Devotion: Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or an activity.
What or who are you devoted to in your life?
Devotional love is a type of love imprint. When someone is captivated by their devotion to a person, a cause, or an activity, they will do anything to support it. Both masculine and feminine essence experience devotion, in different ways. It’s an essential part of intimate relationship, and I will say more about that later.
There are many things I have lived and seen of devotion, in actions both big and small.
It’s 2013 and I’m in Bali, about to run a Living Love workshop retreat in the town of Ubud. In this trendy epicentre of yoga and spiritual entrepreneurs, I am sitting in a luxurious café, trying to relax on the carved couch, staring out at the even rows of the rice paddies below. But it’s too hot and humid, and I feel heavy and weighed down, stressed about all the planning of my upcoming course.
A young Balinese woman, simply dressed in a carefully folded sarong, with a red waistband and short sleeved blouse cropped at her midriff, comes in and places a woven leaf plate of flowers in front of a statue in the corner of the café. From my distance I notice pink, orange and green colours and what could be rice. A single stick of incense is alight. Devotional offerings. The grey stone image of the mother goddess doesn’t respond. Perhaps the woman feels duty bound to do this ritual to the goddess of prosperity, and is bored with it? But nevertheless, her grace, her single-minded attention that doesn’t notice any of us in the café, and the proud humility of her posture touches me. It does have meaning for her, I am sure.
I wonder ‘What am I devoted to?’ Why am I here running this workshop in this sticky place that as much it pulls at my senses, tires and frustrates me trying to get things done? Nothing comes to mind, so I close my eyes for a moment to feel for the answer. Ultimately, I am here because I believe that the personal growth work I do transforms people in valuable ways. I’m really good at it too, so it is also giving my gifts in service to others.
I look up and the Balinese woman has gone. The humid air feels more caressing than oppressive. Somehow more perfumed, or it is that I notice this now? I leave my previous concerns aside for a moment and gratefully savour my exquisitely decorated coffee amidst this haven of lushness with its soft-spoken people.
That evening I find a helper with local knowledge who is keen to work. And with my co-organiser we add a visit to a local water temple to the workshop schedule. Devotional love is better seen and felt than explained.
On an earlier visit to India, I was taken to a Shakti temple near Poona. My first temple visit, and I had no idea what to expect.
I made my way through thickening crowds and pressing noise, finally descending the tight and steep stone steps leading down to the inner sanctum. In this cave-like space was a large, black yoni stone, it’s vulva-shaped depression filled with shiny water, surrounded and caressed by men and women, who rubbed and chanted in the almost darkness, praying for fertility, abundance and whatever else holy she represented to the surges of people visiting that day. It was a marketplace type of spirituality, and so unlike the careful Christian rituals that I had grown up with. Here was the goddess Shakti, a symbol that represented the feminine principle in all her embodiment. I loved it all. The wildness of the devotion and worship, the lack of repression. The grubby love.
For the feminine essence…
For the feminine essence devotion is central to her well-being. This may be to her beloved, her family, friends, community, pets, causes, gurus, her art. The sense that her life is devoted to something beyond herself. We see this in the women who supported the churches for centuries, the willing charity volunteers baking cakes for school raffles, the Knitting Nannas activists knitting for yarn bombing, the ecstatic devotees who fall at the guru’s feet (it’s usually a man).
The sisters and aunties that care for the sick and the dying, the working mothers and wives who do more than their share of the housework. Part of it is gendered cultural conditioning and lack of opportunities to take a leadership role, but a very real part of it is the feminine desire for the expression of her devotional love.
She will give and give and can even over give, wearing herself out. And when she collapses on the couch in chronic fatigue, barely survives on five hours sleep, or is diagnosed as obese, she may take stock. It is so compelling to be devoted, and to be in service to the object of that devotion, that she can forget to see that she is losing herself. And not in a healthy way. Her journey is often one of facing her fear of being with herself, reclaiming her own identity. Regarding herself as important enough for care and nourishment.
For the masculine essence…
For the masculine essence his devotional love is often linked to his mission and purpose. We revere people such as eye surgeon Fred Hollows who dedicated his life to restoring sight to the needlessly blind, especially in third world countries. Or the young warrior who quietly spends all his free time combatting depression in youths. The mentors who guide others with their wisdom, be that in business or transformation. The scientists who spend their entire working life on one breakthrough that will benefit humanity, hopefully.
He can also become devoted to truth, mediation, awareness in action.
The masculine too can become obsessed and forget his health and well-being, more focused on building that orphanage than the close people around him. And when his partner leaves him, often angry at trying to get some personal attention, he realises how important that is to him. His journey is often one of finding balance between his generalised devotion to mission and to more intimate love.
Devotional love in intimacy is when that love is expressed through actions and intentions towards a beloved. Caring, protective and nurturing love are all part of devotion. Attending to the details of what makes them happy. Being loyal. Not because of any ‘should’ but because it gives you joy to do so. Supporting their individual evolution.
Receiving the devotion of the other can sometimes be harder than giving it. It raises the ghost of self-doubt and lack of worth, but over time, if you can let it in, and also give your form of devotional love, this creates a tender, heartfelt loving relationship. This doesn’t exclude others, rather it can spill over into the community around you. Children learn about it from the adults in their lives.
If you focus your devotion on what is great about the other person, not what is wrong, then the great grows bigger.
When you don’t know how to resolve a conflict, start doing simple devotional acts for your beloved. It will change the energy to one of care and connection, and when sincere, is irresistible to most people.
Create a ritual together where you express your devotion, to each other and to the transcendent energies in you.
Devotion to having a good sexual life is important. Making time, learning new skills, discovering what your lover likes. If you are not attending to it, explore why not? The union that is at the heart of your relationship, and potentially your family, is the union of masculine and feminine sexual essences, the union of beloveds.
Your own devotional heart…
Finding your way to your own devotional heart is a matter of listening to what stirs in you and following it. If that is singing in a Roman era amphitheatre in Cyprus, as Loreena McKenna did one moonlit night, or like one woman I know who had been growing a yoga school on her own for twenty years and then attracting a partner who is devoted to her. Or caring lovingly for his ill spouse who can no longer walk or do the things they loved to do together. Or over and over, a parent teaching their child how to feel and listen and speak their truth.
Ultimately your devotional love refines you into someone who is worthy to live this devotion. It is like a honing or grinding machine. It is not easy. Mistakes are made along the way. Perhaps we are devoted to an unloving partner, or are taken for granted, or even come under the thrall of a criminal. The key here is not to stop being devotional, but to learn from the mistakes and keep loving. And I know that is not easy, when voices inside you may be screaming at you “Wise up! Don’t trust again! Stay safe.”
I believe it is safer to risk love than being closed.
Create an ‘altar’ to what you are devoted to. It may be a simple zen display of a photo of your beloved with a candle, or a more elaborate ‘shamanic’ creation with objects that evokes specific feelings and intentions. Flowers and colours? Up to you.
Do it in a spirit of love, of care and of giving attention to what matters to you. You choose whatever that is. Play and be free. Keep it there for as long as it feels meaningful. You will know when it is time to take it down.