Musings by Veronica Yacco
Habits are interesting things. What we do carries significance, even if the full meaning behind our actions is only understood by us. What we do all the time especially carries meaning, its significance reinforced by repetition. In its most auspicious form habit is the root of discipline and being steadfast. It's what allows us to stay consistent in a spiritual practice and in life. In its less auspicious form, habit can be the root (and/or reinforcement) of beliefs that limit how and in what ways we are willing to experience happiness. That's a nice way of saying they build the boundaries of our unhappiness, maybe even our suffering, that appear to become like insurmountable walls the longer we exist with them. Those walls are built from the many entangled thoughts and feelings that become synonymous in our minds with the actions we are taking. It doesn't matter if what we are doing is actually accomplishing what we intended. The actions themselves are symbolic of the feelings we have that are trying to be expressed or resolved in some way. For me, this is summed up with pink frosting. When I was young, I often went grocery shopping with my mom. I can't recall the name of the specific place we went to that had a bakery that sold yellow cake cupcakes with bright pink frosting. But I remember those cupcakes. I loved the color of the frosting. So, when my mom asked if I wanted anything I, of course, asked for a cupcake with pink frosting. The problem was that the cupcake didn't taste as good as it looked. I knew that after the first time I got to eat one. But that didn't stop me from asking for one again. Why? I wanted that experience to be different. I still loved how the cupcake looked and always hoped I'd like it better this time. I never did. But it was a treat my mom bought me. So I wanted to love it more. She was happy to get a cupcake for me. She expected me to ask for the cupcake with the pink frosting. I didn't want to disappoint her by asking for something else. Suddenly I felt trapped by a need to ask for a cupcake with pink frosting that I didn't even like because it was a symbol of how much I loved my mother and wanted her to be happy. And I wanted to be happy. Why couldn't I make this thing that I wanted to be a source of happiness turn into actual happiness? I didn't know why it didn't work so I just kept trying. Sometimes I made myself eat the whole cupcake. Sometimes I didn't. But the original enjoyment and excitement that began the habit had shifted into a place of unhappiness, obligation. Fear. I don't recall when it happened that I stopped asking for the cupcake, but my remembrance feels like it was quite a while before I felt comfortable changing that pattern. Maybe my memory is imperfect, but when I stopped asking for the cupcake, I don't believe I asked for something else. I believe I stopped asking for anything on those trips (at least anything special from the bakery). Habit had killed the pleasure in that experience. I didn't want more disappointment.
We all have built our walls out of something. I can certainly name more substantial patterns that are connected to feelings of unhappiness in me to this day. But I like the pink frosting memory. In completely innocent ways we begin to close ourselves in, wall ourselves off. We have the best intentions to remain open, but we often don't recognize the bricks that have already been laid and that we are in the process of placing (how many more times was something I thought was going to bring me happiness going to fail to become that?). When we do turn our attention to using habits in a beneficial way, we often conform those "good" habits to fit into the general parameters of our internal walls. We can only get so far before "something" gets in the way. We get too busy or we get sick and lose momentum in a routine. Maybe we start to feel something too intense and so we subconsciously back away from whatever is pushing at the edges of our walls. And we have many excuses for why we can't open ourselves more. Pretty much they all boil down to, "I don't want to be hurt or disappointed again." It's completely understandable. It's completely natural. There's nothing wrong with any of that. And that's why the walls remain. As yogis, many of us become very skillful at decorating our walls, adorning them with everything that we've learned because of them and honoring the role they play in our lives. (Please continue to honor absolutely EVERYTHING you find in yourself. It is great wisdom). We forget, however, to take that next step to take the walls down and to take in experiences that are beyond our self-made fortress. We forget to surrender our whole selves to feelings that cannot be defined by things. What is happiness that is not caused by an object? What is love that has no condition or one who "gives it" (or to whom we have to "give")? What is it to feel whole while still feeling the sharp pangs of sorrow? How can we feel so deeply and not try to hold it all back, hold ourselves separate? How do we make it manageable?
Every Navaratri I intend to be more organized (with only mild success Lol). I intend to pay more attention to my altars, to make more offerings, to "do it right this time". But I'm still here, as is my habit, writing my offering late at night when I swore I would stop doing it this way this time. Lol. But because this offering is a connection to my own heart, I'm not disappointed. I don't mind the imperfectness of my methods because being able to express the caring is what is important. Having the heart engaged is what's important. There are so many traditions wrapped up in Navaratri. There are many ways to approach the celebration culturally and spiritually. I'm sure most of us are not "doing it right". I promise that Durga doesn't care about the traditions. The traditions are for us, a way to acknowledge how we are sharing the experience of the Goddess as She appears in our individual lives. My question is- however you choose to acknowledge Her (or any significant moment in your life), is your heart engaged? Do you give out of habit or from outside expectation? Do you make your offerings in a way that is easy and convenient (meaning that you are following the rules rather than what you feel inside)? Do you actually give anything up in your relationship with Goddess/God? Are you fitting devotion into the parameters of your walls or truly looking to deconstruct them?
We say that if you have a murti (a statue or representation of the Divine), it only becomes a Real vessel for that energy vibration through your interactions (otherwise it is just nice decoration). Because you connect to the Divine through that image, the Divine flows through it back to you. The more energy you pour into that relationship, the stronger it becomes. This is how things become empowered. Whatever we offer becomes blessed by the vibration we are allowing to move through us through our devotional practice. So make your offerings meaningful. Durga is not in need of things. The offerings are not FOR Her, they are for you. They are the actions that symbolically connect us to feelings that we want to express. Whatever we offer should have significance to our own hearts. Otherwise, what are we giving it for if it doesn't mean anything to us? And what can have more meaning that what you hold inside? Can you offer your own heart to Durga? Can you let Her vibration take root within you. Can you be the altar and the vessel for Her energy to become alive and Real in the world? She is already present, but can you empower yourself by giving the gift of your own heart to that huge love that She represents?
When our walls come down, we may find ourselves scared of how vast things are outside of own habitual way of seeing things, of "knowing". We may want to hide and take shelter behind something or within somewhere. We may want a safe place to take it all in. Durga's name comes from the same root that means "fortress". She is the vibration of safety that can guide us in being willing to confront and take down the walls that we have built out of unhappiness. She is the knowledge that even if we give up everything that our hearts are holding we cannot be destroyed or overcome. Freedom might be terrifying to consider (there's a reason Kali looks the way She does), but Durga is like the mother's embrace. When we let go of everything She will hold us. We won't be lost. Her fortress is made of love that will overflow any and all containers. If we can be open to That, all other walls will dissolve.
Celebrate Navaratri in all the ways that feel good to your heart. Celebrate your life in all the ways that feel good to your heart. Make it a habit. Make your heart the offering so that love can overflow your walls and set you free.