Thursday, August 25, 2016

51 Shades of Grey

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance
Thomas Merton

     I had a friend several decades ago that would engage me in a repetitive argument, her stance was everything in life is black OR white, right or wrong and my answer was "no it's all shades of grey". We had a lot of fun with this spirited debate, but as positions do,  over time mine has changed. I no longer think things are solely "shades of grey" but neither do I think they are "black OR white". Instead I am learning through the practice of yoga that things are black AND white. Sometimes this black and white blends together to create a beautiful grey as in balancing the effort and ease of a yoga posture perfectly. But sometimes we have to expand our capacity to hold opposites, to live with the black and white.  I am trying to hold the fact that despite my good intentions and loving heart I still cause suffering to others. We are all mixed blessings. A few years ago I heard an NPR interview with a Baptist minister in Alabama who is also an ob/gyn. He said that he performs abortions not despite his religion but because of it. He said that his spiritual explorations had led him to discover the dividing line between good and evil and that it ran down the center of every human being. Can you hold the truth that you are both good and evil or do you need to see yourself as only good or only bad? A full life like a yoga practice involves balance and that is a lot more than standing on one foot. Can you see yourself for the incredibly simple creature that you are and still embrace your complexity?

     The challenge here is that if you apply black OR white thinking to yourself you will also apply it to others. And when we put ourselves in boxes what we are really doing is creating barriers to connection. What about your ideas about the Divine Mystery? Have you put God in a box? I love Richard Rohrs thought "mystics speak of the God experience as simultaneously falling into an abyss and being grounded." Can you come to the idea of a Divine Mystery like a little child, curious and open while at the same time being a seasoned mature seeker? When you stand on one foot on the yoga mat there is so much more to practice than simply not falling down. Can you also balance the rooting down into the earth and the rising up towards heaven? They say the human is the unique space in which the animal energies of the earth mingle with the Divine energies. Can you allow yourself to hold both? To be both?

     Our culture is so divided right now and I believe that is a symptom of us seeing in black OR white. But can you hold the pain of the oppressed and the fear of the oppressor without boxing them in? Can you hold black AND white?  Can you do this for your self? Can you do something bad and not label yourself as a bad person or remember when you do something good that you still have the capacity for evil? Practice doing this for yourself and your capacity for empathy will increase.
On and off the mat we must balance everything. reaching out and solitary time, grounding into the earth and letting go, spending time and money and saving our resources. The more we can accept seeming contradictions the more we expand our world view. Suddenly we don't see our "adversaries" as simply evil but as complex and deep just like us. And yet we are all so simple. we want to be seen and loved. The very basic meaning of the word yoga can be translated as "union". But we will not find union, internal or external, as long as we see things in black or white. Let's practice today holding our opinions, beliefs and judgments lightly enough to make space. I share these thoughts knowing that you already know this but at the same time you may have forgotten. You are wonderful and yet sometimes quite full of mischief! Can you love all the parts of you?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nothing To Say

"An inability to stay quiet is one of the conspicuous failings of mankind"
Walter Bagehot

     Part of teaching yoga professionally is being a public speaker. Our words can be gems or bombs creating or destroying. Who ever came up with the childhood rhyme "stick and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was so far off the truth it amazes me. Our words literally have the ability to create life and destroy it. But words will only take us so far. Part of being a professional yoga student (which is all a teacher is) is diving down into silence. Building space for inner quiet.
So lately I have been feeling this strange tension between wanting to communicate and wanting to sit in silence. The tensions between dualities are familiar to any yogi. Balancing effort and ease is yoga 101. Balancing external focus and inner journey is a step we must take. I am comfortable being uncomfortable and not knowing what to say. It is ok, but at the same time as expectant students look at me in the beginning of a class, if no words come out confusion may arise.

     I'm not sure I have a "lesson" in this blog or even an encouraging story. But rather perhaps an invitation to co-explore with me what it means to speak and to be silent. I had a interesting experience the other day with words. Tim and I take turns picking where we go to lunch on Saturdays and inevitably when it is his turn I cannot keep my mouth shut. It has been my intention since the beginning to truly stand back and  silently and let him choose where he really wants to go, but my mouth has never cooperated with this intention. So, when his time to chose rolled around again I actually said out loud in the morning "I vow to not interfere with lunch today" Now I have said before "I will let you chose" "I will not interfere" "I will be quiet" but this time was different. Something about the strength of the word "Vow"  When lunchtime rolled around and he started throwing suggestions at me expecting my normal interference all that came to my mind was the strength of the word vow. I held onto that word long enough for him to pick a place on his own. The word vow became a life raft for me to rest on long enough to allow him space. Of course the word "vow" has no special powers except the ones I give it. The word had meaning for me and so it became strong.

     The bible scripture Matthew 15:11 "what goes into someones mouth does not defile them, but what comes out, that is what defiles them" has always been a  reminder to me to not be neurotic about what I eat because what goes in will not defile me. But in contrast as I sit with this scripture as a more mature seeker I can see how one could get neurotic about what they say. If we really understood the power of our words we might never speak again. I could easily get neurotic about my words now that I am just beginning to see their immense energy. But thankfully we also have the scripture in Exodus 4:15 where God tells Moses (and us) "now go, I will teach you how to speak and I will tell you what to say" So, it comes down to this for me: effective speaking only comes from deep listening. Words only bloom into life when they originate from a well of silence. If we are speaking just to speak that is just :ego vomit' but perhaps when we listen quietly there is a message to pass along using words. I love the quote "Preach all you can and if necessary use words" Francis of Assisi  I love the irony of this quote, because it sheds light on the power of silence, but only by using words.
I did not expect when I opened Quiet that I would have a season of literally embodying the name. I did not expect that some of the deeper truths we learn have no words to describe them. But they say if you can see the path ahead it is not your path. And so I dive into the mystery of silence as I relearn to use my words.