If the grand story of the Mahabharata is the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, then the Bhagavad Gita is “Street Fighting Man.” It gets all the ubiquitous radio play; maybe you’ve even heard it in a commercial, definitely in a Martin Scorsese movie. You likely know the words, even the harmonies, without having had to try at all to memorize them. The story of Draupadi is one of the less played tracks, perhaps “Salt of the Earth,” tucked away on the end of the second side of the album. Let’s throw it on the turntable and take a listen...
Surya, the symbol of Hanuman's biggest mistake (confusing the sun for a mango) turns out to be his greatest teacher. The wisdom of this story invites us to consider a time in our lives when we leapt for something that we didn't fully understand, only to find out it was not what we expected. We took on a relationship, or a job, or a situation, or an experience that was overwhelming and that left us feeling burned and broken. Sounding familiar?
As values and concepts shift and change over time, those who “discover” new ways of thinking and seeing are often terrified at first by their discovery, because it means they have to give up who they think they are. The status quo of one’s identity is comforting and hard to just let go of. Also, with almost every radically new way of seeing or doing things, there is a reaction by those who don’t want to lose what they’ve become comfortable with. They would rather live with the old way than live in a more truthful way.
I recently spent four days with friends and family at my first yoga retreat in Port Orchard, Washington, literally five minutes from where I grew up. As it happens when you spend time with people you haven’t seen in a long while, one of the key ways we connect is through stories. We tell tales that directly or indirectly remind us of our common origin, of our shared experience. And even if these stories are unique to each family or friends group, there is always something universal or archetypal about them. They are stories about love or heroism, foolishness or loss - experiences about as universal as being in a body.
In our Western cultural climate, we are mythologically lost at sea. We pride ourselves on being a society without myth, as we consider ourselves grounded in reason, fact, and rationality. But ironically, recognizing ourselves as a people without myth has become our myth. It has become the story we tell ourselves about who we think we are. The no-myth myth satisfies what every myth satisfies: the condition of communicating what a particular culture at a particular time values and holds dear.