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Destruction or Liberation?

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

In the pantheon of Hindu deities one of the three key figures is Shiva. He is the God that destroys the universe in order to recreate it. His colourful feminine counterpart is Kali, sometimes known as the destroyer of illusions. She is sometimes represented as a Black woman with four arms; in one hand she has a sword, in another the head of the demon she has slain.

In our dramatic universe renewal and rebirth are intricately linked with decay and destruction. The explosion of a star – a supernova – creates the formation of new suns. Autumn leaves tumble and give way to spring buds. We cannot even take a new breath without expelling the old one.

Everything needs a structure to support it. Paradoxically structures tend, over time, to crystallise and constrict. This applies especially in organisations - unless they have the intention to evolve and built-in strategies for renewal. Sometimes we need Kali to clear away deadwood and create space for new birth. This relates to facilitating trauma release. Every suggestion given on this website is a starting point for an evolving peer-learning process. But if we put any idea or personality on a pedestal, it is liable to become an impediment. Alongside this is the opportunity to learn, as facilitators, from each student that we work with. This way the sessions we offer are responsive and people-centred rather than rigid or imposed. I want to let you in on some of my own recent learning, and how Kali stepped in to help me develop flexibility. I had played a support role in creating a cultural open day for Karibu, a diaspora women and minority support group in Ipswich where I live. This led to me being invited to lead their weekly dance session. Many of those attending live in a local housing project for people who need physical and mental support and come to the class with their carers. Until this time, even when working in mental health, I had generally found that people were attentive when I introduced the session or gave dance instructions. I took this for granted until I experienced the group at Karibu! People would walk in at any time during the first half hour talking loudly to one another, or on their mobiles, shouting across the room to greet a friend and completely oblivious to what I or other group members were doing. My initial response was to feel frustrated, to raise my voice, and to try to ‘rope them in’ by making the dancing very entertaining. I had a struggle for a few weeks with my own bruised ego and sore throat and, of course, gave it a lot of thought. One obvious avenue was to spend more time getting to know the individuals, especially the regulars, some of whom clearly came for a change of scene and some company and had no interest in dancing. This made quite a difference, though on various weeks different carers would appear and they varied greatly in their awareness of the dancing and my facilitating.

A key turnaround was the realisation that some of those who seemed to be glued to their chairs would be responsive if I put on their favourite music. The class started to become a much more two-way negotiated space, and my ‘leadership’ became rather like that of a kind parent who needs their child to do certain things while also following their lead and sometimes indulging them. I redefined the session in my mind as a combination of dance class and music social club. Increasingly the group culture has been changing and there is now a more cohesive community feeling. I think this happened only because I was willing to embrace Kali and let go of the structure in my mind. I needed to start again from a more vulnerable and humble place; being a learner and advocate for all present as well as the facilitator and teacher. I was listening to the Dancewise interview with Emma Roberts and relishing the way she draws from her experience of ‘unlearning’ the structures she was using in groupwork in mental hospitals, thus creating space for each person to reconnect with their body’s natural wisdom at their own pace in their own unique way.

This was shortly after I had a very helpful conversation with Jenny Oswald,

a founding circle dance teacher in Scotland, who explained that she didn’t

really relate to the word ‘trauma’ until she did some soul searching and

noticed her own struggles to resurface since the Covid lockdowns.

Her suggestion was that capacity-building for facilitating groups should

always include some introspection. We need to connect with the ‘echoes’

inside ourselves of personal and collective trauma.

Structures serve us, and nothing could take form without them.

Paradoxically we need to embrace Kali so as to keep in the present experience.

Stay open so as to recognise when a form is too rigid and needs to dissolve.

Kali Gayatri Mantra.

In Sanskrit “ॐ महा काल्यै छ विद्महे स्मसन वासिन्यै छ धीमहि तन्नो काली प्रचोदयात”

In English “Om Maha Kalyai Ca Vidmahe Smasana Vasinyai Ca Dhimahi Tanno Kali Prachodayat”

Meaning: ‘O Great Goddess Kali, unique presence, who resides in the Ocean of Life and in the Cremation Grounds that dissolve the world. We bring our awareness to your gifts. May you grant us boons and blessings.’

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