For those of us on our spiritual journey there are many, many different paths to follow; for those of us on our yogic paths the choice classically narrows, but there are still choices:
RAJA YOGA - Royal yoga, following the eightfold path
JNANA YOGA - the yoga of knowledge/wisdom
KARMA YOGA - the yoga of action
BHAKTI YOGA - the yoga of devotion
I learned about these some time ago, and like many others, I have to some extent, have followed elements of all four paths... learning to meditate and control my mind (Raja), studying the scriptures (Jnana), volunteering my time and skills (Karma) and learning how to open my heart, seeing the goodness and beauty (divinity) within everything and everyone (Bhakti).
So which path to follow?... Arjuna quizzes Krishna about this in the Bhaghavad Gita... I was veering mainly towards the Bhakti path when 2019 began.
Here is a song I wrote towards the end of 2018:
Every minute, every second, every moment of every day
In spite of all distractions in my heart is where I’ll stay
For in my heart there is such joy, such light and so much love
And it is available for every one of us
Rejoice! Rejoice! And radiate (repeat)
Every sunset, every baby, every flower I behold
Takes me to my centre to my heart of pure gold
Every bird in flight, each leaf that falls, each cloud up in the sky
Takes me to a better place, a place of pure delight
Every bleating lamb, each buzzing bee, leaves rustling in a tree
Lead me to a better place, of deep divinity
And then 2019 became one of the most challenging years of my life but also the year of fastest spiritual growth... so far! I had been pursuing various therapies for two and a half years to help resolve chronic migraines and then at the beginning of the year I started to notice that I was having some very slight difficulties forming words. I spoke to my nearest and dearest about this but they could not detect any abnormalities. Alongside this I was aware of a surge of anxiety which I experienced mainly in my physical body rather than in my mind.... with no obvious cause or source. What was happening? I was still continuing all my practices, plenty of tools in my box for anxiety(!) and they were all working as an immediate fix, but then along would come that surging feeling again!
To cut a long story short, after many months of GP appointments, lots more alternative therapies, various consultants, MRI scans, tests etc., at the end of June I sat face to face with a very nice neurologist (and fortunately my husband was with me) and he told me that in his opinion I had Motor Neurone Disease, an incurable, progressive, life limiting condition. We were totally shocked, it had not even crossed my mind that this could be a possibility. (This was later to be confirmed as a second opinion with one of the leading consultants in the UK in this field.)
We returned home in a state of shock, sat down and I clearly remember turning to my husband and saying, “But it’s ok because I’m not my body, I’m not my emotions, I’m not my thoughts, I am my soul.” These were not simply words which I had been taught, but also a knowing within me. I had never shared this with my husband before as he is not a yogi or at that point had very little understanding of his spirituality. But I spoke my truth and this had a clear impact upon him, initially it brought him some comfort to hear me say that.
So what has all this got to do with my Bhakti path?
Whilst I am not my body, thoughts or emotions, I nevertheless still have all three and they have all been changing and distracting me at a colossal speed! Remembering who I am has been essential and has enabled me to let all sorts of stuff fall away. As yogis we spend a great deal of time encouraging ourselves and others to let go of those things which no longer serve us yet over the last twelve months many things have simply slipped away, sometimes easily, sometimes painfully...especially anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, pride, arrogance. Probably the biggest of these has been around my identity, how I view my outer self, my ego... since my ability to speak has taken a huge hit I am no longer the teacher who has always been capable of standing up in front of others and clearly articulating whatever it is I am teaching; I am no longer the wife and mother who takes it upon herself to do all the housework, cooking and tidying, that has had to go too as I manage my energy levels very carefully taking self care to the next level! I’m no longer dashing around, driven by my pitta, trying to juggle as many things as possible, constantly worrying about getting it all done... life has slowed down.
I have replaced frustration with fascination and this has been a very helpful discovery!
As anger has arisen I have acknowledged it and released it in a way that is not harmful to any other living creature; most recently as anger popped up unexpectedly I simply gave it a cuddle and you know, it dissipated!
In the last year I have discovered what it feels and is like to be on the receiving end of other people’s love and concern... rather than being the giver. It has often felt completely overwhelming and has certainly moved me to tears. This, I have realised, is a taste of the enormity, of the infinite nature, of God’s love for me... and you, and everyone. We clearly have to open ourselves, become truly vulnerable, in order to experience this. We can spend our lives being ‘strong’ in order to get by, maybe accepting help from time to time, but actually admitting vulnerability can really open us up.
The messages were coming through thick and fast as I went through the year, ‘Love myself more, love my suffering, love is everything. Increase love, channel love, be open to love, accept love.’ The Bhakti path was beginning to open up before me.
On the 26th June I wrote in my journal...
“I’ve been pursuing this Bhakti path for quite a while now and maybe this is challenging me to really come to my heart and experience the full power of love? How do I express my devotion to the Divine? I have long thought that this is done through service to others, but at the moment I don’t have a vast reserve of energy for much service to others. confused.com. Please, Lord, help me to find the way forward.”
The answers to that question have emerged...
I have reduced the number of classes I teach and the length of the sessions, and this has made continuing to teach possible. I send out a pretty comprehensive email each week to explain what we will be doing and why, then in the class we do activations to music but with no verbal input (other than by way of introduction before starting) and only very minimal verbal input during sequences. I have a microphone and speaker which have been of some help for the odd utterance. I now use a text to voice App to teach, this involves typing out everything I want to say in preparation for the class and then playing it back at the appropriate moment during body preps, to introduce a posture, to lead relaxation and meditation. And I am very encouraged to continue sharing and teaching in this way since my students tell me how much they are benefiting and they keep coming back!
Derby DYTT began in October and it had long been my dream to bring the course back to Derby with the intention of teaching on that course and taking a lead role in the planning. Ha ha! That was not to be, however there have been many ways in which I am able to support the course: lots of emailing (support team, students), marking/reviewing, Reflective journals etc, note keeping during the course, chanting during the course, daily prayers for the students.
As expectations and frustrations dropped away it became apparent that I must focus on what I CAN do rather than what I CANNOT
There have been huge waves of acceptance. And as each of these things, and more, have fallen away I have become more and more aware of my beautiful Self and the true nature of my Self which is pure and infinite love.
I remember being taught that our dharma may change from time to time, even from day to day, and I have found that to be true. I have surrendered to the Divine and I am here to serve as I become more and more attuned to God. Following guidance from the Bhagavad Gita (my daily companion) and Narada’s Bhakti Sutras I am seeking to become a channel of pure love within this physical body. There is so much help in the scriptures...
The Bhagavad Gita is all about Pure Devotion:
Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita is all about Pure Devotion:
Sloka 2: Those who set their hearts on Me and worship Me with great faith have a better knowledge of yoga
Sloka 14: Ever contented, self controlled and full of faith, with all his heart and mind given to Me, that devotee is very dear to Me
Sloka 20; Those who take this eternal wisdom to heart and become full of faith, seeking Me as life’s highest goal, are my true devotees and My love for them is very great
Ch 14 Sl 26: Whoever serves Me with steadfast devotion transcends the gunas and is eligible to know the Supreme (Brahman).
Ch 18 Sl 65 & 66: Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, give your all to Me, bow down to Me and I promise that you will surely come to Me, for you are very dear to Me
Letting go of everything else, with your whole heart take refuge in Me, for I will free you from everything that causes you pain. There is no need for fear or worry.
Ch. 18 Sl 48: Just as fire is covered by smoke, all undertakings are covered by some deficiency or other. You should never abandon the duty to which you are born even if it is imperfect
(Hence my determination to continue teaching in whatever way I am able to!)
The other really helpful and insightful scripture that I have been reading and rereading is the Narada Bhakti Sutras. Probably not as well known or as well read as the Bhagavad Gita, they are thought to have been composed around the 12th century AD. Narada is said to be a ‘realised sage’ who travels throughout the Universe spreading the teachings of Bhakti yoga. He also participates in Kirtan. These sutras provide a very useful guide for the aspiring Bhakti yogi and are very much in line with the teachings of the Gita, but somehow much simpler!
Here are verses 1-4, as translated by Prem Prakash:
Now, in a spirit of auspiciousness, we shall commence to expand on Bhakti - spiritual devotion.
The nature of spiritual devotion is the supreme love.
And its essence is the nectar of immortality.
Obtaining spiritual devotion, a person becomes a siddha, a perfected one, beyond death and fully satisfied.
It is a fascinating read and there are endless verses I would love to share but I’ll just pick out a few which I am finding particularly helpful on my own Bhakti path:
Verse 33: Therefore, those who aspire to liberation regard spiritual devotion as the only goal worth attaining.
Verse 42: Cultivate grace alone; cultivate grace alone.
Verses 51 & 52: The essential nature of love is inexpressible. Like taste for one who is mute.
Verse 55: Achieving that experience one sees only love, speaks only love, and thinks of love alone.
Verse 66: Going beyond the three forms of spiritual devotion previously mentioned, one’s only duty is to love. One’s duty is to love. The aspirant naturally worships God, like an eternally loving wife or eternally devoted servant.
So what are the important things in life when so much stuff slips away?
The importance of spending time with family and friends rose high up in my priorities and as far as possible this is what I am able to do. Precious time but even that has to be limited as I tire very quickly when interacting with others... but that’s ok.
The importance of having and spending time with my mentors has become very evident; I feel so blessed to have such wonderful mentors in my life to whom I can look to for guidance, support and wisdom... oh and love, of course! If you are on a spiritual path and you don’t yet have a mentor I strongly recommend that you find one!
The HUGE importance of my practice and pujas. Happily a regular practice has been ongoing for many years now, obviously changing, growing and developing as time has elapsed and since I began this daily practice I have always known what a huge difference it makes to my life.... now more than ever. And what is amazing is that my daily practice is not confined to the hour or more of asana, pranayama, deep relaxation, Mantra and meditation, it now accompanies me throughout most of the day and night.
Blogging! A great way to reach out and teach without speech.
On a daily basis I look for God in everything and it is amazing how often now I see God in the most unexpected locations, His creations and His love are indeed everywhere.
So I hope that the lessons which I have been learning (work constantly in progress, of course!) will be of value to you, dear Friends. I know I still have much to learn and more attachments to release until I am truly free... but I’m getting there.
A final plea: do NOT wait for a mortality check to really ‘get your butt in gear’ and to make looking after your soul the highest priority. For in actual fact we can never be sure when this present life will end, can we? So, maybe like me you have already discovered the sheer beauty and simplicity of the Bhakti path... LOVE IS EVERYTHING.......
OM NAMOH BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA