Let me tell you a story. It’s a story my friend told me last April, in a New York cocktail bar. It’s the story of Hanuman, the monkey-headed God of Hinduism and Indian mythology. I’ll tell you the story the way my friend told it to me. It might not be a perfect retelling. And the version she told me was adapted and shortened a little for the scene and setting of sundown cocktails in a New York minute. But this is how it went, and how it goes.
Hanuman is the monkey-headed God, and devotee of the King Rama. He loves him like a brother, like literally, oh my I love you so much I would do anything for you please here have my heart. So one day, Rama’s wife is stolen by a demon from Sri Lanka. Hanuman tells Rama “dude, don’t worry, I’m going to get her back for you.” So he goes to the tip of India that’s closest to Sri Lanka and he jumps. He doesn't know if he's going to make it, but he jumps anyway. And he does makes it! So he’s there, and he finds Rama's wife and the demon and asks the demon for Rama’s wife, Sita, back. Then Hanuman basically loses it, there's a lot bloodshed, an ongoing saga of trying to get Sita back, and a battle. So towards the end of the battle, Rama's brother gets injured. Hanuman realises that if Rama's brother dies, Rama will probably give up himself. But there's this herb that can restore vitality and life, and it grows on a mountain in the Himalayas. So Hanuman is like, "ok, don't worry, I got this” and runs off to find the mountain, and find the herb on the mountain. The whole time his only thought rests in his heart: that he’s gotta get Sita back for Rama, and save Rama's brother, and basically he’s got to help Rama his best and most loved friend. I mean, Hanuman will literally do anything for Rama. So he’s searching and searching and he finally finds a whole bunch of herbs, but he doesn't know which herb it is that he needs! So he goes back to the battlefield, and he's brought the whole frickin’ mountain him saying “look, I couldn’t find the flower or herb you need so here: I brought you the mountain.”
I think the storytelling was diverted into excited chatter on India, Sri Lanka, and an upcoming wedding. But this story, and the way this story was told to me, really stuck. I went home and read more on it, discovering more intricacies (Hanuman is half-God as he’s the son of Vayu, the God of the wind; but he doesn't know he's the son of a God. And so when we jumps to Sri Lanka, he doesn't know if he'll be able to make it and so it's a leap of faith and love; but he does makes it as he has the power of the wind within him.)
Regardless of how the story is told, or even if some bits are missing or evolved, what pervades is this: Hanuman was so devoted to Rama that his love for him could literally move mountains.
For the last five years, I've had a yoga practice and journalling practice. Often, one informs the other. At their foundation, they are both a tool of self-reflection, development and growth. For three of these five years, I had largely been focussing on healing. An addiction to running, a hectic lifestyle, unresolved echoes of things gone wrong in the past had left me with some deep-rooted physical, emotional and mental wounds to heal. At that level of healing, a large amount of your attention is needed to focus on yourself.
After I heard the story of Hanuman, and whilst contemplating it in the days that followed, my thoughts went like this. No matter which way we spin it, human beings need love. A lot of our behaviour, activities and desires come down to this: the need to be loved, and to love. In the time of Tinder and the buffer of irony and sarcasm, romantic love is still seen as the main goal that we can either chase or laughingly reject. Hanuman is a figure that represents a fierce, pure kind of love, a love that isn't often considered: devotion and service. Not a self-seeking or full-circle "love me and I'll love you" love. Pure service, for the love of the other.
For a long time, my thoughts had been on healing and loving myself (as I think everyone should spend some time doing.) But then I realised, I was caught in a cycle of self-help and self-service. My yoga practice was devoted to healing my overworked body and stressed mind. The time I'd manage to carve for myself each week out of a busy work and social schedule was dedicated preciously to me-time and alone-time. What was once a necessity was becoming a cycle that fed only itself and started to feel a little hollow. Apathy grew. The healing was done, but I hadn't thought to look where to go beyond it.
I realised then, that my focus had to shift. I had a new mantra, and a new metaphorical figure to guide me. Hanuman, the God of love and devotion, and these words: how can I serve?
The surge and popularity of yoga in the West as a largely asana-based practice, and the adoption and adaptation of Hindu deities, religious texts and spiritual doctrines has been something of a curiosity to me. As with all things in the West, if there's a money-making opportunity on something that is culturally popular, it will happen. And it has. There's endless discussion on this, and the sincerity of a yoga practice if it is steeped in, or contains, a large apparent focus on the image of the practice rather than the quiet, humble practice that can take place offline without the need to shout about it and Instagram it. That is not to say if you do promote or post about your practice it makes it insincere. But rather, we know that media leads the minds of many and if a largely visual-based practice is what is seen, on some subliminal or subconscious level the belief forms that our practice should be an external one done for the sake of the practice (improvement in asanas, nailing an arm balance, your new $70 leggings or cushy mat, a practice done on an idyllic beach or up a mountain). Do we practice for the sake of the practice? Or do we practice with something beyond the one hour spent on the mat or in meditation? In my most extreme moments, I began to feel uncomfortably that spiritual seeking was portrayed and consumed as a luxury that only the middle-class West could afford. I continued my yoga practice, and continued to teach.
Now I am realising and understanding the value of a strong practice, if the focus of the practice is not wholly your own well-being and development. If you can practice, and iron out the mental kinks of anxiety and doubt, and build a strong foundation of good self-esteem and mental soundness, and a physically strong body that can carry a calm and focussed mind, it puts you in the best place to then turn your attention outwards to helping others. This process could take months or years. But we are past the stage, culturally and collectively, of needing to endlessly heal ourselves. Self-healing needs to take place. And it is an ongoing process. But we need to know what lies beyond it, to give us something to aim towards, and to know that we have purpose outside ourselves and our practice. And for some, that may be the need to help and heal others.
These are the colours of my mind both over the last year, and into the start of this one. All largely in reflection of my own past and present. Not in contemplation of any other one individual or even group, just the cultural trend I see at large. As I strengthen my voice and courage to speak my mind louder, and expand my knowledge and horizons of what there is in the world to be done, I hope to find my place in how I can serve and help and heal others.
I'm still wandering, and as I write this I'm in Bangkok. My writing has moved from what I've seen to what I'm thinking and feeling. Sometimes the external things I see intrigue me, and other times I seek a quiet corner to go inwards and make sense of the swirling impressions I've collected, to sort and sound them out before I can continue to wander with a clear mind.