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It was an afternoon in February, but the sun was warm and bright and there was a fire building in my belly. I had been in a feminine spiritual retreat for several days, gathered with women from around the world, in a quiet valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. The air was clean and sweet to breathe, and felt thick with a sacred buzz, a pulse of spiritual energy like none I’d felt in any other place I’ve traveled. In the afternoons, we were free to practice our personal sadhana, a length of dedicated spiritual practices with a specific intent. We were to work with a chosen goddess.  I had chosen Durga, the warrior, powerful demon-slayer, goddess of victory of good over evil, who stands for truth, justice, and empowerment. I was longing to be compelled along my path, knowing there is something big I’m here to do, I have a contract to fulfill in this lifetime. For years it was a fight, an uphill battle. I carried this knowing like a burden.  How could I ever make a difference? Little old me?

That afternoon, I would get an answer to carry in my heart, one that has propelled me forward since. I walked through the gate and down the steps from the retreat center, and found myself on the bank of the trickling river, whose crisp waters fed downstream into the great river Ganga. I cast a small circle on the sun warmed-stones and planted my feet firmly on the ground inside it, bringing my hands together in prayer, giving thanks, and sinking down into a low horse stance.

I called her to come to me. “Hey Ma, Durga!  Hey Ma Durga Bhagavan!” For a while, I sang to her, chanting her name, with a fierce longing that shuddered through my body from my heart and chest, down into my feet.

And then I got quiet and closed my eyes. I sank down deeper into myself. My hips slowly started to move, side to side, rhythmically, as if guided by some drum beat. The orbit of my hips became wider and wider, now forming a figure eight. I swayed fluidly, reveling in the sensuous movement, my hips and pelvis opening up. I was being moved. What was moving me? The rhythm became somehow more solid, and as it did, I could begin to hear the drum beat steadily playing loud in my inner hearing.

Then as fluidly as in a dream, I saw a vibrant red flower, a hibiscus, as it descended from above my head, down my central core, to settle into my pelvic bowl. It was followed by a blood red rose, a crimson peony, and a deluge of red flowers toppled down into me, filling me from my womb upwards in a great column of red brilliance all the way out the top of my head.  I felt energized. The beat of the drum got more intense, though the steady tempo remained the same.

In another flash, I realized what had been guiding the dance of my hips. There was a tiger between my legs! With this realization I sank even deeper, feeling my weight being supported by the energy of this powerful being. I then understood the drum beat was the call to battle—I was marching into war. I could feel Durga’s presence all around me. In fact, I was her, riding her tiger into battle. I felt that I was carrying weapons, many weapons, and sensed multiple arms extending from my body—literally, bearing arms!

As if this experience weren’t already shocking enough, something struck me like a flash of lightning, awakening me to the deeper truth available from her teaching. It was how I felt in my body! I was going into war, being guided by the steady, purposeful drum beat. I felt awake and alert. Yet, I felt utterly relaxed, flowing with grace and ease. I wasn’t hardened and poised for a fight, with my dukes out, ready for a rumble. My heart was open, there was a smile on my face, and I was radiating Beauty and pure Love, guided by pure Truth, steadily marching to the battle drum. The teaching sunk deep into my body, reverberating into my cells.

I gave myself over to her in complete surrender and she assured me, that it could be that easy. That indeed, if I followed the beat of my own drum, the pulse of my deepest truth, the light of my beauty, I would be guided. She showed me that the demons that keep us in our illusions of separation could truly be vanquished with a graceful flick of a wrist or a focused arrow and the choice to stand in our power.

I wanted to hold onto that moment forever. I grasped as the experience faded. I had been given an exquisite gift. But I could hear my teacher’s voice in my head, “The moment we cling to a spiritual experience is the moment it becomes dead, it loses it’s aliveness.” I struggled with the paradox.  In the same instant, I became suddenly aware of my body in time and space, my awareness was starting to come back from this visionary state.  I vowed to keep the thread of Durga’s teaching alive in me. Then, I heard the great gong sounding out across the courtyard, calling us back into the temple. I collected myself and saw the other women starting to gather as I moved slowly back through the gate. I knew I was forever changed.

Nearly a year later, as I finally share my encounter with Durga, I revisit my vow to keep her shakti, her unique feminine power, alive within me, as I choose again today to be a living embodiment of Her. I choose to be a true Warrior of Love, with my heart open and with as much grace and ease as I can allow.