The Power of Slowing Down
Images like the ones above drive me absolutely crazy, and I'll tell you why: they're spin-offs of images of Hindu goddesses, particularly Durga, with their many arms and multi-faceted energies, but the message here is the complete opposite of the intended meaning.
It's like using an image of Ghandi to sell cheap elephant key rings made in China. It's an insult to the spirit of the original.
I'm at a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in Spain right now, and two days ago I had the pleasure of invoking the energy of Durga with the students. For those of you who don't know, Durga is the invincible warrior goddess of Hindu mythology, and she's a personal favorite of mine. Like the updated images above, she is depicted with many arms (usually eight) all holding different weapons or tools. Here she is in all her glory:
Durga was created to defeat the powerful demon Mahishasura, who could not be beaten by god nor man. As usual with Hindu stories, there are many versions of Durga's creation myth, each with it's own particular details. One common telling is that Parvati - the great yogini and consort of Shiva - volunteered to be the one to go to battle with the fearsome demon. To ready herself for the challenge, she secluded herself in a mountain cave to meditate. During this time, the gods sent her their best weapons, so that she would have many resources available while she fought. As you can see, she holds: the trident symbolizing the three gunas, the lotus flower symbolizing continual spiritual evolution, the bow and arrow symbolizing her command of both potential and kinetic energy, the conch shell (sometimes also a noose) symbolizing the sound of Om and her connection with the inner Truth of all things, the chakra or discus symbolizing the destruction of evil, the sword symbolizing knowledge that is free from doubt, the mace (sometimes a thunderbolt) symbolizing the need for steadiness in the face of challenge, and finally the hand gesture abhaya mudra which symbolizes fearlessness and blessings on the path of life.
Again, there are slight variations in the actual weapons and their meanings. Another similar interpretation is shown below:
But what these different weapons and capacities definitely do not symbolize is Durga's ability to run around multi-tasking like crazy, trying to be everything to everyone.
I like the origin myth where Parvati goes off to meditate before the battle because it shows two things: the power of singular focus and the importance of stillness and reflection. Parvati takes on a momentous responsibility and commitment to action, and her first instinct is slow down and give herself space to prepare. She doesn't go into panic mode trying to finish a bunch of work projects, check her investments, make dinners to put in the freezer for while she's away, spend time with her friends so they don't feel neglected when she's fighting demons and not available to them... Okay so these things are all from a different time and place than the Durga origin myth, but you get my point. She doesn't run herself ragged trying to do a million things at once. She sets a priority and sticks to it.
Her first order of business: withdraw from the world and concentrate. Not rush headlong into busy-ness because the task is so momentous, and certainly not to cower under her covers for the same reason. In this version of the story, Parvati understands the usefulness of motionlessness and quiet - she understands the power of being before doing.
And this space for quiet focus? It's exactly what gives her her incredible strength. It's when she receives her weapons and resources. It's when she steels herself to face her enemies of doubt, setbacks, and fatigue. Pausing makes her strong, not weak.
By the way, this certainly doesn't apply only to women, despite the photos. Our culture has elevated manic productivity to gold medal status. Often, we ask a friend how they're doing and we get a reply like, "I'm good, just so busy." Said as though it's perfectly normal, tinged with pride. Being busy means that we're important because we're getting things done. It means we matter. Doesn't it?
When I teach students about Durga, I always emphasize her courage, her tenacity, and her indomitable spirit. She never backs down and as a result, she is always ultimately victorious. But I also remind students that sometimes courage looks like taking a break when everyone around you is still going, even if the voice in your head calls you a wimp. Sometimes tenacity looks like choosing over and over again to honor your truth, in spite of disapproval from yourself or others.
Durga's ultimate victory wasn't ticking lots of things off her to-do list or jumping through hoops to meet other people's expectations, it was having faith in herself and fulfilling her unique potential.
I wish that for all of us. May we believe in ourselves enough to listen when our bodies and spirits say: slow down. May we have faith that everything is happening in its right time and that we don't have to force it. May we allow ourselves the freedom to focus on what is truly important, because we know our worth without constantly having to prove it.