I am Kali in her ferocity.
I am Durga filled with compassion and battling her own shadow.
I am Lakshmi in her grace.
I am Sita in her devotion.
I am Saraswati in her creation.
Utterly tender, undone with devotion, fierce as fire. I am all of these things.
I am none of these things.
When I discovered the Goddess mythology in the Sri Vidya Tantra tradition it was like something in me was torn open. Something primal and deep that had been crying out for so long was finally given a name. Unspoken desires, unnamed pains, wild things I'd long abandoned.
The spiritual and religious teachings I was familiar with had not given place for the things I felt; the longings of my heart, the strength of my feelings. But here in this tradition and in these stories I saw the qualities of the very universe itself. Threads woven throughout all of life and the very fabric of things.
Volatility, entropy, creation, passion, death giving birth to life and life to death, the world being unmade, remade, reshaped, repurposed again and again.
The stark reality that two can be one and one can be two but two can never be two. Not really.
I found as Sally Kempton so eloquently said "the kind of love that cares nothing for safety or conventional wisdom."
Fierce love. Wild love.
I was ignited. Something inside of me much older and wiser was resonating and calling back with a resounding "yes".
My beloved teacher Dr. Douglas Brooks in our lineage known as Rajanaka says that we are "all of the Gods, all of the demons, that we are every character in the story."
He says that the matter at hand is not about if they (the devas, the illuminated ones) are "real" in the sense of "is there an elephant-headed God tromping about in the forrest somewhere," but it is the manner in which we relate to them. The ways in which we identify ourselves in the stories.
The myths are a mirror and a prism of our own consciousness. Myths are (to quote Douglas again) "Self-conscious lies told in service of deeper truth."
I didn't (I don't) study the myths looking for absolute truths with a capital T. I read the texts to contend with them, to learn to ask better questions, to ruffle my own feathers and to witness myself in the bristling and the confusion.
I study them to find myself in the shadows. To get acquainted with the ways in which I am the hero and the ways in which I am my own demon and adversary.
In Sita's tale of love and woe I found a mirror of my own lack of boundaries in my love relationships. I also found the beauty of devotional love and the tenderness of being undone.
In Durga I was confronted with a woman fierce in her compassion and love and yet battling her own dull-headedness (the bull she kills, but that's a writing for a different day).
I discovered Chinnamasta the giver and taker of life, an image of a goddess holding her own severed head, her blood feeding her attendants (gruesome I know, but there's always message and meaning).
This fierce goddess that holds within her the paradoxes of life and death, sexual self-control and the embodiment of sexual energy itself, destruction, temporality, and ultimate sacrifice (hence the imagery).
Parvati, Shiva's eternal love consort in her power and independence her four arms outstretched...Parvati as the domesticated lover sitting beside Shiva and their sons in a "family portrait."
And on and on it goes.
Because we humans bear such utterly complex hearts. And because difference matters.
Because we can hold so many things within us.
Because we can be all of these things and yet we are none of these things.
It took me a long time to learn this simple lesson. My heart broken again and again. It took the stripping away of so many masks I had adorned to hide the waves rippling beneath the surface.
Being a human is complex and messy. I won't pretend that I think or in anyway know that being a woman is more or less so than being any other human.
Certainty is after all the greatest of arrogance and most definitely dangerous.
I know only my own experience. And my experience was one of a woman that resented often my femininity and all of my very big feelings.
I spent much of my life feeling like nothing more than a giant beating heart. In my innocence (an innocence even now I refuse to give up) I believed that people had the best of intentions.
Where this became dangerous was in my willingness to let others be held accountable for the state of my heart and wellbeing. I was borderless. I gave of myself far too freely and had unrealistic expectations that the same giving would be returned and in equal measure.
I didn't know how to express my needs or to ask for what I wanted. When I did ask for what I wanted, I was told it was un-lady like and "too much."
Too much. I get that a lot. Echoing through the walls of my heart and mind "Selena you are too much."
As a young girl my culture taught me to be smart but not too smart (men find that intimidating I was told).
Be sexy but for god-sake don't be a whore (what exactly made one a "whore" seemed to shift and change in incomprehensible ways).
Be strong and stoic but keep a tender and nurturing heart. Be pretty but not too pretty, girls that are too pretty scare off the boys just like the smart ones do.
State your opinion but not too loudly. Speak, but certainly never be the one to initiate contact or speaking with a man of interest.
Be soft. Be bold. Play dumb. Play games. Be coy but not too coy. Cover up. Undress. Take is a compliment when men pat you on the ass. Don't be such a prude. My god don't be so wanton. And for goodness sake don't be so sensitive.
The list goes on and on...
I found it exhausting. I put on a million faces for a million crowds. I poured myself into molds to be a little more likable to a boyfriend, a religious group, hell a choir and a rock band.
I self-censored. I lost my voice.
I hid farther and farther behind the masks quietly dying inside behind the falsities.
And the tender little girl in me that didn't know what to do with those very big feelings? Well I built a wall, a fortress right around her. Brick by brick. Stone by stone.
"Don't worry little one. I won't let them hurt you...Not again."
I didn't know I was busy building an emotional prison of my own making.
That wall of protection I built around the aching and wounded parts left me numb. I didn't know then that by protecting myself I was actually building a wall that not only kept others out but cut off the flow of Love itself.
I dried up.
Anger looked like tears because women aren't supposed to be angry only men get angry and I mustn't be too masculine.
I was so buried beneath it all that no matter who I was in a love relationship with I was profoundly alone.
Because they were in love with someone that wasn't me.
They were in love with the mask, the censored one, the one with parts of herself abandoned in the fortress.
And if rejection came? Well honestly it didn't much feel like true rejection because the one they rejected wasn't even really me.
Shed the skin, dust my feet, walk on.
Things were made even more complex by the 3rd wave feminist movement. If you're not sure what that word means do a bit of academic research, but it is very much distinct from earlier feminist movements supporting equality.
The message I received from the 3rd wave feminists was that if I wanted to be held and soft in my femininity than I was brain-washed by society to be a robot for the patriarchy and I was betraying women everywhere.
So now I felt betrayed and wounded by other women too. Because I wanted to be held by masculine energy. I wanted to be a vulnerable soft thing and know I had stable ground to fall back on. I wanted to dance in what femininity meant to me. I wanted to nurture and love and I wanted to rejoice in beautiful things. Soft skin and shades of pink. Stereo-type or not. But I was a traitor if I wanted those things.
So I boxed that up too and put it behind the wall. With the little girl with all the feelings. With the girl in the boxing gloves that wasn't allowed to be angry, with the wise-priestess in rage, with the tender goddess that wanted to love in utter devotion. All behind the wall. Gagged and tied.
This of course was not sustainable. Feeling buried alive never die. And those parts of myself long abandoned would come out in broken moments and rage. This showed up as spikes in my chemistry, emotional reactivity.
Something had to give. When I was 18 I was getting on a plane to New York City. A skinny model in teetering high heeled shoes, a snarky smile, and belligerent artificial self-confidence. I loathed myself, and my own self-hatred and unworthiness spilled out into all of my other relating. I was kind of a bitch. And I was being one to my mother. She looked at me and said with a measure of kindness but also a lot of anger and her own pain
"You have no grace."
I remember vividly boarding my flight away from Montana and all the things I thought were stifling me. Walking coldly to my seat and the dam around the fortress of my heart breaking. Pent up rage and pain spilling down my cheeks in a hot river. My face flushed with embarrassment and shame.
"You have no grace."
She was right. Grace was behind the wall. With all of the pieces of myself. And all of my unresolved material.
An excavation began of that unresolved material. It's been over a decade and I am not certain I'll ever be done. This now delights me, there's so much in this heart of mine to uncover.
That day I began the very slow, very painful, no light at the end of the tunnel (there's still no light, more on that another day) work of loving myself back into wholeness.
The myths of the Goddesses the archetypes of the divine energy were a potent tool in my own pathway to healing. Through the stories I learned that the very things I was so often trying to get out of (pain, anxiety, rage, grief, envy) were in fact just part of the beautiful mess of being human.
I learned that if I numbed out to pain I was numbed out to joy too.
The stories of the goddesses taught me that I could hold within myself the ferocity of Kali and Durga right along side of the creativity of Sarswati. That I could dance at the center of all of these energies pulling on them when I needed to. Situationally and with ease.
I stopped being ashamed of my tragically romantic heart and my desire to be held energetically, emotionally, physically.
I allowed myself to in delight beauty and to take pleasure in my own.
I learned to adore my sensitivity. It draws me closer to the divine. My sensitivity allows me to feel into the hearts of those I love so I can love them better. What a gift. I began to understand grace. I found my borders.
Because things that have their borders are stable and clear and able to have a lucidity about them instead of lunacy.
I started to take utter delight in my femininity, on my terms and no one else's. I learned that when I'm held in the masculine energy that I feel safe and I'm able to expand my heart even more. What a dream. I have slowly and steadily been undone. Unraveling. Rewilding. And it's the most important work.
I am learning to be the priestess, the midwife, the mother, the sister, the lover, the beloved. The warrior and the tender one. I can be all of these things. And none of these things. And so can you. "Too much" is no longer echoing through my heart. Because I know now that I'll never be "too much" for the ones that cannot get enough. I don't put on masks. Because as Anna Forest says I "don't want anyone to end up making love to it." That masked little self. This work isn't done. I still have very big feelings and I have to self-soothe. There is still lifetimes of material to unwind. I still get afraid. Almost every day. But I am no longer abandoning myself. And I am no longer hiding.
I am embracing my wild feminine heart and I no longer resent it. I take pleasure in it.
I am learning to part my lips
To allow my legs, my thighs, my belly, my arms to speak.
I am finally, after all of this timeQuieting the voices of the elders that said "Sweetness, you must not burn like that""it is unbecoming of a woman"
"It is dangerous to set yourself on fire."