Last week, a dear friend of mine and I had lunch together at one of the local New Mexico Mexican restaurants. We love to spend time together, hang out, talk about this and that. The week before, late one night, I was meditating on what’s happening in Pakistan - tens of thousands dead from the earthquake, millions without shelter and winter looming. The UN is pushing for financial support and the Associated Press is predicting a "second wave of death" in the disaster - from "people who could freeze to death, starve to death, or just be sick because of infected water." There is such devastation, such disaster that, in many ways, we have no power to stop.
In Sukhmani, Guru Arjun writes "Aath pahaar" - 24 hours a day, just keep the prayer going. In these moments, when the plight of humanity looks so bleak - there is tremendous solace in prayer. The Shabad has a power - a power that we cannot understand, command or control - but a power, nonetheless, to bring what is out of balance back into harmony.
That night, the prayer that wanted to be prayed was Chandi di Vaar written by Guru Gobind Singh about the goddess Durga and her war against the demons who had taken over Heaven. When destruction is so prevalent, so undeniable, so unavoidable - what can we pray for? That the Creator is with those who have to face their death - a Loving Presence guiding them through the experience. That whatever comes of this disaster, in the end, may it help clear the karma of the planet so that what is out of balance may come back into balance. Death we all have to face one day, and not one of knows the hour or the circumstances of it. But Durga, with her many arms and many weapons can remind us to pray for a useful death, a purposeful death, a death that serves to bring the Heavens and the earth into harmony. There are good ways to die.
I had never prayed the Chandi Di Vaar before that night and thoughts of Durga had been with me ever since. So, in the Cosmic Synchronicity of things, during lunch, my friend was telling me about a statue of Durga that she had seen in Colorado on a recent trip, and a gorgeous statue of Kali that was for sale on e-bay.
I love to collect statues of spiritual icons from every religion. In my home, there’s a wood carving of the three-faced goddess from Celtic mythology, a small kachina of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, and a black iron Buddha. Durga is a new figure for me - and I wished briefly I had the money to find and purchase a statue of her - but the joys of being a new homeowner require my financial resources to go elsewhere at the moment.
Still, these figures and their stories hold such lessons for us.
I asked my friend what she knew about Durga. She said she didn't know much, but I listened enraptured as she shared the story of how Durga was created fom the collected energy of many gods, how she was considered a manifestation of Parvati, Shiva's wife. The part of the story that really struck home, somehow, in a very personal way, was when she told me that Kali was born from Durga's Third Eye. And how, after the demons were vanquished, Kali couldn't be controlled. She just continued stomping around, destroying everything in her wake. To bring her back to her senses, Shiva laid down in her path and Kali began to stomp and storm on top of him. But then she realized that she was trying to destroy her own Beloved Husband and that shocked her. Shocked her into seeing how terribly she was behaving. Shocked her into realizing she needed to stop. Love pulled her back to her senses.
When life gets out of balance, there's a tremendous amount of pain, and sometimes in the fight to make it right, women especially can loose sight of when to stop. I see that in myself – the noble Durga fighting to restore the balance. And the even more powerful but less controllable Kali – who destroys just to destroy because it's what feels safe, what feels right – until she hurts someone she loves without meaning it, and that brings her back to her senses.
What does all of this have to do with Pakistan and millions facing death? Maybe it's a reminder that the destructive force, too, can become out of balance and we have to have have that wisdom to know – when to allow destruction her free reign, and when to temper that power, to call it back with love. We are a spiritual warrior people and it is a tremendous responsibility to study and understand the wisdom of destruction. I, myself, know very little and am grateful to see – for the first time in my life – how much I have to learn.