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Anusara Yoga
Mon, February 13 2012

Finding the Light in the Shadows: On Shri and Kali

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It’s 2012: the end of the Mayan Calendar, the year of New Age spiritual transformation, year of the Water Dragon. I started off 2012 learning about the Divine Feminine with Shiva Rea, and now I’m listening to weekly talks on the goddess mythology with Eric Stoneberg . Eric introduced me to Akhilandeshvari, the “never not broken” goddess who inspired this article about the hidden possibilities of lying broken in a pile on your bedroom floor, and became one of the most read blogs on elephant journal last year.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned about the goddesses so far is that they exist in two categories: Shri (beauty, grace, charm in Sanskrit) and Kali (time, blackness, death). Some, like Lakshmi and Lalita, embody the divine feminine the way Shiva Rea describes it—sweetly, abundantly, with grace. Others, like Durga and Kali, are warriors, fearsome destroyers, and ego killers. Akhilandeshvari was once an Aghora goddess (“she who is never without horror”)—worshiped by a sect of Hinduism that believe in going as deep as possible into the darkness in order to find the light.

The cool thing about the goddesses is that these two camps aren’t as separate as they seem. In every Shri goddess, through the beauty and the loveliness and the charm, is Kali: a warrior on the inside ready to tear something apart and take what she wants. And in every Kali goddess, in every warrior on the battlefield, there is a seed of light and Shri that sprouts once what’s been destroyed can be cleared away.

Sometimes we need to fall apart. The article I wrote about Akhilandeshvari is about the experience of feeling totally at a loss, totally broken, completely overwhelmed with grief. This article went totally viral, because the hundreds of thousands of people that read this article all have that in common. And there is Shri in that universal grief, in the light of community and common experience. Akhilanda is often described as a prism—a glass through which light is broken and becomes many new and different colors. Destruction is sometimes the way to beauty and light, just as beauty lives in a cycle that must change and be destroyed or become corrupted.

Here’s an example. There is a lot of stuff on the internet right now about Anusara Yoga and its apparently impending doom. It is a system, largely inspired by much of the Tantric philosophy I’m learning now, developed by John Friend that is described as “heart-centered yoga.” It involves a lot of chest opening, and its logo shows two people backbending towards a heart. It became wildly popular very quickly: Its alignment system is accessible and smart, and it’s got some really, seriously amazing teachers associated with it (including Christine Price Clark and Sjanie McInnes here in Vancouver). Widely interpreted, it is an intelligent system that tells you that everything is going to be okay.

Anusaris are even more infamous than other yogis for their unflagging positivity. I overheard this conversation recently:

She: “How are you?”

He: “I’m full of joy!”

She: “Why full of joy?….Because you’re breathing?”

He: “Because joy is a way of LIFE!”

Which sounds great. But here’s the problem with joy being a way of life: it’s not possible or real. Mr. Friend is now under fire for some personal ethics issues, and the whole organization and a bunch of other people are flipping right out about it. Friend responded with a letter (which you can read here) and has written several responses in which he acknowledges his own shadows and mistakes and reaffirms his “devotion to the highest, Shri.”

I don’t begin to speak for Friend or anyone associated with Anusara, but I do find it interesting that an organization so devoted to beauty and positivity is now absolutely crumbling under the weight of its shadows. Kali has entered, and she is here to destroy. Perhaps Friend’s problem is too much devotion to Shri, not enough love for Kali. With no room for shadows, the light cannot hold, and must be destroyed completely.

Shri is possible because of the destructive nature of Kali. Kali destroys to make space for Shri. They are part of the same cycle. They are the cycle.

The Water Dragon, in Chinese astrology, corroborates this view. The dragon is like Kali: fiery, potent, ready to come in and shake some things up (sometimes literally: Year of the Dragon is known for its earthquakes). Water, though, cools the fire a little. It

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Join yoga teacher JC Peters on a thoughtful, personal, hopeful exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us laugh at ourselves, deal with our deepest shadows, and move through life with grace, gratitude, and wonder.

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