Life at the Center: Telling Tales & Wrapping it Up – Vol 25, August 2015

The only thing Made and I really have in common is stories. As Cliff and I travel along the roads of Bali with Made – our driver, translator and cultural liaison – we encounter one statue after another from various Hindu myths and epics, and we tell each other those hero tales. So I’m wondering: Are shared stories the basis of many relationships? Perhaps they are for me.

Last week in Nia class, we were using our chairs as dance partners; it’s a great way to
practice lifting and working with weighted objects safely. As we were playing with our

chairs, I noticed one of my students really

“Wilson!!!” – a scene from Castaway
exercising her imagination. She held her folded chair in a close embrace, she stood triumphantly atop her chair seat, then she reached from the floor with outstretched arms towards her standing chair. After class, my student – an actor, as it turns out – was struggling to explain how she was feeling towards her chair.  Completing her thought, I reached one hand out with an anguished cry, “Wilson…..!”

She laughed and said, “Exactly!” That single name and gesture signified a poignant moment in an entire storyline of Tom Hanks’ movie “Castaway”, in which his only companion was a Wilson brand volleyball he had talked to for four years, and which was now floating away on the vast sea. Referencing that movie, my student and I recognized our mutual understanding of the power of human imagination to bring objects to life. How many times during our interactions with others, I wonder, do we relate through shared stories?

Here in Hawaii, people of all ages seem to find connections by “talking story”. An encounter with a new person usually begins by asking what high school the other person comes from and then goes on to explore any other possible connections the two people have. Inevitably, living on an island, people discover a shared third cousin with a funny lisp, a bowling alley where they both managed to get free bowling shoes from the guy, or a little league coach who tormented one person’s brother and the other one’s uncle. We seek avenues with new acquaintances for telling stories about our common experiences that somehow align our world views.

Visiting a sacred site with Made

So there we were in Bali last summer, conversing with our driver, Made, groping to find common ground amid our different races, languages, and life-experiences.  All of a sudden things opened up when I asked about the giant statue in the middle of the intersection. “Oh, that’s the prince Bhima, ma’am, killing the dragon in ocean.”  Me: “You mean Arjuna’s strong brother Bhima in the Mahabharata story? I LOVE the Mahabharata! Tell me how Bhima slayed a sea serpent!” And thus the storytelling began between us.

Bali is filled with the Indian epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. And those epics are something I’ve steeped myself in, even more deeply, perhaps, than the Shakespeare plays that I love. The Indian epics are so deep in my psyche that I reference them without even realizing it.  When Cliff’s work took him to Hawaii, after we had long expected to spend the rest of our lives in Santa Barbara, California, I never questioned that it was the right thing to follow him to the islands, just as Sita never questioned whether she should follow her husband Rama into the forest when he was exiled.
 Arjuna doing battle – at a highway intersection in Bali
Vedic heroes from these epics are always in the background of my consciousness, each with his struggle over the question of his dharma – his life’s calling, mission, duty arising from the very essence of his being. I relive again and again Arjuna’s quest to find his dharma, and it helps me find my own path…to create Still & Moving Center, for example.
Sharing the stories of such thoughtful heros with Made, who is even more steeped in them than Cliff and I, having heard them since his birth, creates indeed a strong bond amongst us. We were excited to arrive again in Bali last month with Made as our driver. Cliff even gave Made and me pop quizzes about details of the different characters in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

We also met several new friends, including a delightful Japanese/Balinese couple who own a wood-working studio. They invited us for dinner and we made small talk to find common ground, then arranged to meet them the next day to look at their wood carvings.

The next morning as we drove to their studio, Made happened to tell us the story of Arjuna approaching Lord Shiva to ask for the divine weapons he needed to defeat Karna – a small part of the enormous Mahabharata epic we had never heard before. We arrived at the studio and selected several beautiful pieces of wood to be carved into doors and tables.

Sudiana & Cliff talking story in front of a carving of Arjuna receiving divine weapons from Shiva

The husband, Sudiana, then graciously invited us to the temple and home of his father, who is a priest. Sudiana introduced us to this revered elderly gentleman, who told us how he sometimes is visited by dreamlike inspirations, and pointed to a stone carving he had asked to be made, based on one of these visions. We looked at the carving, and there was a picture of Arjuna, kneeling before Shiva as he received the weapons he needed to win the battle with Karna. Really. This one tiny part of the huge, 18 volume story, a part we had never heard before, we heard twice in the same morning! Cliff and Sudiana became like soul brothers as that story opened up their conversation.

Curious how shared stories can interweave lives….

Moving in Stillness and Resting in Joy with you,

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