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Bhakti: The Path of Devotion

Bhakti in Sanskrit means devotion. Bhakti is not just a word; it is a path. It means to love, to adore, to worship, to respect, to honor, and to let yourself go in the presence of something greater than yourself. What do you believe in? What are the principles that you stand on? When we allow ourselves to commit and follow a cause, an energy, or a presence beyond what we can conceive in our minds, we have begun the first step on the path of Bhakti. Jesus, the Great Way-Shower, suggested to his followers that the pure in heart are blessed, and they will see the divine. In this saying, the pure in heart are not the spotless or the sinless; everyone makes mistakes. The pure in heart are those that are earnestly seeking the truth of their lives; they have made a commitment to do no harm, while working to reconcile their past and to be a force for good on the planet. When they make a mistake- they atone for it. When you know you have done something wrong, do not beat yourself up; you make sure that you do not do it again. Your atonement is to be a force for good. So you create a healthy container for yourself that is wide enough to include individuals to assist you in being accountable for your actions. Your shame and guilt would become fuel for your transformation rather than the chains that keep you shackled from within. The word "gospel" or "god-spell" in Greek means good news. That good news is that there is hope for all of us. When we fall short of whatever goal we are trying to achieve, our willingness to make things right partners with a grace that a person never has to earn. It's that kind of grace that makes us stop sitting around expecting apologies from those that have done harm to us, and it gives us an inner strength to get on with the business of living. This is what true bhakti is; it is a willingness to see the bigger picture of your life, and then move toward that inner truth through whatever lens, faith, or path that you find yourself on. On this path you start asking yourself, "how can I be of service?" As you are reading this article, that is the question I would like to leave you with, "how can I be of service to this life within me?" If your follow up question is "of service to what?" My response is that you be of service to the force, the presence, and the intelligence within your own heart that wants to see you in a better place. We call it, holding the high watch. This is the path of Bhakti-to be of service to a greater good. That kind of surrender to something inside prompts you to re-examine how you show up in the world. It is the voice of conscious that makes you go back and apologize. It is the voice of conscious that gives you the strength to speak truth to power when you need to. Yet it is also the wisdom to refrain from speaking when you intuitively know that your words may cause more damage than healing. This is the path of Bhakti. We feel this force for good when we play our favorite song. Opening your mouth to sing and moving your feet to dance can lift you up to places that movies have just begun to describe. It allows you to feel, to emote, and to release the parts of yourself that have been suppressed. For those that feel safe enough to do so in the presence of another person who has created a container for that to take place, Bhakti can transform your life. For those that wish to emote, to cry, to let go only within themselves, Bhakti is a safe path for you as well. The beautiful thing about all of these paths is that they do not require a mediator. You can explore them by yourself, within yourself, and still engage the world. Another wonderful mantra attributed to Jesus is that while the world judges based on outward appearances, the divine looks upon the heart. Bhakti is the path of the heart. Whether you are devoted to a person, your vocation, your children, your friends, or your life in general, Bhakti is a path that you are traveling even if you don't realize it. When you allow the force of Bhakti to bubble up to the surface and you allow yourself to feel the love for that thing you are devoted to, you become transformed. Sure it sounds romantic, but romance is not a bad thing. We only run into problems when we are devoted to something that either does not return our adoration, or we devote ourselves to something that gives us negativity in exchange for our love. The easiest way to experience Bhakti is through reflection; reflecting on what you love on a daily basis can be an integral part of your spiritual practice. It will give you the strength to keep going. It will make you find levels of integrity within your being when your primal instincts are prompting you to behave out of character. There is a love in your heart that guides you; your relationship to that love can become stronger than any external force that would make you feel the opposite. If you are looking to transform your life- spend 10 minutes per day doing something that ties you back to the thing you are devoted to. Make a commitment to do something that reminds you of that love; do something that reminds you of that connection. Sing a song, play your favorite music; the endorphins this experience generates can lift you up out of whatever state you are in and usher you into pure joy and ecstasy. This is the path of Bhakti- this is ecstatic mysticism. It is something you can do everyday. Allow yourself to go deeper into it. Your body needs it. Your heart craves it. Your life heals from it. Your soul grows from it. The path of Bhakti like any other path, does not require anything from you other than you find something to believe in, and allow the transformative power of its presence to lift you up. That kind of surrender is scary. It requires a certain kind of vulnerability that we may not be comfortable with. For some of us, our access to this kind of devotion will never come through a person and that is ok. Life does not require us to be perfect; life requires us to live as best as we know how, and then to say yes to the needs of our soul to ask for that help we need.

Rev. Jesse Eugene Herriott, M.A. is the Spiritual Leader of Unity of Birmingham, AL. He is a writer and spiritual teacher whose work explores the soul of what it means to be human, through the lens of spiritual practice & western psychotherapy. He is an ordained priest in the UAIC Interspiritual community and currently is in the process of completing Unity’s Special Dispensation program to become a licensed Unity Minister. He completed bachelor’s and master’s from the University of South Carolina and Keiser University, respectively. He also holds post grad certificates in Geropsychology, Organizational Psychology, & Clinical Trauma Support. In 2015 he was selected by Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA to be inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Clergy & Scholars. To find out more, join us online via facebook, or meet us in person for our Sunday Morning Celebration at 11am Central at Unity of Birmingham. .

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