by Nkechi Deanna Njaka, Msc. Photography by NDN Lifestyle Studio.
I have never considered myself a religious person — even though growing up, I attended church religiously. My intrigue and my interest in religion had less to do with the institution and more to do with a space that would allow me to know and experience God. It was through those experiences that I am able to cultivate a personal spiritual practice and connect to my God in a way that feels meaningful and purpose-driven.
From a very young age, I was very sensitive to energy, emotions, people and beauty and it was through those sensitivities, that I felt connected to the One that created me. I still am very sensitive to all those things and now I see how they are connected to one another. More importantly, I see how they are connected to my dharma — my purpose.
Searching and seeking, I was interested in a relevant, postmodern experience that had less to do with institutionalized religion and more to do with a relationship with God. I wanted to know why I was here and how I was suppose to be as I lived in the image of my Creator. The most profound thing that I have learned in my spiritual journey is that it is so personal. Communion with God (Spirit, the Universe, Energy, Source, etc.) is as unique as there are beings on this planet. No one can tell you what it looks like to know God. And it is completely your journey to uncover.
As I mentioned, I grew up attending church with my family. When I turned 16, I made the decision to observe and practice Orthodox Judaism for a short period of time. I grew up in a neighborhood where my family was the only family that was not Jewish, so I was interested in learning more. My best friend at the time introduced me to her culture and it was very meaningful for me to have that opportunity. From there, I returned back to Christianity — this time to a “post-modern church” that caught my attention. The one thing that was constant in my spiritual journey was the concept of prayer as a form of communicating with God. I was always devoted to prayer, no matter what religion I followed.
As the years went on, I supplemented my curiosity with meditation, creativity, yoga and reading spiritual text that were not Judeo-Christian. My favorites were Khalil Gibran and Rumi. I continued to pray. Every day. Sometimes I would pray about my worldly concerns, a guy I had a crush on, getting into college, simple requests for people I loved, ending world hunger, finding a dream job, the list goes on. Perhaps it was the way I perceived God or my relationship with Spirit, but I often felt like—especially if I didn’t see immediate results— that I was asking for something that God didn’t want me to have. Sometimes it confused me: did I really know my Creator?
“We are not accustomed to thinking that God's will for us and our own inner dreams can coincide.” ― Julia Cameron
As I got older, I started to pray in a way that didn’t require an answer. Or if it did, I most certainly had to wait for it. I was OK with that because my prayers shifted. I trusted more. Was my boyfriend of seven years the one I should marry? Why was I brought here? What are my unique gifts? Show me how to love this person more. What is my dharma, my true purpose? As my prayers were answered through revelations and epiphanies, I knew that I knew my Creator.
I have learned through this shift in expectation that I have two emotions when I pray: fear and devotion. I want to be the best person, living fully aligned with how I was created so I fear not honoring my dharma. I am brought to my devotion through humility. I am humbled by knowing who I am created to be and even more so when I say yes to the desires of my heart. It is so important to not let the ego confuse the two.
"Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity." ― Julia Cameron
Let me put this concept into practical terms. I just returned from the La Mar Yoga Retreat in Sayulita, Mexico. This was the sort of retreat designed for me. It was located at Haramara, one of the top yoga resorts in the world. This gift presented itself at the perfect time which happened to be three weeks ago. I was feeling stuck in my rituals and in my creativity. I was also feeling pretty stale in my yoga practice and not super connected in my spiritual practice either.
This retreat was described by instructors Erica Jago and Mari Sierra as “cultivating spirit flow.” By seducing our artist muse, we could expect to discover how best to utilize our inner artist to speak our truth through creativity. There would be yoga, dance, meditation, creative time, live music, vegetarian meals, warm weather, gorgeous ocean—like I said, perfect for me. Even though I knew I wanted to go and the Universe was saying yes (money appeared in my mail along with a statement of un-used miles I had with a favorite airline), I was still resisting it.
"Bhakti is when you go mad for beauty, but you don't try to grab and hold on to it." ― Jeffrey Armstrong
This is where I confused fear with devotion. I was afraid to trust that I was meant to go. Renewing my passport only took 3 days and it was incredibly simple—the whole time I thought someone was playing a trick on me. I thought the mystery miles and the mystery check were dubious instead of Divine. I came up with excuses and called it “responsibility” or a “commitment to my work,” even though I had been longing for a proper vacation. It had been years since I had traveled internationally or for pleasure or invested time in myself for my personal growth.
I had to step back and look at the ways I was being supported by the Universe. It was clear that it was possible for me to go; I just had to say yes and trust that there was going to be a net. I booked my flight 2 days before I traveled, expedited my passport renewal and pulled an all-nighter the day before I left to make sure I that everything I needed to get done was completed before I left. There were some slight interruptions to the flow (for example: I missed my flight, lost my passport, had my passport returned to me mid-meltdown and then I instantly got rebooked on a new flight-- all in the course of 10 minutes). But like I said, there was a net and I was totally supported.
The retreat itself was an amazing experience for far more reasons than I can even articulate at this time. This is not to say that I won’t share more about it after I process everything, in a later article.
But I want you to know this: despite my resistance and chaos, there was a reason the opportunity presented itself to me and it had everything to do with who I was created to be. The longing of my heart to live fully expressed in that creation and the relationship that God wants to have with me as a result are the reasons I ended up in Mexico last week. The experience shook me back into my spirit-reality. The one where I know and experience beauty everyday, both around me and within me. This is the same spirit-reality that teaches me to trust myself and to surrender and accept when my manifestations are right in front of me. Saying yes honestly felt like a step closer to Nirvana.
My reason for sharing that story about the retreat explains a lot about Bhakti. Devotion and spirituality are: seeing beauty and being curious; surrendering with great trust; experiencing God through the desires of your heart. That is the entire process.
Nkechi Njaka is the founder of NDN Integrated Lifestyle Studio where she curates lifestyle and wellness content for brands and individuals. She is a woman of color, deeply concerned about personal and global well-being. Nkechi holistically approaches her wellness with mindfulness, movement, nutrition and style. She attended Scripps College in Claremont, CA where she majored in neuroscience and dance and went on to complete an MSc. in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. She attended the Institute of Integrated Nutrition and holds a certification in Holistic Health and Nutritional Counseling. When not involved in NDN projects, you can find Nkechi teaching Mindful Movement or Mindful Style classes + workshops, taking a yoga or modern dance class or choreographing independent work. She creates, curates, coaches and collaborates in San Francisco, California. Read Nkechi's article on growth through meditation in Issue 001: Growth, and on transformation and death in Issue 002: Death and Transition. Follow Nkechi on Instagram @Ndnlifestylist and Twitter @NkechiNjaka