By Sydney Solis
While visiting Colorado this summer I watched the video of Sita Sings the Blues. Honestly, I never cared for the Ramayana myth, probably because of Rama 's treatment of Sita, and American popularity around the Monkey King Hanuman didn't resonate with me either. I always was much more fascinated by the demon Ravana.
I heard Adhil Palkivala at the 2004 Yoga Journal Conference in Estes Park tell the back story of Ravana, this mystical symbol of the ignorance of the self and all the forces of darkness come from this primal delusion. But Ravana the character actually was a devoted and powerful yogi. He chose to play the demon in the divine play of the Ramayana to make up for an error he committed. We never tend to look behind the stories of the antagonists or see their perspectives. We tend to shove them in the background like a Greek Chorus.
Yet, lately, movies and theatre have begun to question things as they appear between what is right and wrong, as evidenced in the musical Wicked and movie Malefecent. We start to look at the darkness for what it is and hear its story. We start to look at it, accept it as part of ourselves and make friends with it. The rain was necessary to make the rainbow, as the saying goes. Accepting our dark side, pain or tragedy rather than rejecting it brings us to wholeness. As Rainier Marie-Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet, "Perhaps everything horrible within us is actually something that just wants love from us."
This motif of befriending the darkness is also within fairy tales such as The Beauty and the Beast. That dark part of us, our human pride, arrogance or hubris that always comes up in our drama of life, can get us a spell cast on us, and only when we are able to love that beast, or animal/human nature, love that darkness and in the case of what happened in trauma, do we find healing and a return to wholeness and to joy.
While in Colorado I also got to visit with my oldest sister, Narada Priya Dasi at the Denver ISKCON temple. I asked her about Ravana and she launched into a lot of storytelling and yoga, as she has been doing with me, her little sister, since I was a kid. Ravana reminds me that in life, we cannot cast out the demons as we do in Western Mythology. In eastern mythology, Joseph Campbell says, the demons are not cast out. They re part of the story. Those energies of life. And life can be horrible, overhwelming, but we can't deny it and can't judge it. We have to accept all of life. Hitler and George Bush play the parts of Ravana in our world today I believe. I must find the ability to love, surrender and accept the world and its mysteriousness. And Ravana takes us to the depths of our agony so that we may know ecstacy."Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain." Joseph Campbell said and Kahlil Gibran writes "On Joy and Sorrow." I was delighted to see an article in the Winter 2014 issue of Parabola magazine that re-iterated eloquently what I have felt intuitively.
In healing from trauma, there is a great propensity to try and get away from the event that caused the trauma. One may say, "This should never have happened! Why me?" We are very Job-like in our incomprehensible suffering. Yet when we are able to recover using yoga, meditation, prayayama and storytelling, we bring back into balance the dark forces of suffering that the deluded ego, the ahamkara, overwhelmed and confused, brings about. We come to see that there is nothing to get away from. Nothing to negate. We can come to love all parts of ourselves and the tragedy of what happened, as well forgive ourselves and our responses to what happened. I find that by loving ourselves, and loving the dark side, loving Ravana, we become whole. We stop the war and struggle against our life, the Kaoskampf, and flow with life instead of resisting it.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell says that the first function of mythology is for man to reconcile himself to the foundations of his own existence and the totality of life and darkness and not to criticize it. For all is just life. "When you hold a mirror up to yourself, your consciousness becomes aware of its support. What it is that is supporting it? You may be shocked at what you see. You may be surprised. You become aware of yourself, of that darkness, that being which came into being out of darkness and which is its own support." We can't criticize it or even define it. All we can do is become aware.
This takes time. Awareness needs a certain temporal distance from something to be able to start see enough cycles of change and take note of it. The process of the practice of yoga, the clarity and groundedness that comes from meditation, and the energetic clearing benefits that come from pranayama all act to fill in for us in the present moment to uses awareness and discernment to strip away anything obstructing us as ego so that we may become recreated in a new reality that does not negate what happened, but transcends it through art, such as storytelling, dance painting or any other expressive art. When we find the courage to face our fears by sending the breath deep into our bodies, to our bellies and to the core of our issues, it's as Mickey O'Rourk'e character in the movie Angel Heart discovers, "The devils are actually angels coming to set you free."
Another interesting concept regarding acceptance of life's dark side comes from the Kalika Purana. The Mother Goddess, Kali, The Weaver of the World. In Heinrich Zimmer's book, The King and the Corpse, he writes:
"And so it is that creation proceeds, according to this remarkable myth: by surprises, involuntary acts, and abrupt reversals. The creation of the world is not an accomplished work, but completed within a certain span of time (say seven days), but a process continuing throughout the course of history, refashioning the universe without cease, and pressing it on, every moment afresh. Like the human body, the cosmos is in part built up anew, every night, every day; by a process of unending regeneration it remains alive. But the manner of its growth is by abrupt occurrences, crises, surprising events and even mortifying accidents. Everything is forever going wrong; and yet, that is precisely the circumstance by which the miraculous development comes to pass. The great entirely jolts from crisis to crisis; that is the precarious, hair raising manner of self-transport by which it moves....Yet this Hindu myth could not be said to be pessimistic. On the contrary, through presenting its uninterrupted series of critical and mortifying junctures as a matter of course, the myth in its way is vastly optimistic." pg. 251
This concept agrees a lot with Ernest Becker's 1971 Pulitzer Prize Winning book, The Denial of Death, in which he says we create a "Vital Lie" to tell ourselves to become heroic and deal with the horrors and meaningless of life and our own "creatureliness." People with depression have got their lie malfunctioning and are "too bogged down in the denial of creatureliness." pg. 210. They see things a little too clearly as it is - horrific - and wonderful. However, he says:
"Religion takes one's very creatureliness, one's insignificance, and makes it a condition of hope. Full transcendence of the human condition means limitless possibility unimaginable to us. What is the ideal for mental health, then? A lived, compelling illusion that does not lie about life death, and reality; one honest enough to follow its own commandments." pg. 204.
Artists and creative people are able to transcend suffering this way:
"The creative person becomes, then, in art, literature, and religion the mediator of natural terror and the indicator of a new way to triumph over it. He reveals the darkness and the dread of the human condition and fabricates a new symbolic transcendence over it. This has been the function of the creative deviant from the shamans through Shakespeare." pg. 220.
In my own life, I have noticed several Ravanas playing out their roles in service of life's dramas, be it Adolph Hitler or George Bush. Loving the darkness means looking at the gifts from the battle with the demon, dragon, challenge. Those post-traumatic gifts are apparent. I don't mean to gloss over our feelings of grief and despair that trauma brings as so many people do and our culture urges when faced with tragedy, such as Barbara Ehrenreich makes a statement about in her book, Brightsided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. But madness , darkness mental illness does have its gifts as Nassir Ghaemi writes in A First Rate Madness.The Links between Leadership and Mental Illness. Churchill was able to see the dark side of things and realize that Hitler was a madman and couldn't be reasoned with, as other leaders sought to do.
I am grateful for the gifts of trauma. My tools of mindfulness cut through the most depths of despair and loss. The tool of mantra kept me sane when mental illness threatened to overwhelm and kill me, slicing the head off of the ceaseless chatter in my mind and replacing it with the savings grace of divine sound and syllable. It is as if Kali and Ravana acted in concert in their dark, death presence to grant me peace in the silence of meditation and yoga, when the vrittis of my mind ceased to move, I caught glimpses of home and ultimate healing.
So, Love Ravana! Love all of your life, all of the world! The peace within is the peace you wish to see in the world!
Namaste and Have a Magical Day!