Musings by Veronica Yacco
Sensuality. Pleasure. Enjoyment. Luxury. Beauty. Sounds a bit like a list of things that can get a yogi in trouble. They are all things that are easy to form attachments to and probably most of us have, at some point, already experienced some kind of pain on the other side of at least one thing from the list. But these are many of the experiences that are embodied through Lakshmi, Goddess of abundance both physical and spiritual. There can be so much confusion around the subtle line that exists between enjoying an experience and forming an attachment to that enjoyment. Lakshmi encourages us to engage with our senses and luxuriate in experience of the world, but at the same time asks that we maintain clarity and control over our interactions, to not let our egos run wild. It's a fine balance to know how to fully be present to receive an experience and how to gracefully let go of that same experience and know that you have lost nothing. That fine line of discipline and inner authority are other gifts of Lakshmi, a part of Her abundance that we don't always have the same attraction to as the idea of wealth, success, or sensory comfort. She not only offers us all the bounty of embodiment, but the tools to maintain full awareness of our spiritual Self while we enjoy the shifting pleasure of existence. She represents a mastery over being embodied, but without the harshness of the ego's controlling ways. In Her softness there is a more complete understanding of mastery - having love and also respect for that we are in relationship with. Lakshmi maintains this deep respect not only for the world, but always for Her own Self, preserving both as their own aspects of Perfection.
In tantric practice, there is the concept of the coiled kundalini energy (Shakti held "dormant" within the body) being awakened and rising up the central energy channel (shushumna) to unite with Shiva, our Absolute Awareness. When they meet is the moment of enlightenment, of true clarity and bliss. Then, it is said, they descend together to reside at the heart center, the seat of the Jiva Atman, the embodied Soul. I imagine that if the experience of that residing at the heart had a face and a name it would be Lakshmi (of course there are other Goddess forms in tantric practice that would also embody this experience). To be fully awake to spiritual Truth, but still willing and interested in engaging fully in the world sounds too good to be true. But it is exactly this that is promised as the "success" of the spiritual path. It takes (typically) tremendous work to free ourselves of our habitual attachment to our senses and the distorted reality seen through the mind and the emotional self. We have to do a lot of giving up and letting go to even begin to glimpse the possibility of seeing things in a different way. We have to really engage with our likes and dislikes and learn not to be swayed by them, to not get emotional about everything we encounter in the world. And that's not easy to do all the time. That kind of control ebbs and flows as we practice. We slip up a lot, get frustrated, try to calm down and be at peace, get frustrated again, get more frustrated at our frustration and then go watch tv. Maybe we feel bad about ourselves while watching tv or maybe we just stop thinking about anything and enjoy escaping into the fantasy of media. And the habit continues. We get caught up in liking or disliking what is happening no matter what the situation happens to be. As soon as we realize that pattern is the ONLY thing we need to really look at, the work gets a little easier (maybe). Maybe we start to train our reactions. Instead of lashing out like we'd like to do we try to consider what compassion might look like in this moment. We try taking a breath before speaking and ask ourselves what we are trying to achieve with our actions. Will we end up causing harm? In essence we start to consider situations outside of the parameters of just our likes and dislikes. That's an amazing shift! Whether we are always successful in controlling our reactions or getting the results we hoped for is not important. That's not the metric for progress. That we can think and perceive and act beyond our own ego's preferences is the path to freedom. That's the inner journey Lakshmi takes us on.
Once we have become accustomed to giving everything up and renouncing the idea that our likes and dislikes have any relevance to what is happening in the world, we can begin to breathe more freely and live with less anxiety. We don't have to carry the burden of judging everything that happens or twisting it around to try to get it to be something we like. We can start to take things in as they are and notice where pleasure organically happens as a result of simply relating to what's in front of you. Even the opposite, aversion, gives us something meaningful to feel and can direct us to greater feelings of empathy and open us up to greater perspective around what we don't have an immediate affinity for. Being good at letting go of attachment means you do not have to carry the burden of aversion either. What you dislike doesn't belong to you any more than the things that you do like. Relate to the situation in whatever meaningful way you can and continue on your way. Don't carry the like or dislike with you. Let your innate reactions simply be the way in which you hone your awareness of your spiritual Self. Like and dislike, when they arise, are both places to remember that wider spiritual perspective of what is happening. It's in that moment when we want to attach or push away that we can tap into actual openness very deeply and in a conscious way, almost like the inhale that happens after you've been holding your breath. That intensity and relief can happen whenever we feel that grasping begin to happen (or notice it's been happening) and we decide to let go and remember the world that exists beyond just our mind's preferences. You can call this tapasya - using what irritates us or pushes against our comfort zone as the way to break the mind's addiction to its habits so it is free to take in reality in a more complete way.
Lakshmi's teachings are always about value. What you consider to be wealth is determined by what you think is important, what is valuable. If something has use to you, that means it has value. You'd be sad to lose it. Our embodied minds have a natural mechanism for creating like and dislike. There's great purpose in that and it is part of the mind's natural functioning in the material world. It's part of how the mind connects to the senses and makes meaning out of a bunch of wild, chemical reactions happening in the body that are then communicated to that inner awareness of self (the ego) for expression. When it is suggested that we cultivate the discipline to elevate the mind beyond like and dislike, or to dissolve the ego, it doesn't mean we are trying to throw those reactions away, or to diminish the functional role that the ego plays. We don't want to ignore the value in feeling intuitively what we have natural affinity and connection to and to what can potentially cause us harm. These reactions tell us a lot about where we have resistance to being open, where are learning is still occurring. We don't want to lose the roadmap. What we do want is the knowledge that like and dislike are not the masters of our reality. By knowing how to use like and dislike as tools to re-ignite our open relationship with the world and other beings, we ensure that the full depth of living is available to us at all times. We are the only ones that can master our minds. We are the only ones that can direct the way our prana, our shakti, moves. Lakshmi's guidance is to develop the discipline to break the mind's painful habits with loving authority, to have a deep respect for this vessel that carries your Soul. Give up like and dislike and She will offer all the attributes of the enlightened mind. When the mind is free, you are free to enjoy everything without guilt and without the weight of attachment. Pleasure is simply a natural part of life. Luxury is loving what you have, not chasing more than you need. Beauty is apparent in how things flow and change. Things and experience will come and they will go. The abundance is being able to enjoy it all again and again, in deeper and deeper ways as our awareness grows and our hearts open deeper to the presence of the Soul within that is already a wellspring of bliss. Lakshmi is a key to unlock that door to a deeper embodied experience of the Soul, the abundant gift of the Source of all.