Not my will, but thy will.
I’m a long-time Alanon member, finding in that 12-step program a spiritual recipe that allows me to stay in healthy relationship with an alcoholic loved-one. Step 11 in particular has been critical to the maintenance of my own serenity.
Step 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
To put Step 11 into practice I experimented with various meditation and contemplative techniques that I had learned in church, in my yoga classes, and through my own investigation – particularly in Zen meditation. I found that while attention-focused meditation practices made me feel more peaceful, clear-thinking and alert, in other words, “10% happier”, I was missing the deeper connection with God for which I was praying and hoping. I was still having trouble discerning God's will from my will.
To experience a deep connection to God is the whole point of Patanjali's eight limb yoga path for spiritual growth, and it is in the seventh limb, dhyana, that I have found one of the most profound intersections of my Christian faith and yoga. Dhyana is typically taught as meditation, but it is much more than that: dhyana is the release of our ego-centric self to uncover our essential nature held deep in ancient memory: that we are beloved children of God. Read More
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Not my will, but thy will.
" ... in your light we see light"
Teenagers at my church go on a week-long pilgrimage to a Holy site as part of their discernment process before confirmation. As a youth leader, I learned many practical things about pilgrimage: how to organize it, where to go, how to prepare physically for the long days of walking, etc. But I discovered the most important part of pilgrimage from our wise Faith Formation director (imagine a female Dumbledore in a long india-print skirt, shoulder-length grey hair, and an infectious laugh). After the evening meal, when the group re-gathered after another day of walking, she encouraged conversation to center on this question:
Where did you see the Holy today?
Dharana, the sixth of Patanjali's yoga limbs, is often translated as concentrated focus. It is similar to pilgrimage as it is practiced through specific exercises that direct our attention away from distractions to that which is presently before us. I was introduced to this limb by being encouraged to “watch” my breath. In this practice one observes the sound and sensation of the inhalation, the brief pause between inhalation and exhalation, and follows the exhalation to the pause before inhalation. This breath-watching exercise invites yoga students to focus their attention on the breath and observe bodily sensation. In doing so, the student is gently prompted to become the objective witness or seer, free of judgment--taking in the body's information without the distraction of mental commentary or wanderings.
The importance of focused attention in our yoga practice cannot be overstated: our mindful presence is drawn from the focused attention we bring to the practice. This witness to our own bodies, mind, and breath, connects us to information that help keep us safe and balanced in our asanas, and affirm our being. In the medical world, studies confirm how a regular practice of non judgmental focused attention through yoga and meditation, provides rest and relief to our monkey minds, improves memory, increases productivity by strengthening the brain to be better able to concentrate on the task at hand, and is a skill that can be successfully cultivated for chronic pain management. Read More
And remove the tiny patches that
Cover your eyes,
And you will see God more clearly
Than you have ever seen
From the people of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico comes the Ojo de Dios, a God’s Eye. Although plenty of children have made God’s Eyes as a summer camp craft, it was originally (and still is) a contemplative practice. The creator follows the yarn around and around two crossed sticks, the four ends representing the energies of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. The God’s Eye symbolizes the mystery of the known and unknown, and the finished Ojo de Dios is often put in a home: God’s watchful gaze blessing the household. Half way around the globe, the creation of a mandala similarly offers a geometric pattern, a creative space on which to direct the eye's gaze. Read More
It has been said that prayer is talking to God, while meditation is listening for God. In faith-based yoga we practice listening to our bodies, as a first step towards sacred listening. Supine poses are wonderful positions from which to listen. In our book's practice of Listening to our Internal Teacher, the Soul we show the practice embodied in Legs Up the Wall pose. Supine pigeon (sometimes called Figure 4) is another lovely pose to considering adding to this practice, as it helps prepare the body for seated meditation.
Pose Focus: Supine Pigeon
Begin on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Bending one knee, bring your ankle to rest on the opposite thigh, with the foot flexed to align your knee. Modify the pose as you need to for safety and comfort. If it feels good on your body, deepen the pose by lifting the anchoring foot, off of the mat. Hold the pose for at least 5 full, slow breaths. Return to the starting position with knees bent, both feet on the mat, and compare the amount of space that you now feel in each hip. Repeat the pose on the opposite side and when you finish, return again to the starting position and pause. Compare the sensations on both sides of your pelvis. Listen to what your body tells you. Read More