May 4, 2013

Dhumavati: Goddess of the DIY Retreat.

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Somewhere between the head cold, the tax-paying, and the sick dog, I flat out lost my shit. I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the elderly woman in front of me to compile her vast, disorganized stack of coupons. She rifled through her purse and her pockets and pulled out old gum wrappers and receipts.

Sorry this is taking so long, she turned back to me. I just need to find those cat food coupons.

I looked at the conveyor belt, which was filled with about 20 or so cans of Fancy Feast.

It’s just, I only have a few things, I said, pointing to my basket, and I’m in a big hurry.

I’m so sorry, she said. Really, so sorry.

Whatever. I turned around, knocked over a stack of Us Weeklys, left it for some employee to clean up, and went to the self-checkout line.

Now this isn’t a classic, textbook case of losing one’s shit. I didn’t shoot up said grocery store or run naked through the produce section with a sprig of cilantro tucked indiscreetly in the crack of my ass. I was, simply, rude and impatient. I could have easily forgotten this moment by the time I got to my car in the parking lot, where I could lose myself in the four dollar chocolate bar I’d just purchased.

But I was beginning a yogic retreat—a DIY affair that involves lots of Ayurveda face masks, ginger teas, gong CDs and Sally Kempton podcasts. I wanted to go to Esalen or Kripalu, to Costa Rica or Sedona. I wanted to be in a lantern-lit tent beneath the moonlight with only the soft rustle of nature and the rippling melody of wind chimes for a soundtrack. I’d felt the need to escape and re-energize for at least a year.

So, I stopped wanting to; I stopped comparing my bank statements to plane fares on Travelocity, stopped eyeing my iCalendar and checking my inbox. This, I pronounced as I put cucumbers over my eyelids, is my goddess retreat.

Let the relaxation begin.

I ushered in a new age of self-actualization and meditative focus that lasted for, all told, about 15 whole minutes. The dog was scratching on the back door, the cellphone was ringing, and the neighbor had decided that today was the perfect time to chainsaw that tree in his backyard. The cucumbers came off and the cursing began.

The retreat remained foul-mouthed and funk-minded for the next few days as I fought for equilibrium. Each day, I attempted to meditate upon one chapter of Sally Kempton’s book, Awakening Shakti:The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. In this amazing book, Kempton highlights a host of Hindu goddesses, one for each chapter. She also provides writing and meditation exercises that allow the reader to commune with these divine feminine figures.

I was having a lot of trouble communing, though. I wasn’t feeling the warrior energy of Durga or the transformative wrath of Kali. I couldn’t muster the creative energy to add turmeric to my detox soup, much less summon the artistic awakenings of the goddess Saraswati. And forget Sita, the goddess of selfless love. I’d been giving all my life.

Giving. Giving. Giving. When am I going to get mine?

Yes, my meditations upon the goddesses left me feeling bitter that I couldn’t afford that Esalan retreat. Bitter that I never seemed to have enough time or money or accomplishments. I found myself feeling absolutely un-Goddess-like—an outsider of grace, a painfully human woman with wrinkles and flabby, fishbelly white thighs who can’t afford a fancy spiritual journey. Where’s my guru and my expertly-prepared vegan supper? Why must I cut these darn cucumbers myself?

It was at this point in my deeply spiritual produce-chopping rants that I got the chapter on Dhumavati, the goddess of disappointment. Yes, Virginia, there is a goddess for everything. For those who can’t surrender to beauty or ecstasy, for those who find themselves alone and heavy with failure and fear, for those who look in the mirror and think damn, I’ve really let myself go, there is Dhumavati.

Kempton describes her as the crone Goddess, an grey, aged woman—a widow with only a black crow as a her consort. She sits atop a chariot without horses, a symbolic image that communicates her immovability, her stasis. In Hindu mythology, she is often seen as a menacing figure whose presence can render a woman unmarryable and childless—a dried up well in every creative sense.

I had found the perfect goddess for my retreat: the un-Goddess.

For as much as I wanted to align myself with Lakshmi’s abundance, it was Dhumavati that crept up beside me in my meditations. When the cellphone rang and ended my bound baddha konasana savasana, she was there. When the furnace repair man spilled hundreds of gallons of fuel oil underneath my house so that everything smelled like a Shell station, she was there. When my empty bank account kept me moored like a chariot without a horse, she was there.

I encouraged (by screaming and wailing) this croan to go somewhere else, but her very nature prevented her from doing so. I spent several more days trying to meditate and sweat her out to no avail. She was wily and very determined, and I found, in front of me in the checkout line of the grocery store with all those cartons of Fancy Feast.

That moment that I’d hoped to erase with chocolate came back to me during my meditations on Dhumavati. This woman with her coupons had sparked some kind of irrational hatred and irritation in me that I didn’t, at the moment, understand. Though it seems obvious now, it was her elderly befuddlement, her lack of grace, her linty pockets, and her shame-faced penny-pinching. She was, to me, symbolic of everything I fear at this point in my life.

The crazy cat lady. The spinster. The woman bringing everything to a full stop.

Somewhere within this DIY retreat, I had to face my fear of the Y part—the yourself. The me. This is why, perhaps, I hadn’t been given a divine opportunity to escape to the land of lotus meditation rooms and massages. What had been building up for the last year was an overwhelming feeling that time was running out for me, that my hopes of publishing a book and traveling the world, of accomplishment and contentment, were beyond my reach. It obviously seems a bit dramatic to think this way at 34, but self-delusion has no age limit. This ride has no age requirement.

Dhumavati forced me to face my fear of stagnation, of not moving into grace on my own very strict and idealistic schedule. A schedule that has been disappointing and humbling.

There are times to bury yourself in beauty—to let the soft belly of the universe nurture you. There are other times when you are pushed out of the womb against your will. When you must, for your own good, be an unprotected pile of nerve endings crawling alone along the path. You must take a wrong turn or twist your ankle or find yourself unable to pay the toll to the other side.

This is, simply, my time to DIY.

I’m so thankful to find that there’s a goddess along the path with me.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise


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