Several of my close students have been asking me for a while now to lead them into some of the teachings and practices of Hanuman. It’s been two years since I’ve been teaching these weekly tantric philosophy and meditation classes and frankly I’ve avoided this character. He’s slippery. A shapeshifter. Just when I sort of think I grasp his essence it washes away again. He’s an easy enough character to get with in very simple terms, or even just devotionally. But my years of study have showed me that there’s way more there with this monkey than appears at first glance. So I’ve been hunkering down with Hanuman. Pouring myself into his teachings and stories and practices as I winnow my notebooks filled with weeks of Hanuman studies in the company of my favorite teacher Douglas Brooks.
My lineage of Rajanaka Yoga has a particular favorite Hanuman named Panchamukha Anjaneya. This 5 Faced Son of Anjaneya is quite something because unlike so many deities with more than 1 head, these faces are all different. He’s a shapeshifter. I’ve really been enjoying getting to know these faces more over the past weeks and I look forward to sharing them at Virayoga starting this Thursday.
I’ve also been embracing my inner shape shifter. Or just bringing him to the surface. Now of all the cool supernatural characters on True Blood, (please tell me you’re a fan!) my fave – my absolute fave – is Sam Merlotte. He’s sexy and charismatic and conflicted and dangerous. I know that describes all the characters on the show but Sam just has a special place in my heart and always has. And I’m starting to figure out why.
On Halloween I went out trick or treating with my son Jasper dressed up as the Big Bad Wolf in granny’s nightdress. (An inspired moment at Kmart with all costumes 50% off.) I think it was the first time I’ve ever worn a full mask on Halloween, one that totally concealed my “true identity” from the world. I always wanted one of those drugstore costumes with the paper mask and plastic apron-y thing but my mom was always more into handcrafted Halloween attire. This costume was an absolute thrill.
We went out to Convent Avenue and Hamilton Terrace, legendary trick or treating blocks in Harlem. My wife had a red cape and looked gorgeous as ever. Jasper was a dear little mummy. And chose to go sans mask. Too scary. Next year we’ll try to do a full family ensemble. The night was crisp this year. Even so, there were hundreds of kids and so many of the townhouses were done up full tilt. Trick or treating in NYC is such a wild experience, even on a Monday evening. In general New Yorkers are way more generous than I remember from my suburbanite childhood. Jasper gets fistfuls of candy at every house, not just one snack size Twix. There’s an authentic generosity that goes with NYC on Halloween, and it’s not just the candy. You can really let your freak flag fly here. Anything goes. More than ever. And you can fill a whole pillowcase in just a few blocks. But I digress…
What was most interesting to me was the ways in which I was RECEIVED in full mask. Many adults literally did not even see me. Literally. Their kids had to point me out when they were right on top of me. What kind of person doesn’t see a 6 foot wolf standing in front of them? (In yoga terms we call just such a person Pashu, or a cow. One who chews his cud without looking much into the world around him.) There were a lot of these! Or maybe some people just aren’t willing to see a big bad wolf? We only see what we’re prepared to see after all.
Then there were the grownups who saw me – and avoided me. Better to not make contact with a threat. There were a couple of small toddlers who I made cry. That was kinda fun, kinda sad. And there were more than a few 3 year old superheroes who were ready to do battle, one little Spiderman in particular could’ve totally taken me down.
A number of teenage boys asked me if I ate the 3 pigs yet – wrong story. But perhaps THAT wolf story resonates in male consciousness more powerfully. I’m sure it does actually. The 3 Little Pigs was once told to me once by a male gym teacher who wanted to program us with a sense of industry and hard work (the good pig) over laziness and play (the bad pigs who got eaten.)
And perhaps most interesting were the tween girls who hung on me, “Hey Big Bad Wolf, can I take a picture with you?” Or the mother who said, “Can you sneak into my bedroom tonight?” Or, “My, my what broad shoulders you have. The better to embrace me with?” I haven’t had so much flirtatious attention directed my way in years. Maybe ever. There was a 13 year old girl dressed as a Little Red – perhaps a bit too sexy for her age – who told me she had prayed she would encounter me on the street that evening. She and her girlfriend took a dozen photos in various coy poses while I stood with my head cocked jauntily to one side.
Wearing a mask is the invitation to be received by the world in new terms, in ways that expand us and invite us to know more of ourselves. In many models of yoga, masks or guises are the problem with our humanity. “We need to get to the truth beneath all that.” In my lineage, the truth of our humanity only knows itself through its various guises. Instead of taking them off, yoga is the opportunity to create them. Better. No wonder I love Sam Merlotte. Hanuman, with his 5 different faces, is a role model for this kind of creativity. He is willing to leap to those rare places in ourselves where our identity becomes pliable. Are you willing to make that leap? If you are, it could very well look something like this: