The need for devotion to something outside ourselves is even more profound than the need for companionship. If we are not to go to pieces or wither away, we must have some purpose in life; for no man can live for himself alone.” — Ross Parmenter
The experience of devotion is a challenge to talk about – it is one of those mysteries which is secret not because it has been protected by knowledge-holders, but because it literally cannot be put into words. It can be a feeling of love pouring out from our heart, from our entire being, of being surrounded and filled with love, of pure joy and ecstasy or simply of knowing that we are not and have never been alone.
Devotion and connection
This experience comes from opening ourselves to full connection with something or someone that is outside or beyond us, yet with which, through our devotion, we realise we are intimately and inextricably linked. This opening to and realisation of connection is very far from the dependent ideas of devotion that some of us carry from childhood religious teaching. As my friend and past teacher Miranda Macpherson says:
The heart’s need to relate and love has often been confused with a child-like dependency towards a teacher or deity, falsely believing that the guru or deity will take care of the work of liberation as long as the aspirant is devoted enough. The true purpose of cultivating devotion is to liberate the heart via turning one’s emotional energies towards something much greater than our own ego.”
The challenge of devotion
Cultivating devotion is not all ‘pink fluffy love and light’. It is a challenge, just as much as any other spiritual practice. Despite all our prayers, chanting, offerings or sitting in silence we may feel that ‘nothing is happening’. Or we may come in touch with such a deep and full experience of connection that we fear being overwhelmed. Persevere. The fruits are worth it. Miranda continues:
Cultivating devotion, whether through prayer, chanting or mantra helps lean our heart into The Absolute, fostering a sense of being held and supported. This is extremely powerful in helping us lean into new depths.
“Calling on spiritual giants within the collective that have realized God-nature before us, helps us develop courage to dive deeper when we want to pull away into the known.
“Calling on deities, whether they be historical figures of the past or archetypal forces in the unseen dimensions is profound in enabling our more fearful aspects to trust and open when tempted to close and control.
“Furthermore, cultivating devotion helps us just lean our heart into what it really wants and loves: truth.”
Devotion in daily life
I would add that devotion can also be cultivated in daily life: to our families, through our acts of caring; to an art or a craft, through dedicated practice; to our communities, through the energy we put in to looking after one another and our immediate environment; to those with whom we have no directly obvious connection, through volunteering at a soup kitchen, day centre or animal shelter, and through ensuring our food and clothes have been produced by people who get fair pay and good working conditions; to Gaia, through the care we take in our use of energy and natural resources; to ourselves, through ensuring we eat tasty, healthy food, get the right amount of exercise, have good sleep and nourishing relationships.
This is possible because every being, every life, every molecule on this living planet is part of the Divine. Seen in that way, every act we take can be an act of devotion, waiting to lead us to the ocean of Divine love.