You are wedged between moving walls of hot damp bodies and can almost take your feet off of the ground to just float along through the shouts and music that fill the space between the top of your head and the high stone ceiling.
You think, “This is what my Mom hopes I’m not doing right now.” But the intensity of the people pressing on every side of you is intoxicating, their prayers and laughter reassuring, and you wouldn’t miss this for anything.
What you want is to see and to be seen by the deity. This is called darshan. It can be defined as “the exchange of glances.” The point is the exchange, the visual conversation. You look at the deity to see something about yourself. At the same time, this exchange is expansive in that you are also having darshan with the several thousand other people who are all there for the very same reason as you, so the darshan ricochets back and forth like laser tag. Eyes connect and everything is amplified: the sounds, smells, colors, and movement. Seeing and being seen. Seeing and being seen.
There is a goddess named Kamakshi, whose name can be translated as the one whose eyes are desire. Kama=Desire and Aksha=eye. Kamakshi was crazy about Shiva and built him a puja, tending to it repeatedly and devotedly until he showed up. She looked at him with her big dark eyes, and that was that. The darshan was so powerful that their future together was sealed.
There is some point or many points in your life when you are Kamakshi: when your eyes are soft with love or heavy with desire, when you know what you want and you stick with it, when you are unwavering in your devotion and committed to what matters. You are Kamakshi when your passion is so effulgent that it inspires others to turn toward whom and what they love.
And just as Kamakshi is one form of Shiva’s beloved, she is just one form of you. There are infinite others because we are never just one being to the one we love. My teacher Douglas Brooks speaks about it like this: there is you, there is the other person, and there is relationship. Think of how many facets there are to one word, one glance, one thought. Each is a point of departure exploding in multiple directions like fireworks. Every spark generates a new conversation.
Anyone who speaks more than one language knows that the you speaking your native tongue is slightly different from the you speaking another language. The different linguistic structures create alternate frames of reference and sets of relationships. Part of the liberating release of entering into another culture is the recognition that your habitual frames of reference are removed. You are free to reconfigure, to create different types of conversations within yourself and with other people. A new you is mirrored back and you diversify. This is what I did at some point in that crowded hall. I released into it and what I received was more of myself that I had ever imagined. More Susannas. And I liked it.
I was planning a spring 2012 retreat with my teacher Douglas, and trying to settle on a topic. I suggested Kamakshi, but told him that I was torn because I was equally drawn to two other forms of Shiva’s beloved: Minakshi, a sort of Warrior Princess, whose stunningly labyrinthine temple I have twice visited in Madurai, and Akhilandeshvari, who rides a crocodile, and can be seen as mother of the Universe, which is pretty amazing. All three goddesses are closely associated with the Sri Chakra, one of those geometric things that is actually an infinitely expanding map of consciousness. It is shown either nestled at the feet of the goddess or in the case of Akhilandeshvari, dangled from her ears as jewelry.
Douglas said to me, “Do the three. They are all you.” And so it was decided. And just as they are all me, they are also all you…and you…and you.
This is about deepening the conversation and expanding it. This is about the yearning desire for more meaning and beauty, for an exchange of glances over conversation and an invitation to see more facets of our selves and of others.
What do you really want?
Ask yourself this question because our very nature is desire, so it’s important to get clear on what matters.
How do you want to receive the world?
Your answer will open new doorways leading to exquisitely winding passageways within yourself.