The snow capped mountains greet me today, inviting a call to stillness. As I look upwards to the peaks, I have a sense of lifting above the day-to-day of Ashram life—to a place that brings a bigger perspective. A place where I imagine heaven and earth meet.
This feeling of stillness follows me into the Divine Mother prayer room, where I am surrounded by images of the Divine feminine—expressions of a feminine power from many different traditions, cultures, times. A power that goes beyond name and form.
This space, dedicated to Divine Mother, speaks to me of devotion. It’s a place where my heart is nourished and renewed and my mind becomes quiet and receptive to Her voice. She reminds me that She is always present, available anytime I turn to Her. Turning to Her. It is the work of remembering—remembering that I am not alone, ever.
A Gathering of Goddesses
Today, I have a sense that the goddesses and all these symbols gathered together in this space have something to tell me—something that is going to help me dive more deeply into what it means to be a woman, at this time, on this earth.
In a way, it’s like these goddesses have each come through their own particular door to meet in this place. I see a connection to Swami Radha’s vision of the Ashram’s Temple, where there are many doors entering the sacred space, dedicated to the Light. The doors symbolize all the many paths that we can enter through, coming together and meeting in the centre.
The doorway I am entering through is one that is unique to me and my life experiences. It includes being born and traveling through life as a white woman, and having the privileges that come with this. Privileges that I am only becoming aware of.
In her book, Caste – The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson describes a hidden belief system that upholds a ‘caste hierarchy’ in the western world. The foundation of this system is supported by what she describes as pillars – “beliefs that were at one time or another burrowed deep within the culture and collective subconscious of most every inhabitant, in order for a caste system to function.”
These pillars include religious beliefs, inherited beliefs, control of marriage and mating, belief in purity of the dominant caste, occupational or job-related hierarchies, dehumanization and stigma, cruelty and terror as a means of control and inherent superiority vs inherent inferiority.
In her book, Kundalini for the West, Swami Radha gives us a similar message. “We must investigate all of our concepts and ideas, anything we have accepted blindly, without question. Such unquestioning acceptance of authority is tantamount to allowing ourselves to be hypnotized, programmed, conditioned. We must ask: Where (in what areas of my life) am I hypnotized?”
Going back to the foundation is an on-going aspect and life-long practice of the Kundalini system. “Any building, be it a storeroom, a tiny house or a big mansion, needs a foundation. The type of foundation reflects the purpose of the building to be constructed. Similarly, the foundation of a spiritual life indicates the perception of the purpose of life, and the way of life chosen will reflect this purpose.” (Kundalini Yoga for the West)
I find this on-going foundation work to be essential in opening up my beliefs, concepts and ideas. It is sometimes a painful process, depending on how attached I am to my ideas and how much my sense of security is linked to them.
I have come to trust this clarification process by seeing the changes I’ve been able to make and the growth which has come from this. I have a stronger sense of who I am and where I stand. I have been given the tools and practices to support myself when I come face-to-face with a place where I am unaware— where I need to go back to the foundation and bring in the light of awareness.
Being in the Divine Mother prayer room today, I remember how it came from a place of vision and involved going back to the original log structure as a container for this vision.
For many years Swami Radha spoke about a ‘little temple in the woods, dedicated to Divine Mother.” After she died, we followed through with finding a place at the Ashram and creating the ‘little temple in the woods.”
I was involved with this project and asked to oversee it. I didn’t know how to begin, had no idea of where to start. When a friend suggested just taking a crowbar to the site, I saw I could begin with removing the old carpet. Taking this step revealed not only the original wood flooring underneath but also a next step I began working with a group of younger women, taking apart the walls and ceiling. Removing a ceiling tile one day, some pages from a book began floating down. It turned out to be a chapter from the original Divine Light Invocation book.
Reading the words reminded me that ideas and beliefs fired in the ‘kiln’ of emotions can become as hard as rocks. It also reminded me that a practice like the Divine Light Invocation gives me back the power of choice—the choice of where to direct my energy.
Building on Positive Experiences
For months now I have been involved with applying for government funding to hire a carpentry apprentice. At the beginning I was reluctant —actually resistant— to getting involved with this. Old ideas, concepts, feelings and insecurities were coming up.
Part of this reluctance was about entering a system which can often be difficult to navigate, time consuming and frustrating at times – with the ‘occupational or job-related hierarchies’ that Isabel Wilkerson speaks of. Entering into a traditionally male dominated construction industry felt intimidating.
I stayed present with what was coming up and then updated where I’m at now. I’ve actually had very positive experiences of applying for and receiving government grants for youth employment—learning how the system works through the support of women working for government. These grants have allowed young people, mostly young women, to receive training, skills and work experience while being in the Ashram environment. It has been a positive experience for everyone involved.
I also remembered the fact that I have building and renovation experience of my own to draw on. Being involved with building and renovating has not only given me practical experience —its symbols and metaphors have also been a rich resource for navigating change in my life.
Women Supporting Women
Tapping into these experiences and remembering the purpose of applying for the carpentry apprentice funding in the first place helped my resistance drop away. We want to support a young woman, connected to the Ashram, who is currently in her first year carpentry program at the local college. She had approached us to explore doing her apprenticeship with an Ashram resident who has a wealth of carpentry experience.
As we entered into applying for the funding and into the construction industry landscape, it was like learning a new language—with its many acronyms designating the many different departments of the system we’d have to navigate.
We were told that while the Ashram is not the ‘typical construction-related company’ the industry serves—we are a yoga retreat and study centre—they could see the value in helping us access eligible incentive funding.
Surprisingly, there were offers of help and encouragement coming from within the system itself—from college instructors and from the specialists helping us navigate the system. It seemed they were open to thinking ‘outside the box.”
Through an incredible team effort and everyone working together, the funding has been approved. At each step of the way it has been women within the construction industry helping us with these steps. Women supporting women, who have been not only helpful, but also encouraging throughout. There is a feeling of excitement being conveyed about what we are doing.
A Wave of Change
While all this has been happening, I’ve been aware of something at work underneath, moving everything along. Hearing from the women working in the construction industry that they have never seen an application move through the system so quickly has also seemed an affirmation of this power at work. There is a sense of catching a wave of change at just the right moment.
Does this wave reflect doors opening for women in places that have traditionally not been open for them to pass through before? Is it also empowered by a feminine force in creation that wants to help inner and outer worlds come back into balance?
Being in the Divine Mother room as I reflect about what’s been happening, surrounded by all these symbols of the Divine feminine, I begin to understand that Her message is about working together. It’s a way that recognizes the gifts each of us brings, focusing on the places of connection, seeing the inner spark of goodness in each other. It is a way of listening that means being present, letting the heart speak. It means doing my part, being willing to enter into the difficult places and going past resistance when it comes up. It means going through the open doors to meet in the Heart, a place of Light.
When I think of my own life’s journey and where it’s brought me to this point in time, I see that I do have something to offer back to life—the knowledge I’ve gained through my practice of yoga and through integrating this knowledge into my daily life. In other words—deconstructing and rebuilding both my inner and outer worlds.
I am blessed to be part of a lineage of women carrying on the work of Swami Radha—through the teachings, through supporting both women and men in their spiritual evolution and through helping to keep the Ashram as a sacred vibrant place on our earth.
By Swami Satyananda/ Original Artwork by Noemie Derungs