This is the pretty roof of the room I call home these days. On Sunday, said room began to smell a little mousey. I cleared out all my things, shook out and then refolded each item of clothing and each bag and suitcase, yet did not find a mouse. My friend correctly guessed that some small animal must have crawled between the tiles on the roof and the bamboo on the ceiling before Spirit left the body behind. Unfortunately, there was nobody who could tear the roof apart for a day and a half, so the smell permeated the space I sleep and practice.
I can’t help but bring Kali to mind. Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and time whose devotees dance in graveyards and spread themselves with the ashes of funeral pyres. She’s often depicted holding skulls and standing on top of Shiva, which stills her anger. Yet in her destructive dance is space for redemption, for creation. Gazing at her outstretched hands, you can see that she gives even as she takes away.
“Kali is the goddess of destruction who destroys ignorance, illusions, delusions and the various manifestations of the self-focussed ego like anger, jealousy, hatred and negative emotions. Goddess Kali takes us towards the path of true life where one by one we see the fall of all the conventional structures of our life. These are the structures of ignorance, illusions and delusions which rise from the self-focussed ego. Sometimes the fall of the structures and the resultant change happens as a smooth experience and at many other occasions this happens through highly painful and traumatic experiences. Persisting with goddess Kali in all these times with adherent faith will lead us to a new opening and it will fill our life with the awareness of the supreme reality.”
I’m in the midst of a fierce transition right now and I’ve been bolstering myself with my practice. It’s comforting to know that the practice of yoga, of pranayam, of meditation is there through both the highs and lows of life. As I sat and practiced in my smelly room the last few days, I felt as though the goddess Kali was lending me her succor. This is a fierce goddess to channel – she tears down our delusions and realities and that which we cling to. She’s also a mother goddess, though, and in that emptiness we are able to find the true heart of things.
I feel like I’ve got tapas, or my own inner fire, purifying me right now. As I work my way through this difficult transition, I find myself facing issues that I’ve briefly touched on many times in the last few years. In this way, the transition feels like a final exam. As if the universe is testing me to see how much I’ve learned. To see how much I can stay present, to see how much I can watch as my strong emotions attempt to take over my body and act on my behalf.
I wrote last time about the challenge of controlling my emotions while also facing built up anger. When I received that advice from the reiki healer, it resonated as truth but I was unsure how best to proceed. I went home and meditated on it for a few days. I began working with two different powerful styles of pranayama. Sitali breath is a cooling breath which calms anger and gives one great powers of control over one’s self and one’s environment. It’s practiced by pursing your lips and extending your rolled tongue out of your mouth for your inhale, and then exhaling through the nose. Nadi Sodhana , or alternate nostril breathing, is a balancing breath that equally distributes one’s prana between the right and left sides of the body. Often, I’ll practice Nadi Sodhana when I’m out if I find myself having to wait for any length of time. My yoga teacher taught me that we can eventually reach a point in our practice where we can train our mind to close off opposite nostrils for this breath. Rather than be the girl who’s picking her nose in the doctor’s office, I’ll practice the power of the mind aspect of Nadi Sodhana when I’m in a public place and in need of a bit of balancing.
I also began working with a Kundalini kriya to release old anger and negativity. This kriya plays off the concept of Sitali breath but gives it more strength by adding a mudra, or hand motion. To practice, I place the tip of each thumb on the mound underneath my pinky finger, then wrap my other fingers around my thumb. Instead of sticking out the rolled tongue as one does in Sitali breath, I simply make my lips into an O shape and breathe in and out through my mouth. Each breath is accompanied by one arm swinging up and behind me as if I were doing the backstroke. This practice is done from Vajrasana, a kneeling position. While breathing and holding the mudra, the mind is focused on anything that brings negativity or feelings of anger or discomfort. As the mind focuses, the breath and arms move in rhythm. This kriya is practiced for three minutes.
That sounds like a lot of trouble, right? When I lived in Tampa, Florida, we were blessed with a public radio station that aired hour long Alan Watts talks every Wednesday. Listening to these lectures was my first exposure to Taoism. While I wasn’t super familiar with all the intricacies of Taoism at the time, and I still won’t call myself highly educated in that area, the lectures resonated as truth with me. There was one lecture which spoke about the many paths to enlightenment. Alan Watts told the story of a wise guru teaching his disciples how to attain enlightenment. His first instruction was to simply wake up to the fact that we are all connected. When that didn’t work, the guru said “oh, you’re one of those,” and gave the disciple a list of complicated steps to follow – repeating strange exercises of the body, breath, and prayer. The point the guru was making is that the exercise weren’t necessary to attain enlightenment. They were simply something to distract the busy mind. They were a physical manifestation of an intention to Wake Up. In reality, the guru knew that each moment provides it’s own opportunities to awaken to our truth, but sometimes it takes an extra something to focus on to get us beyond the illusion of separateness.
I often think back on this talk as I go through any practice that is not simply coming to the breath. My mind and body need something more to chew on for the moment. I always remember, though, that it is not the specific practice that works. Rather, it is the intention of coming to one’s self again and again and returning each moment to the present. Returning that we might remember the universal connection that we all have. Returning that we might recall the divine spark that pulses within, pulsing brighter when something resonates as truth.
And so I keep practicing. I embrace the difficult transition I find myself in and fully embrace all the idosyncracies I see rise up in response to this universal test. I feel gratitude for the opportunity to be self-aware and gratitude for the ability to strengthen my practice and my connection to Spirit.