Home   Uncategorized   Theater of Memory: the Roasted Chile, the Dancing Gods

Theater of Memory: the Roasted Chile, the Dancing Gods

Nataraja, dancing
I am standing at my kitchen counter, peeling the green chile we’ve just taken from the roaster, feeling the deep yet unsettling familiarity of…something. I stop and listen. We have an album playing, “Show Your Bones” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the last time I listened to it, we were living in Buffalo, NY where my husband studied for his doctorate.  Oh, that’s what it is. Karen O’s beautiful punk voice reminds me of the time I spent longing for this precise moment, dying to return to this exact spot, to autumn in the high desert. Time runs like a circle and now I’m where I wanted to be the last time I heard this song. Home.
It’s a facet of consciousness, the yogis tell us: smriti, the power of memory–as important as any other piece of our understanding of what it means to be alive. It makes us who we are. Or it makes us recognize who we are in contrast to who we were. Or it makes us understand that we’ve just always been this one human being all along, and memory is a thing that burns behind us but then circles around to show us where we’re going, where our feet are falling as we walk.
Some say this is the purpose of puja: meditations with a flavor of devotion. Ones where we centralize some face of the divine–Durga with her Tiger, Jesus on the cross, Quan Yin holding up a hand in a greeting of compassion. Their images hold pieces of our memory for us, so that if we forget some of the details, they give them back to us: remember this part, they say, this might be the thing you needed to remember to get where you’re going today. Ferocity, forgiveness, compassion, a million things: the gods hold them for us and allow us to luxury of getting lost, and then finding our way back.
Today I’m remembering, as the chill and color and chile-scent of fall arrive, to remember the beauty to be found at the end of a year’s cycle. This is Nataraja’s story: he’s the one who dances, encircled in flames, snakes around his neck, one arm swept across his heart, balancing on one leg, world about to end: how does he manage? “How does he manage” isn’t his question, though: it’s mine. It’s the question of a working mama who races to hold the world together; Nataraja reminds me that sometimes the world has to end, the seasons have to change, we have to let go, we have to let the cremation ground do it’s thing in order for the seeds of coming seasons to be fed. The leaves outside never look more gorgeous than when they are about to drop and become compost. Let your day end, mama, Nataraja says, the dance will keep dancing itself while you rest.
Basically, this is what yoga always does for me: do a little practice, just enough to remember that nothing I do is on my own. To hear your own breath is to remember what a big living world you’re a part of. This is what Nataraja’s arm sweeping across his heart reminds me: sometimes you can see inside the dance, to the very heart of things, and remember the profound blessing of being alive. Sometimes you won’t remember it at all. The dance keeps getting danced, though, and will welcome you back when you’re ready.
Wishing you a beautiful October!
Erin H/Grassroots Yoga


  • Meta Hirschl

    What a brilliant post, Erin!

    I share your sense of sweet sadness, a deep experience of the passage of time. The balloons magically appear in the sky and somehow I remember (smriti) … it is all a fantasy, a creation, we, all of us, make it up as we go along.

    Our ultimate art is our lives. We are the art.
    Blessings all around, Meta.

  • Selenah

    It’s not the fall, and there’s no Chili-
    –but this post resonates more than ever now.
    Thank you for your words.
    Thank you for reminding me of the dance.


Leave a Reply