Every evening I read or tell stories to my children.
No matter the content of day or the condition of our minds, we have storytime.
I read literature, share Indian stories and epics, and even tell stories of mine and my husband’s childhoods and our ancestors. On the eves of each child’s birthday I tell them their birth stories.
Last year, I shared a photo of the reading routine with our vedic astrology guru. He wrote back this reflection ~
“The theme of Mother-as-Storyteller and inter-generational wisdom whisperer, is eternal, isn’t it?”
Story telling is a timeless tradition, and as I landed more and more in motherhood I found stories emerging more and more in my teaching.
I found the deeper meanings of the stories revealing themselves to me in meditative moments… weaving together the threads of mundane life and esoteric spiritual teachings.
The yoga tradition suggests that story telling is not only delightful when we are doing well internally and externally, but essential upāya [remedy] for the times when we feel stuck.
Stuck, Overwhelmed, Confused?
The vedic tradition explains that at times, your mind can take on a condition that is like an opaque sticky glue covering the luminosity of the mind and causes you to feel like….
You want to change or grow but don’t feel you have the time or ability
You’re stuck in a quicksand unhealthy habits, patterns or conditions
You’re frustrated, low energy, sad or confused
You’re in a state of limbo, with unfinished business of the past to tend to
You’re drowning in doubts that obstruct you from moving forward
You’re overwhelmed with a sense of doom or helplessness
You’re anxious about the state of the world
You’re confused about what to do and what not to do
This overwhelming state of is an unavoidable part of the human experience – you may feel it occasionally or regularly – but it is not a healthy place to remain in.
The Bhagavad Gitā says, “for those with bodies” [aka you!] the doubtful, stuck, dull condition of mind is inevitable sooner or later, but should be immediately remedied.
Prince Rāma Needed to Get Unstuck
Even prince Rāma, avatāra of lord Viṣṇu underwent this state of stuckness.
In the great story of the Rāmāyana, when Rāma and his three brothers graduated from his study of spiritual & secular study they went on a spiritual pilgrimage to sacred places all over the land of Bhārata [India].
On their return, Rāma was deeply withdrawn. He had no interest in sporting with his brothers, nor in the usual entertainments of the palace such as music, dance and drama.
Rāma wanted solitude, barely speaking and utterly unmotivated in life or even in the path of yoga.
The king was terribly worried about the change in his enthusiastic, bright, joyful son. Nothing seemed to work, not soothing words nor threats.
At this time, the Sage Viśvāmitra arrived to ask that the young Rāma accompany him to slay destructive forces that were disrupting the sacred rituals in his forest.
The King was convinced to allow it, but Rāma refused to comply. He had no motivation to be in service, do his duty or even get up.
Rāma was frustrated and overwhelmed with questions like…
- If nothing is permanent what is the point of anything?
- With so much pain in the world why bother enjoying pleasure?
- All in this world is fleeting, so why run after possessions?
- What is the point of human existence or any action at all?
While the King was worried, the family Guru Vāsiṣṭha was pleased at the depth of the questions.
He knew there was a profound dispassion there, but could also see that being lost in the questions was not leading to any state of responsibility let alone luminosity of mind.
What followed was “Vāsiṣṭha’s Yoga”, meaning Vāsiṣṭha’s remedy to pull Rāma out of his destructive state. The remedy was largely, storytelling.
Story after story… and stories within stories.
Vāsiṣṭha is the name of the Sage, and Yoga here can be understood to mean ‘remedy’, ‘path’, or ‘method’. The method that Vāsiṣṭha used when Rāma was suffering was primarily storytelling.
Stories, a Sacred Remedy
Sage Vaṣistha sits in nature in a a condition of peace [sattva] with sacred scripture surrounded by sweet faced animals who are drawn to his presence.
Sage Vāsiṣṭha knew that story is the remedy needed when the mind is stuck.
He knew that information, academics, forcing, punishing or rewarding wouldn’t work. He knew he had to bypass the intellect and go directly to the heart with stories.
Vāsiṣṭha then told curious, strange, stimulating, inspiring and meaningful stories to Rāma.
The stories were a luminous fire that burned away the debilitating condition of Rāma’s mind.
Stories can foster deep feeling and meaning and stimulate curiosity, surprise, healing, ṛelease, motivation, transformation and enlightenment itself
The stories foster deep feeling and meaning and stimulate curiosity, surprise, healing, ṛelease, motivation, transformation and enlightenment itself.
You see, even lord Rāma needed storytime!
In fact, deep listening to sacred stories is a sādhana – a spiritual practice.
Stories Unlock Doorways
Listening to the stories drew Rama out of his state of drowning in disdain… it awakened his curiosity his love of life, and his sense of purpose! Through stories he was available for deeper knowledge.
Even the beloved divine form Gaṇeśa offers us tales and iconography that make it clear that deep listening to meaningful stories is a key to opening locked doorways.
Lord Gaṇeśa, the recognizable elephant headed form with the trunk, round belly & love of sweets is invoked in Sanskrit as the “poet of poets“!
His broken tusk was used to scribe the great epic Mahābharata, and his enormous ears represent deep listening.
As the form of the divine who is invoked at the beginning of anything, Ganesha reminds us that before we do anything, we must listen.
He reminds us that it is listening to the whispers of wisdom that opens doorways.
His eternally child-like appearance and nature reminds us of the child within who simply wants to cozy up and listen to delightful divine story time.
Whenever you feel scared or stuck, may you find stories that are a refuge. May your life be imbued with deep listening and the delight of stories that enlighten – especially in times when you need it most!