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.