Everyday Enlightenment

yogaAt yoga recently the teacher suggested this intention for our practice:

I will not take things personally.

This didn’t really resonate with me, so I chose an intention that rang more true to me:

I will take things personally.

As in I will get up close and personal with my dreams, my loves, my life and my fears. I will smell their sweat and place their sticky cheek next to mine and breathe in their outbreath. I will inhabit every ounce of this human body as I rest in the hammock of being and awareness that holds it up.

I sometimes get the sense in the yoga world we’re all trying to detach and be perfectly balanced, enlightened beings. I’m all for enlightenment, but in striving for that perfect state we can miss a lot of wonderful imperfection along the way because we consider it “in the way.”

For a long time I approached my practice and my life as if it were in the way of where I was going. I wanted to get “there” because getting there seemed to mean I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I envisioned a state of being where stress wouldn’t sway me, family wouldn’t bother me, loss wouldn’t shake me, and life wouldn’t hurt me.

What I was doing was detaching from my reality and skipping out on my own life. I was missing the point Peter Rhodes makes when he says:

“We make a mistake when we wait for heaven, wait for enlightenment, wait for change. It is not going to happen in the future. It is happening. It is within our experience. Now is the time.”

Yoga and meditation are tools that help us bring a quality of awareness to our lives so that we don’t suffer unnecessarily. It is just so easy to use these valuable tools to bypass what’s happening right now, what’s living and thriving in our bones and bodies and lives right now; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is not always love and light. Sometimes it’s pain and darkness. They are the two poles of life that together light up our lives as the full experience it is.

It’s easy to fall into a practice of seeking enlightenment on a mountain top while the everyday enlightenment passes us by. Lorin Roche reminds us of this in The Radiance Sutras:

Wherever, whenever you feel carried away,
Rejoicing in every breath,
There, there is your meditation hall.
Cherish those times of absorption—
Rocking the baby in the silence of the night
Pouring water into a crystal glass
Tending the logs in the crackling fire
Sharing a meal with a circle of friends.
Embrace these pleasures and know,
This is my true body.
Nowhere is more holy than this.
Right here is the sacred pilgrimage.

I’m so grateful to that yoga teacher for her offering and for sharing an intention that was relevant in her life. It helped shed light on my own process and revealed to me an intention that has been marinating in me all year.

I will take things personally. I will live life fully. I will love more than ever before.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

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How to Set Your Self Free

One of my yoga teachers would often say, “After enlightenment there’s the dishes.” A play on the Zen proverb, “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

The same old mundane things we thought we would escape by reaching or finally attaining “enlightenment” will be waiting for us. This brings to mind the question, Where are we trying to get to? Are we already there?

When discussing philosophy during my yoga teacher training, one of the instructors pointed out:

Your spiritual path is your daily life.

As in, if you’re living the must authentic, intentional, and conscious life possible, but you don’t have time to meditate because you’re busy being a mother, it is enough. You are enough, your effort is enough, and you are not any less than someone who claims to be “enlightened” or “spiritual.”

In fact, maybe you are more so.

david

I started to see the connection between the above concepts after struggling through some of my own lovely muck. As the saying goes, “No mud, no lotus.”

Recently I was doing the dishes and trying to shake a heaviness that had descended upon me. A fog, a discontentment, a veil. As I blindly did the dishes and struggled to shake the heaviness, out of nowhere I recalled a famous quote by Michelangelo.

While musing on how he produced unparalleled works of art such as the David and the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, he is said to have stated:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Repeating the words in my head as I stared at soapy water, the fog started to clear a little. Clarity seemed to land on me like a butterfly. Am I seeing the angel in the marble of myself? Am I working hard enough to set her free? This dukkha, these samskaras, this veil over my perception was not less than beautiful.

It was just less than free.

Instead of feeling free, I was feeling constricted in some intangible way. Like a block of stone. No air, no movement, no budging, no beauty.

I knew it was in there: the marvelousness, the beauty, the freedom. I had just lost my ability to see it clearly. We all know it’s there, sometimes deep down and buried under layers of old habits, personalities, or the many labels we wear.

The freeing of this proverbial “angel” –  of who we really are, of our unlimited potential – is our daily work. It is not always easy and the process does not always go how we thought it would go.

But we keep chiseling. We keep our vision clear and focused. We stay with the process because that is how we slowly unveil the beauty.

Michelangelo further says: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

We all have “rough walls that imprison” us at times. Sometimes they’re external and sometimes they’re internal. Before we can look at others and see the beauty in them, we have to see the beauty in us.

The beauty in our darkness and in our light.
The beauty in our failure and in our success.
The beauty in our transitions, be they clumsy or graceful.
The beauty in our continuous, daily effort at allowing life to unfold before us and to keep choosing to open our arms and eyes wide; to see what is truly before us and to welcome it in, whether it be mud or lotus, enlightenment or dishes.

Look closer at the block of marble your true self is encased in.
See your angel.
Set it free.

 

photo credit: fincher69

Spirituality À La Carte

How do you define spirituality?

I grew up thinking being religious meant you were spiritual and vice versa. When I walked away from organized religion in my early 30s, I thought I was walking away from spirituality as well.

When I would experience blissful moments of peace, connection, or unparalleled stillness on my yoga mat, I had no word for it. This is just yoga, I thought. When I was introduced to mantra and chanting and started to look forward to it at the end of a class, marveling at the higher resonance I experienced through it, I again thought to myself, This is just yoga.

When yoga teachers talked about the Universal or mythical gods and goddesses, it made me a little uncomfortable because it started to sound a little too “spiritual.” This part’s not for me, I thought. Yet I could feel myself drawn to classes with an emphasis on philosophy more than hot yoga classes.

The more I began to focus on meditation and living and moving mindfully, the more I began to run across the word “spiritual” in my research and in my search for like-minded people. My practices of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness were bringing me home; home to a body I had never inhabited before. They were delivering me to my fullest life and preparing me to handle life and loss like an inhale and an exhale.

Due to my deeply religious upbringing, I would see parallels everywhere. Practices that existed on opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum seemed to me to have a lot in common. The humility and reverence at times present in both prayer and meditation. The devotional feeling present both in singing and chanting. The trust in a marvelous higher source called the Universal or God. The life force of prana and the life force of the Holy Spirit. Buddhist concepts like right effort, right speech, and respect sounded just like what I’d learned Jesus to teach.

When I first heard the suggestion that violence is the result of humanity “forgetting who we are,” or forgetting our inherent true nature, our universal oneness, I was reminded of Jesus’ dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

According to professor of psychology David N. Elkins, Ph.D., “The word spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus, which means ‘breath’ – referring to the breath of life. It involves opening our hearts and cultivating our capacity to experience awe, reverence, and gratitude. It is the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary, to feel the poignancy of life, to know the passion of existence and to give ourselves over to that which is greater than ourselves.”

I see many people redefining spirituality these days, allowing it to exist and thrive as an internal state, independent of organized religion. Others would call that kind of talk sacrilegious.

And I see many people struggling to find an acceptance and a validity to being spiritual without being religious. For some their religious roots haunt them, and for others the stigma of “spirituality” blocks their curiosity, even though they often find themselves face-to-face with a yearning for a deeper connection to life.

The dispute over whether yoga is religious and should be allowed in schools continues to create controversy. I personally don’t feel yoga is religious. It is not a religion. It may, however, allow you to have some deeper experiences of being that some would call “spiritual.” It is largely our labeling that creates divisiveness.

If I have a non-dualistic experience of universal connection through yoga or meditation, and you have a dualistic experience of universal connection through church and prayer, and mine prepares me to live and die in peace and yours to live in heaven, who’s to say I am right and you are wrong? The two of us are here on earth, side by side, striving to be the best human beings we can be.

Many people become spiritual seekers in the wake of loss, trauma, or in old age. The reality of death seems to wake up a sometimes dormant spiritual need.

We will all die one day. I’m more interested in how you choose to live than in how often you go to church or how often you meditate.

In the words of English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”