This is true not only in our battles against external obstacles. The transformative journey is next to impossible without help from the subtle realms. If we are going to be able to see through the illusions that trap us—the genetic patterning, the imbalances of intellect and emotion, the warring desires, the fears, the cultural biases, and the sheer weight of our physical senses—a transpersonal form of strength is needed. Durga personifies that force.
The mighty battles between Durga and the demons is the inner struggle that invariably begins when we undertake real transformative practice. Like the demon king in the Durga myth, the ego enters into spiritual practice with a secret agenda. Egos seek control—control over circumstances, control over the body, and control over the people around us. Power and mastery are what matter to the ego. So naturally, the ego will resist surrendering to higher powers, letting go of its agendas, or giving up control on any level. But the evolutionary Shakti has a different agenda. She wants to move us away from egocentric consciousness to the recognition of our non-difference from each other and the cosmos. To do this, she must put the ego in its place and ultimately dissolve it. The ego, however, will fight her to the death.
As postmodern practitioners, we usually prefer to take a gentler attitude toward our own dark side. Many of us long ago rejected the kind of religion that emphasizes sin and insists on eliminating the darker forces in the self. If we are practitioners of a spiritual path that emphasize our innate goodness, we might prefer to ignore the negative qualities in the self, on the principle that fighting the ego only strengthens it. If we're psycho-dynamically oriented, we might be interested in bringing our shadow qualities into the light so we can integrate the power tied up in anger or greed or pride. If we are walking a non-dual path, we may feel that all struggle has to be given up, since everything is ultimately one.
All these approaches are useful, some on the level of personality, others as part of the practice for enlightenment.
But there are moments when the only way to put our narcissism in its place is with a sword—the sword of wisdom wielded by a warrior who takes no prisoners. This is Durga's role, whether she is operating in the outer world or the inner world.
In my life, the energy of the warrior goddess with her upraised sword shows up to remind me to get my striving, performance-oriented ego out of the way, so that the deeper power can unfold my life according to her evolutionary imperative. Durga, in my inner world, is the unstoppable energy of spiritual growth. When I resist that, I often encounter an unexpected setback. She might get in my face as a kind of cosmic "No!" to my personal agendas, and then manifest as the deeper awakening that follows when I let them go. Over the years, I've been through this cycle often. At times, egoic illusions pile up, balloon out, and take over my world until, like cataracts, they ripen and become so swollen that they are ready to come apart of their own weight. Then nearly always, I hear the roar of the goddess's lion sounding through my dreams.
When you feel caught in one of those moments, when your personal will seems blocked by immovable obstacles, consider that it might be a signal from the Shakti. Then, consider sitting for a few minutes in meditation, and using your imagination to bring yourself into the presence of Durga.
EXERCISE: Accessing Durga
For this exercise, you will need a quiet place to sit, a journal, and something to write with.
Become aware of the Durga Shakti as a shimmering presence around you. You can visualize her seated on her lion (though sometimes she rides a tiger; see which animal feels right to you!). Her dark hair streams over her shoulders. She wears a golden crown, a scarlet silk sari, and golden necklaces, rings, and bracelets.
See her magnificent arms, strong and bristling with weapons: the bow, the sword, the trident, the mace, the discus. See, also, the lotus she carries.
She is watching you with an intent gaze. Her eyes are large and dark.
Offer your salutations to her.
Ask her: "What is the major inner obstacle I have to face now? What do I need to let go of? What should I be paying more attention to?" Or, ask her for guidance in a decision, or for the strength to stand up for something you know is right.
Close your eyes and turn to your heart. Ask the question in your heart.
Begin to write. Let the writing come naturally, without thought. Keep writing until you feel that there is no more to say.