography Ardhanarīshvara

thoughts on the eve of mahaśivarātri

Diversity is of many kinds – in a family of ten, there are ten different kinds of diversity. -Rabindranath Tagore*

This observation, penned by Tagore in 1895, expresses a perennial truth. Why then do we insist on separating life into polarities? Are you black or white? Gay or straight? Liberal or conservative? Religious or non-religious?

Daring to look at the astounding abundance of diversity in the natural world, it becomes evident that nothing could be further from the truth. There is only and ever a continuously evolving flow of expression. An infinity of dancing points of light.

Let’s embrace the image of the tāndava dance of Śiva Natarāja encompassing everything and every place and all time. The swirling ecstasy that has no opposite.

Wishing you all an auspicious Mahaśivarātri!

*from Raja O Proja , 1895, translated by Debjani Sengupta

Can I chant Shiva Tandava Stotram inside my house? - Quora