“Be humble for you are made of the earth.
Be grand for you are also made of the stars.”
~ Serbian saying
Faith, Spirituality, Ceremony, Ritual, Love, Reverence, Loyalty, Enthusiasm
This post is several days late because among many things, I am devoted to presence. Last week I co-lead a retreat with my husband, Travis, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains followed by a few days with my “bonus” kids and mother-in-law in Travis’ childhood home. We take a few, short trips each year as a family so everything else – emails, text messages, and the ever-growing list of “to-do’s” – gets put aside. Let me tell you, nothing is more important (or exhilarating) than completing a 1,000 piece puzzle late into the night with your highly focused and determined family by your side. Also, nothing is more humbling and hilarious than a 7 year old putting you to shame with his puzzle skills. On this lifelong journey of student, teacher, mentor, wife, and step-mother my favorite reminder is, “attention is the greatest act of love.” And so, I do my very best to devote myself to presence. But like all things, it’s a practice.
Devotion used to be a word I shied away from, feeling it was somehow reserved for people with deep religious beliefs or profound faith, which I sorely lack. In fact, maybe like you, I would hear the word “devotion” and cringe a little. One of my greatest teachers, Stephen Cope, writes “anything you do again and again in your life has the potential to become a ritual.” Over time I’ve become intimately aware of how devoted I am to the practices of yoga and meditation, nature and travel, learning and education, compassion and generosity, social and environmental justice, meaningful relationships and mindful presence, self care and holistic health, and so much more as the rituals that compose my life. Devotion is defined as, “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.” And your devotion doesn’t have to be to a God sitting high in the clouds with a long, white beard, but of course, it can be!
Evidence exists on every continent, from Stonehenge in the United Kingdom to the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, for the profound role ritual has played in every culture and evolutionary period on the planet. Acts of devotion were discovered by archeologists dating as far back as 300,000 years ago with evidence of intentional burials identified in Spain. While this site is still disputed, evidence also exists for intentional burials beginning 130,000 years ago by Neanderthals in Croatia, which is undisputed. An intentional burial is an act of love, a way of honoring the life and ultimately the loss of a person with ceremony and loyalty. Rituals surrounding death and grief are some of the most prominent across human history.
As my dad’s battle with pancreatic cancer deepened, it became our family’s shared priority to arrange his burial with love and thoughtfulness. I arranged a plot carefully located near his mother and father. When the time came to say goodbye, the day, although wildly painful, was filled with celebratory stories of his life, memory, and goodness in the world. Acts of devotion such as this, of intentional burial, are an innate part of our humanness and have been shared over time and evolution as demonstrated through the discover of burial sites dating back a hundred thousand years. It is part of our biology, our shared history, to honor the sacredness of life itself and the mystery of life’s passing.
While devotion can take many forms, historically we are most familiar with it in the form of religious faith. Hinduism is recorded as the oldest religion on the planet and the shamanistic practices of the tradition date back more than 30,000 years. Devotion in the yogic sense is known as Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of the heart. I was exposed to Bhakti Yoga from the very beginning of my yoga journey with chanting, kirtan, and colorful stories of Hanuman, Ganesha, and Rama. On my first journey to India I witnessed the incredible acts of devotion along the Ganges River as pilgrims bathed and prepared for cremations and the cleansing of karmic accumulations with the beautiful, nightly ceremony known as Arti.
On that same trip we visited Sarnath, just outside of Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world. I knelt by a group of Tibetan monks chanting the Dhammapada at the site where the Buddha is said to have shared his first teachings. I closed my eyes and listened with great reverence to the rhythmic voices of the chanting monks. Suddenly I realized the oldest monk was feverishly waving at me. Horrified, I assumed I was kneeling inappropriately close to their sacred ceremony. After my initial startle faded, I could see that the elder monk was actually asking me to come by his side. As I slowly walked toward him, he held up a giant iPad, and pointing around their circle he enthusiastically asked, “photo? photo?” I was instantly relieved and we all laughed. In the flash of a single moment we were connected in our shared joy and appreciation for this special place and moment in time. The group of men in their bright robes gathered and as the older monk thanked me he bowed his head and asked, “California?” I guess even in India it was pretty obvious.
More than religion or faith. More than dedication to a particular set of beliefs, teachings, or Gods: Devotion is our collective acknowledgement that life is precious and worthy of our full attention.
No matter your background or beliefs, there is an aspect of ritual in your life. Sadly, for many people, these rituals have become utterly unconscious especially in moments of perceived boredom scrolling mindlessly through social media or numbing out while watching the news. In the same way you wouldn’t want to unconsciously adopt the core values of your family, the media, or culture without examining them for yourself, you wouldn’t want to unconsciously adopt the acts of devotion that define your life.
Ritual plays a role in helping soothe us in the face of the unknown or in helping us prepare for a new opportunity. Scientific America points out, “people facing situations that induce anxiety typically take comfort in engaging in preparatory activities, inducing a feeling of being back in control and reducing uncertainty.” Studies show that rituals alleviate grief, reduce anxiety, increase confidence, improve focus, concentration, and attention. In fact, people who don’t even believe in a ritual have been shown to experience benefits from participating.
Psychology Today conducted a research study and instructed participants to perform a specific ritual every day for a week. When participants came to the lab they were instructed to perform a very difficult task. Those who completed the ritual the week before “showed that rituals desensitize the brain’s anxiety-related reaction to error, mitigating the negative experience of personal failure.” Creating a ritual for yourself increases resiliency and helps you bounce back faster after failure. Since failure is an inevitable part of life, adding a daily ritual in the mornings before you step into the day or before you perform an important task, can help further support the practices we discussed last week in the core value of Growth.
Think of superstition. As a teenager someone told me that if you’re walking down the street with someone you should never let a pole come between you or it could damage your connection. To this day, if I’m walking down the street with someone, I try and dodge telephone poles, signposts, and other obstacles to keep us side-by-side and energetically unharmed. Despite knowing this is totally silly, it makes me feel better.
Rituals or ceremonies can be done alone or with a group. They can be random or precise. They can be performed once or repeated frequently. They might be short and sweet or long and intricate. Research shows that regardless, rituals seem to make an impact both on how a person feels as well as on outcomes.
As hyper-social beings, humans have been coming together for eons to celebrate, practice, and connect. Given this history it’s no wonder yoga studios have become a contemporary place of devotion for so many. Yoga has gifted me the opportunity to practice in community with from around the globe and feel a shared sense of purpose, meaning, and values in the world. I love the saying, “rituals are the outward demonstration of inward value.”
So the question becomes, “What does your unique expression of devotion look and feel like in your life?” Are you dedicated to science and the pursuit of knowledge? Great! Get clear about that and consciously pursue new pathways of learning and communities to learn with. Are you devoted to nature and spending time in sacred connection with our living planet? Wonderful! Be specific about what’s important to you and schedule time for hikes or outings with your local community. What’s important is that you don’t let devotion become the sneaky and surreptitious habits that have a tendency to dominate an unconscious life. When we get to the end of our days we want to look back and see that we were dedicated to a life well-lived, a life of connection, presence, and purpose. In your devotion you just might discover your legacy.
You can follow the outlined practice below or visit Inner Dimension TV and enjoy Day #3 of my program Journey to Yoga for a guided version of this practice.
Read this invocation as you begin. Recline on your back with your knees together, feet wide, and one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly as you close your eyes…
Take a deep inhale through your nose…and exhale out of the mouth…As you attune to your breath reflect on the questions: What does your unique expression of devotion look and feel like in your life?…What does it feel like to live a life that is devoted – to service, compassion, creativity, peace, or wellbeing? In this practice, you’ll look within and set the intention to consciously place devotion into motion both on and off of your mat, to move your body like a living, breathing prayer, and to step off of your mat with clarity and consciousness, creating a life you are proud to be deeply devoted to.
Reclining w/knees together, one hand on heart and belly
Flowing Bridge (4 rounds)
Apanasana/Knees to Chest (hold for 5 breaths)
Salabasana/Locust Pose interlacing hands at low back (hold for 5 breaths)
Cobra (hold for 5 breaths)
Downward Facing Dog (hold for 5 breaths)
Moon Salutations with Steeple Mudra Side Stretch (3 rounds)
Sun Salutation B variation: Repeat the cycle 3 times
Downward Facing Dog
Modified Side Plank (right knee down)
Lift the back leg & bring it straight forward
Return to Modified Side Plank keeping the leg lifted
Bend the lifted knee and hold the foot or ankle with the top arm for Half Bow
Full Side Plank/Vashistasana (on the right side)
Lift the top foot and drop it behind you for Flip Dog (Lion’s Breath)
Downward Facing Dog
Lift the right leg
Bring the right knee to your nose 3 times
One Arm Backbend
Dhanurasana/Full Bow Pose
Downward Facing Dog
Tadasana at the top of the mat
Dancing Shiva (holding left foot)
Full Side Plank/Vashistasana (on the right side)
Full Side Plank/Vashistasana: lift top leg, bend the knee, take Half Bow in Side Plank
Repeat the sequence on the 2nd side
Knees to Chest
Roll to Seated
Wide Leg Janu Sirsasana (hold for 10 breaths on both sides)
Happy Baby (hold for 5 breaths)
Reclining Twist with Cat Grabbing Its Tail option (hold for 8 breaths on both sides)
Read through the meditation instructions below or record yourself speaking the instructions for a guided version of this specific practice. Remember, you can always enjoy a guided meditation with on innerdimensionmedia.com or you can download my FREE audio meditation course, 7 Days of Meditation if you prefer a guided practice.
Come to a comfortable seated position, and close your eyes. Or, if you prefer, you can recline on your back. Take several deep breaths. Eventually, allow your breath to become natural and un-efforted.
The poet Rumi once asked, “Do you make regular visits to yourself?” In today’s practice, you are invited to make an inward visit, to turn your attention within and ask:
What blocks my experience of devotion?
Have I been devoted to the cult of “busy” or meeting false expectations for too long?
What blocks my experience of devotion?
Take several minutes to reflect on these questions. You might see the answers as images or hear the answers as words or phrases. There is no “right” way for the answers to arise. Simply sit and repeat the questions to yourself 3 times as you allow your own, inner wisdom to reveal the answers. Rest here for 5 minutes, allowing yourself to become clear and intimate with what impedes your devotion without any criticism or judgement.
Staying with the rhythm of your breath, allow the questions and any corresponding images or phrases to fade away…After 5 steady breaths, ask:
When I move beyond these blocks, what does my unique expression of devotion look and feel like in my life?
What does it look and feel like to live a life that is devoted to my core values, values such as service, compassion, creativity, nature, or wellbeing?
What does my unique expression of devotion look and feel like in my life?
Repeat the questions 3 times to yourself, slowly, without any hurry, allowing each question to land in your body and in your heart. There are no “right” answers. Simply sit for the next several minutes and rest in the full awareness of your own, unique expression of devotion as it is revealed to you.
Keeping your eyes closed, allow the questions and any corresponding images or words to fade away…Take 5 steady breaths. As you prepare to bring your practice to a close, draw your hands together at your heart and bow your chin. Dedicate yourself to small acts of devotion each day. Through devotion you deepen your connection to your core values and a life permeated with purpose, clarity, and intention.
What you are devoted to in your life, and HOW you choose to enter that devotion is deeply personal. Know that you cannot devote yourself incorrectly and trust the process as you create daily rituals that support your life.