In Praise of Kali, Beyoncé, and the Angry Woman
I don't have HBO. I don't even live in the US anymore. But I found a way to watch Beyoncé's new visual album Lemonade the week after it came out and I have been obsessed ever since. I like the songs - some I love - and the visuals are slick, beautiful, provocative...but there's something else. There's another reason why I simply cannot stop immersing myself in this epic piece of artistic expression. I showed Lemonade to my dear friend Julie while she was visiting me in Cornwall and she hit the nail on the head when she said "Dang, that is some serious Kali energy there." That's it. That's why I can't stop listening. And watching. And feeling.
If you're not familiar, Kali is the fierce face of the Divine Feminine in Hindu mythology. Often depicted naked, wearing a necklace of skulls and a skirt of human hands or tiger skin, with black or midnight blue skin, bright red tongue extended and blood dripping from the weapons and the severed head she holds.
She's nobody's sweetheart.
But she's an essential part of the totality of the Goddess - in fact, she's known as the most compassionate. Why? Because that severed head represents the ego and illusions that cause us suffering. Her sword is the sharp blade that severs our attachments to limiting beliefs like self-doubt and unworthiness. The demons she is constantly slaying - by any means necessary - are none but our own fears. Her dark skin represents the ocean of consciousness to which we will all ultimately return, and which will accept us all equally. In other words, she sees past ALL our bullsh*t to the inner gem of truth within each of us. She believes in our highest potential and will not rest until we are stripped of all the falsehoods that keep us from that glory. She may not be gentle, but she is unfailingly, unflinchingly honest. No matter how dark your darkness, she will not turn away.
Kali announces with her whole being - anger is not always bad. Sometimes, it is the best response. Sometimes it is the only appropriate response to hurtful behavior such as abuse and deceit, which arises from confusion about the true self and our connection with all of Life. Sometimes it is indeed the most compassionate answer. Which brings me back to Beyoncé.
Bey is embracing this ethos wholeheartedly in Lemonade, and throwing two big middle fingers up to all the ways that our society tells women to disown our anger. Because it's unseemly. It's not ladylike. It's "crazy" or "out of control" or "too emotional". Because we should be passive and quiet in the face of misogyny, inequality, and violence. That the appropriate response to all forms of injustice, from victim-blaming to the destruction of our one and only planet, is nothing. Or more accurately, to swallow our anger and pretend it's nothing.
In my personal life, I have seen this pattern again and again: a woman* is treated in a way that is disrespectful, abusive, violent...and instead of speaking up for herself, she buries it and remains silent, She imagines conflict to be worse than self-betrayal. It's not - self-betrayal is the ultimate abandonment. But also, it does nothing to solve the situation. It only allows a bad situation to continue, harming all parties involved. I truly believe that abuse is as bad for the abuser as it is for the abused. On a soul level, the abuser is denying their innate goodness, which yoga teaches we all possess, and they are turning their back on the ultimate truth that we are all inseparably connected. Even if the abuser wins fame or money in the process (as in the rape of our Earth for short-term profit), I feel strongly that in the long run it costs the abuser dearly in karmic terms. Allowing abuse and injustice to continue benefits no one and our best tool to steel ourselves to take on the fight is our anger.
So yeah, when Beyoncé came out in that yellow dress, bat swinging, I was like HELL YES!! And then she sang this...
When you hurt me, you hurt yourself.
Try not to hurt yourself.
When you play me, you play yourself.
Don't play yourself.
When you lie to me, you lie to yourself.
You're only lying to yourself
When you love me, you love yourself.
Love God herself.
The words could have come straight from the mouth of a modern-day Kali. I love that her energy is finding a voice that will be heard by millions of women all over the globe.
It gives me visions of millions of women standing in their power and refusing to accept the daily onslaught of personal and cultural insults.
I see evidence of it already - in court decisions, loud protests, and all over social media. More and more, we are demanding respect, standing up against harmful ignorance, and protecting each other and the planet. A thousand girls join their hands... Bravo to Lemonade for being more than just an emotional exorcism for Queen B herself, but an invitation to imagine a more just world, and to become part of the movement ourselves. May Kali's fierce compassion continue to rise in us and fortify us as we confront the darkness within and without. Jai Ma.
*Disclaimer: I'm generalizing here in order to examine over-arching cultural attitudes. Yes, this can absolutely happen to men, and I acknowledge the male experience of this as well. However, I do feel that our culture accepts anger and confrontation more readily from men than women. In men, it can be seen as a sign of confidence, strength, and power. By all means though, if you read this and identify with it as a male, change the pronoun and take the message for yourself!
PS I also love that Bey is celebrating her blackness - another cultural taboo - in so many ways on this album, but that's a separate post altogether.