Tuesday, October 23, 2012


     We all have with varying degrees the privledge of defining ourselves personally and professionally. A few years ago my Dad was rock climbing the greenbelt with a group some familiar faces and some new friends. My Dad was at the top of the rock when a new friend called up to him "What is it that you do?" Despite the less than optimum timing of the question my Dad still replied, yelling down "I am a landscape architect". There was a pause in which you could almost see my Dads ego quivering and he yelled out again "No, damn it, I am a gardener". This story makes me so proud of my Father's quest for humility and it also makes me wonder how I define myself.  As a yoga teacher my professional parameters are broad. I have chosen to link my spiritual growth with my profession. This serves to discourage complacency in myself and with a fairly strong lazy streak that is a good thing. At the same time setting yourself up as a spiritual teacher can be quite a dangerous place if you start to think you have "arrived" anywhere. I do not teach what I have learned as often as I share with a class what I need to learn. I am not pretending to be the capitian of any ship but I am happy to grab an oar and row along with my students as we navigate the currents of spiritual growth.

     So, when I hear myself struggling to articulate spiritual paths with students it is ok. But when I feel my ego step up onto her soap box I remember spirituality is a practice and it might be time for more personal practice. Thankfully I believe I have identified the primary area where the great majority of us need to practice. The foundations of our spiritual life are laid at home and within our immediate family. We are familiar with the scripture that instructs us to "love your neighbor as you love youreself" I saw this scripture translated from an ancient text and the translation read "love your closest one as you love yourself". Closest one? Um, spouse, parents, siblings, children...these are our closest ones. So why is it that we so often put on shiny spiritual faces for stranges, students, homeless people, everyone but our family? Why is it when we get home we get complacent with the behaviours such as patience and service, the behaviours that feed our spirit?
      I can read scripture and meditate with my classes until I am blue in the face but if I am not practicing all of this at home then my spirit life is a shell. I cannot patiently listen to a students challenges and dismiss my husbands and consider my actions godly. It is easier sometimes to recognize that annoying stranger as a mirror reflecting ourselves than it is to see yourself in your parent. But we must be careful to nurture our spiritual growth first in the home, then with the family and then with others. Spirituality is after all measured relationally and God has given us our nearest and dearest with purpose in mind. Our in laws and families of origin are no random choice but the very people we are meant to grow with. So while it is nice to put on a spiritual face in church or in a yoga studio it is imperative that we authentically practice these practices at home. It does not matter if you consider yourself to be a spiritual seeker and your family could not give a hoot about growth in God. It does not matter if your family is comprised of saints or sinners, winners or whack jobs...these are still your primary spritual partners. So , while I love to remind my students of Gods love for them it is often just calling my Mom or making my hubby a sandwich that is the true spiritual work. So sometimes from the top of that rock I want to yell down "I am a landscape architect" but then I remember I am really just a gardener and perhaps instead of lecturing it is time to til the soil. So, today I will define myself as wife, child, sister, aunt and within those parameters I will set my sails to catch Gods soft breezes.

I know why families were created with all their imperfections. They humanize you. They are made to make you forget yourself occasionally, so that the beautiful balance of life is not destroyed.
-- Anais Nin

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fear No Evil

     There is a scripture in Ecclesistes that says a cord of three strands is not easily broken. I first discovered this scripture in the mid 90's about the same time God graciously provided me with two amazing prayer buddies. We used to reference this scripture alot to reinforce the idea that the three of us were stronger together in prayer than we would be alone. That's where I was at the time. But fast forward a decade and while we still pray together "in the spirit" we live thousands of miles apart and so here I am no longer a triply braided cord but just one small strand in Gods hands. But even as the scripture kept whispering to my soul I just did what I know to do, I prayed and prayed some more and waited.

     Meanwhile, I am moving deeper and deeper into yoga teaching and as my practice progresses I am really getting to know myself and some of it is not quite so pretty. When I discover my capacity for perseverance and  kindness it is certainly a heartening moment but when I discovered my equally strong capacity for impatience and control let's just say it isn't such a sunny moment. We are all wonderfully awesome and we suck, such is the human condition and no one escapes it. So one day after God revealed to me alot of deep inner darkness I felt particularly sad and I turned to a familiar pray:

"Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death I will fear no evil" my prayer was recited with a pretty weak voice full of self judgement. And God interrupted me, God Who is Love whispered to my heart. "fear no evil including the internal evil". Wow. Now let me clarify, I do not harbor fantasies of violence or hate no Hitler style evil here. My evil, much like yours, is the evil of judgement, haughtiness, the evil of greed and fear the evil we excuse as our character flaws. The part of myself I have labeled "Hungry girl"...that is my evil. But God made it clear I was not to fear "my evil". Here's what fearing my evil might look like:

Hungry Girl "You really deserve that ________, it's been a hard week"
Me : "My voracious appetite is going to take over and snuff out my light" (whimper) "I will never amount to anything, I will never get into handstand off the wall, I will never...I will never....I will never!" (stomps foot)

     All that internal fear triggered by one suggestion from my dark side and here is God saying to not fear any evil. Doesn't He know my potential for self destruction? Of course He does! And, still God whispers to not fear this part of myself. Much reflection and prayer brought me back to the idea of the triply braided cord. God says a triply braided cord is strong and who doesn't want the kind of strength God admires? I have come to believe that this triply braided cord refers to me alone and you alone. Humans are dark and light and divine not always in equal measure but those are the three components of man. So we work to shine our light, hide our dark and get closer to the divine, but it doesn't work to keep stuffing our darkness. So here's how it goes now, at least some of the time!

Hungry Girl "I really deserve that treat (whine)"
Me: (setting an intention of loving Hungry Girl) "well, let's pray about it" and I come home to my breath & stillness for a moment.

     I don't have to always say no to my desires but I don't automatically say "yes" without a moments connection to the divine element of me. Triply braided cord: dark, light, divine and fully human! So what if today instead of taking your dark side out for a beating or letting your ego control you, what if you stepped back and took a look at all sides of you with compassion? Shine a light in the corners of your soul. No matter how much you feed your light side your dark side will always exist and you cannot ignore it without damaging consequences. So what to do about it? Well, for you, I don't know  that is your journey. What is working for me is compassionately being with my dark side. Not so that Hungry Girl can take over and "turn me evil" , but it is with love that Hungry Girls sharp edges are softened and she becomes more of a team player. her voice grows softer and less demanding as I turn a loving eye towards her.

     So today I will not beat myself up and try to wrestle my ego, but instead I will remember that just like you I am good, I am bad and I am divine and when I put it all together and reject no part of myself I am doubly strong. When God tells us to love ourselves I do believe He means all parts of ourselves. May the Hungry Girl or Boy part of you find themselves nourished with a diet of compassion, hope and perseverance.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.