For Devotion: Keeping Christ or the Buddha on Your Shoulder

"This wonderful method was taught to me by the abbess of a contemplative order in Oxford. She was a vibrant, big-boned, red-faced woman straight out of Chaucer, and we were great friends; because she couldn't leave her cloister and needed to exercise every day, she had had to invent things 'to spicen life up a bit.'

" 'And this is what I came up with twenty years ago now,' she told me on a dreary winter afternoon. 'I've been using it ever since. When you start to walk, imagine Jesus or Mary (and I'll add here anyone you deeply love or believe in) standing on your right shoulder, radiating divine light and love to you, and wanting to come on a walk with you. As you walk, just imagine that you are walking with them, and concentrate in your heart on their living presence. . . .'

"This is a method I have used very often and always found calming and purifying. Another beautiful variation I have used is to imagine Jesus or the Mother actually walking silently by your side, filling you with their joy and peace and subtly waking you up to the divine in you and around you."

To Practice: Try this exercise and see how it deepens your relationship to Jesus, Mary, or any other Divine presence you deeply love or believe in.

For Nurturing: Bathing the Mother

"Perhaps the greatest gift my back pain has given me is that it has started to make me my own mother. It took me many years of study, meditation, and inner experience before the very simple realization dawned on me that the whole point of loving the Mother aspect of God was to learn to be a nurturer to yourself and others and that acting in this way was one of the greatest keys to integrating God with life. This realization came to me one day in San Francisco as I was undressing in great pain to take a hot bath. I heard an inner voice say, 'Bathe yourself as if you were Me bathing you; treat yourself as if you were Me.' With dim happy memories of my own mother bathing me as a child to guide me, I proceeded to soap and clean my body as if I were the Mother bathing her beloved child. I had seen the divinity of my body before in mystical experience; now I knew it in unconditional love. For the first time, I began to understand in a visceral way what it would be to treat myself and others with profound maternal care; deepening and extending this knowledge in the core of life has become the center of my practice. Nothing could be less flattering to either the personal or 'transcendental' self, and nothing could help you more to start to embody and integrate the holy with your daily existence."

To Practice: The next time you take a bath, imagine that the Mother is bathing you and you are bathing the Mother.