Orignally published: http://alanharas.blogspot.com/
Recently I was listening to a podcast interview with James Flaherty of New Ventures West, where he talked about the human nervous system as designed for the savannah, not the continual influx of stimuli that is now the new normal. He said, by the time we wake up, and go through our email, social media and the news, our nervous systems are so full that it is difficult to be open to anything new. This is how most of us begin our day – in a state of overwhelm, and it is from that state that try to live a life that matters to us.
As a yoga teacher and owner of a yoga center, I have often questioned if I am doing enough in a world in need of so much healing. I am aware of the “yoga bubble” I have lived in, and the temptation to want to establish a life inside that bubble. But all bubbles burst, and as writer Lily Diamond eloquently said, so much of what often passes for wisdom in yoga classes is merely “snake oil abstraction.” The late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue once remarked that if books could eat other books, so many of the books that pass as “spiritual” would be devoured by the writings of giants like Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross. I might also add, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Although not know for the beauty of his writing (the Spiritual Exercises reads like a recipe), the reality his life and legacy have captivated my imagination with immense spiritual beauty. After his great mystical experience on the banks of the river Cardoner, Ignatius came to understand a consoling God – a God who helps. This one truth, simply in writing it, brings tears to my eyes. Ignatius, after trying to earn God’s love and forgiveness through excessive ascetical practices, came to know God as One who loved him, the world, and who desires to bring all things into the fullness of life. He is not a God who is distant, but as a intimate friend who accompanies us in our journey through life, and who teaches us to love by loving us with an incredible love.
When the Jesuits began, they did not have one specific ministry. Each individual Jesuit discovered their own way of expressing their love of God and love of neighbor. The over-arching commonality was that they were engaged in a “ministry of consolation.” They offered help and care to others as a way of revealing the God who helps. They ministered to people where they were, just as Jesus met people where they were. When asked to describe their vocation of “finding God in all things, ” Jerome Nadal gave three words: spiritu, corde, practice. They live in the Spirit, serve from the Heart, practically.
This has become a kind of framework for helping me to understand my own calling to teach yoga, and to run a yoga center. It is a kind of retreat from the constant bombardment of the external world, where students can come, attend to the movement of the Spirit within them, listen to what is stirring in their heart, and engage in a practice that cares for the whole person – body, mind and soul (cura personalis). It is also a place where I have the privilege to offer some nugget of spiritual nourishment – in the form of meditative silence, an encouraging word or an inspiring poem or quote that touches the heart.
Yoga centers are these amazing places where people who otherwise may not interact with one another come together to move, to breathe, and to support one another on their journey to wholeness. I have come to appreciate in ever greater ways the many opportunities that I have as a yoga teacher to impact the lives of students in a meaningful way. Coming to know them, their families, their hopes and struggles has helped me to learn about myself and about God. By learning to attend to them, with reverence for their uniqueness, and awareness of the loving God who is with and within them, I have come to glimpse the possibility of “finding God in all things.” Being barefoot in a yoga class is not only practical for the poses, but is also is a recognition that we are on holy ground together – companioning one another on our human journey, breathing and moving as one, and deepening our awareness of the One who restores and reconciles us to ourselves, to one another, to the world, and to God.