A few years back, I was amidst the internal struggle of a successful career that no longer served me, working in the glitz and glamour of the yachting industry. I was lucky enough to travel all over, and cooked for some of the world’s richest people, yet I found myself constantly yearning instead for inner riches; the peace and tranquility of the spiritual journey and a fulfilling life. This is when I met Durga.
Durga is the goddess of protection and inner strength; she guides our journey with the force of spiritual awakening, allowing us the strength to face our challenges and fears, as well as the darkness of our own shadowy motives. Durga allowed me to see that all the success I had had was built by my ego, and that it was time to begin to let go of the idea of success, the mythical mountain that loomed in the distance, only growing larger in the background of my imagination.
Around the time of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, Durga threw me into a spiral of synchronistic events, where, with a broken heart and full bank account, I found myself without work, and ready to finally travel on my own agenda; to search for myself once again, and open up to the world of new possibilities and diverse experiences. This journey eventually led me to Central America and the small village of San Marcos la Laguna, in the majestic scenery of the Guatemalan highlands which would soon become my home.
With the strong mountain air blowing across the tranquil scene of Lake Atitlán, I found myself unfolding on a daily basis to new ideas and concepts of conscious living. I peeled away layers of who I perceived myself to be; working for a small arts education project, La Cambalacha with local indigenous kids, who challenged me constantly to strip back layer upon layer of my constructed self. I found myself singing, laughing and dancing with the local kids each day, learning the guitar, playing games and so many things I had not allowed myself to experience in so many years.
Living and working in this community gave me a renewed sense of vigor, it was my first experience of cooking for a conscious community, the people running the project gave entirely of themselves without the need for a salary, or recognition; all their efforts each day were for the benefits of the local kids and not for themselves. This was the ultimate inspiration I needed to make some serious changes in my life. I found myself cooking with love again, cooking with food fresh from the garden and I discovered the missing link during all my years of cheffing had been this disassociation with our food and where it came from. I now began creating true connection and honoring the abundance of our beautiful mother Earth each day as I went about harvesting and preparing meals for new loved ones.
I found myself unfolding a new fascination with the natural world and the words sustainability and conscious living swirled around the depths of my mind on a daily basis within this sub-tropical paradise.. The goddess would come to me with visions of a new world order, peaceful and simple living, connection within nature, abundance of local organic produce, and the balanced life of daily spiritual practice. I discovered the principles of Permaculture and finally found what I had been searching for; all of these concepts I had been feeling deep within me began to materialize in what I recognized was the outer manifestation of the inner balance I had been experiencing through my yoga and spiritual practices.
Durga is a powerful force; both a mother goddess and a warrior goddess, she is a world protector, who offers us fierce motherly love. As my visions of deep green yoga became clearer, I understood that all of the goddess are in fact present within each of us. Within me, she manifested as a need to create a new paradigm, to offer to the world a place for growth and transformation and a space to connect to Spirit and the concepts of conscious living. The recognition of the essence of Durga within me began the unfolding of the development of The Yoga Forest, a Conscious Living Retreat and Transformational Learning Center high up in the valley of San Marcos la Laguna, looking out over Lake Atitlán and its surrounding volcanoes. This unique place is an expression of the goddess in all her forms, of Maha Shakti, the divine feminine principle itself, and the essence of Durga is carried in the looming cliffs above and below us, offering us protection and sanctuary in the epic mountain landscape that surrounds us.
Durga as part of the personality manifests as warrior style leadership. She is a guardian; beautiful, queenly and fierce. Traditionally Durga was often called upon to protect kingdoms and inspire great warriors the will to enter into battle, as well as being called upon to help restore the balance in the world. I now find myself following her graces; offering strong leadership (often maybe too fierce) within community and support and encourage to students and seekers as they enter into battle with the depths of their own consciousness.
Durga is depicted usually in a red sari, with bangles, a necklace and crown, the image of fierce beauty with long flowing hair, often riding a lion. The warrior aspect of Durga is shown in her eight arms bristling with weapons; she carries a spear, a mace, a discus, a bow and a sword, as well as a conch (representing creative sound), a lotus (symbolising fertility) and a rosary (representing prayer). As a world protector, her fierceness arises out of her uniquely potent compassion; she is the deity to call upon when you are in deep trouble.
As the most popular goddess in India, Durga is a figure of contemporary feminine power and strength, she has become an icon for the younger generation seeking to move beyond the constrictions of caste and generations of cultural conditioning. There are many temples for Durga and shrines, altars or pictures of the goddess are common within most households.
I feel the essence of Durga all around us here in the western highlands of Guatemala; in the mountains, the strong winds and storms, my unbreakable willpower, the courage to create my own destiny and the inner strength to go on even when times are tough. We can all call upon Durga when we need the strength to meet challenges, to get the work done, to stand up for what we believe in and protect the world and those most dear to us, she is truly a power to be reckoned with.
Durga has a bija mantra or seed syllable, Dum, which represents her particular energy. Repeating this, or her invocational mantra, Om Dum Durgayei Namaha, allows us to invoke her essence until we feel her power. Repeating this mantra 108 times as a japa mala practice is a powerful way to connect with and call in her energy, and is one of my favorite forms of meditation.
There are countless chants and bhajans for Durga, and they will often be combined with the names of other mother goddesses, Kali and Parvati. Both Durga and Kali are the fiercer incarnations of Parvati, the consorts of Shiva when he is depicted as the Destroyer, and they embody the dissolution process of the universe so that we may clear the way to open up to our own spiritual transformation and the evolution of our consciousness. The protective motherly energy of Durga offers us loving guidance and unconditional love, the kind of love that enables us to act, to find strength when we need it, and use this love as the fuel for our search for Truth.
May Durga guide your way with inner strength and courage along your path.
Saraswati Hayley Tennyson
The Yoga Forest