As a writer, my fascination with the art of story is the psychology of story and how our minds narrate the stories of our lives.
I deeply entrench myself in the language we use everyday because it reflects how our minds interpret facts, details, perspectives and beliefs. Words, spoken or thought, affect our lives.
If our hearts can beat faster or more calmly from how a few words are ordered, just imagine what kind of an impact the larger stories that we tell ourselves have on the courses of our entire lives.
When you step back and try to detach your emotional connection to a story and see it for what it truly is, you realize that the narrative of the stories you tell about yourself are not exactly etched in stone–they are just matters of choice and belief.
If you trace the narrative of the story back far enough, you realize that the story falls on you: your story’s ultimate teller.
That can be tough pill to swallow.
Having had my own struggles in the past with depression, I’ve fought on the front lines of stories that I was telling myself–which, in turn, spun me for dark weeks and months. When I finally understood that I was responsible for the stories I told myself in my own head, I realized that the stories we shared with others were just as potent for shaping our realities.
If you are your story’s teller, you can choose the story you tell.
You get to dictate it.
Using your words and thoughts and energy to lead you, you can start to reshape the journey of your life and your role in it.
You can be heartbroken. Stuck. Static, stagnant or stupid. You could be a failure. “Unemployable.” “Undateable.”
But, seriously, who would choose to tell a story like that?
Because you can choose to tell your champion story. Your hero story. Your story as a devoted servant. Your story as a leader who really, truly, deeply cares. Your story can be that of a giver whose love knows no limit. A provider who never let his loved ones want for anything. A nurturer who built a nest that allowed her chicks to soar. A believer.
Or even a warrior.
Two weeks ago, I led a new yoga workshop about embodying the qualities of great yoga warriors in our everyday lives.
It was called, Embody the Warrior.
Infusing ancient yoga mythology with the power of storytelling (and beautiful body movement in the form of two hours of yoga), Embody the Warrior gave students three fascinating tales of Hindu warriors’ mythology and experiential insight into what it means to feel the power, strength, grace, determination and poise of a great warrior.
These interesting tales about Hindu deities and yoga warriors give us three ways of being a “warrior” in our everyday lives.
My students loved discovering these three styles of inner warriorship through our yoga workshop, so I thought I would share those three warriors and their warrior styles with you here.
1. Meet Arjuna: The Warrior in Doubt of His Purpose
Arjuna is a great warrior of the Pandava family who we really get to know well in the Bhagavad Gita, a Holy Scripture of Hinduism. Arjuna, a mighty archer who is noble and wise, finds himself in this great story on the eve of the greatest battle of his life.
In the forthcoming war that is set to pit clansmen against clansmen and cousin against cousin for the fate of India, Arjuna is suddenly overcome with anguish and self-doubt.
Although he has been a warrior his whole life, on the eve of this battle, Arjuna feels his faith and self-belief totally evaporate.
Feeling that this meaningful conflict is ultimately pointless because of all the harm and damage it will do, Arjuna starts to doubt his place and purpose in the world.
That is when Arjuna’s charioteer, Sri Krishna, steps in to interject. Krishna is one of the incarnation of the Holy Diety Vishnu, the great sustainer. In Hinduism, Vishnu is one of the Holy Trinity, and Vishnu’s holiest duty is to help keep balance, order and preservation in the universe.
(Naturally, Krishna, as an incarnation of Vishnu feels compelled to help Arjuna stay his course.)
Krishna begins to encourage Arjuna, telling him that he has to keep on his holy path towards his purpose, his dharma. Krishna tells Arjuna that beyond his doubt, he has his dharma to fulfill.
“Arise Arjuna,” Krishna demands, “Take up the path of yoga!”
Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, which is one poetic exchange between Arjuna and Krishna, Arjuna assumes the role of “every man” or “every woman” who are on the eve of battle everyday: the battle for inner peace and for happiness, the battles of our everyday lives that require our warrior spirit to “get things done.” We all stumble into moments of self-doubt when it feels like there’s no point.
Arjuna represents you and I in great moments of doubt in our everyday lives.
Maybe we have been on one path for as long as we can remember, and suddenly doubt our purpose. Maybe we feel unsure, suddenly lost, or in deep crisis.
In spite of all his doubt and second-guessing on the eve of the biggest event of his life, Arjuna learns that through this challenge before him, there is a bigger purpose. Krishna shares the path of yoga, and reaffirms that Arjuna must find faith in his dharma, trust his purpose, and takes action despite his fear. Arjuna must “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Arjuna, the great warrior who doubts even his own purpose and meaning, reminds us to trust that our dharma, our vocation, knows better than we can comprehend–that we must do our yoga, or become our best selves, and act nobly while staying devoted, in spite of our doubts.
2. Meet Durga: The Warrior Intent to Conquer Her Singular Purpose
Next, we encounter the creation story of the fierce warrior goddess Durga.
Durga who was created with a divine purpose that is unwavering and sure. Durga is the embodiment of a warrior who does not doubt, but understands the ferocity, surefootedness and strength needed to win.
The story of Durga begins with the story of Mahisa, the destructive demigod who, with the help of his mother’s love, finagled half-mortality from the gods. Mahisa was granted his wish to only be mortal if he was killed by a woman.
Taking advantage of the fact that women did not fight in battle, Mahisa gathered a demon army and began to conquer India.
Next, he marched upon the capital of heaven, the home of the gods. A battle ensued that lasted a thousand years. Eventually, the demon army and Mahisa overcame the gods, and the gods were forced to flee their home in heaven.
Troubled by the evil Mahisa and his demon army, the holy triumvirate of Hindu mythology, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, gathered together to discuss ways to defeat Mahisa.
In their conversation together, the three gods grew red hot with rage. Their anger created a mass of light between them. In the burning fire, a woman suddenly appeared. It was Durga, the warrior goddess born of the Holy Trimurti themselves.
Durga’s many arms were given all of the weapons of the gods. She also was given a great tiger (sometimes described as a lion) to ride upon into battle. Durga set off into the woods to await battle, whenever it would come.
Eventually, Mahisa heard about this great warrior who was now living in the woods. He thought to take Durga as his bride. When she received the invitation to be wed, Durga responded, “I can only marry the man who can defeat me in battle.”
Mahisa laughed. “She is only a woman,” he said, “I will accept her challenge!” So he and his demon army set off to defeat Durga, and take her as his wife.
But that was Durga’s plan all along.
When they finally met on the battlefield, Durga called out to Mahisa, “Oh wicked Mahisa, I am not an ordinary woman. I am your death. Prepare to die!”
A great battle ensued, and thousands began to perish.
Mahisa, a shape-shifter, began to turn himself into a mountainous lion, and then an elephant, and then a fierce black water buffalo. Durga used all of her weapons to battle Mahisa, but he could not be stopped.
Finally, she resorted to her last weapon, her rope. She lassoed Mahisa, as the water buffalo, around his neck. Mahisa tried to free himself but the more that he struggled, the tighter the rope became. Durga began to laugh. She was playing with the demon Mahisa as he fought for survival. To her, conquering this demon was nothing more than a sport.
Dragging him close, Durga stepped her foot onto Mahisa’s neck. She thrust her trident into his chest, and as Mahisa fell dead so too did his demon army.
By destroying evil, Durga had protected divine law, or karma, which ensures universal justice in our lives.
More importantly, for you and me, Durga represents a ferocious warrior who will stop at nothing to conquer her demons, erase her shadows and stand tall in her battles.
You might channel your inner Durga in different times in your life, such as…
- When you need to stand up for yourself or for someone else
- At pivotal moments when strength is needed at work or in your career
- When you’re facing down shadows like unhealthy tendencies, bad habits and self-defeating thoughts
Demons be warned. There’s a little bit of Durga in each of us!
3. Meet Hanuman: The Warrior of Devotion and Great Faith to His Friends
Hanuman was born to Anjana and Vayu, the god of wind. As a demigod, Hanuman had superpowers like flight and strength. When he was a child, he could not control his super-powered impulses, and caused quite a bit of hell. One day, he took a great leap into flight and tried to take a bite of the sun, thinking it was a mango or candy. The sun god Surya struck down Hanuman with a lightning bolt.
Because he was abusing his god-like powers, the gods decided to punish Hanuman by cursing him with short-term memory, so that he could not remember his God-like nature or divine powers.
(In this way, Hanuman represents us all, who are equals in our own divinity, but often forget our own divine nature.)
As Hanuman grew up, he became a great warrior who did not remember his own divinity or super powers, though he instinctively used them in great battles and challenges in his life.
Even still, Hanuman’s greatest power is his devoted service.
In one story, Hanuman encounters two partners, Ram and Sita, and realizes that they are the ones whom he is supposed to nobly serve in his life. His devotion and love for his friends Ram and Sita are what made Hanuman such a great servant and warrior who would do anything to defeat evil and remain humble before the world.
In his service of Ram and Sita, Hanuman leaps across oceans, lifts mountains and escapes imprisonment to save the lives of his friends. When finally Ram and Sita are safe and their kingdom is protected from invaders, Ram begins to reward all of his devoted servants with great gifts.
Ram hugs Hanuman and gives him a beautiful, jeweled-encrusted necklace that is dotted with precious stones. Hanuman receives the necklace, and begins to pull the stones out, peering into each one. Onlookers in the room are aghast! What is this monkeyman doing? Everyone begins to mock Hanuman. Hanuman coolly replies that he is looking for Ram and his wife Sita in the stones, because if they are not there then the stones are worthless to him.
Laughter erupts. The room of servants don’t believe this Hanuman–in fact, they they think he’s all talk about this level of devotion to Ram and Sita.
Hanuman stands up and pulls open his very chest to expose his heart.
There, the images of Rama and Sita are literally there, etched in his heart.
Unlike Arjuna, Hanuman’s deep faith is what keeps him connected to his own closeted divinity–the same divinity that each of us possess as equal and divine creatures.
In the stories of Hanuman, his divinity is expressed in superpowers. For you and me, our divinity is expressed in things like our self-realization, sharing love and compassion, and using our minds to concoct beautiful and elaborate dreams.
And, unlike Durga, Hanuman was not born with a specific path of purpose.
Instead, it’s an internal source of power that grands Hanuman his never-ending path of purpose, from which he channels all the strength and meaning he requires: his faith, devoted service and love for his friends.
What I love about the stories of Hanuman are just that, the sense that we don’t need a single vocation, purpose or mission in life.
Service can be our mission.
Love can be the mission.
Devotion and faith can move us, every day.
Those paths don’t end, unless we abandon them.
Much like the stories we tell, we have opportunities aplenty to be embody our inner warriors, every day.
Besides, who’s to say that you are not a warrior–but you?
You are the author of your own yogic myth.
You are the narrator, the protagonist, the star, the hero, the warrior.
Who’s to say that you are not Arjuna, on the eve of battle, a moment culminating after a lifetime of work and struggle, to suddenly question everything? And there, with the eyes of history upon you, feeling the fear, and choosing to do it anyway?
Who’s to say that your struggles, your demons, something old or new, do not make you Ma Durga herself–a ferocious, intent, concentrated force of the Gods who will stop at nothing but to defeat darkness and protect your light?
Who is to say that you are not Hanuman, pulling his chest open to bare his heart to the world? Showing it proudly? Without fear that he may be harmed for exposing his love, his devotion, his service–for keeping his heart open is his very strength?
Yogi, no path is predetermined.
We are the authors of our lives. There are no rules in this life but what we make. And you, there, are the warrior of your tale.
So, stand tall.
There is a whole world waiting for your ferocity. For your devotion. For you to “do your damn dharma.”
- If ever you feel lost from the path, remember Arjuna.
- If ever your strength faces impossible odds, remember Durga.
- If ever the love in your heart feels like it is the only thing that you have left, remember Hanuman.
For you are a warrior.
P.S. — Did you know that I’ll come to you to teach my Embody the Warrior workshop, wherever you are in the world? I teach at conferences, daylong events and local yoga studios. Email me about the event you have in mind. I’d love to help you make some yoga magic.