By Julie Peters.
In the Tantric tradition, the goddess of the 13th night from the new moon is called Sarvamangala. She is calm and quiet, surrounded by a crowd of 76 other deities, including the god of the Sun, the god of the Moon, and Soma, the god of a mind-altering substance (also called soma) that is traditionally used in some Tantric rituals.
Sarvamangala is said to be able to confer upon those that meditate with her the quality of khecara, which is sometimes translated as “floating freely under the vault of the sky.” This is the ability we all have, somewhere inside of us, to find a quiet place right at the centre of the crowds in our minds. This is a goddess of altered states of consciousness.
So much of our lives are products of the stories we create about our lives. We have expectations about what our relationships should look like and how we should behave in certain contexts. We take this for granted all the time, and act out scripts based on those expectations. Sarvamangala wants to give us the opportunity to step outside of those narratives through these altered states, to create a space from all of our mental chatter. When we can step back in this way, we have a chance to really consider our day-to-day routines and choices. Here, we can ask ourselves which of our commitments are the ones we truly want to stay connected to, and which may be holding us back from moving forward in our lives.
In the Tantric rituals, soma would be consumed in part to allow practitioners to step outside of the illusion that our everyday reality is real. From a religious perspective, this is where we might glimpse god in all her chaos and playfulness behind the veil. When we inevitably return to our daily reality, we remember that it is borne of that chaos and that playfulness, and none of it is concrete and unchangeable.
There are many ways to access this altered state of consciousness without ritually consuming psychoactive soma. Yoga and meditation are in many ways intended to help us become so completely absorbed in the breath and the body that nothing exists but the present moment. Traveling to a new place gives us a chance to see everything from street signs to sipping coffee in a new way. Even a great book can do this for us: I was recently so completely absorbed in a page-turner that when I looked up, I needed to shake my head for a moment, trying to remember who I was.
Sarvamangala wants us to spend some time in that moment before we remember who we are. In that liminal place, nothing chains us to any particular way of living. When we return to our worlds, the time we spent floating freely reminds us that we have choices about what we really want to be chained to.
The point isn’t to stay in la-la land with no responsibilities or relationships. Rather, stepping back, even if briefly, gives us a chance to truly decide who we want to be and how, to a new story about our lives that we choose. It’s easy to forget that we have some measure of power over our own lives. Floating freely in the vault of the sky can remind us that we are the authors of our own lives, and when we come back to earth, we may want to do a little editing.
Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the forthcoming book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Skylight Paths).