It’s February, the month to celebrate Love. But love wasn’t always depicted as something desirable. In fact, in many historic tales, Love is depicted as absolutely terrifying.
In Greek Mythology, the girl Psyche stands on a cliff, ready to commit suicide. Why? Because at her birth, it was foretold she would marry a hideous monster, one that all men feared. Unable to stand such a fate, she leaps from a high peak…
And is caught by Zephyr, the West Wind, who carries her to a mysterious mountain mansion. Psyche gradually finds herself relaxing in its idyllic rooms and gardens. In the dark of night, the master of the house visits her, courting her so sweetly that, despite herself, Psyche falls in love. But she remembers the prophecy and one night -
Her lover falls asleep in her arms and Psyche reaches for a hidden knife and oil lamp. The lamplight reveals none other than Cupid, the handsome god of love. Stunned, Psyche drips hot oil onto Cupid’s cheek, waking him. Cupid looks into her eyes and flies off into the night. After months of searching and suffering, Psyche finds him again. He asks, “Why did you try to kill me?” Psyche shares the prediction made at her birth, and Cupid smiles. “Yes, I am the monster everyone fears - earth-shaking love that breaks you open, makes you abandon home and comfort, causes you to suffer in search of it. I hid my identity because so many pursue me not knowing who I really am, thinking I am all shallow beauty, wealth and power.”
Psyche cries, “Now that I have known you, nothing else will satisfy me,” and Cupid sees that this is true. He marries her in front of all the gods and gives her ambrosia, the sacred nectar that grants immortality.
This story is archetypal and symbolic. We all want true love, yet we fear it, because it requires us to die to what we were. In the Bhagavad Gita, the warrior Bhima represents the heart chakra1. Bhima, whose name translates as “Terrible,” does anything his wife asks because of the power of his love and scares the wits out of his enemy’s warriors, horses and elephants, who trample each other to get away from him. Again, true love is depicted as both gentle and as a power that horrifies because it kills our old, selfish selves that try to fight it.
Similarly, Shiva, the dancing god of India, is the most accomplished yogi, the most devoted mate, and the most fearsome god in the Hindu pantheon. Once, Shiva was needed to end a threat that was destroying the universe, but everyone was too afraid to roust him from his meditation. Finally, Kamadeva - who, like Cupid, is depicted as having wings and a bow - timidly woke up Shiva by shooting him with an arrow. Furious at being disturbed, Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kamadeva to ashes; then, since he was awake, he saved the world. This story symbolizes how real love, when awakened, is so powerful that the romantic love we think we want is burnt away and we must confront the most powerful force in existence - one that can incinerate our ego by seeing who we really are, and the only thing that can save our world.
Are you ready for your own terrible love story? Then you are ready for Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of the heart - and the subject of our next blog post.