This week I deeply pondered the idea of how we ‘defend’ ourselves against the Presence of Love.
We think of defenses as military arms and weapons that countries stockpile to ensure national safety. Yet what about when we have been hurt in the past and we armor our heart to protect ourselves from being hurt again? Or when we feel the need to ‘defend’ our point of view to another. Or when we feel ‘defensive’ when a friend or another loved one may comment in a way we perceive is ‘negative’ about some aspect of our life.
As I was sitting in meditation and prayer asking for help with this, a beautiful lesson from A Course in Miracles floated into my awareness.
In my defenselessness my safety lies. (A Course in Miracles Lesson 153)
When we first read the title of this lesson, it appears to be a contradiction. How can I feel safe when I practice defenselessness? Don’t I need defenses in order to feel safe? After all, if we look at the world, countries often engage in an ‘arms race’ so that they have the greatest number of weapons and military might to ensure national security. How possibly can letting go of defenses help me feel safe?
As I was reflecting on this lesson, a powerful narrative from my Indian mythological tradition came to mind. A story that I was first introduced to in my teenage years- the disrobing of Draupadi, a princess married to five brothers, the Pandavas (yes, you read correctly, she had five husbands… but that’s material for perhaps another blog post! ?)
For those of you not familiar with this tale, allow me to first give you a little background. The story of the disrobing of Draupadi is found in the Mahabharata – a major Sanskrit epic of ancient India, dating back anywhere from 8th c. BCE to 4th c. BCE. The Pandavas and Kauravas are cousins. (Their fathers are brothers.) The Pandavas are five brothers who can be understood as symbols of right conduct, or dharma. Their cousins, the Kauravas, who are a 100 in number according to legend, were untruthful, deceitful and representatives of adharma, or unethical conduct. The two families lived in Hastinapur, one of the great kingdoms of ancient India, which today still exists as a small, modern-day town in northern India.
Since their childhood days, the two clans of cousins don’t get along – for obvious reasons- and as they grow older, the gap of hatred and vengeance between them only widens. Now, even though Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, epitomizes virtue and dharma, he has one great weakness, which is gambling. At a game of dice that he plays against Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas, his gambling spirals out of control causing him to wager and lose everything- his land, his house, his brothers, himself, and even his wife.
Duryodhana, after defeating Yudhishthira and stripping him of everything, decides to take revenge, using Draupadi- the wife of the Pandavas- as the scapegoat. Previously, Draupadi had insulted Duryodhana when he accidentally falls into a pool of water. She mocks him, laughing with scorn and calling him blind, like his father, the blind Dhritarashtra, King of Hastinapur. Now, Duryodhana seeks vengeance and insults her- stating that she is no longer part of the royal family, but just a common maid, since her husband wagered and lost her in the game of dice. He has Draupadi mercilessly dragged into the royal court, yelling and screaming in protest, pulled and yanked by her hair.
We watch as Draupadi’s heart-wrenching protests and begging falls on deaf ears – amidst the great royal assembly, which includes all her five husbands, the Kaurav brothers, the blind King Dhritarashtra, and a host of elder relatives, court advisers, as well as spiritual teachers. Some of the elders also beg King Dhritarashtra to stop this shameful spectacle. Yet the King is not just physically blind- he is also morally blinded by this attachment for Duryodhana, his eldest son, whom he cannot deny anything.
Draupadi clasps and clings to her sari with her hands yet to no avail. No one can ‘defend’ her and none of her ‘defenses’ are working either. With no other choices before her, Draupadi begins to let go and starts to pray to Lord Krishna, the representative of the Divine in the Mahabharata. Yet she still clenches a fold of the sari cloth with her teeth. Finally, she lets go of this as well. With folded hands, she continues to pray and now begins to chant Krishna’s name.
What happens next is a miracle- and the beautiful teaching that this story offers that resonates completely with the teaching of the lesson from ACIM that I referenced earlier.
In my defenselessness my safety lies.
Dushasana, the younger brother of Duryodhana, pulls and pulls Draupadi’s sari to disrobe, humiliate and shame her- but to his amazement and to the wonder of the entire court, the sari fabric seems to grow longer and longer, never seeming to end! No matter how much he pulls and unwinds the sari from Draupadi, there are yards and yards, and still more yards of fabric to unwind!
As Draupadi lets go of all defenses and surrenders herself completely into the hands of the Divine, we can feel the peace that begins to emanate from her. She is lost in the chanting and contemplation of Lord Krishna. The events continue around her: Dushasana continues to pull at her sari and the royal assembly watches in shame and embarrassment, heads bowed down and eyes averted- unable to ‘defend’ Draupadi. But she has plugged into this deep inner connection with Lord Krishna which miraculously clothes her in a seemingly endless ream of sari fabric, protecting her honor and dignity. Paradoxically, her safety arises not from her own defenses nor from any external source but from her Inner Source. And she cannot connect fully with this Inner Source until she completely lets go of all her defenses.
In my defenselessness my safety lies.
Eventually, even Dushasana and Duryodhana must accept defeat in front of Draupadi’s defenselessness and her choice to seek refuge in the Divine.
Defenselessness is not a stance of weakness. It is not about becoming a doormat or allowing oneself to be abused or treated badly. It is about seeking refuge in the Divine Source inside our hearts- that provides us with our true strength and protection, that is mightier than an army of a thousand soldiers. When we connect to this Source, we are protected, guided and assured of safety in all situations. And this is what we witness with Draupadi in this powerful story from the Mahabharata.
I invite you to pause and reflect.
Where in your life do you feel the need to defend? What triggers a sense of defensiveness in you?
Where in your body do you feel that sense of defensiveness- that sense of contraction and perhaps even a pressure?
Can you allow yourself to simply sit and explore this sensation?
Remember, you are not trying to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ anything outside or even within yourself. This is just an invitation to observe, explore and allow yourself to be present to yourself in a deep way. A way that can perhaps allow for a stance of softening around this defense.
Here is a guided short mediation called ‘soft belly’ that may assist you.
Take your time, be easy and be curious. Invite your Inner Guide to be with you and allow for miracles to flow in your life as well!