When Kali Calls-YTT Week 4

Along with the physical part of yoga, we are also learning about some of the Hindu traditions associated with a yoga practice. Last week we learned about Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and death, and we learned a mantra that would invite her into our practice.

Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

I learned a bit about Kali about a few years ago. Honestly, she scares me. If you aren’t familiar with her symbolism she is terrifying to look upon. She’s often carrying a severed head, which represents your severed ego. Her tongue is sticking out, to lap up the blood of her enemies (i.e. desires). She wears a skirt of severed arms, that represent karma or the organs of action. She wears a necklace of skulls, that represent impure thoughts. She’s standing on her husband, Shiva, because the only thing that would keep her from hacking away at all of the things was him sacrificing himself.

Not-so-scary, her skin is black as pitch, which represents that she is everything and that she consumes darkness so we can be filled with light.

The short story is, while she is a warrior goddess, she helps you fight your own ego. She helps you sever your ties to the labels and attachments that don’t serve you well anymore. She is a powerful agent of change, causing you to challenge what you think you know about myself.

I invited her to my practice with great trepidation, and with the request to “please be gentle.”

Since inviting her to my practice I’ve noticed a few things:

  • On Saturday we closed our yoga class with a mantra to Kali. That same evening, I ran into two people who have fallen out of my life. One I avoided, another I spoke with for a few minutes.
  • While packing up to relocate while my apartment was tented for termites, I conveniently left behind things like clothing.
  • While walking, the sole of my shoe caught on the pavement and nearly ripped off completely. Talk about a flip-flop!
  • I got a cold. A fairly severe one that came on suddenly and caused me to lose my voice entirely.

So what do these instances have to do with Kali? Maybe nothing. I tend to be a pantheist, where everything is god. So does Kali actually exist separately from everything else? My beliefs say she is a part of the universe, same as me. However, her visage gives me something to connect to as I try to whittle my ego down to something that works for me and not against me. Symbolism is a powerful thing.

My intuition tells me the timing of these instances isn’t just coincidence. I still haven’t figured out the lesson from running into those two people after last week’s yoga practice, but seeing them did get me thinking about relationships that end and how that’s Ok. (A blog post for another day, perhaps.)

For the others, the connection is stronger. Leaving all of my clothes behind? Well, maybe I don’t need to own so many clothes. Maybe a bare minimum (but not the absolute bare minimum! Hah!) would be better. And I’m in a purging part of my life anyway, where I’m pruning and sending books, clothing, shoes, etc… to donation. Maybe I need to go through things again and prune even more.

The shoe thing is just funny. I feel like Kali was reminding me to be able to laugh at myself. Which after saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”, I did. I ordered Shoe Goo so I can fix them.

The illness connection is stark. Who are you if you can’t verbally express yourself? Obviously, there is an entire population of people who have to face this on a day-to-day basis, but when the situation is forced upon you suddenly it is interesting to see where it takes you. Today my voicelessness took me to yoga teacher training. The classes are a combination of lecture and discussion. Being my naturally inquisitive self, I often have a lot of questions. Today, I could barely speak at all, except in an extremely hoarse whisper. I had to pass during the opening circle, where we were supposed to describe what was working for us this week. I couldn’t say to hello to people as they came in. It was that bad. I felt invisible, but also like I wanted to make myself invisible so I didn’t invite people to talk to me while I couldn’t communicate back…

What happened instead? I listened. It’s the only thing I could do. In some ways it was frustrating. There were questions I wanted to ask but couldn’t. There were times the instructor asked for opinions, and I wasn’t able to share mine. I felt most uncomfortable, a little prickle in my stomach, when I couldn’t ask my questions. But I also noticed that some of the people who tended to stay quieter during classes were speaking up more. This caused me to wonder, do I dominate the yoga teacher training space? Do I intimidate others into silence or somehow take up time in a way that shuts them out? These will be things I’ll be considering as I move forward in this and other spaces. 

My cold also connected to Kali in another way. I left my yoga class early today. Throughout my K-12 educational experience, I went to school. The only time I missed was if I was vomiting. I carried that work ethic into the other areas of my life. Grad. school, jobs. I had to go to work. Even now that I accrue sick days and personal time at my job, I feel guilty about taking time off. But sometimes you are legitimately sick and it’s not doing you much good to be in a space. Today, I was listening, but it was really hard for me to focus. I thought the cold was isolated to my throat, but I realized the longer that I sat that there was also a fogginess in my head too. There was no way I could make it through another four hours of yoga training and really have it do me any good. So I went home, took some meds, and took a nap. I feel a little better now. My voice is still crap, but I think it’s a bit better? Wishful thinking, maybe. Regardless, I needed the rest and I needed to separate from the mentality that I have to be Wonder Woman all of the time.

I’m going to continue to work with Kali for awhile, because … well … I’m stubborn like that. I was describing Kali to a friend since we were talking about my experiences with yoga training. “Kali tells it like it is. She means well, but she’s blunt.” I then had the realization that she’s like me.

No wonder I’m terrified to meet her head on! Another realization I need to face as I go into interactions with other people. My honesty is something that my friends say they respect in me, but I know sometimes I can be too blunt. No one likes that.

So Kali held a mirror to my face in a few ways this week. I think I’m strong enough to handle it now and work with what she’s showing me. I’ll continue including the request to “be gentle.”

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