The Yoga of Transition: Reflections on Thursdays with Marla

om chakraLast week, I took a Thursday morning yoga class for the last time—not the last time I’ll ever attend yoga on a Thursday morning, but the last time I’ll likely take this particular class with this particular teacher. A week ago, Marla (the teacher) announced that her schedule will be changing after the holidays, and she’ll be teaching on a different day—a day on which I already attend another yoga class at another studio.

This “shift,” as Marla called it, is part of the unfolding of her path as a healer, and she’ll soon be branching out with new offerings for the community. This is good news for the community.

Of course I was sad about the class, but it’s not the first time my yoga life has shifted. Years ago, I was told (also around the holidays) that the entire studio I’d been practicing at would be closing, and between then and now, several other classes with inspirational teachers have been dropped from schedules or switched to days and times when I can’t attend.

But part of being a yogi is learning to accept change. When one yogic door closes, another opens.

And there is always more! (That line is borrowed from another teacher whose class I miss.)

As often happens when things change, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve grown as a yogini and as a person over the years since I became serious about my practice and especially about what I’ve learned from practicing with Marla that will remain with me. Marla is unique. She is so filled with inspiration that you almost have to “hear” her without attachment to words. This, I believe, is because she transmits wisdom that is bigger than any words she can use to describe it. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. The teaching is bigger than any words I can use as well.

Here are five awesome things that I will stick with me as a result of Thursdays with Marla.

1. Letting go is doable. Recently, Marla shared a teaching from Kundalini Yoga that suggests we can have negative thoughts and emotions, but we must let them go after nine seconds! I think about this often. Of course it sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, but it’s the intention to let go as quickly as possible that matters. To me, the “nine second rule” is an acknowledgement that we don’t practice yoga to become empty and emotionless. We practice so that we can be fully human and at the same time connect with our divine nature. Part of that practice is learning to feel something and then (when necessary) let go as quickly as possible. When you aim for a seemingly impossible nine seconds, chances are good you’ll get the job done more quickly than you would have otherwise!

2. Twists are awesome. When I think of Marla’s classes, I think of twists, in particular prayer twists, but also “twists” on typical poses. Have you ever twisted in downward dog? If not, you need to take a class with Marla! The cool thing about all the twisting (other than how great it feels) is that you learn how versatile and powerful twisting can be. You can “twist out” negative frustration and you can gracefully navigate your way through the twists and turns of life.

3. “Yay!” is a spiritual word. Marla’s classes can be intense (in a great way), but then all of a sudden, while she’s guiding you into a somewhat complicated pose and you get there, instead of saying “beautiful!” or “good!” or something more typical like that, she says “Yay!” It makes me smile every time because it reflects the fact that Marla’s very approach to the practice is a celebration of life.

4. We can often do more than we expect to do. I can’t tell you how many times I was surprised to find myself in a challenging pose (or two or three) in one of Marla’s classes. It’s not that being challenged is surprising, it’s just that Marla’s class is billed as “gentle,” which often suggests “easy.” But the trick is that through her gentle guidance, Marla can slyly lead you to do something like crow or side plank on one leg. And you do it. Because you can. (Okay, I still can’t do crow, but I’m getting there.)

5. When we have something to offer, we must not be afraid to put it out there. Marla’s tirelessness about offering so much in her teaching has made me more confident about doing the same with what I feel called to share. In fact, Marla was one of the first people to read a draft of my Yoga Circles And while it’s still a leap of faith for me every time I hand (or email) the manuscript to someone else, Marla has been an example to me that putting it out there is usually the right thing to do.

So I look forward to whatever unfolds as a result of this latest shift in my yoga schedule. I know it’s a shift that is happening with intention and the universe has good things in store for all of us. Thank you, Marla, for sharing your gifts.

In Baseball and In Life: Sometimes the Outcome Just Sucks!

CififieldIf you happen to be a New York baseball fan like I am (and not one of those who cheers for that team in the Bronx), you probably had a bit of a broken heart recently when the Mets lost the World Series. I use the term “lost” loosely, because if you know baseball, and if you watched these games, you might consider “gave away” or “blew” more appropriate terms.

It’s Just Baseball

Robin Ventura quoteAnyone who spends the better part of six months cheering on a baseball team with the emotions of a die-hard fan has probably wondered why these emotions are so strong at times. It’s perplexing, isn’t it? You know it’s just a game. You know that your real life will go on whether your team wins or loses. You know you have nothing to do with whether or not they win or lose, and you know there’s big marketing behind the hype and drama that draws you in.

And yet you can’t help the fact that somehow it matters. When your team loses the big games, it stings.

The Yoga of Baseball

If you’re also a yogi like I am, when things like this happen, you immediately try to be all yogic about it. After all, yoga gives us many tools for dealing with disappointment, frustration, and loss—the most obvious and appropriate being the law of non-attachment.

Well, you know what fellow yogi New York sports fans (and everyone else)? It’s okay to forget about that for just a while. Go ahead and be sad—and angry—and disappointed. Just for a while. (And yes, keep your real life in perspective.)

No, it didn’t happen for reason. No, there is nothing to be learned or gained from watching a pitcher pitch the game of his life for 8 innings only to blow it within minutes in the top of the ninth. There’s no life lesson in the fact that your team, which was not expected to make the playoffs much less be in the World Series, had a surprising, fun, and amazing season—and then broke your heart, for a moment, in the end.

It just sucks!

So feel that for a while. Mope, brood, yell. Do whatever you need to do. But just for a while.

Then you can come back and be all yogic about it. If you like, you can try to make sense of it all, because as all baseball fans know, baseball is a lot like life. And as you try to make sense of it all—because baseball is a lot like life—don’t forget to be grateful for the fun, and don’t forget to feel the joy.

Opening Day is only five months away!

Namaste.

How to Do More of What You Love Every Day and Still Pay the Bills

having funThere’s a theme that comes up often in yoga classes that goes something like this: Do what you love. It has some variations, and chances are you’ve heard them go something like this as well:

I always suspected that the people who went around saying these things had either already figured out how to do what they love and make money doing it or they were being financially supported in some way!

But I’ve thought about it some more.

Do more of what you love

Today my yoga teacher suggested an activity that was a twist on the usual “to do” list – something another yoga teacher had suggested to her. The task was to make a list of things we enjoy doing and then to be sure that we spent this day (which happened to be a Monday) doing what we want to do.

Ah, if only I had that luxury, I thought. I’d probably go get a pedicure and then pack for a week away at luxury yoga retreat – preferably one that includes learning how to draw or paint. But unfortunately, there are bills to pay. And without getting into details, I, as a responsible adult, have little choice but to make that a priority right now, so…

It seemed more or less obvious that I could not afford the luxury of being sure to have some fun on this particular day.

But wait. Life should be fun, shouldn’t it?

I’m not an advocate of being miserable. I’ve shown that in my life by leaving one or two dead-end jobs and opting out of activities and relationships that don’t help me grow, thrive and live in love. But how do those of us who don’t have the luxury of pretending we don’t need to make a living manage this “do what you love” thing?

Well, it’s simple. If you can’t do what you love every minute of the day, then you need to find a way to love what you do – or at least find a way to not be miserable while you’re doing it.

A while ago, I wrote about this in conjunction with the idea that everything in life is a meditation. I’ve learned to do this with some of the more tedious aspects of my work and my life – like dry technical editing or grocery shopping. (Seriously, next time you go grocery shopping, try to go slowly and really notice the colorful array of fruits and vegetables in the produce section or the mind-boggling number of choices you have if you want a dozen eggs or a container of yogurt!)

Doing more of what we love each day is important, and so is taking care of our responsibilities. So, if you can’t quit your job or ignore a deadline in order to spend the entire day today doing what’s on your “things that I love to do list,” try loving the simple fact that you’re alive and functioning, and make it point to love (or at least like) whatever you need to do.

After all, the very fact that you’re able to do anything is something worth appreciating. And despite the fact that I haven’t been doing something I’m in love with every second of every day, here’s a short list of the things I’ve loved doing in just the last 24 hours:

  • I drank more than one delicious cup of coffee.
  • I ate a yummy breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • I went to an awesome yoga class.
  • I watched my New York Mets win (again)!
  • I watched a fascinating drama on television.
  • I listened to some of my favorite music.
  • I noticed that the lilies in a bouquet of flowers that I bought a few days ago have bloomed and are gorgeous.
  • I did my “editing meditation.”
  • I wrote this latest entry for my blog.

Wake Up!

stress reliefThis morning, my sweet yoga teacher encouraged me to wake up. Not directly, as in, “Wake up and pay attention, Maria. You look a little sleepy today!” It was a general teaching for the class. But it caught my attention for more reasons than one. For one, I was a little sleepy. I’d noticed I was a bit slow in getting going and getting to class today – not completely unusual for me, but a little more noticeable on a gray winter morning. Another reason the topic caught my attention is that just an hour or so earlier over morning coffee, my husband and I were kicking around the concept of “waking up” in the sense of clearing cobwebs from our brains and becoming more focused and productive.

Then I got to class, where our teacher shared some wisdom that she’d learned at a workshop she’d recently attended. The workshop leader was Guru Singh, whose book, “Buried Treasures,” I recently read with my yoga book club. Coincidence? I’d say probably not. When I walked into class and saw another one of Guru Singh’s books at the front of the room, I knew the universe was trying to get my attention. As is often the case, yoga seems to get at the heart of whatever is happening in my life.

Awakening

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I’m not sure when exactly how the idea of waking up came into play (since I was still asleep until it was mentioned), but when it did come up, I certainly took note since the topic had been so persistent this day.

So what does it mean to wake up in the yogic sense of the phrase?

We talk about awakening a lot in yoga. As our teacher (via Guru Singh) explained, it’s something that is always available. In my own practice, I’ve found that when we learn to pay attention, we open our eyes, hearts and minds to what is – what has always been. Of course, I can’t tell you exactly what all that is yet – because I’m still not fully awake – but I can attest to the fact that the more you pay attention, the more you will realize that you’ve really spent a lot of time napping.

Are you ready?

Another thing discussed today was the idea of waking up quickly. This came up not only in yoga class, but in the morning coffee talk in which my husband mentioned how he wished he could get going more easily in the morning. Our yoga teacher suggested that it’s not easier to go slowly, waiting until we’re “ready,” but instead, we should just jump in because we’ve either always been ready or we will never be! That didn’t sit well with me at first, but when I thought about it more, it did. But you see, I was even going slowly into the idea of awakening quickly. (The good news is I’m apparently not alone in this habit.)

There are things I’ve always been ready for (like starting a yoga practice), and it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to jump into a practice but that I wasn’t aware that it was something I was meant to do until, one day, there it was. So I think the idea of dabbling and going slowly happens naturally when we’re not yet sure if the thing we’re exploring is meant for us. We’re not all meant for the same things, after all. On the other hand, there is probably at least one thing (and probably many more) that keeps coming up for you in such a way that you know it is meant for you. You just don’t know how to do it or where to begin.

Your teacher is already here

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. But if resonate with Guru Singh’s position and you believe that you have always been ready for the thing (or things) you’re meant for, then maybe the real issue is that you’re not awake to the fact that your teacher is already here.

All I can say about that is wake up and pay attention!

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Serve You (And Embracing What Does)

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????At a yoga class I attended during the last week of 2014, my fellow students and I were asked to focus on something that no longer served us – something that we wanted to let go of as we move into the new year. Suspecting that this theme would come up for the new year, I already had some ideas in mind when I got to class that morning.

Letting Go

There are many things in my life that don’t serve me. I hold on to most of them because I’m not sure what the alternatives are and because most of them don’t really harm me either. In fact, I think the inability to move forward does more disservice than simply holding on to the old and familiar things in our lives. It would be easy to let go of the old if we knew where we wanted to go and how to get there.

That said, there are certainly things I need to release. The first one that came to mind was regret. Regret serves absolutely no purpose; it’s not even filling space until I figure out what to do next with my life. It just makes me miserable. I can’t change the experiences I’ve had or the choices of made in the past. So I need to let go of regret and accept that what’s done (or not done) is history.

After regret, I want to let go of apologizing for who I am. I’ve had some great practice at this in recent weeks, having said no more than once without feeling (too) guilty about it – something that isn’t easy for me to do. But I was overwhelmed by the many ways in which I was being pulled, and I had to step away from some of them so I’d have the energy to be fully present when I did say yes. As hard as it sometimes is to be myself without apology, I know that I need to continue to do this as well, and I reflected on that as we opened the class by setting an intention to release something and leave it behind in 2014.

Message from the Angels

At the end of class, we were offered a deck of angel cards – an activity that always gets me thinking – and often writing as a result. I wondered if I’d pick the word “regret” or “guilt.” That would be awesome – a clear sign from the universe that I’m on the right track.

Instead, my word was “support.”

I stared at the card for a few moments because it didn’t seem right at all. Was this card suggesting that I need to be more supportive? I quickly eliminated that idea. It seems (to me anyway) that one thing I do a lot of is listen to and support others. In fact, I’d been in support mode full swing these last few weeks following an event that prompted a swell of somewhat complicated emotional turmoil for the people in my life who were affected by it. I found myself listening – a lot – and I was told more than once that it was good talking to me. So why was I holding this card? It wasn’t telling me that I should let go of my role of being supportive, was it? That didn’t seem right either.

Then it dawned on me that support was the right word for me after all. It’s not that I need to be more or less supportive, but that I need to stop denying that I also need support. I’ve been cast in the role of listener for so long that I’ve learned to act as though I don’t need anyone to be there for me. But what is that really about?

Now what?

For me, acknowledging that I also need support presents a problem because of how good I’ve gotten at not seeking it. It’s probably the same for you, whether you’re holding on to the same issue or something completely different. Once you acknowledge what you need to release and what you want to embrace, the real work begins.

Maybe the best thing I can do right now is put the intention out to the universe. Rather than asking specific people to support me, I can ask the universe to do it. The universe is much more likely to come through – though I’m sure that when it does it will send me specific people who can help me find my way. My job, of course, is be open to that.

Lifting each other up

In case I had any doubts that I gotten the message I was meant to receive in class that morning, the song that was playing during savasana drove it home for me in that awesome way that things have of coming together when you’re open to the possibilities. It’s a song I’ve heard before, though I’m not sure what it’s called. The chorus goes like this:

We shall lift each other up.

Higher and higher,

We shall lift each other up.

Lifting each other up is a great way to think about support. It doesn’t have to be one-sided. I suspect, though I haven’t really tested this theory, that at least some of the people who turn to us for help and support would welcome the opportunity to return the favor if we’d just let our defenses down and admit that we need it. And just think how high we all could climb if we helped each other along the way! And so I ask the universe for support in letting go of regret and learning to be myself without apology.

What Will You Let Go Of?

As you move into the new year, what will you release? And once you release it, how will you move forward, and what will you embrace? You may not know exactly what you need or how you’ll get it, but now is the time to take a first step. Set an intention and let the universe support you.

A very Happy New Year to all!

What Are You Supposed to Be? (Hint: There May Not Be a Word for It)

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In “The Great Work of Your Life” – a book about dharma, author Stephen Cope explains that Walt Whitman was 47 years old when he found the “true calling” he had been preparing for all his life. When I first read that, a spark of hope went through me. Until that moment, I’d thought I was hopelessly past the age at which such a thing could happen. And here’s the real surprise. Whitman’s calling was not writing; it was nursing!

It can take a lifetime.

When I read Cope’s book a few years ago, I’d begun to wonder if all the seemingly disconnected wanderings from “calling” to “calling” that I’d been through in my own life were actually leading me to something specific – something that I could call my dharma. I hoped they were and that the “something” would make clear to me why my path was so disjointed and convoluted. I wanted – and still want – to cement the connection between writing, teaching, psychology and nutrition – the disciplines I’ve studied and worked in without ever really crystalizing a specific goal. I can see that there’s a connection. I’m just not sure what to name it or whether it even has a name at all.

Don’t do what you’re not supposed to do.

Surely I’m not the only person on a path that often doesn’t seem to make sense. I’m not sure I know what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I’m not supposed to do. I usually figure that out shortly after I start doing a particular thing – like studying to be a dietitian instead of a holistic nutritionist or taking a job as a financial aid representative when I really want to be a student counselor. But I continue to hope that all of those starts and detours have happened for a reason.

This very topic came up the other day in a yoga class, of course (funny, how that works). The teacher actually said out loud (though maybe not in these exact words) that the best way to figure out what you’re supposed to do is to figure out what you’re not supposed to do. So there you have it.

I’m a writer.

I’m not a physicist (and have never even considered the possibility that I should be). I’m no longer a financial aid representative, and I now know that I’m not meant to be a clinical dietitian. What I am supposed to be is a writer.

The written word has been a part of my life (and my dharma) for a very long time. The kind of writer (and editor) I am now has been shaped by all the things I’ve done or attempted to do before – including certain types of writing. In college, I wrote fiction. Just after that, I did a lot of journal writing that in an odd, Zen-like way, I destroyed in the early 2000’s in order to detach from the stories they told. I wrote journal entries as if I was writing fiction. More recently my writing ranges from technical to creative nonfiction.

No doubt there’s a reason it took me almost 20 years to return to writing after teaching and flirting with the idea of becoming a psychologist and then a nutritionist. I’ve written a lot about psychology and nutrition (and, of course yoga) in the last ten years. And while there may not be a formal title for what I am, I’m pretty sure that, for now at least, it is what I’m supposed to be.

What about you?

Do you know what you’re supposed to be? Have you found your dharma, and if you have, does it have a name? If you’re still not sure despite years of searching, remember this (which I’m paraphrasing from a quote I saw posted on Facebook recently): It takes a seedling many years to become a mighty oak. Loosely translated: Dharma is a journey, not a destination.

Surrender to Enthusiasm

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????We did a new activity in yoga class last week (at least it’s something I haven’t done in class before), and – as my teacher suggested while presenting this particular offering – it’s quite possible that it was not an accident. Towards the end of an invigorating hour of practice that started with dancing to warm up, the teacher came around and asked us to pick a card from a deck. Each card contained a word. When she came to me, I noticed a card sticking out of the pile, but something told me that one was too obvious a choice and I should pick another that was tucked a bit more snuggly into the pack. The card said “surrender.”

My first reaction was, “No. I really don’t want to.” And at the same time, I realized I might not have a choice. I was thinking in terms of giving up – in particular giving up something that I could no longer control that was not serving me well. Hmmm, I thought. I was still not so convinced that there was no hope. And if you read my blog regularly, you’ll see that this isn’t the first time the idea of letting go had come up in this class.

After offering the deck of cards to the last student, the teacher came back to me with another card. “I have to give you this one because it pretty much jumped out at you!” she exclaimed.

I don’t know if the card was the same one I’d noticed, but I took it and read “enthusiasm.”

That one bugged me a bit because it’s such a struggle for me sometimes to find the energy for enthusiasm, though I suppose that depends on how the word is defined. I was conscious that during the dance warm up at the beginning of class, for example, that there was a physical limitation holding me back. What can you do? I’m not twenty-one anymore.

But back to the cards. It was hard not to notice that these two words easily formed a short but powerful sentence: Surrender to enthusiasm.

Opportunities for Enthusiastic Surrender

I thought about this on the drive home. Why not consider that the message that had come through on the cards was real meant to reach me at this moment? I immediately felt energized. But what is it that I need to surrender to?

Maybe it’s to the enthusiasm of others that I need to attend to more. Perhaps the yoga gods are telling me, for example, to stop wishing my husband would stop talking about buying a motorcycle. Or maybe the message was sent to help me deal with a certain member of my extended family whose exaggerated, enthusiastic tales often test my patience.

Or, it could be that it’s time for me to surrender to my own enthusiasm for something, which I think shows itself in a much calmer way than the behavior usually associated with that word. In fact, maybe I need to be OK with that instead of letting it stop me. In particular I’m thinking about doing something to enhance my career – perhaps another writing course or an aromatherapy certification or yoga teacher training.

Just that morning, in fact, I’d been thinking about the teacher training – and what holds me back. Besides the money and time commitment (neither of which is as easy to work around at it would have been in the past), is the fear that having the job of teaching yoga will ruin my enthusiasm for the practice. This probably comes from my experience as a public school teacher, when my love of learning was seriously challenged by having to deal with reluctant students, politics, lesson plans, and all the other things that learning is really not about. I also haven’t found the right teacher or program – for me – to train with.

And in case you missed the message the first time…

When I got home from class, I returned to a book editing project I’d been working on for weeks. The book happens to be about yoga and other tools for living a healthy, blissful life. Within moments, this sentence jumped off a page I was editing: When you are willing to surrender into greater energy, nothing is lacking.

The context of the sentence was setting intentions for a life-changing practice that involves yoga, nutrition, breathing, meditation and other aspects of mind, body and spirit.

Hmmm, maybe that energy I’m worried about not having will be there when I need it after all.

Moments after that, my other word appeared, this time in a sentence about taking time each day to sit for five minutes and formally set an intention: Do it with enthusiasm. This is where you start manifesting your dream.

So now, of course, my surrender was about something very different than I initially feared. It was not about giving up, but about allowing something to come through – and allowing it to come through with intention and enthusiasm (acknowledging that it would probably be my own brand of quiet enthusiasm, and that’s really OK).

I’m still not exactly sure what that “something” is – there are a lot of possibilities. But I’m going to pay attention, because I know there is a something, a next step in my spiritual journey or perhaps my career – or perhaps, both.

They say that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I did sign up for another writing course.

Giving Up Control and Letting Life Happen

storm cloudsThis morning, I went to an early yoga class. I thought about skipping the class since I didn’t sleep well, but I managed to get myself up and ready anyway. At 7:40 am, tired not only from lack of sleep but because of lingering sadness over the issue that had kept me awake, I pushed myself out the door.

The issue that stole my slumber is one that I’ve been struggling with for a while now. I don’t give up on things easily, but in this case, I’ve begun to feel like it really is time to stop trying. Some things are too draining and too difficult, and it serves us better to just let them go. At least that’s what my “yoga brain” was telling me as I headed to class feeling resigned to the fact that it was time to stop trying to solve the particular problem that was on my mind.

Giving up Control

Yoga has a way of calling us to the mat for very specific reasons. Of course, this doesn’t happen every time, but it’s up to us to notice when it does. Today was one of those days. The teacher began, as she usually does, by sharing a reading. This one was about letting go of control. “So often we feel like we need to be in control of everything in our lives,” she began.

I smiled, because this was right in line with the conversation I’d had with myself earlier. I’d set (again) my intention to stop trying to make something happen – because I knew there was no hope. I was just going sit (really, hide) and let whatever was going to happen (or not happen) unfold.

“Can you relate to this?” the teacher asked me. She’d noticed my smile.

“I just had this conversation with myself this morning,” I replied.

At least I’d thought I did.

She continued to read a passage about the things that challenge us in life and how we often want to put ourselves right into them and take control and direct the outcome. We just want to say, “Enough! I don’t like the way this is going.”

In my case, the “control” I thought about taking was going to look more like giving up. I would stop struggling with something that wasn’t going the way I needed it to go.

“But sometimes things are hard because they are meant to teach us something,” was the message my teacher was reading this morning. It surprised me, because I thought the “control issue” reading would be more about walking away from things that are too hard instead of trying to control them. When I heard those words – the ones about how things are supposed to be hard sometimes – I was really annoyed! This wasn’t the message I wanted. I didn’t want to be told to keep enduring something that was really feeling way too difficult – impossible, really – to deal with.

So I did what any good yogi would do. I bit my proverbial tongue (the one that wanted to speak in rebuttal to this crazy thing I was hearing) and listened to the rest of the passage. If there’s any truth to the idea that things come to us when we need to hear them, this was one example.

Staying in the Storm

It’s tough to think that there are some things in our lives that may always be difficult and that the difficulty is meant to be there because without those challenges, we will not be able to grow in important ways. I don’t know if I’ll eventually come back to my conviction that it’s time to give up, but thanks to this yoga class, I’m going to try again – maybe just this one time more, and maybe many more times – because I was reminded this morning that accepting difficult things without trying to control them can be a powerful way to awaken. It’s another opportunity to flex a spiritual muscle – and we need all of those muscles to be strong if we truly want to travel the path to enlightenment.

Spring: When Everything Old Can Become New

bloomsSpring is finally here! And that means it’s time for new beginnings. I’m excited because I’m ready for something new. It’s been an especially difficult winter on the east coast and for me personally, due not only to all the cold weather and snowstorms, but also some of those pesky storms of life. The universe does have a way of nudging us toward a place that we need to be, and that’s probably why I forced myself out of the house at the last minute to get to a yoga class today despite my inner protests (I have all this work to do; I’m tired; I can practice at home).

The teacher’s theme was, not surprisingly, spring-related. She spoke of doors and opening our hearts to new things; she asked us how we intended to greet the spring. Well, maybe that’s not exactly what she said, but you get the point. Earlier, I’d been wondering why I wasn’t being strongly drawn to practice at any particular studio these days. I’ve been more or less bouncing from place to place for the last four or five years. Maybe the problem (if it’s even a problem) isn’t so much the choices out there as the plateau that I’ve reached within myself. I seem to be hearing (and saying and doing) the same thing over and over again no matter where I go, and none of it is resonating the way it used to.

So it seemed that this would be a good time for a new message, or so I was thinking as I unrolled my mat on this particular spring morning. I don’t mean an “out with the old, in with the new” kind of message. I mean that I need to deepen my practice (my yoga practice, my spiritual practice, and my entire practice of life). Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I recently reached a milestone age. And I would like very much to be new.

So there I was in class waiting for something new. But there was really nothing new. Instead, the teacher invited us to experience the poses as if we’ve never done them before! That was a powerful approach because this was in no way a beginner’s class. But then again, maybe it was. Maybe they all are (or could be). We do a lot of things in life so much by habit that it can become difficult to truly experience them anymore. And what happens? Sometimes, we get bored. And we start complaining about how we want to do something different or experience something new. We get tired of the “same old, same old” of our daily lives.

But what if we just started to think of the things we’re already doing in a different way?

This is especially challenging, I think, in our relationships. My husband reminds me of this all the time. We get so used to each other’s habits and ways of interacting that we think we can anticipate everything the other is going to say or do. Often, we can…but not always.

So this little insight in yoga class was not exactly what I expected in approaching this new season of spring. But it’s a valuable one, because the key to renewal may be simpler than we think. It may very well be that we don’t need to do anything new, but just that we need to do old things in new ways. In a sense, there is only one thing worth doing anyway (and that’s whatever it is that you happen to be doing right now). We’ve all heard that it’s not what you do (or say) that matters – it’s how you do (or say) it.

So when you find yourself blaming your circumstances or this or that person or yourself for the lack of excitement in your life, try taking a deep breath and embracing whatever you’re doing right now. Do it as if you’ve never done it before. You may be surprised at how new old things can be!

It’s Okay to Say “God”

God the FatherI’ve been a spiritual seeker for decades. I grew up in a religious (Catholic) family. Religion was not a bad thing. I went to church every Sunday until I was in college. Soon after I graduated, I followed the path of many twenty-somethings who become disillusioned with their religious upbringing. In my case, it wasn’t that I saw no value in religion; it was that I needed to go beyond the religious practice I’d known as a child.

God is an Experience

Around the time that I took my first yoga class, I spent some time exploring Christian Mysticism. I practiced centering prayer (similar to Eastern meditation) and read about the lives of Thomas Merton, St. John of the Cross and other mystics. I was fascinated with “The Cloud of Unknowing” and a little booklet someone gave me called “The Hound of Heaven.” The basic idea behind this mystic journey is simple. God is in us. God is part of nature. God will call us in subtle and not so subtle ways – and if we really want to understand our connection to God, we have to go within ourselves to experience it. This, of course, was very different from the traditions, rules and practices that I’d known as religion until this point. To mystics, God is more of an experience than a being you can figure out by thinking, reading and following a particular dogma.

BuddhaAs I continued to practice yoga and learn more about Eastern traditions, my understanding of spirituality and what it means to be a spiritual being or seeker continued to expand. I began to learn about Hinduism, then Buddhism, Taosim and other Eastern traditions. Fast forward to today, and my spiritual life is alive and well. I sometimes go to church, but I’m open to anything that brings me a genuine experience of “something greater than myself” (something which I also happen to believe I am a part of). I no longer try to define it or analyze it or intellectualize it. I just try to experience it and be it. But I’ve noticed something interesting as I’ve come to know many other spiritual seekers on a journey similar to mine. It seems that the word “God” has become taboo. And many with Christian roots seem very eager to throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bath water. Why is this?

If you’re a Christian (and even if you’re not), the point about Jesus is that he came to show people the way to God. This is no different from the reason for any religion. Of course, there is a difference between Christianity and other religions, but it’s not the religion that matters most. As human beings, we need to start out with a set of rules that point us in the right direction toward anything that we want to understand. And in trying to understand spiritual matters, various groups have established different religions.

Rules, Rituals and the Fact that We’re all Human

I hear a lot of people complain about Christianity because it supposedly encourages us to see ourselves as sinners. But maybe a better solution is to consider a less harsh definition of sin. Sin is anything that keeps us from God (so if yoga is your spiritual practice that can mean that harming another being instead of practicing ahimsa is a sin; it can even mean that skipping your practice or practicing half-heartedly is a sin if your practice is what keeps you connected to a higher power). It’s a fact of human life that we’re not always perfectly focused on our spiritual goals.

Is it too many rules and rituals that cause people to cringe when they see a crucifix? Well… there are lots of rules and rituals in any religion if you follow it “religiously.” Maybe, like the rules you learned for solving arithmetic equations or driving your car, you don’t have to be so rigid about them once you’ve come to understand what your goal was in the first place. In other words, it’s the spirit of the law, not the law itself that matters. If you’re getting the answer right, the steps you take may not be as important as you were led to believe they were when you first found the question. Just be honest with yourself – are you really getting the answer, or is it just easier not to do your homework?

God will find you

I had a conversation about this very topic recently, and it was suggested that another reason people become disillusioned with Christianity is that they don’t like the idea of being eternally accountable to an invisible God. If, in fact, there is an invisible God who is watching and taking note of our sins, I doubt that we have a choice in the matter. But I don’t think we need to worry about that either. There are probably eternal consequences to any choices we make in life, but the thing to remember is that eternity starts now. It’s not some final payment (or penalty) that will happen in the future.

The point I’m hoping to make is that if you are truly honest about your spiritual life and your reasons for choosing your own form of spiritual practice, you will find your way back to your source – and that is God. But just in case you need more perspective on this, here’s a clip from “Saturday Night Live” that might help explain it all – or at least put a smile on your face (especially if you grew up Catholic). Namaste!

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