Last week I took my daughter to the “Big Kids Room” at our gym for the first time. It was scary for both of us -- the room is just so big and echoey, and the kids are just so loud and pushy, and the directors are just so … few. In a sea of big kids, I couldn’t bring myself to imagine my small-for-her-age, porcelain skinned, blue-eyed girl finding her way around that place. But as I watched the $70/month tick away from my bank account and my clothes tighten from a little too much summertime fun, I knew that it was time.
M and I had talked about the “Big Kids Room” for weeks, how she was a big girl now and that big girls can do hard things… and after much anticipation, the day to do the hard thing was finally here. I could have predicted the unfolding of the drama down to the very last detail -- her desperately clinging body, my smelly nervous sweat, and the unconvincing “everything is fine” smile I’ve gotten so good at. I resorted to my usual fawn-like coping mechanism -- making small talk with the woman at the check-in desk, complimenting her profusely (secretly hoping to manipulate her into liking ME so that she would like M and prevent her from dying in the end-of-days big wooden block explosion that was obviously going to happen while she was there). With a few hard plucks, I handed the screaming, wiggling baby mammal to the innocent college kid at the desk, and before I knew it, I was toddler-free, making a mad dash out of the room. I mentally wagged a threatening finger to her guardian angels, and turned up my music so as to numb out these feels of discomfort during my precious child-free time.
When I returned an hour later, M was sitting at the kiddie table mid-room, wearing her pink-tinted sunglasses, eating her applesauce squeezy pack, and giggling at the kids who ran around her in circles. She. Was. Fine. “Mom!!!!” she screamed confidently. “I’m playing with the BIG KIDS.” I have never seen her so proud of herself. We merrily reunited and, holding hands, walked to the car, both relieved to be safely on the other side of that bridge together.
Lately it seems that God keeps asking me to cross hard bridges -- to do things that I really don’t want to do like leave my family to travel halfway across the world to Northern Uganda (where I will, no doubt, get my *ss kicked), or watch my husband start another God-knows-how-long project in California while I transition to lonely nights on the couch, or navigate these disorienting times of terror, fear and injustice on Earth. “But I reaaaaaally don’t want to,” I seem to be whining in my baby mammal voice about three times a day as I desperately cling to God’s chest. And then today, right when I needed to hear it, my spin teacher shouted “C’mon…. no CHALLENGE, no CHANGE, folks! Keep going; you’ve got this!” My entire body lit up with that tingly Truth feeling as I felt the reality of these words sink into my cells. No challenge, no change.
As I look around to the expanding life of vegetables and flowers and trees in my yard, I begin to understand in a literal way that “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” as this is truly how it works in the organic paradigm. As a part of this beautiful, evolving planet of Holy God energy, I know that I not only want to, but came here specifically to expand and expand and expand into more than I was in the last moment, and the one before that, and the one before that. Change and expansion is not only the nature of the Universe, but the nature of all things including me. And how does this unconditionally loving God make me into more than I was yesterday? Why, with a series of perfectly designed challenges that will propel me enough to evolve one step closer my fullness, of course. As a mammal, I crave the stifling comfort of static stability; yet, as a Divine Being, I somehow know that Earth School isn’t the place for that, that if I am not growing, I’m dying, too.
So instead of resenting, complaining about and kicking my feet against these hair-raising bridges that I am being asked to cross, I am going to choose to see them as my angels in disguise, the perfect experiences to help me draw from something deeper that can only come forth through the first time in the big kids room, or mission work abroad, or facing my loneliness, and these uncertain and dark times on Earth.
Oh yes, God loves me so much that She keeps poking me in the ribs and inviting me to step into and witness my own Godly strength, one bridge at a time.
This week on the yoga mat, we will put this idea into practice, tapping into our inner resolve, our God-strength, as we, challenge by challenge, find an embodied way to discover what we are really made of, and the depths of who God is calling us to be here on Earth. One pose at a time, one challenge at a time, we will expand into our fullness together.
My friend Dave Howell, author of the awesome book The Descent into Happiness, defines happiness as being completely engaged in the present moment exactly as it is instead of thinking about what has been or could be. For the last few days, my husband and I took to the backcountry of the Grand Tetons where I was given millions of opportunities to be in this state of bliss.
When you’re on a challenging trail, a misstep could mean a fatal fall (ooooooooo-kay, I’m mostly exaggerating here, although at times this was definitely true) or a debilitating sprained ankle, and so moment by moment, for 30 miles, I had to pay attention. And after hundreds of moments of paying attention, it seemed that my brain was getting better at it – at every stop along the way, I could pay better attention to things other than the trail, like the design of that mountain slope, the brilliance of that flower, the adorable mischievousness of that marmot. No where to be but here, I told myself. No one to be but me. Nothing to do but this.
And what I realized is that, one step at a time, I could DO this. I could traverse a mountain. I could cross a snowfield. I could sleep where bears lived. I could poop in a self-dug hole. I could scramble down a valley of rock. Any and all anxiety on the trail was caused by somehow looking ahead and making assumptions about what the trail might be like “up there.” But, in reality, every single time that I got “up there,” as challenging as it was, I could do it. In this moment. And then this one. This happiness thing was starting to really make sense to me, and as I got better at it, and I came into a state of non-thinking, my mind became so clear that I could see that all was good, that all was God – appearing to me as the kind stranger who gently fixed my blisters, a snowflake, a tree, an insect, a flower, a Shawn.
As I walked across the wide belly of the Earth’s loving body, my whole world-view broadened, too. I felt the God in EVERYONE and a deep sense of love and compassion for all of creation exploding from my heart. I saw that the entire design makes sense – every “weed” was tilling the soil for the eventual growth of more life, every forest fire preparing the soil for new seeds to take root. I knew in my heart, that everyone is doing the best they can, perfectly playing their parts in a cosmic dance toward the light, experiencing deep compassion for those whose best sometimes feels anywhere from really shitty to mediocre. In the womb of God Herself, I felt that I could take a deep breath of mountain air and really believe in life again.
Ironically, as we began to descend the mountain, and the trail got busier, this person cut me off, then this one was in my way, and that one sneered at my snail-like pace.Geeeeeez, I mumbled to myself, as I watched my old habitual patterns of judgment bubbling back to the surface. I could literally feel my heart tighten, my Spirit curl into little snake-like ball in the pit of my stomach. I wanted nothing more that to head back up the mountain and give the world a big ‘ole middle finger. “Oh, but Erin, the bottom of the mountain is where the real work begins,” my wise mother reminded me during a check-in call. Ahhhhh, yes. Yes it is, Mama.
After some celebration, showering and recuperating, Shawn and I luckily scored what we thought would be a really sweet Air B ‘n B in Salmon National Forest the following two nights. Our plan was to raft, fish, and for me to have some time to write (which I am realizing is absolutely necessary for my existence). As I looked at the online description of the place, I told myself an elaborate story of what John and Nancy (the hosts) would be like, how the place would look, and what the food would taste like. After all, the online pictures were perfect!
We pulled into town, stopped at the grocery store and I soon realized that I wasn’t in Kansas any more. Most people were missing teeth and seemed to give my Anne Taylor maxi and easy-breezy smile an anxious up-down. The gentleman next to me in line at the store asked what we were doing in these parts and when I told him about rafting the Salmon, he said that we were absolutely crazy – he had lost three friends to that river and stayed as far away from it as he could. Anyone who pays to go down that thing is a damn fool, he said. And just like that, I could feel the wheels of my Spirit crank another few inches inward. This place is skeeeeeeeeetchy…. but our cabin will be different, I reassured myself.
When we pulled up, a sullen “For Sale” sign greeted us, followed by John who welcomed me while, at the same time, explained that no one in Idaho leaves the house without a gun, as he pulled one from his pocket. Rrrrrrrer – tighten the wheel another inch. All of a sudden, a fantastical movie of my twisted backcountry rape and murder played through my mind. “There’s plenty to do here,” he continued to explain. “There’s a cave you’re welcome to explore across the street; but ya’ll’ need headlamps because the last family who went in walked in on a bear. Oooooo-ey, were they scared! Out they ran with the bear right behind ‘em. Just make sure you stop to listen for any noises before you head in.” Excuse me? Say again? Rrrrrrrer – there it goes again, my Soul now a pee-shaped sized that quickly flew out of my body.
How was it possible that within a few hours’ time I went from feeling an all pervasive love of humanity – feeling compassion for terrorists and praying for Donald Trump – to imagining my death play out in multiple elaborate and graphic ways?!? Who cares about being in this moment; I needed to plan for how I would deal with all possible bear and hillbilly / rapist attacks! It’s pretty funny when I think about it now, but in the moment it certainly wasn’t. To further my fears, my “angelic husband” decided that he wanted to go out and explore that cave. Seriously?!
While everything inside of me begged to stay locked in the car, my fear brain convinced me that I couldn’t let him go alone because, if he was in trouble, I would somehow have to help him, and so I begrudgingly tagged along. With my bunny rabbit heartbeat racing and all of my chakras spinning backwards, I followed him up the mountain, stepping over piles of (what I convinced myself was) bear poop.
With our headlamps on and bear spray in hand, we approached the cave entrance making as much noise as we could. I was taken-aback by the rush of cool air that exuded from the cave and floated over my scorching hot body, pontificating for a moment on the Ayurvedic principle of the cooling nature of Earth energy, when I quickly brought myself back to the present moment, where I had to prepare for watching my husband get slaughtered by a bear. As we entered the cave, I was so numb that I could barely notice the nature of the beautiful rock hovering around us: now I wasn’t concerned about the possible bear in the cave, but the possibility of the bear coming back to his cave to find some smelly homo-sapiens with lights on their foreheads poking around. After about 20 seconds, I had seen all that I wanted to see and turned around to scramble out of the small rock hole that led us in. I was surprised to find Shawn at my heels saying “DANG – did you see all of those bones in there? Something has been bringing its kill there to eat.” “You asshole,” I said (because that’s what I always say when he pulls my chain, which he does often). “No, I’m serious,” and just as he said it, I looked over my right shoulder to see a pile of femur bones and the like lying just outside the cave. We moved quickly down the mountain and back to our lodge where I bee-lined it to a little patch of grass with my travel yoga mat in hand.
I took the best concoction I knew of nervous system calming yoga tools – grounding, cooling poses, relaxing breath techniques and combined them with a prayer of tranquility. Breath by breath and pose by pose, I slowly felt my spirit climb back down into my body. With every pose that brought me closer to the ground, and closer to the nothing-to-be scared of reality that was in front of me, I was able to come back to that moment-by-moment experience of living that I felt on the mountain top. Instead of thinking my way out of this mess, I needed to move and breathe my way out of it. And after 45 minutes of this, I could see again, exactly what was in front of me: a hummingbird, a husband, a lake, a mountain, a warm bed and hot shower. I started to feel the happiness that Dave describes so accurately. And I remembered, once again, why yoga is my medicine, the prescription to my crazy that my teachers and those who came before them have blessed me with. After my practice, Shawn and I had a lovely meal, held once again by the God all around us, appearing as a John, a steak, a glass of delicious wine, a sunset, and a chocolate truffle. I tasted every delicious bite, totally and completely happy once again. Nowhere to be but here, no one to be but me, nothing to do but this.
This week, as I engaged in the cyclical, repetitive and ENDLESS weeding of my yard, (which my OCD secretly loves), I've been reflecting on toxicity... on weeds, which I believe are representative of the lower energies on the planet. Spiritually, I have been wrestling with how to explain weed-like phenomenons like terrorists and cancer when I believe that God is everywhere and in all beings (I presumptuously assume that it's this very question that has turned many into atheists - and I honestly can't blame them when I reflect on some of the horrific things that we have done to one another here on Earth).
From my interpretation (in the gospel according to Erin ;)), though, the darkness and weeds are here for important reasons (after all we are told that "we can never escape from the Spirit" and that, to God, "darkness and light are the same" - Psalm 139).
It's hard not to admit that after witnessing the aftermath of a tragedy, a horrific terrorist attack has the ability to strengthen a community in their resolve to be tender with one another and to come together in a new way. For me personally, enduring the crippling pain of watching my Grandmother die awakened me to the reality of life as I realized for the first time that one day,we all will be lowered into the ground, and so we'd better really be here with each other. Somehow, these dark moments of disorder were pregnant with a new order, just waiting to resurrect from the tears and pain.
As I got cozy with the varied and annoyingly pervasive weeds in my yard this week, it became clear to me that their disorderly presence makes me work hardto get gorgeous flowers and delicious vegetables to grow. And after weeks of blood, sweat, and thistle pricks, I experience a whole new appreciation for the plants that "bear much fruit" when I've had to witness and rid the yard of the invasive ones.
Here's my big "ah-ha" this week, though. Just because I get the purpose of the weeds, doesn't mean that I shouldn't weed!!! If I don't weed, the lower energies (fear, hatred, anger) take over and suddenly I am so full of weedsthat I can barely bear fruit (or only bear lame, tiny fruits)! And the dis-ease of Fear is the greatest weed of all on the planet -- it's the root of all darkness, and Love is it's only remedy, the only opposition. But love and pumpkins and cucumbers emerges SO MUCH better with our assistance!
Turn on the news and you will see that the planet is in crisis mode -- with human fear reaching a boiling point. And if we look around to this place for guidance, we will fall victim to "the blind leading the blind" scenario, as Jesus predicted -- we will fall into the ditch. If we listen to fearful leaders and take-in their fearful ways, we become a bed of weeds, just as disorderly as a thistle patch. This is exactly why Jesus warned us to "turn the other cheek."
We all live in glass houses, and are all, in some way responsible for what's happening. After all, what happens inwardly, manifests outwardly (cue the outrageous possibility and now reality of Donald Trump's election) -- each one of us holding onto elaborate, debilitating, and toxic fears in our subconscious that we ourselves must examine and uproot. Saint Francis said that “[we] have no enemy except [ourselves]" which is why, this week during our practice, we will use the Ayurvedic energy of heat to detoxify our bodies of any residual fear hiding within us. We have to leave our shame about this at the door, though. We have been warned about this "original sin" at our birth in the fine print: "Welcome to Earth, darling - it's beautiful and amazing place, but WARNING - there has been a cultural "forgetting" that has happened here. Hold the Light, child, and you'll make it."
Because we are magnetic beings by nature, it's very easy to pick up the disease along your Facebook Newsfeed, the morning news, the teachers lounge. This is exactly why Jesus went to the desert and got up early to pray in quiet, because unless he weeded the bed of His heart, He would have been trampled. We come to the desert of our mats to release, to renew and to reboot, so that we may bear great fruit in the world and be the beings of Light we were sent to be. As my two year old says "don't worry, be happy." She's much wiser than she realizes. :)
When I used to teach high school English, I found that using analogy was the best way to explain incomprehensible topics to young, budding minds -- and oh the fun I had jumping around my classroom, excitedly drawing pictures of complex machines, The Grand Canyon, a Mother walking her baby, and the like - while sweating through my shirt (#embarassingbuttrue) - on my white board. It was in these moments when the light behind the eyes of so many students would illuminate. Hearing "Ooooooh! NOW I get it," was honey to my soul. It's what got me out of bed in the morning in a very stressful work environment.
This is exactly why Jesus used parables to explain the mysteries of the Universe to us. How do you explain Grace (aka Life Force Energy or Prana) tosheep who are only concerned about where to get their next meal and not getting eaten by wolves -- why, in a good analogy of course!
For the next two months, during Yoga Church, we will take these parables and look at the deeper meaning of them when understood from a yogic lens. What is Jesus saying in these simple morsels of wisdom that can teach us about the complex nature of our spirits, our chakras, and our life force? These parables are the keys to the kingdom.
We begin tonight by studying his teaching of the vine and the branches where he attempts to explain how connected we are - like fish in water - to the life force energy of God all around us (and how, just like a light bulb needs electricity to be all that it was made to be, we all need this Force to really come alive).
Through my yoga practice, I've learned that tapping into this field of Grace(which I view as literal stardust swimming within and around us), takes regular practice and effort. But, for me, it's the only option. Our world is in crisis and being a person of light feels like being "a sheep among wolves" as Jesus predicted it would be. But, getting on my yoga mat and coming into stillness, deepening my breath, opening my body, and quieting my mind is how I start to welcome the mystical force of Grace back into my life. And the more I practice this, the more I build up one powerful, bad*ss immune system that gives me the strength and protection that I need to go out and face a toxic world. Jesus tells us that the more we build this up, we "can walk among snakes and scorpions" and remain unharmed. How amazing is that?!
Tonight's practice will be slow, mindful, and gentle in order to help you build up this invisible yet tangible field of protection called Grace. And I promise you, it will give you a peace that this world cannot provide.
Many of us can feel - with great fervor - how badly the world needs us. We often hear that "we are the ones we have been waiting for" (Hopi Wisdom) and that Christ has "no hands but our own" (St. Teresa of Avila). When we see suffering, we feel something stir inside of us. It is our innate urgency to, well, do something, and so we add yet another thing to our over-flowing plates.
But what if our hands are so tired that we can barely lift our custom Starbucks drink - yea, the one that we cease to even really taste anymore - to our mouths? We can barely keep our eyes open to read our kids a bedtime story or have a conversation with our spouse before drifting off to sleep mid-sentence? Are these zombie-like "soul warriors" the ones who are going toreally make a difference here on Earth? Jesus is the perfect model of the reservoir that St. Bernard talks of -- always taking time to fill himself up with God's love, before even thinking about healing others.
The more I think about it, self care is truly (and paradoxically) the most selfless thing that you can do because the better you feel, the more likely you are to be patient with that naughty kid in your classroom (or your house ;)), gentle with that needy patient, or to attentively listen to that friend, client, parent, ________ who needs you.
God wants to feed you first before you feed anyone else and that's exactly why I am offering Super Soul Saturday on June 4th. I've gathered my Reiki Master, Massage Therapist, Singing Bowl Musician, Herbalist, and Holistic Food gal together to give you a full-on spa-day experience in one place. This will be a sacred Saturday when the experts in all of the various healing modalities will meld their skills together to create one super-charged self care experience foryou. And best of all, by healing yourself, you will heal others as all donations will benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. We are capping the event at 50 members, so please reserve spots for you and your friends if you are interested. No matter whether you can make it or not, I hope that you can find 5, 10, or -- dare I say-- 30 minutes to fill your Spirit and let God love you up every. single. day. Heal yourself; heal the world!
Content Warning: Slavery / Segregation
Despite circumstances that look grim, it's hard not to see that as a whole, society is evolving. Can you believe that there was a time when slavery and segregation were LEGAL? That there was a time when WOMEN COULDN'T VOTE (and not all that long ago?! WT...?!)? Now, don't get me wrong -- I know that human trafficking is still real, and racism a silent disease, and that we're no where near healthy yet, but if you step back and look at the big picture, it's hard not to see that with time, through each mistake we make, our collective humanity evolves. I, personally, have had my own taste of this evolution through every "bad" boyfriend, every *my fault car* accident, every sick-to-my-stomach binge eating episode, every lie that I've ever told whilst feeling guilty. And what I finally am beginning to understand is that in those dark moments,God was STILL with me -- pushing me and nudging me and inviting me to resurrect (God appearing as some of the amazing supportive people reading this ;)).
This to me is the resurrection happening in every moment of every day -- the death and rebirth of life, again and again and again -- and with each resurrection, a better, more evolved version of *us* rises from the tomb of the past. And Jesus's life is the model through which this paradigm is made real.
Speaking of evolution, did you know that your cells are regenerating in such a way that every seven years you have (what works out to be) an entirely new body? 50-70 BILLION CELLS in your body die and are born every single day. If that's true, maybe this evolution isn't just happening collectively, but on a very personal and intimate scale -- through your-not-so-ideal job, your less than perfect marital situation, your credit card debt, your depression -- quietly taking place in your very body, in your very Spirit. When looking at the science of how the Big U works through a spiritual lens, it's hard to deny that in every moment, of every day, God is pushing to make us new.
Our April yoga classes will all focus on Ayurvedic detoxification methods as a means of welcoming and enhancing the quiet resurrection happening in our lives, our bodies, and our spirits. Each week in April, we will use the book Love Wins as the impetus to exploring more biblical evidence (and yoga poses) that enhance what God is already doing (ahem -- something really cool and profound) through the what-seems-to-be chaos of our lives.
Whether or not you can join us, I hope you remember that love will win us all over some day and that the arch of the Universe bends toward justice.
*insert shout out to my amazing book club for inspiring this yoga series and this blog post*
Every year I connect to the story of death and rebirth in a different way and, this year, I am focused on the quiet presence of the ladies in the picture -- their mild reaction to the utter and complete destruction of the best human they ever knew. Instead of rallying an army or throwing stones at His persecutors, they sit among the terrifying circumstances before them (i.e. death on a cross, rotting plant matter, still-uncomfortably chilly weather, disappointing "political leaders") and are able to see beyond what's apparent to the naked eye. In the midst of a lingering winter, these women can feel the presence of the emerging New Life that is desperately waiting to pop up from beneath the shadows. Though "they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they fear no evil."
And when the resurrected Jesus returns, he reassures all of the disciples (and now us) that the belief and hopefulness in the emergence of Go(o)d is intricately connected to its ability to Spring forth, saying "blessed are those who believe and have not seen."
To me, it feels like we are all in labor at the moment -- it's painful and wet and messy and disorderly. But oh, how beautiful that baby is who is on her way -- can you feel her presence andbelieve in her coming even though you can't see her just yet? Can you trust that through each contraction, we are one step closer to meeting our Beloved? This week we come to the mat to "be still and know that (God is working)" despite what our naked eyes can see.
I was lying in the bathtub Monday evening when Gracie, my sweet pup, fumbled her way into the bathroom and curled up in a corner. She always comes to get me when she feels a seizure coming on as if to say: "Mom, it's happening." Naked as a jay bird, I jumped out of the tub and to her side, placing my arms high in the air around her (as if to ward off the demons) as I watched her fall into a full-body trance. Instinctively, I began coaching her through it. "It's okay," I cried. "I'm right here. You're not alone, and I promise this won't last forever. You're doing great." Tears flooded my eyes and dripped onto the tile, my deep empathy and compassion for her suffering overcoming me.
As I spent the rest of the night cradling her tired little body, it became increasingly clear to me that my intuitive reaction to Grace's pain is (more than likely) the exact same reaction that God must have as She watches us struggle through Earth School (after all, I am made in the image and likeness of God, aren't I? :)). Hovering over us. Rooting us on. Cheerleading from the Invisible Realm. Promising that we will get through it and that it won't last forever. But if we are locked into a trance on our phones and computers, with faces down and minds full or thoughts, how can we hear and feel and comprehend this All Pervasive Loving Supporter? I surely can't.
For me, my yoga mat gives me the perfect place for what my teacher Tara Barach calls "a Sacred Pause." Here, I can finally quiet my mind. I can hear my Guidance. I can feel my Spirit undulating with my breath.
With every passing winter season I watch the trees in my yard faithfully say "okay" to the challenge of winter, gaining wisdom with each passing year. Instead of resisting what's happening, they accept it, using it to better prepare them for the next inevitable winter that will come around. This, to me, is the paradigm of Divine Evolution of which we are a part: that it takes challenge for each creature to refine her skills and evolve beyond what it once was. In fact, it seems that the challenge of the cold is exactly what those trees might need as the perfect push toward evolving into their fullness. And if that's True for them, how can't it be True for us?
My wish for you is that amidst whatever challenges you are facing, you take time to find your Sacred Pause and underneath the thinking mind can hear: "You're not alone, and I promise this won't last forever. The way through is through."
Just a few weeks ago New York Daily News came out with a headline that read “God Isn’t Fixing This” as a call to action regarding the current state of the planet regarding _______ (insert issue of your choice here: gun control, terrorism, global warming, managing your debt and your weight and the laundry). And while I understand that I can’t sit on a mountain and just…. PRAY.... as a means of getting the laundry done, I cannot comprehend how we are going to figure things out here without God.
Personally, I have tried navigating the challenges in my life using one of two said methods in the past (Method 1: Invoking God’s Help and Method 2: Denying God’s Help). To me, this is what the ancient texts mean by “freewill” -- that we have the choice to either ask for guidance or to try to fumble along on our own.
Method 1 goes a little something like this: every day, I wake up with renewed faith in the Map-Maker (Hey, God. I just woke up and -- surprise -- I am still alive today! Thanks for that. I guess you still need me here, sooooo here I am. Let’s do this), the One who knows exactly why I am in these crazzzy jungles of time and space, where I’m going and what I’m to do.
And because I trust the Map-Maker (metaphor thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert's amazing Super Soul Session speech), I open up the map -- I move through the day paying close attention to the land-marks and guideposts and quiet messages that are sent in order to help me navigate this bumpy Earth plane. I understand, though, that God’s map is a mysterious one. It consists of tiny little breadcrumbs that come to me in a coincidental meeting, a gut feeling, a persistent friend. But since I see my life as a Spiritual Journey guided by Love, and I am open to the ever elusive map, I activate my Spiritual Superpowers, the landmarks appear, and, like the Red Sea, the path opens before me.
If we read the Christmas story with this in mind, it’s clear that these little God whispers were exactly the means through which Mary and Joseph navigated their journey through darkness: the star, the angels, the wise men -- all Biblical breadcrumbs! And while I believe that God's breadcrumbs are always there, it's the getting on my knees and asking for the ability to see them -- the energy of humility that Mary embodied so beautifully -- that makes them appear more clearly.
If I think back to the dark times in my life when I fell to my knees and yelled “HELP!”, I always felt heard and answered and guided. During the darkness of miscarriage, I heard a voice saying “It’s okay, Mom. It’s not my time yet. I’ll be back” and sure as shooting, she arrived once again. After about 14 sour online dates, I felt an urge to cancel my membership and follow some breadcrumbs to Uganda and - BOOM - Shawn appeared. Even my friend Charles who spend most of his life in Ugandan war-time told me, to my disbelief, that in the midst of a debilitating civil war, where he witnessed his family slaughtered and was abducted as a child soldier, he heardthe voice, one that led him to freedom and kept him alive. I've learned that it's in the act of falling and crying out that we push the "on" button for miracles to appear.
And God, like the loving parent that He is, isn’t pushy. He backs off when we ask Him to, but when we get down on our knees and say uncle, He comes forth with a team of angels and Universe friends and one million divine coincidences immediately. You see, Method 1 is pretty amazing when we remember to activate our Divine Superpowers.
Method 2, on the other hand, is like navigating the back woods with no map and no guidance. It’s stumbling through prickly blackberry bushes, trying to use our human pea brains to figure out if we’ve just made a big circle and that river is the one we just crossed an hour ago (sh*t!). It’s rigid and stumbly and awkward. It’s hard and it’s frustrating. But, through the Grace of God, we don’t have to manage the jungle alone and that's the message that Jesus came to deliver. We’ve been given a map and breadcrumbs and Universe friends and angel navigators (so many angel navigators!).
So while I know my limitations -- that I alone can’t end terrorism and that I don’t really understand why I’m here yet, and that, as hard as I try not to, I am still a jackass sometimes -- I also know that by invoking this guidance, I am somehow better. There is a great wind at my back that makes it a little easier to use my words in order to lift others up instead of gossip about them, to say no to just one more Christmas cookie, to speak out for what's good.
When we come to the yoga mat this week, we will celebrate the meaning of Christmas in all of its fullness: that by getting on our knees and asking God to come to us, we are heard and our prayers are answered. Christmas asks us to believe in God's Goodness that comes as a direct response to our prayerful humility, and our practice will work to help us remember how to do just that.
We are in the midst of dark times, my friends. It feels loud and threatening and invasive. This time around, the darkness seems to be rearing its head and popping up in the most unexpected of places (the merciless blisters caused by a virus I got last week, the theft of my friend’s car, the death of my former student, the slaughter of a concert hall in France, the destruction of a Christmas party in San Bernadino).
I gave myself a good two weeks to slump over (and stare at my blisters) while bathing in the reside of the sadness and fear caused by these varied and ridiculous attacks, and after awhile I got so freaking annoyed with myself. I sat in the dark and looked at the dark and thought about the dark and glorified the dark and it was terrible. And the darker I got, the more I felt them winning. Those living in the darkness want to infect us with the cancer of fear -- to stop us from being kind to one another and looking each other in the eye and holding the door because when we stop doing these things our collective immune system weakens and the cancer has more room to knock us down.
So f*ck that. I’ve decided that I’m not doing dark and afraid any more. I’m doing grateful and vulnerable and kind and brave. And even though it feels shaky right now and my success rate is at a bewildering 50%, I am trying anyway.
These past few weeks, brave has meant being gentle with myself after indulging in too many holiday left-overs; laughing at goofy Christmas movies and singing songs about joy. It has meant spending lovely time and conversation and money in a Muslim gift shop in San Francisco; smiling and talking to a large tattooed man with a nose hoop sitting next to me on an airplane.
And as I attempt to embody the light in this time of darkness, I can’t help but think of how Mary must have felt as she prepared for the birth of her son Jesus in a dark, dark time: a refugee herself, pregnant out of wedlock, poor, scared and about to give birth to the “Son of God” (whatever that could mean) -- she, no question, must have had to face her demons of fear in a very real way. But this woman is such a bad*ss embodiment of God’s love that despite such debilitating circumstances, she responded with an “Okay, God, here I am. I’ll help. Show me the way,” totally willing to trust what was happening to her as a part of a greater plan that would help all of humanity. Did she say “Damn it! This is really inconvenient for me right now, God. What the hell is wrong with you? Why me? Poor me? Me, me, me!"? Nope! She said "Okay." See what I mean? Bad*ss.
Mary demonstrates for us what it means to have no freaking clue what is coming (i.e. where she will give birth, where she will live, how she will raise the Son of God and discipline him and change his diapers and watch Him die on a cross) and having the courage to say yes anyway. Amidst the darkness, she is willing to look for, and listen to, and trust in the light that’s going to be born through her.
And the inspiring thing about Mary’s role in this story is that this whole “Jesus on Earth” phenomenon (God’s love in human flesh) couldn’t have HAPPENED without her: Jesus needed a womb and a placenta and breast milk in order to live among us. I mean, sure, I guess God could have dropped Him off via a stork on a cloud, but the story is so much better this way: God showing up in the most regular of forms: bloody and purple-y and wrinkley just like the rest of us. And just as God needs Mary for his plan to be complete, so too does He need us.
Mary challenges us this Christmas season to be in the midst of darkness and still be able to feel that God is here. She calls us to surrender completely to however God may wish to use each and every one of us during these times. She reminds us that God’s light CAN and WILL find its way to the darkness that we are facing on Earth, but that He needs our bodies to deliver that love. She urges us to feel the pressing need for our courage as individuals and as communities despite circumstances that look grim.
After watching President Obama’s address last night, I lay awake, eyes wide-open in bed, wondering what’s going to happen next and how we will ever find our way out of this mess. And suddenly, as if shaken from a nightmare, I felt the warmth of my sweet husband to my left, his big warm arm wrapped around my waist, the rhythm of his breathing like a lullaby against my chest. I heard the wispy snore of my sweet little mutt Gracie to my right, tucked next to my bedside. I became aware of the presence of that miracle that is my daughter in the next room, resting up for another day of discovering things like chickens, and trees, and new people at the grocery story. If I quieted myself enough, I could feel, right here, the presence of God amidst the darkness just waiting for me to notice Him. I think that this is what Advent is calling us to do: to sit here among the darkness and still feel God -- not the God of Care Bears and Tinkerbell -- but the all-pervasive God who is among us, living and working through us if only we have the courage, like Mary, to surrender our lives to birthing His goodness.
This Advent season, our yoga practice gives us the perfect medium through which we are able to sit still in these dark times and feel something Big and Loving among us. Our practice gives us the place to quietly wait in the darkness with deep faith that what’s Good will emerge righteous once again. Our practice, which will work to quiet our minds and steady bodies, will bring us to a place of alert attention where we wait in a silence that is pregnant with the Holy Spirit, to be shown how we can individually give birth to the light. Lao Tsu asks us if we have the patience to sit still until the water is clear and wait until the right action arises. Our winter yoga practice gives us the space and the opportunity to do just that. This Wednesday evening’s practice will embody these truths through a calming flow and some warm, heart-opening yin. Whether or not you can join us, I hope that you take time to feel God amidst the darkness wherever you are.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human