It is not easy navigating the world with fragile boundaries, self-worth, and a potential history of manipulations. I often seek wisdom in spiritualities and unfamiliar religions because I need a substitute for the childhood traditions I have abandoned as a raft mid-stream. I am attracted to fashioning another raft, this one not pre-fabricated but gathered over some time by reaching for branches and tendrils. I am never confident about my assessments concerning relationships, and I mostly avoid going very deep with people anyhow or keep my head down so as to go unnoticed or divert the interest of others because I don’t yet know how to have healthy relationships that entail elements of balance or stay more-or-less in the middle way. It is awkward and fumbling to do life on one’s own, and I am hardly a victim. I completely admit that healing is within my purview and I simply have not tried hard enough, or that I just need to accept that no relationship is perfect and one cannot exactly have pleasure without pain, and so allow my body to sink into the underwater worlds and be taken by the sensory suctions of sea urchins and stings of jelly fish. Perhaps a relationship can also be one of peace and calm passions where those involved keep their attachments in check. I guess that is possible.
This summer I have been reading the Alan Watts book Become What you Are. Watts talks about “the divine purpose of play.” He says, [One] is enlightened who joins in this play [reality?] knowing it as play, for [a person] suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun” (38). Watts discusses play in the context of Hinduism and the dance of Shiva, an idea expressed iconically in a pose where the god is ecstatically elevating his hands in various mudras and lifting one leg across his body, his entire self encircled in an arch of flames. Called the Natarāja in Sanskrit, ‘nata’ can mean dance, act or drama. This image to me seems to encompass everything that exists, both what humans might see as positive and negative, such as creation/death, but with a suggestion (via the little demon beneath Shiva) that one can realize enlightenment by waking up from ignorance and being in different relationship to all of existence, perhaps a playful one.
The passage reminded me of one of my students last semester who, with complete abandon, accepted and performed the role of Dionysis when we were reviewing Euripides’ Bacchae in my literature class. He was flamboyant and loud and wonderful. I admit I was a little nervous giving him the part because he is a Christian who wants to go to the parts of the world that are said to have little or no exposure to Christianity and share his faith with them; his is a religion of monotheism and there I was asking him to not only read a play about polytheism but also act as a character who claims he is god, and an arrogant and feisty one at that. I was delighted with how much glee he found with something that might have kept my own self from engaging so whole-heartedly when I was of his similar mindset and age in an Oklahoma high school.
I have to admit that I don’t know how to play right now. I wish I had already applied the lesson to my life, reflected on how and what the benefits are, how it could be inspiring. But I have a bit of a medical condition that has lasted for 15 days now and I’m not sure when it will be over. I think that whatever is unexplainable is only part of it. Also, my diet and emotions have something to do with it all, in making it better or worse. So the light and shadows of my experience align well with the new deck of Tarot cards I bought in Spain: Lucy Cavendish’s Oráculo de Luces y Sombras. The card images are ones of gothic fairies with doll-like faces. I am starting to translate the libro guía that accompanies it, and I appreciate the sentiment behind the tarot project. As far as I can tell, Cavendish has written that the deck is for the ill-fit, the mystics, and those who find themselves alone. I love the idea of divine beings who are resplendent with their unusual nature, who are rebellious and capricious. We don’t always have to be in a perfect place to be divine. We have offerings for each other and can find healing for ourselves even in our worry and melancholy.
Sometimes I wonder if I can ever be happy or ever commit to a lasting relationship of any kind while still in the process of repairing my brokenness, or at least lining the cracks with gold as has been done in Japanese culture for broken bowls and cups. Or maybe, if as Rumi says, the gaps are where the light comes through, I can be wise enough to notice and feel that warmth. My insecurities and self-doubt keep me from so much glory, but the universe, I suppose, still has some pull. I hope I can figure out how to play in the in-betweens.
Lache S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.