“You all need to pray more…”, my cousin announced at my grandmother’s month’s mind mass last June. She had been to see a psychic and my grandmother had popped in from the other world to make sure we all knew she was still watching over us and the amount of praying we were doing. Being raised a Catholic, I prayed a lot as a child; my teenage years were full of resistance to the church but I went to Covent school so it was part of my life whether I liked it or not. Going to university in Northern Ireland, I experienced firsthand what “religion” had done for our people and our country. There were nights I remember running home from the nightclub, being chased by locals, who were threatening us and calling us names, I don’t care to mention on my blog, for being Catholic and from below the border, telling us to go back to where we came from. Living in a conflicted society and with the constant news of horrendous acts in the name of religion, all I could see was that it created more angst than what I had been raised to believe it to be – a place to come together, to unite in a common belief in God, in love and in that there is something brighter out there looking after us.
Since the death of my grandmother I have found myself in a place of solitude more than ever before in my life. On reflection, the months leading up to my departure to Nepal and India were about my work and preparing for my trip. I socialized but had no real interest in being in a bar or out and about. While I said I wanted to meet new people it never happened and I didn’t connect with many outside of my own established network. When in Nepal, there was a led meditation one morning and our teacher talked about legacy. Out of nowhere I was overcome with grief; grief for my grandmother and an overwhelming sense of grief for the life I used to believe I would lead. Sitting in the tipi, I felt a tidal wave of tears and as they flowed from me, I felt a release inside my heart. It felt as though my heart had cracked open. At the same time I was opening up to new friendships, and finding vulnerability in sharing my healing work and my true self with people in camp. It was a time of healing for myself and for others who were visiting as well as the people in the local community.
I spent a lot of time on my own. I found myself loving the early mornings when I would pick up my yoga mat, my journal and I would head to a quiet spot to read, write, meditate or practice yoga. I fell in love with watching sunsets in reverential silence with others, and as I spent more time there I noticed the inner peace I came to feel was down to a sense of freedom I felt within me.
“Love is freedom but not total. If love becomes devotion, then it becomes total freedom. It means surrendering yourself completely.” Osho
My connections with people on my trip were deeper and fewer, and as I moved into India, I noticed that I didn’t really meet a lot of other travelers. While I was told constantly that I would meet westerners on the trains and in the places I visited, I didn’t. I invariably met more locals and chatted with them about their lives and their own spiritual practices or I spent time on my own wandering and exploring. What struck me about both countries was the beauty and the commitment to devotional practice and I cultivated a new appreciation for ritual. It amplified in India. Every evening in Rishikesh on the banks of Maa Ganga there is a ritual or puja, an offering of gratitude for the day that has been, and every morning there are people there to bathe, to offer their intentions and to pray in their own way to their God or deity who they believe in. In Vrindavan there is a 24 hour Kirtan in the ISKON temple that never stops. It continues all day and all night and there are people constantly chanting the Krishna mantra. When I spent time with one of my teachers in Rishikesh, the essence of a daily puja was the most important part of our day. My whole trip suddenly felt like my grandmother was, once again, sharing her message with me.
Since coming back to Ireland I have found myself drawn to visiting a church and sitting quietly in meditation; I have found myself offering gratitude to nature and the ocean for the abundance that surrounds me and the support I have received on my journey. In listening to my heart and allowing myself to do these things, I have once again experienced the inner peace I felt in Nepal. I am not saying that it is there all the time, it isn’t. There are days it can be fleeting but it is present and I have come to believe it is because of this practice called devotion.
Devotion in the dictionary is defined as; Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or activity; Prayers or religious observances
The transition back into life here hasn’t been easy. I miss the simplicity of life in Nepal; I miss the community of like-minded people always being around; I even miss my tent and the little space that I called home while I was there. What I have found on my return is a new sense of connection in unexpected places. I have discovered new and old friends with similar beliefs and shared paths. I find myself in conversations and wonder why we never talked like this before and I am grateful. I am grateful for a new daily practice of devotion because as I am discovering this commitment leads to love, real love and a beauty in how we share our work and ourselves.
“There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion comes in – that we do it to God… and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.” Mother Teresa
I no longer want to do the work for the sake of work. Whether it is teaching yoga, healing, coaching or taking a new course, being in growth and learning, being in relationship, I wish to do it with respect and love and with devotion.
In the yoga world there are four paths of yoga: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga & Raja Yoga. When we begin our practice we tend to lean towards one path but as we move through and develop our practice we begin to learn that it is a combination of all paths that lead the way. Jnana Yoga involves deep exploration of the self; it is the path of knowledge and contemplation. Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion with all acts done in remembering the Divine or God; it is a path of service to the higher realms with love, compassion and kindness. Karma Yoga is the path of action and being of service to others. Raja Yoga brings in focus on meditation. It is the practice of transcending the thoughts of the mind. For a long time my devotion was my asana practice, sometimes injected with meditation and the practice of Karma Yoga. Over the last year and being in Nepal & India I realized that I needed to expand my devotional practice and to begin working through all four paths.
To be in devotion can mean different things for each of us. For my grandmother it was prayers in the morning and evening and mass when she was able to go. For you it might be your morning run before work or spending quality time with your family and loved ones. Whatever it is, choose to do it with love, with devotion and with an intention that it is for your own highest good as well as those around you. That morning run may calm your mind so that you walk into your office knowing you feel good in yourself and you have honoured what you need.
I am grateful to my grandmother for her message for us to pray more, to be in devotion and to never forget that we are guided and loved in this world. I have found over recent weeks that when we commit to a devotional practice we commit to living life in service to not only others but also to ourselves. And as the wonderful Aristotle said:
“The most important relationship we can all have is the one you have with yourself; the most important journey you can take is one of self-discovery. To know yourself you must spend time with yourself, you must not be afraid to be alone. Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
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