Devotion is the foundation of our spiritual path. All the teachings, writings, and talks emphasize its primary importance. Yet it took me over 16 years at Ananda before I realized it and started to actively practice it. My own nature is more “mind” than “heart” focused. I grew up in a Christian religion that never talked about devotion and instead focused on controlling your beliefs, thoughts and perceiving perfection. I filtered these messages as “mind” practices. Also working in high technology for over 20 years and attending MIT for college, kept me in the company of intellectually oriented people for most of my life.
So for the first 16 years at Ananda, I focused mainly on the meditation techniques and, during the day, holding my attention at the Christ center while practicing the japa “God, Christ, Guru.” While these practices helped keep me spiritually afloat, I always felt like being battered around in a stormy sea. It was very frustrating! I would see these wonderful people at Ananda that had, as Swamiji puts it, “the smile of God in their heart.” Yet despite all my will power driven efforts, I didn’t have it or it only came in fleeting moments from time to time.
A few years ago Master finally took pity on me and helped me out of this “mind-only” delusion. When feeling especially despondent, I had started to take a walk, when I heard Master, with a wonderful golden light, say very forcibly; “Love God!, God Needs Your Love!, God Wants Your Love!, Love God!.” Instantly I realized I needed to practice loving God with energy of my heart.
Since I was taking a walk at the time, I firmly and joyfully resolved to figure out how to love God most effectively during a ½ hour walk. Having an engineering mindset, I wanted to optimize a walking, loving God technique. So every morning during a walk I experimented with various combinations of all the different wonderful spiritual techniques Ananda teaches; chakra energization, japa, prayer, breathing, chanting, hong sau, kriya… Quickly I realized I needed a very remedial technique that would help me focus on the energy of the heart. Whenever I tried something even remotely complicated, like singing a multi-word chant, energizing several chakras, feeling God everywhere… my mind would become so focused on the technique that I would forget to feel love for God in my heart.
After awhile, a very basic practice emerged. Simply breathe deeply, energize the heart on the in breath, on the out breath, silently chant “God”, and feel you and God loving each other most intently right at the end of the exhalation. Many more refining details came, which I have written about in a book called “Love Breathing.” If interested, it can be downloaded for free at www.howtoLoveGod.org.
The order of Christ’s greatest commandment is most interesting. Love God with all your:
The first part of the greatest commandment is Love God with all your heart, not your mind. Yet in retrospect I realized I had been trying to love God with all my mind first. It wasn’t until I put loving God with all your heart first that I finally started to feel “God’s smile” in my heart.
The order of Christ’s commandment seems to correspond to the meditative experience. First we practice devotion to awaken the heart’s energy, then the heart’s energy flows up like helium to the mind, energizing and focusing on the Christ center. Then when practicing hong sau or kriya, we go deep into the stillness of the inner spine. This is speculation, but the inner stillness feels like loving God with all your soul. Then all your strength seems to correspond to using your will power to keep the meditation going.
Swamiji’s comments from Conversations with Yogananda #216 have been most helpful to me. He advises that only focusing on the spiritual eye can lead to ruthlessness if not combined with the heart’s love. For myself now, as I practice focusing on the heart throughout the day, the spiritual eye becomes activated automatically, even more so than when I only focused on the spiritual eye.
It’s been quite a revelation to me to realize that loving God seems to come easily for many people with a well-developed heart nature. Nayaswami Tushti gave a Sunday talk recently in Palo Alto. As many know, Tushti radiates a beautiful heart nature. She talked about practicing the presence of God and loving God. She stated: “how do you love God? Well you love God simply by talking with Him.” My own thoughts at hearing this was: “Wow! If only it were that simple for me! This really highlights the differences of someone with natural heart nature. Just talking with God engenders a feeling of love for God in their heart!” I’d practiced japa and talking with God for decades, yet the conversations and energy generated never filtered down into my heart, they just stayed up in my mind.
Life before heart devotion, felt like this to me:
Now with heart devotion, life feels more like this:
Joy, Joy, Joy!