"Do not fight the body. Do not carry the world on your shoulders like Atlas. Drop the heavy load of unnecessary baggage and you will feel better."
-Swami Karmananda Saraswati
In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan, one of the firstborn sons of Earth. He personified the quality of endurance. In an extremely abridged version of the myth, we find Atlas sentenced to hold the weight of the heavens/world on his immensely strong shoulders for pretty much all of eternity. He spends his time reflecting on past loves, past mistakes, and, of course, the weight. At one point, Atlas finds a way to transfer his burden to Hercules and once free, feels so delightful that he decides to leave Hercules to bear the weight of the world. But, of course, Hercules finds a way to trick Atlas into once again holding up the heavens while he, himself moseys off into the sunset. Once again, Atlas finds himself weighed down by the heaviness of all things.
Carrying burdens may strengthen us and give us a strong back, but it's the setting down of those burdens that gives us the most power. "Baros” is the Greek word for "burdens". It means "heaviness, weight, burden, trouble." Our burdens can take the form of grief, sorrow, loneliness, excessive ego, low self esteem, resentment, addiction, guilt, despair, financial worry, etc. The weight of our world can cause us to suffer greatly.
The introspection involved in a yoga or meditation practice allows us to ask "How did I get here?" or "What decisions or circumstances brought me to bear such a heavy load?" Sometimes knowing how we arrived with the world on our shoulders can help us to find a way to set it down.
Take a moment to ask yourself: "What heavy burden am I carrying in this moment?" Become clear about what it is. Feel its weight. Feel what carrying this burden costs you (in energy, emotion, physical sensations). What would happen if you simply put it down - even if, like Atlas, just for a little while? Can you allow yourself to become weightless?
Our practice, be it meditation, asana or mindfulness teaches to to find clarity, and through this clarity, the ability to relax our grip on the heavy load(s) we shoulder. As human beings, there will always be burdens for us to bear. We practice refining our ability to handle the weight when it arrives, but then be strong enough to set it down and become weightless when it no longer serves us.
A wonderful way to practice releasing burdens is by mentally reciting a mantra for dissolving obstacles. Ancient yogis taught that if you repeat a "bija" or seed mantra over and over and over (this is called japa), the sound resonates internally, and brings about subtle changes in consciousness. The mantra GAM (pronounced "gum") is invoked for dissolving mental burdens. Close your eyes and repeat it until you start to feel lighter in body, mind and spirit.
Until next time...
"Let the past drift away with the water."
Two Myths Take A Hike
by Danna Faulds
Atlas is always shouldering his load.
You know that feeling - the weight
of everything pressing in, suffocating.
And there is Sisyphus pushing the
boulder uphill, over and over. Two
poster boys for ceaseless effort.
But what if (now here's a radical idea,)
the way of transformation is not a
long or tortured change?
What if it's just being here, this moment,
now, complete and whole? What if you
could whisper in Atlas's big ear,"It's
time to let go. Really. The heavens will
not disappear if you put your burden down."
Imagine him thinking about it. Imagine
him believing. See him set the load down,
straighten up, stretch, smile, stride over to
Sisyphus and say something you can't hear.
See the stone roll down, and Sisyphus
choose not to follow. You are the witness
to the shouts of joy, the head shaking
wonder and relief - you mean it's this easy?
Imagine the spring in their step, the lightness
of their laughter as they climb that hill and
disappear from view.