Many years ago my Ayurvedic Doctor, Sonam Targee, recommended that I start taking therapeutic baths every Monday. He explained, “Monday is the day of the Moon, so this is a way for you to celebrate and honor your feminine nature.” This was not the first time he had given me advice, that to my college-aged brain seemed a bit woo-woo and fluffy. But I had grown to trust him and had been in such a bad state of health previously, and experienced such a turn around through Ayurvedic therapies, that I was literally willing to try anything- even bathing by moonlight on Mondays.
He told me not to use any electric lights, only candle light, and when the moon was full to allow the moon to be my primary illumination. I was already in the practice of doing self massage with therapeutic oils smelling of Earthy sesame, bright flowers and zesty spices. But the best part of my new bath ritual was that while I was filing up the tub, massaging myself in gentle calming strokes, I was to sweetly hum a mantra to myself. The mantra he taught me was “Om Shrim Maha Lakshmi Ye Svaha”.
At first it was difficult to actually perform the ritual with the proper attitude of reverence and introspection while sitting on the bathroom floor with the lights out, once again, staining my bathmat with sesame oil. The soft humming however, after a few rounds of muffled laughter, I found to be a new refuge, immediately pacifying to my normally pointed and intense nature. At first I resisted the idea of this therapy, imagining the minutes dragging on and on in the dark, covered in oil, just sitting in the tub. I thought, “20 minutes of just sitting and breathing in the moonlight- that’s so long!” But once I started the sweet chant and submerged myself into the soothing waters, I realized just how fatigued and overstimulated I was. Every element of this experience felt like nectar and my whole self was thirstily drinking it in. Needless to say, it easily became a habit.
I am happy to say that I do not restrict myself only to Mondays for sacred therapeutic baths anymore. Any day of the week is a great day to be still and warm for me, but Mondays still hold a special significance as a day to honor the receptive pearly shine of the ever-changing moon.
And the chant he taught me so many years ago is still a favorite gem for me during my Monday nights of self-care. There are many ways to interpret this chant- literally it states, OM great beauty and power of (the goddess) Lakshmi, I call you in and offer you back.” Any diety of any tradition we might study will mirror aspects of our own human psyche. Lakshmi as the goddess of Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha (pleasure, prosperity, divine purpose, and spiritual liberation) to me expresses that the greatest wealth we experience as humans is in our ability to both perceive and know our aim or goal. She is the Goddess of fruition, completion and exquisite beauty, but this cannot happen without a very clear intention and the ability to meet our needs surrounding that intention. So, calling upon the great Goddess Lakshmi has the potential to clarify your own sense of purpose and bring you great delight- what do I love and what brings me the most joy?
Sounds good, right? Well, remember the second part of the chant. I call upon the great power and beauty of that which I love the most and then I let it go?!?! Svaha, is not just letting something out of your hands but intentionally and ritually making an offering of it. It literally means “well said”, but is frequently used to denote the end of a mantra- but can also denote the end of a chapter or phase or event in life. When Sonam taught me this chant he taught me that everything we receive in this life eventually goes back to the Great Mother. So to be fruitful and creative, it is necessary to learn to let our creations flow freely from our hearts and hands into the world. Every time we let go, we become more available and receptive to new ideas and experiences.
The moon is the receiver of the suns light and similarly, if you ever see an image of Lakshmi, she is often being sprayed gently on either side with water from the trunks of 2 elephants. She is the receiver of wealth just as much as she is generous with it. And she can only give as much as she receives. She demonstrates that in order for us to be wealthy and fulfilled we must be capable of receiving and giving in a continuous uninhibited flow. I think sometimes as yogis we can feel very self conscious about needing too much and get into overly-austere behaviors thinking we are being “pure” or “good” but really just depriving ourselves of what we need in order to be healthy and fulfilled. Adversely it’s easy to look at someone who is successful or wealthy and think they are somehow “bad” or “excessive”. And of course, once we have what we want, it’s also easy to cling or hoard. But when wealth is hoarded it looses it’s luster, just like stagnant water. A measure of health (and wealth) according to Lakshmi is constant and regulated flow.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about asking for what you really want? You are not alone in thinking “I could never have that, it’s too much.” Or, “Why should I deserve such success?” Or my personal favorite, “I’m not actually good enough, strong enough, smart enough, (fill in the blank with your own adjective of choice)________ enough…”
What yoga has taught me is that the greatest gift of being alive is that we are conscious! Without trying, or really understanding or knowing why, I have a sense of purpose. We all do, and when this sense of purpose is unclear, we suffer. Part of what we do when we practice Asana, is regulate the flow of Prana, or energy. As we become more self-aware we see and feel where the flow of our own desire is stagnant, depleted or excessive then and learn to Svaha! Anything that you are holding on to at one point in your journey served you, or it wouldn’t be there. Remember, energy cannot be created or destroyed, so if something isn’t useful to you anymore, a thought, a feeling even, it doesn’t mean it won’t be fuel for someone or something else at some other time. Let it go with gratitude and ritual flair!
It is often in the dark that new life takes root. But the dark can be scary and it’s easy to lose our way. And so, today I invite you to listen to your own heart beat- what do you love and what do you need? Because when your needs are met you have the opportunity to be a channel of great wisdom and generosity. When you are well rested, well fed and deeply fulfilled it is natural to be generous, just like ample bodied Lakshmi with a welcoming smile and coins spilling out of her hands.
Observe the wealth at hand- take it in, let it go, repeat. You are a channel, a vessel, an unfolding sacred process. May you have the clarity to know what you love, the courage to ask for what you need, the ability to receive it, and the strength to Svaha- make a sacred offering of yourself to the world. Trust the process- offer and relinquish. Just like flowing water clears itself, you too, when you become just as receptive as you are generous become a clear and valuable conduit.