Today we are going to be exploring what it means to live a spiritual life, while still fully engaged into the world. Having spent a lot of time in and around conscious and spiritual communities, I’ve noticed a very unfortunate and disturbing trend of people over rationalizing and disconnecting from their emotions and the human experience and calling it “spiritual.”
When people are interacting and someone starts to express an emotion or have a genuine human experience and feeling, it will often lead to someone telling them, “Oh well, those are just your feelings or emotions. You need to be more spiritually evolved then that.” Like somehow, having emotions or feelings is somehow non spiritual. That spirituality is somehow something removed from the typical human experience.
This is nothing new. People have been pulling that line seemingly as far back as we can find.
There have been people since the beginning of history that equate spirituality as something “other” than our typical human experience. There are plenty of people and traditions today that unequivocally state that this life is an allusion, that to live a spiritual life means living beyond this life. Living in some other realm of being.
Take Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, and his philosophy for example. He believes there are two essential things: pakriti and parusha. Pakriti, matter, is an illusion. It doesn’t exist. Everything you are experiencing in life right now, is simply an illusion. It is the play of Maya. Parusha, or spirit, is the true reality. Parusha is entirely separate from pakriti. The whole purpose of Raja Yoga, then, is to overcome and transcend this illusory world of pakriti, matter, which is causing all of your suffering, and realize parusha. But parusha is an experience entirely unlike the one you have in your daily life. It’s beyond it all. So if you are experiencing your body, having a human experience, then you are mired in illusion and you will suffer. So get over it, and realize parusha.
That type of thinking tends to be dominant in many yoga communities and as well as in many spiritual communities.
Emotions are bad, because they are part of your illusion. Part of Maya, they are made up of this illusory stuff, paktiri, and to be spiritual is to overcome them. Get past them. Get rid of them. Get to parusha over there.
Now, that might work very well on a monastic path. But it’s not something that works very well in the world, as it is denying a fundamental side of our existence as human beings.
So then, how do we live what we can call a spiritual life, while still engaged with our bodies, with life, with emotions?
Classical Tantra and Shaivism come in and offer us a different perspective. Instead of pakriti and parush, they might use terms like Shiva and Shakti, which in some ways can be equated to the masculine and feminine principles of the universe. In this way, Shiva might relate to parusha. Shiva is the beyond, the transcendent, he is beyond the mind, beyond time and space.
Shakti could be related to pakriti, but these traditions put a different spin on it. What you are experiencing in the world is real (unlike the traditions that say pakriti is not actually real). Shakti, the goddess, the feminine, is the dynamic active principle of that same Shiva. They are not separate. They are different sides of the same coin.
So the illusion here is not then the experience, it’s not your thoughts or emotions, per say. Rather, because you experience the world through your senses, you’ve forgotten your true nature, who you are, and you’ve started to identify with the object of your limited senses. You identify with your limited experience instead of the totality of who you really are.
Without getting too much into them in this podcast, we have these basic false assumptions of who we are (meaning we think of ourselves as spate beings, as short or tall, skinny or fat, a good person or a bad person, as this or that) and it’s these malas, as they are called in Sanskrit, impurities or wrong ideas about the self, that cause suffering.
So the illusion then is not the stuff. It’s not pakriti, it’s not the goddess, it’s your false assumptions of self. It’s your identification with the objects of your senses that is the true illusion.
There is a great story that helps us explain this point further.
Once upon a time…
There was a horrible demon in the world. And it was said that only a woman could defeat this demon. This demon was terrorizing the world and all the lessor gods (all the elements that guide the basic principles of nature, etc). So the sages and gods travelled to Mt. Kailash, the home of Shiva and Parvati (Parvati is another name for the Goddess Shakti), and they pleased with the divine couple to help them.
Parvati agreed to help, but she had a plan: to combat this powerful demon, she would need to ready herself, to undergo a transformation.
So she pried open Shiva’s mouth, left inside and dove into this throat. Now, it’s a story for another time, but Shiva once swallowed this deadly poison that threatened to destroy the world. He kept it in his throat, which turned blue. This is why Shiva is sometimes referred to as the blue throated one.
So Parvati jumps in and she starts to drink this poison.
Now what is she doing? She’s taking in that part of the world that people tend to consider toxic or bad. She’s taking in all the dark unconscious stuff, and she’s taking in passion and emotions, all that stuff we are told is not spiritual. Yet here she is taking it all in.
She continues to drink up all the poison and it transforms her. She leaps out of Shiva’s mouth, her skin now black, her hair matted and in dreadlocks. She has fiery red eyes with a blazing red third eye in the center of her forehead, and she has a long red tongue that she sticks out… Hahhhhhhhhh! She is Kali! She is ferocious. From sweet Parvati, to Kali. She’s ready to take on this horrible demon. In a rage, she sets off to find and destroy the demon. And truly, she’s a little out of control. She’s taken in all of these emotions, all of this passion, all this rage, she’s IN IT!
With all this fury and chaos, she easily over comes the demon. She chops off his head! With her passion, she over comes this enormous obstacle. But she’s so immersed, so consumed by her emotion that she can’t stop. She’s spinning wildly, she’s dancing, and she’s destroying everything around her. She sets the earth on fire, forests burn down around her, and she’s creating chaos and destruction everywhere she goes.
So the sages who witness this rush off to Mt. Kailash to inform Shiva about what’s happening. Shiva hears what’s going on and races after Kali.
Now this is actually my favorite part of the story. Shiva goes to Kali and tries to reason with her.
Like, “Honey, you’re really angry right now. You are destroying the world. You should really calm down.”
Have you ever experienced this? Telling someone in a rage to calm down? Does it calm them down? Hell no. It makes them more furious.
How about when someone is sad? Is it helpful to tell them they really shouldn’t be sad? That they should be happy. No! It doesn’t work. Life doesn’t work that way.
You may have all the perspective in the world (because that’s part of what Shiva represents high on the mountain top: perspective), but it doesn’t help. It doesn’t work to try to reason with emotion. There is no shoulding. You can’t “should” it.
So what does Shiva have to do? He has to dance with her! He’s got to dive into all the chaos too. Get in it. BE in it.
But what’s the difference? What does he have to do? He has to bring his perspective, his insight, his reason INTO the dance.
SO they both dance. It’s an epic dance off, but what starts to happen is that Shiva’s dance becomes so chaotic, so violent, that it cracks the very earth, shakes mountains, it even knocks the planets off their orbits.
Seeing the whole world being destroyed in front of her, Kali’s passion for the world, for life, her love takes over. She realizes that’s happening, and she stops her fury, stops the rage, and becomes again the loving form of Parvati.
The world rejoices, butterflies and does fly around, all falls back into order… Yay!
So what’s this story telling us?
Sitting on the sidelines, not getting your feet wet, and trying to rationalize the world away doesn’t work. Nor will it overcome the demon that destroys the world. If Shiva himself could have destroyed the demon, he would have, but no, it was the Goddess that was needed and able to defeat the demon. This is something that happens in the dynamic experience of life.
It’s through the battlefield of life, through our bodies, where we can overcome our demons, overcome the afflictions of the world. Sitting up on the mountain top won’t solve this.
You’ve got to be in the world. But if you are in the world, what’s the big danger? That you will lose yourself, like Kali did. That you will get so intoxicated by your emotions and the experience of living that you will forget yourself. That you will forget your origins, forget who you are, and sooner or later, you become that chaotic destructive force of the demon as well.
How do we reconcile that? By sitting down and having a conversation about it? By rationalizing our emotions away? No!
We do it by brining insight and perspective into our dance, into the world. You can’t have on without the other, Shiva without Shakti. Without both, the demons rule. You need both Shiva and Shakti.
Shiva without Shakti is powerless (Shakti means power, energy, she is the power of Shiva). Shakti without Shiva is lost.
And whether it’s an inner dialog with ourselves or an outer dialog with another, we’re not going to get out of our illusion with dialog. We’ve got to get in it. We’ve got to get dirty. We’ve got to BE in it.
Embrace all of life. Get into the experience of emotions and feelings. Welcome it all. It’s not sitting on the sidelines, removed from it all, but rather being immersed in it.
The question that is left however is how do we cultivate the perspective, insight? Is there a method to how we bring insight into the dance? Well, that’s going to have to be a topic for another podcast.
For now, any time someone tries to tell you that emotions aren’t spiritual, or that you need to get over it, remember the story of Kali. Remember the importance of dancing in the world.
And that’s all for today everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s story and learned something new. Namaste!
Listen to the story here: