How To Dance Through Life

I’m not even sure how I came to this position on my journey in life. Whether I was placed here due to the fallout from pandemic disruptions, or if I would have wound up arriving to this same spot, anyway. In any case, I am on the verge of moving to a different city, in a different state, one where I have no relatives, no friends, no job, and I am considering the fact that I will indeed be starting over – establishing a new home, a new community, an entirely new life.

The idea of this move is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. On the one hand, there is potential to better my situation in many ways – perhaps I’ll be able to find a living situation with more space. Perhaps I’ll be able to create a daily routine that doesn’t require moving at such a fast pace as what New York City demands. Perhaps I’ll be able to create an income that will stretch further in a smaller sized city.

But with every big unknown, there is potential for both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. And although I have eagerly jumped into adventures in the past full of youthful optimism, at the age of 53, I’ve lost those rose-colored glasses. And so I also worry. Will I be able to re-create enough work in a new place? Will I even like the new city and its citizens?

So often, I look to ancient yoga texts to find some perspective and words of wisdom. And although I don’t have a specific story, the symbol of Nataraja is a perfect representation for times when you feel like you are starting over.

Nataraja is known as the “Dancing Shiva,” or a specific form that Shiva adopts. Shiva is a Hindu deity referred to frequently as “the destroyer.” And although Nataraja is indeed destroying the universe, the dance represents the simultaneous creation of a new universe. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Out with the old, in with the new?” It is essentially the same idea – one must first throw out old, no longer useful items off of the shelf in order to create necessary space to house new items. Sometimes it’s not physical items we need to throw out, but ideas, or relationships, etc.

Sculptures of Nataraja usually include a lot of symbolism, some of which we can also think of in a non-religious way.

For example, one of Nataraja’s hands holds the gesture of protection, which is also a gesture meant to comfort the viewer. It symbolizes that “everything is going to be okay,” which is commonly seen as the best attitude to adopt in order to gracefully move through upheaving life changes – good or bad. No one can predict the future, and so why not hope for the best? Or at least, keep an open mind. If you walk into situations expecting the worst, it could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The symbol of dance itself is also helpful to consider. Dance is graceful movement that no matter how frenetic, is still choreographed and purposeful. Even though we may not always “have a say” in the situations we find ourselves in, we do know we have choices in how to respond. And, the more we can realistically see and accept our circumstances, the easier it will be for us to learn how to “dance” inside of them, and respond “in synch” with our situation. It is when we are in denial of our current reality that we make things more difficult on ourselves, more awkward, and less graceful. Dancers are able to adapt to whatever stage they are given; it is part of the art.

And then, there is the symbol of fire. It is used in two places in most Nataraja sculptures. Surrounding Nataraja, there is a ring of fire which represents the current universe (filled with suffering caused by illusion). And, there is a smaller flame held in one of Nataraja’s hands, which he will use to destroy the universe in order to create a new one. (His instrument to create a new universe is held in a different hand.) I find it interesting that even though he is surrounded by fire, he holds a piece of it in his hand. The old adage, “You can’t fight fire with fire.” comes to mind.

From a human perspective, being surrounded by fire would most certainly be a frightening experience. And yet, having a piece of fire in one’s hand is also akin to a torch, which can be used to see one’s way out of darkness – usually seen as a positive. To me, the small piece of fire held in Nataraja’s hand is akin to the transformation we experience after an upheaval. It is as if a small piece of the experience stayed with us to help us grow, spiritually. Rather than trying to destroy the ring of fire with a torch of fire, Nataraja uses a piece taken from the ring of fire to balance out the similarly strong power of creation, which is held in a different hand.

Brooklyn and New York City shaped how I think and how I move over the past 30 years of living here. Perhaps coincidentally, I originally moved to New York City to become an artist, specifically a dancer! And so, it only makes sense that I leave New York with life lessons from the dancer Nataraja to help me find the ART in st-art-ing over.

3 Responses

  1. Wow, so lovely article… I have two questions indeed. The first one is, I don’t know which is the protection gesture of Nataraja. “For example, one of Nataraja’s hands holds the gesture of protection, which is also a gesture meant to comfort the viewer”. Is it Gyan Mudra facing down? And second one, I think I am going to write an email. I would like to ask you about old texts of yoga. Yhankyou!

    1. The mudra (hand gesture) for protection is the hand that faces the palm towards the viewer, the fingers are all together, and pointing up. In America, it would be the same hand gesture used to indicate “stop.” For this article, a photo of Nataraja the yoga asana position was used instead of a depiction of Nataraja the Hindu diety. The photo for this article does not show the mudra for protection.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this special moment in your life, giving me an inspirational point of view on complicated junctions on a lifepath and also inviting me to open my heart wider just in response to you being so open and sharing! Good luck with the moving! Looking forward to meet you in Israel one day…

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