Archive | October, 2013

The Magic of Yoga: Guru Dumbledore

27 Oct

This is a rework of a paper that I wrote for my 200-hour yoga teacher training. It’s a little drier than what I normally post here, but that’s ok. Stay tuned for the full-length book “The Magic of Yoga.” Namaste y’all.

For Westerners, the idea of a guru might conjure up images of a bearded, robed, wise old man who spends his days in meditation, chanting or communing with nature. However, the Sanskrit word guru does not mean “white-haired” or even necessarily “wise.” “Guru” can be translated as one who removes ignorance or darkness (Life & Gannon, p. 71). A guru can take many forms, depending on the need of the student.

Are you my guru?

Are you my guru?

J.K. Rowling’s popular Harry Potter series contains a guru-disciple relationship between Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s headmaster, Professor Albus Dumbledore, and the eponymous protagonist, teenaged wizard Harry Potter. For now, Dumbledore as a guru will only be examined within the framework of the first book. Throughout the seven books of the series, Dumbledore and Potter’s relationship deepens and intensifies and Dumbledore continues to act as a dispeller of darkness.

Are YOU my guru?

Are YOU my guru?

When we’re first introduced to Dumbledore in the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he is incidentally enough increasing the darkness in a suburban street with a “Deluminator.” He takes the light from the streetlamps with a click of a cigarette lighter-shaped device, preparing for the arrival of his trusted gamekeeper Hagrid with the infant Harry Potter.  Once the child has been delivered, Dumbledore puts the lights back in the streetlamps, dispelling the darkness of the night and establishing himself, in a very literal sense, as a remover of darkness.

Potter grows up in a non-magic, or “muggle” household, and never knows of his fame or his heritage until his eleventh birthday, when Hagrid collects Potter and prepares him for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hagrid tells Potter about the death of Potter’s parents at the hands of Voldemort and that Dumbledore was the only person Voldemort feared. Dumbledore’s “power” as someone who can counter the darkest wizard in history again demonstrates Dumbledore’s role in removing or dispelling darkness.


As Potter settles into life at Hogwarts, Dumbledore only makes a few brief appearances, but one notable encounter between Potter and Dumbledore has Dumbledore sharing truths that will eventually aid Potter in thwarting Voldemort. Potter finds a mirror in an empty room in Hogwarts that shows him standing with his entire family—mother, father, cousins, grandparents, etc. The mirror entrances Potter, who thinks it is a key to somehow reclaiming his lost family. Dumbledore explains to Potter how the mirror, aptly named the Mirror of Erised (“Desire” spelled backward) functions.

I always wonder what I would see here...

I always wonder what I would see here…

“The happiest man on earth would be able to use the mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is,” Dumbledore explains. “It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest most desperate desire of our hearts. This mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible… It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

Dumbledore’s dialogue is reminiscent of one between a well-known guru and his disciple: Krishna and Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna surrenders himself as a disciple of Krishna and listens to Krishna’s teachings, asking him questions about many things, including the nature of the universe, how to attain enlightenment and how to live a life of selfless service. When Arjuna asks how enlightened people behave, Krishna describes enlightened beings as ones who ‘Live in wisdom, who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart. Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger.” (Gita 2:55-56).

Why is Krishna blue?

Why is Krishna blue?

Krishna’s response closely parallels Dumbledore’s response about the reflection in the Mirror of Erised. Selfish desire will only bind a person to unhappiness and ignorance. Both Dumbledore and Krishna are teaching their disciples the importance of liberation from desire, for desire is the constant quest for what could be and not the acceptance of what is. Dumbledore tells Potter to not “dwell on dreams and forget to live;” to not become so entangled in his desire that he cannot live freely, presently and as Krishna says, “free from lust and fear and anger.”

At the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone, Potter faces off against Voldemort, who is seeking the sorcerer’s stone, a magical object that will restore Voldemort back to his body and grant him immortality. The stone is concealed inside the Mirror of Erised. As much as Voldemort tries, he cannot liberate the stone because he is motivated by a selfish desire for form, power, and immortality.

All that for this?

All that for this?

Potter remembers Dumbledore’s lesson about how the Mirror works and, because Potter does not want to use the stone for personal gain, but rather to save the world from Voldemort’s resurrection, is able to take the stone and keep it out of Voldemort’s grasp. However, Potter sees that he needed the lesson from his guru Dumbledore that was presented earlier in the book. Potter says to his friends, “He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could.”

Dumbledore had to teach Potter how the Mirror of Erised worked so that when Potter was presented with the opportunity, he could fight Voldemort and engage in an act of karma, or selfless service. Krishna taught Arjuna “Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires.” (Gita 3: 19). Dumbledore reiterates that idea after Potter finds the sorcerer’s stone, saying “You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone—find it, but not use it—would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.” Since Potter’s motivations were pure and selfless, he was able to rescue the stone, thus saving the wizarding world from Voldemort’s reincarnation, at least for the time being.


Perhaps one of Dumbledore’s most “guru-like” moments in The Sorcerer’s Stone is when he tells Potter after the destruction of the sorcerer’s stone, and with it an opportunity for immortality, that “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” Dumbledore’s beautifully succinct and simple assertion recalls the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, considered by many to be first formal codification of yogic philosophy. Dumbledore’s statement,like Patanjali’s sutras, are seemingly simple statements that reveal layers of complexity. What is “the well-organized mind”? Is it a mind that has practiced yoga: the restraint of the chatter of the mind? (Sutra 1:2). Is it a mind that has unwaveringly practiced steadiness of mind and non-attachment (Sutra 1:12)? Dumbledore does not elaborate on what creates a well-organized mind, but rather allows Potter to draw his own conclusions based on what Dumbledore has taught him so far. Dumbledore does not expound on what the “next great adventure” of death is either, but implies that it is not something to fear.


Krishna gives similar advice to Arjuna about why Arjuna should not fear death for himself or others. “The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity. The Self is unmanifested, beyond all thought, beyond all change. Knowing this you should not grieve.” (Gita 2: 23-25). Krishna reassures Arjuna that the Self, or soul, is eternal and indestructible, and that, though the body may die, the soul will forever be part of the cosmic consciousness or divine unity, and thus death should not be feared. Dumbledore does not explicitly discuss the nature of the soul in The Sorcerer’s Stone, but, like Krishna with Arjuna, teaches his student that death is just another stage in life.

Apparently a lot of people have gotten Dumbledore quotes as tattoos. I'm not there yet...

Apparently a lot of people have gotten Dumbledore quotes as tattoos. I’m not there yet…

Though Dumbledore only makes a handful of appearances in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he reveals himself as a poignant and powerful character in the wizarding world’s (and Harry Potter’s) struggle against Voldemort and dark magic. Dumbledore teaches Potter what Potter needs to know to continue on his personal journey toward avenging his parents deaths and protecting his friends and the wizarding world from Voldemort while establishing himself as Potter’s teacher, mentor and guru. Like Arjuna’s mentor Krishna, Dumbledore teaches Potter about the importance of non-desire and attachment, selfless service and the nature of death.


My year Facebook free

8 Oct

I’m a few weeks away from the one-year anniversary of the deletion of my Facebook account. No, I didn’t just deactivate it, putting it in a cyberspace layaway ready to pick back up for the holiday season. I deleted it**. Five years of tagged photos, conversations and commentaries. Honestly, I haven’t looked back since, but I’m reaching a point where I’m trying to strike out and work for myself, and it doesn’t make sense not to use all the (free) tools at my disposal, including Facebook.

But, for those of you who are curious about what it feels like to not see baby pictures from that girl you knew kind of in middle school or the daily breakfast menu of that guy who was in your freshman calculus class, I’ll tell you this: it’s glorious.

When I deleted my account, I had 1500 friends, but I realized that only about a dozen of them were people I interacted with regularly face-to-face. I try to be compassionate and caring, but it’s difficult to care about that many people’s daily activities, and frankly exhausting to try. After I got rid of my account, I found myself with hours of free time every day that I could use to actually GO out and spend time with people, instead of just getting the highlights about their lives from a status update or iPhone selfie.

I stopped trying to package and edit my life into easily digestible soundbites to share on Facebook. Instead of going to an event or activity and in my head carefully crafting what I would post afterward, I just enjoyed whatever I was doing and stayed in the moment.

My interpersonal relationships got stronger because instead of just writing on someone’s wall, if I wanted to know how they were, I took the tiny bit of extra time and effort to call them or send them an email.

The last year has been a whirlwind, full of bouncing around different cities, states, countries jobs, schools and trainings and it’s been really nice to not have to account for and explain my actions and activities to hundreds of “friends.” It wears ME out trying to keep up with my life and I don’t expect anyone else to even try.

I’ve received the gamut of responses regarding my Facebook fast: “Good for you!” “How have you made it this long?” “Why the hell are you not on Facebook, how do you survive?” Some people are enthusiastic supporters of my time off, others have relentlessly pressured me to get back on (perhaps concerned about my social development?)

I’m not a particularly private person but I believe we live in a culture of over-sharing. People feel entitled to know all of your business all of the time and I was certainly guilty of posting too much information about my life on the Internet and feeding into that entitlement. A friend of mine once said that Facebook should be treated like a giant dinner party: a space where you can be friendly and conversational, but keep certain information to yourself, to be shared later in a more intimate setting.

As I prepare to make a new profile, I’m making a commitment to myself to spend a limited amount of time on it, only post relevant and interesting information (sorry people, you will never know what I had for a mid-morning snack) and continue developing and maintaining solid friendships in “real life.”


**As much as you can actually delete anything on the Internet