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.
Sita and Radha. These two are the antitheses of what I think I want to be: Sita is the self-sacrificing, pure, virtuous and utterly devoted to her consort, Rama. Radha is personified by her romantic longing for Krishna, a saucy affair that had all odds against it. And who wants to be involved in any of that nonsense?
First learning about Sita immediately made me grit my teeth at how she went back to Rama over and over again, as he doubted her, and he exiled her to the forest twice (once while she was carrying his twins), as her virtue was questioned and tested unceasingly. Never once did she waiver in her love and devotion to Rama, not even when she was captured by the fine-as-hell demon king Ravana. I bristle as I hear this–because girl, come on.
Radha and Krishna grew up together and fell in love, but not before Radha got married to some other dude. She strikes me as more digestible to me than Sita’s hopeless loyalty, but the woman had it bad for Krishna her whole life.
Hold up. Didn’t Parvati evoke the same reaction in me as she bent over backwards to catch Shiva’s attention? And doesn’t Radha and Sita also embody this wild love for the sacred? These stories are not about men and women, I have to keep reminding myself. They are symbols and metaphors for our relationships with the holy, with ourselves. We are every character in these myths.
I am in a sea of Sita-Radha-Parvati shakti as I find myself in complete devotion. I am utterly entranced by an ancient knowledge I can’t name. It feels eerily similar to having it so bad for someone that you can’t sleep–the sweet longing that can be more unctuous than actually being with your beloved. She consumes my thoughts, and I constantly wonder when I can be near her again. She comes to me in the moments of fervent writing, of meditation when my mind is most quiet, in the exquisite ache deep within my belly, and in the morning air I want to drink in until I drown.
I feel like I’m in pursuit of a lover, someone who is exponentially more myself than I am. This divinity is coquettish and coy, foul-mouthed and exuberant, brazen and insatiably lustful for experience. I catch glimpses of her the mirror, on my mat, while rereading something I’ve written. She is mysterious, an enigma that I am somehow intimately familiar with. She coaxes songs from my throat one moment, and tears from my eyes the next. She has sybaritically wrecked me.
Maybe this is how Radha felt about Krishna. Their romance was completely unconventional: Radha was married to someone else, and Krishna belongs to no woman–all of them fall madly in love with him. Maybe this is how the gopis felt when they hear Krishna’s music in the woods, dropping everything they’re doing to join him in ecstatic dance.
This is bhakti, the imprudent, hopeless devotion to the divine. Specifically, madhura bhava, the “sweet mood” of a woman to her paramour. The kind you get lost to. The kind that cracks you open. And it’s new to me. I’ve only begun to cultivate a spiritual practice within the last few years, and everything has been in overdrive since I started a daily meditation practice and my ardent seeking. I haven’t felt as connected and in pursuit of something in a very long time, if ever. It leads me in a million directions that are still somehow congruent with each other. This devotion challenges me to be wildly authentic, to take hard looks at myself and my habits. It’s confusing and weird and hard, and so intense that I feel a little crazy.
And true to the form of any earth-quaking love, it snuck up on me just when I thought I was getting my ducks in a row.
Not so, this love says. Allow me dismantle these pretty little boundaries you’ve worked so hard on. What are you protecting yourself from? Don’t you see you are already safe? Already held?
It’s easy to lose perspective in love, with someone else, with God, with yourself. Parvati reminds us that we operate in many worlds, keeping it all in balance: our spiritual love lives blossom as we engage in cleaning the bathroom, get ready for work, and enjoy a glass of wine. What I love about this embodied spiritual practice is that it is everywhere. Like Sita, we are brought to our knees over and over again and cannot turn away from this love for the divine. Like Radha and the gopis wandering around completely entranced by Krishna in all they see, we too can see the sacred in every experience, even the mundane, even the painful. We yearn and long and crave to be closer. We chase her around the world, asking gurus, shamans and grandmothers who has seen her? When was she here last? The wise ones chuckle to themselves.
Eventually, we realize that we are completely and utterly in love with our Selves. The ancient one who has always been, through millions of women before us, through our ancestors and shows up in the glint in our very own eyes. She is the one we’ve been chasing, all the while whispering the answers to questions we haven’t even formed yet. Creating the intent to connect with her, ask her for guidance, commune with her to experience joy and heal in ways we never thought possible. And all we have to do is listen.