I have slowly made my way through the latest Indian Epic on my book list, The Ramayana. I’m reading the novel length version by Ramesh Menon, and wow, it’s a crazy story. It would make a great sci-fi movie—there’s true love, brotherly love, family drama, a quest, demons, super-powers, super-weapons, a monkey-demon war on and idyllic island setting, and… AND through all the action and adventure, a whole (very useful) approach to life is laid out and demonstrated. Sounds good, right? I like a good story and I like reading about crazy super-powers, but the piece I like the most about this whole thing is the petals that fall from the sky. Allow me to tell you more.
In the Ramayana, there is a whole host of gods and lesser deities that interact and intervene in the human world. It reminds me of how the Greek gods would come down and meddle or assist with the trajectory of humankind. Same thing here. The Devas, Gandharvas, Yakshas, etc. are invested and involved in the things that happen here on earth because what happens here affects heaven and the elements… we are all interconnected. Well, it turns out Rama, our hero, is actually an incarnation of a very powerful diety, Vishnu, the preserver. Rama/Vishnu is born because he has a very important job to do and fulfillment of this duty or dharma is going to help to restore balance to the whole universe. So what about these petals falling from the sky? Rama, his wife, Sita and his brother, Lakshmana, exemplify lives lived according to the laws of dharma. They do what they should do no matter how difficult that may be. In this story, it is this willingness and trust that make it possible for Rama to fulfill his destiny and help restore balance to the worlds, both earthly and heavenly. So when this power team accomplishes amazing things, everything celebrates: the birds sing in the trees, the sun shines brightly, the wind blows and sometimes, if it is really great, the Devas up in Devaloka are so pleased and relieved that they open up the skies and petals fall down to earth below. The fragrance of these petals is so wonderful that it fills all beings with the scent of goodness and evil creatures flee because they can’t handle that.
What a clear and lovely message that not only are you doing something right, but that it matters. You do something that is important to you and your own path and life but then these petals manifest and fall all around and you know that what you are doing is connected to some larger destiny. Even celestial beings are celebrating your achievement and dedication. Petals falling from the sky. I love that.
I’ve been trying to figure out what the equivalent of this is here in Austin, Texas, in my life. Even though amazing things happen in this life of mine, and even though I want it really badly, I don’t think I can expect actual petals to fall all around me when I do something that is in alignment with the universe. So what can I expect? I think when petals fall in my life, it is quieter and perhaps a little more subtle that in the Ramayana. Petals falling is maybe a feeling that happens on the inside. Perhaps it is part of being able to feel and smell and enjoy the sweetness that comes from living my life well and taking care of my responsibilities. An important part of this is knowing what my responsibilities, or my dharma is. I have roles as mother, daughter, friend, sister, lover, partner, and citizen, among others, and staying open to the things my inner voice has to say about how to live those roles to my best and fullest is part of this work of yoga. When I practice that and the time comes when I have to do something that really matters in that big kind of way, maybe I’ll know it and I’ll be able to do it. And if I do it, maybe I’ll have that feeling of having contributed an important part to the balance of things and I’ll be able to pause and soak in the sweet fragrance that comes with my job well done. I have felt this sweetness at really important times. Like when I was able to help care for my grandmother at the end of her life and in being present with her body as it was prepared for her funeral. I felt it during childbirth… both times. I have felt it as a teacher. I have known this feeling, I just didn’t know about the petals.
Not many of us have magical bows and arrows radiant and glowing blue skin, like Rama, our hero. We don’t often encounter rishis, holy men, who live deep in the forest and sit in meditation and worship for thousands of years. We also don’t get back-up from magical monkey-armies or flying chariots or super-powers given as a boon for many years of devoted worship. What we can find and cultivate is Rama’s commitment to following his dharma. Fulfilling his duty is more than just being a good sport, it’s an attitude toward cosmic order and knowing that he has a place in it all. Perhaps, like Rama, when we do what we are called to do, like graciously allow our prince-brother to take over the throne while we travel in the demon infested forests with a new wife, devoted brother and a dreadlocked rishi for 14 years, we can have faith that even when we can’t see why or how it is going to work out, it will. And then, as fragrant petals fall all around us, we can have the time, space and the peace to enjoy it.