The Goddess of Intoxication
Photo Credit: Mabel Hui/Thinkstock
The sixth night from the new moon is presided over by Vajresvari Nitya—the Tantric Goddess of Intoxication. She is dressed all in red, the color of desire, sitting on a lotus flower on a golden throne in an ocean of blood. Her eyes are swaying wildly, reminiscent of red wine in a glass. Vajresvari is intoxicated by pleasure.
In our culture, we have something of a fraught relationship with pleasure. We think we need to earn it, deserve it, or pay heftily for its inevitable consequences. Many spiritual traditions warn against indulging in pleasure, threatening addiction or a loss of connection with the divine. Even without the spiritual guilt, many of us manage to avoid pleasure anyway, worrying instead about how to filter the moment on Instagram.
Vajresvari wants us to find power in being present with our joy, imbibing in delightful experiences even to the point of intoxication. In some traditional Tantric rituals, participants would take intoxicants like alcohol or hallucinogenic drugs in order to reach a different state of consciousness. In that altered state, they could see and feel Shakti, the energy of the great goddess, existing in everything that can be experienced.
Delight can do this for us. Being delighted to the point of distraction can make us forget, for a little while, who we are and the story of our own lives. Even when we indulge too much in an experience, choosing to stay present with the consequences of our actions can teach us so much more than never trying anything in the first place. Even too-muchness has a place in a spirituality that embraces the full range of what it means to be human. In Tantra, even the hangover has value.
Further, overindulgence to the point of true toxicity isn’t usually actually about pleasure. When we overeat or drink too much, we’ve often gone past the point of pleasure in order to try to numb out negative emotions. We can’t feel the pleasure if we can’t feel the pain.
I’ve come to feel at this point in my practice that they key to enjoyment isn’t about focusing on the positive and trying to avoid the negative. When I’m fully willing and able to sit with myself while I am feeling grief, pain, disappointment, loss, or anger, they don’t scare me so much anymore. I know them well, and I know that they never stay the same. Pleasure, delight, joy and beauty live side by side with pain, anger, and grief. Numbing out bad things comes with the necessary consequence of numbing out good things too. We don’t get to choose how we feel, but we can get sensitive to whatever arises and watch it change. That sensitivity allows us to catch a moment of pleasure, however small, and dive right in while it lasts.
Grief, specifically, can feel all consuming. For some of us, feeling pleasure while we are processing grief can feel like a betrayal to the ones we are grieving. That’s not how it works—one emotion does not negate another. We can be delighted by a laughing baby even when our hearts are broken. Moments of joy do not belie loss.
Honoring Vajresvari is a practice of leaning in completely to whatever we feel, of allowing it to teach us something, to intoxicate us in the moment. It’s about being willing to feel joy and pleasure even in our worst moments, and staying vigilant for moments of sweetness when they come. Perhaps that’s the simple truth of what it means to be happy.