by Karina Guthrie.
Do you remember the last time you were stunned? By an idea? A beautiful vista? An unexpected experience? Love or beauty? Beauty, in particular, has a ‘stunning’ effect. Think of the last time you told someone: ‘You looking stunning’.
This ability to stun, in all its forms – according to the yoga tradition – happens by the grace of the divine feminine in her personification as the goddess Bagalamukhi, whose primary power is paralysis. Bagala literally means, ‘rope’ or ‘bridle’. Mukhi means ‘face’. Bagalamukhi expresses her particular flavour of Shakti through her ability to control or conquer.
Bagalamukhi can stop any movement or action in its tracks, and she does this, not just at the microcosmic level – the level of our personal experience – but at the macrocosmic level too. At the level of mundane experience, her power manifests as the ability to fascinate or influence others. One of the ways we experience this is charisma. Just as a truly charismatic person has the power to stop us in our tracks, on the cosmic level Bagalamukhi operates in the same way, by blocking, stopping or immobilising activity at any level of creation through the hypnotic power of spiritual awareness.
The most important expression of this, according to tradition, is the capacity to paralyze or annihilate forces that oppose our spiritual evolution. Which forces are these? The forces of our ego. And so Bagalamukhi represents the power to destroy the ego and the thoughts, ideas and feelings that arise from our preoccupation with self-image.
Yogic sages say that one of the ways ego manifests is through unconscious speech and so, to control the ego, we have to control our speech by not speaking ill of others. By controlling speech, we control our thoughts and when we control our thoughts meditation opens up.
The yoga tradition has lots of practices that help us develop Bagalamukhi’s power; that of stambhana (which means, ‘to stop’ or ‘to paralyse’). A simple place to start is by pausing throughout the day to observe ourselves in mundane moments. Slowly, we can develop the capacity to pause mid-moment, even when we are most busy, even when our minds are running like freight trains, even when we are stressed or upset. We start to see when we have become hypnotized by the momentum of our busy-ness, by the allure of external objects, of external markers of success or image.
Bagalamukhi’s power gifts us spiritual knowledge which, in moments of clear seeing, breaks our attachment to the external. When we lose interest in our ideas about the world, spiritual knowledge guides us within. We start to ask the big questions: who am I? Beneath our clothes, without our job, without everything we use to construct our persona, what’s in the space that’s left?
This is the beginning of spiritual knowledge, which Bagalamukhi also represents. This particular aspect of her personality is referred to ‘the weapon of Brahma’ because spiritual knowledge is so powerful. The more we bring our mind back to the question, ‘who am I’, the better able we are to cut through the superficial, through everything that distances us from our Self.
To this end, Bagalamukhi has an interesting quality for it is through spiritual knowledge that we come to realise that everything dissolves into its opposite. At some point, sound merges with, and becomes, silence. Defeat becomes victory, knowledge becomes ignorance, power becomes weakness, and visa versa. Our job is to find the still place between these dualities. When we can see that hidden within each thing is its opposite, we are no longer misled by the appearance of things. Bagalamukhi shows us that everything in manifestation passes cyclically through the state that defines both it, and its opposite. Such is the nature of the cosmos.