by Jen DeSimone
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Sri Yoda
Kali is one of the fiercest incarnations of the Divine Mother. In pictures and statues, she is often depicted wearing a necklace of human skulls, a skirt of human arms, holding a severed head in one hand, and stepping on the body of a god, her husband Shiva. This illustrates Kali at the critical point in the most famous story about her: how she vanquished the demon Raktabija.
The gods were fighting a horde of demons including Raktabija, whose name means “blood seed,” but they could not defeat him because every time a drop of his blood fell to the ground, a duplicate of him would arise. Unsure of how to subdue such an enemy, the other gods turned to the goddess Parvati. Parvati transformed herself into the warrior goddess Durga and then rode into battle on her magnificent lion to fight Raktabija. With her many arms each wielding a weapon, she was able to cut and wound him, but when his blood fell to the ground, still new copies of him would arise. Soon, there were thousands upon thousands of Rakabijas.
When it became clear to Parvati/Durga that she too could not conquer Raktabija, Kali sprang from Parvati/Durga’s forehead. She devoured all of the clones of Raktabija and then she grabbed hold of the demon. She cut off his head and then caught and drank all of his blood so not a single drop fell to the ground.
Afterward, she turned her attention to the other demons and tore them all apart. Still drunk with Raktabija’s blood, she began killing all living creatures in her path. The gods started to worry that Kali was out of control so they turned to the god Shiva, her consort, for help. In response, Shiva threw himself beneath his beloved’s feet. When Kali realized she was trampling on her husband, the effects of the bloodlust burned away. Eventually, she turned back into Durga and then reverted back into Parvati.
There are many ways to interpret this fight between Kali and Raktabija. Some see this as a struggle between the ephemeral and the eternal, where Raktabija represents the present moment and Kali, whose name means time, is eternal. Some see this as the victory of being able to look beyond who we think we are and see who we truly are, where Raktabija is asmita (“ego”) and Kali is Atman (“Self”). In rereading the story today, however, I viewed the battle to be between man and fear. With his blood, Raktabija plants his seeds of fear which sprout as anger and then blossom as hatred.
We are all Kali, thrust upon a battlefield to conquer fear, anger and hatred. Fear is a slippery foe as it can manifest in many different forms and in many different ways. Fear is also highly contagious. Raktabija’s blood, in just touching one particle of dust, can plant fear. Kali herself, we see from this story, is not immune. After she drinks Raktabija’s blood, she goes on a lethal rampage and it only when Shiva sacrifices himself that she realizes that she had become the very thing she was fighting against. With this realization, she is able to stop.
This is a relevant story today because we live in a time where fear has been sown, anger has taken root and now we are reaping the fruits of hatred. People are being murdered because of their religion, race, nationality, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Terror has taken the world hostage.
When faced with these atrocities, this is when we are Kali fighting Raktabija on that battlefield. We are using everything in our intellectual, spiritual and moral arsenal to fight against others’ fear, anger and hatred of us. But, as we see from Kali, it is so easy to be infected by Raktabija, and then we too can become agents of fear, anger and hatred. We see that happening all the time in the news where key political figures counsel bigotry and division.
Unfortunately, it’s become a daily if not moment by moment struggle to keep fighting the good fight. When it becomes overwhelming or I start to lose hope, I remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says about conquering hate: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This struggle is hard and there are days when we want to just throw in the towel. But, as yoga tells us, everything is a practice. All we can do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try it again. Again and again and again until no trace of Raktabija is left on the face of this planet.
Jen first discovered yoga in 2001 and has been practicing it ever since. Since completing her 200 hour teacher training with Laughing Lotus four years ago, Jen has been offering classes where students are met where they are. You can follow her on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bloomingfloweryoga/.
by Tina Spogli
Often the best thing we can do for ourselves when life gets crazy is to get outside. The summer season can leave most of us feeling a bit overwhelmed with activities and obligations. In the world of ayurveda (the science of life), summer is pitta season, meaning more fire and action. We need grounding Earth energy to find our center more than ever during this time.
So last weekend when a spontaneous invitation to camp in Big Sur was presented, amidst the craziness of things to do, it felt right to choose nature. Something undeniably happens when we return to the arms of Mama Earth – all of the other ‘stuff’ sort of just melts away. You’re left in the moment, with an indescribable connection with everything around. It’s only when we become fully present in nature that we’re able to receive her messages.
When we arrived in Big Sur, we drove to a camping spot at the top of one of the mountains. It was sunset, and words can’t really describe the incredible views, though I’ll try. We were so high up that you could see the cloud line below. Across the way there were more mountains with rows and rows of beautiful green trees, and an ocean that seemed to go off into infinity. The magic continued into the night, as one by one the stars appeared before us, and the crescent moon shed light onto the darkness. The Big Dipper and the Milky Way also made their appearance. Since we were above the clouds, it felt like we were so close to the cosmos that we could feel the vibrations of the stars.
When we look up at the cosmos, it’s a reminder that there is something beyond our scope of understanding. One of the things we know about space is that it has no end. Yoga teaches us that everything is linked together by Shakti – a feminine power source responsible for the creation of all things in our world. Wherever there is energy, Shakti is working – and everything is energy. Alan Watts says, “You didn’t come into this world, you came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.” We are indeed connected to all life – we are tied to the mountains, the wildflowers, the trees, the sun, the moon, the stars…and even to that unknown space in the cosmos!
Our yoga practice aims to connect the two selves – the known physical self, and the unknown cosmic self. The path to the unknown begins with our feet firmly planted in the known. Now is the time to connect with Mama Earth, to open our eyes, ears, and hearts to her great lessons. The mountains remind us of strength and foundation, the trees teach the importance of stillness, the ocean tells us we are vast and deep, the flowing streams show us the beauty of adaptability, and the cosmos reminds us that there is an unknown. David Polis says, “Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the stars and mountains above. Let them look at the waters and the trees and flowers on Earth. Then they will begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
Now go get outside!
Tina developed a deep love for quieting the body and mind during her time living in one of the loudest cities. Yoga found Tina in 2007 while she was living in New York, and the practice quickly became her sanctuary amidst all of the hustle.
She believes in the transformative process of yoga, with its ability to bring us back into our bodies and breath, and stretch our mental limitations of what we think is possible – both on and off the mat. Her mantra is to come as you are, and observe what unfolds. Tina’s classes are thoughtful and intentional, sharing inspiration from her personal practice and life.
Tina is a 250 RYT, and a graduate from Laughing Lotus in New York and San Francisco. When she is not on the mat, you can find her in nature, exploring
photography, and hanging with her animal friends! She is very grateful to be a
part of the Laughing Lotus community of the east and west, and is thankful for
this space to share her heart and energy with you.
My experience with this theme always comes back to the way I relate to the Earth and Mother Nature and how that reflects in my relationships and Yoga.
This topic now has a name, it is called Eco Yoga. This would be the study of the environment in which plants, animals, and humans live, and the application of moral and spiritual principles of Yoga, an ancient practice, while applying it to our modern situation.
We can apply the Yamas (how we relate to others) and the Niyamas (how we relate to ourselves) to how we relate to Mother Nature.
I heard the acronym G.O.D standing for the Great Out Doors.
I believe in the sanctity of the great outdoors and know the power of connecting to spirit through a walk in the woods, a hike on the mountain, or a nap in the park.
So I ask myself: How can I apply the Yama-Ahimsa (nonviolence) to consciousness about what our planet needs? In what ways am I harming the environment? And how can I lighten my carbon footprint?
I picked some examples of how we can apply these principles starting with the Yamas:
AHIMSA translates to Nonviolence or reverence to ALL forms of life. The main practice here would be to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet. We are invited to be mindful of how we may cause suffering to animals and even plant life. If you choose to consume animal products, be mindful to not support the widespread and cruel practice of factory farming. Get educated! Join P.E.T.A
SATYA means truthfulness. Can we be honest about our situation with the environment? How can we stay informed and not fall into a pit of ignorance around these issues. We must remain awake on all fronts, not just for our own salvation but for the salvation of our surroundings. We might be concerned about the local air quality if we practice pranayama (breath control). And in order to sustain healthy bodies and eating habits we want to make sure our fruits and vegetables have not been laden with pesticides. Here is a site to keep you informed and to inspire you! earth911.com
APARIGRAHA means not hoarding or taking only what we need and relating to life in a balanced, non-grasping manner. Do I respect the rights of others to share limited resources? If you take something, consider how you can replenish it.
Here are a few examples of some Niyamas and how they help us relate to the environment:
SAUCA means cleanliness. I may consider how respectful of the environment I am. Do I pick up after myself or ask how I contribute to pollution? How I can eliminate it from the environment and my own life?
TAPAS means discipline or commitment. Am I personally committed to making an effort and making a difference no matter how small?
ISVARAPRANIDHANA translates to devotion to the Divine or to reality. G.O.D, the Great Out Doors! Do I revere nature and make an effort to commune and connect to my source and have respect for not only my inner environment but my OUTER environment too?
There are numerous efforts we can make. Maybe riding a bike instead of driving a car, or changing light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs to avoiding products with a lot of packaging (reducing your garbage by 10% reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 1,200 pounds). Planting a tree (a single tree absorbs one ton of carbon dioxide over it’s lifetime) or turn off electronic devices when not in use. The most powerful effort you could consider would be going vegetarian. 51% or MORE of global green house gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture!!!
These are some basic concepts most of us are familiar with.
We are now starting to look at them through the Yogic lens.
It is said we have two eyes we look out of, but really one we truly see from. Developing a relationship with the natural world and what sustains us as a species helps us to rediscover wisdom and live in the harmony and balance we seek as Yogis.
Astrud teaches Yoga, leads her Kirtan group https://www.facebook.com/Astrud-and-the-Cosmic-Caravan-126578667531850/ and leads retreats to India. *Upcoming retreat to India October 20-November 17th 2016 – For Info on all the above check out http://yogawithastrud.com/ Or my FB page https://www.facebook.com/AstrudMaitriYoga/
As a kid I read a book about a teen who was looking for a mother figure because she felt her own mother was lacking in some “mothering departments.” She would find qualities and strengths amongst the women she was around and began to construct the mother she was looking for, she called it her “mother pie.” The idea of a “mother pie” had a profound impact on me.
My mother has always been a kind and loving soul who made sure that my sister and I always had the very best of things, but she was not much of a communicator or a homemaker. I was always searching for a mother who would dispel sage advice to me and make me a comforting meal. So, when I became a mother at age 17, I felt like I had so much to learn. While I couldn’t provide the material items my mother had, I made sure to be the “domestic mom” to my son, which I had been craving for in my own mother. When my son Tonio was going into preschool they had a potluck dinner and I remember strolling in with my homemade apple pie so proudly. What no one knows is that it took three attempts at a pie that day, it just had to be perfect because that was what a good mom did in my teenage way of thinking.
By the time my daughter was born five years later, I was already over the domestic scene and into finding some financial stability. We lived in the Marina, where restaurants were everywhere. I remember my 2-year old daughter, Audrey, telling me one evening “I’m hungry! Call somebody.” That was a shocking truth that perhaps I needed to find some balance.
I had also wanted to be the “cool mom”, the type of mom with the perfect hair and eyeliner, dressed in all black with the sleek black designer handbag. I frowned at the moms in the brightly colored comfy pants and ponytails who always had tissues and cough drops in their big floral canvas “mom bags.” I used to think they were crazy to extend their mothering skills to other kids that were in need. I made great efforts to close myself off from the outside world because it seemed like too much effort to love everyone.
A lot of times, I felt completely overwhelmed because I was so young and for the most part on my own. My mothering advice was sporadic and unpredictable because I was still just a child in so many ways. I had some severe addiction problems, which I needed to address before I could really flourish into being the mother I was knew I could be.
Once I became sober, I took a long hard look at my lifestyle and made dramatic changes. Gone are the days of expensive leather handbags and other expensive luxuries. Today I embrace a life of simplicity and colorful comfy yoga pants. I carry a large canvas bag filled with spare tissues and cough drops for everyone (now vegan cough drops, thanks to some mothering advice from our Beautiful Lotus Mother Jasmine). I have also changed my perspective on mothering.
I am not only the mother of the two I gave birth to, but also to anyone who needs a slice of “mother pie”. The Universe has provided me with many children who need some special mothering. It has been such an honor to be a part of the Laughing Lotus community, I really feel like everyone who enters the door is my family. I love to greet everyone by their names, hearing about their triumphs with inversions and encouraging them when they get discouraged with their setbacks. I especially love mothering the new Yoga School Students, seeing their faces light up with all the possibilities Yoga can provide truly warms my heart every time. I actually tear up with great pride when I attend graduations and come to their first Community Classes.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.” Such beautiful words, I am so thankful that I can be part of such a loving community that is Laughing Lotus.
Catch Adriana on Tuesday & Friday mornings for sunrise flow as she subs for Erica all summer loving long.