Waking up this morning, I remembered that today happens to be the beginning of Navaratri, one of my favorite Indian holidays. Navaratri (literally, “nine nights”) celebrates the sacred feminine in the form of Durga, the warrior-goddess of the Hindu tradition. Even though my practice is by no means Hindu in any orthodox sense, my two spiritual teachers have been Indian. They’ve used the language and symbology of their tradition and celebrated many of the traditional holidays. So, over the years I’ve come to feel the power of this tradition and its symbols and to enjoy using them to describe aspects of my own experience. I especially love certain holidays, because of the particular flavor of sacred energy they evoke.
For me, the simplest way to understand gods and goddesses is to think of them as representations of archetypal energies. Jung and his followers famously consider the Greek gods—Athena, Zeus, and the others—to represent archetypal powers that are found inside each of us as well as in the natural world. The Hindu deity forms can be seen in the same way. I often contemplate one of these forms when I want to open up to a particular psychological or spiritual state.
Ultimately, all the Indian goddesses represent shakti, the creative energy behind all life. Yet each one has her own energetic flavor. Durga’s is especially dynamic. To invoke Durga is to invoke your inner activist, the energy of the spiritual warrior and protector.
In pictures (those highly colored Indian-deity pictures that you can now buy on T-shirts), she is shown riding a tiger and holding a sword, a spear, a bow, and other weapons in five of her eight arms. When you look closely, though, you notice that her face is peaceful and dignified. She actually looks a little like the Mona Lisa. And she’s full of compassion. Motherly.
It’s easy to think of Durga as a patron deity of the modern woman, the woman who’s raising a family, holding a demanding job, fighting battles that require both skill in weaponry and skill in the arts of stillness and flow. In the mythological stories, she’s always called on to take care of demons that no one else has been able to defeat.
Symbolically, of course, demons represent bad habits and destructive tendencies. Durga is the energy in us who can defeat all that. You might invoke the Durga energy when you want to stop doing something you know isn’t good for you. Or you might invoke her when you need to stand up to someone who’s giving you a hard time, or when you want to say, “Enough is enough!”
Above all, though, Durga energy gives you the power to transform yourself, to initiate new endeavors, to tackle the stuff that seems too hard. She’s the energy of swift decisions and major creative breakthroughs. I think of Durga as the cut-to-the-chase, get-it-together, tell-it-like-it-is aspect of my inner goddess.
All day today I’ve been contemplating Durga. As I drove around Los Angeles, I would look for manifestations of Durga energy. I noticed a Durga-esque quality in a particularly intent woman jogger on the promenade in Santa Monica. I thought about Durga when I watched a big wave break up out of the apparently flat, calm sea.
In the afternoon, I went for lunch with a woman friend. As we talked, I began to notice that she too seemed full of Durga-esque energy. This woman has had a big and interesting life—she’s been a war correspondent, a spiritual artist, and the founder of a school of healing. She gave it all up for a while to do full-time spiritual practice, then spent several years caring for a dying parent. Now, she’s free, full of energy, and suddenly awash in new opportunities. In fact, so many opportunities have presented themselves in the last month that she doesn’t know which of them to take.
Listening to my friend talk, I suddenly felt I knew exactly what she needed to do. I felt like Super Mom—strong, protective, and full of conviction. I held up my forefinger in the traditional gesture that means, “Harken!”
“Here’s how you do it,” I said. “If you get X together, it will give you a platform for Y. Once you do Y, it will be easier for you to do Z. Just do one at a time. It’s so clear!”
At that moment, hearing the voice that was coming out of me, I realized that I too was manifesting Durga. I thought, O yes, of course. That’s why we celebrate festivals and invoke archetypal energies. We do it to experience them inside.