When my daughter was about three years old we would walk daily in the forest and I would retell the same story. It was the story of how Shri (pronounced "Shree"), also known as Fortune or Splendor, leaves our world and how Shri returns.
The past months I have frequently reflected on this story.
This story is the "Churning of the Ocean of Milk" or the "Samudra Manthan". In brief: it starts with a powerful sage named Durvasas who presents a beautiful flower garland to Indra the King of the Gods. Indra accepts the garland but tosses it onto the head of his attendant elephant. Durvasas, known for his angry temper, flies into a rage and curses the entire land. Indra was blind to the fact that these flowers were the abode of Shri: Fortune, Abundance, Splendor.
Shri vanishes and the world is overcome by dark forces.
To make this really brief, the Gods and anti-Gods together churn the Universal Ocean of Milk where Shri, embodied as the deity Lakshmi, has concealed herself. As they churn they release much of the ocean's hidden contents. First there is a poison, hallal, which threatens to engulf the world, rendering people unable to breath. (Don't worry! Shiva saves the day, swallowing the poison and holding it in his throat.) Next misfortune surfaces, embodied as Lakshmi's sister Alakshmi. The Gods and Anti-gods continue their churning and then: a wishfulfilling tree, gems, various supernatural beings, and finally Shri/Lakshmi along with Dhanvantri, the deity of healing, holding a vessel filled with Amrita, the Nectar of Immortality. Health and fortune are re-established in the universe and benevolent forces reign again.
As I would tell this story, my then-3-year-old daughter would pick up a big stick, lean over the gentle brook, and grin at me as she began to churn the water. The waters would muddy and whatever was deposited on the sandy bottom would rise and swirl upwards into spirals.
And so it is with us.
When we intentionally "churn" our consciousness through physical Yoga, mantra, or whatever our chosen practice is, the contents hidden within our unconscious begin to rise. There may initially be a difficult purging (suppressed emotions, traumas, etc.) and then we begin to reap the treasures of the process. This is what happens on an individual level when we consciously go about our own self-development and individuation but this "churning" can also happen on the level of the collective...
The world is currently in a state of "disruption". A global pandemic leading to quarantines, unemployment, deaths. The horrors and injustices of systemic racism exploding into collective awareness. Uprisings in Asia. Ongoing drought and starvation in Africa. 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Siberian Arctic this summer. Wild fires. Scientists suggest that this pandemic is but the tip of the iceberg (and let's not forget the melting icebergs) as we march towards the future. More epidemics. Increasingly chaotic weather. Accelerated species extinction. We are indeed a planet reeling out of control.
Have we banished Shri from the land?
I love myths and archetypal stories such as the Samudra Manthan for they work on many levels. On one level, archetypal stories typically point us towards a true, universal source of empowerment. Often something is physically lost or someone loses their way, there is suffering, the natural powers of inspiration and wisdom arise under duress, and there is a winding return back to coherence. Shri has been lost. Where is Shri? She is hidden in the vibratory ocean of our own consciousness. She is there for She is everywhere.
Shri means "difusing light or radiance" and over time this concept came to be embodied in the deity Lakshmi. The word Lakshmi means "embodiment". Lakshmi is the Creatrix, and as Mahalakshmi (Great Lakshmi), she is the Great Mother or Shakti, the feminine force. She is a force of material manifestation and, as one of my teachers says, "She is the Mother that cannot stop giving".
"She" gives of herself, from her own body for "She" is the very juice of life, the Rasa of existence. Shri/Lakshmi, manifests in our physical world in a multitude of ways. Shri is primarily a combination of the life giving waters in combination with earth. She is the fertile mud which nurtures primordial life; the seed bursting upwards towards the sun; a plant exploding with fruit and medicinal properties; and she is the damp soil which composts it all, to begin the cycle anew. But She's more!
She is all that gives life joy and beauty.
She is luxury, money, and wealth. She is also generosity, especially of Spirit. In this sense, Shri is sweetness, kindness, and surrender. She is laughter, delight, and of course, love.
When I'm in the "Shri zone", I gush. True story. I hug people I hardly know. My heart flies open. Gratitude flows. I perceive my surroundings singing with vibrancy. Shri is an exuberant, effervescent force manifesting through my then 4-year-old-daughter who shrieked delightedly one day, "Today I'm a thermos of joy!!!"
I think many of us have become acutely aware in these last months of where our joy lies. Isolated from friends and family, from celebration and ritual, from travel, possibly from nature, it becomes ever more (painfully) evident our richness lies in our inter-connectedness. Here in my own community, people found a multitude of ways of sharing, giving, and supporting during the most difficult, constrained days of quarantine. My own neighbourhood was a wonderful example, of Canadian "care-mongering" a direct response to the "fear mongering" we are so familiar with in the media. But this can not substitute for the intense inter-penetration of our emotional and psychic beings that happens when we gather physically together as friends, as a family, as a community. It cannot substitute for celebrating together, singing together, dancing together. A virtual wedding or funeral does not give enough celebration nor solace. And my 12 year old says virtual birthday parties really suck.
But our sense of inter-penetration also extends to the other animals and life forms that we share this Earth with and with the planet itself. We depend on nature as the source of our food system, our economic system, and our spiritual abundance. We have evolved from tiny life forms through more developed species and we carry all this heritage within ourselves. We have the legacy of a multitude of species interwoven into our being. Yet like Indra who tosses the gift of the garland aside, we perform countless acts of micro-violence, often on a daily basis, against nature. We have lost our sense of inter-penetration with the physical world and we have become alienated from the levels of Splendor within our own consciousness.
So when Shri vanishes, how do we get her back? We churn. We turn within to gaze at our own consciousness. We surface the muck to reveal the splendor. The myth also tells us that Shri, while both apparent and yet hidden in all things, must be recognized, nourished, and celebrated in order to thrive.
One simple way we can do this is to invoke her through sound. The mantra "Shri" is an aspect of Her sound body, This bija or "seed" syllable holds within it an entire resonant field of physical potential and spiritual meaning. This one-syllable mantra can provide us with a tangible way to interact with powerful forces within ourselves and external to ourselves. Mantras pattern powerful energetic states that impact us within and without. It is a powerful way to connect with the force of vitality, joy, and love.
Hidden within our layers of consciousness are resonant fields of joy and creativity. Shri is one doorway into this. Open it. It's a good thing to do when times are tough, when your energy is low, and your vision is muted to life's inherent lustre. It's a good thing to do for maybe we are entering a period of collective churning. We need to ask ourselves: Wherein lies our wealth? What do we value? How will we nourish it? How will we celebrate it?
And what will we each do to re-enchant ourselves and a planet out of balance?
From joy springs all creation. By joy it is sustained, by joy it proceeds, and to joy it returns.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.