Stories can be catalysts for awakening. They can shake up our habitual ways of seeing and inspire us to cultivate a deeper, truer relationship with Life. As a storyteller I know this, but it was just a few years ago that my intellectual understanding gave way to a deeply embodied experience of this truth…
It was 2008 and I was struggling. My marriage was ending and I’d taken a sharp turn in my professional life, steering it into an intimidating unknown. For years I’d been so focused on my marriage and career that I hadn’t cultivated much in the way of community support. My spiritual practice had dwindled. I was hungry for both comfort and wisdom, hoping for inspiration to help make sense of my journey thus far and illuminate the path ahead of me.
I yearned for a deep story to transcend linear time and illuminate universal truths—a story to sooth my soul. But as I sifted through mythological tales of gods and humans, none offered me the salve I was seeking.
After some months of fruitless searching, it dawned on me: I was being called to trust my own intuition, open to my own insights, access my own wisdom.
Ironically, I couldn’t see that this new realization of mine can be found at the heart of every hero’s journey. I simply did not recognize myself under the patriarchal cloak of those mythic tales. But I did trust the rightness of my new insight and gave up my search for a story…or a teacher…or a system to make sense of my journey.
My mission was now clear. Of course I would falter and flail, but I would keep returning to a deep place within myself. I would practice listening for and trusting my internal guidance.
Although I continued to value outside input, my relationship with external feedback began to shift. More and more I could see people and circumstances around me as vital mirrors, showing me what I cannot yet see on my own—rather than authorities from which I need to seek permission or approval, and inevitably rebel.
It was a spring day a few years later when, quite unexpectedly, a new book found me. Sally Kempton’s Awakening Shakti simply showed up. I sensed it was significant for me, but didn’t immediately understand why…
Shakti, the Sanskrit word for power, points to the Feminine principle of divine energy. Right. Feminine power. Of course there is power in both the feminine and masculine principles that animate each and every one of us, but it’s masculine power that is most recognized and valued in our culture. And wanting to be recognized and valued (as most of us do), it was my masculine power that I’d learned to prioritize.
In a flash I recognized that “awakening Shakti” was precisely what I was doing now. I was learning to be more deeply embodied. I was exploring and refining the receptive, intuitive, sensory aspects of being. I was learning to value, to access and reveal my feminine power.
What I hadn’t discovered in those Western myths of heroes lost and found was the sacred Feminine. The arrival of Kempton’s book was Life’s invitation to claim Shakti and hold her close.
Through a mystical, Tantric lens, Kempton illuminates the divine Feminine threaded through ancient Vedic mythology. I devoured every colorful story and decided to take the book with me on an upcoming personal retreat.
My plan: spend a couple weeks of quality time with the eleven profiled goddesses—each a distinct expressions of Shakti.
I didn’t know where the exploration might take me. My goal was simply to get out of my head and into my body—to actually feel the qualities of these sacred personas.
Each day of my retreat I’d select a different goddess and set the intention to invoke her Shakti through an array of improvised practices—some inspired by Kempton’s suggestions, others emerging from my internal guidance.
Typically I’d start by building a soundtrack. Using Spotify, I’d search the name of that day’s goddess and assemble a playlist. Then light candles and incense and return to Kempton’s book.
When I found passages that seemed to express the essence of that goddess, I’d grab my iPhone and spontaneously record what would become my guided meditation for the day.
My senses stimulated by the fragrance of sandalwood and music and the soft flicker of candlelight, I’d close my eyes and let my own recorded voice guide me into connection with the goddess. In time I would feel her whisper to me through mental images, physical sensations and an inexplicable knowing.
Often she would beckon me to write, dance, sing, cry, laugh, draw, pray. Often I was inspired to go for a walk with the goddess. I’d simply stroll the neighborhood with the goal of making myself available to her qualities of Shakti—both inside myself and in the environment around me.
On the day I explored the goddess Lakshmi—who personifies the glory and beauty in the natural world—I felt inspired to walk through the gardens bordering a zoo just blocks from where I was staying. When I happened upon friends who were there with their son, they smiled and pointed to yellow dust on my nose. Lakshmi had provoked me to inhale the fragrance of nearly every spring flower on the path!
But the glow of my pollen-laden nose was not the only radiance they mentioned. In their reflection I realized that I was actually embodying the qualities ascribed to Lakshmi. What was once a concept—just words on a page—was now something I experienced directly, inside my own body. And this embodiment was perceived by others. I had brought it to life!
Awakening Shakti was a catalyst for me to recognize and intensify my feminine power…through my senses. After I stopped seeking, and only when I was available to receive them, did these deep stories find me and help me see the next steps in my journey.
I wish you blessings on yours and would love to hear from you!
Image: Shakti by Vrindavan Das