OM Dum Durgeyei Namaha
I bow to Durga, Mother, Protector, Liberator, Slayer of Demons, Master of Maya (illusion)
She has a face that you can't look away from. Her presence overshadows all else. She is breathtakingly beautiful. She's smiling. She's been waiting for you. There's nothing she needs to say, she doesn't ask for anything. Just smiles. She is serenely still, waiting. You come to her. There's nowhere else to go, nowhere else you want to be. In her company you sit, meet her gaze -steady and unwavering, piercing, but kind. You intend to show her your best self, to lavish her with praise and poetry, to list all of your accomplishments and to thank her for her support. You open your mouth to speak- and no sound comes out. You feel something shift deep inside of you, a flicker of doubt, a recognition that behind what you intend to tell her is everything that you don't want to say, don't want to see, don't want to feel. Your confidence crumbles and you feel an ache in your heart that you've tried to cover over with everything from laughter, chocolate, art projects, alcohol, lovers, music, meditation. Tears come to your eyes and you aren't even sure what the tears are for because they are for everything. Somehow every stray memory of pain, every mistake, failure, and instance of cruelty begin passing through your mind. Every disappointment, every loss settles like anchors in your gut. The weight of it all comes crashing in, turning that heartache into a yawning crack in the fabric of your inner world. You might be falling. There's a rushing sound of voices raised in anger, whispers of contempt, sobs. All of it all at once. You suddenly realize you haven't been breathing. Your vision starts to go dark. You really are falling. How long have you been falling? How long has your vision been darkening? Fear begins to claw through you. This wasn't how this was supposed to go? Weren't you here to find light? To ask for blessings? To experience grace? How can this be? You feel yourself become weightless, helpless to hang on to consciousness. In the final moment before you....pass out...pass away...you feel a tiny spark of regret and then an ease of the pressure. You did your best. A slight smile comes to your lips, unexpected and unbidden. "It's all yours now, Mother. I've done all I can." And all goes quiet.
You are alone in the dark, at peace. No desire, no more regret, no fear. Just quiet. The memory of pain has faded and you can see now the way things were. The small victories that you never celebrated. The joys that got lost in trying to make the best of everything. The quiet moments that gave way too quickly to distraction. You see yourself from a space outside of what you were supposed to be, what you were supposed to do. In amazement you see the lives you touched in so many ways, the smiles you caused, the way the world moved through you, the way you were woven into the fabric of reality. You quietly contemplate how irreplaceable everyone is and you remember that you weren't alone. A whole world was left behind. You hope everyone is doing ok, that they find their way out of struggle. You consider everything that you might have done, might have said, but never did, to ease that suffering. You remember what it was like to struggle and what it was like to hope. You remember trying so hard, failing, and trying again. You remember longing to be happy, to be enlightened, to be yourself with no doubt and no shame. You remember love in all its forms and the bittersweet need to keep grasping for it. You remember feeling so imperfect and yet the world always had a place for you. You feel a nameless emotion pour out of you, like honey or nectar, when you think of the world, of everyone still struggling, still hoping, still trying, still longing. And a tear falls onto your cheek as desire blooms in your awareness. You feel your heart beat, aching and full, and a readiness starts to build within you. There's a sudden flash of blinding light and you feel a deep in-rush of breath as your eyes open.
You see her sitting quietly, smiling, her gaze locked with yours. She is breathtakingly beautiful, like the sky is beautiful or the ocean or the stars. That beauty will never cease to be, and to know it is to become lost in it. In her smile you see the light of hope, courage, compassion. In her eyes you see the vast darkness of space and the knowledge of pain and forgiveness, redemption. You see what you came looking for in her eyes and you know it is a reflection of your own mind. The air around her is sweet and warm, an invitation to relax. There's nowhere else you need to be. Her presence is magnetic, like being drawn into an embrace that you've been waiting for. You are sure that there is nowhere you can go that you wouldn't feel her pull. Her smile deepens and you feel a brightness inside and the flow of that nameless emotion pouring from her...or was it from you? You feel your breath settle into a steadier rhythm, the ache in your heart is now a welcome reminder of how much there is to feel, how much of you there is still to give, to uncover.
You begin to speak, not about your accomplishments or your fears. You do not ask for blessings or throw gifts at her feet. Instead you speak about how much you love the people in your life, what you might make for breakfast, what flowers are in season, and how you hope your favorite tv show will turn out. You speak about wanting to learn to play an instrument, another language, to take a trip to somewhere new. You laugh about how you've forgotten your email password for the millionth time and that you keep falling out of handstand, and that your jeans don't fit and you'll have to go buy new ones. You talk quietly about what it's like to feel lonely, to miss old friends, and to let go of old habits, old beliefs. The outpouring continues until there's nothing more to say. She's with you through all of it, smiling, laughing, comforting. As you empty your heart to her, you feel that feeling of the warm embrace intensify. As silence settles over you, you feel ready. The world is waiting and there's so much still to do. You stand and struggle to think of a way to say good-bye, to say thank you. You know there's no need. She understands. But it feels wrong not to acknowledge what she's done for you. How her presence has revealed you to yourself. So with no words you hold your hands together at your heart and you bow.
As you raise your head you see between you an array of objects: a sword, a trident, a discus, a thunderbolt, a bow and arrow, a spear, a conch shell, a lotus, an axe, and a snake. "Take them, they belong to you," she says. Her voice is quiet, commanding. You hesitate a moment before gathering the objects into your arms, feeling like forgotten parts of you have suddenly been found. As you rise to leave her presence to return to the world she raises a hand, palm open and facing towards you. In her smile is the unspoken blessing, "have no fear". You smile back with every fiber or your being. You turn to leave and notice the lion that is lying at your feet. It yawns and looks directly in your eyes, another quiet blessing. "You are stronger than you think". You walk past the lion, into the ordinary, miraculous, world full of irreplaceable beings, still feeling her gaze on you, her embrace in your heart. You hurry home. Your life is waiting.
In the celebration of Navaratri, we call on Durga as the energy that appears to slay the demons in the world and restore stability to Creation. She arrives to answer the call of the Gods, who have realized that they alone do not have the power to overcome the demonic energies. Each of them gives his power, in the form of a weapon, to Durga and she uses them to destroy the demons as promised. But, of course, in these stories nothing is as it seems. The "weapons" of the Gods are metaphors for spiritual attainment or attributes that are necessary on the spiritual path. And the demons are never killed, they are liberated by Durga's interaction with them. Ultimately, Durga's power is not any of the weapons she holds, it is that she alone knows how and when to wield each one. She is the wisdom of knowing how to live as all of those energies, to embody them, and to let them make an impact on the world. Durga is known for the many forms she takes while in battle. She is not tied to a singular identity- or rather her identity is so expansive that it can never truly confine her. She is the endless energy of transformation and transcendence. She is not the end result of liberation, she is liberation itself and the energy that powers liberation. She is Love. Inescapable, unconditional, unending love. Isn't it interesting that through Love she is able to use all of the power of the Gods and go beyond it into forms that the Gods don't dare show? She is not only the Light of Love that liberates, but the terrifying reality of what we wish to be liberated from. To know Durga is to know intimately our darkest qualities and how they inform and empower what we consider the lighter parts of our nature. There is no step on the path to liberation that she is not with us, from the darkest night of the Soul to the highest points of ecstatic joy. The power of Durga is that she KNOWS all aspects of human experience. She knows us. There's nothing we can hide. And yet her love is unchanged and unwavering. She chases us down with her loving presence, becoming whatever form (of love) we can accept, until we surrender. When we are willing to give up our demons, to acknowledge our darkness, and let Love have a place within that darkness, our journey towards liberation really begins.
Take your time with Durga. Don't rush into battle trying to race away from what you fear. Let her presence be part of your day. Practice acknowledging all the parts of yourself, not just the ones that you think are out of place or wrong. Practice noticing all the small ways your life gives you a chance to learn what love is. Let your everyday moments be quiet expressions of the love that you have for your life. Chant Durga's name, not as a request for her protection, but as a prayer that you remember that unending Love that embraces you and that you have nothing to fear.
OM shanti, shanti, shanti