Versions of this essay be viewed at The Washington Post On Faith blog, and The HASC site, where you can also learn more about ShaktiSeva.
What is Shakti?
You already know.
Beyond any definition I can give you, beyond explanations drawn from scripture and authorities, is the true meaning of Shakti that each woman knows. It is true because it is your Shakti. It is the part of yourself that you reach into, the deep well that most of us discovered when we had nowhere else to turn. Shakti empowers us into ourselves, empowers us to be ourselves. When you look within for inspiration, solace, guidance, it is Shakti that gives answer and Shakti that acts through you. It is the wisdom of your great-great-great-grandmother, encoded in your bones, the wisdom of the all-Mother that rises through each of us. It is the effervesce of life. Shakti does not only exist in women, but it is through women that it flows. It is our essential foundation, and it is that which goads us to change.
Shakti is a Sanskrit word, but Shakti is beyond religion, race or nation. While the Hindu calendar recognizes Navratri (the nine nights of the Goddess), we are Hindus living in the wheel of Americans seasons. In Euro-American folk traditions, these seasons are significant: autumn is time to enjoy the harvest, to prepare for the quiet wild of winter. As we enter autumn, the air grows crisp, the days grow brief, and we grow introspective. As the days darken, the leaves brighten. We see the colours of the Goddess: gold, orange, red. The season lights its dia to Devi.
There is wisdom in autumn. Feel the city gird itself against the chill, the throngs of people shiver in the wind and wonder at the sky. Become a dragon, breathing steam in the morning. Hear the Goddess as she rustles through the corn, as she revels in the bounty. Feel her readiness for the reaping, the preparation of the long contemplation of winter. As the nights grow longer, let her sing you to sleep. See the trees dress up in their best, then scatter their garments to meet Winter with smooth, bare limbs. Feel the living roots reach deep into the warm beating flesh of our Mother Earth. Feel that power rise to greet the sun, to revel beneath the moon. All this is Devi, the Goddess. This is mother, sister, daughter. This is you and me. This is Shakti.
As that power comes through it becomes: we make it what it is. Whether you are in the boardroom or bedroom, you know the feeling. Shakti is power and Shakti is play. Shakti is the warm womb of the kitchen and the cool bravery of the battlefield. She is the quiet moment when we gather and the brilliant light when we shine. She is what all women know. She is without form yet encompassed by each of our forms. She is beyond and within. Shakti is the current that flows beneath the current.
Shakti is what is shared when women gather: not the essential but superficial knowledge of doing but the deep instinctive knowledge of being. Shakti is not chosen, and we cannot control it. It the flood, the rush of endorphins, the giddy laugh, the flash of insight, the swirl of energy through the cosmos. We ride it like a wave.
This is what Shakti is to me. What is Shakti to you?
This month of October, this season of autumn and Navrathri, take the time to find, explore and express your Shakti. Reach out. Create. Heal.
Celebrate Navratri in a way that is meaningful to you. Nine nights in a row, observe a ritual: it may be traditional, invented or a combination of the two.
- Honor the Deities, Folk Heroes, Activists, Writers, Artists, Innovators, Politicians…the women…who inspire you.
- Forgive a friend who wronged you.
- Light your altar and chant the ancient prayers, then light a candle and take a bath.
- Adorn yourself.
- Arrange events to be inspired by or inspire others with your shakti stories
- Start a journal, a blog, share your stories
- Give yourself permission to create something.
- Revive an old love: sing, dance, paint.
- Write a letter.
- Call your sister, friend, mother.
- Have your friends over: share the profound and silly female bonding rituals of your heritage and youth: oil your hair, do henna, paint your nails.
- Go out for the evening.
- Sign up for a class: make pottery; learn to play the drums, knit a scarf.
- Get moving: go for a walk, learn to ride a horse, take up a martial art.
Just as you already know what Shakti is, you know, deep inside, who you are.
This autumn, tend the light that glows within.
Rediscover yourself. Invent yourself. Become yourself. Most of all: revel in yourself.