Sunday, October 10, 2010

Akilandeshwari: Croc Mama

At some point yesterday, as we were entering the third hour of a Tantric philosophy workshop, I had a distinct moment of floating above my body and wondering How did I get here? How did I find myself, in a studio with probably 40 other people, spending a gorgeous October afternoon learning about the 36 Tattvas of Tantric Cosmology? By what series of remarkable twists and turns did I find myself precisely here?

For those for whom these terms are new, the Tattvas, to paraphrase (possibly poorly) our genius and genial teacher, Douglas Brooks, are the explanation (by us, to us) of the process by which the Divine – that is, Consciousness itself – chooses to experience itself as us. Chooses. To experience itself. As us.

This is pretty standard curriculum for those of us who practice Anusara Yoga, but taking a weekend-long dive into the Tattvas takes it to a whole other level. The head, she does spin.

There’s no way I can possibly reproduce here even a fraction of what I learned. I have 18 pages of notes (Moleskin notebook pages, not 8 ½ x 11, but still...) and scribbles all over the two handouts we were given. It will take me YEARS to be able to speak what I learned today in my own words, but it landed deep and I’m completely excited and stoked and eager to stay in this rich space, learn more, see more, geek out way, way more.

Honestly, it’s like being handed the keys.

There is one story I do want to repeat since it blew my mind. But first, I can’t stop thinking about the episode of 30 Rock in which the character of Carol, the pilot and Liz Lemon’s potential love interest, played by Matt Damon, is introduced. Liz sees, but doesn’t really see, his uniform and asks him, hardly looking up, if he’s a doorman. To which Carol snaps back, “Yeah, I'm a doorman. To the SKY.” The line is delivered with the perfect (and memorable) combination of earnest and snark. Dude: Douglas is seriously a doorman to the sky, someone who knows the really important shit and knows how to teach it. Super intense and super fun.

OK, so the story that blew my mind is this. We spent a lot of time this weekend learning the differences between the Northern (Kashmir Shaiva) and Southern (Shakta) interpretations of the Tattvas. They agree 100% on the Tattvas themselves and have identical practices and rituals, but their spin on the Tattvas differs pretty dramatically.

From what we learned this weekend, it seems – don’t kill me if I get this wrong, I’m just a baby, man, learning my way – that the Northern tradition is vertical, the point being to ascend back to the Oneness from which we originate, and of which we are fundamentally composed, but about which we can easily be ignorant in our material state. The practices are designed to lead us back to a reunion with that Oneness. And to ascend, you need shaktipat, transmitted by a guru, by word or touch or thought, aka the moment of grace that snaps you out of your sense of separation. You yourself can’t break out of your isolation. You need to be broken into, via a guru and shaktipat.

To illustrate the difference in the South, Douglas told the story of Akilandeshwari, a version of Parvati who takes the form of a crocodile. And you know me so you know I'm a sucker for animal stories.

Akilandeshwari buries her eggs on the bank of a river, as crocodiles do. When it’s time for those baby crocodiles to hatch, they use – and this is really how it works – their “egg tooth,” which is really a bony growth on the tip of their snouts, to puncture the egg. But that’s not all. Baby crocodiles cry out, to each other, to let the residents of the other eggs know it’s time. And then, then they hatch together. Which from a biological standpoint, increases their chances of survival. In the story, Akilandeshwari digs them out a bit but lets them do the rest, and then carries them in her great mouth to the river.

We ourselves are those baby crocodiles. When it’s time for us to hatch – that is, awaken – we break the egg ourselves and then we listen for the others and emerge together. In the Southern tradition, it’s not the guru but the kula itself that provides the shaktipat of the guru. We do this together.

And those crocodiles: where do they go? They don’t retreat from the world, they don’t want to cross over the water to a place of quiet and repose. No, they want in to the river, deeper into the world, into the realm of experience.

That story is making me jump around. A lot. It’s such a tremendous pleasure to be baby crocodile paddling around with all you others, through our relationships with each other celebrating the joy of embodiment. Once again, yoga rocks my whole world.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this story, thanks for sharing. I have not heard of the Tattvas before reading your story. Now I'm curious to find out more. I love stories involving animals too, always reminds me how connected and together we all are - humans, animals, nature, all living things!

Danielle said...

Hi Beauty! Jami Grassi forwarded the link to your blog and I am so grateful. I had to miss the workshop but am focused on studying the Tattvas as I will be teaching an Immersion in 2011, yes, very excited!! Jami and I are going to get together and with her notes, discuss and practice the Tattvas. You are welcome to join in if you have the time. Let's crack eachothers shells even more. xo, Danielle