One of the most beautiful sights to me in this city is when I drive by a particular residential area. This street houses a group of Tibetan monks, and on some days, the monks can be seen walking the sidewalks, with their long robes flowing on their way to attend to common human needs, like grocery shopping. When I recently drove past with my son, we saw three monks out walking towards a retail area and he asked about them.
"What are monks?"
I had to think of a way to describe monks that was inclusive of all religions and without going into details that are of no interest to an eight-year-old.
"They are men who have chosen to live their lives in complete devotion to Spirit."
Ah, this one was harder and I admit my heart revved a bit. Since the new year, my inner meditation has been about devotion...what is devotion? I have asked myself this question over and over while struggling to grasp something to write about it, and now here I had to be accountable for my work, at least for today.
"it's when you give your life to something."
"You mean like when you give your life to Jesus? monks give their lives to Spirit?"
"Yes, like that."
Later, he told his friends, "we also saw someone who didn't believe in cars so they were riding a carriage " (We had passed an Amish family en route to a maple syrup festival).
Devotion, hard-core devotion is a linchpin of both kingdoms: monks, or Amish. It meant, to me, commitment, ritual, love of God, humanity, or spirit, and even stubbornness. It is possible to be devoted to things that are dysfunctional. Devotion can be narrow, as in devotion to law, devotion to judgment of others, or it can be broad.
To me, devotion rests on rituals...habits of thought and mind that wear over and over. This is why the faithfulness...full of faith...and loyalty parts of devotion are associated with religious beliefs. But we are all preachers with each other. Every day, we communicate our devotion through the practice of these rituals with each other. We spend every hour of every day in devotion to an idea, an ideal, a perception, a paradigm, a rule, our own desires, etc. Devotion is a sort of conscious enslavement, a whole loyalty of life. Yet even ritual enmity is devotion. Ritual criticism, ritual hatred, ritual shaming, ritual self-deception, ritual dishonesty, ritual disempowerment of an other. Ritual rejection, ritual hurting. The lie is that rituals of beating down others somehow makes you bigger, God-like, loving, simply because you are devoted to some hoary, trumped-up cause. But God and Love are found in rituals of Grace, kindness, and generosity. Rituals of God are found in restitution, not stubborn adherence to convictions that some others are less worthy than you.
Speaking of restitution, there is a recent New Yorker article about a new book coming out by George W. Bush where he paints portraits of veterans from wars he created.
From the article:
"Having obliviously made murderous errors, Bush now obliviously atones for them. What do you do with someone like that?"
I am not sure what one does with someone like that. Clearly, he is devoted to admitting some kind of wrongdoing. At first I got mad. Paintings of those you hurt, while raising awareness, are a self-serving way to assuage the pangs of ego, to make one's self feel better. It doesn't bring back that part of their lives, it doesn't heal any financial damage, it isn't therapeutic to those who have been harmed. But then I thought, who am I to say what is or isn't therapeutic for them? And grand acts of atonement and empathy should be celebrated and embraced, yet it looks self-serving to me since admitting wrongdoing is not restitution, is out of proportion to the harm, is woefully too little too late, is far less than. Food for thought indeed and I haven't completely thought this one through. The article is clearly sympathetic towards Bush, but I am not so sure. Soldiers get a life of PTSD. W gets a painting tutor but at least he's remorseful. What DO you do with that?
Part of change and creativity and consciousness is re-forming habits of mind to make us more "real", more congruent, more truthful with ourselves and each other. It takes imagination to first of all, see these habits in action within ourselves, and second of all, change them so we are the people we say we are or want to be.
Thanks to the ritual devotion of oppressors to scapegoating, I have been forced firmly on a path of devotion to healing. I am so grateful for that! In my musings I have gathered up my passion and said, "I am devoted to art,to music. I am devoted to writing." But really, while I practice being creative daily, these most of the time feel like lofty goals and really they are in service to healing. I have been hard pressed into doing the often exhausting work of leaving a firm devotion to dysfunction and adherents of dysfunction and find health. Writing my way out of dissociation and into thinking-feeling. Painting my way into beauty and skill without muddying up all my colors. Singing my way into connection with God, Goddess, Spirit That Imbues All Life.
I think it is good to always keep your heart sensing the bigger picture of what captures your devotion. Devotion takes practice, intention, and deliberation. It is not sacrifice in service to martyrdom or putting on appearances, it is fully embracing a way of being that is of spirit.
This writing has no ending, for devotion is an ever-changing, multi-dimensional, living gesture. Devotion to healing, to Love, means adjusting practice as new insights are made, as more humility and openness is filtered through the painful cracks in our souls. We don't always have to give up cars, or wear long red robes to identify our devotion.
I will keep asking the question and tell myself I just need to brightly love.