“We are what we repeatedly do”
‘Devotion’ is one of those spiritual words that makes secularized folks nervously scan for the exit. They think you’re going to take your shirt off and roll around in rose pedals and Jesus-water before doing a flying squirrel off the roof into a pool of cult leaders. It happens. But I have something different in mind. Devotion as an attitude of friendliness and respect that you practice towards the world. Devotion as the ultimate in relational ambition – yes, we have relationships with neighbours and pets and all those people canvassing for city counsellor in Ward 19 (vote!), but why not go LARGE? Why not build a relationship with reality itself? – i.e., the Container.
Few people deliberately do this. We are all in exactly this relationship all the time – we can’t help it – we just don’t work on it, we don’t put energy into it, for the very good reason that it’s not at all clear that “reality” gives a shit. The scientific narrative most thinking people have inherited – and experience – is that of an indifferent Newtonian universe mechanically grinding each lonely human node into compost. The way to deal with this is to hold tight to the other nodes, and make some art, and work on some cool social and science problems – actually, the humanist project is pretty inspiring. We’ve got a lot worked out. But I’d like to suggest there is more we can do. We can launch right past common sense and try some uncommon sense instead. As an experiment. We can start pretending, in a vaguely schizoid way, that existence / nature / whatever responds to our overtures, indeed, that the whole container is a 360-degree dance partner keeping time with your every move.
I’ve been giving this experiment a go these past few years, and what I’ve found is, yes, sometimes my dance partner helicopters me into the serving tables and generally wipes the floor with me, but other times there is a back-and-forth flow I can slip into that is more intimate and fulfilling and empowering than my old relationship. And the idea of devotion is at the very heart of it, for love improves every relationship, even if as an ideal it’s hard to hold to (that’s why they call it a practice).