Be devoted. Absolutely, unequivocally & expansively.
I have ended a week at the Upaya Zen Center were I sat zazen several times a day and studied at the heels of a truly great writing teacher. The mantra that I took away from this experience is: keep your pen moving. It is one way of saying: Be. Devoted. Devotion can often come across as a grand thing-high minded and a bit abstract. Let me ground the idea in a true story-my own personal encounter with Devotion. In 2007 I was living and working in San Francisco. My husband and I lived in a shoebox apartment at the south end of the city-a place not even legally zoned as an apartment, that was how small it was, and money was tighter than a girdle. One night in the bookstore where I worked I had the door open to listen to the city evening sounds of Hayes Valley while I sat inside reading the Bhagavad Gita. I heard a sound over the street noises and the weeping violins of Bach. At my feet was a small mourning dove with a badly injured wing. The bird was obviously frightened and scurried her way over to the speakers and radio-somehow getting inside of the radio itself. Finally, I was able to wedge her out and put her into an empty cardboard box. My husband showed up at closing to take me home, saw the wounded bird, and knew that we had a new addition to the family. Years of rushing wounded creatures from Santa Fe to the Espanola animal shelter had taught him that he had fallen in love with a rescuer. The mourning dove came home with us and I called her Bhakti-the Sanskrit word for devotion and a central theme in the Gita as well as a play on “Bach.” Trips to the vet ensued and they told me that Bhakti’s wing would have to come off-it was too damaged to save. The price tag was close to two grand-an obscene amount of money to me at the time. One look at Bhakti’s grey feathers and blue lidded eyes and I said “yes”—I would find a way to make it work and I did. She had shown up at my feet needing care-I was dedicated to seeing this through. I can only thank my beloved for being the most understanding and tolerant partner ever. The wing came off—even though the vets both felt like it was a waste of money-and made no attempt to hide their feelings from me. Her fleshy pink and raw wing nub eventually healed and feathered out again. She was never comfortable being held but loved it when my husband played the guitar. I had her for two years before a diseased liver (she had spent most of her life in the wild as a city street bird, remember) took her life. Not before I had spent another couple grand on treatments I could ill afford of course. Bhakti died late in the evening in my hands and we buried her the next day. Friends and family looked at me out of their corners of their eyes-wanting to ask the question—“was it worth it?” The expense of care, the work, the ultimate loss of Bhakti—did I regret my decisions? No. Caring for Bhakti taught me important lessons about devotion that have and continue to serve me well:
Devotion finds you. You do not have to go looking for up and even if you did you might not recognize it—Devotion does not appear the way we think it should, it is what it is-absolute and non-negotiable.
Your job once you encounter that which you are devoted to is to submit. Give it everything and then give it some more. Women who have birthed babies know this is fundamental, bone deep truth-the rest of y’all have to take my word for it.
Complaining is pointless. It is what it is, accept it, be thankful for illuminating purpose and get to work.
Devotion kisses what is ridiculous and foolish—people will laugh. Proceed anyway. Laughter and ridicule often cue you in to being on the right track.
The outcome is uncertain-you don’t deserve anything-focus on your work, submit, allow it to be what it is, allow it to be ALL that it is.
Life is short and death is certain, it grows closer with every breath you take. Devote yourself now. Absolutely. Completely. Don’t hold anything back, just get on with it.