Earlier this week, I got back from San Marcos School of Yoga, where I had spent 5 days learning from my teacher Christina Sell and a new teacher to me, Mari Young. Our study this time was about bhakti. Bhakti means devotional worship of your chosen deity, or Ishta Devata. When I signed up for the intensive, I really wasn’t thinking that I needed more bhakti in my life; like many things that end up impacting me deeply, I just knew I should do it for some reason, and I didn’t question it. My Sanskrit teacher Manorama says that certain things have a “heat” to them, they attract us, and we should pay attention to that. What has had “heat” for me lately has been anything about the divine that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. India has heat for me, too.
What stuck out for me about San Marcos was the ritual of it. All of it. Every day, Margret, a student and friend of mine, and I got up, ate my homemade granola and made coffee, got dressed in our yoga clothes, greeted the ranch cat, Monkey, drove to the studio. We got tea and sat down. We engaged in a puja of devotion and meditation. We practiced asana and went to the river to paddle board or simply just sit and be with the water. We gathered in the afternoon to talk about worship or draw mandalas or sing beautiful bhajans. We went home and watched the sunset (after greeting Monkey). We went to bed. And so it went. It was healing in ways that I haven’t quite grasped yet. I do know that my words always seem to ring more true as they leave my mouth after spending time reconnecting to that deep part of myself that yearns for sweetness and ritual.
I was reading over my journal from India tonight. I’m heading to India for the second time in January with my dear friend Gaura Vani. The last time I went to India, in 2012, was also with Gaura. I was reading about a particular day on which we visited the Balaji temple in Tirumala. We got up very early (4 AM) and after puja at the temple we were staying at (the Lotus Temple of Tirupati) we had prasadam, which is food prepared in the mood of worship. Then we walked up 3800 stone steps barefoot to the town of Tirumala, where we bathed in ghats to purify ourselves before we took darshan of Balaji. We waited hours to get into the temple complex, in snaking lines of devotees. When we finally took darshan it was very swift but intoxicating. It was mystical and deep. And back out in the temple complex of one of the busiest temples in the world, we reconvened and I felt a sense of release. For in the following of ritual we bow to something greater than ourselves, surrender our constant need to have everything under control.
Ritual is different than habit, because ritual is about devotion and worship, and again, surrender. It is without attachment to the outcome but simply for the act of doing and in the spirit of deep love and awe. Rituals are deeply held and feed the deepest recesses of our hearts. What rituals are nourishing you?
(Read more about our upcoming India trip here.)