“Isaac spent all his time reading in a dark house, refusing to go out into the sunshine. His next-door neighbor was a hidden spiritual master, who periodically dropped by to say to Isaac, ‘don’t spend your whole life hunched over your desk in this dark room. Get out and look at the sky!’ Isaac would nod and keep on reading. Then one day his house caught fire. Grabbing what possessions he could, he ran outside. There, he saw the master, pointing upwards. ‘Look,’ said the master, ‘Sky!’ In this story, there are three elements that represent the process of awakening: the fire, the master, and the sky. Kali is all of them.” (1)
(1) Sally Kempton Awakening to Kali: The Goddess of Radical Transformation Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2014
Sally Kempton belongs to the tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, and has described her path as a contemplative and devotional Tantra. For this tradition, a subtle vibratory energy is the substratum of everything we know, and the expression of a divine feminine power called Shakti. This power has five faces – the power to be conscious, the power to feel ecstasy, the power of will or desire, the power to know, and the power to act.
All of these powers come together in the act of cosmic creation, when divine intelligence spins a universe out of itself in Shakti’s dance. Her powers are constantly at play in ourselves and the world, nudging us towards an evolution of consciousness, with which we must align when we seek conscious transformation. Shakti, the formless source of everything, takes multiple forms. Indeed the whole complex Indian pantheon, gods and goddesses alike, are forms of Shakti.
Sally Kempton says that anthropologists have identified two basic versions of Kali, specifically, in popular Indian religion. There is a forest and village Kali represented as scary and half-demonic, and the urban and more modern Kali Ma – “a benign and loving source of every kind of boon and blessing”. Here, her wildness is largely symbolic. Kempton’s Kali seems to be a challenging, ruthlessly compassionate teacher and guide.
In a recent post I wrote: “it is as if I am resourced by a timeless, unboundaried dimension from which I am not separate”. (2) It is my current experiential understanding of the spiritual approach knowns as ‘non-dualism’. Kashmiri Shaivites, Including Sally Kempton, are non-dualists. They are entirely at ease with deity devotion as part of the path.
I am wondering now if, and how, a greater element of deity oriented and devotional practice might add to my own path. Just over three years ago I let go of a ‘Way of Sophia’ thread, with some pain, because it no longer felt authentic. All that’s left is my address to the Goddess (Primal Cosmic Mother, Lady Wisdom) in the Druid’s prayer. Something is missing, I think, and I feel close to another shift. Frankly, I feel nudged.