I’m participating in an 11-week Shakti series with Devi Yoga’s Kirsten Warner and almost 30 other magnificent Colorado women. Each week, we examine a different goddess of the Hindu pantheon and embody her energy, teachings and wisdom.
I’ll admit it: Lakshmi never really appealed to me in a significant way. She’s just so easy to love–she’s arguably the favorite goddess of the people. Everyone from bankers to housewives to young girls to new brides ask for her blessings, mostly because she reigns over all the good stuff. If the deities were in highschool, she’d be Homecoming Queen: stunningly gorgeous, ubiquitously popular, unflinchingly generous, and–worst of all–really, really nice.
A bit too easy for me to like. I’m more of a Kali-lover myself, for all her primordial rage and loving ruthlessness. But Lakshmi governs unending abundance in all forms: beauty, material and spiritual wealth, prosperity. She is lush and exquisite, even her bija mantra, shrim, evokes the sound of flowing coins pinging together an empty vessel.
But Lakshmi emerged from the churning of a sea of milk. An abridged version of the birth of Lakshmi: The gods and demons found themselves in a loveless, joyless world, and Brahma advised them to churn the ocean with a mountain and a huge sea snake to recover amrita–the nectar of immortality that would restore the balance. Eons pass of the demons and gods working tirelessly, and the ocean begins to froth when all of a sudden halahala emerges: a poison so potent it can extinguish all existence. Shiva jumps in and fearlessly swallows this poison, which turns his throat blue.
After the halahala, other things begin to emerge. Better ones, thankfully: the moon; Surya, the goddess of wine (hey, girl!); the amrita. Among them, Lakshmi, fully grown and stunning, bedecked in gold silk, holding an urn from which an unending flow of coins spill and sitting on a lotus.
Now, what I was unaware of was that Lakshmi was preceded by a lethal, noxious poison before she emerged from the ocean. A poison that terrified the demons and gods and had the power to destroy everything they knew. Only when Shiva, in his loving, conscious awareness, takes it into himself does Lakshmi show herself.
Om shrim maha lakshmiyei swaha
Lakshmi showed herself to me in some expected ways: I came across some unexpected money, the sunshine kissed my skin in the most luscious ways, and I was positively tickled by the abundance of fuzzy summer stone fruits. (Seriously, show me a few pink-dappled, velvety apricots and I’ll lose it.)
But she came up in the halahala moments, too. Sitting on my porch, a storm churning the sky over the Flatirons and the luxurious breeze whirling around me. The bittersweetness of melancholy and yearning. The richness of laughing with friends in a dim, dirty bar. The abundance of sensation and emotion and anguish and I somehow feel bliss underneath the experience of it all.
The halahala makes the beauty mean something. The pain gives it truth. Lakshmi isn’t all sunshine and rainbows: she is the divinity when the hurt and ecstasy mingle. She is the sweetness that inspires you to endure. How sumptuous it is to feel the breadth of this experience, the exquisite spectrum that colors this existence. She is truly beautiful because she comes from the poison. The most beautiful things have been broken, only the wounded healer heals, the pain intensifies the pleasure. This is what I came to realize about our beloved Homecoming Queen, that she, like all things truly divine, encompass a bit of shadow.
Jai Lakshmi Mata!