Devotion is a dirty word

Devotion is the last thing I ever thought I would be into. I don’t know if it was my saints-in-devotionnon-religious upbringing, the scientific mind-based culture I was born into, or my innate disbelief (from childhood) in an all-powerful male God, but for the longest time ‘devotion’ just felt like a dirty word. Mostly, I realise now, I just had no idea what it was. And I had learnt to be cynical.

As a teenager, I was deeply interested in the ‘spiritual’ – crystals, candles, seances, psychic readings, early attempts at meditation that consisted of sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with my eyes closed until my head fell back and I imagined that something had happened. I would spontaneously go into strange ‘moods’ (which I now recognize as altered states of consciousness), and would find socializing difficult; and when I tried to talk to people about it, they definitely thought I was weird. I participated in the first levels of reiki training when I was fourteen, and was naturally excited to test it out on those around me. One response I received from someone close was, “Don’t touch me, you freak!”

These early experiences had a huge effect on me. I stopped talking about my experiences and interests in the spiritual realms, and I became cynical of the light and sweetness inside of me. It was challenging and paradoxical: I believed in these things on the deepest level (I had experienced too many things to believe they weren’t real), and yet I was somehow also in denial. Self-protection is a powerful thing.

golden-kirtanEven when I became deeply engaged in meditation and Buddhist practices in my late teens and early twenties, learning about love, compassion, virtues, and service, a part of me was entrenched in a deep cynicism. Even as light and love were growing within me, I was too afraid to let them show – for fear of judgement. And so I judged myself, I judged those who expressed freely (“f*&%ing hippy bhajans” was my standard internal response to people singing devotional songs), and I kept my heart in lockdown.

But the beauty of dedicated spiritual practice, is that ultimately it works.

Fast forward to my early thirties… I started to open to kirtan (devotional singing) through a boyfriend who loved and shared it, and began to experience both the full force of my resistance and the radical joys of my heart. And then on a retreat in India, where the divine Geoffrey Gordon was sharing daily nada yoga and kirtan, my heart cracked. One morning, during a silent ‘listening’ meditation where Geoffrey was singing a song to the divine duo Rama and Sita, I spontaneously started singing with him, tears streaming down my face, and the words echoing in my head, “I just love God so much!” It was done. My heart was open and the light started to pour out.

kirtan-with-geoffrey-india

I’d had no idea that my heart was a heart of devotion. That I loved the divine, I loved the light, and I loved love. And that revelation and transformation would come through allowing it to pour out, fearless and unapologetic.

But as things often go with spiritual practice, we have these moments of deep insight, that often mark the beginning of an intense upheaval, and then take time to mature… So devotional singing cracked my heart open, and I found myself plunged into a period of despair. Then from touching the depths of darkness and desperately seeking a way out, I started to slowly open to love and devotion. I started praying every day. It became my mission to master love, to see with eyes of love, to live as love, to be love. I realised this was my deepest purpose, and would lead me to my greatest happiness – because then it wouldn’t matter where I was, who I was with, what I was doing – I would be in love. And so began my path of devotion.

So what actually is devotion?

Many spiritual paths ultimately offer devotion as the highest practice. In the yoga tradition, devotion is bhakti – a yearning for the divine, a deep love of God. And what is God? My personal experience of God, which connects to the non-dual teachings of yoga and tantra, is that God is consciousness itself. God is love itself. Everything in the seen and unseen world is made of this same fabric of consciousness, manifest in a divine play to experience its own nature and its own awakening. This is the yearning that stirs within us for awakening, for liberation and for love. It is the journey of the self to the Self.

So if we experience the divine as love itself, then devotion is a deep love of love, a commitment to love as the highest path. It is the path of the heart. But more than that, it is a practice of deep offering, surrender, and trust.

intention-of-loveThis is the practice of ishvara pranidhana – surrender (pranidhana) to a higher source (ishvara) – that is offered to us in two of the great texts of yoga, the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. It is a way of getting out of our own way and dissolving the personal ego that we battle with so much. It reminds us to open to life, in all its mystery, and allow grace to pour through us.

In the words of my great teachers, “Everything is conspiring for your awakening.” So when we trust in this greater force, whether we call it God, love, or the divine, we recognize ourselves as a small part in the great play of life, that is ultimately bringing us towards our own greatness. We bow down humbly, offering ourselves to the will of God, to the highest good, to love. And we listen. The practice becomes both the offering and the listening, for the voice that guides our next moves. And as we do this, we begin to experience grace and synchronicity, a deep sense of trust, and an often radical shift in perspective – even the hardships have their place, and as we willingly surrender to them in great trust, there is an ease that pours through us.

So devotion might seem like a dirty word, because it is in so many ways the unknown. And it demands that we drop down into the mysterious space of the heart and surrender the constant grasping of the analytical mind. Challenging in a world that triumphs logic and science. When we walk the path of devotion, we open to the great mystery of life. We walk the razor’s edge, because we know that we don’t know. We have to be willing to sacrifice our ego, to have our heart cracked open, to trust life and go where it asks. It’s the most daring and courageous path I know. But the gift is an ever-greater love that begins to awaken within us.

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The A to Z of Yoga: D is for Dying

This is a straight from the hips offering for those who love yoga, who want to know more, and who sense that it is a path of endless discovery. Because it is.

This A to Z of Yoga is hardly definitive. It is an invitation. I hope you will be delighted and inspired to dive deeper into your own journey of yoga as a fearless adventurer, a pioneer into the frontier of the incredibly unique and unfolding experience that is you.

D is for Dying

If yoga teaches us the art of living, it also teaches us the art of dying.

In its deepest essence, it initiates us into this great mystery of life and transforms our relationship with it.

Over the past few weeks I have watched the Facebook posts of Edo Kahn, as his wife and love Jo made the transition from this earth from a painful stomach cancer, diagnosed only two months ago.

Edo and JoEdo and Jo offered music, yoga and seva (selfless service) with so many, as they travelled the world as a devoted, loving duo, sharing their gifts and their love at retreats, gigs, and festivals. They also founded “A Sound Life” – a charity dedicated to sharing free music and yoga with those in need. It was a perfect offering and a perfect love story.

And their grace continued through the completely unexpected, earth-shattering turn of events. Even in extreme pain, Jo continued to sing, to share her love and wisdom, and passed with an awe-inspiring grace to “return to the lotus feet of her guru”, Sakthi Amma. Even following the death of his beloved, Edo has continued sharing openly with insight, love and wisdom.

In one of her final diary entries, Jo wrote: “I asked Amma “how can the whole universe be within me? Please show me.” Amma took me on an astral travel moving from “me” to the city, to the country, world, universes, galaxies, where so many planets exist. We kept flying through space. “But Amma, how does this all exist within me?” I ask Her. Just then, the travel continues through the galaxies and then ends in my heart. “See Jo, there’s no separation, Jo is there ” pointing to the origin where I am the size of a mustard seed. “and Jo is here too” – with the entire universe within me. She took me for a good ride that night…”

cosmos

Yoga – through meditation, devotion and the mysteries of grace – can give us deep insights into the nature of reality and experiences of fundamental oneness, that help to reframe our understanding of life and death, bringing us greater peace and acceptance even in the pain of departure.

This heartbreaking but grace-filled meeting of death reminds us that life is indeed a great mystery, with seemingly little rhyme or reason. That great pain and death can come ‘early’ in the most unlikely of ways, and to the most unlikely of people. In the tradition of yoga, many may call this ‘karma’ – the unfolding of cause and effect from previous lives. Whatever it may be, it is a great teaching of the power of spiritual devotion, perspective and love, and a powerful reminder to make the most of this incredible gift of life whilst we have it.

There are so many good things to do in this life, so many ways in which to continuously unfold into greater consciousness, into higher self, and into love. How could you want to live ignorantly and selfishly, and miss out on the beauty of a life lived in service, in wisdom, and in love…

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

bluebird

Hungry for more?

Here are a few more D-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, and contemplation.

D is for: devotion, dharma, downward dog, drishti, durga