Traditionally, the dark times—winter solstice or new moons—are times to reflect, to slow down and listen to the quiet voices at the heart of us that tell us what we truly desire, what we are ready to let go of, and what we want to cultivate with the waxing of the light. But we are so impatient—by January 1st we have all our resolutions ready to go, and we are pretty sure we are ready to take on the world, get rid of all our old habits, and change everything in our lives.
Just one problem: it’s just as dark and cold on January 1st as it was on December 31st. The darkness hasn’t quite finished with us yet.
The New Year can come with a lot of pressure. Our bodies are still in hibernation mode, no matter what the date may be. Now is the time, perhaps, to get a little bit fierce about our right to stay quiet in the dark.
This season, I’m taking some inspiration from a Tantric goddess named Jvalamalini Nitya, who presides over the 14th night of the moon cycle. Her name means “Garlanded with Flames,” and she carries in her twelve hands a noose, a goad, a sword, a shield, bow and arrows, a mace, a spear, a tortoise, and a ball of fire. She also holds up vara mudra, the gesture for granting gifts, and abhaya mudra, the gesture for dispelling fear.
She is a warrior indeed, and her many weapons function to protect her. One of these things, however, is not like the others: the tortoise is not a weapon, but rather a wise, slow animal with a hard shell and a soft center. The tortoise is why Jvalamalini is so fiercely protecting.
Symbolically, the tortoise represents the quality of knowing when and how to draw in towards yourself and withdraw from the noise and light of the world around you. Here, you can hold your soft vulnerability in a place that’s safe from harm. Tortoises know how to create this sort of space for themselves, anywhere, anytime.
Jvalamalini’s garland of flames creates a circle of fire around her, protecting her ability—and desire—to be alone. Many of us fear loneliness or solitude, trying to avoid it at all costs. We all need times to be alone with our thoughts, fears, hopes, and desires, however. Otherwise, how would we know what they are?
We may indeed have new practices and resolutions for the New Year that are healthy for us. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between what we truly want and what others want and expect from us. Jvalamalini’s abhaya mudra counsels us to be fearless, to trust what we find in ourselves when we are not influenced by the people around us. On the other hand, Jvalamalini offers vara mudra, a gesture indicating that there are great gifts to be found when we make the space to be alone.
Whatever the New Year may bring, Jvalamalini wants us to find empowerment in the vulnerability of contemplation and solitude. She wants us to stay strong about the need to stay quiet even if everyone else around us is ramping up. This goddess won’t put her weapons down until she knows it’s safe to feel her own feelings, think her own thoughts, and want her own wants. That’s the space where we can discover whatever we need to know to move forward. And we’ll do it when we are good and ready.