Diwali - Light and Shadow

13/11/2012 21:32


Today is Diwali – the official holiday in India, which is comparable to our Western Christmas or Thanksgiving – the “festival of lights.” One of our trainees at Yoga Thailand is actually Indian. Yesterday I was delighted with his story about Diwali – one that his mother used to tell him when he was little. Attracted by the idea of a festival of lights, I dive into more research, but quickly realize I'm not even going to attempt more detail here.


There seem to be different stories and myths that Hindus associate with Diwali. Based on the Ramayana, some believe it marks the date of Rama's return after 14 years of exile in the jungle. It was a moonless night as he was making his way back with his wife Sita and his brother. It was so dark that on the road back to the capital Ayodhya that people lit ghee-lamps to show the way and welcome his return. Also coinciding with the date is Krishna's defeat of the demon Narakasura, in other words, the triumph of good over evil (the second day of the festival is dedicated to this). Traditionally, Diwali also marks the end of the harvest season for most India. Farmers give thanks for the abundance received and pray for a good year ahead, invoking the goddess Lakshmi, symbol of wealth and prosperity (the third day of the festival is Lakshmi Puja, but is also dedicated to Ganesh, the of auspicious beginnings). Traditionally, people clean their houses and decorate them with as many lights as possible. You wear new clothes and buy new kitchen supplies. It's a moment of renewal. As the old moon dies, everything has a chance to transform, you let go of the old and make space for the new.

Personally, I was immediately drawn to the spiritual significance of a celebration of light. I was once told the Buddhist concept of practice: It is like polishing a smoke-blackened, grimy glass so the inner light can shine through. The inner light stands for our higher self, for our supreme consciousness, our discriminative intelligence – Atman, Brahman, Buddhi, the Divine, the Soul. For the longest time, these concepts sounded quite foreign and abstract to me. So, to keep it simple: Our yogic practices create awareness. You begin to observe yourself more mindfully as you act and think. There is a part of you, the witness, that begins to watch more carefully when you're reacting out of a set pattern of fear, aggression, attachment, illusion. And that awareness, that intelligence, is what is awakened and what promotes understanding, compassion, and well, love. A higher, “better” Self.


I remember when I was little,every once in a while my dad would force me to clean up the mess in my room. He would pull everything out, strew toys, books, stuffed animals etc. on the floor – and then we would find a place for everything. But for the first hour I would just sit amidst the chaos in my room. In my experiences the practices of Asana, Pranayama and meditation work in a very similar way. Things will get messy before they get calm. The way to light is through darkness and chaos. Or as my mother would say to me: If you create light, there's bound to be a shadow. None can exist without the other.


This is often what happens, as we begin to move deeper into the practice. We become still and settled enough to actually notice what's going on in the mind. And boy, suddenly we get this unobstructed view of the relentless roller-coaster upsetting the streams of our consciousness. This can cause a nauseating vertigo. Countless times I have been frustrated as I became aware of the crazy mechanisms of my ego. Maybe the most frustrating thing is that you can only watch, because the ego will do its dance anyway, no matter how much you want to stop or suppress it. Only over time and with sustained awareness will the tight grip of the ego loosen a bit. That takes a lot of patience and compassion for yourself.


It was again my mother that gave me a piece of advice that has been a little oil lamp on moonless nights and dark roads. It helps to love yourself, to treat yourself to whatever lifts your spirit. Singing, Mantra and Kirtan, has shifted a lot for me. Which is why it was important to me to do something on Diwali when I heard it was today. So we sat together on the outdoor Shala, just a few of us with three candles at the center of our little circle. Our Indian friend told us about the myth of Diwali and we sang a few mantras. Just to charge the battery with light, for darker days to come. Simple, small, but in a way a new yoga family, a Sangha slowly forming. Which is another thing that helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel: People that are on a similar path and shine their light for you to follow.