“In India, they perform a ritual called puja. In this ritual, they take idols that represent God in many different forms and bathe them, feed them, and give their love to them. The idol itself is not important. What is important is the way they perform the ritual, the way they say, “I love you, God.”
– The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz
I don’t miss high school. Does anybody? But there is something about that time in my life that I miss more than I could ever convey here in this space. I miss the daily ritual of caring for my show animals: steers & heifers & even (some seasons) hogs.
Every day, I would walk to the barn. I greeted my animals & immediately set to work. They needed me. Their entire existence hinged on me showing up. Their quality of life, and success in the show ring, hinged on how I showed up: did I show up ready to bring intent and purpose into every action, or did I show up ready to blow through my duties so I could leave because I had other things to do?
Most days, I was so immersed into every duty. Cleaning dirty pens, scooping grain, running water over a panting steer in the heat of July, scrubbing every inch of him, rinsing the suds & pulling a rice root brush over the damp hair….I did it all with intense focus and care. Guys, I scooped poop with so much thoughtful intent that I actually enjoyed it. Can you imagine? Whatever drama I had that day at school, or angsty emotion, was converted into love and poured into the energy of every task I did with and for that animal.
Lately, I’ve been spending some time helping out at the local animal shelter. I was desperate to get lost in the task of caring for something again. So I showed up. I washed dogs, I walked dogs, I got lost in the repetitive motion of feeding…Scoop feed, open pen, slide in the food bowl, close pen. Repeat 52 more times.
Y’all, it felt good. Damn good.
I don’t really like going to church. By now, you’ve probably picked that up. But I love serving something, or someone, with so much intent that every motion is a form of worship. The barn is my church. The shelter is my church. When I’m watching a teacher teach or a kid at diabetes camp take her insulin & then run off laughing & playing…and when I go back to the computer and sit down to tell that story… That is my church. When I am doing those things, I feel most alive, at my best, and closest to the divine.
I never had a word for it, but now I do. Puja. It’s so easy for me to perform this type of worship with a bottle calf or a pit bull, but it’s a harder task to perform on myself. Demonstrating puja to my own body would mean being purposeful with everything I put in my mouth, or with every moment at the gym, or with every word I say to and about myself. Not as easy, and probably not as fun to begin that work, as it is to love on animals or other people. But I’m going to try. & y’all are welcome to try with me.
What is one thing you could begin to do with full presence of mind & purposeful intent? That you could do as a form of worship? Maybe it’s how you pack your kids lunch in the morning. Or how you compose an email. Or how you shower. Or what you say and think to yourself as you look in the mirror right before you leave the house. I don’t know what it is for you, or what it is for me (yet) but I’m going to find out and commit the next week to performing puja perfectly in and during that chosen task.