You meditate, do yoga, or other practices not only to relax and for physical health but to transform your own consciousness, right? To become a better person, to show up more fully in your life, to be more present for those you care about, and to deal more skilfully with those that are difficult to care about.
While physical yoga creates a resilient body, mantra creates a resilient mind. The mantric tradition is meant to take you beyond the constraints of what is psychologically binding you to ordinary states of consciousness: to insecurity, to fear, to pride. Through mantra we awaken to spiritual fields of energy and in doing so restructure our sense of self! Mantra allows us to open up latent aspects of our consciousness by “purifying” through sound: liberating some obstructions (maybe the energies around some memories, habits, patterns) or just stimulating more resilient structures from which the self can better function. Structures which are thought to be the archetypal forms of consciousness. Imagine consciously cultivating and expanding inner qualities such as discrimination, strength, and fearlessness!
Meet the field of archetypal energy called “Durga”. Durga is complex. She is Adi Shakti: primal, boundless energy. Her name in Sanskrit suggests "Fortress" or "The Inaccessible One". As a deity, she’s sort of fertility goddess meets warrior princess meets maternal saviouress. In fact, she’s even more than that. In many Yogic tales, she is the source of all other Gods and Goddesses. We recently explored this energy, among others, in a "Sound and Meditation for Centering Workshop" at Yoga on the Park.
There are a number of stories about Durga and in most of them she is a demon slayer par excellence. In one such story, Mahisha, half man, half buffalo, has unleashed mass destruction upon the earth. The gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva feel helpless so they release their energies back to the primordial source. Their forces coalesce into the radiant brilliance that is Durga.
She has 1 000 arms.
She wields multiple weapons of light from the gods.
She rides a lion.
She single-handedly (or many-handedly, I should say!) destroys Mahisha's army and then engages him in a battle that lasts thousands of years. Mahisha rages, shape shifting from a buffalo, to a lion, to an elephant, and back to a buffalo. She finally pins him down with Shiva’s trident at which point their eyes lock. He is released from the buffalo’s body as a hero wielding a sword but too late, she beheads him.
I really wasn't very familiar with such stories when I started to explore this energy. The mantra is "Om dum Durgayei namaha", "dum" being the seed sound (bija) for this entire field of energy. After weeks of evening practice, one night my chanting came to an end and I shifted into quietness to meditate. As I did, “Durga” opened up inside of me. I startled in surprise as the experience expanded because it felt so… other. It just didn’t feel like “me”.
I felt as if there was a seal around my body, concentrating energy inside of me.
I felt like a container for a pathway of brilliant light.
But my mind! My mind felt luminous, clear, and “sharp”.
Since ancient times, Durga has been considered to be the archetypal energy within consciousness that overcomes negative forces. She is the clarity of the discriminating mind connected to the intuitive heart. Durga is the energy that tames the lower instincts and transmutes their energies, fuelling discernment and lucidity. She is the aspect of yourself that protects you. And she is the force within Being-ness that restores equilibrium.
Mahisha, which means “buffalo” in Sanskrit, represents the primitive instinctual energies and corresponding egoic obstacles to wholeness and happiness … including anger, fear, and laziness. Possibly you are familiar with some of these? Like our own egos, he actively twists himself into a variety of distorted shapes. If you have a child, you watch this lovingly unfold on a daily basis as one psychological defense mechanism transforms into another in an effort to maintain some semblance of “face”. (“A giant spider made the mess on the wall!... Uh no, um, it was you mom!”) With the adults in your life, these defense mechanisms can sometimes be a little less endearing.
On a much deeper level, Mahisha is the supreme embodiment of the force of destruction for the buffalo is often associated with death itself. So this battle is more than just about good over bad and re-establishing balance, it's ultimately about unifying all facets of consciousness. Durga is also known as Mahavidya or Great Knowledge. Before Mahisha dies, he has a clear vision of infinite awareness beyond his own limited perceptions. The penetrating light of Durga's gaze causes Mahisha to revert back to his true form, that of a hero with a sword (a symbol of natural order and truth). In that moment he transcends his small sense of self, symbolized by losing his head.
The yogic path, beyond the benefits of physical relaxation and wellbeing, is meant to bring up our "stuff" in order to liberate a pathway for expanded consciousness. Sometimes it might feel like a bit of a battlefield! When we are faced with our own "demons" (angers, fears, uncontrollable desires), it's best to bring out our best weapons. And herein lies the power of the mantric tradition: by tapping into these sounds we bring to life latent creative structures within our own consciousness. Structures which expand the sense of a strong center, deeper than most chaotic, disorganized states we may get ourself into. As we work with “Durga”, we step into the experience of the Self behind the self: the active dynamism of the light of Consciousness. It is a felt sense of openness, lucidity, and awareness as the ultimate source of power. And this is why Durga is often portrayed with one hand in Abhaya mudra: the gesture that communicates, "Have no fear".
Would you like to learn more about Durga? If so, you can sign up to access a library of free resources I am creating including additional insights and how to pronounce the mantra. Simply go to the menu at the top of this page, click "LOG IN/REGISTER" and create a password. You'll have access immediately. I'll be adding resources monthly!
If you would like to go deeper still, I am available for private sessions. Find out more here.
Come experience firsthand! I've been leading monthly mantra and meditation sessions at Yoga on the Park in NDG. Discover how mantra refines your consciousness and leads into deep states of meditative absorption. The next workshop is Sunday, May 21 from 1:30-2:30. Information here. There will be another chanting and brief meditation session at Cafe Zephyr hosted by Transitions NDG on Monday, May 22 from 7-8:30pm. Info here.
1. Photo of Durga Puja (Durga standing on buffalo head):
Author: VedSutra, Source: http://vedsutra.com/media
2. Photo of Simhavahini Durga image Mysore:
Photographer: Christopher J. Fynn
In Yoga, the Feminine is considered to be the vibratory, dynamic force that creates the universe. This force is called Shakti. Shakti means “Power”.
Certain yogic traditions compare Shakti to a cosmic dancer or suggest the cosmos is her dance. I once had a teacher who suggested I partner with the Shakti within my own body and dance with her.
What exactly does this mean? What would this entail? How do we dance with the force that creates the cosmos and our bodies? And what will happen to us if we do?!
First, let’s just get a hold on the concept of Shakti. As mentioned, Shakti is the divine feminine and the kinetic force that drives creation. Shiva is the name for the divine masculine principle of transcendent awareness, the Witness of the cosmic dance. These are metaphysical principles, of course, transcending gender. The energies of Shiva and Shakti are present in both males and females. But the Yogic tradition, as with many other mystical traditions (and depth psychology) conceptualizes the Universe as an interplay of opposing forces: spirit and matter, masculine and feminine.
Ready to meet Shakti?
First, imagine Shiva as an ocean of silent, effervescent light.
Imagine suddenly a wave of energy begins to move across it.
Imagine simultaneously an eruption of crystalline, playful laughter
which creates endless ripples of energy,
ripples that begin to ricochet off each other,
creating more waves, ripples,
and spiralling vortexes of energy
which eventually become all forms.
Shiva and Shakti. The light of awareness and ecstatic vibration.
Light and sound at play in sheer delight and joyous creativity.
Our entire world and field of experience arises out of subtle vibration and sound. The movement of Shakti encompasses everything from black holes to the energy that fuels our beating heart. Shakti is the life force pushing up the vegetation that we eat, to the energy behind our thoughts. Shakti is the hurricane hurtling across the ocean’s surface, to the flow of creative inspiration that moves the dancer, musician, and poet.
“She” goes by many names depending on the particular school of thought. She is “Maya” (Illusion) the force that veils a deeper unity with a multiplicity of forms. She is “Prakriti”, the material universe. She is also known as Devi, the Mother Goddess, who births a variety of secondary female energies out of her primal matrix including, among others:
So how does this apply to us on a practical level? Well, because you can attune to the variety of frequencies of Shakti vibrating in different forms and experiences. By first attuning to the subtle world of vibration, you can then go deeper, sinking into the field of resonant stillness. And ultimately the Yogic goal is to even transcend this, attaining the formless state of Samadhi.
How to do this? This can mean being attentive to the felt sense of energy humming in the natural world. I remembering reading about a Hawaiian Kahuna who one day sat beside a bubbling brook only to follow the sound of the water back to the source of sound itself.
We can also attend to the energy of our thoughts. I had a teacher who would often suggest tapping into the felt sense of emotion that would arise with self-talk or emotional experiences … and then dropping the story, laying bare the energy pulsating underneath it. Or it can also be helpful to view all meditative phenomena (lights, visions, movements, inner sounds) as Shakti, the movement of energy, thereby avoiding becoming fixated on any experience and getting “stuck”.
We can also attend to the throb of energy within the body, surrendering to it and letting energy guide us. This might mean loosening your approach to meditation by engaging in dance or movement beforehand or by allowing your body to sway rhythmically in meditation until you naturally arrive at stillness. It means being a bit more playful.
“She” is also the creative power of the word and known as the goddess Vāk. Harnessing the power of sacred speech is another way to dance with her. The letters of the Sanskrit alphabet themselves are called “Shaktis” (powers). They are also called the Matrikas (same root as “matrix) or the “little mothers” which birth all forms. By chanting mantras you resonate with beneficial, primordial energies that can balance your system, release obstructions, and expand your sense of self.
So, as you can see, there are many ways to work with and dance with Shakti.
Or you can just fall in love. In fact, love and desire are considered one of the highest, more subtle forms of Shakti and within the Tantric tradition are personified as the goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari. Lalita means "She Who Plays" and comes from a root word meaning “spontaneous”. Tripura means “of the three cities” and is a reference to the human being. Sundari means "beauty". Adi Shankaracharya, an ancient yogic philosopher, wrote a famous poem to Shakti called Sri Sundari Lahiri, which means Waves of Beauty.
When I say you can just fall in love, I don’t mean necessarily with one person... or an idea, or some beautiful place or whatever else we typically chase after and fixate on in our external life. This is fine as long as you recognize the source of joy is actually the throb of Shakti herself. What I mean is falling in love with it all. Beauty and ecstasy are the underlying energies of all existence. The yogic path invites you and helps you to attune to these waves of beauty. In doing so, you just might consciously become the dance itself.
Intrigued? Join me March 19th from 1:30 to 2:30 at Yoga on the Park as we continue to explore different mantras as doorways to meditation. You can register here.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.