Friday, April 25, 2008

The Divine Dwells in the Heart

Today is my birthday.

I decided today was also the day to go back to yoga. The last yoga class I attended was after some stressful events at the hospital. I overdid it, and I paid for it. Today I decided to return with a more moderate view of what I can and cannot physically do—and to take it easy and enjoy myself.

Immediately upon entered the studio I was glad I came. The music, the smell of incense, the quiet chatter of woman all different ages, shapes and sizes. These are my people. Woman in community--coming together, yet separate. We share the energy of the room. Our practices interact and mingle, yet each in her own space, on her own mat, doing her own hard work.

I started taking the discipline, the path, of yoga seriously about two years ago. I had been going for years. I have asthma and will never be a big runner. It fit my fitness level and my body and I enjoyed it. Then it started to happen. As my body adjusted to the discipline of yoga my mind started to follow.

Yoga opened up an expansive and deep way of looking at the world. I was depressed and white-knuckling my worldview. Yoga seeped in between the cracks and gave me permission to let go and shed things that were not serving me anymore. My time on the mat was a guide, as strongly as if a person were sitting there telling me where to go, only more so. I found the freedom to quiet the monkey chatter in my mind, to throw off the judgment. So much judgment! I had never been modeled anything but judgment, criticism, overanalyzing, generalizing, minimizing…surrounded by people, faith and politics that judged and then moved people and situations into the appropriate boxes.

Yoga was my dirty little secret. My world considered yoga a tool of the devil…sort of like a gateway drug. If I did yoga I would soon throw off all my faith and start worshiping the thousands of Hindu gods. I knew this was hogwash. Yoga was intensely strengthening my faith, my understanding of God and of myself, and supporting my Biblical view of the cosmos. Yoga was expanding it all; until I thought my mind and soul might explode! My practices and meditations brought me to the very foot of the throne of grace and to the tips of the universe.

And on my birthday I decided to give myself this gift.

We started the practice sitting comfortably in meditation and we were encouraged to set an intention for our practice. I smiled inside and set the intention to love myself. I set the intention to shed any reason to explain or defend my physical performance or how well I controlled the monkey chatter in my mind. I set the intention of non-judgment as an act of self-love.

As I flowed from Warrior Two, to Triangle, to Airplane to Plow…my mind flowed to my birthday, even picturing myself as a baby coming into the world, all bloody and crying, as if saying, “A precious soul has arrived!” I felt the joy of my parents. I breathed deep. I exhaled with purpose.

When it was time for meditation I was relaxed and open. The teacher led a chant. She mentioned they had done this mantra before, so she didn’t translate the Sanskrit to English. I decided not to chant, because I didn’t know what I was saying. Instead I sat, perfectly still, so a bird could land on me, breathing deep and easy.

And my heart began to fill. Throughout my practice I had been hearing, “I am your God and you will be my people.” I didn’t judge it or analyze it. I submitted to it. I heard it over and over throughout the practice, sometimes almost bringing me to tears. As I sat in lotus, taking in the chant, my heart began to fill with intense warmth. It was tangible and wonderful.

Finally, the teacher repeated a line from the mantra in English, “The Divine dwells in the heart.”

I let it wash over me and fill me. I had set the intention to love myself. Love is centered in the heart. God in his mercy reminded me it is on the path to self-love where I find my God and where I become His people. When I practice “vairagya,” the elimination of whatever hinders progress and refinement, when I throw off all the judgment, when I throw off all that entangles, that is when I am able to truly love myself. And in that place of self-love and acceptance I enter my heart and find the Divine.

Friday, April 11, 2008

May I Walk With You?

Luke 24

I recently heard first-hand the story of an 11 year old girl who was stabbed 11 times, raped, left for dead, and yet survived. I saw the MSNBC story of the Taylor University families who suffered the trauma of having their daughters’ identities mixed up at an accident scene. One family thought they had buried their daughter yet she was alive and being nursed back to life by another family who had really lost their daughter. And the horrible news of a colleague’s daughter’s untimely death while serving in Afghanistan just came last week.

These stories of trauma, of lives interrupted, of deep loss, touch us. The biblical story of Jesus meeting his disciples on the Road to Emmaus has stirred the hearts of Christians since it was first told. These men had just seen the bloody, brutal and heartless killing of their best friend, their hope, and their teacher. They had experienced real loss and deep trauma.

I’ve been wondering lately how these stories touch us? How often have we heard these deeply troubling events, cringe away and say, “I don’t know what to do with this. It’s too much. How can life be good with all this happening?” I can’t shake the idea maybe what we are really saying is, “If I let myself ‘go there’ with this situation, I may ‘go there’ in myself. If I interact with this trauma, I may find myself interacting with my own trauma. And if I do that then my life may not be good.”

Our minds so quickly fall on either/or thinking. Life is good or it’s bad.

What if it is both/and. Our life is good and our trauma, our losses are real?

What if destiny, joy and healing are found deep inside trauma, fear, and failure?

That would require we go deep into trauma and fear and stand in it. Shake hands with every negative and overwhelming emotion. Feel the waves of pain and anguish hit-- and continue to stand.

This is what Jesus encouraged his friends to do that day going to Emmaus. Jesus came along side them and simply said, “Tell me what happened.” For hours he facilitated authentic interaction with their trauma.

Jesus could have showed up and gone into protection mode. He could have revealed himself right away and glossed over the past week to protect his friends from deeply experiencing the reality of their pain. But he didn’t. He went there with them. Jesus never modeled skipping any of life’s authentic experiences for the sake of protection—of ourselves or others. Rather Jesus respected the pain for what it was, and then mercifully revealed the destiny and purpose of the pain.

When we accept the both/and of trauma in our own lives; that life is full of joy and healing and life is full of loss, we no longer cringe away from our neighbor’s pain. We have learned to stand in pain, to ride the waves of pain, because it is taking us somewhere.

When we come to deep understanding of this, we are now real in the face of our neighbor’s trauma. We can say, “May I walk with you?”