Sunday, September 10, 2006

Recurring Theme of the Dancing Shiva

Years ago Joseph Campbell offered a workshop for physicians on the experience of the sacred. At one point in his presentation he showed us slide after slide of sacred images: paintings, statues, pottery, tapestries, and stained glass from many places and times. I remember one of these vividly. It was a particularly fine example of Shiva Nata Raja, a “Dancing Shiva” from the Lieden Museum in Zurich. Shiva is the Hindu name for the masculine aspect of God, and while these small bronze statues are common in India, few of us have seen this charming image before. Shiva, the god, dances in a ring of bronze flames. The hands of his many arms hold symbols of the abundance of spiritual life. As he dances, one of his feet is lifted high and the other is supported by the naked back of a little man crouched down in the dust, giving all his attention to a leaf he is holding between his hands.

Physicians are trained observers. Despite the great beauty of the dancing god, all of us had focused on the little man and the leaf and we asked Joseph Campbell about him. Campbell began to laugh. Still laughing, he told us that the little man is a person so caught up in the study of the material world that he doesn’t even know that the living God is dancing on his back. There is a bit of the little man in all of us and certainly in most physicians.
--Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

I love this theme of the dancing shiva. One of my favorite popular works where it is dramatized is in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. If only we would just open our eyes.

What my eyes see is that my home looks like an ocean liner. It’s long, tall and narrow. The front porch looks like the bow of the boat, slowly making its way through the deep waters of the ocean, carving a way forward. I hope we aren’t churning up too much in our wake. When I’m in my bedroom, which is above the bow, I feel like I’m one of those women carved out of wood that leads the way: a figurehead. Occasionally we hit the doldrums.

(The north side of my house is so steep and gleaming in the summer sun I think it looks like the white cliffs of Dover. So far no one has jumped.)

Anyway, the ocean liner is being re-arranged to meet the current passenger’s needs. You may have noticed the chocolate floor in the writer’s palace. Lately I notice I’m stumbling over what to call this palace, my writing studio. Sometimes I say office (ick, too office-y); study (ick, too 1950’s with masculine wood paneling); and writing studio (just too many syllables).

Now, in honor of my father, I have decided to call it my “shop.”

In my father’s shop were many tubes and wires, most of which I did not understand. I’m not good with things electrical. He spent many hours there, doing things I did not understand, but I understood this: he was passionate about what he did, he always did his best, and treated people with the utmost integrity.

After his death, my mother pulled out a black case from under one of his several desks. She opened it and revealed a vast array of meters, small parts that ended in “or”—capacitator, oscillator-- and wires.

“Your brother says this was the heart of the operation,” she said.

So now I have a shop, and a heart of the operation; I don’t fix things, but then again, maybe I do fix things, with words. Belly up to the bar, folks, we’re serving haiku-tinis and sonnets on the rocks.

9 comments:

Theresa Williams said...

Oh Beth, this is beautiful. I have never heard that Campbell story. And you know how much I love Joseph Campbell. How true this is: if only we would open our eyes. I have been reading Karen Armstrong's book called TRANSFORMATIONS. In it, she shows how the Axial Age came about, how and when the major religions formed the crux of their major thought. She discusses the Greeks, The Christians, The Asians (China) and the religion of India, which she said was always ahead of the curve. She shows how rituals went from being external to internal. It is fascinating. As for your ship, I think that's a perfect metaphor and I bet I know what is the heart of your operation. It is also quite clear that you miss your father very much and think of him as a protype, in the sense that you don't want to miss out on the finer aspect of the inner life. Thanks for this entry. I love it.

Cynthia said...

This is simply wonderful, everything about it, and I'm copying that story of the Dancing Shiva to always have a copy when things go offline. The imagery of the ship, your shop is sheer perfection. This entry is how I write in my dreams.

Erin said...

Fabulous entry! I love the Campbell story, and also the description of your ocean liner / house and father's shop. What a perfect name for a writing room! Really beautiful writing, Beth.

Your naming of the room reminds me of the changing name of the folder on my computer where I keep all of my stories and poems. At first I called it THE VAULT, then when I was feeling frustrated THE CRYPT(where stories went to slowly die). Now I call it by a generic name I can't remember. I may change it to THE SHOP next. :-)

Mystic Wing said...

Wow, quotes Rachel Remin alluding to Joseph Campbell. You're my kind of blogger.

Campbell once described the spiritual life as one in which we willingly embrace all the joys and sorrows that the world offers us.

The Masks of God quartet has made my list of 10 best books for seekers. Others on list can be seen on my blog.

Mystic Wing said...

Wow, quotes Rachel Remin alluding to Joseph Campbell. You're my kind of blogger.

Campbell once described the spiritual life as one in which we willingly embrace all the joys and sorrows that the world offers us.

The Masks of God quartet has made my list of 10 best books for seekers. Others on list can be seen on my blog.

Gannet Girl said...

Love the Dancing Shiva story. The past summer I saw a HUGE one on display at the Glashow Cathedral Museum, where they have a fabulous exhibit on world religions.

V said...

I`ll have one of each!
V

Anil P said...

Oh yes, Nataraja circles above like an eagle, dancing away.

Anil P said...

Oh yes, Nataraja circles above like an eagle, dancing away.