In one of the many stories about Hanuman, the hungry young monkey spied what looked like a juicy red fruit and leapt into the sky to grab it. Since it was actually the sun, he had to be stopped, and in doing so Hanuman was injured. There are many teachings from this story, but one of the more subtle ones is that Hanuman learns that rash behavior has consequences and that one must exercise skillful means in pursuit of one’s desires.
Hanuman’s greatest desire is to be in service of the divine, particularly Rama, and as the story above exemplifies, in his childhood and youth he learns he must be skillful in applying his substantial power. He displays this ability on several occasions in the great Indian epic in which he figures prominently, the Ramayana, helping Rama recover his consort Sita, who has been abducted by the evil demon Ravana.
When Hanuman discovers where Sita has been held captive, he finds her distressed and considering suicide. He sits in a tree, observing. He knows he must act quickly, yet he pauses to consider carefully how best to approach. “After deep deliberation, Hanuman decided on the safest and wisest course! Softly, sweetly, clearly and in cultured accents, he narrated the story of Rama.”* Sita, though initially fearful of the monkey, is delighted by his words, and they connect through further conversation.
You may know of occasions in your life when you were more or less skillful in different situations, even when your desire is pure. I had a desire to address racial tensions, and to do so I began graduate school at a Midwestern university. I was 21 years of age, feeling a bit rebellious, and looked like the California Deadhead hippie I was. I found that both the faculty and other graduate students had trouble taking me seriously, so much so, that I ended up leaving after a year. I transferred to a different graduate school and decided to take another approach, presenting myself more conservatively and as a serious student, and I found I was accepted much more readily and ranked at the top of my class. Eventually it didn’t matter if I wore my blazer or my tie-dyes, as I had made the connection successfully, and was able to publish several papers on group relations in prestigious scholarly journals.
This isn’t a teaching about changing yourself in order to please others. It is about finding your heart’s desire and being skillful about your pursuit of that desire. If you follow your desire to its core, you may find that ultimately you want to be of service in some way, that you have your own unique gift for the world. And, in fact, each of us already changes into different ways of being in our lives as we approach the roles of employee, boss, teacher, student, spouse, brother or sister, child, parent, etc. In each of these roles, to be of the most service, we must be skillful in finding a way to connect.
– As you practice yoga asana, pick some particular alignment principle to focus on, something the teacher is emphasizing or that you need to work on. Notice what you do to skillfully apply that principle as you move through the variously shaped poses.
– Write in your journal: “my heart’s desire is…..”. Remember what is most important to you. Come back to that desire again and again.
– Make a list of the different roles you have in your life. How is your heart’s desire reflected in each? Is there nuance? Does remembering your heart’s desire help? Can you think of more skillful ways to approach some of these relationships?
– When Hanuman finds Sita, he pauses to watch and contemplate the right approach. Can you think of instances in your life when this could be useful? Try it out in some difficult situation.
– Consider and journal about situations in your life when you were more or less skillful. How could you have been more skillful when you weren’t? Allow yourself to learn from your mistakes.
– If you have any particularly sticky relationships or situations in your life right now, contemplate and journal: a) what is your desire in this situation, and b) how might you most skillfully move in that direction.
*The quote is from Swami Venkatesananda’s version of the Ramayana of Valmiki. Thanks to Douglas Brooks for his telling of these stories.