“Wouldn’t it be powerful
if you fell in love with yourself so deeply that
you would do just about anything
if you knew it would make you happy?
This is precisely how much life loves you and
wants you to nurture yourself.
The deeper you love yourself,
the more the universe will affirm your worth.
Then you can enjoy a lifelong love affair
that brings you the richest fulfillment from inside out.”
~ Alan Cohen
The month of March is a time of transition, letting go of winter and transitioning into the season of spring. When the sun shines brighter and warmer we lean in and breathe deep. When the rain falls to cleanse the earth and prepare for rebirth we too have an instinct to peel back some of our winter layers and cleanse from the inside out. This beautiful ritual is a benevolent expression of self-love.
The ability to radically love thyself is not narcissistic! Rather it is the greatest act of compassion we can show ourselves so that we can show up for our partners, children, family and friends... and love them fully.
This month I encourage you to take the time to take care of yourself.
February is our season of love. Loving others, loving ourselves and loving what is. Whatever feelings, thoughts or behaviours we connect with this time of year, may they be greeted with grace, compassion and empathy.
Recently, in my life both my physical practice and my meditation practice have been thwarted into a very long pause. Years ago missing more than a day of practice used to send me into disarray. Present day has beautifully stunned me into present moment. I have been called to slow down,check in with myself, and appreciate how my limited ability 'to do' is allowing the mundane to be a beautiful teaching experience. I treasure the precious moments I have with my partner and children-they are finite, as is all of life. I am marvelling at what my body can do rather than being caught up with what it cannot. The involuntary requirements to slow down eating, walking, and work has created a wonderment as to why these were ever rushed in the past.
With the removal of my usual yoga practice bringing me closer to my sense of self, it has arisen in me the contemplation... 'What is practice?'
What I have learned is to Listen.
Listen for the stir that calls you to move and get connected to your body
Listen to tether that wants to keep you resting in bed on a Sunday
Listen to your partner-and maybe then you will be heard
Listen to when the entire universe is calling you to open your eyes and soak life up
Listen to your children-they are life longing for itself
This month whatever the context, or the situation, bring your love without discrimination. Notice how your listening yields a certain quality of elation, deep within. Let that quality inform your offerings. Commit to an internal experience of love.
The Way Bhakti Works...You Love!
I must admit November is not a month of the year that I embrace too readily. The days are shorter, darker, colder and wetter. It's not quite winter wonderland yet and there is still the fresh longing of the warm vibrant fall days. It's a transition time and with all transitions there is beautiful opportunity for growth and compassion if we are willing to work with the discomfort, pressure and friction rather than resisting against them. This is why our mat practice is so valuable.
Through the practice on our mat we can lean into the depth of our experience and stay clear and present through the transition of poses. There is so much value and potential in that little pregnant pause. Do I think of something else when I am transitioning? Do I rush my transitions so that I can get to the next pose? These little but significant tendencies spill into our subconscious mind and play out in our everyday life. We may find ourselves moving from one thing to the next without allowing time and space for the pause in between to work its magic. So, if we can pause and listen to transitions on our mat we may then begin to pause and listen to transitions in our life.
This month of November has a theme of 'pressure' running through. Let us be reminded of the importance of the highest love for ourselves, and for what's highest within and around us. Here's a poem to support the unfolding of the month.
"The way Bhakti works
Until you and the Beloved become One."
You just trust, until you and the turmoil
can finally be done with one another,
until you call your anger + your fear
your sister + your brother. Finally.
And take good care of those two -- your anger + your fear.
Don't throw them out or shun them; they need your attention,
so you won't be overcome by their presence.
Love them intelligently and outrun them with your integrity.
You just listen, until the quiet of your heart is as loud as any habitual voice,
You just believe - please believe - until sacred possibility is your only choice,
the only portal through which you'll walk today.
You just witness, until you meet your soul directly, with kindness.
And you stay with yourself, closely, until you can find this potent, growing truth
as readily as you can locate the usual criticism or doubt.
Set your alarm if you must, sit quietly in the earliest morning, and let it be fun.
This is Bhakti. You just love until you and the Beloved become One.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground
This past week we experienced a huge charge in the atmosphere. There was the fall equinox, a super moon, and blood moon. It's enough shake rattle and roll just about anyone. When there is a big charge one of two things are being asked of us.
1) The call to put something into action. "If not now then when?". Anything that has been set aside, put on the back burner or just sitting idle needs to be attended to.
2) Get grounded. Anchor your roots a little deeper into the earth so that you can stay on course with your intention.
A yoga practices with low poses, held poses and mediation are very supportive during times of transitions. As we move into the month of October the call for balance resonates even deeper.
If you would like some support on getting grounded here is an online practice for you called Yin/Yang that I filmed through Yoga Netra. In addition this article 'Balancing Tension vs Relaxation.' can offer some perspective on your continuum.
Each time we roll out the mat and move our bodies the sublime understanding is that our mat is like a mirror. How we perform on the mat is how we perform in life. If we are hard on ourself in poses chances are we have high expectations of others and of our self in life. If we want to take strides in a certain direction it starts with the behavior we lay out on the mat and hopefully spills into our behavior off the mat. This is why yoga is referred as a ‘practice’. It is meant to be a preparation for our real life experience.
When we experience yoga in the form of asana (postures) the layout reads like written paragraph and has three separate phases. First there is the opening (breath work and warm-up) the body is next (sequence and asana) and the third is the conclusion (sivasana). The incorporation of all three phases often is what gives us the euphoria we experience upon completion of our yoga practice.
So if our practice is meant to spill into our daily living why is our euphoria a fleeting affair rather than an oasis we have throughout our day? The obvious answer may be that real life includes much more that just our individual self and there are many more balls being juggled than the steps to triangle pose. This is a very valuable response. Yet perhaps there is also deeper underlying layer that we continuously overlook in our busyness of daily life. If we were to examine our daily activities we may see that we take less time in our introduction, we focus primarily on the body, and almost always eliminate sivasana, the conclusion and most important part.
Take for example a scheduled meeting. If we arrive 5-10 minutes late were frazzled. We lack the time to set-up how we would like, to pause and think about what needs to be discussed and to simply adjust to the space we have walked into. However we do manage to ‘pull it off’ and cover the topics needed and have a general sense of accomplishment. This is the body. The meeting finishes and often one of two things happens next. We either are so tightly scheduled that we rush off to the next appointment or we convince ourself that we can squeeze one final little task in before we need to be somewhere else. There is no reflection...no sivasana.
What this creates is a constant snowball of either the mind, body or spirit trying to play ‘catch up’ with the rest of the body. The end result is that we lack presence and awareness. If this sounds familiar and perhaps a cyclical tendency that we would like to adjust perhaps begin by taking your yoga practice off the mat. in other words spend time on completing each paragraph that makes up the different chapters of your book of life.
Here is the paragraph steps in daily living examples:
When the journey of mindfulness calls there is a deep feeling of both commitment and optimism. However the beginning stages of this path can sometimes shine it’s light on where we fall short in behaviours and relationships both within ourselves and with others. For some this is where the journey ends. Old habits and patterns enter back in, or worse we spiral into a spiritual darkness replaying the story of our short comings and limiting beliefs. What appeared so clear to us when we started is now so very far away from the direction that we were headed on. Yet if we were to listen a little closer we’d actually see that were are right on course.
The word ego often times has a negative perception, a part within ourself that needs to be conquered. The ego is so incredibly amazing. Here is this piece within ourself whose sole purpose is maintaining our survival. It acts in order to protect us and keep us safe…just like a loving mother. Yet like a loving mother the ego can be blinded. Where behaviours were once put in place, in order to keep us safe or maintain our survival, they may still be playing out even years after the threat has left.
When we turn our attention into the practice of soul or spirit we begin to shift from the need to do (ego) and start to experience the state of being (consciousness). At our core we are human beings not human doers.This shift sends the ego on high alert because the ‘law of maintenance’ states that ‘that which we feed… grows.’ If we are no longer feeding the ego and instead nourishing the spirit then over time the spirit will begin to flourish and the ego will diminish. The ego feels this threat coming on and like a mama bear finds the resources within us to preserve our survival. Ego preservation will transform in many ways such as the inner critic, the skeptic, or the image consultant.
So step back into the scenario of where an individual is embarking on a spiritual path but rather than feeling the euphoria and enlightenment sensations they begin to feel the opposite. The inner critic may enter speaking statements of unworthiness “I can’t believe you just behaved like that…and you call yourself spiritual”. Or perhaps the skeptic enters “really you think waking up at 6 a.m. to meditate is the secret to peace?” Then there is the image consultant “hmmm wonder what Larry would think if he knew I was listening to Deepak Chopra”.
These responses are not a signal to wave the white flag and admit that we are unable to lead ourselves forward. They are instead the perfect opportunity to begin the honest work of bearing witness to our own ego and engaging in relationship with it. The inner critic when used in the right manner can be such an amazing driving force to help inspire higher standards; to no longer be content with playing small. Engage in conversation with your own critic. “Really you think I’m unworthy? Hmmm that’s interesting because my kid thinks I’m awesome and my kid is one of the smartest people I know.” Or “How can I be unworthy if I was born whole? This unworthiness must have somehow been taught to me along the way” The skeptic when used honestly is going to make sure that you validate what you are doing so that you are not lead down the path of scams and unsupported product claims. Let’s face it there is a lot of money to be made in the business of spirituality. So begin to decipher as to when the skeptic has a valid voice and when the skeptic needs to move to the backseat and let go and let be. As for the image consultant what better way to take a deep look at your relationships and need for approval. If the people you surround yourself with don’t see you as your best self and inspire you to be your highest self then are they honestly loving you? If you seek the approval of others more than the approval of yourself why is that?
The beginning stages of going deeper will inevitably point out our ego. The recognition that we have an ego is a deep call for us to start doing ‘the work/play’. The ego is like a new puppy. It wants to be fed often, it enjoys mischief and it needs to be trained. Space in your life for stillness is how spirit grows brighter and ego recedes. Watch how these tender pauses bloom into your everyday until one day you’ll just happen to notice a difference…
In the Hindu mythology the universe is created by the combination of the deities Shiva and Shakti. The male principle Shiva is bliss and represents the “I” in “I am” which means God . Shakti on the other hand is power and represents the “am” in “I am.” At this level, Shiva/Shakti are one merged in an indissoluble embrace. Blissfully reflecting on itself this primal presence is unimaginably free, immeasurably aware, and perfectly blissful. It is empty yet pregnant with potency.
From this empty fullness Shakti has an impulse to manifest...to create something. In an act of ‘play’ of dance she imagines and creates the world. Her cosmic imagination flows through many subtle layers gradually condensing and making form. The first forms are extremely subtle, light and awareness populated by beings with bodies far too subtle to be seen with the human eye. Next is stars, planets, black holes and galaxies. next is the atoms and molecules and eventually creatures and humans.
In this process of manifestation Shakti has to hide her full unity. She limits her experience of being all the others in order to create one. In other words in order to create animals she has to limit her experience of being a tree, the oceans, or the mountains. We can appreciate this in our life through the recognitions that in order to be the best we can at our work or our relationship we have to limit ourselves from other possibilities. We cannot be an amazing doctor and be an amazing lawyer at the same time. We cannot be an amazing lover to multiple people at once... although many try. The end result of Shakti’s experience is that material existence (i.e. people) now experiences itself as separate, unique, cut off from the whole.
Science is proving that this 'story' of Shakti's manifestation is our story. That our bodies are made up of split off particles of stars and planets. The breath we breath contains the inert element argon which means that the argon we breathe is the same argon that has been breathed by all beings since the beginning of time. Philosophy takes this one step further. That our awareness is not only connected to the power of awareness in other creatures, but is is also a miniature version of the great awareness of the source of all that is. The vastness that exist in the cosmic universe is also available to us inside the grace and stamina that comes when we enter the inner world of our heart.
In Shakti’s dance she shrinks Shiva so that the great awareness encompassing everything is now a single separate ego. This is why we often see ourselves as separate. Yet since the beginning of time we have intuited the existence of the subtle world’s powerful, invisible forces operating through the physical worlds. The explanations of this have evolved with our own evolution. Cavemen understood divine powers through the weather “the Gods are angry”, hundreds of years ago we explained these forces through demons, and ghosts, and angels, and magic. In modern day many don't believe in anything. Children have stopped believing in magic. Yet that doesn't mean that these forces have left. Instead it explains a huge disconnection from our intuition and a greater disconnect to the understanding that we are all connected. In a modern time where few believe in anything we see higher rates of depression and anxiety than ever before. We are meant to belong rather than be alone.
Deities change as human consciousness changes- and so do the maps through which we understand the world. At the same time, certain recognitions are timeless.
Shiva and Shakti are lovers who want to unite again:
Shakti, as she pushes from the earth, is described as the divine aspiration of the human soul. While Shiva descending form above is the irresistible attraction of divine grace. They are opposite yet exist in an eternal embrace, neither able to exist without the other. Their eternal relationship creates both the phenomenal and spiritual worlds.
She is the Goddess who flows as language, insight, and sound.
The Goddess of Flow:
As water the sustainer of life. Water through rivers, taps, the water of the womb. All life needs water all water needs to flow. The moon governs the tides of the oceans, the cycle of women. The flow of music from one note to another. creative movement, she is the creative inspiration, the inner impulse.
At her subtlest Saraswati loves in that pulsing space at the root of sound, where silence gives birth to creative possibilities.
In the beginning there was chaos. Everything existed in a formless, fluid state. "How do I bring order to this disorder?" wondered Brahma, the creator. "With Knowledge", said Devi.
Dressed in white Devi emerged from Brahma's mouth riding a swan as the goddess Saraswati. "Knowledge helps man find possibilities where once he saw problems." Said the goddess. Under her tutelage Brahma acquired the ability to sense, think, comprehend and communicate. He began looking upon chaos with eyes of wisdom and thus saw the beautiful potential that lay therein.
Brahma discovered the melody of mantras in the cacophony of chaos. In his joy he named Saraswati, Vagdevi, goddess of speech and sound.The sound of mantras filled the universe with vital energy, or prana. Things began to take shape and the cosmos acquired a structure: the sky dotted with stars rose to form the heavens; the sea sank into the abyss below, the earth stood in between.
Gods became lords of the celestial spheres; demons ruled the nether regions, humans walked on earth. The sun rose and set, the moon waxed and waned, the tide flowed and ebbed. Seasons changed, seeds germinated, plants bloomed and withered, animals migrated and reproduced as randomness gave way to the rhythm of life.
Brahma thus became the creator of the world with Saraswati as his wisdom.
When to invoke Saraswati:
She is the deity you invoke when you just need some help with communication.
A Saraswati woman is unconventional not because they are trying to break the rules but because they don’t see the rules as being there in the first place.
How to invoke Saraswati:
You can’t control her. Anyone who sits in silence trying to shut off the mind will tell you that her creative flow is often endless...a tap that won’t shut off.
You can only flow with her. Using a mantra or your own awareness as a boat you can steer along those channels that lead to expansion and joy rather than suffering and constriction
Too much communication there is overload, too little as we lack communication
For details on how to invoke Saraswati's energy and to work with contemplations visit Sally Kempton's book "Awakening Shakti"
Goddess of Devotion and Mystical Submission:
Sita exists only for love. She personifies loyalty. She incarnates devotion. She stands for the principle of loving submission-submission to the masculine, submission to the divine, submission to life itself.
Story of Sita:
Sits was born from the earth. She was found as a baby in a furrow her body aglow by her father King Janaka. King Janaka was a seeker of wisdom and by being his daughter she was bestowed with his qualities of devotion. As she grew she became a beautiful young girl whose love would radiate from her and fill all those she encountered and was famous for her virtue. Many princes had asked for her hand in marriage but she turned them away.
Far away in the Kingdom lived the Rama. Rama’s father was a righteous King loved by all and whose lessons on love and leadership were being bestowed on his son Rama to train him for the day he took over the Kindgom. By the time he meets Sita his training is so far along that he is beyond passion and attachment. Rama came to Sita and although he found her most beautiful and loving and kind his reasons for marriage were more to do with Dharma or duty rather than love. The duty of Cosmic form of love(Rama) marries the embodied form of love (Sita). She on the other hand fell instantly in love with Rama and soon the two were married.
Back at home things were unravelling.Years ago one of Rama’s father’s wives had saved his life. Indebted to his wife he granted her one unconditional boon. In Ramas absence she asked that her son be ruler for 15 years and that Rama be exiled to the forest. Rama’s father had no choice but to grant this boon and send his son off to the forest. The decision would later kill him from grief. When Rama was told he had to leave he asked Sita to stay in the Kingdom but she refused saying “deprived on her consort a woman cannot live.”
Sita and Rama were happy living in the forest until one day a demoness woman disguised as a maiden tried to temp Rama through seduction. Rama looked at the woman and said “how can you ask me to be with you? Can you not see that my wife Sita is right here and she is my love?” The demoness undismayed takes her demon brother and disguises him as a golden deer. Sita’s love for all creatures begs Rama to catch the deer so she could have him as a pet. Rama chases after the deer and in his absence the deer transformes into the demon Ravana and steals Sita away to his island. Ravana was in love with Sita and thought that once she was with him she would give herself over to him. Sita’s love was unwavering. She was seduced, her life was threatened, Ravana tried to trick her by showing her the head of dead husband as an illusion. She remained faithful.
Rama returned to his Kingdom took back his throne and sent his servant the monkey God Hanuman off to rescue his wife. Finally Hanuman rescued Sita and returned her to her Kingdom. Upon Sita’s return Rama refuses his wife. He claims that she could not have lived with another man for so long and not been unfaithful. He claims he fought the demon Ravana for the honor of the family not to have his wife returned. He makes what he declares a generous offer of protection “you may marry one of my brothers but I will not have you.”
Sita swears that she was taken against her will and that she remained faithful and to prove herself true she sets a ring of fire around the throne of Rama. She prays to the God of fire Agni “Since my heart has always been true to Rama, give me your protection.” With that she steps into the fire, it blazes up around her but not a hair on her head is singed. The necklace of flowers she wears around her neck still has the dew of the water. Upon seeing this Rama dissolves into remorse and begs Sita to forgive him and they come together in triumph.
It would seem as though the story ends here and all is happily ever after. However the people of the kingdom begin to whisper. They say she is dirty, that Ravana had his way with Sita and has poisoned the mind of her husband. Rama begins to falter. He needs to save face. He decides to banish Sita even though he has just learned she is pregnant with his twins.
Off Sita goes back into the forest she raises her sons. Years go by and one day Rama is hunting in the forest and he meets his two sons. They have become strong archers and he is proud of his boys. He finds Sita and agrees to take her back on one condition. She must perform a second public ordeal declaring that she is the faithful and loving wife. Sita seems to agree, she comes back to the palace and there standing in front of his throne Sita petitions her mother the earth.
“If I have always been pure and faithful to Rama in thought, word, and deed may the sweet earth receive me.” At her words a throne rises from the earth, Sita sits on the throne, which then sinks into the ground. The Goddess returns to her origins. Rama is said to mourn her forever. He never remarries, he always keeps a golden figure of Sita by his side.
When we hear the story of Sita it is hard not to feel the anger of the feminine collective towards the centuries of oppression by men. The story of Sita feels outdated. We live in a culture of women who have fought so hard for the rights and freedoms of women that we have almost tipped the scales too far and adopted the energies of the yang. Yet she still exists in many cultures including our own. She is the generation of women who believed that by being good wives, good daughters, and good mothers they would be protected, that their connection to others defined them. Contemplating Sit’s story can bring up all the grief of the collective feminine and a deep rage at the masculine, with its rigid notions of honor and it’s assumptions that women are property.
But to see Sita as either a victim or as the embodiment of wifely virtue is to miss who she is at her core.
Goddess of love:
Sita is the holding quality of love. She is the essentially feminine power of unconditional embrace, embodied in the energy that holds a child in the womb. Sita is that quality in the feminine whose unconditional love draws out the innate goodness in someone who the patriarchal mind considers irredeemable. Sita is that quality in the divine that can hold us in all our confusion and that has the power to transmute our darkness in it’s holding light. She is the feminine in most need of protection because it is most open to violence and betrayal.
When to invoke Sita:
Sita is that energy that we invoke when we ourselves or someone we know requires that unconditional love. We all want to fall in love with someone who loves us unconditionally. This is why if we have a good relationship with out mother it lasts forever. She is the one person in the whole world who will always see our side, she will always listen and love us no matter what the circumstances. Yet to turn this around how challenging is it for us to love our spouses/partners/friends in much the same manner. We place conditions and expectations on people so that they measure up to our worthiness of love.
For contemplations and meditations on the Goddess Sita visit Sally Kempton's book "Awakening Shakti".
Warrior Goddess of Protection and inner Strength:
Durga was the deity invoked by Kings for victory in battle and although she is a battle Goddess she is also the inner force that unleashes the power behind spiritual awakening. She is the Shakti that decend into us and ignites the subtle body, beginning a process that can eventually change the way we think, feel, and see ourselves in the world.
The story of Durga is a story about how we are supported and protected when we admit we are powerless over the forces of darkness and take refuge in the higher power. It’s a commentary on the danger of underestimating the feminine.
The Story of Durga:
There once was a dark force of evil who amassed an army of warriors who practiced many austerities to be granted a boon by the God Brahman. After thousands of years of practice they finally petitioned the God for a boon and the God had no choice but to grant it to them. He declared that in battle no man or God would be able to defeat them. So began the reign of evil spreading throughout the earth and cosmos. No God or man could defeat these evil warriors and as a result they were forced into slavery or exiled from their homes.
One day a wise sage pointed out a loop hole in the God Brahman’s gift to the evil warriors. There was no mention of a woman being able to defeat the evil forces. So the God’s climbed to the highest peak of a mountain where the Goddess Durga was waiting for them.
She stood behind a curtain and they begged her to step in and stop the atrocities that were taking place. After a century of singing her praises and worshipping her she finally agrees.
When she emerges from behind her curtain she is a woman whose skin is dark and whose hair is lustrous. Her body is seductive, curvaceous and when you look into her eyes you instantly fall in love with her. Her perfume is erotic but there is an air of untouchability that brings all men to their knees when in her presence. She is riding a the back of a lion.
Down from the mountain she descends. Instantly she is in the Kingdom of evil. as she rides into the palace the soldiers and warriors come out to watch, transfixed by her beauty and think that she has come as a gift to them from the exiled Gods. She is beautiful and seductive in appearance, but her beauty does not serve its normal function, which is to attract a husband. It serves to entice her victims into fatal battle.
She explains to the soldiers that she is a warrior race, and must marry an equal. "In my girlhood I took a silly vow that I would only marry a man strong enough to defeat me in battle". The soldiers fear for her safety and try to persuade her into reason. She holds her ground and they eventually relent but send their weakest man out.
Out of the gates comes a man and instantly she kills him with her light. Still blocked by their egos the soldiers send more warriors who are no match for her. Finally after several rounds of battles and defeat their eyes begin to see more clearly and they realize the loophole in their boon from Brahman but it is too late the army is defeated by her many arms and weapons and Goddesses that emerge from her form.
Finally the evil King her equal emerges. He rides on a buffalo. They exchange words and and over a fierce battle she defeats him. When he lies on the ground breathing his last breath the Goddess Durga fills his being with light. A smile of ecstasy comes over his face and he dissolves into Durga’s body, dying into the mystery. When the ego dissolves, even the most demonic soul comes home, back to the heart of the mother.
As a world protector Durga’s fierceness arises out of her uniquely potent compassion. She is the deity to call upon when you are in deep trouble.
Visualize your own image of Durga. See her strong body, her weapons and her intense gaze. Ask her what are your major obstacles and what it is that you need to let go of or pay attention to? Turn to your heart ask the same questions in your heart. Turn your answers over to the radical power of grace (the love and mercy of the Divine)
The Shadow side of Durga:
The path of the Goddess is all about learning to ride the expansion and contraction until you can recognize her different faces in the ups and downs of your inner journey. You become aware of her subtle hints, the signs that the path is opening up for you, the warning to back off, back down, go deeper or turn to parts of yourself that need more development. Little by little Shakti energy partners with your own efforts and practices to subtly reshape your character and nature. The more you understand the process as the natural expression of the Goddesses acts of revelation and concealment, the more easily you can partner with her unfolding inside you.
For meditations and contemplations on Durga visit Sally Kempton's book "Awakening Shakti"