I spent the weekend before my birthday studying the Devi Mahatmyam and meditating on Divine Consciousness with two wonderful and wise teachers. They guided us through some stories from the Devi Mahatmyam, described qualities of the Divine, and guided us in love-filled asana and pranayama sessions. The retreat, held during the first three days of Chaitra Navratri, opened a space for deep feelings and fears to surface and to be held in love.
The first three days of Navratri are Kali’s days; I often experience them as a time for a lot of churning, realization, and sharp breaking of attachments to occur. At this retreat, sheltered among so many deep-hearted women, Kali had her merciful way with me; a lot of pain and love arose to the surface like logs in a raging river and was gradually swept away by the current of consciousness.
Our teachers shared a story from the Devi Mahatmyam that described the kind of churning that I and presumably others were experiencing. The Devi Mahatmyam, a part of the Puranas, contains a number of allegorical stories describing the relationship between fears/desires and Divine Consciousness. In many of these stories, fears/desires take control of the world (eg, the mind/self), and Divine Consciousness picks them apart and, after long struggle, annihilates them, liberating the world from their sway and restoring peace and wellbeing. I tend to interpret texts through a somewhat literal, devotional reading. The allegorical reading that our teachers guided us through had a far more powerful impact on me.
One story from the Devi Mahatmyam illustrates the conquest of the mind by fear-based desires, how our ‘good instincts’ sound an inner warning bell, and through prayer, Divine Consciousness starts to dislodge the grip of those negative thoughts and attitudes and painfully, but lovingly, dispel the darkness from the mind and restore light. “Long ago,” the text says, “when Mahisha was chief of the asuras and Indra was chief of the gods, there was a war between their forces for a full hundred years.” Each of us carries light and darkness within. Our ‘dark’ qualities, simply the shadows or distortions of the ‘light’ qualities based on past sufferings, occasionally compete with our light qualities for control. In this story, the dark qualities win. When we experience periods of darkness, whether they manifest as shame, depression, an egoistic attitude, stress, etc, we may also be aware that things are not as they should be, and pray for help. These ‘light qualities’ – the gods – pray, and Divine Consciousness appears.
To help us, Divine Consciousness takes on attributes we already have. She is not some external god or teacher – She is already within us and guides us in ways we can understand, through our own qualities. In this story, the gods give Her their own powers: the sword of time, the holy water of peace, the rays of sunlight, a bow and arrows, jewels. Of course, Mahisha, cocky with his perceived power, dismisses Her, just as we often dismiss or spurn those who try to help us when we are suffering. Through battle, She gains his respect.
In this story, like many others, the battle takes a long time. Often in these stories, battles take hundreds or thousands of years. When we are struggling with depression, egotism, shame, or other negative beliefs, healing takes a long time, and sometimes, as represented in the stories of the Puranas, it seems like the dark forces are winning. It seems like we deal with one problem, only to have ten more pop up, as our deepest negative beliefs have many manifestations.
Devi destroys Mahisha’s external manifestations (his armies) and draws closer to him. As she begins to battle him directly, with each wound, he transforms – from a raging mad bull to a lion to elephant, and finally to a human form. As the light of Divine Consciousness surrounds and pierces our deepest fears, we often ultimately find that they are not so big or terrible after all.
I pray that during Navratri and always, Divine Consciousness will nurture, support, and pierce each and every one of you, to dispel the darkness and liberate your blissful inner light.