May 8, 2012

Activate Your Shakti—This Mothers’ Day.

image, courtesy of Bhakti Festivals

Warning: Don’t ask your Doctor if it’s right for you!

On this Mother’s Day, I think about my own 96 year old mother. What would she say if I told her I want to attend a Spiritual Woodstock in Joshua Tree, California called the Shakti Fest? When she was a housewife in suburban Minneapolis, and I was climbing trees in the back yard, or fascinated by salamanders in our window wells, or more often racing off for a little league game, we didn’t exactly talk about this sort of thing. Spirituality wasn’t a topic of discussion.

I’m quite certain my Mom doesn’t know exactly who I am these days, much less what a Shakti Fest might be. If she knew my attendance was honoring the Divine Feminine Principle, I know she’d be proud of my choice to respect the path of unconditional love and compassion.

I’m also reflecting upon—truthfully, I’m close to obsessing about—how our consumption driven culture, outrageously apathetic toward the never ending “war on terror,” has conveniently forgotten that Mother’s Day was birthed by virtue of a proclamation decrying the carnage of war. Yes, Mother’s Day was the result of activism, imagine that— a public pronouncement by a courageous woman, disturbed by the senseless violence of war.

Here’s an excerpt from Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 eloquent appeal to create a Shakti Sisterhood (my interpretation) to establish a congress of women for action:

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”

I’ll arrange another time to visit my Mom—after all, she delivered me into this world, and that’s the least I can do to thank her for the gift of life. Honoring divine feminine power seems to me to be the perfect expression of gratitude on this mother’s day weekend. What better way to honor the bringers of life than to celebrate with yoga, chanting and joyful music? If you can’t join the festivities in Joshua Tree, go ahead sing and dance, preferably outside in Nature, with reverence in your heart.

Image, courtesy of Bhakti Fest

I admit it, it took me a while to sort out the distinctions between Bhakti and Shakti, not to mention all the manifestations of various beings and deities embodying the primordial creative energy that permeates the universe.

Let’s start at the beginning… I’ll do my best to provide adepts and beginners alike a simple refresher. Shakti comes from the Sanskrit—direct translation: “to be able.” Imagine you had the ability to activate the sacred force of primordial cosmic energy. An awesome responsibility, for sure. Shakti refers to this powerful life force energy that moves through the entire universe, most often manifesting through the Great Goddess (Maha Devi). The various deities embodying Shakti energy are masters of form gifted with the ability to create and destroy the universe with one glance.

A companion energetic quality to Shakti is Bhakti…most simply stated Bhakti encompasses the choice to step onto a devotional path of love honoring the divine feminine. It is from this vibrational intention that Sridhar Silberfein decided to found and produce Bhakti Fests:

“Many of us who are on the transformative path are longing for a deeper connection to Mother Earth and the divine feminine that resides in every one of us, both man and woman. This Mother’s Day weekend we will honor this concept at Shakti Fest through music, chanting and yoga.  Celebrating in community raises the opportunity for bringing forth our own higher creative potentials in order to support us in making our greatest contributions to the world.” 

A special feature at Joshua Tree is a premier screening of a brand new movie, “Women of Bhakti” exploring a tradition that began over 1000 years ago. According to the film producers:

“The path of divine love became the Bhakti Movement which transformed medieval India. This revolutionary movement brought women to the forefront because they embodied the essence of selfless love to the divine. These luminary saints guided the way for future women of Bhakti.”

The movie’s mission is to “Bring Heart, Action, Kirtan and Truth into the world.”

With such powerful lineages and so many Goddesses and Gods (Devasmore vocabulary to memorize) protecting and awakening us, you’d think we would have achieved a contented, reverent, joyful and peaceful civilization by now. It is clear our modern world is falling far short of what we know is possible; all the more reason to press the pause button on our work-a-day existence to celebrate this gift of human life!

It is helpful to remember that both men and women embody the feminine essence and energy of Shakti as the ultimate power behind all creation. Although originating within Hinduism, it is appropriate to realize that all the Tara’s of Buddhism also represent this divine feminine energy. Many lineages and traditions share profound respect for the feminine. The ancient Bonpo tradition honors Sipe Gyalmo—considered the mother of all seen and unseen realms throughout timeless spaciousness.

She cares for and protects the universe with a gentle, nurturing heart. As a wrathful protector deity, her purpose is to assist all sentient beings by transmuting negative energies, thus healing emotional afflictions with wisdom and compassion. Her three faces represent, the Father (white), Mother (red) and Omnipresence (indigo). If you would like to see an image of her, click here. Imagine an equally fierce, intimidating and provocative Bonpo version of Kali embodying unique, yet similar qualities.

Image of Kali Ma - Flickr Commons

To the average mortal like me, these deities can be terrifying (if you’re an honest man, you’ll agree that feminine power in it’s wrathful expression has no equal). As one who unwittingly received a direct transmission from Kali at the Dakshinkali Temple, not far from Kathmandu in Chobhar gorge, I can assure you, it was simultaneously cleansing, healing, purifying and profoundly terrifying. This experience gave the Taoist admonition to “seek the valley” an entirely new meaning.

Here’s my recommendation—surrender to the mystery, drop all your fears, set aside your worries about your life circumstances and join in the celebration of the Divine Feminine. Choose to sing, dance, meditate, do yoga—anything—as an offering of your devotion to the creative energy of the universe.

As many of my faithful readers know, I often offer a song to balance my earnest tone (I’m really doing my best to lighten-up). This YouTube clip is a a heart felt version of the Tara Mantra as a gentle way to get into the mood for peace, healing and celebration at the Shakti Fest Kirtans. Try it you’ll like it.

Tara is the embodiment of the perfected feminine essence. She is the Mother of Compassion, Mercy and Forgiveness. Chanting Sacred Mantras unto her with sincere love and devotion will allow her essence to grow within, and nurture you.



To experience a little more of the contemplative musical flavor from previous festivals, here’s a short clip of a sunrise performance for your enjoyment. For those of you who know, traditional Kirtan mantras gradually intensify to a delightful frenzy of high energy.


If you have a most excellent excuse for why you can’t attend the Shakti Fest on short notice, please stay tuned. I’ll let you know about another opportunity or two this summer and fall. It’s your choice to deepen your devotion to a path of joyful celebration. Let your chanting begin, you’ll be glad you did.

Onward With Courage

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Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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