From Accidental Reverence to Deliberate DevotionReverence is easy (and quite lovely) to say, but it is not the necessarily so easy to feel and know. Were you ever taught reverence? I certainly wasn’t, not in any formal way.
It is something that might happen quietly, by accident, when seeing a sky filled with stars on one of those clear nights, far from the city, or more often during a dramatic sunset.
In the yogic tradition much is made of reverence and it’s kissing cousin devotion. It is said that our practice only really becomes effective when it is underpinned with devotion.
What does this mean? It means that one’s heart is awake and included in what you are doing.
It is also acknowledged in yoga that this is not necessarily the automatic state of the heart and hence the emphasis on practice!
Accessing this capacity of the heart to feel devotion is the secret sauce, it is what connects us in all ways. When the heart is involved and awakened all the deeper aspects of practice become possible, because at it’s heart, yoga is about realizing the love that we are.
Okay, now I sound like a hippy. Here’s the thing, well 1.) I am a hippy, and 2.) There is the question of how to ignite the heart in this way, it is simply repetition.
The practice of japa or repetition is done with mantra. You may have heard the word mantra, it is a syllable or a phrase that is repeated at least 3-12 times and often 108 times at a stretch.
The most famous syllable used as a mantra is OM. OM relates to Shiva the principal of consciousness itself and as such, is said to contain all knowledge. This is the syllable most often chanted at the beginning and end of yoga classes as a reminder that we are expanding our consciousness through the practice.
In my teacher training I was taught a much longer mantra devoted to Ganesh, the elephant headed God known for being a great protector and remover of obstacles. Initially I loved the mantra because it sounds so beautiful:
Om shrim hrim klim glaum gam Ganapataye vara varada sarva janamey vashamanaye swaha.
Some of it cannot be literally translated because the first six syllables are what are known as beej mantras, or seed syllables. These are contractions of vast concepts into a single sound.
The part after Ganapathiye go along the lines of “make me worthy to receive your blessing.”
I chanted this mantra 108 times a day for many months. After the initial appreciation wore off sometimes I would chant and it would feel rote and boring. This is absolutely a stage of the practice of repetition. We do it because it’s a practice, we committed to it and, ugh, really? Do I have to?
To keep going took getting more conscious, really hearing the sounds of the syllables and feeling them in my mouth, anything to get past the boredom and get more present with what I was doing.
Then after a while it became reflexive, a habit even. Habits are not considered to be very much to do with conscious behavior, but they are a part of the practice of japa. We are clearing out old habits of negative thoughts and replacing them with holy names and reverence, devotional words. In this habit I felt comfort and liked to make the connection in my mind between when I would chant and things going well. Magical thinking perhaps, but I have many stories I could tell about subtly experiencing the power of the mantra working for me.
After many months of feeling the subtle, yet undeniable power of this practice, low and behold, a sense of deep devotion began to emerge. Ganesh as a symbol had become personally meaningful to me through the many, many times I had repeated the mantra. My heart was, in it’s wisdom, slowly waking to reverence for this potent, mythic deity from a culture not my own.
All hearts are different and many of the most renowned living saints are ones for whom this reverence, love and devotion was always present. Stories of Amma, the hugging saint’s early life are of her frequently being in a meditative state of devotion. That love and devotion extended to her family and all the people around her. We may not be saints, but this kind of love, devotion and reverence for life is what our practice is pointing us toward.