"Blessed are the pure in heart
for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8
I love tea. I find the process of making tea a spiritually cleansing practice. It requires my full attention, and brings me out of my life's busyness, and into the current moment. Coming home from my former office job, I would make myself a cup of tea, my focused attention on the tea-making effectively removing the residuals of the day's unfinished office business from my head, so that I could be present with my family.
Purity is different from cleansing, although the two are often confused. Cleansing is the act of removing impurities, while purity is the result of release—freedom from that which binds. Recall the beauty of a flower that blossoms from a constrained bud, or the pure sound of a beautifully sung note, unencumbered by straining vocal cords. Jesus' teachings guide us to focus on releasing the pure love found deep in our heart and not confine ourselves to practices that merely clean the human vessel. He taught that what ultimately defiles a person, making them impure, is not unwashed hands, but the thoughts and actions that constrain and try to separate us from God. (Matthew 15:18-20)
Yoga philosophy has an ethical observance called saucha—sometimes translated as purity and often associated with cleansing acts. But like the lesson from scripture, the observance of saucha invites us to look beyond cleansing to purity, to practice releasing from that which binds us in body, mind, and spirit. You might consider the practice of letting go and release for a Lenten practice-- unbinding your self from that which obstructs you from God’s healing presence. Overscheduled? Perhaps you need to release space and practice saying “no” with love. Feeling drained? Perhaps you need to release from external demands and take 15 minutes for prayer or meditation to restore your spirit. Feeling alarmed or angry? Perhaps you need to untether from news and social media and take a walk, being present to the sacred in the physical world around you.
Yoga encourages cleansing practices, such as: keeping body and mat clean, holding shapes (asana) that allow the free flow of life force through the body, eating simply and moderately, and focusing on gratitude to untie us from life-draining thoughts. But when we bring our faith into our yoga practice, let go and release from that which we don’t need to be carrying around with us, we free our heart energy to experience God’s pure love in and around us.