Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bear witness

There are certain aspects of coming to India that I may not love, yet have come to expect and even understand. Not only do oceans and continents divide India from my North American homeland, but culture, customs, and in many places I visit, modern conveniences as well. To give you an idea, any trip here is bound to include:

  •      Bathing from a bucket rather than a shower
  •      Cows competing with you in traffic
  •      Blaring horns announcing every passing vehicle, JUST IN CASE they didn’t already see you with your high beams on
  •      Peeing on your shoes (or your bare feet) because let’s face it: we western women aren’t necessarily masters of squat toilet etiquette
  •      Consuming obscene amounts of carbs
  •      Practically nothing happening on schedule

While none of these is pleasant from my privileged, first world perspective, none of these is intolerable either. We humans are marvelously malleable creatures, and you’d be amazed what you can adapt to. It saddens me to say I’ve even grown accustomed to the frequent sight of malnourished beings, two- and four-legged, all around me, and Mother Earth herself being horribly mistreated.

Yet none of what I’ve seen in my time in India prepared me for what I witnessed yesterday. The truth is, had I seen this anywhere in the world, I’d have been just as stunned and stricken. And the even sadder truth is that this actually does happen just about everywhere in the world, as much as I’d like to believe otherwise.

Yesterday I saw a man beat his wife.

On a street corner.

With several men standing around watching.

Doing nothing.

Just like me.

I was in an auto rickshaw, a very popular method of transportation here that is basically a 3-wheeled scooter with a roof and bench seats. The sides are completely open and you get the experience of being at one with all that is whizzing past you as you travel. For some reason I wasn’t sure of, our driver had paused to stop right as this scene was taking place, and so I had a front row seat to one of the most tragic things I’ve ever born witness to with my own eyes.

She was sitting and he was somehow simultaneously shoving her and pulling her up to standing. At first I wasn’t entirely certain I was witnessing an act of abuse. There was a moment when it looked like he could have even been helping her up, albeit roughly. The irony there is, from what I understand of the mentality that so many battered women have, especially those who are impoverished and living in a country where many women are still effectively the property of their men, they actually do feel that way. They feel their abusive husbands are actually doing them some sort of service, or at least that they have the right to treat them in these ways.

So he got her up, and then any doubt I had as to what I was watching was laid to rest as he raised his hand and laid it across her face.

On a street corner.

With several men standing around watching.

Doing nothing.

Just like me.

His face was twisted with bitterness and rage. Hers with dejection and disgust. Mine was frozen.

In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so frozen in my life. Even as I sat wedged between two friends in a now-moving vehicle, there was an impulse to jump out and grab her away, whisking her to safety. But I didn’t. I couldn’t move an inch. The instinct for self-preservation was stronger than the instinct to help. As sad as I was to watch this scene play out, I was even sadder to accept that realization.

I began to thaw quickly. Silently prayers of protection and liberation on her behalf rang through my head has tears spilled down my cheeks. Still my body felt numb, the weight of the experience cementing me to my seat, holding me prisoner just like she must feel. I hurt for her. I hurt for me. I hurt for every woman everywhere who has ever felt anything short of the sublimely sovereign, empowered, perfect goddess that she is, which is basically the same as saying I hurt for every single woman on earth.

I know of none among us who haven’t, at one point or another in some way or another, felt beat down and unworthy. I’ve certainly been there, and yet no man has ever raised a hand to me, and I feel confident in saying no man ever will. To witness a sister in that position was unspeakably painful. And to quickly assimilate the realization that this is happening far more than I’m aware of just amplified that in spades, sharpening the edge of the sad truth that I had done nothing to stop it.

It happens that this whole experience took place right as I am spending time at a place called Devipuram, where empowerment is literally the mission statement, and revering the feminine principle is engrained in the path. Using the guidance of the ancient, sacred wisdom of Sri Vidya, auspicious knowledge associated with the Shakta, or goddess-worshipping path of Hinduism, Devipuram is a rare and special place where anyone from any walk of life is welcome to learn tools of empowerment. By way of spiritual teachings and social outreach, Devipuram gives men and women alike the opportunity to realize our divine potential and tap into this limitless power within ourselves, as well as share it with others.

So the scene playing out before me came in stark contrast to the environment I’ve been in, the environment I’m in more often than not. I’m a woman who adores women, who feels a deep sense of duty around supporting my sisters, and who is fortunate to keep company with men who extend the same reverence to us as we do ourselves. I’d just seen the shadow side of the light I live in, and that contrast is actually a precious gift.

Reflecting on the contrast of these two extremes, I got the strong and clear message that while I may have felt impotent in the moment, I am anything but. I am empowered with all the grace, compassion and purpose of Devi herself. And I have the added benefit of having realized this, on some level at least. So if one, or many, of my sisters has not yet realized this for herself, I have the power to help her. I have the power to extend a hand in place of the one that has been raised, and lead her toward the light. I may not have acted in the moment the way I'd like to think I would have, but I can act in other ways that empower going forward. 

I don’t yet know exactly how this will transform my path. I don’t yet know exactly how I will take this call to action and turn it into an offering to help women like the sister I bore witness to ascend from the shadow they’re caught in. What I know is there are no coincidences, and painful as this was, it was necessary. This is something I needed to see and feel so that I can tap into even greater grace, compassion and purpose for the greater good.

If I may make a request, please join me in a moment of prayer. Call it reflection or meditation or silence if you prefer. Just join me please, right now, by closing your eyes, gazing into your heart and emanating a vibration of love and safety to all beings everywhere who are caught in the shadow. Join me in intending that there will soon come a day when all women (men, children and animals too!) will be seen and treated as the divine beings they truly are and live lives free from violence and full of peace.

Thank you.


Om Sri Matrye Namah.

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