‘The blessing is only won when you accept both sides of Kali, including pain, sorrow, loss and death. The real death is trying to hold your tiny ego safe from the pain caused by desire and love. Flee from the dangers of life, and you will miss her blessings, too. But embrace Kali as she is, kiss her bloody tongue and feel all four arms around you, and then you have life, you have freedom.’ – Tim Ward in ‘Savage Breast’
I’ve always had an interesting relationship with Kali, Hindu Goddess of dissolution and destruction. It can be hard for a non-Hindu, unfamiliar with the symbolism of the Goddess, to fathom her. Kali is often portrayed naked, wearing nothing but a garland of severed, bloody heads around her neck. She yields a sickle in one hand while rolling her eyes and sticking out her red, lolling tongue. To the unsuspecting observer, she can appear terrifying, violent, and even barbaric. For us in the West, where anything to do with God is generally light, angelic and nice, Kali may seem like a demon coming straight from hell.
But that’s not who Kali really is. Although she is sometimes misrepresented as dark, violent and merciless, she is commonly understood to be the compassionate Mother Goddess of Time and Change by her devotees. Devotees believe that Mother Kali helps them to let go of what is no longer needed in life, similar to a mother who takes a harmful object out of her screaming child’s hand. We might not understand or like it when things come to an end in our lives, but with hindsight, when we see the big picture, we often realize that it was for our best and that our greatest learning occurred through loss. Viewed metaphorically, what Kali really destroys with her sickles are the demons of ignorance and ego.
And this brings me to something I have pondered for a while: surrender. Surrender is such a big word in spiritual circles. But what does it actually mean? Surrender, put simply, is to cease resisting. It may include acceptance and letting go. Interestingly, one of the dictionary definitions of surrender is to ‘cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.’ What makes me laugh about this is that the way we fight with reality most of the time makes it seem as though we regard reality truly as our enemy. ‘I don’t like this’, ‘he shouldn’t have said that’, ‘this should be different.’ Rarely do we accept what is, even when it’s something that we can’t change, such as the weather.
It’s easy to surrender when things are going our way and according to plan, right? Then we’re ‘in the flow’, the Universe is supporting us and life is just wonderful. But then we contract that serious disease, our relationship falls apart, we lose our job, our home, our status, or a loved one dies – and suddenly it’s ‘Damn! I didn’t ask for this!’ And suddenly we’re wondering about the kindness and flow of the Universe because this is not what we had planned or wished for at all. We begin to feel alone, abandoned, helpless and out of control, our situation is ‘horrible’ and quite often we sink into depression, anger and despair.
But these hard times are Kali’s greatest blessings, because they are our biggest initiations. Life in these circumstances is only hard and painful because we resist the nature of life, which is impermanence and change. Let’s face it: most of the time, we don’t know what is good for us. From where we are, we can’t truly discern as to what is fortune and what is misfortune, because we don’t know the big picture. Unless we are realized or at least highly evolved, we haven’t got a clue about our karma and our life’s true purpose. And this is where surrender comes in. I believe that there comes a point on the path of every spiritual seeker at which s/he throws up his or her hands and says ‘Look. I have understood that I don’t know anything. Please, God/Goddess/Universe, take over my life and guide me. I surrender. Do with me as you will.’
And with this humility and surrender, a great freedom sets in. We begin to trust that there is indeed a divine plan, even if this divine plan means that we’re tossed out into the streets, lose everything we own, get ill and end up in places we had never planned on going to. Freedom is recognizing the grace that is in all things and trusting that we will always be alright, even when we’re not.
By meditating on Kali, we can remind ourselves that loss of control is the only way to transcend our false egos. With swift precision, she cuts away our ignorance, our attachments and our conditionings because she knows who we truly are and what is good for us. When we ask for transformation and growth, when this is truly the highest goal and ideal of our lives, we have to accept the most direct ways in which this is possible. And that is very often a way our egos don’t like.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t endeavour to heal from illness or get ourselves out of difficult life situations when they occur. But we can do so with equanimity and wisdom, and most importantly, we must not lose the lesson this life circumstance is presenting to us – for there is always something to be learned. And this also doesn’t mean that we cannot grieve or be sad, but within that, the big Self recognizes what is truly happening and can be calm within the storm. There is equally nothing wrong with having desires, but we need to understand that desires are often nothing more than karmas. It’s important to develop the discernment between an ego-desire that will bring us satisfaction in the world, and a desire that comes from our soul purpose.
Caroline Myss describes the act of surrender and the meaning of grace beautifully in her book ‘Defy Gravity’. ‘I frequently put entire groups on the spot by asking this question’, she writes, ‘What if an angel came down and offered you two choices? The first is the highest potential your ego desires, with all the bells and whistles and applause and admiration you are craving – except that it’s really not your highest potential. The other choice is far less grandiose in appearance yet far more potent as a means of making a difference in the world: becoming a vessel of grace in service to others, though many of them will never even take notice of you. Which would you choose?’ (…) Most people admit that they would choose their fantasy of their highest potential, even when offered the authentic alternative, because they would want the experience of abundance, security, admiration and fame.’
I find this to be very thought-provoking. We often believe that we know what our highest potential is – and that often includes worldly fulfilment such as financial abundance, a great relationship, a successful career – but maybe our highest potential excludes all of those things in favour of something more authentic. Surrendering means being open to all of the possibilities that life presents us with and knowing that everything always works out for our highest good. We can do this by going inwards and learning to listen to our soul’s guidance. As Mooji says, ‘Life is so much wiser and kinder than your mind imagines. Trust & Be Still.’
Tools that can make surrendering easier:
- Meditate. Nothing can develop intuitive knowledge of the ‘big picture’, inner guidance and wisdom better than meditation.
- Spend quiet time in nature.
- Learn to read and trust the signs – usually they happen in the form of synchronicities on your path.
- Surround yourself with inspirational, spiritually-minded people or even better, have satsang with spiritual teachers and guides.
- Read inspirational books.
- Chanting mantras, especially Kali mantras, can really help to transcend our ego desires and align ourselves with our soul purpose.
- Read this article on one of my favourite blogs: http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/how-to-manifest-your-hearts-desires-without-shaking-down-the-universe-like-a-mob-boss/
- If you enjoy my writing, my book ‘Meeting Shiva – Falling and Rising in Love in the Indian Himalayas’ is out now on Changemakers Books.