Thursday, October 17, 2019

Lessons Learned on the Yoga Mat: Acceptance, Courage and Growth

Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature.
                                                                                Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is speaking of the importance of solitude, but what he says I could also apply to the practice of yoga. Yoga helps us to extend grace to ourselves, because we learn our limitations and not to view these as deficiencies but rather acknowledge that it is how we are made. When we can accept and honor the limitations in ourselves, it then becomes possible to accept and honor the limitations of others.

We come with our wounds. We may have injuries or conditions or aches and pains that bring us to yoga in the hope of finding relief. It requires vulnerability to accept and work with the wounds we have, be they physical or emotional, but as we learn to love our bodies and what they are capable of doing, we find healing of attitudes that may be more limiting than the actual wounds are.

And finally, just as there are difficult situations in life, there are poses in yoga that challenge us. Yoga poses are a metaphor for life’s circumstances. Attempting challenging poses encourages us to move past fear of failure. Yoga coaxes us to try, in a safe space, something we may not have thought we could do. Practicing yoga helped me to be strong in the face of fear. I learned to not be frozen in place by fear, but to “breathe through the pose” and come out on the other side more confident than before.

In yoga, I find strength within me that I was not aware I possessed. What I learn on my yoga mat I am able to carry into the rest of my life. Being able to accept myself as I am and tapping into my inner courage to stick with that which is challenging have caused me to grow both spiritually and in my yoga practice.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Letting Go of Victim Mentality

I read a quote recently that I cannot recall verbatim, but it spoke of how freedom comes when we choose to no longer be a victim. Victimhood is a heavy burden to carry, yet many choose to live the victim story.

Things do happen to us, some of which we cannot control. Disease, crime and accidents can change the course of our lives. Discrimination of any kind may deny us opportunity. We may or may not be able to change the outcomes of circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we live within them. We can choose to be free or we can choose to be a victim.

Victim mentality thrives on blaming others. It is nourished by a poor sense of self, by a failure to love oneself. Very often, victimhood is claimed when one has not even been harmed. I have known people who claimed victimhood because of their own poor decisions.

There are many problems with choosing to live with a victim mentality. It wraps us in neediness, causing us to pressure others to pity us or shaming others for “causing” us to be victims. It keeps us from accepting personal responsibility and from claiming our self-worth. Victimhood drives others away from us, especially the ones who love us, because nothing they ever do is “good enough” to cure our victimhood.

Letting go of victimhood brings freedom. One would think that would be enough to entice one to let go of a victim mentality, but to lose the victim mentality means you have to not be identified as a victim, and this may reduce the attention or pity one receives.

When we can come to the deep knowing of God’s abundant love for us, we no longer need to manufacture attention and the pseudo-love of pity that is a poor substitute for deep, generous love.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Life Beyond the "But"

“They will kill him. But he will be raised on the third day.” And they were heartbroken.
                                                                                                Matthew 17: 22-23

Heartbroken. Just thinking about that word brings back the pain of a heartbreak I experienced. Maybe it also brings back painful memories for you.

Jesus has told the disciples that he will be handed over and killed, but. . . The disciples, like most of us who suffer heartbreak, stop before the but. We cannot even see the “b” of but, much less what lies beyond it. When you are in the depths, it’s hard to imagine that you will one day not be there, that you will be lifted into the light.

Jesus tells them what comes next, the life that lies beyond the but, yet they can’t hear anything past his being killed.

It is what lies beyond the but that gives us hope, that enables us to live in peace and joy despite our circumstances. Christians are Easter people, people who live with hope, with expectancy . . . people who see the but and know that there is more. Even if the but is all we see, simply seeing it enlivens us and gives us reason for praise.

It’s why I love the psalms of lament, because although they paint a picture of a terribly difficult situation, there is almost always a but, a turning point where God’s unfailing and redeeming love is acknowledged, not simply as something to come but present even in the midst of lamentable circumstances.

Experiences of heartbreak are never easy. Yet if we have experienced new life out of shattering circumstances, we can hold onto the hope that the but is not the last word. Life beyond the but is not only possible but full of promise.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wholly Loving

He wants us to be like him: wholly loving toward ourselves and toward all beings.
                                                                                                                Julian of Norwich

Can love ever be carried to extreme? When I think about the term “wholly loving,’ that question comes to mind.

But when I look to God, I know the answer to that question. If love is truly love, pure love, it can never be too much. We can distort love in many ways, but pure love can have no excess.

Being a doormat for another is not love, because it is neither loving toward ourselves nor toward the person we allow to use us in that way. Allowing someone to use you, to denigrate and demand and control you is not encouraging them to become all that God wants them to be. Allowing such behavior lets a person live in their insecurity and fear, and actually encourages more such behavior, while at the same time diminishing your own sense of worth.

God does not love us this way. God does not oppress or shame or blame. God does not pressure us into certain behaviors or threaten us. God does not use fear to manipulate us. God is always loving us into life that allows us to be full, whole and alive in God.

Love is not needy, jealous, manipulative or possessive. Love does not traffic in shame or blame, but acknowledges failures and moves on, forgiving and apologizing when needed. Love knows the difference between apology and attention-seeking, between forgiveness and pridefulness. Love is all humility and no ego. Love looks with clear eyes and sees what is, which is that we are all beloved and clumsy, chosen by God for all eternity.

When we can know ourselves wholly loved by God, then we can rest in God’s love. We can love more like God loves, because we don’t need to manipulate or control others to receive love. And when we are wholly loving toward ourselves, we don’t allow others to diminish our worth to feed their insecurity.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lifelong Learning

I celebrated my 60th birthday recently. In the weeks leading up to it and in the weeks following, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on my life to this point. I’ve thought about the things that were important to me as a younger person, what I loved and how I was creative and the people who helped to shape me as I grew up. It has felt like crawling under a house to see its foundation, to know what undergirds the structure.

It has been a good exercise, and I continue to find myself surprised by sudden recollection of a memory that gives me insight into who I am.

Honoring the years and events that have brought me to this point in my life, that have influenced what I value and how I see myself and the world, helps me to appreciate the whole of my life. I realize that it the painful or difficult experiences have been the times I now most appreciate, because I can look back and recognize that I gained strength and depth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

When you can recognize this, it makes labels like “good” and “bad” meaningless in the personal, particular sense. This is not to say that when someone injures you, it’s a good thing, but good can come from experiences where harm was intended and inflicted. Growth most often happens through struggle.

One thing I’ve learned through difficult seasons of life is that you cannot plan for every eventuality. However you’ve planned your life to unfold, it is likely that something will derail your plans. When I teach yoga, I encourage students to find the calm within themselves. Our outer circumstances can change suddenly and violently. We cannot control other people and events, but we can control what our internal state will be in response to the unexpected.

This is why the discipline of solitude matters. To hear the voice of God calling us beloved, we have to tune out the voices that tell us we are not. A strong sense of self and a deep sense of inner calm come when we know ourselves as deeply loved by God. And through sixty years of living, knowing that I am God’s beloved is the most important lesson I’ve learned.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Spiritual Consumerism

Someone recently contacted me looking for a place to go on a spiritual retreat. They had a checklist for what they wanted a place to have, and as I put down the phone from talking with them, I felt as though I was helping them shop for a car or stove.  “I want it to have this feature; I don’t want that feature. . .” I hear similar lists of wants/don’t wants as people discuss worship. I wonder if we are often blind to the ways we attempt to dictate the time, place and method of encountering God.

Ironically, I’ve been listening to a series of conferences of John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic who gave us the concept of the dark night of the soul. John speaks of the dark night of the senses, which is when you no longer have a sensed presence of God. Many of us have experienced some sort of assurance of God’s presence through our senses—we see or hear or feel something that affirms God for us.

Without a felt sense of God’s presence, especially after have had such experiences, one may wonder if God’s presence has withdrawn from them. Unfortunately, much of our contemporary Christian spirituality is dependent on felt experience. So when you no longer receive a felt experience, you may change your spiritual practices to attempt to reclaim the “rush” you are missing.

The experience of what some mystics call “spiritual aridity” may leave us casting about for something new to recreate the buzz we are missing. But when our interest in spiritual matters is precipitated by felt experience, then our focus is not on God, but on ourselves. Spiritual experience can feed the ego, and ego is exactly what blocks our view of God.

There is no formulaic way to an encounter with God. Growth in our faith happens as we are content to know God present with us without the felt experience of God. Our faith grows not as we receive affirmation through a felt spiritual experience but through keeping faith even in the darkness, when we have no option than to simply trust that God is present with us.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Improving our Vision

People of prayer are, in the final analysis, people who are able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah.  –Henri Nouwen

 I am not there yet. I can see the Messiah in the faces of the oppressed. I can see it in the faces of families seeking asylum. I can see it in the faces of those who struggle between following orders and following conscience, knowing that following orders brings stability of paycheck—even though it is at the expense of their own well-being—while following conscience may lead to poverty.

Sometimes I see the Messiah’s face in people so consumed by fear that they hurt others directly or indirectly. This fear can take many forms: fear of those who are different, fear of losing some of one’s possessions, fear of change, even fear of God. When I can see their fear, I can find a measure of compassion for them, even when their fear causes them to reject, label, judge and demean others. It at least helps me to understand what motivates their hurtful behavior. It is still very hard for me to see the Messiah in such people. The only way I can even glimpse it is by looking at their fear.

I want to be a person of prayer, and yet this struggle to see the Messiah in others continues to challenge me. It reminds me that the faith journey is, in fact, a journey, and often a difficult one.  It also reminds me that prayer is more than simply talking to God. It is opening myself up to be changed by God. Prayer is the willingness to be pliable and changeable. Prayer is the willingness to have my beliefs challenged.

When I engage in prayer as listening to God in silence and solitude, my seeing changes. Unlike our physical lives, where vision often declines with age, the spiritual life offers us the invitation to improve our vision as we grow.