Living A Spiritual Life In The Everyday World – A Kali Story
The Full Discussion
What does it mean to live a spiritual life? Do you have to give up all your possessions and live off in a cave? Can you live in the world, with bills, a family and responsibility, and still live a spiritual life? In this podcast, we dive into a story of the goddess Kali to learn about living a spiritual life while living fully in the world. Moving away from the idea that a spiritual life is the life of an ascetic or monk, we’ll explore a tradition that encourages us to live fully immerse into the ‘every day’ experience of life.
Welcome everyone to the Sivana podcast. I am Ashton Szabo, your host.
Today, we’re going to be exploring what it means to live a spiritual life, while still fully engaged in the world. Having spent a lot of time in and around conscious and spiritual communities, I’ve noticed a very unfortunate and disturbing trend of people over-rationalizing and disconnecting from their emotions and the human experience, and calling it “spiritual.”
When people are interacting and someone starts to express an emotion, or have a genuine human experience and feeling, it can often lead to someone telling them like,
“Oh well, you know, those are just your feelings or emotions. You need to be more spiritually evolved than that”.
Like somehow, having emotions or feelings is in some way non-spiritual. That spirituality is somehow something removed from the typical human experience. This is nothing new, and people have been pulling this line for seemingly as far back as we can find.
There have been people since the beginning of history that equate spirituality as something other than our typical human experience. Other plenty of people today, in traditions today, that unequivocally state that this life is in illusion. That to live a spiritual life means living beyond, somehow, this life. Living in some other realm of being that is unlike the human experience.
Take Patanjali for example, the author of the Yoga Sutras and his philosophy. He believes there are two essential things, Prakriti and Purusha.
Prakriti, matter, is an illusion; it doesn’t actually exist. Everything you’re experiencing in life right now is simply an illusion. It’s the play of Maya. Purusha, or spirit, is the true reality. Purusha is entirely separate from Prakriti. They are not the same, and they are not connected.
And the whole purpose of Raji Yoga then, is to overcome and transcend this illusory world of Prakriti, of matter, which is causing all of your suffering and realize the Purusha, spirit. But Purusha is an experience entirely unlikely the one that you have in your daily life. It’s beyond it all. So if you’re experiencing your body having a human experience, then you’re mired in illusion and you’ll suffer. So get over it and realize Purusha.
That type of thinking tends to be dominant in many yoga communities as well as many spiritual communities.
“Emotions are bad because they are part of your illusion, part of Maya. They are made up of this illusory stuff, Prakriti. To be spiritual is to overcome them, get past them, get rid of them. Get over to Purusha somewhere over there, some other place.”
Now, that might work very well on a monastic path. But it’s not something that works very well in the world, as it’s denying a fundamental side of our existence as human beings.
So then, how do we live what we could call a spiritual life while still engaged in our bodies, with life, with emotions?
In Classical Tantra and Shaivism, coming in offers a different perspective. Instead of Prakriti and Purusha, they might use terms like Shiva and Shakti, which in some ways can be equated to the masculine and feminine principles of the universe.
In this way, Shiva might relate to Purusha. Shiva is the beyond, the transcendent. He’s beyond the mind, beyond time and space. And Shakti could be related to Prakriti. It’s an energy to matter. But these traditions put quite a different spin on it. So what you’re experiencing in the world so says Tantra is real, unlike the traditions that says Prakriti is not actually real.
So Shakti, the Goddess, the feminine, is the dynamic active principle of Shiva. They are not separate; they are different sides of the same coin. So the illusion here is not then the experience, it’s not your thoughts, or your emotions per se. But rather, because you experience the world through your senses, you’ve forgotten your true nature, who you are. You start to identify with the objects of your limited senses. You identify with your limited experience, instead of the totality of who you really are.
And we have something called “mullahs.” Without getting into them too much in this podcast, we have these things that are basic false assumptions of who we are. Meaning, we think of ourselves as separate beings as short or tall or skinny or fat, as a good person or bad person, or as this or that. It’s these mullahs, as they’re called in Sanskrit. Impurities or wrong ideas of the self that actually cause our suffering.
So the illusion that it’s not the stuff, it’s not Prakriti, it’s not the Goddess, it’s your false assumptions of self. It’s your identification with the objects of your senses that is the true illusion. And there’s a great story that helps us explain this a little further and develop it in the context of living in the world fully and completely.
So once upon a time, there was a horrible demon in the world and it was said that only a woman could defeat this demon. This demon was terrorizing the world and all the lesser Gods.
You could kind of think of the lesser Gods as all the elements that guide the basic principles of nature and so forth.
So here is this demon terrorizing everyone. And so the sages and these gods travel to Mt. Kailash to the home of Shiva and Parvati, and Parvati is just another name for the Goddess Shakti. They plead with the divine couple to help them. So Parvati agrees to help, but she has a plan. To combat this powerful demon, she would need to ready herself. She has to undergo a transformation. So she pries open Shiva’s mouth and she leaps inside and dives into his throat.
Now, this perhaps will be a story for another time, but once Shiva swallowed this deadly poison that was threatening to destroy the world, and he kept it in his throat which then turned blue. This is actually why sometimes he was referred to as the blue throated one.
So Parvati jumps into his throat where this poison is, and she starts to drink it all in.
Now what is she doing?
She’s taking in that part of the world that people tend to consider toxic or bad. She’s taking in all the dark unconscious stuff. She’s taking in all the passion and emotions, all that stuff we’re told is not spiritual. But here she is drinking it all in.
So she continues to drink up all the poison and it transforms her. She leaps out of Shiva’s mouth, her skin is now black, her hair’s matted and in dreadlocks, and she has fiery red eyes with a blazing red third eye in the center of her forehead, and she has this long red tongue that just sticks out.
At this point she is now transformed into Kali. She is ferocious. From the sweet Parvati, to Kali. She’s ready to take on this horrible demon. So in a rage, she sets off to find and destroy this demon.
But truly she’s a little out of control. She’s taken in all of these emotions, all this passion, all this rage and she is in it. With all this fury and chaos, she easily overcomes the demon. She chops off his head. With her passion, she’s able to overcome this enormous obstacle. But she’s so immersed, so consumed by her emotion that she can’t stop.
She’s spinning wildly, she’s dancing and she’s destroying everything around her. She sets the earth on fire. Forests burned down around her and she’s creating chaos, destruction, everywhere she goes.
So the sages who are witnessing this happening, rush off to Mt. Kailash to inform Shiva about what’s going on. And Shiva hears what’s happening and he races after to find Kali, to find Shakti, his wife.
Shivah goes to Kali and he tries to reason with her. He’s like,
“Honey, I get that you’re really angry right now, but you’re kind of destroying the world. You know, you should really calm down”.
Now have you ever experienced this? Like you’ve tried to tell someone in a rage to calm down? Does it actually calm them down?
Hell no, it doesn’t come down. It usually makes them even more furious.
How about when someone is sad?
Is it helpful to tell someone who’s sad that they really shouldn’t be sad, that they should just be happy?
No, it doesn’t work. Life doesn’t work that way. When you’re engaging someone about their emotions, it doesn’t help to sit there and talk about their emotions like some separate entity. Like,
“Oh, don’t be angry right now. Oh, just calm down.” It doesn’t happen like that. You may have all the perspective in the world, because that’s a part what Shiva represents high on the mountain tops; perspective. But it doesn’t actually help, it doesn’t work to try to reason with emotions. There’s no should-ing, you can’t should your emotions away.
So just having perspective like, “Oh this anger is going to destroy this” and then trying to dialogue with it doesn’t actually work, it doesn’t help.
So what does Shiva have to do?
He has to dance with her. He’s got to dive into all the chaos too. He’s got to get in it, he’s got to be in it.
But what’s the difference?
What does he have to do specifically?
He has to bring his perspective, his insight, his reason into the dance.
So they both dance and it’s an utterly epic dance off. What starts to happen is that Shiva’s dance becomes so chaotic, so violent, that it cracks the very earth and shakes mountains It even knocks the planets off of their orbits.
Seeing the whole world being destroyed in front of her, Kali’s passion for the world, for life, for everything in it, her love, takes over. She realizes what’s happening.
When she realizes that, she stops her fury, she stops the rage, and becomes again the loving form of Parvati. And so of course the world rejoices butterflies and doves go flying out and everything falls back into order. Yey! Hurray!
So, what then is the story telling us?
What is it trying to communicate?
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It’s telling us that sitting on the sidelines, not getting your feet wet and trying to rationalize the world away, doesn’t work. Nor will it overcome the demons that destroy the world.
If Shiva himself could have destroyed the demon, he would have. But no, it was the Goddess that was needed and able to defeat the demon. This is something that happens in the dynamic experience of life. It’s through the battlefield of life, through our bodies, where we can overcome our demons, overcome the afflictions of the world.
Sitting up on the mountaintop won’t solve this. It’s to be in the world, you’ve got to be in it.
But if you’re in the world, what’s the big danger? The big danger is that you will lose yourself like Kali did. That you will get so intoxicated by your emotions and the experience of living, that you will forget yourself, that you will forget your origins, forget who you are. And sooner or later, you become that chaotic destructive force of the demon as well.
So how do we reconcile that?
By sitting down and having a conversation about it?
By rationalizing our emotions away?
No! We do it by bringing insight and perspective into our dance, into the world. You can’t have one without the other. Shiva without Shakti. Without both, the demons rule. You need both a Shiva and Shakti. And Shiva without Shakti is powerless. Shakti means power, energy. She is the power of Shiva, and Shakti without Shiva is just lost and chaotic.
So whether we’re having an inner dialogue with ourselves or an outer dialogue with another, we’re not going to get out of our illusion with dialogue, we’re not going to overcome any demon or find ourselves through this dialogue. We’ve got to get into it, we’ve got to get dirty, and we’ve got to be in it, be in life and embrace all of life.
Get into the experience of emotions and feelings and welcome it all. This is not sitting on the sidelines, removed from it all. But rather, about being fully immersed in it, immersed in the experience.
Now the question that is left, however, is how do we cultivate perspective, insight?
Is there a method to how we bring insight into the dance?
Well, that’s going to have to be a topic for another podcast. But for now, any time someone tries to tell you that emotions aren’t spiritual, or that you need to get over it, remember the story of Kali. Remember the importance of dancing in the world. Because to be spiritual, means to be in the world. We are Shakti. We are living in it here. It’s not about overcoming it and just staying off in that place of Shiva, staying up on the mountaintop. We have to come into the world itself.
But the world has its trappings. We can get lost, we can get confused, we can forget who we are. The idea is to meld these two together-the experience of insight and beyond, and the peace that comes from that-but that in of itself isn’t enough. We have to take that and bring it into the dance, bring it into the experience of living.
Yes, absolutely we need perspective, we need insight. That’s going to help us as we engage through and into the world. But it’s a harmonious experience, it’s a dance, it’s a togetherness, it’s a back and forth. It’s not an either/or, and that’s really what the spiritual life is about. It’s being in the world with that inside. Doesn’t really matter if you have the insight, if you’re off on the sidelines. Nor, if you’re just in the world and you don’t have that insight, is that going to be a pleasurable experience either? Not that it’s all about pleasure. But you’re going to suffer, you’re going to encounter your demons, you’re going to get lost, you’re going to create destruction and chaos.
So you need the two things as one. You need the insight to be able to go into the full experience of being human with all its very ranges of emotions and ups and downs. But it implies of course that you’re in the world, because we’re here to be in the world, not get past or get beyond it. It allows us this greater experience of self, through the self, into the self and everything in between.
So that’s all for today everybody. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s story and learned something new. Hope you’ll tune in again next time.
Thank you so much for listening.
I’m Ashton Szabo.
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