I was ill for much of January, brought to my knees by the flu. Confined to bed and couch, the key word was surrender. Each time I tried to go vertical before horizontal was done with me, I found myself crashing back down. Which had me thinking a lot about the Sumerian myth of Inanna’s Descent. In this story, Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth must descend to the Underworld realm of her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dark Below. If you know the story, you’ll remember Inanna must pass through seven gates, surrendering an article of clothing at each one. So she arrives in the Underworld, “naked and bowed low.” Inanna’s chief hindrance is pride. Within moments of coming into Ereshkigal’s presence, she insults her, and ends up hanging on a meat hook for three days. A rather drastic purification, but this is the Dark Below. No sugarcoating of Reality down here…
Which is pretty much how I felt during the worst days of the flu. Illness does this, stripping us down to bare essence.
Descents can be physically devastating and emotionally brutal. So we need to learn to honor our descent time, holding onto awareness as we make the journey down. Counter-intuitive though it sounds, the more we embrace descent, surrendering to the fertile darkness, the more we return from the journey, renewed, refreshed, and inspired. In Devi Yoga, we call this process The Kali Work.
Here’s a dharma talk, inspired by the notion of descent, from January 1.28.13. I was somewhere between the under and above worlds when I gave this talk. Feeling well enough to teach class, I was far from recovered. This is therefore not the most coherent talk I’ve ever given, but the points are worth making. I’ll also include chanting clips and text from the excerpt I read from Stephen Mitchell’s excellent translation of Bhagavad Gita.
Here’s an audio clip of my dharma talk:
This class opened with chanting of the Navarna mantra. Regular visitors to this Blog will by now have discerned that this mantra is a regular part of our practice. Although the seed syllables are associated with other deity fields, the heart of the mantra, Chamunda, is an extremely potent aspect — perhaps the most potent aspect — of the deity field personified in the Indian tradition as Kali Ma. The Sumerians drew her as Ereshkigal. It really doesn’t matter how we name or image the archetype. And much as I love goddess theology, to reduce it to goddess form is like playing with dolls. This is the primal power of Truth, the internal force that pulsates around and through our authenticity. This is the power of consciousness that destroys the ties that bind us, demolishing thieves of the heart, and drawing us down, into the luminous vortex of Self. So we don’t want to contemplate Descent without paying homage to this radiant force…
Here’s text from Stephen Mitchell’s beautiful translation and commentary on Bhagavad Gita:
from Chapter 2: The Practice of Yoga
THE BLESSED LORD SPOKE
When a man gives up all desires
that emerge from the mind, and rests
contented in the Self by the Self,
he is called a man of firm wisdom.
He whose mind is untroubled
by any misfortune, whose craving
for pleasures has disappeared,
who is free from greed, fear, anger,
who is unattached to all things,
who neither grieves nor rejoices
if good or bad things happen —
that man is a man of firm wisdom.