I wondered how long she was coiled up under my pillow waiting to bite.
She had an important message that morning, but I’ve only recently started to understand it.
Last summer, we had been seeing these critters scurrying across our floors more often than usual. Bugs are something you learn to live with in the Korean countryside. I must say, however, I never worried that this black armoured creature with her blood-red pinchers would ever find her way into our bed. But last July, I learned that from now on, we’ll need to shake out our sheets and flip our pillows before attempts at summer slumber.
Before getting out of bed to start my work week, I turned on my side to rest for a few more moments. I felt something hard and cold on my shoulder, but figured it was a pillow zipper. When I stirred again, I learned I was wrong. A sharp, swift pinch caught my shoulder! I quickly sat up, pulled back the pillow, and there she was: the familiar centipede with her recently triggered pinchers.
Luckily we learned this variety of centipede isn’t poisonous. All I’d have to worry about would be a strong itch and swelling around the tiny vampire-like bite marks. Of course, I’d also have to worry about going to bed at night. But something else played on my mind: what was the meaning behind this?
When animals make sudden or unexpected appearances in my life, I enjoy learning more about their spiritual meaning. By doing a quick Google search of the animal + totem animal (or spirit animal), interpretations are easy to find. Of course there is greater depth to this concept than just a Google search, but I like using such spiritual modalities to help me understand the greater meaning that life is presenting at the moment.
But unlike animals such as the fox, bear, or crow, there wasn’t much on the obscure centipede. What I did find, didn’t speak to me at that time.
It wasn’t until I finally opened my new Shakti Coloring Book a few days before the eve of 2016 that I was able to make sense of my summer morning encounter. As I was skimming the explanations and Hindu goddess illustrations of Ekabhumi Charles Ellik, the word “centipede” jumped out at me. I learned that each Hindu god or goddess has a vehicle (vahana), and that this vehicle is usually an animal. Ekabhumi writes:
Animals help both to identify a goddess and to give insight into how her power is expressed.
Okay. Interesting. So what was the expression of this particular power?
Centipede: poison, hatred, fear, darkness
Okay. Not so cool.
Skimming all the other vehicles listed, I didn’t see words that felt quite as menacing as the one’s which belonged to the goddess who desperately wanted to be identified. Hopeful words such as abundance, protection, playfulness, or immortality defined the other 23 listed vehicles. I guess I was in for quite a ride!
So who was this centipede carrying anyway?
According to Ekabhumi’s research, the centipede was considered to be one of Goddess Kali’s vehicles.
Who is Kali and what does she want from me?
The way we see Kali at any given moment has everything to do with where we are in our own journey. Whether Kali seems terrifying, fascinating, or loving depends on our state of consciousness and our level of both emotional and spiritual development. But she always invites us to a radical form of ego-transcendence (Kempton, p. 122).
It was starting to make sense. The week she bit me was halfway through the first (and now only) launching of the TESOL course I had put together (see the previous post Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015 for a bit of history on this). Many forms of doubt had slowly started to creep in. My confidence and even my joy was starting to wane. My ego was on high alert for sure: the perfect moment for Kali to present herself. It was time for an ego eradication, but I wasn’t ready to listen.
What did that mean for me? It meant my doubt, my need to be perfect, my fear of making mistakes, my desire to be liked — my ego — dug its teeth into me and didn’t let go. It dimmed my light and led me into the fog. The fog followed me into my first semester in the Department of English Education, a department I would have been happy to teach for in years past. And although I was grateful for this new position, I had an overpowering sense that the darkness was taking over.
She is a massive love-force that is literally death to the ego. When she erupts in your life, Kali will cut away whatever is extraneous, whatever is indulgent. She is especially hard on arrogance, including the arrogance that makes us believe prematurely that we are outside the rules, before our earned wisdom has legitimately given us the right to set aside rules in the service of higher values (Kempton, p. 124).
Now that it’s winter vacation, and I have time to look back and make sense of how I was feeling, I see how I was easily led by my bad habits: perfectionism and the disease to please. I understand what Kali was warning me about that morning. She wanted me to look into my fears, my habits, rather than push them away. Although it’s hard to admit it, that’s what I did. I did my best to ignore my fears because facing them was too scary.
The biggest experience of Kali’s love always accompanies those moments when we have allowed ourselves to let go of our egoic agendas. As she sweeps away a layer of ego, the depth of care is revealed (Kempton, p. 126).
I haven’t let go of all my agendas or fears. I know I have a lot of work to do. But I’m starting to see the light of Kali’s care beaming through the fog. I see her vehicle coming down my path, and I’m ready to hitch a ride.
- to Anna Loseva for turning me on to the meditative world of colouring and for inspiring me (perhaps unknowingly) to finally buy The Shakti Coloring Book I’d been eyeing.
- to Elizabeth Duvivier for organizing and facilitating The Goddess Book Club. Although I participate at my own slow pace, it’s so much fun to explore the Goddesses through her videos and questions.
- to Sirja Bessero for telling me about Sally Kempton’s, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga, and for leading me to Elizabeth’s book club. Most importantly, thank you for writing The Year I Almost Turned My Back on Teaching English and for helping me remember that the fog follows us all.