Shiva's Dance of Destruction & Renewal - Springtime Insights for the Artist/Writer/Creator via Hindu Mythology
Myths have a way of working on us--far from being "lies," they reveal eternal truths. When introduced to the world's great mythic stories (whether through books, film, performance or music) one may begin to sense that mythology is more than just a collection of curious stories--there's something more going on beneath the fantastical imagery and dream-like plots. Contemporary scholar-sages such as C.G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, Marie-Louise von Franz and James Hillman (among so many others) have credited psyche/soul/the unconscious as the ultimate myth-maker. Hillman goes so far to say that "we humans don't make up myths, instead the myths make us." On this Spring Equinox, the Hindu god Shiva (Siva) provides a wonderful example of the metaphoric power of myth. His complex character shares much in common with the artist/writer and creator.
Like most gods and goddesses, Shiva is multi-dimensional and known by many names. Shiva Nataraja/The Lord of the Dance is one of his most compelling personas. In this guise, he is the eternal dancer cycling through never-ending phases of destruction and creation. The artist and creator will recognize these phases in himself/herself as well--there is always a dying-off, an ending, a period of disappointment, or an agonizing fallow time that both proceeds and precedes more generative, fulfilling periods. We may actually find ourselves dismantling, abandoning or even destroying our work in order to better receive new inspiration. Courage, patience and pain can accompany this phase much like excitement, euphoria, and "flow" can be present when the "making" phase is going well.
On any spot along the continuum, Shiva Nataraja reminds us of the importance of "playfulness" in the creative process--even on our dreariest days when inspiration seems to have forgotten us. Hindu mythology features a wonderful term called "lila," meaning the "play of the gods," "cosmic playfulness," and "aimless display." East Indian scholar Heinrich Zimmer expresses the concept of lila as it appears in the figure of Shiva Nataraja:
"[He is] the Archetypal ascetic, and Archetypal dancer. . . . On one hand he is Total Tranquility--inward calm absorbed in itself. . . . But on the other, he is Total Activity--life's energy, frantic, aimless, and playful."
Jungian analyst Rosemary Gordon further emphasizes the link between play and creativity:
"When play evolves into an act of creation . . . a person has reached the point where he tries to transcend even his urge for ego-growth . . . in order to put himself also at the service of such self-transcending values as truth, beauty, spirit and the search for meaning. Thus, through creativity a person searches out the experience of communication and of communion, and he strives to forge links inside himself between the ego and the self, the personal and the collective, the here-and-now and the transcendent."
In addition to his role as cosmic creator and destroyer, Shiva forms a family trinity with his wife, the goddess Parvati (with her own multiple personalities including Shakti and Kali), and their beloved son Ganesha. Yet another aspect of the god is the persona known as Ardhanarisha, or the "Half-Woman Lord." The body of Ardhanarisha is equally divided between the male Shiva on the left and the female Shakti on the right. This Hermaphroditic figure shares much in common with the Greek Hermes--both are shape-shifters and archetypal tricksters capable of suffering the tension of opposites. Like the authentic artist, both Shiva and Hermes are guides. They venture where few dare go--into worlds that are extraordinary (some would say sacred). They do this, as Roberts Avens (a marvelous scholar of archetypal psychology) explains, without losing themselves in the process so as to return with great gifts:
Creative individuals achieve a "liberation of vision analogous to dreaming with one part of ourselves and at the same time knowing that we are dreaming. We are simultaneously outside the dream and within it. Poets are visionaries and dreamers, not because they are prone to reveries or capricious and erratic fantasy, but precisely because they do not lose themselves in the act of vision."
Each year the arrival of the spring equinox serves as a symbol for the union of opposites--an equal division of dark and light, male and female, destruction and creation, incubation and action.
And so the eternal dance continues--what good fortune to be alive, to be a guest on the earth as she makes yet another turn around the sun.
For more on Lord Shiva take a look at Heinrich Zimmer's Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization and Philosophies of India, Ananda Coomaraswamy's The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Indian Essays, Richard Smoley's The Dice Game of Shiva, and Joseph Campbell's classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
In the Spirit of Shiva, May the Cosmic Playfulness (Lila) of Springtime Guide
Your Life and Work!
Viva la Primavera / Long Live Spring!
I'm Mary Antonia Wood, Ph,D. I share both contemporary & ancient insights on the origins & realities of artistic expression. Creators of all types will discover enriching & practical wisdom about their vocation as expressed through the lenses of philosophy, mythology, archetypal & depth psychologies, neuroscience and more. Take a look.