Thursday, September 16, 2010
Tantra and the Fierce Goddess explores some of the more formidable manifestations of Goddess and calls into question what we consider to be "fierce qualities" of the Divine Mother. Is what is defined as "fierce" reflective of our creative, sexual, and independent natures? Or is it tied up with more stereotypical and often negative qualities of "femininity?" In my class, we look at the paradoxical nature of Goddesses such as Durga, Kali, Bhagawati, Kamakhya, the Matrikas, Yoginis and others and consider how socially-constructed contradictions are reflected in the status of women and girls around the world today.
For example, the Kumari or Living Virgin Goddess is considered an embodiment of a fierce form of Goddess Durga known as Taleju. The Kumari is chosen based on her "pure" and "virginal" status. In an earlier post from 2007, I discussed the original meaning of Virgin. Whole Unto Herself, however, in the case of the Kumari, her virginity is tied to a pre-pubescent/non-menstruating status. According to this tradition, this young girl (who is anywhere from 1 and 1/2 years to pre-teen/teen years) will serve as a living Goddess for the community from the time she receives the initiation until she has her first period, or bleeds from the loss of a tooth or injury. The Goddess that she embodies, Taleju, is a very esoteric and tantric Goddess in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Despite Taelju's appearance through the vehicle of a virgin girl, her rituals and mythology point to her sexually empowered status and connection to ancient fertility rites. The paradoxical nature of this situation is rather obvious here--a wild, untameable, and sexually mature goddess appears in the body of a young and "pure" virgin girl!? And the "fact" that the Goddess leaves the girl's body just as she comes into her power raises many questions. For one, who decides that this child is no longer divine, especially within a religious worldview (Shakta Tantra tradition) that supposedly considers all female as inherently, Shakti, or divine? And why would a Goddess who "demands" blood as an offering, leave her physical "vehicle" at the first sign of blood? Why would such formidable Goddesses as Taleju and Durga be associated with young girls? Can young girls be strong and "fierce" through their own agency? And what does this look like outside of being mean girls or bullies?
And then virginity. Yes. I return to this once again. Virginity and Fierceness. Virginity = Whole Unto Herself. Consider the implications for young girls who are exploring their sexuality...consider the implications for those of us adult women who wish to renew our Virginity and embrace our natural and sacred fierceness...consider the impact this would make in our lives, and in our world.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Two Tori Amos concerts- Tori, a living goddess, whose performances expressed the essence of Goddess in her underworldly, seductive and earthly forms. My experiences at these shows, so profound- there on stage, my soul being expressed- my consciousness in the guise of greek goddesses. fat slut, teenage hustler, smokey joe-sonic embodiments of my reality. almost rosey, spell reminding me of who I am. Always through Tori I discover deeper pieces of myself and am able to integrate them and feel even more empowered. I could write blogs and blogs on Tori and her influence and mirroring, but for now, I will leave it at the depth of reverence and wonder I feel about her divinely creative genius.
Three Muses. I hosted an event at my home on the 13th of December- about 60 people came. 6 musicians performed- the amazing Anandalahari composed and directed it all - for days we set up the space transforming my home into a temple. A sound engineer came, a pujari to perform puja-ritual to Ganesh (to remove obstacles) and Durga, fabulous musicians and singers...Anandalahari wanted to honor the sacred adornment I create and asked that I do a performance piece about it. So I created an invocation to the Three Muses, three different goddesses that I invoked in the piece. Saraswati, Hulda- Frau Hoelle-Hel, and Kalliopeia. Three women wore a sacred Goddess amulet I had created and danced the Goddess as I read the poetic invocations I had written for the show. All the while the musicians played the most perfect accompaniments. It was amazing. We served sacred libations, divine sweets, I sold jewelry, and we celebrated! Alice Walker said it was the most soulful event she had been to in ages. That it transformed her. Everyone was deeply affected. We all felt the sweetly seductive & intoxicating energy of the Muses. It was truly a profoundly beautiful and sacred evening.
Days later I went to LA for the opening of The Color Purple Musical, an after party, then Tori Amos again-front row! The people, the conversations, the experiences were all totally magical. In the Shakti flow my gorgeous Shakta sisterVaschelle and I danced with all that came our way and it was totally blissful. Through some crazy synchronicities we were led to the Abbey, a fabulous nightclub... The night continued to be totally phenomenal and wild. I felt totally held by Goddess' grace...I had the time of my life!
And then there have been all the wildly ecstatic yogini kula celebrations our sisterhood has had!!! Ohhh, I feel blessed. Community.
To think, to remember-There I was for months confronting Ereshkigal-raw, bloody and vulnerable. Like Inanna, I was stripped of all I thought I was and felt as if I had been left to rot on the meat hook and would never ever recover. A dark night of the soul - darker than I have ever known. There were months when I thought I had lost all hope. But isn't life like that? Great trickster that She is. Parts of my ego were devoured by the Fierce Dark Mother. And now I feel like clay waiting to be reformed. I am only beginning to have moments of relief and astonishment that I confronted and endured all I had in the underworld. It is shocking really. Perhaps most profound is that I have realized how universal it all is. These cycles of depression, despair and pain, then joy, fulfillment and growth. We always come out of the darkness- and while the light may not be what we had hoped for or expected, it is nevertheless revealing and illuminating. We find unexpected treasures and can be who we were not able to be up till that moment. And so I feel I am coming into a new phase of being. Finally. The birth has been long and arduous. But totally worth it. May we all continue to ride these waves of birth life and death however they may manifest in our individual and collective lives. And may we continue to discover and embrace who we truly are.
The Solstice, that winter day of the longest darkness, the stillness and reflection that is demanded of us...I spent the Solstice listening to Kalli share how her dance of cancer has been an expression of Kali and Shiva (!!!such profound and esoteric teachings). I felt totally awed by the mysteries of the universe and how they are revealed to us. And then, the next day I made a decision I have needed to make for months. And the Shakti has flowed ever since.
Death, Sex, Mystery, Love, Abundance. I have had it all; I have worshiped and been worshiped. I understand how each moment of living is an act of worship. We always stand in the place of worshiper and worshiped, blessed one, and the one who blesses. Death and Life. Sorrow and Joy. Life is amazing.
I am filled with awe and gratitude.
Friday, November 30, 2007
It was not until I realized that I had no heat and the temperatures were dropping outside and in that I became at all concerned. So I took my flashlight and went into my backyard to collect any left over firewood I could find from our fire puja. There was not much, but I knew that one piece of wood would be enough for a flame to cast light into my living room and bring a bit of heat, albeit temporarily, into my space.
For days I have been thinking of the yoginis and yogis who spend their lives in caves high in the Himalayas. I have wondered about their meditations in the natural cycles of lightness and darkness. I have considered what it would mean to be at the mercy of the natural elements. I have questioned whether it is a path I could ever embrace in this life. In my younger years I could have done it (and did on a 15 month journey through Southeast Asia), but these days I have grown accustomed to certain physical comforts. And regardless, it is my dharma to be in this world as difficult as it can be. To embrace all that comes instead of running away. Same last night- I could have left and stayed at a friend's, but would I have wanted to miss out on this opportunity? I was being offered a Berkeley-esque cave experience from the comfort of my beautiful house-a far cry from a Himalayan cave! But darkness. Darkness is darkness regardless of where one is. Can we just be with it without judging it as bad or good? Can't it be honored for the mystery that is its essence? Enough of modernity's overemphasis on light- the light of "reason" and "rationality" and all the blatantly racist metaphors around light being positive, dark being negative. Time to reclaim this language and its effect on our consciousness! The dark is too often demonized. Painfully so. But it is the dark mother from Africa who is the oldest divinity on the planet (See Lucia Birnbaum's work). And it is the dark fertile soil that grows much of our food, and the dark night sky, body of the Cosmic Mother within which our planet spins and resides, the dark of our mother's wombs where our physical forms were created. And what about those studies on the consciousness of dark matter- perhaps scientific 'evidence' of our beloved Kali Maa?? And there is the dark night of the soul that, although ruthless and excruciatingly painful, frees us from our past habits, conditioning, and delusions. It is time we reclaim the dark. The so-called dark 'other', the darkness that we fear around us and especially in ourselves. What lurks in those shadows? Why have we given it our power? How can we take it back? Remember- the light cannot exist without the dark.
I have learned to love the darkness. In darkness we have to see with our hearts, with our intuition and not with our eyes. Things are not as they appear and we must learn to trust our bodies, not our minds to discern what is real and what is unreal. Whether we are plunged into darkness or choose to surrender to it, whether our artificial sources of light wane from a power outage, or depression obscures the passion of our hearts, the Mystery is always the same. Darkness is a place of transformative and generative power. We must only learn to BE with it. No judgment, little fear. Patience. Trust. Patience.
Ammachi, Mata Amritameshwari is in town. Her ashram only twenty five minutes away in
Five years ago I began seeing Amma and I have kept my vows to see her every time she visits her ashram the
As I was driving to the center I found myself weeping. Tears of sadness and frustration about the confusion around my spiritual beliefs that still remains. Tears of gratitude and relief to be going back to see Amma, who has nurtured me spiritually since my initial darshan with her five years ago. After all the intense Shakti I have been experiencing between Amma and Swami’s visit, the mystical experiences the Durga puja evoked, and the 7 months I spent in the underworld, it was deeply comforting to be going to see a “mother.”
When I went up for my darshan, Amma pulled me to her breasts. My friend C. and I had just been talking about the symbolism of breasts-nurturance, nourishment, abundance and our longing for the Mother, and here I was with my face nestled between Amma’s breasts! For a second I wondered if my head was supposed to be on her shoulder instead. But she held me tightly and I believed she had “heard” our conversation. She eventually guided my head to her shoulder for darshan and hugged me. I began to cry. Her hug called forth a somewhat lost and neglected part of myself that I immediately realized needed to be nurtured. It was almost shocking how obvious it is.
I do not need Amma Pratyangira or Swami, or Amma, or Nandu, or any of the wonderful teachers who have graced my life to lead me into my heart and soul and to confront and embrace the shadows and the light. I need to do this myself. And I am strong enough to do it alone. They all have been my guides, my mentors along with many other remarkable beings: Vicki Noble, Alice Walker, Kyle, my kula of Shakta and feminist sisters, Gypsy-- but the ultimate Spiritual Teacher is me. I am the one to lead me through the darkness, chaos, and disillusionment and to guide me toward decisions that are in my highest good. I will continue to turn to these sagacious beings for insight and guidance at times, but ultimately I must always remember that the Shakti that I seek and yearn for can be fully generated from within. This is true for each of us. A guru is there to initiate our awakening and evolution of consciousness, to help us tread the path. They are always with us, but we do not need to give our power over to them and rely on their Shakti to sustain and propel us. I fully believe they can help us in various ways. They can serve as role models and guides and remind us of the tools we already have. They can share the teachings of our ancestors and present horizons of expanded consciousness that are available to us. But at some point we have to let go of their hand and walk proudly and courageously alone.
I am a yogini. Unconventional and unfettered. Attendant of Goddess Within.
It is time I begin teaching.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
the world is tired also.
no part of the world can find you.
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
you are not beyond love.
further than you can see.
the world was made to be free in.
except the one to which you belong.
confinement of your aloneness
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte ~
yastamasi tisthann tamaso'ntrah yam tamo na veda yasya tamas sariram yastamo'ntaro yamayati esa ta atma-ntaryamy-amrtah
That which exists in darkness, and pervades it throughout, that which darkness does not know, whose bodily manifestations the darkness is, which controls the darkness from within, That is your Self, the Inner-controller, the Immortal One.
This upanishad is a preparation for death. Death is inevitable for each of us. Reciting this mantra is a tool for approaching death more consciously. Death is as much of reality as is birth. But this culture denies and represses darkness and death. And yet these are integral states to the cycle of existence. What happens to the soul when it leaves this physical body? Where do we go? Reciting this mantra expands our consciousness and helps us remain aware of our Self
during our transition.
I am thinking a lot about death these days. In part because it is the season of dying and one finds many religious holidays honoring of the death aspect of the cycle. And also because of my dear friend who is fighting for her life. It is no mere coincidence that I am being given such mantras to help midwife my friend's journey-- and my own. In the very least they are soothing. Pillars within our faith that keep us centered and grounded, open and free.
Friday, November 16, 2007
She weaves the Shakti web in mysterious ways. I am having countless mystical experiences. It is difficult to write about what is happening. But it feels important to express what I can, to share the Shakti that has graced my life from Amma and Swami's visit.
On Saturday night Amma and Swami gave darshan at a local Unitarian church. Despite the inclusiveness of this denomination of the Christian religion's views, the energy in the church felt cold and oppressive. Despite its openness, its roots lie in a patriarchal institution that has excluded women or demonized them for centuries. And even where women have been included, they have been de-sexualized. When the Divine Mother arrives in one of such places, the energies are inevitably formidable. And She, Durga can certainly slay the demons. While Ammas embodies Pratyangira other goddesses like Durga, Kali, Varahi, Lalita all come through her. The Goddess whose qualities are needed comes. And Amma is the blessed receptacle for these energies that are available to all of us. Amma always reminds us that She has come here to help us recognize Goddess in ourselves and each other. We too can harness such amplified energies, but serious yogic practices are necessary in order for our physical bodies to be able to contain the energies.
A workshop on the Sri Vidya tradition and practices to Pratyangira was offered on Sunday. Amma commented on how strong the force of Goddess was in my temple space. How all those that were present had brought Her there, and how because of the devotion I have for Durga, Durga in Her various forms is coming through me and opening my home to others who share this path. We all received an initiation that evening and five us were invited to go deeper into the tradition and to be initiated at another level.
And then Amma went into her bhava. We had put a large mat in the center of the room. It has the yantra or geometric form of Goddess painted on it in orange, red and yellow. This yantra is a portal into other forms of consciousness. In this tradition the yantra is Goddess Herself. Amma and Swami performed a puja, offering water, rice, incense, fire, sandalwood oil, red vermilion paste, tumeric, bhajans, mantras, and prayers . Amma called us up to the center of the mat, one by one. Her devotees would stand on the bindu of the yantra while Amma would place her finger on their third eye. Two of us initiates were asked to stand on either side of the devotees receiving darshan. We needed to catch them if they started to fall and help those who needed it to their seats. And people would fall back, their eyes closed, and we would be there to push them upright until finally Amma reached for them (with the aid of Swami as She was totally in trance) and hugged them for darshan. Her hands perform mudras or sacred hand gestures that invoke and honor divine energies. Her tongue stretches out and her eyes roll back. She mutters mantras or cackles . Some devotees She locks in the fiercest embrace and they shake, laugh and sometimes cry. All in my living room. Standing in the mat for the entire darshan was intense. The energy was electrifying.
How can I doubt the forces that have guided and informed my life, especially what I felt while Amma and Swami were here? What really happened this past weekend? Will I ever know, or can I just shed the mind that is trying to rationalize and explain? How can I even explain these extraordinary experiences and feelings?
Goddess was here. Goddess is here. Can you feel Her?
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Shakti. Five days with two saints has transformed my life. I feel more integrated and aligned. I am aware I could very easily fall out of this state, but for the moment I surrender to it and ride the waves! The Divine Mother was here. She is POWERFUL! We all felt Her. In Amma AND Swami. I am struck by how familiar they are to me, and how human. Divinely human. A state of consciousness that is available to all of us. It is truly amazing. The synchronicities that are flooding my life right now. Profound. This Shakti web is very real, yet ineffable. Extremely mysterious...All I can think about is Goddess. Every experience, every thought, an expression of Her.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The Divine Mother was here. In amplified form. I have spent the last five days with Amma and Swami. The homa or fire puja, Diwali celebration, Amma's Bhavas, 100 devotees-so many beautiful and powerful experiences. Mata Pratyangira is a living force!
On Friday evening Swami and Amma Pratyangira performed a fire puja in my back yard. 108 sacred herbs and plants went into the flames, the fire itself worshiped as Goddess. Sweets, incense, ghee, coconuts, honey, 9 different grains all were offered. From my stereo placed on the back deck, the Lalita Sahasranam-1000 names of the Goddess came resonating through our circle. Amma chanted along while 50 of us were held mesmerized by the energies. For about an hour Amma played her favorite bhajans or devotional hymns and sang along with sheer devotion while Swami performed the puja.
Many of the photos (to be posted at a later date) show Amma and Swami in their bliss bodies or ethereal bodies. They appear translucent yet a smoky veil infuses parts of their physical form. In some certain body parts disappear completely into the ethers. In one of the photos Swami takes on the form of Chinnamasta for it appears his head hovers over his shoulder. Photo after photo shows some divine expression of energy. And the 'fairy' lights around them along the fence continuously shape shift into various forms. The fire itself takes different guises and the entire aura of the evening is infused with the Divine Mother's Love.
After the homa we all went inside for darshan. For days I had prepared the temple space. An altar with many different murti (divine images) was placed around the fireplace. Diwali candles lined the mantel. Amma began performing darshan. Calling out Jai Bhuvaneshwari Ki and everyone would cry out Jai! (Victory to Goddess Bhuvaneshwari). She would then ask the name of each devotee and call out their name with this reverent chant: Jai ______Ki... Jai! the rest of the room would shout. Anandalahari and Francesca played the most divinely melodious music for Amma's darshan. Again Anandalahari's Han drum transported me to another realm. And Francesca's kirtan was haunting-beautifully so. On this sacred holiday Diwali, my house was graced with devotional music, reverence, and love.
Being the hostess I missed much of the darshan and was involved with other sacred interactions. After a couple hours I suddenly knew I needed to go into the living room and be with Amma. I was immediately called up to her. The last to receive darshan. She was already in her Bhava. Fierce and wild-like Kali Maa. Her tongue stretched out, her eyes bulging, her hands in various mudras, until she raised one as if she was holding a sword. She pulled me to her and started chanting. She named the fierce goddesses I worship in my ritual practices. I had not told Amma about my devotion to these goddesses when she was in "normal" consciousness, and here she was embodying some tremendous force and reciting mantras for Varahi, Chamunda, and Chinamasta. I was blasted with energy. My muladhara or root chakra experienced a fiery surge of energy that traveled up my spine and made my entire body shake for minutes. Amma Pratyangirae held onto me tightly and continued to chant and occasionally cackle (!) while my physical form trembled and shook. The kirtan music died down and the room became perfectly silent except for the Divine Mother's breathing and sacred utterances. It was sublime. After she released me I fell back onto one of my sister's knees and grabbed onto another sister's hand. I needed to share the powerful currents of energy that were coursing through me. I could not hold all that energy in my body and indeed experienced a headache all through the night. (Om Namas Chandikayay- She Who Tears Apart Thoughts). Nor could I sleep. So much Shakti! But I also continued to experience sheer Bliss. Devotion. And Love. The evening ended with Amma feeding about 10 of us from this endless pot of savory Indian prasad. She had cooked for us right before the puja-in an hour she had created 8 different dishes that were truly sublime.
Amma does not remember what happened in her bhava state. So after the puja we sat in my living room and shared as best we could- words really can not express the Shakti that blazed through us all that evening. Jai Maa!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Amma Pratyangirae is coming to my house for Diwali. Diwali is known as the festival of lights and will take place on the dark moon on November 9th this year. At this time Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Spiritual and Material Abundance, Harmony, and Beauty is celebrated and worshiped in the homes. People pray for the success of their businesses and peacefulness in domestic life. Hundreds of candles of lit, footsteps are drawn on the path leading to the front door, and inside flowers, sweet foods, incense, music, and devotees await Her…
Mata Pratyangirae is a fierce primordial goddess of over 2000 lion heads. She is ancient and all powerful. She has appeared to us in the 21st century in the body of a Tamil Indian woman from
Diwali is the perfect ritual for accessing the blazing radiant light of our souls. The candles we light are symbolic of the flames that burn within each of our hearts. This is yet another sacred time in the autumnal season of death and decay, where we have an opportunity to dispel the darkness of our ignorance and suffering through ritual practices. Such rituals teach us of the inherent cycles in our lives. Everything has its season. Life is a constant battle-
or it is a dance between the tensions of opposites that are continuously at play within our lives. All things that are born will eventually die. This is a seemingly simple truth, and yet most of us in the West have trouble accepting the reality of death. We run from it, deny it, repress the fact of its inevitably. We do so much to try to prolong and enhance this life and to keep a firm hold on all of our attachments. What if we took a different approach? What if we understood our lives as a preparation for perhaps the greatest spiritual initiation there is, death of our physical bodies? Our physical death is going to happen to each of us, so how can we live more consciously, so that in the end, we can die more consciously? Every day we experience death-whether of the moment, a feeling, a relationship, time, or even a loved one. In this season of lessening light, rituals like Diwali help us to stay connected to our inner light.
During the Durga Puja and fall equinox we celebrate the fruits of our labor from the past 9 months. But the bounty of the harvest too will pass. Fall is a season of celebration and letting go. Here in the Northern hemisphere as the days get shorter and the nights longer, a ritual like Diwali or even sitting in the presence of a Spiritual Teacher can aid us in preparing our hearts and our minds to approach death in her myriad guises in a more present way. To me this season is a time of preparation for dissolution. I may or may not be conscious of what I need to release, but I have come to respect the often cold harshness of these days as a time to go within myself, to hibernate and reflect. A sacred time when the veils between the worlds are thin and messages from our ancestors come streaming in...I I take comfort in fall's cold inky darkness and these opportunities to contemplate the mysteries of death and life. It is a wondrous blessing that Amma and Swami are coming here to perform these rituals.
Over the past several weeks, I have experienced numerous synchronicities pointing to Amma Pratyangirae’s arrival. Too many to share, but they continue to occur whether through 'out of the blue' phone calls, seemingly random encounters, or 'odd' experiences that have a numinous essence. I merely observe and surrender to them- trying not to judge or interpret. A female saint is coming to my home, but not as an award nor as a punishment. I, my ego mind has no idea why we are hosting the ritual gatherings here, and it does not matter. I am not sure what it all means and hope to be able to open to the spiritual potential for deeper awakening. Still, I remain awestruck by the blessing that is being presented. Being in their presence I have the sense of being with two very wise and realized souls. Grace, peace and love permeate my experiences with them. May this be true for all who encounter them.
Last Friday I saw Amma Pratyangirae in
When it was my turn to kneel before Amma, I began to cry (which does not happen to me out of sadness or joy, but out of a profound sense of recognition and relief). “Hey Mata”, Amma said to me. Hello Mother, which she has called me from the moment we first met. She has greeted many women I know in this way-to Amma we are all the Mother. Amma tells us she is here to help us find Pratyangirae in our self and all others. It was such a relief to be in her presence again. Everything around me dissolved and for a moment, I found a refuge from the chaos of life. Amma placed her finger on my third eye and my head fell back. All my thoughts disintegrated, crumbled and collapsed. There were things I had wanted to pray for, offerings of gratitude I wanted to give, blessings I had hoped to ask to receive, but no words came into form, all of my thoughts turned to dust. I became part of a vast blanket of emptiness. I felt deep peace and tranquility. Tenderness and sweetness. There was nothing to do, I could just Be. I drank it all in and a part of my consciousness clicked in and made an imprint of this serene awareness that I would call forth in stressful times in waking life.
After many seconds (that to me had stretched into hours), I heard Mata Pratyangirae chanting, Ambika-Durgayay, Ambika- Durgayay. I was called back to ordinary consciousness. When I awaken from such states it takes me a moment to remember where I am. My eyes rested on Amma's physical form. Beautiful Amma Pratyangirae standing before me, beaming. It felt as if we had never been separated even though a year had passed since we last met. I cherish such moments of ease and freedom. Presence. I moved away filled with sweet gratitude and then received a blessing from Swami.
On Diwali, people begin new business ventures, and this year I will begin one too. A couple weeks ago I began making special amulets out of silver and glass boxes and circular lockets within which I secured two different images of the Goddess. I wanted to talk to Swamiji and Amma about selling them and donating a percentage to the Ekatvam organization, so I wore one the night I went to their puja. Swami noticed it right away and was astonished that this locket held an image of Mother Pratyangirae. When I showed Amma, she was very excited. She told me the Mother had just been saying three days before that they needed to have an amulet of Her image to sell on the website and at events. And here I was wearing the amulet. We had both received the same guidance. Here is a sweetly divine opportunity for us all to invoke more Lakshmi energy into our lives.
***My dear new yogini sister, Sri Acala called just now! I must share this synchronicity as this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps happening. These subtle, yet powerful messages of alignment, of flow. SriAcala was the lead priestess of the Durga Puja I attended. A CLEAR EMBODIMENT OF DURGA MAA HERSELF. This woman has SHAKTI. Her friendship has been one of several great blessings that have evolved since the Durga puja. Acala called as I sit writing about Mata Pratyangirae to tell me how one of her jyotish teachers just emailed his list of 2000 people about how powerful Amma and Swamiji are and how they must try to meet them in Berkeley. He also had tremendous experiences with them. This, yet another fabulous synchronicity in a mala of Goddess-infused prayer beads…Jai MAA!
If you live in the Bay Area and wish to join us on November 9th and 11th, please email me and I will send directions. For more info on Mata Pratyangirae and Swamiji go to www.ekatvam.org
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
How can tantra help a woman enhance her inner qualities?
Thank you, Bobbin Cat, for posting this question. I have been thinking about it since last night and want to respond in this blog. In short, Tantra is a mystical path of commitment, devotion and dedication to transformation and liberation.
Tantra is about harnessing and amplifying our inner power, our Shakti. The word tantra means to weave and involves a process of weaving/blending opposite qualities or tensions and experiencing the unity of their common essence. There are various forms of practices in Tantra: mantra, yoga, pranayama, meditation, yantra worship, ritual. Through these practices we learn to experience our mind as a stream of thoughts and emotions. A yogini (or yogi) learns to break the thought patterns through repetitious chanting, focusing the mind on a deity or sacred symbol. Sometimes emotions or thoughts become amplified. Whether one considers them bad or good, one needs to approach them consciously, looking for the root of the feeling/thought, then once it is discovered, holding it with reverence. Tantra teaches us many tools to engage in this process. The energetic properties of mantra, for example, stimulate us on a cellular level and balance and synchronize our energies. Yoga helps open our nadis or energetic channels and leads us to conscious embodiment. Ritual and deity worship help us align with the divinity and find Her/Him within ourself. These practices take us out of our daily often unconscious routine. Our approach to life deepens and becomes imbued with meaning. The universe responds and we notice how It reflects our thoughts and desires. (see www.suddenlyhersoul.blogspot.com Mystery: Death Happens) Signs and synchronicities abound, thereby strengthening the qualities within us that know and remember our divine interconnected essence.
Nandu told me that a yogini does not react to a difficult situation, but responds. She learns to stay balanced and calm in the face of any adversity. And as another one of my teachers told me this week, sometimes a yogini retreats. Periods of meditation, contemplation, solitude and creative expression are necessary. What we need to access our power within varies at different times. Most important is that we do not become all consumed or obsessed with the emotion/experience and do practices to remain conscious of the lila or play we are experiencing.
To enhance my positive inner qualities, or my Shakti, I attempt to confront and embrace any negative thought or emotion. Sometimes I sit with it and let it run its course for days or weeks, but then eventually I do sadhana-spiritual practice to work with the energies that are inhibiting me from accessing and expressing my Shakti. As the remover of fear and difficulty, Durga teaches us not to run away from that which is difficult, but to face it with composure. Yoga, meditation, mantra, ritual all can help. By transmuting the negative charge of certain mental and emotional experiences we inevitably empower ourselves. When we live in accordance with our intuition, when we have focused our intention on releasing any binding thoughts and commit to transforming limiting patterns, we are able to shine as the divine beings that we are.
Nandu Menon (or Amarananda Bhairavan, author of Kali's Odiyya and Medicine Wheel of Light) teaches about four fundamental principle of Tantric Mysticism.
1. Non-violence and non-judgment
2. Humility and surrender
3. Unquestioning faith in the Goddess within
4. Unconditional Love for the Goddess within
Embodying these principles leads us to the enhancement of our most beneficent inner qualities.
Monday, October 22, 2007
And Devi (goddess) said: Whoever with a concentrated mind shall pray to me constantly whether through recitation of my bija (seed) mantra, my sacred hymns (the Devi Mahatmya), singing my name in any of its forms, or chanting any other mantra asking for my protection, I shall, without a doubt, remove any trouble or problem from which you are suffering. Surrender yourself to me and I will lead you to the bliss of Self-knowledge.
10 days of continuous worship, unyielding reverence, unwavering devotion, and Mother Durga has liberated me from some severe mental and emotional afflictions. I am coming back to Life after 7 1/2 months of a very very very dark night of the soul, where I was pinned to the shifting floor of the underworld, where every belief, idea of who I am and what I want, when even my relationship to Her was stripped to its core and called into question. I relived every single disappointment I have ever felt during this time. I felt as if I was drowning in grief. I spent almost three months in bed with bronchitis and pneumonia, my lungs, the seat of our grief, could not function for my sadness about life and the state of the world was too deep and overwhelming. The suffering of women, children, the animal world, the Earth Herself. All the ways societal conditioning traps and limits both females and males from living authentically, freely. War and violence, conflict and pain. For over 7 months I sat as witness and victim to pain, pain, unrelenting pain. My own and others. And I almost lost my faith.
From the bowels of my ignorance and despair to the heart of self-luminescent brilliance and wisdom I have journeyed. My heavy, congested heart that was filled with uncertainty is now filled with LOVE, awe, and longing. Deep deep longing to stay in alignment with Her. To remember She is the force behind and between, within and without ALL EXISTENCE. Even when we do not feel Her, She is here. At times Her Shakti is only obscured, our consciousness cluttered, fragmented, so She can tear it all apart (OM NAMAS CHANDIKAYAY) and lead us from the unreal to the Real. All the things my ego desires, all the ways my thinking inhibits me, all the times I feel so utterly lost and alone-all of this I offered to Her flames and asked for annihilation and liberation. I chanted as if my life depended on it. Because it did. And now, ten days later, I feel Her victory in my own body. I know, again, I am Durga. I know She is every woman and man who I see. She is stronger, more awakened in some of us than in others. But She is in all of us. I know my journey will continue-through darkness and light, suffering and joy, pain and bliss. At this moment, I remember who I am and what I am here on this planet to do. To be in Service to Her. I may forget, I may become lost, I may fall into the underworld of despair from time to time. But this pilgrimage has been a true victory. The spiritual path leading me back to the illumined temple of my heart. The mantras and recitation of Her glorious name have freed me from the severe misery I had become lost in. I may cycle back to those spaces of sadness, for Her nature is both wrathful and benevolent, nurturing and fierce, but I know the journey is a continual process of becoming more aligned with Her. Each experience stretching our consciousness so we can open to experiencing more of Her ecstasy and radiant Shakti.
Mother Durga, the Remover of Difficulty and Fear, Great Goddess who rescues the distressed and afflicted who take refuge in You. Reverence to You, Reverence to You, Reverence to You.
Vijaya Dashami. Thank You for this Victory, Maa Durga. Jai Maa. Jai Jai Jai Jai Jai DURGA MAA!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
On her ninth day, Navami, we ask for blessings for our tools and instruments. It is still one of Saraswati’s days and all the implements She inspires us to use are worshiped. Books, pens, my computer, beads and jewelry tools, anything that is necessary for my Work goes on the altar.
Saturday was the last morning ritual of the festival. I felt a little sad to know this daily ritual that has brought such a deep sense of power and grace to my life, is coming to an end. According to Durga’s myth, after the victory celebrations on the tenth day Durga returns to Her sacred abode in the mountains. It is not that She is no longer with us, She will always come when called. However, every year after the puja, the intensity of Shakti wanes, and we are asked to integrate the myriad lessons, insights and feelings we have opened to during the puja. Durga reminds us that She will always return-all we must do is call out Her name. I know this is true, but I will miss the warmth and empowering resonance that these rituals have provided. I will miss the mystifying ways the various Goddess energies and mantras have felt in my body. It has been very healing and restorative. For the past 9 days I have woken before dawn and have fully offered my Self to these pujas. I have felt Her strongly. She comes through in so many awesome ways. I sense that because of this regular worship I am more aligned and conscious of Her different expressions. I am deeply amazed by the ways Her energies are playing out in my life.
On the eighth and ninth days the battle Durga is fighting heats up. The myth tells of Her battle with Mahisasuramardini, the shape-shifting buffalo demon. In
On Friday, the eighth day after puja one of the devotees at this local temple gifted me with a copy of the Mahisuramardini Strotram. A wonderful chant/song narrating Durga’s battle with the demon. Actually, She is called Ambika, Chandika, and Parvati before She takes the name Durga, the Invincible One. Durga is the name of the demon She slays and liberates to its essentially divine essence. By assuming the name of a demon, Goddess shows that even that which we consider bad or negative is ultimately a part of Her. Like Durga, we can free ourselves from its limiting stronghold. Every morning we have sung this 15 minute chant and some have even danced. The words themselves induce a trancey energy. I find it impossible to sit and just read the words to the music. My body instinctively moves, sways, pulses with Shakti. This is Saraswati’s grace. Music, art, dance. The gift of this music from a sister devotee really touched me. I can now listen to it whenever I like. Although I do not know this woman, I have seen her almost every morning at the ritual and we both have recognized Durga in each other. It is an honor to make these connections with women, especially when I consider how a significant theme of the Durga puja in
A few minutes later, on this same day, another woman, who has been one of the main priestesses for the puja (and who looks like Durga!!! She is radiant with Durga’s energy!), invited me to help build the Sri Yantra for the Vijaya Dashami-Durga’s Victory, the tenth day. Synchronistically, I was wearing my Lalita necklace (the Sri Yantra is a manifestation of Lalita) and knew I needed to invoke some of Her delightful energies into my life. These necklaces are not your every day adornment. They are sacred, imbued with Goddess energy, and have continuously offered me and my clients who wear them many mystical and spiritually affirming experiences. It was no coincidence that the first day I wear a Lalita necklace to the puja I am invited to co-create a Sri Yantra out of colored rice. The Sri Yantra is Goddess Herself. And this Durga priestess, L. is truly an embodiment of Her.
On one of the first mornings of the puja I looked at this priestess and saw Her as a living emanation of this beautiful Chandi/Durga mask a friend in Bombay had given me. She has Shakti, and her presence has felt very familiar to me. Something I can only ascribe to Maa. Then on the evening of the eighth night I learn that this priestess, L, works in a crematorium! How Kali-esque! Kali and Her bevy of fierce goddesses frequent and perform ritual practices in the cremation ground. On the Tantric path we learn and experience how life and death walk hand in hand. Death, like life, is merely a state of being. Every moment we are experiencing death, whether it is of as thought, or experience, or something larger like the loss of physical body or forms. Many of the rituals revolve around confronting those things/people/places that we fear most. When L. told me how She burns bodies and how beautiful the experience is to her, I was deeply moved. It is a tremendous blessing for these souls, who are leaving this world, to have their physical forms offered to Her sacred flames by a priestess of Durga and Kali.
One of the many gifts I have received during this puja time is to continue to recognize Her in living women. I know many women in my own chakra of yoginis who are embodiments of Saraswati, the Black Dakini Throma, Lakshmi, Chamunda, Tara, and other Goddesses. And over the past week I have been exposed to many many more living women who are integrating goddess energies into their lives and consciously living Her myths. The myths have come even more alive for me. It is clear that these stories must have been based on women’s lives and expressions of femininity/female experience. For those of us who live unconventional lives, it is especially heartening to not only hear stories of unfettered yoginis, but to actually know them and witness their radical liberated and fearless dance within this world.
Astami and Navami have brought a multitude of rich blessings this year. Before Durga's mythical battles were won during the ninth night, before the rituals commemorating Vijaya Dashami, Durga's victory day, I have personally experienced a major shift in consciousness that consequently has attracted even more profound experiences around the power of women, especially women in groups. Last night at the Bioneers conference I had the great honor of having dinner with Alice Walker and the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. The conversations, the heart opening, the teachings I received are something I must write about soon - but at a later time as I am too bleary eyed from lack of sleep and all the blazing Shakti. Tonight is Her great Victory Celebration. I must prepare for the final puja and open my heart to the victories and awareness that are still to come.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Om. I worship the incomparable Mahasaraswati, who holds in her lotus-like hands the bell, trident, plough, conch, mace, discus, bow and arrow, who is effulgent like the moon shining at the edge of a cloud, who is the support of the three worlds, and who came from the body of Gauri to destroy Shumnba and other asuras.
(In Praise of the Goddess: The Devimahatmya and Its Meaning, Devadatta Kali)
I meditate upon the Goddess Matangi, the Embodiment of the Mother (of Saraswati). Sitting upon a throne of jewels, She is listening to the sweet sounds of parrots. The color of Her body is dark. She has one foot resting upon a lotus, and She wears a half moon upon Her head. Wearing a garland of flower buds, She plays the strings of the vina. She covers Her body with a blouse and a red colored sari. In Her hand is a cup made of conch shell. From Her face comes a slight sweet scent which causes intoxication, and a brilliant spot of vermillion shines on Her forehead.
These are Goddesses I love and adore. Saraswati, Goddess of Creativity, Dance, Music, Poetry, all the Arts, Wisdom and Learning; Matangi Elephant-headed Goddess of Female Sexuality and Mystical Power. Today at the morning puja we worshiped MahaSaraswati. One Her devotees played a beautiful tin drum like instrument ( I wish I knew its name!). The notes sounded like water gently cascading over river rocks in a brook or stream. I wept from the resonance I felt in my heart. Saraswati, Goddess of Flow, of all the Waters, and Goddess of Music, Her essence merging and expressing itself in this puja through Her devotees. We chanted to Saraswati. We prayed. Some of us dance to the recitation of the Mahisuramardini-the trancey chant about Durga's battle with the shape-shifting buffalo demon. For almost two hours every morning we praise and worship Goddess. We ask for Her blessings. We say Her mantra 108 times and float in Her energy, my own consciousness merging and expanding.
This evening I had my Sanskrit class. My teacher is a tantric scholar and practitioner. He is very well-educated and funny. And he clearly knows how to dance with Saraswati. The Sanskrit alphabet is truly a science that expresses the spiritual patterns of our manifest reality. The phonemes of Sanskrit are building blocks of manifestation. The Goddess Vac, an earlier form of Saraswati, is the Goddess of the word-the word whose vibration brings the physical realm into manifest reality. The alphabet itself is a sacred act. There are even practices of mapping phonemes on the body. Language creates consciousness and the vibrational, linguistic and mystical properties of various letters and words in Sanskrit attest to language's influence on consciousness. (May I just remind us of my previous blog on the word guys...women are not guys. To call women in a group "guys" only perpetuates the patriarchal paradigm on many unseen levels...)
To continue with tonight, the first of Saraswati's three days, I attend class and receive teachings on the Sanskrit alphabet, one of Her domains. On these final three days Saraswati's gifts are that of illuminated wisdom, discernment, and clarity. It is wonderful to be able to live my life in such a congruent way with Her during these puja days. It is as if every aspect of my life reflects some of the qualities of each of these Goddesses on their particular days. I cannot see Her as separate, nor do I forget about Her after puja. She permeates my entire life and being, and I am grateful for the recognition of Her constant presence that I am experiencing.
We learn a beautiful chant to Saraswati. The tune has floated in and out of my consciousness since I first heard it sung in this rhythm four weeks ago. It is called Sardula-Vikridita, Tiger's play meter. Indeed the low notes could be the tiger's paws pressing heavily on the ground, and the lighter notes the times when the tiger is rolling and frolicking, then coming to her feet to pounce, then dive in play again. So many layers of consciousness are intentionally integrated and experienced as One through various modes of expression within this mantra. All the while the tiger plays, we clumsily try to pronounce the mantra while visualizing Saraswati and asking for Her blessing on our learning endeavors.
Hareesh, our teacher is extremely knowledgeable. He tends to go off on these fascinating esoteric tangents on tantric mysticism, linguistics, yoga, the Vedas, spiritual experiences, philosophy, mythology, ritual practices and more! All 8 of us students love it. What a wonderful way to learn the language. Although I studied it before, I never could get excited about it. We were translating texts on the warrior caste and rarely focused on pronunciation or spiritual philosophies. But now the language has come alive. The alphabet IS the Goddess. How wonderful to really see and feel this on Saraswati's day.
One of the teachings Hareesh shared tonight is a central aspect to the Tantric path. He described a path I embrace and was grateful to be reminded of. Desire.
Desire is Matangi's domain...The Tantric path teaches us to use sensual means to attain divine consciousness. In ritual worship Matangi is offered pollutants, things deemed taboo and unclean. She can transmute their energies into Shakti and so within Tantric circles these offerings hold much power. From the Tantric perspective, no desire is bad, when approached in moderation, any desire can be used as a tool to help us achieve union with the Divine. And the attainment of Divine union is the ultimate goal of every practitioner. What if we were to see every desire as a microcosmic manifestation of the divinity? What if, instead of coming from a place of lack, we realized that we are already complete and will enjoy the sensation of our own divinity through a catalyst-the desire. Awareness of our Divinity. To know that I am the One Who is aware of this 'chocolate', craving, experience. The joy of obtaining our desire is not really inside the thing itself, but comes from following joy back to its source. Who is the one experiencing the joy? I actually am the instrument of the joy, not the desire itself. Here we find the bliss of our self-awareness. As the sensation subsides once the desire has been used, the mind too has the opportunity to dissolve into pure awareness - if one can stay conscious through the practice.
Jai Matangi Maa! Jai Saraswati Maa!
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Om. I revere Mahalakshmi, who holds in her hands the prayer beads, ax, mace, arrow, thunderbolt, lotus, bow, waterpot, staff, lance, sword, shield, conch, bell, wine cup, trident, noose and the discus Sudarshana; whose complexion is radiant like coral; who is seated on a lotus; and who is the destroyer of Mahisasura.
(In Praise of the Goddess: The Devi Mahatmya and Its Meaning, Devadatta Kali)
The last three days, days four through six of the puja, have been devoted to Mahalakshmi. During the first three we worshiped Maa Durga. We sang to Her, offered flowers, rice, coconuts, and fruit. We offered all of our "demons," our self-limiting ego perceptions. We asked Her to clear our karma and prepare us for the abundance that Lakshmi has to offer. And She did.
Mother Lakshmi is the goddess of spiritual and material wealth, harmony, plentitude, and generosity. Her seat is the lotus; a sacred symbol of the initiate's journey. As the Goddess of fruition, She is celebrated as the rajas, the fertile passionate life force. During Lakshmi's days we see the first tender green shoots of the jamara or barley plant sprout. The blades represent the swords Durga uses in Her battle with Mahisasuramardini and the other demons. We will continue to chant to them for the next three days. The blades remind us that although we have come to a place of abundance with Lakshmi, there are still shape-shifting "demons" in our own lives to slay.
I continue my pilgrimage, waking before dawn and walking to the temple, half-asleep, but filled with awe. I make my way through the rainy dark streets and enter the temple just as light is breaking-every day. Lakshmi is rain and She is earth. She is light and She is darkness. Every act and experience is infused with Lakshmi's energy. It is not hard to get up so early. This energy is soothing to my mind, heart and soul.
The morning puja is exquisitely beautiful. I could not have ever asked for more of a reverent and authentic Durga puja in the States. The women pujaris are embodiments of Maa. The male pujaris give me hope of a world that honors the female divine. We chant and pray, give offerings and receive. I feel transported to another realm and cherish these moments of profound connection. I am still in awe of this blessing of daily puja to Durga so close to my home. I can dress in my saris, a different one for each of Her days, and immerse myself in the energy of each particular aspect of Her. Each Matrika, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and beginning tomorrow, Saraswati, are manifestations of female consciousness. I am living these various expressions through my body. A part of me wishes I did not have to work or be in the every day world and could fully surrender to the states of consciousness I feel pulled toward. But this Work is about divine embodiment and there is no separating any part of life. On the third day of Lakshmi puja clarity about several aspects of my self and life comes to me. Suddenly, with MahaLakhsmi I feel Oneness.