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Elizabeth Reninger

Muffins For My Ista-Devata

By December 1, 2012

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How does so-called "devotional energy" manifest (if at all) in the context of a Taoist practice? If this question piques your interest, I invite you to check out the following essays, which explore the issue, from varying angles:

* Rapture, Devotion, Fun & Folly
* Authenticity, Authority & Devotion
* The Taoist Way & Bhakti Yoga

As the subtle body -- the dantians and meridians -- become balanced and clarified, sensations of great joy, sweetness and bliss can become commonplace. That said, Taoism as a whole has never struck me as being particularly devotional in its general approach, at least not in an overtly expressive way -- a topic I address in the last of the essays mentioned above: The Taoist Way & Bhakti Yoga.

In writing this essay, I found myself reflecting upon my own relationship to devotional energy, and came to the conclusion that I'm something of a "closet" Bhakta: much more comfortable, generally speaking, with Taoism's understated emotional tenor; or with presenting myself as someone committed to a path of Knowledge, rather than of Love. Though both are definitely present, somewhere inside of me -- how could it be otherwise? -- the Bhakta and the Jnani are currently behaving something like estranged siblings: seemingly distant and at-odds -- but nevertheless sharing a common genetic (and, of course, Divine) heritage -- so never in Reality separate.

Every now and again the Bhakta surfaces, comes out of hiding, if you will -- and always it's a surprise. One of my first experiences with this kind of fervent devotional energy was some twenty-five years ago, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin. I was in graduate school, deeply embroiled -- thanks to a National Science Foundation fellowship -- in the heady worlds of sociological theory and western philosophy. At that point, mostly I was quite satisfied being a student, on track for a life as a professional scholar.

There were some serious problems, however, with my physical body, not the least of which was chronic hip and low-back pain: the byproduct of a nasty ankle injury, several years prior. Weekly chiropractic adjustments kept the discomfort at a manageable level, along with fairly heavy-duty weight-training, which served the triune purpose of maintaining a modicum of strength; balancing all the intellectual effort with some physical activity; and creating a convenient and nearly-invincible emotional armoring: holding at bay all kinds of questions -- bubbling increasingly toward the surface -- which I wasn't consciously ready to entertain.

Eventually, upon the suggestion of a friend, I decided to give massage therapy a try. The particular massage therapist recommended to me was a woman who worked in a mid-town clinic, with four or five other healers. She was six feet tall at least, had twenty years of experience as a bodyworker, huge amazingly-strong hands, and an equally amazing presence about her. Immediately I trusted her, and felt deeply at ease. Her European heritage was almost identical to mine (half-Norwegian, one-quarter German, one-eighth each of English and Dutch) -- which somehow delighted me.

My weekly sessions with her were nothing short of revelatory: Layer after layer of muscular armoring, melting away (she once remarked, "You have the tightest thighs of anyone I have ever worked with" -- which, in the moment, I somehow interpreted as a compliment :) and a new structural freedom and balance emerging -- for which I felt infinite gratitude.

But her true gift was less in what she could do physically (which was significant) but rather in her capacity to work deeply at the level of the subtle bodies. Each session left me with some newly-activated field of sensation, some new "download" of wholly non-conceptual knowing: my body alive with rivers of flowing energy (years before I had even heard the word "meridian"), which never ceased to amaze and delight me.

Mostly she worked in silence, which suited me perfectly, but every now and again would chime in with what in hindsight I honor as profound pointers to a Truth well beyond my presumably-sophisticated intellectual theories: "You have so much wisdom locked inside of you" or "The gifts within you are beyond anything you could possibly imagine." Seeds of Light dropped surreptitiously into the receptive field of my expanded and deeply-relaxed bodymind ...

Well, not surprisingly, I fell head-over-heels in love with this woman. Not in an ordinary romantic or sexual way, but rather in the way of a god-drunk Bhakta: in rapturous, ecstatic devotion to the mirror-image of one's own most-sublime Divinity, appearing deliciously in human form. The form that my devotional "worship" took was, primarily, simply to show up -- with unwavering and steadfast commitment -- for my weekly sessions. For three or perhaps even four years, rain or shine, I would find my way to her office (including the day when I had a bicycle accident on the way, which left me with a nasty seeping wound on my shoulder .... somehow the thought never occurred to me to turn around and go home, and miss the appointment).

But somehow the gratitude that I felt for the work being done -- with its seemingly miraculous transformations, at the level of body, mind and spirit -- seemed inadequately expressed by a simple monetary compensation. So, at some point -- in addition to paying for the sessions -- I began to make a mid-week stop into the healing clinic to deliver a batch of home-baked muffins or sweetbread. This provided an opportunity, of course, to bathe, at least for a short while, in the sweet energy of that space; and -- most importantly -- to offer something that had been created, with my own hands, from within the heart-space of love and gratitude.

I had recently had a part-time job as a baker, so was well-equipped with numerous recipes, which -- as the months and years went by -- I expanded upon and improvised with, producing literally hundreds of different varieties of muffins and sweetbreads. Once out of the oven, and cooled, I'd set aside a couple to keep for myself, before placing the majority carefully in a box or bag -- for the journey to the office of my massage-therapist Ista-Devata.

There was an energy to the whole scenario that I found irresistible, and effortlessly surrendered to: just didn't question, even in the moments when I would feel a bit sheepish, a bit embarrassed, (and decidedly non-scholarly!) arriving once again with my humble offering of .... muffins .... for my .... massage therapist :) It just was the right thing to do, at that time -- of this I felt certain -- and so, somehow, I honored that, letting the devotional energy flow ....

Anyway, it's funny how sometimes it's the paths or approaches to spiritual unfolding that we're least familiar or comfortable with -- at a personality level -- that turn out to be the most potent. I can't say that any of my several flirtations with Bhakti-Yoga have revealed the full potential of such a path: a final consummation with the Divine, a complete and irreversible merging with the radiant Truth, the infinite Tao. But the glimpses have, for sure, been delicious .....
(muffins, anyone?)


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