Part Two: 40 Days of Devotion

A close-up of my altar at home. Frida Kahlo, an illustration of Parvati that I colored, and two deities I work with regularly. 

A close-up of my altar at home. Frida Kahlo, an illustration of Parvati that I colored, and two deities I work with regularly. 

Can you feel it? The excitement is building! In my last post, I mentioned that I'm starting a 40-day mantra practice, and some of you are interested in joining me! If you're new here and have questions, check out Part One of 40 Days of Devotion.

So let's get into Part Two and talk about how we'll be building our daily practice journey.

Okay, Jess. I have a mala and a mantra. Now What? 

Here is where our real work begins. Give some thought to your day, your work week, to the next month or so, and decide when would be the best time, every day, for you to set aside some time to chant and dwell in your seated practice. Don't look for a time that will be "always convenient;" there is no such thing. Look for the time that will be sustainable. Is it early in the morning? A midday practice? At dusk, or even before bedtime? Finding the time that works on most days means that it may not work every day. Strategize: how can you find the time to sit on the days when it's not as convenient? What are you willing to allow to wait, for even a short time, so you can pursue, and eventually manifest, this practice? Once you have your schedule set, Stick. To. It. In the words of Ashtangi Angela Jamison, alchemize your word.  If doing the practice every day means some days you have to get creative, then get creative! This amazing brief video about walking japa is for sure going to change my commute at least a few times in the next 40 days. 

Imagine having no daylight between what you say you will do, and what you do... To the degree I do have my words and actions lined up on the level of action, others find me to be worthy of trust. Because there is a difference between having trust-worthy intentions, and being trust worthy. There are people who “mean well.” And then there are those who demonstrably have it together.
— Angela Jamison

 Right on. Brass tacks: how do I actually do japa?

A few simple (but seldom easy) steps: 

  • Show Up.  Do not underestimate the importance of this step. It might be the hardest part to do consistently. The first few days, even the first week or so, we'll have the excitement and momentum of a new practice on our side, and sitting daily will feel like we're eating our Wheaties and taking our vitamins. Then, as it does, reality will set in: our plans will change, one of the kids will get sick, work will call us in for an extra shift or class or session, que sera sera, and in less time than we think, finding the time to show up will seem impossible. This is where we begin to build the skills we need to make this a habit. We create discipline and strength when we mindfully engage our will in the face of resistance. Remember, you couldn't pop into Warrior I the first time you tried it, could you? The floor, the weight of your body, you needed all that resistance to build the strength and ability to sink your hips as you press the heel into the earth. So it is with our seated practice. Be grateful for the resistance because it helps you build the strength and discipline to make this practice consistent. You don't have to be perfect at it, or even very good; you do have to show up. 
  • Sit Comfortably. Notice, I didn't write, sit in full lotus pose, or even sit on the floor. I wrote, sit comfortably. For some of us this is in a chair with the soles of our feet resting on the earth. For some of us, it's in full lotus; some of us may be kneeling, and some of us may need to sit on the floor with our backs against the wall for support. If your schedule permits it, I'd suggest a few simple stretches beforehand. Do what you need to so that the body can be comfortable for a sustained period of time. This way, you aren't thinking about your achy knee or the foot with pins and needles; you have your mind trained on your mantra. 
  • Tune Into The Breath. Take a few deep, smooth inhales and exhales here. Take a brief moment to the breath to become smooth and even, and rest your awareness on it. Soften your eyes to close, or rest your eyes on one point in front of you and let your gaze be soft. 

For more guidance, check this video from Yoga International. I would only add chanting the mantra aloud, especially at the beginning of our 40 days. 

 

  • Be compassionate. Will you start chanting, and find your mind wandering? Absolutely. I find my mind goes forward rather than back, usually to when I'm eating next, or what will the workday be like. Something will come up. Let it. When you catch yourself thinking and not absorbed in the chant, gently, compassionately guide your awareness back to the mantra. Elesa Commerce would say, imagine taking yourself gently by the hand and saying, "C'mon sweetie, come on back," the way you would to a puppy or a beloved child. 

Okay, Jess, what if I miss a day? 

Mm, well I understand. Stuff happens, right? Thing is though, our commitment is to 40 days in a row. If you miss a day, you gotta start over. From Day 1.

Yeah, really.  

Now, listen, I'm not your boss or your drill sergeant or your mama. I won't know if you miss a day and pick back up like nothing happened.

But you will.

 Be honest with yourself. I won't shame you; I'll likely be right there with you. Consider the qualities we're crafting here: discipline; devotion; integrity; honesty. That stuff don't come easy or cheap. If you have to start again from Day One, do it, with compassion and determination. 

And look! I've built us a calendar that we can use to help us track progress. Print it out and put it on your refrigerator or beside your bedroom mirror, anywhere you can look at it every day and mark off each day you spend time in practice. If using it is not your bag, then just skip it, but if it helps, use it!

A few final thoughts:

Make this as special as you want. If you want to set up a special altar for yourself to sit before as you chant daily, go for it. Grab a favorite shawl to drape your shoulders, rub a few drops of Frankincense or Sandalwood oil on your palms: use any tools that will help you create a meditative state. If you don't need that, skip it.

Don't get hung up on the Sanskrit pronunciation. If you want to affirm your pronunciation, ask a respected teacher, or do a search for the mantra you're using on YouTube. It's a bit of a grab bag, but you can hear good pronunciation there. Do your best; there is no judgement or evaluation of how good you sound. There is only you, the sound and the energy that you create and send into the universe. 

Stay open to what'll happen here, eh? There are all kinds of promises that japa mala will "change your life." It might. Rather than building this practice exclusively for what you can get, I'd encourage you to approach the process less with expectation, and more with curiosity without judgment. 

Finally, let's support each other! Leave any questions or comments below. Also, I'm creating a group on Facebook for anyone who wants to have an online connection to others who are taking part. Join us! I'm planning on hosting a Twitter conversation about halfway through, so we can share on several platforms how the work is going. It might sound a little counter-intuitive, but let's use the social media platforms we have to stay connected about this. Use the hashtag #40DaysofDevotion on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and let's share! At some point we're all going to need a little lifting up, so don't be afraid to ask, or offer. 

I'm so excited you're joining me. Feel free to comment with questions. We'll get started on Tuesday, March 15. Meet you there!