Happy Monday! I hope your week is starting off marvelously.
This morning I dropped Elio off from school and then decided to walk around a bit to record the audio of this post. Ultimately, I decided not to use that recording because there was too much traffic and it was too distracting so I re-recorded this and I think that is better.
Elio is getting used to his new school and is still having a little bit of a problem using the bathroom by himself so some mornings, like this morning, I drop him off at school, go to the gym or do some work at a cafe, then head back to school to encourage him to use the bathroom.
As I was walking around this morning, not far from Elio’s school, there is a beautiful, modern cathedral here in Nice. It’s got a very unique, rounded architecture and it’s gleaming while. This cathedral is dedicated to the Saint of Joan of Arc.
If you don’t remember the story of Joan of Arc, she was a peasant girl in the 1400s who as a teenager received a revelation from God that she was supposed to lead the French army against the English and the Burgundians, a French dynasty who were at the time in league with the English and who today produce lovely wines— but that’s neither here nor there.
So against all rationale, the prince Charles of Valois agreed to allow Joan of Arc to lead the army. She did. They won. She was lauded and revered. Unfortunately, about a year later, she was captured by the English and the Burgundians and was burned at the stake as a heretic. She’s been held as someone very special to the spirit of France and it wasn’t until the 1920s that she was actually canonized and considered a saint and this church is dedicated to her.
I’m so happy that I walked by this church because it relates to the myth I want to tell today:
Today, I want to tell my rendition of the ancient Hindu myth about the Asuras and the Devas.
Long ago, in time out of mind, there were two groups of beings, the Asuras and the Devas. There couldn’t be a different sort of people. The asuras were earthly people, thought mostly of themselves, were a bit selfish. They probably loved Nascar, ate pork rinds, and didn’t recycle. The Devas on the other hand were beings that were very heavenly and always thinking of their inner divine nature. I imagine them dressed in gossamer white clothing, subsisting on tofu and vegetable broth, meditating for several hours a day, and leaving behind a faint smell of patchouli or incense whenever they left a room.
Well, those two kinds of being were about as opposite as you could imagine but they both wanted one thing and that was Soma. Soma was the elixur of eternal life. The Asuras wanted it because it felt so good to be eternal and the Devas wanted it so they could further devote themselves to the Divine. Now, the only way to get Soma was to ask Vishnu and if on the off chance that he granted you to have it, he would allow Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and gifts to bestow it upon you.
So united in this common desire, the Asuras and the Devas got together and timidly asked Vishnu if they could have some Soma. He agreed but told them what they must do to get it. He was going to lend them his Sesha, Vishnu’s giant snake. They were to wrap this snake around a mountain which was to rest atop the giant tortoise Korma. If you’ve ever done Kormasana in yoga class, this is where that gets its name. Once the snake was wrapped around the mountain and placed on top of the Korma’s shell, they were to pull back and forth and oscillate it enough that they should somehow get the Soma. Grateful, the Asuras and the Devas agreed and began their task.
The Devas being smarter than the Asuras opted to take the relatively benign tail of the snake, which had but four ends which some Sanskrit scholars say relate to the 4 bases of DNA structure, something that the ancients discovered long before Watson, Crick, both of whom studied the work of their colleague Franklin. The Asuras therefore received the head end of the sesha and were blasted by countless heads of a snake, each one shooting fiery blasts like a dragon.
The Asuras and the Devas began to pull on the sesha with all of their might and in their lust for Soma, they started to pull so hard that the sesha, as strong and divine as a character as he may be, became nonetheless very ill and began to vomit venomous bile which started to cover and poison the entire earth. Seeing the problem, the Asuras and Devas stopped their movement and decided that something must be done before the entire earth is engulfed with this poison.
They weren’t about to go back to Vishnu. He was kind enough to let them have the chance to get Soma in the first place. They didn’t want to return to Vishnu and tell him how in their blind lust for Soma, they made his snake sick and now the entire earth was starting to be covered in poisonous puke. Instead, they importuned Shiva. They asked him if he could help them out.
Siva surveyed the situation and gathered up all of the bile and drank it, neither swallowing it to digest it nor spitting it back up. Siva held it in his throat and sanctified it, turning his throat blue.
Saved, the Asuras and the Devas continued their task, this time taking great care to have a balance between steadiness and ease. After they developed a good rhythm, eventually the sea began to boil and riches started popping up out of the ocean. Soma was about to come at any minute.
Vishnu decided to give them one last temptation to see if they were worthy of the Soma and he sent a temptations out to see if the Asuras and Devas really had purity in their hearts to receive the Soma. I imagine Vishnu sending onto the beach a bunch of speedo and bikini-clad partiers, barbecues wafting the smell of rib-eye steaks, not to mention volleyball nets, beers, and music. To the Devas he sent over all the unicorn amulets, treasure troves of yoga pants, sensible shoes, and all organic produce that a healthy, spiritual person could ever want.
Well, despite all of their efforts to get to that moment, the Asuras caved and headed to the beach for beers and babes. The Devas stayed and soon Lakshmi gave them each a single drop of Soma which turned them into immortal beings like angels.
I love myths like that because we can interpret them in many ways. They speak to a truth that is large enough mean something different fo whomever hears it, regardless of spiritual orientation, practice, discipline, or period of life.
I love the idea in this myth about the balance of steadiness and ease. In the Yoga Sutras, the book where we get a lot of the philosophy of yoga from, there are really very few instructions for how we are to practice yoga, the physical practice. It does say, however that no matter what, you’ve got to find the balance between steadiness and ease. Whatever your physical, spiritual, and I would even say political practice might be, this story illustrations the value of balance. What’s more is how when you’re trying to improve your situation but approach your improvement with a fundamental lack of balance, how that can make things worse off than they were before.
And when things are bad, and even when they seem like they are going to poison the entire world, like the snake’s venomous puke, that somehow the Divine can help you hold that in such a way as to sanctify it
You’ve probably heard me mention this more times than you can count but it is a truth that has become imperative to my own personal spiritual evolution, and that is Leonard Cohen’s lyric from his song Anthem that says, Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in. This says that just like the poison of whatever may befall us, we become sanctified, the light gets in, when we learn to hold our imperfections. That it’s because of these faults, this brokenness, this poison, that we are rendered holy.
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It makes me think of our situation with Elio, learning to use the bathroom by himself at school. How he is struggling being the only kid at school who doesn’t speak French and how he is learning to have more independence and things and how we are the unique family at school because we don’t quite understand exactly how things work yet, at least not like the other French families. But how me going back to school is strengthening him and teaching him and how it gives me an opportunity to build a rapport with the directorice of the school and talk with his teachers regularly. This is building a special relationship between our family and the school.
It also makes me think about Joan of Arc and how she was killed for fundamentally backward, misogynist, and in my mind evil reasons, but how her spirit has endured and how she’s given hope and courage to countless French people and how she was like the original Wonder Woman in some ways and that she’s become a divine symbol which celebrates a woman’s power, intuition, and spirit and which is so strong that it’s still celebrated 600 years later.
I hope you enjoyed the myth. I’d love to hear about what you heard in this myth.
I hope that you can find ways in your life to celebrate balance in all of your practices. I hope that you’ll be able to find the divinity in the challenges that beset you and see how that all of our challenges are making us into the greater angels of our True Nature.
I hope you have a great week. Please stay tuned for some Yoga Nidra offerings I am going to announce coming up.