Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Devotion

And so at 5pm every day, Simcox runs a magnifying glass over hundreds of containers of caterpillars, which are barely 2mm long. ‘This is very, very laborious,’ he says, but he still manages to identify caterpillars ready for release with barely a second glance. ‘People say, “How do you know that?”’ he smiles. ‘A wasted life, really.’
-- from “Butterflies: Out of the Blue,” by Patrick Barkham (guardian.co.uk)

The next stop on our tour of the virtues is Devotion, defined by the American Heritage dictionary as “ardent, often selfless affection and dedication, as to a person or principle.” When I think about Devotion, my mind often creeps back to childhood stories of the Catholic saints and the sometimes odd, even extreme, behaviors they exhibited to show their Devotion to God. Saint Mary Magdalene, for example, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair.

Speaking of Christian traditions: I have only found Devotion per se listed among one of them, the twelve Knightly Virtues of the Order of St. John. Some say Devotion is a version of Pure Heart, one of the Christian Beatitudes mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. We have already visited related virtues in non-Christian cultures, however, such as the Roman personal virtue of Disciplina. The Buddhist virtue Right Concentration, known in the Theravadan lineage as Samma Samadhi, also relates to Devotion. If we limit Devotion to spiritual pursuits, the Hindus prize Bhakti Yoga (Devotion to God) as a version of it. I’d also argue that the Huna principle of Makia (Focus), which we will visit in a month’s time, reflects an aspect of Devotion. Another lies in the Prussian virtue of Pflichtbewusstsein (Sense of Duty).  

And in most traditions, including Wiccan, "Devotion" can also describe one's daily spiritual practice, such as meditation, prayer, or raising energy.

Harkening back to Self-Possession and Emerson’s keys (link), we’re going to find today's gate to Devotion through two human beings, in this case a pair of English scientists: Jeremy Thomas and David Simcox. Their painstaking work has brought a rare species of English butterfly, the Large Blue (Phengaris arion), back from extinction.

A hundred years ago, the Large Blue butterfly flew over the wides swathes of the English countryside. As with so many species, it declined due to the loss of habitat. A singularly mysterious (and as it turns out, rather bizarre) life cycle stymied the conservationists fight to preserve it. The caterpillars just disappear for awhile, then return to form their chrysalises, emerge, and fly off to start the cycle over.

Jeremy Thomas
David Simcox
England declared the Large Blue extinct in 1979, but remnant populations survived in Scandinavia. Over the following ten years, Jeremy Thomas, professor of ecology at Oxford, solved the mystery of out how it could survive. David Simcox, a conservation biologist, then drove to an island in Sweden, collected some eggs, and released caterpillars in Devon and Somerset, 26 years ago.

The Large Blue once again flutters over a small portion of its original territory, but it requires continued midwifery. To return the insect to its native grounds in the beautiful Cotswolds region, where it has not flown in 50 years, Dr. Simcox must awaken at 6am every day in the summer to hand-raise hundreds of the fragile caterpillars. He then distributes them, one by one, over suitable landscape. Each egg hatches on a thyme leaf, and then the caterpillar drops to the ground.

The caterpillars next secrete a form of honeydew attractive to certain ants (Myrmica sabuleti), who carry them down to their underground chambers and tend to them with a certain... Devotion. (Hmm!) After a total of 10 months, much spent in hibernation, the Large Blue larva transforms into a winged adult and emerges to the surface world. (The tending of the caterpillars by the ants may seem bizarre, but no more so than, say, the washing of your savior’s feet with your tears and hair...)

Likewise, while they no doubt would scoff at a comparison to Mary the Foot Washer, I think the efforts of these scientists to solve the puzzle of the Large Blue and bring it back to England are a perfect illustration of Devotion. Dr. Simcox’ remark about a “wasted life” shows not a small bit of Humility in addition to Devotion (both of these, no doubt, made manifest through great Self-Possession...) This virtue involves a good deal of Surrender to something greater than oneself--a theme we touched on back at Abiding. In Devotion, the ego dissolves.

Today, think about someone in your own life who harnesses great Passion, Concentration, and Effort in service to something that deeply matters to them. How do they inspire you? What causes or people warrant your own Devotion?

May we see the gates of Devotion, and perhaps make a home there. 

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