There are things that ask
to be remembered
or, is it that I ask to remember?
The everyday enchantments
of our living
words forming slices of
A white squirrel watching
from a sycamore tree
the sounds of black
from within the secret
between oak tree
footprints of a shy orange
coastal fox in the sand.
Rays of sunlight
forming individual white rainbows
stretching from cloud
I no longer feel like I have anything
I just want to tell you about the
shell I found today
the sandy pink color
of its wave-shaped spiral
the way the pine needles
form a canopy under
which orange monarchs dance
the surprising softness and bright
green hue of thin fingers of grass
the pretty purple pollen cones
of a longleaf pine.
The colors of a morning woven
into a tapestry of devotion.
That is the word for this feeling
in my chest.
Devotion is not a word that I have previously felt particularly inspired by or connected to. Perhaps it is too heavy, too responsible, or even “too religious”—carrying connotations of dogma or roteness. However, in the last month or so, something has opened up for me to consider the word, and the process, in a different way.
We’ve just returned from our annual month long trip to Dauphin Island on the Gulf Coast. As I experience each year at the island, there is a setting aside, or laying down of much that is extraneous in life. Every year, I shed what feels like layers of myself. I peel things away, I open up, I soften, I settle, and I let go of a lot. There is call, a drive, that I feel each day to go on a long walk on the beach with my husband and that becomes the priority of each day, to go on this walk. We walk for a long time, often for four hours in one walk. This year, some roads were closed and we had to walk for 1.2 miles to even get to the place where we actually wanted to go walking, we would then go on our walk and then have to walk 1.2 additional miles back to our car after our “real walk” was finished.
We go out every day, as a primary priority. The only thing that will keep us away is an active, true thunderstorm (this applied to a single day of the month). We walk in drizzle, we walk in swirling winds that coat the gloss on my lips with a gritty layer of exfoliating sand, we walk when the sky is an explosion of color, on days when you have to wear two pairs of pants to stay warm, and when the sun is radiant and you receive the vitamin D dose your soul has been craving. Regardless, we go. This year, as we walked we started to talk about how this walk is an act of devotion for us. We stepped out one morning for a walk in the bird sanctuary under the pines and onto a boardwalk path and I said to my husband, “this is an act of devotion.” After this, I started to think more seriously about what devotion means to me.
People will ask sometimes how it is that we manage to find such good shells and treasures from the sea on our walks and I usually reply that it is “dogged determination.” It is not giving up, it is not deciding it is too wet, or too windy, or too hot, or too whatever, it is the willingness to go anyway, to go farther and go longer and to bear discomfort that many others are unwilling to experience. I usually laugh at this description, but perhaps devotion is really another word for dogged determination. Or truly perhaps it is that I don’t actually mean dogged determination, and instead what I mean is that it is a devotional practice. That is what makes me do it, that’s what keeps me moving, produces the experience and supports my life, it is devotion.
When we retuned home, I continued to think about devotion and how it can shape our lives. In our lives lived in the month at the beach, that devotion, that commitment, that dedication, that centrality of experience, that priority-setting, is so clear and so delineated . I completely give myself to permission to have the full experience, to have my primary accomplishment of the day be “I went for a long walk” and have that be okay, even vitally necessary. It is amazing how much still fits into the day even with this primary accomplishment. (Among many other things, we shipped 400 orders from the island this year with inventory from our business that we bring with us.)
I started to think with longing and a sense of loss or almost grief at the whittling away of the devotion once back at home. I started to wonder why it is that I allow this to be a one month long, once a year experience. What would happen if I brought this devotion into the other eleven months of the year? I felt challenged and excited by my own question. What does devotion mean? What would open up for me, if I allowed devotion? This sense of promise was followed by a little dose of self-critique—why can’t you rearrange your whole brain and life and also go ahead and change your personality? And, then what followed was a consideration and recognition of the many ways in which I do express and experience devotion in the other eleven months of the year. I began to appreciate the practices I have cultivated for myself that also represent devotion noticing that I was taking for granted or ignoring these as acts of devotion as well.
One of those acts of devotion is my yoga practice. While I often only practice for 15 minutes a day and I would consider it to be more of a maintenance practice, a daily connection, rather than a practice designed to challenge myself or test my limits, it is a nonnegotiable practice that I do day in and day out, without fail. I practiced yoga at 40 weeks pregnant. I have practiced with sinus infections, migraines, fevers, and babies at the breast. I have done yoga with children sitting on my back and crawling back and forth between my legs. And, what is that but dogged determination again? Or, devotion. Devotion to myself, my soul, my practice, and my body.
The other practice to which I am devoted is my daily visit to the woods and the rocks, where I check in with the trees, the rocks, and the world herself—the sun, the clouds, the changing tapestry of the seasons, the deer, the turkeys, the crows, whatever it is that I experience that day. It fills my craving for the delight of noticing.
Another devotional practice that I added to my life last year was the keeping of a daily magical journal. My word of the year was “magic” and I decided that as a way to engage fully with my word, I would be alert for, and record, at least one magical moment in every day. And, I did it! I experienced 365 magical moments and recorded them in my little book. Not every day was easy, I had to really reach and stretch pretty hard to find the magic in some of the days, but I did it—I felt something magical happen in every day of the year and this too was an act of devotion, to teasing it out, to being willing to dig if I didn’t find it, to recognizing if I got to the end of the day without feeling the spark of magic that I like to feel, that I could still go out and find some—the way the light from the fading sunset filters through the cedar trees, or watching three crows arc overhead. I often find that seeing a bird can be my magic moment of the day and I have learned to step outside and to look for one if my day has been short on magic. It can also be flowers or sunlight or oak leaves twisting through the breeze.
I am continuing this practice this year and I’ve added another practice based on my new word of the year, which is “listen.” In addition to my magic note, I’m adding a note of my listening moment of the day. This moment is not always magical—it could be listening to the crows calling, but it could also be very basic and simple such as listening to my need to have a drink of water or to go to the bathroom instead of waiting until I have to pee super badly. This may not sound like a radical act, but in a world in which self-care can be a struggle, it can be an act of body wisdom and a type of devotion to pee when you need to pee. So, I listen carefully to my world every day and I write it down. If I have to reach and struggle and strain to find that moment, it is my sign to listen more. This is never used as a way to berate myself, but rather as an opportunity to check in—was there any moment in this day in which I listened to myself and acted upon what I heard?
One of my guideposts for living has always been the now late Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life:
tell about it.
This week, I stepped out onto my back deck after feeling bound by a scrambling and tight sensation of trying to “catch up.” I listened to the part of myself that called me to soften, the part that was longing for the shedding, release, and freedom I experience on the island. So, I took my own advice and stepped outside onto the deck, under the broad sky. A message floated to me on the wings of a red-shouldered hawk and in the conversations of the crows as the light filtered through white clouds through cedar branches onto a mosaic of oak leaves.
Do not deny yourself beauty.
You do not have to earn it.
you are worthy as you are.
An expanded audio exploration of this topic is available here.
Molly has been gathering the women to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and wrote her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses, original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of Womanrunes, Earthprayer, She Lives Her Poems, and The Red Tent Resource Kit and she writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Patreon and at Brigid’s Grove.