We cultivate devotion by what we make vows to, then continue to show up for whether we feel like it or not. These practices work with devotion simply as energetic because cultivating devotion towards anything cultivates devotion in your life. So while we may be focusing these practices on someone or something, it’s less about that person or thing, and more to open up the energy of devotion within ourselves. There are many, many ways to cultivate devotion and today I’m going to give you just a few to get started.
1. Write a letter to yourself.
Letter writing is a slow style of communication. You write the letter, then you send it. They recieve it and take some time to be with it, and then they respond. This requires patience. I think the slowness alone of letter writing cultivates a certain kind of devotion.
I was late to the whole internet, email, and texting situation because I lived in a Buddhist monastery in the late 1990’s where the main form of communication was one phone line that you could make, but not receive calls on, so I wrote a lot of letters. As a result, I’ve made letter-writing part of my workshops, events and retreats. After attendees have had these big insights and experiences, I have them write a letter to themselves. It’s not about writing down our insights as a to-do list, or even takeaways we want to remember. Instead, it’s about writing a letter to themselves simply to capture the fullness of that very moment.
So they write the letter, address the envelope, and then I bring them home and put stamps on them and add them to my altar. For the last few years, I’ve had my retreat sometime in February, which means I’ve had a Valentine’s love altar, and even if they’re not technically love letters to themselves, in a way, that’s what they end up being. So they sit on the altar, underneath a rose quartz for some time, until it feels right to send some. They have no idea when they’re going to come, and I inevitably get emails, texts and messages saying thank you, that they got the letter at just the right time.
The whole process is devotional and one I highly recommend trying. It can be a love letter, or it can be what 41 year old you wishes you could have said to 21 year old you; or it can be what 41 year old you wants to say to 51 year old you. And if you can, give it to somebody else to mail back to you whenever they feel like it.
2. Write a letter to someone who has gifted, taught, or loved you well in some way.
When Mary Oliver passed away, I wanted to honor her in some way. She had been (and continues to be) such a profound teacher in my life, even though I never met her and I only saw her speak in person once, but her words, her teaching, her devotion to the subtlety and the beauty of life has had a profound impact on me. So for 100 days I decided to post a piece of her poetry on social media. The act of honoring her, and then the consistency of posting everyday, was a practice that cultivated devotion (within me) throughout those 100 days. There were times it was ten at night I had not yet posted a poem and I pulled myself out of bed to find a poem, not because Mary Oliver cared, but because I’d made a commitment to myself and it mattered to me. I also missed a day here or there, and part of my practice of devotion was to pick the practice back up the next day; not to think, “well, I missed a day, so it’s all f*cked anyway…”, but to simply pick it right back up & keep going.
Whether it’s honoring a mentor, a past love, someone who has inspired you, or a family member, writing letters or posting about others also cultivates devotion, not just towards that person, but in yourself.
3. Letters to God.
There was a woman in one of my long-term programs who made it her practice to write love letters to God. They were not all sweet or nice, in some she was pissed & angry and telling god that what was being done in the world was not okay, some were sexy, while some were conventionally loving. It was the truth and love of committing to, and following through on, this practice on this regular basis that was powerful. This is where commitment and devotion meet. Commitment does what it says it will do, and devotion continues to show up from love and not drop something just because we don’t feel like it.
These practices are partly about devotion to something, but, even moreso, this is a cultivation of devotion itself. The willingness to offer devotion to others, cultivates devotion itself – simply by giving it you literally end up with more. So go ahead, write letters to yourself, honor your teachers, family and friends who have gifted you with something, or devote yourself through writing letters to god, source, or the divine and see all the beautiful ways in which the energy of devotion fills up your life.