written by Claire Kelly,
Mother, Priestess, Writer, Spiritual Counsellor and Healer
My journey so far has been very much about exploring Mother Bali, but understanding the Hindu or Vedic ceremonies has drawn me in, i’m intrigued. I’m also ready for some ‘all woman’ time, and i want to commit myself to program rather than flit about like a butterfly.
So i begin the nine day Durga Retreat, at the Sama Yoga Ashram in Penestanan near Ubud, the ashram is hidden away with a big Banyan tree guarding the entrance, and it is fondly called Under The Banyan Tree. The retreat is facilitated by the Sharada, a teacher of Vedanta (Hindu or Vedic philosophy) meditation, Vedic ceremonies, women’s devi circles, yoga deepening courses, sacred temple dance and mantras of Mother Veda. She is a slight young woman with Swiss, Phillipine heritage and its clearly not the first life she has dedicated to Vedanta. She has such poise, presence and a deep love of Sanskrit, and her discourse is mind opening, gentle and exquisite. She founded the Be Woman Project, whose vision is to empowers women to know that they are safe, loved and connected, and the Durga Retreat is part of this project.
The second facilitator is the lovely Norwegian Jannaki who founded Nordic Light Yoga, she is a teacher of Hatha Yoga, and her style is deep and inward going, slow and meditative. During our nine days together we will receive womb yoga instruction, practicing a deeply yin style of yoga and focusing on the four stages or seasons of the monthly cycle, and exploring different yoga postures and movement for each phase of the moon cycle.
The Vedic goddess Durga is of course our host, and “she who removes pain and suffering” welcomes us into her presence. Durga represents the archetype of motherhood, strength, courage and bravery, she protects the people who follow universal values, she is a leader & mentor in community. So it is her work to hold the rites of passage in our lives, mentoring us into growing and not only knowing her but also way-showing her. I absorb her essence and I’m thinking that she is a pillar of the structure of society, who governs and leads in a female style by holding, nurturing and loving. However she rides on the back of a tiger, she is fierce and can manifest as Kali an aspect of her who can destroy in order to create new life. Sounds to me like this lady has some healthy boundaries, and does not suffer fools, she will love strongly but also hold universal values and right ethics as sacrosanct. Yep she’s my kind of woman.
During the opening circle, I look around at the other women present (there are maybe 15 of us) and I know I am home. The teachings of Vedanta are new to me, whilst I have heard the names of the Vedic goddesses and have chanted some of their mantras, I have never immersed myself in this tradition. The woman’s retreat goings on are very familiar and just like our women’s circles back home and I’m able to connect the goddesses with the ones I know and work with such as Sarasvati and her counterpart Sophia, both goddesses of wisdom.
I begin to ask myself the question, how do I define my spirituality? As I have not really dedicated myself to one way, or school of teaching. I have gathered wisdom from many sources along the way, but circa 2019 here’s where it sits – There is one true God-source (non-gender orientated) of all creation, a unity consciousness from which we all created ourselves, because we are all intrinsically God-source and fully sovereign in our connection to source. However, along the way our inner God-source will manifest as teacher, guide, mentor. God-source is both God and Goddess and can only manifest the whole of creation by this Law of Gender, both are equal and our spark of consciousness is the third point in this triad, therefore to know God we must experience in our heart and mind this sacred marriage of God and Goddess, or Mother and Father. I have been influenced by many different teachings along my way but currently I am working with the Celtic Pagan Gods and Goddesses of the land upon which I live, because this is the story of my home land, going back before Christianity. I’m also very attuned to the Christian Essene teaching that were completed suppressed by the church and are about the path of the gnostic, mystic and knower of the Kryst (changed to Christ) which is a state of purest unity consciousness of our original divine nature before many of these teachings were stolen and reversed. The God, Goddess partnership I connect with everyday is Kryst(Christ)- Sophia. Unity, truth and wisdom.
However, it is the ceremonies and rituals of a spiritual tradition that I am most interested in, because its these rites of passage or markers along the path that have given humans meaning and purpose for thousands of years. Ceremony is so meaningful because in truth when we choose to make another human life, we chose to evolve and growth into knowledge of ourselves as god-source, to do that our highest consciousness must come into our body and express our highest truth and service. Ceremony helps this process, it helps us embody and pick up the fragments of ourselves and unify them within our own being, it helps us awaken, understand and know ourselves.
So I’m ready to embrace this journey with the Vedic sisterhood of sharing ceremonies within the tradition of Vedanta to mark the passages of a woman’s life. We will hold a ceremony or puja for stages on our own timeline. We will travel back and write about actual experience from what we have been told, or can remember, we will share these stories and ask ourselves – how would I like it to have been? Then together we will perform the ceremony or puja to mark this rite of passage for our own self, so we will be both ourselves along the timeline, the ceremonialist, and maybe also play the role of our mother or father. In Vedic tradition it is thought that by receiving these blessings at a gateway point /rite of passage we can make the best life with the greatest experience of belonging, meaning, purpose and self-awareness. We can be our best self. Although there are numerous rites of passage and corresponding puja in Vedanta we will be focusing on five:
Initiation into learning (school),
We will also be taking Ayurveda classes with Dr. Sujatha Kekada, who is the Head Physician and Co-Founder of Amrtasiddhi. – an Ayurvedic clinic in Ubud. She is a certified Ayurvedic doctor (B.A.M.S), who worked at one of the most respected and successful clinics in Kerala, South India before opening her clinic in Bali. She will talk to us specifically about woman’s health and how the principles of Ayurveda including, lifestyle, diet and herbs can support all stages of a woman’s life.
In our opening sharing circle, we tell a bit of our story by way of introducing ourselves, who we are, where we are from, what is happening in our life. So many of these stories reflect my own experiences, we are women of all ages, maidens, mothers, grandmothers, crones. From all corners of the globe, including a woman who is born and raised in Ubud, and yet there are so many similarities and a beautiful uniqueness too. We sing the name of each ‘devi’. I begin to soften.
So to anchor our intentions and focus our hearts and minds, we must prepare our personal altars. In Vedic tradition this includes statues or images of the deity, a brass bowl for water, a candal, incense, aromatic oil such as Frankincense, a bell, a shell, and other personal sacred items. But we are really encouraged to make our altar personal and so I lay out my travel altar mat that I made for this journey. I sewed into it, crystals, charms, prayers and feathers to mark the directions and guide me on my way. I lay out my crystals, herbal pouches, candals, incense, the Frangipani oil I bought in Ubud, the ashes from the Agni Hotra fire I did with the Balinese healer Pak Ketut Jaya, stones and shells I’ve collected along the way and my spirit flute. Our altars will travel through the whole five ceremonies with us and they will be our work space so to speak for the transformational journey ahead. Perfect we are ready. Arrival and day one complete.
There is something so special about being in a women’s circle and putting our world to right. Coming together and healing it, taking care of it, making it better is so sewn into the fabric of women. I like to think my recent ancestors would have been connected to a circle of woman in their daily lives and daily activities. They say it takes a tribe to raise a child. But now society has changed so much and so often woman are shouldering it all alone, and this is a bigger burden.
To me the Vedic Goddess Durga is like a mother figure, who holds up community values and serves the people through her love, support and wisdom in the journey of their lives. In addition to learning the Vedic pujas as we will also be creating our own ceremonies in our own style in small groups, so that we start to think about how we can offer this kind of service to our own community, and go forth and Be Durga in our own world.
May all the beings in all the world’s be held in a mothers arms.