Sally Kempton, Yoga Journal's longtime "Wisdom" columnist, recently authored a book that tells stories, offers meditations, and shares the wisdom of the goddesses of yoga. The book, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga, is the culmination of years of research and personal experience meditating with goddesses energies. While the book offers a deeper understanding about the culture from which yoga originated, Kempton explains that meditating on these goddesses can also enhance the lives of both men and women. In the following interview, she explains how.
Why should yoga practitioners care about the goddesses you talk about in your book? How can they enhance one's yoga practice?
First, the goddesses we access in yoga are not just mythic figures. They are real energies, constantly at play in your body and in your prana (life force). In the tantric tradition, it's understood that shakti is the source of every form of energy. Shakti is the fundamental creative intelligence of the universe. The forms of the goddesses are access points to this fundamental intelligence, which happens to be your go-to source for both power and bliss. So, practicing with awareness of the goddesses is a powerful way to access your own creative powers, not to mention your core sense of well-being. In asana practice, bringing in the goddesses can help you with both flexibility and strength. They are the energies behind the experience that's often called a "flow state," where your practice becomes effortless.
If you had to choose a favorite goddess which one would you choose and why?
It changes all the time. Durga is the goddess I invoke for grounding, or when I feel insecure. Her energy is protective. But I also adore Kali and the other wild goddesses, the ones who rip through your inner barriers and tear open your heart. As a writer and teacher, I'm constantly invoking Saraswati, the goddess of speech and writing. And I'm currently in love with Lalita Tripura Sundari, an extremely glamorous tantric goddess. Lalita's name means Playful Beauty of the Three Worlds. She's a love goddess, and she's also a demon-slayer. She's described as "solidified bliss," and when she's awake in you, you really do experience a kind of blissfulness that has nothing to do with whether things are going well or badly in your life. To me, Lalita exemplifies the feminine totally at ease with her own power. It's a kind of power that both women and men need to own.
Why should men be interested in the goddesses of yoga?
First, because all our energies are empowered when we realize that they arise from an inner-feminine core. The Taoists have a term, "Wu Wei," which signifies a kind of empowered flow state. You feel that you aren't doing anything, yet everything happens naturally and skillfully. That's the state that the goddesses can reveal to you. Goddess energy is actually way beyond gender. In tantra, power is associated with the sacred feminine, while awareness and discernment are associated with the sacred masculine. A person who wants to fully actualize himself or herself needs to be fully in touch with both aspects. The goddesses are vehicles for realizing the subtle, natural power of your inner self—and men need that as much as women do.
Secondly, men need to access the goddess because she really is an inner lover and mother. In the history of goddess practice in India, you find that most of the famous poets and lovers of the goddess were men. When you access goddess energies in meditation or in asana, you begin to experience her as an inner flow of blissfulness, love, and a thrilling kind of subtle tingling presence. It's very luscious. I've known lots of guys who have a secret inner girlfriend relationship with goddess energies. Women do also of course. But women often tend to identify with the goddesses, while men tend more to dance with them.
What's the most important lesson you've learned from all your study and meditation on the goddesses?
That there are benign, guiding presences in the inner and outer subtle worlds, whom I can access inside, and who are always available when we are willing to invoke them and ask for help.
What advice do you have for someone who is completely new to the practice of meditating with/on the goddesses of yoga? What should they expect from the process?
The first thing in any practice is to give it time to unfold. These practices are powerful and transformative, but for most of us, it takes a little while before we start to experience their depth. At the same time, you always want to bring a spirit of play into your practice. The goddess energies, even when they feel intense, are always playful. So, the more playful and curious and willing to experiment you are, the more likely it is that you'll begin to sense the sweetness and strength of these practices. So, play with some of the practices in the book. Experiment with calling on the goddesses. Practice a mantra. Try a visualization. And also, try thinking of your own body and breath as an expression of the goddess. In tantra, its said that the whole world is the body of the goddess. So is your body.
Sally Kempton is a teacher of applied spiritual wisdom, known for her capacity to kindle meditative states in others, and to help students work with meditative experience as a framework for practical life-change. Sally is the author of Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga, Meditation for the Love of It, and she writes the Wisdom column for Yoga Journal. A former swami in a Vedic tradition, Sally has been practicing and teaching for four decades.sallykempton.com