the yogi’s creed

Breath is the worship of this blessed moment, in this blessed moment, in this present heartbeat where the Sacred and the Mundane dance together, until the boundaries between them blissfully blur–until all boundaries and dichotomies and binaries blur. It is life inspired, in the literal etymological sense–breath into; into breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the surgeon’s scalpel, piercing into my deepest parts, dissevering what does not serve, even when the curtain of anesthesia is drawn over the mind’s eye. It is surgery for the soul, severing what is toxic and sewing new wholeness in its place.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the three-time click of red ruby shoes, taking one home to the only place that has ever been both possessed and possessive. It is the familiar essence found in the scent of Mom’s cooking, the cuddle of a little girl with her Dad, the shared songs with sisters, the late-night games with friends in the neighborhood. Breath is always a one-way ticket home.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the circus act of a young acrobat, tinkering both above death and the fear of death, balanced on a spider-web-thread. But breath is also the safety net below, always waiting for the embarrassed stumble. The place between flying and falling, it is the quintessential exercise in balance, the embodiment of faith.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the simple gold wedding band, not just between two people, but among a collective people, a tribe of humans indistinguishable. A circular and glorious energy of force, it links me to you and you to him and him to her and us to them. It is the unity of humankind, tactile and eternal, dismantling the idea of “other.”

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the lock on a myriad of doors, colorful and unique, lining a hallway of infinite possibilities. But it is also the master’s key, whispering metal-codes to each door’s guardian, unlocking treasures upon treasures, hidden and now revealed, in breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is the gift a child has asked for the entire year, silver wrapping mouse-torn at the corner because of insatiable curiosity. It is the pretense of surprise, the ferocious tear of paper, the astounded gasp of a tricked child, the single tear of gratitude because the gift is not what was expected, but so much better. Always so much better.

Inhale. Exhale.

Breath is an ineffable scroll of metaphors, because breath is beyond language.

Inhale…

Exhale…

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present to the I AM

To be mindful is to be present. To be present is to be fully engaged in the only life we have been gifted. In this present moment, we meet God, who names Himself “I AM”–not I was or I will be, but rather I AM, in this moment alone, here, now, the only moment available.

A lot of the Bible speaks of adhering to God based on his past credentials. His street-cred-resume: “great is His faithfulness” and “remember when He” and “the God of your ancestors” is a reoccurring trope throughout the Old Testament. The implication here is not to be here, now, with God, but to rely on a manifested-God of other people and other places and other times.

The other implication–just as dangerous–is the reliance on God based on His future promises. These bubble to the surface repeatedly in the New Testament: “you will be saved” and “will supply all your needs” and “you will know as you have been known.” In these, I rely more on what I’ll get from God, than who we are together, here, now.

But the more I’ve been focusing on being mindful in the present moment, the more I’ve come to see how being with God, here, now, is the litmus test for our relationship and my faith in Him. Can I worship in this moment, regardless of what came before or what will follow? Can I be grateful here, now, instead of relying on past or future revelations? Can I lean into both beauty and brutality, unsure of what influences shape or outcomes follow the here, the now? Can I know God only as He reveals Himself to me, in this present moment, here, now, rather than through others’ tainted histories or contextual comforts? Can I let God, here, now, just be I AM, instead of I was, or I will be?

Here, now, I say yes. And for each here, each now, an ineffable myriad more yeses.

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will the real yogis please shut up!?: on the gift of silence

559f62c66f5b45d0a2e7adc2b0d96589Every so often, I visit the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House to escape the demanding distractions of American life and meet God in silence. I remember my first time there noticing that on all their publications, they had a slogan that went something like:

We give each other the gift of silence.

Such an expression both surprised me and touched me deeply; I’ve never thought of silence as a gift to others… a gift to myself.

But it is. And it is the gift I long to get and give every time I walk into a yoga studio to practice present breathing and mindful movement. I spend my entire day in noise–delightful and important noise, but noise nonetheless. I hear the chatter of my students discussing a text and how it moves them; I hear the collaboration of my colleagues; I hear (from my mouth as well) the complaining during unhappy moments; I hear myself trying to transmit information as eloquently as possible; I hear the bells signaling transitions and the halls loud with middle school chaos; I hear music motivating me on the commute. All day long, I hear…and it is exhausting.

On the blessed days when after all this noise I reach deep inside for the energy to walk through the doors of a yoga studio, I am humbled and eager. As I walk past the sign that reads, “Please practice silence in the studio,” I am grateful. And as a rule-follower, I am also expectant, assuming others will honor this guideline as I do.

Most do. But, some don’t. And when they don’t, there is a loud uproar (ugh, more noise) within me, a sense of injustice in regards to something precious, but unnamed, that has been stolen from me. In this post, I name it: the gift of silence. I do not, whilst bowing my head to the ground in child’s pose to heart-whisper my intention, want to feel the energy of a New York dancer’s studio, bustling with hello’s and how-ya-doin’s and other declarations of social obligations. I do not, whilst on my back in Savasana, coming into my breath, feeling the rise and fall of my belly, want to hear the girls’ latest gossip or health reports of their families or updates on romances or careers.

What I want, and what I gift you, and other yogis, is the sweet and sacred space of silence. So I kindly request, for and from all the yogis who treasure their practice as much as I do, both the quiet and the talkative, the following:

  1. Please designate your conversations with your friends for before or after at the bar next door, or the coffee shop next door, or at the very least the wooden bench near the changing rooms. Your catching up time should never be in the sacred space of a yoga studio, where so many come for silence and internal contemplation.
  2. As teachers I work with frequently tell their students, whispering is still talking. If your mouth is moving and any kind of sound is coming out, you are a disruption. Sometimes the I’m-trying-to-be-subtle-whisper-conversation is even more distracting than the all-out-volume-appropriate-for-a-bar.
  3. Yogis: be mindful in a space and practice ahimsa: non-harming of the sacred silence. Are other people around you quietly folded into an asana of quiet intent? Are some mats occupied by people who look hungry for the sacred space of silence? Are some people rolling their eyes at you or mean-mugging you? There are a lot of reminders from the Universe–or your neighbor–to kindly shut up if you just would pay attention.
  4. Teachers: please honor the responsibility of protecting the sign’s intention on those doors declaring a space of silence. When you come into to spray your essential oil, wipe the sweat left behind from last class’s quiet yogi, and format your intentional music, look around the room. Or take a quick break from checking-in students and peek into the studio. Are yogis talking? Politely ask them to protect the quiet space. Or remind them after class with private dignity that the studio is not a space for conversation.

I recognize in my honesty I may not sound much like a yogi, but more like a curmudgeon. But I guarantee, if I could just get a little peace and quiet, maybe, just maybe that might change.

Namaste.

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roaring chickens: how I found my voice

One of my Mom’s many stories was about how she kicked the bucket…literally:

I had a job stacking pails coming off a paint line. One of my bosses came in and told me to stack them one way, and so I did. Well, then, my other boss came in and told me to stack them a different way. So I did. Then the first boss came back in and asked: “Why are you stacking ’em this way and not the way I told you to?” Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I kicked those pails all over the place and turned to them and said: “When you two get your shit together, come and get me. I’ll be in the break room.”

This story can be filed under the motto of my Mom’s life of strength and fire:

You picked the wrong damned chicken to mess with!

For most of my life, I’ve been the perfect chicken to mess with. Being the youngest in the family, I fell naturally into the role of making peace. I didn’t want tension or drama at any cost, and so in my naivety, I’d be the go-between, trying to make all parties feel better. In my past jobs, I rarely spoke up, letting people run over me rather than dealing with the ramifications of protest. For my first years as an educator, I struggled in the middle-ground of blatant wrongdoings against our students and staff while wanting to keep my job. I was a woman whose voice burned within me, but sadly, never manifested externally.

During many of my conversations with my Mom, I was haunted by her persistent call to courage:

Mary, you can’t just let people run all over you.

Her deathbed words to me (though not on her deathbed, but on the owl-light-lit porch, in the darkness of night) were:

Mary, be strong.

Her conviction and her challenge have been planted in my deepest parts since she died in September of 2013. Slowly, painfully, the seeds have cracked open under the dirt of my grief, broken through the shattered pieces of my heart, and have reached toward the warm sun of her legacy. There, they bloom, while the birds’ songs harmonize with my own resurrected voice.

In this expansive field of flowers, I see and hear my Mom within me. I have cut toxic people out of my life. I have learned to declare and honor my protective no’s and my worthy yes’s. I say what needs to be said, shooting through the heart of the elephant in the room. I ask hard questions instead of making easy assumptions. I openly admit my faults but do not minimize my strengths. I talk to people instead of about them. I am the microphone for the voiceless. I foster discomfort, assured of the future benefits. I feel good in my skin, knowing I am Created. I have found my voice; I have rightfully claimed my voice.

For much of 2014, Katy Perry’s “Roar” would come on the radio…and it felt like my Mom was singing to me, reminding me of her strength and fire. This was my song, my anthem, of a life spent hiding, then finding my voice; like mother, like daughter; the wrong damn chickens to mess with.


This post was inspired by Synchroblog’s January prompt. Follow these yellow-brick-links to other ponderings!

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