Disappointment is a many faced teacher but one that we would rather not take a lesson with. One strand of yoga philosophy known as Tantra, views all reality as being One, everything connected yet expressed in different ways. In the Tantric tradition the ten wisdom goddesses are teachers who guide us through distinct aspects of knowledge and understanding of the nature of reality.
Dhumavati is the goddess of Disappointment and she is the current theme of my Friday morning classes. She's old, dirty, a crone type figure not dissimilar to the witches in popular fairy tales, she's not your typical Goddess! Her name means 'the smokey one' and her stifiling smoke seems to envelope us when we are confonted with life's disappointments. The unfulfilled desire that now seems a hopeless dashed dream; the plan that fell to pieces in front of your eyes; the person you counted on who let you down; the body you relied upon that gave up, became old and sick. It happens to all of us and although we try hard to avoid being disappointed we eventually have to face up to seeing that it's all part of this One reality we are living.
Disappointment is frequently characterised often by this intense sense of feeling alone: abandoned, unsupported neglected, unwanted, not good enough to be with others, unworthy - the list goes on. Dhumavati's veery appearance calls attention to all those things we associated with being an outcast: dishelleved hair, wrinkled sagging skin, dirty clothes and a horseless cart - she is after all the widow, traditionally considered the lowest status for a woman in Hindu culture. The myth most associated with her goes that when Sati, Shiva's first wife, immolated herself on her father Daksha's ceremonial fire Dhumavati arose in the smoke from Sati's charred remains, as the disapointment of being dishonoured.
Beyond her dishelleved hair and behind her dirty rags however, Dhumavati's eyes are said to be sharp and clear. Like a brightly lit window that opens once we've ceased descending into the darkness of disappointment and stopped tormenting ourselves with the 'why didn't's' and 'if onlys', it offers a way of escape. We have to only let go of the attachments we had to our old desires and channel our energy into putting one foot in front of the other. And it's often then that a new opportunity for those next step appears or a solution to problem. On the mat this might be an simple change of atttitude, an acceptance of not being able to achieve the full expression of a pose or a softening that allows you to relax a little and let go of grasping for a goal. As you do so sometimes the letting go relaxes the muscle tightness or the expectation and you intuitively move a little closer to the target.
The moment we let go of the expectation that accompanied the disappointment a sense of freedom rises. The Goddess's clear gaze offers a chance to see our way forward, to take from the experience a valuable lesson, not just in how to perhaps avoid the same disappointment in the future but also how to accept the inevitability of misfortune and importantly to realise that viewed in retrospect, it may look very different. Something that often seems painful and unfair at the time ends us being for the best.
Our misfortunes can teach us about transformation, growth and positive change. Adversity can make us stronger and more resilient and help us become more inventive and creative. Dhumavati, the archetypal bag lady pushing her trolley across the train station forecourt, muttering to herself, casting the occassional expletive out into a world that avoids and reviles her shows us what we need to do. Her message is to cultivate detachment. To build a faculty for letting go, a shedding centre. Dhumvati holds a winnowing basket, used to separate grain from chaff - symbolic of Viveka a sanskrit word for discrimination. Our ability to sift out what's important, what really matters in th disappointing moment, to discern the temporary from the permanent and to resolve to keep on reaching regardless of the obstacles we have faced and are still in front of us. In so doing we can free ourselves from the binds of disappointment that drag us down and start to lessen their effects each time they visit.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
William Shakespeare Sonnet 29