We are in a moment of change. Some of us are hopeful, others rageful, and others fearful. I’ve been thinking lately about a set of stories told by Sally Kempton in her book Awakening Shakti. In these stories, Shakti, the feminine source energy of the universe, engages through the powerful act of showing up or withdrawing.
From the Tantric perspective, Shakti is the fundamental source of everything: all genders, all creatures, the wind and the trees. Masculine energy is also deeply important, and represents consciousness, thought, rules, rituals, and tradition--the ways we try to contain and understand the feminine source. Feminine and masculine must work in relationship for the universe to be balanced. In these stories, masculine energy, represented by a male character, overbalances. Shakti’s presence tames the excess patriarchal force. When the men in the story forget to honor her, she disappears, leaving them to deal with the consequences.
In the first story, the god Shiva is lost deep in his meditation, not engaging with the world and his work killing demons. The other gods petition Shakti for help, and she agrees to manifest as Sati, Shiva’s partner and lover who can help him re-engage with the world.
This works very well for a time, until Daksa, Sati’s father and a powerful religious orthodox leader, insults the couple by neglecting to invite them to a fire ceremony. Sati immediately realizes that her father has forgotten who she is, not to mention the whole point of his precious religion: honoring the Shakti energy we all share. Sati steps into the fire, returning to her true form as pure energy. Shiva, racked with grief, cuts off Daksa’s head and returns to his deep, disengaged meditation. The universe goes back out of balance and demons again roam the land.
When Shakti agrees to manifest a second time to save the world as Parvati, she chooses her new father more carefully. This father, Himavat, respects and honors Parvati completely. Parvati and Shiva have a long, loving relationship and a happy ending: their pillow talk is said to have become some of the great texts of Tantra.
In another story, the goddess energy manifests as Sita, whose name means “furrow” after the dip of earth her father, King Janaka, finds her in. Sita grows up to marry prince Rama, and their love story becomes one of the most well known in Indian culture. Sita is kidnapped by the demon Ravana, rescued, and immediately rejected by her husband. Rama does this for a terrible reason: he suspects her of the de facto infidelity that comes with being raped by a kidnapping demon (which she wasn’t). When he asks her to prove her fidelity in a humiliating public display, she agrees. She says a prayer to the earth to please receive her if she has always been true to her husband. A furrow opens and swallows Sita forever.
Rama lives the rest of his life in grief. He becomes a good and humble king, having learned what can happen when you forget the power of relationship with the feminine force.
Authority, power, rules, and rituals matter. But so do the feelings, actions, presence, and absence of the people that are in relationship with that authority. Whether we agree or disagree, we are in relationship with each other because we share this world that we live in. Our absence can be felt as powerfully as our presence, and whether we go to a march, post an article on Facebook, have a conversation with someone we disagree with, donate to a specific cause, or hide under the covers, our actions (and non-actions) have meaning. Now is the time to consider how we want to show up (or not) to our relationship with the world, with each other, and with our own selves.