How I Met Kali: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Travel

Anyone who knows me or comes to my yoga classes knows I love the Hindu deities – the goddesses in particular. I meditate on the goddesses, study them, talk about them, and teach about them. All but one.  Kali.

Kali, although beautiful in her ferocity, has a terrifying appearance. She is usually depicted with blue-black skin, a protruding tongue framed by large fangs. Her lips are smeared with blood. She adorns herself with a garland of skulls and a girdle of severed arms. She has four arms: one hand holding a sickle, another a severed head, her third and fourth hands are in mudras – one in a gesture of “fear not” and the other offering boons.  

Kali is an unstoppable and chaotic force that comes barreling into life and toppling everything in her wake. When I think of Kali I think of a forest fire unable to be contained or a tornado with no clear path or a tsunami destroying an island city. This was not a goddess I wanted to call in. I really didn’t even like to teach her and often spoke of her as something very distant from myself. And then I needed her.

Confusion and Lost

Right after the New Year I felt like I was losing my hold on my life. Once focused on my career, I was constantly distracted, disoriented, and lost. I was unable to write, think, and became short-tempered and impatient with my family, friends, and students. My night dreams, which I rely on to navigate my waking world, disappeared.  I began to question my marriage and my commitment to it. I would come home to a chaotic house of mess piles, a dog that needed attention, a high-pitched, screaming toddler, and a distant husband and I would want to retreat. I wanted out of my life. I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know where my two feet were. I was lost in a whirlwind of unformed and incoherent questions.

On a conscious level, I recognized I was out alignment and needed to get my life on stable ground. And it was horrible…and exhilarating. I was becoming addicted to intense emotions that came from being a bit careless and ignoring my intuition.  Yet, I missed my usual routine and predictability. I needed something to hold onto and knew that grounding I was seeking had to come from within. A change had to happen.

One night, needing a space to make my own, I went to a heated yoga class. As the movement began, I turned inward and began to hear rising out of my subconscious  “Klim Klim Klim” resounding in my brain. The bija mantra of Kali. From somewhere deep within me, my instinct for survival, my innate inner power, had taken over my conscious thought and began to summon the goddess who was really going to answer my call for help. I envisioned the dark goddess approaching me. Her skin an impenetrable black night, the severed hands she wears around her waist sashaying with her movements, her mouth roaring. I stood on my mat, sweat pouring down and with my eyes closed felt like this great goddess had just decapitated me and all I felt was my own blood dripping down my body. My head was gone. Thought was terminated. Ego was temporarily annihilated. I was simply sensation and Being.   

Kali in Myth

Kali is transformative power. She is the dance of death and birth. Kali destroys in order for life to continue. She is the thunderstorm during a drought: furious, loud, and needed. She is the force of love that swiftly cuts out the illusions that bind us to our egoist tendencies.  When I think of Kali powers, I see her on the battlefield.  Durga, a great warrior goddess, and all the many goddesses, are fighting various demons. There is one demon in particular who is creating havoc for the goddess: Raktabija. Each time Raktabija is cut, his blood droplets will form another Raktabija making him invincible. From Durga’s third eye comes out Kali – roaring, thirsty for blood. She rips each Raktabija apart and hungrily licks up each blood drop clearing out the battlefield leaving it empty and quiet. When we call upon Kali, she comes into our lives and eats up all the parts of us that are wounded, bleeding, ineffectual, and impotent against our inner demons. When she passes through everything is leveled and dead.

Love, Loss, and Travel

During this chaotic time I was finalizing my plans to co-lead a retreat to Nepal. Five days before my trip, I discovered I miscarried and would need a D&C to remove the tissues from my body. On the plane over to Asia, I bled heavily and got high off pain killers and wine.  On the plane I saw my trip as journey to cleanse my heart – to remove illusions. I recently cracked.  This trip is making me whole again. I sit and think this as my womb cramps. I begin this trip bleeding. My offering to Kali.

Days after  I return home from Nepal, feeling very centered, very grateful for my life, and  very in love with my husband,  I sit down in the kitchen to open up to Jeremy. I watch the strong muscles of his back move under his shirt as he makes us espressos and I tell him how I met Kali. Who she is and how I am no longer terrified of her but grateful for her power.

 Kali, a reminder of life and death’s intimate connection, is love. She comes into our lives when nothing else is working and destroys the old in order for us to grow and transform. Through her “tough love” she cuts away the protective boundaries that we have built around ourselves making us small. Though her intense love, her desire to devour our pain, confusion, traumas, and illusions, she releases us from the self-made cages we get locked inside. We can only be liberated, find our unique path, manifest dreams, when we transform. And that is Kali’s gift to us.

Kali in Nepal
My impersonation of Kali while I was trekking in Nepal. I am making the sign for "I Love You."