Finding Power in Our Brokenness: What a Hindu Goddess Can Teach Us About Self-Acceptance

Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari rides her crocodile.

Hindu goddess Akhilandeshvari rides her crocodile.

A Hindu goddess named Akhilandeshvari offers great insight into the path of complete self-acceptance — a path that I have taken that led to transformation into a Pack Leader personality. Her name translates to “The Never-Not-Broken Goddess” — a double negative that is unsettling to grammarians and confusing to ponder. But rather than being a goddess of weakness and brokenness, her message is about the the power of imperfection, confusion and uncertainty.

Rather unexpectedly, she is happy in her brokenness. She shows us the opportunity of being broken into pieces by both disaster and great fortune. Rather than rushing to attempt to heal, she purposefully keeps herself broken wide open, creating and fragmenting and recreating herself endlessly.

Pronounced ah-ka-LAN-desh-va-ree, the deity’s name has several translations. Wikipedia (1) explains it as Supreme Goddess (“Eswari”) who rules (“Aand”) the Universe (“Akilam”). Another website (2)  states “akhila” means bridging of a gap or an unsolvable problem, or completeness.

She is often compared to a spinning, multi-faceted prism, which fractures light yet creates beauty: “She dances and spins and breaks herself into shards of light, tossing out new possibilities for herself like flower petals from a cherry tree.” (3)  She rejoices in the unknowing, the fragility, the confusion and changes her identify willingly.

I have decided she should be the goddess symbol for those of us who work in mental health care: a symbol of trauma, grief, suffering and also positive change. She feels these states and lives them, as all good therapists should do, resonating with their client’s felt experience. She is the role model for personal transformation, but does not force others to engage in change. A website describes this aspect of the goddess well: ”She uses trauma and pain as tools — joyfully, purposefully — to attain her own liberation. And she teaches us that we can do the same.” “We meet her in our grief, in the aftermath of trauma and catastrophe — and our interactions are so personal we rarely speak of them,” says one spirituality website.

When I learned of Akhilandeshvari her message had a special resonance for me. I, too, have used my trauma and pain to grow, change and reinvent myself, changing careers to become a psychologist later in life after my second divorce. Before that I reinvented myself many, many times, with careers as a journalist, freelance writer, golf instructor, screenwriter and others. Throughout these life “zig-zags” I was often harsh and judgmental toward myself:  “Why can’t you figure out what you want to be or do? Why do you move so much? Change jobs so much? Try so many new careers? Why can’t you sustain a relationship?” Now I realize perhaps I was embodying akhilandeshvari. Akhilandeshvari is about freedom from routine, from old habits and wounds. The gift of destruction is new potential for growth

Now in my later life, after significant personal growth and self-acceptance, I am actually very happily never-not-broken.  I am happy for my reinventions, failures, and stumbles, knowing that I may have been breaking and fracturing, but in that confusion was also light. And that light was guiding me to a better place where I now work with patients to embrace their fractured lives and selves and guide them toward self-acceptance and self-compassion. Therapists should not rush in to force quick change and encourage a patient to “move on.” What is most helpful is an embracing of emotion, of full experiencing of the strong thoughts and feelings that many patients avoid.

Many patients have high levels of self-judgment and spend a lot of emotional energy mentally berating themselves, as if trying to fix what they view as broken. This leads to problems we label as “anxiety” or “depression” or “OCD.” I work to help them shift toward seeing themselves as accept themselves as “never-not-broken.”

Akhilandeshvari immediately struck me as significant when I read she is usually depicted as riding a crocodile. Crocodiles represent our reptilian brain where we feel fear. She rides on her fear rather than rejecting it, which in therapy is what we should do — embrace our deepest, frightening emotions. I do quite a bit of education with therapy patients on the power of fear, how we often react with fear to emotional threats, and how to become mindful and both embrace and manage our fear.

She teaches to stay on top of our survival fears, and not be reactive. In learning to be a Pack Leader, I learned to be fearless. I learned to become mindful and to stop automatically reacting with fear to change or rejection or disapproval by others or by myself. I have no fear of the disapproval of others and this has brought me fearlessness in relationships. And this self-compassion and self-acceptance is at the core of how I now help therapy patients reduce anxiety and depression, which are caused by the fear of rejection by others.

In addition, many years ago I had a powerful dream in which my totem animal was revealed to me — an alligator.. For me the alligator symbolized my need to honor my primal nature, trust my primal instincts, and conquer my fears. And this is what it means for Akhilandeshvari. “The very survival-fear that keeps most of us chained to the known and routine is Her flying carpet!” (3)

When I overcame my fears and embraced my primal powers of intuition and emotion I came into my own as an authentic person. I also learned great skills that I now use daily as a psychologist.

She also advises to surrender to tumult and things will work out. This ability to rejoice in the unknowing has been an ongoing journey for me, but so meaningful. Rather than worry and ruminate, I now allow the universe to take care of me and I trust completely that it will.

But as I write in “Pack Leader Psychology,” not everyone can be a pack leader. And Akhilandeshvari’s power is not for the submissive or fearful. “She doesn’t offer a comfortable solution, but an empowered one. She doesn’t give you security, but she displaces your reality so thoroughly that you discover you’ve actually been safe all along.” (4)

So many therapy patients have difficulty placing high expectations on themselves. Akhilandeshvari is about releasing expectations for yourself: You were never not broken, so why expect that you will be some image of “whole” in the future?

“That means that this feeling of confusion and brokenness that every human has felt at some time or another in our lives is a source of beauty and colour and new reflections and possibilities. We are already ‘never not broken.’ We were never a consistent, limited whole. In our brokenness, we are unlimited. And that means we are amazing.” (5)

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1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akilandeswari

2 : http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KejPGd2xKVo/UYXPzuXTRVI/AAAAAAAAA6k/GL_XDXOPChw/s1600/050413+akhilandeshvari+1.jpeg

3: http://www.wicca-spirituality.com/akhilandeshvari.html

4: http://www.wicca-spirituality.com/goddess-akhilandeshvari.html

5: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/why-being-broken-in-a-pile-on-your-bedroom-floor-is-a-good-idea-julie-jc-peters/