Thursday, February 28, 2008

A journey to devotion

Earth laughs in flowers.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I have said before, I am a spring child and I am passionate about my flowers. I have been this way all my life, just crazy-in-love with flowers of all kinds. All my life I have collected them, coveted them, and demanded them from unyielding lovers. I have bouquets in almost every room of my house, little gifts to the household gods—“please, please help me keep my home harmonious” I say as I set them in their spots.

Changing flowers and their water is a little devotional part of my housework, an inner cleansing and harmonizing of my space. I have always loved this idea of devotional service to the home. It has been in the background of my imagination for over ten years now. It is an attitude towards life that I strive to cultivate.

I remember reading a passage in one of my favorite books, ¡Yo! By Julia Alvarez, and feeling so happy that another has my odd habits: ”The minute they are in the house all the spirit waters have to be changed before she can relax or even unpack her suitcase. Don’t ask her why. At certain windows there are saucers filled with water, again don’t ask her why…She is not a wannabe witch and she is not a leftover hippy…These superstitions—he mustn’t call them that—are part of her island background.” Reading those lines for the first time felt so perfect to me because my rituals were also inspired by an island culture.

At the tender age of 21, I traveled to Indonesia with my best friend. We stayed in Bali for most of the month, devoting ourselves to exploring that beautifully exotic place. They say that Bali is the true Garden of Eden, and it truly is one of the most sensual, redolent places I have ever been lucky enough to experience.

Every morning that I awoke on that island, I was greeted by the strong scent of burning incense and…garbage! It was an admittedly odd juxtaposition of scents but, in an indescribable way, hauntingly pleasant! Every morning the Balinese women could be seen sweeping the front of their homes. After this duty was performed, they would carefully place a tray on their impeccably clean front porch. The tray, filled with a most beautiful assortment of colorful fruits and neat squares of rice, was always set against a backdrop of burning incense. I was struck by this simple ritual offering, of floating prayers of gratitude and renewal on wafts of smoke and anchoring them in the substance of the fruit and the rice and the rising of the sun.

I always thought, in my perfect life, I would make a similar offering to begin my day. In my perfect life, I would quietly entice the gods to pave my future hours with joy. I would inspire them with offerings of beauty to perfume their thoughts and make them smile.

After I returned home, however, my life quickly gained momentum and the idea went dormant somewhere in the back of my mind. I ended one relationship and began a new one (with my future husband) and we moved to Santa Barbara together. In the first couple of months that we lived there, we stayed at a sort of halfway house until we found our good spot on the outskirts of the city. The in-between-house was run as a collective. We all worked for an hour and, in return, we had a maid and our meals cooked. The food was all organic and vegetarian. The woman who ran the home had studied with a guru in India and that had inspired her to create this place for like-minded individuals to coexist.

I usually cleaned for my daily hour of service. They had a particular way of cleaning and whenever a room had been completed, it was the custom of the home to leave a stick of burning incense as the final touch. Suddenly that dormant idea in the back of my head began growing again! I was amazed to re-encounter this beautiful idea a half a world away from its birthplace!

Again, my life gained momentum and I moved, this time into an apartment with two male friends along with now-husband/then-boyfriend. That was an adventure all it’s own and needless to say the idea of enticing any gods went dormant until one day in one of my Religious Studies classes I was inspired by the topic of “Puja.”

Puja is the devotional practices one performs for whoever they are devoted to and is mainly a Hindu/Buddhist idea. The concept was so beautiful to me and was so obviously the underbelly of my experiences lighting incense to end a cleaning in the communal home, and in the witnessing of the morning Balinese practices.

The concept of puja ignited all the dormant ideas and excited their possibilities. I added, to my perfect view of my perfect day, beginning it with puja to my body, mind, and home. That I would face the rising sun with exercise, a cleaning of the body with breath, followed by a cleaning of my home, leaving each room sweetly smelling of incense. I would leave a gift of flowers in each room to inspire my gods to smile on me.

Of course, I do not do this every day. But, after ten years of cultivation, the idea is no longer dormant; it has steadily grown and solidified and now occupies permanent space in my consciousness. It is a framework that continually defines my mornings; I can see where I stand in my life against this background of devotion. Every day I work towards balance and beauty in all things. Every day I celebrate it in flowers and scent. Maybe it’s a bit too romantic an idea that my practices affect the gods attitudes, but I do believe Emerson’s idea that flowers are the earth laughing. And that makes me smile. And isn’t that what it's all about anyway?



Domestically Challenged said...

Dear Jo
How lovely - I send you daffodils and tulips!

I have only ever thought of the Christmas tree as having've made me have a rethink - also am now feeling very guilty about my ever growing family of dust bunnies! I must have a spring clean.

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Melissa said...

It is about balance and beauty. The rituals and the constant "coming back" centers us, doesn't it?

My what a fascinating life you've led!

Mrs. G. said...

What a beautiful post to read on a day that I am so over housework. I think I need an attitude adjustment. Maybe fresh flowers?

Yo said...

mmmm... fresh flowers! i love tulips and gerber daisies.

where did you go, jo? how are you liking the pagan nun?

JCK said...

Hope you are O.K. Miss your blog and your comments. Happy Spring!

Anonymous said...

Ill do the drilling if you want...... If you fill your mind into that place where the pain is... you can make it disappear !