Focus of the month: Storytelling

February 2015

Indra assumed the form of a falcon to test the character of King Sibi. The falcon chased a dove to kill it. The dove flew to King Sibi and begged him for shelter from the pursuer. The king was overwhelmed with compassion for the dove and said that he would protect him. When the falcon arrived he demanded that the king give up the dove - as it was his natural food and the falcon would starve without it. The king explained that he had given shelter to the dove and would not surrender. To that, the falcon responded that the king must give him the equivalent weight of his own flesh. The king placed the dove on one side of a weight scale and cut off a portion of his own thigh and placed it in the other side. To his surprise, the bird was much heavier. The king proceeded to cut pieces of his thigh and add them to the scale, but the dove proved to be heavier each time. Finally, the king stepped onto the scale offering his whole body in place of the dove. The falcon then revealed himself as Indra and restored King Sibi, declaring, “Your fame will last as long as the world lasts.”
Mahabharata, Aranya parva, adhyayas 130-131

Stephen King said, “There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories.”

All literature, movies, television or graphic novels do not endure without a good story. Great books like the Bible or Koran have stories that we remember our whole lives. What is a good story? A good story is the one we remember. Remember-ability is the true test of a good story. A good story relates universal importance in a personal way. A good story expands a personal experience into universal dimension. Story and story telling are integral tools of yoga knowledge. Stories of gods, demons, humans and all other animals fill the scriptures and lore of yoga. These stories paint a vivid picture of the lives of sages, saints, yogis and seekers.

Svetketu’s father was a great Sage who taught his son about the nature of the universe being an invisible and all pervading essence. “That is Reality. That is Atman. Thou Art That.” Svetketu asked his father to explain more. His father instructed him to place a lump of salt into a glass of water and return in the morning. When Svetketu returned the next day his father asked him to take the salt out of the water. Svetketu could not see the salt in the water, as it had dissolved. His father instructed him to taste the water and tell him how he found it. Svetketu replied that the water was without a doubt salty. His father told him to look for the salt again. Svetketu could not see the salt, he could only taste it. His father then told him that the invisible and subtle essence of the whole universe cannot be seen but is as present as the salt that is invisible in the water. “That is Reality. That is Truth. Thou Art That.”
- From Chandogya Upanishad

Arundhati Roy wrote, “The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably… In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.”

One very cold night Hummingbird was flying home and saw the humans below, huddled against the cold. The poor humans had no feathers to keep them warm! Hummingbird was filled with compassion and was determined to do something about this. He flew down and asked the humans “Why do you not have fire to keep yourselves warm?” The humans replied “We are frightened that if we try to take some fire from the Sun, it will burn us up.” “Hmmmmmm,” Hummingbird hummed. “I can get some fire from the Sun. I am very fast.” (Which is true, Hummingbirds are very skilled at evasive maneuvers!) The humans warned the Hummingbird that the Sun would also burn him if he tried to get some of the fire. The Hummingbird flew away to get a good night’s sleep because he had decided to get fire for the human beings. The next morning the Hummingbird started out early. He flew straight up in the sky. Hummingbird flew up, up, and up, higher and higher. Soon he was close to the Sun who saw the little bird, laughed, and threw out a tongue of fire to fry him. The little bird was almost burned but maneuvered around to the back of the Sun, grabbed a piece of fire, and tucked it under his chin. He flew down, down, down. The little bird was exhausted as he handed the fire to the humans. Old Coyote was the chief of the humans and he said, “Thank you for this gift. Where shall we keep the fire?” The other human beings said, “We will watch the fire and never let it go out.” Old Coyote shook his head, “No, you will let it go out. You will tire and fall asleep. What if it rains? We must keep the fire safe.” Old Coyote took the fire and pushed it into a hardwood tree nearby. The humans were afraid, “What have you done? We’ve lost the fire now.” Old Coyote smiled and said “The fire is in the tree any time you need it. Just rub the hardwood with a soft wood and the fire will come out. You will never be cold again.” To this day many Hummingbirds have a red mark below their beak where their ancestor carried the gift of fire to the human beings. And that is all. - From First Nations tradition

February 2015 — David Life

Teaching notes:

  • First some tips about storytelling: You should memorize your stories and tell them in way that is engaging. It’s ok to read the story if everyone is in an asana and not watching you (but it shouldn’t sound like your are reading.) Generally, you should tell your stories while the asana class is unfolding. A circle is the traditional seating for stories. Use visual props for the story- a scarf can be a costume or a pole can be a yogi staff. Memorize and tell different stories throughout the month. Reference the Upanishads, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, or use traditional stories of the gods and demons.
  • Play audio tapes of stories.
  • Use the asana practice to act out stories or parts of stories. For example the story of Shiva, Sati and Daksha is portrayed in Virabhadrasana I, II, and III. Each of the asana named for a sage has a wonderful story to be researched and presented to your students.
  • Investigate modern stories like The Wizard of Oz in the light of the spiritual journey.
  • Tell stories about the animals portrayed in the asana. There are great ones about the tortoise, rabbit, cobra, etc.
  • There are many good stories in the Jivamukti Yoga book or in Lady Ruth’s wonderful books.
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