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April 22, 2016

A Goddess’s Guide to Slaying Demons.

goddess durga, hindu

Author’s note: This is a light-hearted take on what can often be a serious issue or combination of issues. The process of self-help and healing isn’t easy or quick. Seeking professional help when needed can be beneficial and sometimes necessary. This story brings some light and lightness into the shadowy areas of life that too often don’t get talked about. If you are struggling with any issues and can’t see a way out, please seek professional help.

 

Let me tell you a story of Durga, the Hindu Goddess who slays demons.

There was a demon in the world called Mahishasura who was unable to be defeated by any God, man or animal, thanks to a boon (special power or blessing) granted to him by the God Brahma and a boon granted to his father by the God Agni. With this power, he declared war on the world and even defeated Indra, the God of the Heavens.

Panicked and defeated, the Gods Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu realized there was one way to defeat this demon.

He may be invincible to God and man, but he could be defeated by a woman.

And so in a flash of light, Devi Durga was created. She was gifted many weapons by the Gods, including a trident by Shiva and a lion by the Lord of the Himalayas. Riding her lion, she advanced on Mahishasura and fought him in a battle that lasted nine days, and on the tenth day she defeated him and his demon army. Devi Durga became the Mother Goddess, who protects us and helps us fight all our demons.

Not only is it pretty bad ass that the only being capable of slaying an invincible demon is a ferocious yet feminine Goddess, this story gives us a big hint of what life might sometimes demand of us––that there are going to be demons, and we’re going to need to slay them.

Life is composed of light and dark, of taking it easy, then working hard. For every Goddess Laxmi, who is gentle, beautiful and brings an abundance of love, family and prosperity; there is a blue-skinned Kali with her belt of severed heads, dancing on the dead body of Shiva. We contain both aspects.

I spent forty days dedicating myself to the Goddess Durga, chanting her mantra and requesting her help—and boy, did I get what I asked for. With the guidance of my teacher, I navigated the process of slaying some of my demons.

Here’s what I learned in the process, from Mother Devi Durga.

Before your demons can be defeated, first you must dig them up.

I embarked on the forty day dedication to Durga thinking it might help me defeat one little demon at the top of my mind. Let’s say it was my addiction to cheese and that I simply wanted the strength to say no to the cheese board and fit back into my size whatever jeans, and overcome this minor binge-exercise-repeat cycle. Durga will help you defeat your demons, but she also won’t take any bullshit. Cheese was a superficial demon that covered a much, much deeper rooted issue around self-image, self-worth, self-love, body/eating issues, and my relationship with food and exercise.

In the process of digging down to find a root cause for a surface level issue, you might dig up far more than you bargained for. But this part of the process is crucial.

You can’t defeat a demon until you’ve looked it square in the eyes, and if you simply kill off the surface layer issues that sprout from the deeply embedded one, you’ll never remove the root cause.

Be prepared to get to know yourself, your deepest fears and deepest wishes, your scariest demons, and face them square on with honesty. Durga will help you overcome suffering, but first the suffering might intensify as you get really honest.

We aren’t defenseless in fighting our battles.

Just like Durga’s trident, bow and arrow, conch shell and lion (amongst other badass weapons), you must gather your weapons and army. Don’t go into this empty handed.

If you’re going through a process of sorting out your issues, you might want to bolster yourself with more self-care. Eat real food, get good sleep, exercise, cut out caffeine and alcohol (which increase anxiety and depressive thoughts) and include more yin yoga in your routine. Take more nights in to yourself, reorganize your work and social calendar to avoid burn out.

Seek support systems.

If you have a close friend, you could let them know some of what’s going on. Fighting a battle alone makes it so much harder. Knowing that you have the support of those close to you can really help boost your strength and inner resources. And consider seeking professional support. There are many types of therapy these days, and even if you tried one system or therapist that didn’t quite fit, keep researching till you find someone or some method that could work for you. Pimp up your artillery and flesh out your support systems.

If you want something done, you need to do it yourself.

This being said, you are the only one who ultimately can do the hard work. Your friends and family will offer support, a shoulder to cry on, or company when you need some light relief and distraction, and they’ll always have your back; but they or a therapist can’t do the hard work for you.

You need to own whatever demons you’ve dug up and put in the work.

One hour a week in a therapists’ office isn’t enough. It’s the work you do every day in between that counts. Whether it is keeping a journal or identifying key habitual behaviors that reinforce a negative thought pattern and putting conscious energy into changing these habits and behaviors. There will be work to do and you’re the only one that can do it. You can gather support around you, but you also can’t expect anyone else to do the work for you (or blame anyone else when the work isn’t getting done).

You won’t know your own strength until it’s called upon.

The reason most demons get left alone is that we believe we are not strong enough to fight them, let alone win. We see the issue as bigger and stronger than the good parts of us, the parts that want to heal. But that just isn’t true. Part of the demon’s tactic is to make you think you’re not strong enough to win. But trust me, you are. And once you begin, you’ll find a deeper reserve of strength and courage––as well as the need to win and survive–– than you ever thought possible.

Any journey without adversity is just a walk in the park.
Another reason why most demons go left festering and undefeated is that fighting them is really hard work. Everything listed above is easy to write and read, but so much harder to do.

Who wants to get out that shovel and start digging up those demons? And once you’ve looked them square in the eye, who wouldn’t have the panicked urge to bury them deep down again? Or not try to blame other people for them?

And how about actually fighting them? Why can’t someone else do this for us? We’re paying our therapist enough; surely they are responsible for making them go away––*poof*–– in a cloud of rainbow colored smoke? It feels like way too much hard work so maybe its best I put this big, bad demon under my “long term to do list” and go back to eating cheese and watching Netflix with my cat for just one more night?

Yeah, that is most people’s default (or something like that). Demons are ugly, they’re scary, they’re strong and seem very powerful and hard to defeat. We’ve all been like Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma in this story, apparently defeated and unable to figure out a way to win. But we can all be Durga too.

The old saying goes “suffering leads to liberation”. All good books, movies and legends contain a story of a hero battling a hard struggle, sometimes a literal demon or dragon, and the battle and victory leads to a character’s development. Without the parts of our lives that suck and require weeks or months of knuckling down and doing the work, our life would just be a walk in the park. That sounds fine, but doesn’t that sound a little dull and superficial and not really real? By tackling our demons head on, we’re going to need to dig down in our inner resources, develop parts of ourselves further and discover strengths we didn’t know we had. Once we come out victorious we most likely will have changed for the better.

You will become the hero of your own story, and start to see other people as the hero of theirs. It’s like an automatic process that by overcoming an internal demon, our self-esteem, self-worth and ability to give ourselves love grows and deepens. By being our own hero, our neediness for others based on a sense of “I’m not good enough” is replaced with a strong sense of “I am strong, and worthy of my own love and the love of others”. As a result, we begin to conduct ourselves differently.

We might discover a new ability to remain calm under stressful situations, or that we no longer react to others’ dramas and provocations. Where once we reacted, now we stop, think then act. Or we might now be able to say “no’” to the cheese board and listen to the part of us that says we’re full and satisfied. The process of fighting a battle inherently teaches us new skills and unearths new allies as well as the demons we slay.

And something else might have blossomed inside: patience and empathy for others. You might begin to see the good in people where previously there had been a tendency to criticism or jealousy. Because in slaying our own demons, we now realize that everyone is fighting their own battles, and we know how tough that can be. So we tend to kindness over impatience, and empathy over judgement. We might even become the support system for someone else as they go through their own personal battle.

Did Durga reprimand the Gods for allowing a demon loose on the world, or did she simply smile and offer them more endless love, patience and protection? Just as Durga did, we too can be both fiercely strong and gently forgiving when needed.

More demons might arise later but once you’ve defeated one you know you have the strength to defeat them all. The process of digging up, choosing to fight, and defeating your demons makes you strong. The first time around you have no idea whether you’ll manage or not, and it can be tempting to want to retreat, throw in the towel and push them back down.

The first battle is the hardest but once its won the next challenge won’t be as hard. You’ve got experience of this, and you know you came out victorious last time. That thought alone is enough light to get us through the darkest times.

And remember, you’ve got Durga on your side.
 
 

Relephant:

A Little Navaratri Story

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Author: Jenny Rose Lovatt

Assistant Editor: Tammy Novak, Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Srijan Kundu/Flickr.com

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Jenny Rose Lovatt