Last night I forced myself out of my comfort zone by going to a Women’s Christmas event at a local church with some women I met at the gym. I tried everything that I could to get out of going (since I’m a stay at home mom who lives in the sticks, I’ve turned into a painfully awkward, sweaty, fumbly-worded person when placed in situations that are out of my comfort zone).
But one of the ladies arranged a babysitter for Maple and a ride for me, and so, whelp, I had no choice which is how God usually pushes me into the places that I'd rather not go. And so I found myself headed into an arena of 3,000 women, smack-dab in the middle of a sea of “others” (their bumper stickers and casual jokes confirming the differences between us that I had suspected upon invitation).
I initially did the tin-man thing to protect myself, rigidly sitting with arms knotted and legs crossed, decidedly not talking too much (so as to keep both armpits and words in proper place). As the lights went down, my nerve-endings bounced wildly inside my armor. I tried to desperately find the centered, safe “middle space” that I can most readily access on my yoga mat, as I remembered that moments like these are always what the real yoga practice is about.
And every time that I was tempted to slip into my “Erin” costume, the one who was so acutely aware of how I felt "different" in dress, dogma, and politics, my still, small God voice would gently whisper: “I love them all as much as I love you, remember?”
With that urging from within, I took another deep breath, crawling out of my fearful monkey mind and into my body, back into the reality of what was happening in the present moment: beautiful music, heartfelt prayers, joyful tears, women singing and rejoicing and praising. From this centered and present place, I could see that, underneath their costumes, these women were seeking the same exact thing that I seek on my mat and at my church -- to know and experience Universal Love -- only with different rituals, doing it in different ways.
In fact, studies show that if you ask people of all different backgrounds what they really want from life -- whether homeless, rich, Muslim, Christian, black, white, or blue -- all humans will give the same answers: love, peace, happiness, meaning. Yep, you heard me right -- ALL HUMANS. How could this be so when our costumes feel so…. different?
There were several times during last night’s event that I furrowed my brow, wondering why I was called to be here instead of using the babysitter for a restorative yoga class, a pedicure, or even a Catholic mass -- places where I felt nourished and comfortable? What was the purpose of this, exactly? It's because here, God said, feeling your connection to the “others" you're so afraid of, is the holiest place on Earth.
Jesus, in fact, got quite a reputation, for hanging out with “others.” You could argue that he, actually, preferred being in these sweat-inducing places, hanging with Samaritans, loving up on lepers, welcoming the prostitute as friend. His life was spent loving and listening to and healing ALL groups which is what made him the bad*ss love warrior that we continue to gaze at with such awe 2,000 years later.
And if we are to take him as the pure Divine-Light Incarnate, the human who came to demonstrate how this whole God-of-the-Universe thing works, we are to see through his living example that Universal Love weaves itself in and out of the “other” places: between tribes, races, religions, and politics, never selecting who is worthy of healing and who isn’t, who is worthy of being heard and who isn’t, who is worthy of love and who isn’t. We are to see that, yes, in fact, we are one body, linked by a singular, unitive force, as opposed to the separate, angry, and fragmented tribes that we’ve convinced ourselves to be.
This reminded me of a time when my friend Kate took me, in my wild and newfound singledom, to a dance club on the northside of Milwaukee, where she and I were the only two white people in the place. At first the stifling rigidity of it all was nerve-wrecking, “them” looking at “us,” “us” looking at “them,” but after (more than) a few drinks and some good music, our costumes fell off, our shared desire to laugh, dance, and feel free much stronger than the illusion of our otherness. By the end of the night I had sloppily learned most of the club dances by heart thanks to some beautiful black soul sisters who took me under their wing: realizing, in yet another divine paradox, that we can be both different and yet the same. And the only place that realization happens is out of the comfort of our tribe, communing with the "other."
As I came home last night to process the holy purpose of this event, I realized that being with the "others" for three hours, hearing their perspectives and watching their rituals, was a gift that allowed me to see beyond my own costume and into theirs, only to see myself looking back at me -- to have an embodied experience of knowing that “they” and "I" are really quite the same, climbing up the same mountain on different paths, seeking the same Source from which we all came.
As Maple and I played in the snow among the trees today, I couldn’t help but notice that this weaving together is their way, too; the trees so non-judgmentally offering oxygen to everyone in my neighborhood -- not just my family, not just the believers or the non-believers, but all of us. Nope, they say. This Love is for everyone. Take it, use it, love and create and grow with it. And we will be happy.
2016 has been a hard season for a lot of us -- our differences glaring us in the eye more than ever before. But the trees seem to know the secret that we’ve long forgotten, that we are threads on an intertwined tapestry, all swimming in the same sea, breathing the same air, intricate parts of the All of Us puzzle, on a collective journey toward the light.
So whatever heaviness you are feeling, whether it’s the divisions among us or the impending indulgence of the Christmas season or the dark and chilly weather, take a deep breath and notice how the air keeps loving you and every other human glued to this beautiful blue/green ball, breath by breath, moment by moment. Remember that every season is only that -- a period in time that will not last forever. And that while you cannot change the world, you can change yourself, how you interact with whatever "others" are presenting themselves to you this season, and that's a pretty powerful thing. This is what I will celebrate this Christmas season, that the Christ Light of oneness comes again and again and again through my actions, my awareness, and my perspectives if I allow it to.
Happy holidays to you, friends, from my side of the mountain to yours.
This week my grandfather left his body and crossed over to the other side. It was beautiful and awful all at once.
I used to be afraid of watching people die, of the seemingly unbearable pain that inevitably comes from bearing witness to such deep and forever good-bye-ness, but my yoga practice has taught me to yoke (or unite) with all of life - the Good Fridays and the Easter Sundays, the winter and the summer - and to trust that God's in all of it, not just the cotton candy stuff.
So instead of full-on binging on wine and Facebook this week (although I did do my share of that, too ;)), I decided to keep showing up for Death as she entered my home and asked me to sit with Her for awhile. I let Her tear me open: weeping and mourning with Her, laughing and remembering.
And in the intermittent tranquility, between the painful contractions, I could see so clearly that Bob and Johanna were the dedicated master gardeners of our family compound, working and struggling together to bear fruit: fertilizing all 39 of us Earthly descendants with their love of food, their love of family, their love of life.
One of my teachers says it like this: there are two types of people -- the consumers and the farmers. She says that we all have a choice: which do we want to be? A vacuum of consumptive energy pulling inward or an abundance of fertile energy flowing outward? My grandparents consciously chose the later and the remarkable consequences of that choice are breathtaking.
As I enter this holiday season, with a small garden plot of my own and another teeny descendant sprouting up beneath me, I can see that this sacred time was never about the food or the stuff but more about the sacred energy and teachings that were delivered through those transient vehicles.
With every homemade meal grandma made and every dollar bill grandpa snuck in my pocket, with every not-that-great high school musical they attended and itchy-yet-beautiful christmas dress they purchased, they were planting seeds, seeds that said: you are seen, you are loved, now go and do the same for others. And if you study all 39 of us, we're messily and clumsily trying to do just that all because of them. It's gut-wrenchingly beautiful, what these two short human lives were capable of producing together.
So, while Shawn and I run around like headless chickens trying to prepare our first Thanksgiving feast, I feel Grandma and Grandpa everywhere, whispering to us from the other side: "Psssst! The food is only a decoy, remember? Love is what all this mess is really about. Breathe it in. Flow it out. Into your food, your words, your presence, your friends, your 'enemies.'" And I am so grateful for that.
May you take a deep breath into the present moment and savor the many small miracles unfolding in front you this holiday. May you receive God's love and farm it out wherever you go, through whatever vehicles you're called to use. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
Yoga Therapist, Teacher, Speaker, Writer, Mother