Many thanks to Karen Johnston at irrevspeckay.wordpress.com for inviting me to write for her site as a guest. Her post, “Befriending Death,” appeared here a couple of days ago, and is a truly insightful piece on the pace of death in spiritual practice. What follows here is the meditation I shared with her readers on Akhilandeshvari: The Goddess-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken. Blessings
A dear friend asks questions of the day on his Facebook page. Today, he asked what conditions or experiences have made his readers grow or develop the most. One of the most common answers was “death of a loved one.” And many of the answers fell into a group: Heartbreak, loss, grief, or other trauma.
(The most common answer was “parenthood.” Not being a parent, I do not feel comfortable writing about the changes parenthood creates and their relationship to loss and grief. I have some theories, but I also have respect. If you are a parent, please continue this piece of the conversation in the comments. I’m sure Karen will also have great things to say on this front.)
The other set of answers, though, I know a lot about. From our births onward, we all know loss. We all come to know grief. We all come to know heartbreak. And trauma is a global, social, and personal experience. We know what it is to find that parts of ourselves that we thought were together are not together at all. And this is when we come to Akhilandeshvari.
Such a beautiful name – Akhilandeshvari. Emphasis on the “lan,” and falling gently down towards the “i.” Who is this being, this “deshvari,” or goddess?
She is a lesser-known Hindu deity, and one whose story and way of being can be very helpful. “Akhilan-“ means, “never-not-broken” and “deshvari” is a Sanskrit term for goddess. Akhilandeshvari is the She-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken. She is in pieces, as are all who live. Her pieces are constantly moving dynamically to create experience and foster wisdom and compassion.
Times of loss and grief are times of “going to pieces,” or “falling apart.” The wisdom of She-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken is that, in some way, our being relies on brokenness. Brokenness is inherent in existence. From birth to death and beyond, we are on a journey, and it is a journey of loss. Loss of security. Loss of loves. Loss of limbs or their function. Loss of sight and other physical powers. Loss of memory. Loss of employment. Loss of identity after identity after identity after identity. Loss, after all, of control.
Sometimes it seems that bits of us are replaced, that we can be made whole. the Abrahamic traditions, we are reminded by Job that loss is permanent, that nothing is ever restored exactly to its former state. In the Hebrew Bible, Job gets a new family after the death of his prior family. But he is never restored to the family he lost. He never won’t have scars, grief, loss. Even he, the devoted servant of YHWH, will never not be broken.
Despite much of our religious and spiritual ideology, static “wholeness” is not to be attained in this life. We are not whole. We just aren’t. We are not at-One.
At least, not through the lens of Akhilandeshvari-Reality. Through Her lens, we are never whole, we are always in pieces, and those pieces and their movement is where Holiness and Reality are to be found. There is no need to fight our grief. There is no need to see others as “having it all together.”
We are not together. We never have been, and none of us ever are. In fact, we are never-not-broken. Even the heights of love happen in the context of other loves, other losses.
Let us be gentle. Let us be understanding. Let us be compassionate for ourselves and others. We are not together, and it is okay. One might argue that such brokenness is only one way to see Divine reality. And I agree. Seeing Unity is another way, not The Way, of seeing Divine reality. We need various lenses at various times.
I believe the Divine is always breaking—sometimes blindingly breaking in on us!—and always knitting together. I believe the Divine is One and Many, Whole and Broken. When I have been grieving—as I have been since a dear friend recently died—it is the Divine Spirit of Akhilandeshvari Who comforts me. Her Never-Not-Brokenness fills my own broken heart with hope. I hope somehow, that by embracing my jigsaw-puzzle realities, I may become aware of a sacred point of gravity around which all my losses and broken pieces can turn.
No matter how I spin—like the crocodile on which Akhilandeshvari rides—I can be in pieces and yet remain coherent, knowing the brokenness is all right. Knowing the brokenness leads to understanding, which is the precursor of compassion. I understand that am broken, but I am not broken and alone. I understand that I am in pieces and that understanding is good. I understand that I have rents and tears between bits, and even where I cannot see the chasms directly, I know that they are there.
Some of the torn and shattered places in my life have come through losing loved ones, living with both mental illness and a history of sexual assault, being fat in a fat-hating culture, and all the “slings and arrows” that come with entering middle age as a white lesbian in the United States. Some of my broken places have privilege—whiteness, education, middle-class identity—and some of them do not.
Being broken is not predicated on privilege or not-privilege. It is predicated on existence. This knowing, this understanding is what allows compassion to come through. We are all moving through the world as though reflected in shards of a mirror. The idea that the right hand truly and in all cases can know what the left hand is doing is laughable. And so when we come upon others acting out of partial awareness of their own parts and pieces, we can have compassion for them. After all, we act in similar ways.
And how much more so may we have compassion for ourselves in our inadequacies! May we be gentle with ourselves and our partial attempts at love, compassion, and wisdom.
There is a prayer in the tradition of one of my teachers that ends, “I would know myself in all my parts.” The prayer is not that we not be in pieces. Not that we not be broken. Not that we not have parts, bits, tears, wounds, even chasms….but please, Holy One, let us know them. It is a useful work to know them, to call them by name, and invite them to live ever closer to one another. We need the spaces, and we need the pieces the spaces define (typo: divine). Not only the brokenness. Not only the solidity. But the movement, the shifting, changing, dynamic reality that is All there is.
Blessings on us and on our houses.