Tonight I watched Jim Henson's extremely original and insightful children's film from the 80s, "The Dark Crystal." Of course I could not help relating it to yoga, the passion that has consumed my life as of late. In the exposition, we are introduced to the cruel and power-hungry Skeksis, with their "hard and twisted bodies, their harsh and twisted wills" and the gentle Mystics, "a dying race... numbly rehearsing the ancient ways in a blur of forgetfulness. " When I heard these first words, I immediately thought of a question on my teacher training application: "Coleman Barks says, 'The real ancient text is your daily living experience.' Explain." How do we keep ancient rituals and philosophy alive and relevant to our world today? At one end of the spectrum, there is the pressure to forsake ancient wisdom and our humanity for the break-neck pace of the modern world. At the other end, a fundamentalist interpretation of texts that are themselves products of a very specific time, place and society. We must find a balance somewhere in between that works for us.
In the introduction to Desikachar's The Heart of Yoga, Desikachar reminds us that the Bhagavad Gita "emphasizes the thought that the way to the highest power does not mean we should not neglect or refuse to carry out our duties in life...It tells us our search should not be a flight from life." He also tells the story of his father, Krishnamacharya, who "never saw any contradiction between living with his family and living in the true spirit of a sannyasin...Sannyasa in the sense of wearing orange robes, never staying long in one place but wandering about begging for food was, in my father's opinion, no longer appropriate in our times...My father's teacher told him that he must lead a family life is the most important part of one's existence. By that he does not just mean having children, but living as others do and having responsibilities." Jack Kornfield, in the introduction to A Path With Heart: A Guide Through The Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life describes being confronted with the modern, Western world after having spent five years studying as a Buddhist monk in Asia by relating an anecdote about going to meet his sister-in-law at a spa. While waiting for her in the reception room, he begins to meditate in his orange robes. After a few minutes, he opens his eyes to find a hallway full of women with curlers in their hair and mud on their faces laughing incredulously at him. "From that moment, it became clear that I would have to find a way to reconcile the ancient and wonderful Buddhist teachings I had received at the Buddhist monastery with the ways of the modern world. Over the years, this reconciliation has become one of the most interesting and compelling inquiries for me and for many other people seeking to live a genuine spiritual life as we enter the twenty-first century."
The quest of the hero of "The Dark Crystal" can be seen as a spiritual quest that parallels each of ours. When his guru (and surrogate parent) dies, and sends him off on a journey shrouded in mystery and fraught with danger, Jen is left with many questions and doubts. He encounters many obstacles (Holla, Ganesha!). He even rejects his responsibility at one point, throwing the shard of crystal away out of despair. Each step in our own spiritual journeys leads to more questions, confusions and frustrations. Sometimes we lose hope or feel frustrated. I know that when I feel I have attained a certain level of understanding, it usually leads me to even more questions that tug at me even more deeply, rather than a feeling of satisfaction and completion. However, with the help of some great friends and his own intuition, Jen eventually succeeds in both discovering and following his true path. His strength lies in his trust of his inner voice. He makes the ancient rituals he learned from the Mystics his own in order to figure out which shard is the right one. His natural curiosity and courage lead him to a ruin that gives him an important clue on his journey. And so we must accept that each step on our journey is the right one, even if it seems regressive. We must follow our inner guides, bowing to the gurus within. We must be willing to make mistakes and feel the purifying pain along the way.
The only way to reach our own unique balance of sthira and sukha, ambition and devotion is to listen to our inner guides. As the mantra from another beloved kids' movie goes: "Follow your heart kid, and you'll never go wrong."