Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Body My Friend

You are made of stardust and magic. What's not to love?
     I used to think my best friend was actually my worst enemy. I did a lot of really bad things to shut her up and everytime she healed herself and forgave me. I used to be ashamed of my friend, trying to hide her and then convinced she just needed to shape up I would push her until she dropped and she always cooperated. And everytime she forgave me. Before you start thinking I am a horrible mean girl I should confess my best friend is my body. But, boy, has this been a long journey and it has not been mine alone. For as long as recorded history and probably before, there is evidence of humans struggling with exactly how to occupy our bodies. "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience". This old saying is meant to focus people on our spiritual experience, but it makes me wonder about our "human" experience. We occupy these bodies for a reason and we are menat to occupy them in a certain manner.

     But before I get into that lets look at what hasn't worked. Corporeal mortification or flagellation was a common event in spiritual circles back in the day. It is said that at the end of his life St. Francis of Assisi asked his body for forgiveness for all the wounds it bore for him and from him. Beating ourselves either with a whip or with a treadmill has never worked to make us comfortable in our own skin. Then of course, to this day, many religious communities deal with the body by simply covering it up, especially womens bodies. Out of sight out of mind. We let our minds conduct our lives while we beat and hide our bodies. It has been said that the West is a disembodied culture. And I wonder as uncovered as we are, are we any better off? Just because we're not beating our bodies with lashes from a whip anymore doesn't mean we're not beating them. This blog post was prompted by a song lyric I heard on the radio today (forgive me I won't get it exactly right) but it went something like this
"you've got a great body baby so put on top of me because bodies we're made for fun and we're gonna use your body all up until we're done". UGH! So, of course we're meant to experience pleasure in our bodies. We are sensual creatures and, of course, we're meant to have fun. But our bodies are not toys meant to be used up. Can you imagine thinking that another person in your life was solely there for you to have fun with until they were used up? It made me sad\mad in the same moment because I know that song lyric is just representative of our ongoing body bullying. Our bodies are smart. They have their own intelligence that we have shut down from over thinking, neglect and modern day corporeal mortification (ultramarathons, cross fit, starvation diets).

     The good news is there is a way out. Even though huge billboards tell us our thighs should be airbrushed and ads all day long tell us that physically we're not good enough so frequently that we have come to view our bodies as a project or a machine, there is a way back home to your body. Even though many of us are literally numb in much of our bodies, there is a way home. Coming home to your body, making friends with your body makes you wiser and stronger and kinder. allowing your bodies voice to be heard again helps you navigate decisions and balance your life. When someone threatens you your body tenses up, when someone comforts you your body softens. This is our most basic body talk. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.. Our bodies just may be the wisest part of us. So, let's thaw them out. Let's come home to our bodies.

     The coming home journey is simple but maybe not easy and certainly not quick. You just have to pay a lot of attention to the sensations of your body both externally and internally. Can you remember the last time you were super happy? Now can take a moment to feel how that feels in your body? Every emotion we have has a physical bodyprint, it's all there. So, we pay attention, but the attention we pay is a specific kind. This attention must be curious (we can't assume to know what's going on with our bodies( and the attention must be kind. When you make space to just sit with your body a few minutes everyday it will allow your bodies voice to begin to bubble up again. Our bodies can give us direction, warn us of danger, protect us when danger comes, our bodies offer us pleasure and warn us with pain when we go to far. and the thing of it is when you spend enough time with your body it becomes your friend and ally. Are you comfortable in your skin? if the answer is no what do you have to lose? Sit, pay attention and make a new friend. Because your body is a wonderland, just not the way they mean it on the radio!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Dark and the Light

"Smoking will not interfere with your yoga, yoga will interfere with your smoking"

     I heard a preacher say once that he had discovered the dividing line between "good" people and "bad" people and I waited with perked ears to hear where this line was. "it runs right down the middle of every human" he concluded and I knew I had just heard truth. I am a great person really doing the best I can and I am also at times a quite selfish and horrible person. I am not alone in this duality I know. For so many years teaching yoga I bound myself with a bunch of  "if onlys". If only I lost some weight I would be better at asana, if only I didn't pollute my body I might reach enlightenment, if only I knew a little more I would be a better teacher. All of these "if onlys" were centered around what I deemed to be the "dark" parts of me. I was convinced all of these "if onlys" were interfering with my yoga. I thought these "if onlys" we're the cause of my suffering.

     Thankfully Krishnamurti was exactly right when he said yoga interferes with our habits. Yoga is such a democratic process, everyone who practices progresses and mindfulness is cumulative. You don't have to be awesome and free of "if onlys" you just have to practice and I have, And its begun to interfere with my habits.  During a recent time out of the country in a fresh environment which always gives us a fresh perspective I sat down to meditate. There was nothing particularly "enlightened" about my attitude that day. I just sat because that's what I do. So for the majority of my "sit" I just alternated between mindful breathing and a wandering mind, like every session. But right before my timer was about to chime I "heard" a clear inner voice say "Your life is perfect". My immediate reaction was a laundry list of all my imperfections, all my short comings. This voice was clearly wrong. But then I saw that this entire list was just "if onlys" and God gave me a vision of all of these "if onlys" being a basket full of snakes that I used to strangle my spirit. I don't know how many years I have told students " You are flawed and you are perfect and there is no contradiction in this statement". I must have said this thousands of times, but in that moment in my meditation it became a living truth for me. No, my "if onlys did not interfere with my yoga but my yoga has sure interfered with my "if onlys".

     That moment God planted two things in me. First, is the realization that indeed my life is perfect. Every scrap of darkness in my life is designed for my good, for my growth and all of my bad habits are part of the perfection. And with that realization came an overwhelming flood of self kindness. Both of these gifts are just a result of practice. Scripture says when we reach for God, He reaches back: deep calling to deep.  Practicing mindful compassion on the yoga mat and off will interfere with your life in a big way. Do you have it backwards like I did for so many years thinking your bad habits will interfere with your yoga? If so be patient with yourself but keep practicing. Whether your practice is asana, or meditation or walking or praying or serving others let your life become your practice. Just be present and when you aren't present and you come out of your trance of thought then just be kind. Even if you are hung over at this moment or just spent an hour gossiping or filled with self loathing you are perfect NOW. You do not need to wait for all of your "if onlys" to come to pass you merely need to practice living intentionally. Keep reaching for God.

     Yes, let your light shine, the world needs shiny people. But do not try to push away your darkness, it creates the boundaries for light to exist. We cannot have one without the other. Your darkness is your teacher, your darkness can be beautiful when you shine compassion on it. So, once more please remember that you are flawed and you are perfect and there is no contradiction in this statement. Practice living that until your self kindness blooms. And with practice it will.