Of the goddesses we learn about as yoga practitioners, Kali is perhaps the fiercest of all! Her flashing red eyes, disheveled long hair, and lolling tongue dripping with blood sends a chill down our spines. As surprising as it may seem, many of Kali’s devotees call out to her as Kali Ma, the Great Mother.
Good Mom, Bad Mom.
In the West, two particular mother-archetypes are prevalent in our mythologies, fairy and folk tales, and religious traditions: The Good Mother and the Wicked Step Mother. The Good Mother is wise, generous, and loving. She is both the center of family life and the strong thread that holds it together. The Good Mother does not just “have it all”.… she is it all! Flawless in every conceivable way, the Good Mother is endlessly giving and endlessly forgiving.
The Good Mother sets the maternal bar high! Perhaps that is why the Wicked Stepmother archetype exists in her shadow. Cruel, jealous, and controlling, the Wicked Stepmother has it in for her children. She rules over her household through passive aggression and destabilizing mind-games. She, too, is the center of her family’s life… a center that is manipulative and tyrannical. The Wicked Stepmother is not only the antithesis of the Good Mother, but a reaction to the impossible standards she sets!
According to legend, Kali was birthed when demons threatened to devour the world. The gods were at a loss of what to do. They begged Durga, who they had previously shunned, for help. At first, Durga wanted nothing to do with them. However, when she saw the destruction the demons brought to the land and all its creatures, she became so enraged that she furrowed her brow and Kali sprang forth from her third eye!
Kali is neither the Good Mother, nor is she the Wicked Stepmother. She is a maternal force and flavor all her own! Whereas there is a unreconcilable dichotomy between the Good Mother and the Wicked Stepmother that would drive any mothering caretaker to madness, Kali offers a path of motherhood that is balanced and sustainable.
Kali achieves balance by uniting the seemingly contradictory aspects of herself, accepting herself as she is, and loving herself unconditionally. Through love, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance, Kali mothers her children with fierce grace and radical mercy. She does not let her little ones become trapped in a disempowering storyline. Kali knows of what we are capable. She asks much of us, but never more than we are able to give.
Force of loving-destruction.
There are times when it feels as if everything is falling apart. The foundation that we built our lives upon opens beneath our feet and threatens to swallow us whole. The structures that shaped our world crumble and topple to the ground. All the things we thought would make us okay disappear.
Kali is the center of the seeming chaos. The truth is, nothing in the physical universe will last forever. Whether it takes seconds, years, or eons, everything changes. From a yogic perspective, it if can be change, if it doesn’t last, it isn’t really real at all. Kali is the force that destroys all that is unreal. She is also the mother of all that is.
Honoring Kali through our practice.
- Do your shadow work! Shadow work is how we uncover, discover, and recover the exiled aspects of our personality. It is getting to know the parts of our self that we normally reject. The parts of our self that we don’t like and deem as unacceptable are within our shadow. However, they don’t stay there! These pieces of who we are usually make their presence know at the most inopportune moments: we send a text we regret, say something we wish we could take back, and engage in other self-limiting, self-sabotaging behaviors. To honor Kali means that, like her, we take time to get to know and integrate our shadow in service to the greater good. Psychotherapy, astrology, divination practices, and even reflective journaling are excellent shadow work practices we can do daily.
- Sometimes spiritual growth requires we let go of the things we thought would always be there for us. As we do, we discover an inner strength that gives us the fortitude to release that which we’d previously clung to. We learn to cling to Kali instead, finding order in chaos, purpose in meaninglessness, and being comforted in what we thought was an inconsolable loss. As we empty ourselves of our preconceived notions of who and what we are, we allow Kali to fill the void and discover we are far more than we ever realized.
- Kali does not need our devotion. She is a goddess, after all. We, however, have tremendous need of devoting ourselves to her. As humans, we will devote ourselves to something. We may unconsciously devote ourselves to serve ego through addiction, status-seeking, and people-pleasing behavior. On the other hand, we can choose to consciously devote ourselves to be of service to the greater good, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, by devoting ourselves to Kali Ma. In doing so, we align ourselves with love, universal flow, and all that is true and lasting.
Image: By author.