This is a guest post from my daughter, Genevieve Oswald, Shree Yoga Taos‘ co-owner with Suki Dalury, whom you heard from here, last week as we entered the Holiday Season. Genevieve’s “story” seemed a perfect bookend.
Apropos, I thought, for this weekend, the last of 2017.
A story for times like these…
Stories of the Hindu deities have been told by many, better story tellers than I. Truthfully, I am not an expert on these myths and their characters. However, I know a couple, and from time to time they are quite fun to tell. The story I wish to share with you came to me through the oral story telling tradition, making it likely to be inaccurate in this retelling. Nonetheless, I am happy to share it. Note should be made that as a storyteller I have taken a liberty in retelling this story, creating a framework in which these divine immortal characters are similar to a mortal human, like you or me. If this offends anyone, I apologize in advance.
Once upon a time, Shiva the supreme being, lay in his palapa enjoying a fine and beautiful day. The world as he had created it was splendid indeed. Sunshine, cabana boys, cocktails, his divine and beautiful consort Shakti, and all the power in the Universe. He was not lacking. Shiva simply was enjoying the reverie and bliss of perfect being.
A few of the townsmen arrived and knocked on the palace doors. Shiva could not be bothered. The day was too splendid, too perfect, too divine to care about such trivial things as a knock on the palace doors. Shakti on the other hand was irritated by, in her opinion, a sound which could be qualified as more than a knock. The loud banging unearthed a long-held exasperation. Beyond miffed that no one was taking the time to address this reverberation of irritation, she arose from her seat, in the way that women do after a long relationship with the same wonderful, perfect, powerful, and momentarily checked out man. Irritation was what the townsmen saw upon her face when the palace doors swung open.
The townsmen explained that the demon king had been praying to Shiva, and because Shiva likes to be the object of such devotion he gave the demon king a boon. The boon was very powerful, turning each drop of the demon king’s blood that hit the Earth into a baby demon. With his new and incredible, almost immortal power, the demon king ravaged villages and fought the townsmen in battle. The people fought gallantly and with tremendous skill, but rather than conquer the beast their efforts assured their defeat. After all, they were only creating more demons to fight with every swing of their blades. This was why the townsmen had come to Shiva, so that he, the supreme being, would address this demon king gone amok.
Shiva had no time for the matter, hardly acknowledging to Shakti that he heard what she had said when she relayed the message. Shakti, short on patience took his non-message-message back to the villagers with grace and irritation in her gestures. As women do, after a long relationship with the same wonderful, perfect, powerful, and momentarily checked out man. She sent them on their way, assuring them that they had all the tools they needed inside of them to overcome this hardship. Humans were after all, divine beings.
Days passed. In the palapa it was all the same day. Cabana boys, cocktails, the divine and oh so stunning Shakti. Shiva wanted for nothing, thought of nothing, and enjoyed the bliss of his birthright.
A loud bang on the palace doors stirred agitation in Shakti. Again, here she sat and not another soul in the entire palace would answer the bang upon the door. Exasperation at the situation again took hold, as it is known to do for some women, after a long relationship with the same wonderful, perfect, powerful, and momentarily checked out man. She once again reluctantly arose to answer the door, mumbling something about self-sacrifice. At the doors she found that the townsmen had returned. There were fewer of them now. The fear in their eyes was palpably frightening, even to Shakti, which meant something terrible had come to the doorstep.
Again, the men complained of the demon king and his demon babies. The terror and horror of the world had become unbearable. There would be no more mankind if Shiva did not come to their aid they exclaimed to Shakti, skin white as ghosts.
Shiva, could not be bothered. Samahdi was the more important priority. Mankind had all the tools they needed to successfully traverse this landscape of adversity. Shiva was confident mankind would make it. This was the story Shakti decided she would tell the townsmen. It was their story after all. Yet Shiva said nothing of this sort, Shiva said nothing at all. All this time he had been peacefully and deeply entranced in meditation.
“Typical” said Shakti as she left the palapa again not any less vexed than she had previously been. “I am going to have to deal with this myself.”
Almost immediately after their departure from the palace it was clear to Shakti just how appalling the devastation of the demon king was. The exasperation and irritation within her quickly turned to anger and then to rage. In what seemed to be the blink of an eye she had transformed from the beautiful and charming Shakti, to Kali the frightening and monstrous goddess of death and rage.
Her skin was now covered in the black soot of the thousands of funeral pyres. This soot and ash of the wasted world of humanity became her armor as she went into battle. In a trance, she strung skulls of dead demon babies and hung them like a necklace around her neck. Next she hung a skirt of dead demon baby arms around her waist. All trophies of her victory and skill on the battle field. With a massive sword in one hand and a silver platter in another, she went after the demon king. Brilliant as she was, she used the silver platter to catch his head after she chopped it off. In this way she was able to terminate his reign of destruction and not spill a single drop of his blood. Kali crowned her triumph, by drinking all of the demon kings blood, and then swallowing him whole.
The towns people celebrated but only momentarily. For just as quickly as Shakti turned to Kali, Kali’s rage had turned to all beings. This type of murderous behavior is sometimes witnessed by husbands and children of women who have been in long relationships with the same wonderful, perfect, powerful, and momentarily checked out man. When a woman is in this state of absolute fury, no one is free from the path of their wrath.
Frantically the townsmen broke into the palace. With great foolery and courage, they shook Shiva into consciousness, or out of consciousness depending on who you ask. Before he could destroy them, the townsmen informed Shiva of the eminent state of radical crises. For the first time in many moons Shiva left the palapa.
Some might say it was the devastation that he saw on his journey to find her that softened his heart and motivated him to act as he did. But this is Shiva we speak of, perfect, wonderful, powerful, supreme, and while some would say he was checked out, he would say he was more checked in than ever before. When you are the divine, you are divine.
She saw him first. Enraged, she moved to destroy him. With a quickness that kicked up dust clouds carrying the stench and carnage of the battle field, Kali was upon her opponent.
Shiva laid down upon his back. Kali lay her foot upon his chest and held high the blade of her sword, ready to let the gravity of her ire and earth drop it down upon his neck. Their eyes met. Love filled her overwhelmingly. Not just romantic love as this was her most beloved, but more powerfully the mercy of the divine’s unconditional love. With this one simple gesture of vulnerability and unconditional love Kali’s wrath came to an end.
As all scriptural story’s do, this one has deeper offerings of philosophical meaning. With the caveat that I am no expert in Hindu philosophy, my interpretation follows; The symbolism of Shiva and Shakti in the palapa represent the many different facets of what it is to be human in this relational and manifest world. While Shiva spends his time enjoying the bliss of being, Shakti attends to their sovereign responsibilities. This relationship between the two deities in the story is representative of the dichotomy humans experience between a spiritual life and house-holder human existence. While there is divine perfect being there, is also agitation and constant responsibility.
The townsmen continually return to the Shiva’s palace because they have a belief that Shiva will address the issue and make it better. Shakti explains redundantly to the townsmen; a human being’s inner divine self has the capacity to traverse the adversity of life successfully. The townsmen believe her, go out, and return. This is faith. Eventually the townsmen are assisted by Shakti, Kali, and Shiva. Each deity providing the appropriate support for a specific situation. One of the most important messages of this story is that of faith. The most important message of this story is that Love always prevails.
Compassion, forgiveness, surrender, these are the values underscored in the taming of the shrew of this story. The reason I tell the tale like I do, associating Kali to a modern-day house-holding woman of a long-term relationship is because I am one and I recognize the similarity. I have been Kali and my husband plays an excellent wonderful, perfect, powerful, and sometimes checked out Shiva. These are archetypes of qualities of men and women that can become ultimately destructive in relationship. This concept can easily be taken further and say these are qualities of humanity that become ultimately destructive in relationship, and love is the antidote. Compassion, forgiveness, surrender.
The root of the Sanskrit word Kali translates loosely to time. It is no wonder Kali is known as the Goddess of Death, for no one is free from the march of time. All things must surrender to death eventually. In relationship to interpreting this story it serves the mind to not be too limited with what the word death means. For Kali is also, by proxy, the Goddess of Moksha, ultimate freedom. This is because ultimate freedom comes when one finally surrenders. Surrender is the willingness to let go of attachment. Attachments to belief, love, material possessions, place, identity, and body are the hardest to surrender. Attachment happens in the mind. Kali is the powerful force that moves life through attachment, surrendering attachment to death. Winter is a time of Kali, surrendering the life of the seasons past, to the life of the seasons to come. The seasons to come full of Moksha, potential and wonder.
Just as thoughts create attachment, thoughts can also be the destructive battlefield upon which one sets the stage of their life. The baby demons in this story are symbolic of the power of thoughts to create a wasteland of death in the mind. Like the drops of the demon kings blood incarnating as demon babies, each destructive thought a person has, has the potential to create another thought with the same destructive power. The teaching here is that like Shakti leaving the palace, and Kali on the battle field, active participation in mindfulness must be utilized skillfully to devour thoughts that are destructive. And like Shiva, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and surrender must be skillfully used to transform that energy into thoughts and actions which empower and enhance life.
In this uncertain time, stories like this one bolster faith. They remind us that while things may be bad, they will get better. It confirms that each of us was born with the capacity to walk through our hardships and not be crushed in the process. The power of the mind to experience adversity and simultaneously expand its perspective in order to channel the challenge into compassion or courage is outstanding. And quite simply, the asana practice creates for a short period of time the perfect laboratory to experience it all. The battlefield, the beloved, the demons, Gods and Goddesses coming to one’s aid, and the surrender, the absolute unconditional love, it’s all there in downward facing dog. So we come to the mat, and we tell stories, to get through the hard times and to try to do better next time.
With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,
For more on Shree Yoga Taos and Genevieve please visit their sites below
Photos of Shree by Robban Reynolds
Photos of Genevieve by Zoe Zimmerman