Many years ago, I visited an ancient temple in the Himalayas, dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi. Much like church donation boxes and prayer candles in Christian places of worship, in temples in India, visitors are expect to leave a donation or offering. Though most of the temple visitors that day left 5 rupees notes, I smacked down a whopping 100 rupee note (about 4 dollars- big spender, I know). As the temple priest’s eyes bulged and he slyly pocketed the donation, I chuckled to myself : Well, she is the Goddess of Wealth after all. It’s an investment!
The next morning, an unexpected $4,000 landed in my bank account via monthly stock photography sales.
In my adult life, I’ve never been terribly religious or superstitious person. Nor am I a huge believer in prayers for personal gain. I’ve seen beautiful, generous souls live through some of the worst human suffering imaginable, in places like Congo, Somalia, and Iraq. Believe me, they prayed hard. They had dreams. The soulful practice gave them comfort, but it didn’t make the ugliness of humanity evaporate.
Look, last year, I was in Bhutan with my life love, and we both put getting engaged this year on our list. Instead, we broke up. It’s 4 days from New Years, and just an hour ago, I got an email from said love letting me know he doesn’t want to speak to me for indefinite months. No puja can fix that ache.
But, by the same token, I’ve not seen a life of power and beauty constructed without clear intention. I’ve not seen those women of war lift themselves to a new and powerful place without gratitude for their own strength and the divine grace of others’ compassion.
Here’s the thing. Everything in life is a trade off, everything comes with a cost. You gain something, you lose something. Often you have to give something up to gain something better. Offerings help solidify our intentions, and what you offer up to God or the universe or your higher self can embody that trade, the price you are willing to pay.
That’s what the offering is about.
The formal process of offerings in India is called a Puja. In a puja, you offer fruit, sweets, incense, money, flowers, and prayers to a diety of your choice, including- to my personal delight- the God of Weapons, translated in modern times to any machinery, from your fridge to your moped.
Think of it as preemptive gratitude for blessings or grace or no mechanical breakdowns.
Here’s how you do it.
- Create an alter or equivalent point of focus. It could be as simple as a candle.
- Make sure you’ve written all your narrowed intentions on a piece of paper or a pretty card. Think of it as a petition.
- Meditate, first to clear your mind and focus.
- If you want to go the traditional Hindu route, offer you can ring a bell, offer flowers, incense, fruit, sweets, and money.
- Adapt it to your own most meaningful traditions, whether in your own faith, or with symbols for what you want for the year.
- Regardless of faith, I strongly recommend making a charitable donation.
- Pray. Read or silently present your “petition” at the alter. Make your case for why this is good not just for you, but for the higher good. How will these intentions benefit others, in your immediate circle, or the world as a whole? If you feel so moved, borrow a chapter from Eat Pray Love and go through a list of the multitude of folks living or dead who would support this petition, and imagine they “sign it”.
- Review what you are willing to give up or let go in order to realize these new intentions. Think about vices, habits, behaviors, emotional hooks, lessons you need to own to move forward. Commit to letting them go, right now.
- Close with a gratitude prayer.
- You are allowed to eat the food offered. In Hindu circles, it’s considered prasad, meaning it’s blessed.