Wrathful Deities

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

wrathful deityFor the time being three heads and eight arms – the wrathful deity. The part of us that pushes back against what’s arising with ferocity, without breath, without our tools. We all have this in us. My teacher, Michael Stone, jokes that it’s called “before espresso” for him.

When are you a wrathful deity in life? When are you a wrathful, even minor, deity in asana? On the cushion? We all have this quality. It can be towards others, it can be towards ourselves. When are you a wrathful deity?

Once acknowledgement of the wrathful deity comes, we can start with softening: the jaw, the gaze – all the way to the roots of the eyes. We can relax our recently narrowed viewpoint by releasing the soft palette. Then noting the hands, allow them to rest their continual at-the-ready tension as we let go of clinging to what we expected or wanted the moment to be.  At the end of the inhale say to yourself “let”, at the end of the exhale “go”.  If you notice the words migrate to the beginning of the breath, you’ve started to tighten and over-do.

I can be a wrathful deity when I drive. But I had no idea until about three years ago when I started driving again. I had lived for the past twelve years without driving. Now I drive two hours to see my family a few times a month, I drive five hours several times a year for retreat, and once a year I drive eight hours for silent retreat. Those are one way. Now I’ve had a chance to work with it, and I’m happy to report that I’m no longer a wrathful deity when I drive, or only a very minor one…J

Here’s what I learned:

  • I needed to be in right in the middle of what brings out my wrathful deity in order to work with it. I couldn’t do it on an island in the pacific where we’re mostly bare feet (I used to live in Hawaii). I couldn’t do it in a jazz filled trolley car walking city (I used to live in New Orleans). Despite how magical both those places are, my wrathful deity just laid dormant. It’s important to remember, when we get frustrated with living in a city (or whatever frustrates you), that it’s a gift for the yogi. Don’t avoid your wrathful deity.
  • After the acknowledgement stage, I needed to figure out which tool to use, and then set it in motion prior to the triggering situation. So I’d sit in the car before pulling out of the spot, put on the right music, breathe, look around and say to myself “It’s not mine”. And keep all of that going, with a relaxed tongue and drivingroof of the mouth. With soft eyes.
  • Notice when the patterns become run-off versus actual wrathfulness. There was a point where I would realize that the wrathful thoughts that ran through my mind had nothing to do with how I actually felt. It was just mental run off. It’s important to be in tune enough with the body, breath, and thoughts to spot this. Otherwise the thoughts can trigger you back into the state. Also, our internal practice and growth deserves a nod every now and then for the progress it’s made (without attachment to results, of course)