I had an amazing practice yesterday. The teacher told the story of the birth of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, beauty, charm, purity and she represents material and spiritual wealth. She rests on a lotus and has four arms, representing righteousness (dharma) desires (kama), wealth (artha), and liberation from cycles of birth and death (moksha).During the asana practice we worked our way into full lotus pose, which I haven’t been in since well before my pregnancy, so it was a fun challenge.
The part of the practice that has really stuck with me, though, was the part in the story about the Churning of the Milky Ocean. A very brief version of the story goes like this: Indra, the warrior god, was tasked with protecting the world from the demons. He was very successful at this for quite some time, especially with Lakshmi as a good-luck charm. One day, Indra, in a moment of arrogance, rejected and disrespected a gift offered to him by a wise sage. This upset Lakshmi so much that she left the world of the gods and returned to the Milky Ocean. With Lakshmi gone, the gods were no longer graced with success and good luck. The situation deteriorated, the power of the gods began to lessen, and the demons gained more power. Indra turned to Vishnu and asked what they could do to fix the situation and Vishnu told him that the gods would have to work together to churn the Milky Ocean in order to bring Lakshmi back. And so they churned, and churned, and churned, and finally after 1,000 years, things began to rise up, not limited to but including a potent poison (hala hala), an elixir of immortality (nectar), the moon, and finally Lakshmi.
Hindu mythology, like all mythology, is a means to explain or teach us about aspects of ourselves, society, and the world around us. The Hindu gods are all meant to represent different aspects of the Self and the Universe as a whole. The Milky Ocean represents the energy , vast and ocean-like, that rests at the bottom of our spine, waiting for us to open the channels of the spine through our Yoga practice. This energy begins to stir and churn as we embark on this physical and spiritual task. As the energetic channels open, both the poison and the nectar begin to rise up. Think about how often you leave your mat feeling amazing (the nectar) but also having awoken to something you need to address or work on (the poison). During the Churning of the Milky Ocean, when the poison arose, Shiva swallowed it, held it in his throat, and through awareness recycled and transformed it into harmless, useful energy. This is exactly what we should be doing with any unpleasant realities that arise through our practice. To spit this poison out, to reject it completely, would be to reject a part of ourselves. Instead, through our Yoga practice, working with all parts of ourselves, we churn, we recycle, and transform the parts that are harmful through awareness.
Chandra, the moon deity that arose from the Milky Ocean, came to be the cup from which the gods drank Soma, another lunar deity. Soma is the drink of the gods which helped them to overcome fears and obstacles to achieve their goals. It also bestowed upon them immortality. This Soma is said to run through the veins of all living things. Unlike the sun which can be harsh in its brightness, the moon’s light is soft, intuitive, and feminine in nature. Soma is like moonlight, it softly illuminates, allowing us to see Reality and overcome obstacles.
Thinking about all of these lessons (and there are so many more contained in this story) has inspired me to begin a new practice of drinking moonlight. The best Yoga I can do is the yoga I do when I am awoken in the middle of the night by my sweet boy. Do I focus on the harsh reality of how tired I am or do I relish in the opportunity to literally drink the moonlight? The best Yoga I can do is the yoga I do when I wake up in the morning for the day (assuming I’ve slept at all). The attitude and outlook I have as my feet hit the floor sets the tone. My intentions in this moment are incredibly powerful as they will affect not only my experience of the day, but my son’s as well. I can choose to see the reality of the day under the harsh light of the sun (I’m so tired! I’m so new at all of this! I’m not sure if I’m doing it right!) or I can observe myself and my struggles under the kinder more gentle light of the moon (Sleep will come. You are learning. You are doing your best). Either way awareness will come. This awareness will help me to process both the nectar and the poison that arise from my Yoga practice. But I figure, if Soma is good enough for the gods (who are me) then it is good enough for me (who is me).