At the start of June I had the pleasure of assisting Aimee Pedersen on her annual Divine Feminine Retreat in Ubud. Five nights, in Aimee's words, "to honour the sacred feminine principle, personified by the Goddesses of the yogic tradition, allowing us a pathway to explore the full potency of our feminine energies within." Aimee offers the analogy of the divine masculine as being a wine glass, and the divine feminine as being the wine. Wine without a glass is a mess, all over the place. A glass without wine is just an empty, lifeless container. So we can understand the divine feminine quite simply as being all of creation - everything that is energy, everything that vibrates, everything that is. The divine masculine then is the ground of being - the quality of holding and containing. Neither can exist in a meaningful way without the other.
Consciously or unconsciously, us humans are all looking for the feeling of wholeness. We might think of it as fulfilment, or a sense of completion, in more spiritual circles it might be called a seeking for the feeling of oneness. In the opening dialogue of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Devi (shakti, the divine feminine) is searching for Bhairava (shiva, the divine masculine). She longs to be reunited with her lover and she wants to know how to find him, for he seems so elusive! The Bhairava Tantra is offering to us this most human story of seeking for wholeness, through the love story of Devi and Bhairava.
Bhairava offers these words to Devi:
"Be drenched in the energies of life.
Enter the world beyond separation.
The light of a candle reveals a room.
The rays of the sun reveal the world.
So does the divine feminine
Illumine the way to me."
- The Radiance Sutras
This is the dance we are all playing in life - form searching for formlessness, human being seeking transcendence, wanting to rise above, feel more in flow, more held. Tantra teaches that the way to this transcended place is through our experience, through our humanness - the divine messiness that is all around! It's the internal harmonising of healthy feminine and masculine qualities that gives us the feeling of wholeness and puts an end to our outward seeking. The paradox here is that the feminine as its understood as 'yin' is most often associated with softness, yielding, passivity, yet the feminine polarity is shakti - power! Thus, embodying the feminine is a complex and wild journey of harnessing power in new ways that challenge the constructs of our yang (male) dominated western world.
Aimee shares that "historically the Goddess and the importance of the divine feminine has been denied and the female experience has not been respected. It’s time to reawaken the Goddess within our being and within our world, this is the next step to our evolution."
Each day of the retreat we embodied a different Goddess through flow, song, mudra, mantra and meditation. Each Goddess symbolises a particular energy within the field of absolute consciousness. By tapping into the frequency of a goddess we come to understand that part of ourselves a little better. The mythology of each Goddess provides limitless insight because every character represents an aspect of our psyche - as with all mythology, we are every person in the myth. It's self-enquiry on a radical level and a powerful tool for transformation.
Over the next little while, I'll share a bit about each of the goddesses: their story, their energy, how we can deepen our experience of them and what my own learnings were over the course of the retreat.
What does she represent?
Durga is that part of us that has the courage to do what is right, over what is easy or 'the norm'. Mahisha symbolises the ego (the small self as it manifests individual and collectively). We can see Mahisha in the world as destruction of the environment, consumerism, colonisation, patriarchy and conformity. She is courage, conviction, and the radical pursuit of heaven on earth. She is the most fierce and protective goddess - like a mother lioness. willing to unleash her anger against anything or anyone who threatens the harmony of creation or the prosperity of those who are living out their dharma. She is about being a heart-centred leader, not a follower - whether that be in our family, our workplace, our community or the world. She is a revolutionary: the part of us that brings us to our yoga mat, to personal development, the part of us that wants to evolve and grow, and change the world for the better.
Mahisha, an aspirant, had made an arrangement with Shiva that, due to his disciplined practice of yoga, he deserved a reward. He negotiated the boon (gift) of being invincible - unable to be killed by any man. After receiving this boon he became out of control, forgetting his yogic path and eventually wreaking havoc across the whole universe. He was completely unstoppable - even the power of Shiva's third eye capable of destroying the three worlds could not arrest him. At their whits end, the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva together conjured Durga. She is an embodiment of their combined potency and potential. They brought her into being to fight this demonic force that could not, by cosmic law, be defeated by a man. She is created with eight arms and gifted a boon from each of the gods - Shiva gave his trident, Vishnu his discus and mace, Indra his thunderbolt, Kurmara his lance, and Brahma his bow. She rode upon a lion (some stories say tiger) and her weapon of choice was her sword.
Mahisha, on hearing of Durga, demands his two generals to go and bring her to him so she can become his queen. Durga refuses his proposal and decapitates the two generals. Mahisha is enraged and sends 100,000 soldiers with bows and arrows to find and capture her. They surround the mountain upon which she resides. The next news Mahisha hears is of 100,000 heads rolling down the mountain.
Durga tells Mahisha "I will only marry the man who can defeat me in battle" and a great fight commences between them. Mahisha took many forms - he is a shapeshifter - and Durga held him off each time he came at her. Durga is unwaveringly serene, calm, collected and graceful. Over and again she matched him in battle until finally her serene disposition wavers and in a moment of wild energy she plunges her trident into his heart, destroying him.
Practices to invoke her:
- Feeling into the fingertips like lion/tiger's paws
- Goddess pose
- Ujayi pranayama
- Mantra: Om Dum Durgayai Namaha
- Aimee offered these questions to delve into Durga territory:
- What is one gift/power that you have been given? How do you use this everyday?
- Do you hide this gift/power?
- What is the major obstacle stopping you from bringing your full power to the world?
- Where in your life are you in your courage and bravery?
- How can you serve the world by claiming your power?
Durga in my life:
Having grown up in a fairly culturally unaware context, my eyes were opened at university to the racism and prejudice experienced by First Nations Peoples. What I learned about the Stolen Generations rattled me to my core, but what shook me the most was the ongoing process of colonisation that is perpetuated by lack of understanding and outdated, unquestioned beliefs about race and culture that shape the way our society functions. I became full of a desire I'd never known before to make some kind of difference. I ended up working for three years on an education program for high school students exploring Indigenous rights, history and colonisation at the ICEA Foundation. Not only did I become passionate about the issue, but I became passionate about becoming someone who was capable of creating space for people to change their minds - facilitating conversation rather than telling people how or what to think, inviting people into a place of self-enquiry. It was Durga energy that propelled this journey for me and fuelled the fire of growth and change.
Another time I can remember feeling Durga pulsing through me was during my yoga teacher training. When I really landed on my deepest intention for doing the training I found myself bathed in the word 'mastery'. I felt a deep need to cultivate a sense of mastery of both the tantric practices as well as the art of teaching, so that I could share with others the tools that had enabled my own transformation. This intention is still the force that gently pulls me to my mediation, to study, or to practice when I feel less inclined. It was also on this intensive that I wrote the first story of my book Everything I Do Not Know. Although I didn't know what it would become, I knew as soon as I wrote it that I could no longer keep my writing to myself. Durga was the energy that compelled me to go on to write something I never thought I could or wanted to share.
The next Goddess in the journey is Kali. There is a significance to this order. As Aimee talked about on the retreat, our awakening is kickstarted by Durga. She is the feeling of being woken up! She gives us the courage and the strength to grow. Then comes Kali, a little more fierce, cutting and in the healthiest of ways - destructive. She gives us that mother nature tornado, tsunami power to cut ties with what isn't in alignment with what our soul is really wanting for us (what Durga is calling us bring to the world). I've posted about Kali before if you'd like to read more.
Once we've cleansed and cleared and we're awake to our path, we invite in Lakshmi - she is all about abundance, receiving, feeling worthy and deserving of all that this divine earthly experience has to offer us. Then come Saraswati and Parvati - they're a lot more chill, but I'll get to them in my next post. I'll also be sharing the self-marriage ceremony we closed out the retreat with.
A deep bow in gratitude to Aimee for so lovingly sharing her immense knowledge and all the women who joined us in circle on the retreat for welcoming me into such a sacred space. A truly divine experience!
You can keep up to date with Aimee's retreats here.
Victory to the Goddess within!