Back to Work. “Arduous pioneering! We are divine!”
In training I felt uplifted, alert. The first day after, back to my commute and to the busy world, I feel like I’m on a different plane of spiritual existence from the people around me. I find I have great clarity of mind.
It is as if I have lived life up to now peering through some foggy window with momentary breakthroughs when someone used their hand to wipe off the condensation before it creeped back and made it hard to see again. Today though it’s not like that. It’s more like life has the vibrancy of the saturated color in the sky just after a rainfall, light refracting light. I can see and feel with a kind of non-attached clarity.
The most precise description I have yet found for this experience is Jesuit priest Kevin O’Brien’s definition of spiritual freedom, which he calls “an interior freedom, a freedom of the mind and heart. People who are spiritually free know who they are – with all their gifts and limitations – and are comfortable with who they are. They are able to discern God’s presence; find meaning in their lives, and make choices from who they are, whatever the circumstances.”
I can’t say I feel all those things perfectly or at the same time, but I can say that I feel like I intuitively know what was important, and I don’t need to put so much effort into everything. An ease has broken into my experience, which feels ironic, since I work in promoting social justice, and my colleagues and I most often describe our work as “struggle.”
As a Christian entering yoga teacher training, I knew I would intensively struggle through my own spirituality and spiritual liberation. On this side of the 200 hours, it makes more sense. Like all transformative learning, it was in the moments of struggle that my liberation was solidified. I was able to deepen my contemplative life in simple and mind-altering ways. Fear was there, which I sometimes met with prayer. I also met it with plain and simple breathing. I tried to forego judgment.
One gift to me was our regularly scheduled breaks during the day, around 9am, around noon, around 3pm, and around 6. These allowed me to adopt a rhythm of praying the divine offices with the companionship of A Book of Hours – meditative selections from Trappist monk and poet Thomas Merton. So much resonated with me, in particular his words on the virtue of contemplation in a climate of political division and violence:
“The real job is to lay the groundwork for a deep change of heart on the part of the whole nation so that one day it can really go through the metanoia we need for a peaceful world.
The forces of life must win. And Christians must rediscover the truth that the Cross is the sign of life, renewal, affirmation and joy, not of death, repression, negation and the refusal of life. We must not refuse the providential opportunities that come to us in the midst of darkness.
I believe the only really valid thing that can be accomplished in the direction of world peace and unity at the moment is the preparation of the way by the formation of men who, isolated, perhaps not accepted or understood by any ‘movement,’ are able to unite themselves and experience in their own lives all that is best and most true in the various great spiritual traditions. Such men can become as it were ‘sacraments’ or signs of peace, at last. They can do much to open up the minds of their contemporaries to receive in the future, new seeds of thought. Our task is one of very remote preparation, a kind of arduous and unthanked pioneering. – From The Hidden Ground of Love by Thomas Merton
Moving out from what this experience meant for me to how it helps me understand the world, I am convicted that the factions, violence, and pervasive fear we presently witness, internalize, and recount are evidence of disconnection from ourselves as spiritual beings.
Surely the essential truth is that we are divine! That we can be connected! Indeed as Pope Francis puts it, truth is found only through connection: “Truth, according to the Christian faith, is the love of God for us in Jesus. Therefore, truth is a relationship.”
Humans intuit our connection to our spirits. We grow only through lived experience — through specific, place-based, embodied life. Yet sometimes – perhaps because of our eagerness to bypass pain – we numb ourselves to our divinity. We disconnect from truth.
Much that we have constructed in modern life promotes disconnection, promotes interruption and distances us from our deep intuition (Pope Francis calls it “conscience”). My experience with yoga is that it weaves us back to ourselves through particularities like injuries and fears. It is in this place of particular connection, through breath and release, that we may encounter freedom and mercy. Eventually, we use our freedom to give from ourselves to others.
I understand more deeply now how yoga allows me to viscerally encounter both connection (conscience) and release (mercy). Reminding me of my body while encouraging its transcendence, yoga is an avenue for Merton’s “arduous pioneering” toward spiritual freedom in release of control and connection to breath.