Justice and Liberty for All

I am forgoing Sutra Sunday this week as I did not prepare ahead of time and I am too exhausted from my weekend at the Justice Conference in Philadelphia to come up with anything meaningful.  So here are a few pictures and highlights from the Conference.  This week I will be unrolling some more thoughts on the many ideas and issues presented by some fabulous speakers.  For now, enjoy this teaser.

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“Any system that is not diverse needs to be challenged.”
-Leroy Barber

“We might be more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing it.”
-Eugene Cho

“We can’t fix the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.”
-Ken Wytsma

“Women and girls aren’t the problem. They are the solution.”
-Sheryl WuDunn

“They had the right, but that doesn’t mean it is right.”
-Shane Claiborne

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Have we forgotten our Manners?

Manners aren’t only for the dinner table.

This week I picked up a call from an unknown number.  Truthfully, I knew who it was from the area code and it was their third or fourth call that week.  It was just that I finally heard the call and had time for it, so I picked up…

Me: “Hello.”

Guy: “Hello, this is Such-and such from James Madison University. Do you have time to talk?”

Me: “Yes, hello, how are you?”

Guy: Pause. “I think you’re the first person to ask me that today.”

Such-and-such was a freshman at JMU, my alma mater, soliciting for donations.  I can only guess how many hundreds of people he may have called that day.  It was evening by the time he got to me and they call alumni all the way back to the 50’s.  And I was the first person to ask how he was?!?  It was so noticeable that he said something.  That’s insane.

It struck me.  Have we forgotten our manners?  Have we become so defensive that we cannot even greet a solicitor properly?

I admit, when I first picked up the phone I wanted to say I didn’t have the time.  I wanted to get him off the phone as quickly as possible because I felt bad that I was going to have to say, “I’m sorry I can’t donate today.”  Something told me to stay on the phone.  I heard a little voice encourage me to be as nice as possible because “I’m sure he has had a rough time of it on the phone today.”

I enjoyed my chat with him about what I had done since JMU and what is going on there at the moment.  It is a wonderful school and I am happy to hear that they keep on building up the community there with new dreams and new projects.  So much has changed since I attended the school.  When he got to the part about the money he was polite.  Then it was over.  10 minutes tops.  It cost me nothing and I hopefully contributed something positive to that guy’s job.

A lot of the time, we are so hardened to the world.  We are expecting people to take advantage of our time, money, generosity that we immediately put up a defense.  It is hard to remember that the people on the other end of the phone are people and they deserve our kindness and respect, even if we truly have nothing to give.  Maybe a brief chat or just a quick greeting is all someone needs that moment to pick them out of despair.  Each one of us is capable of being the light in another person’s day, even if that person is a stranger.

I learned in Namibia to greet everyone I meet.  One of my friends says that is also common in the African-American community.  A head-nod or a what’s up is customary as you pass in the street.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you know the person or want to stop for a twenty-minute talk.  It is acknowledgement of their existence, inclusion in the community.

I have carried this lesson from my home far-away back to the states.  I often beat the check-out clerks to a greeting and I smile at random people in the street.  Being open in this way has led to some beautiful moments and some unexpected conversations.  I recommend you try it.  Just once today, look someone you pass in the eye and smile or just nod your head in acknowledgement.  When you walk into the store, say hello to the clerk.  Don’t hang up the phone immediately on a telemarketer.  Treat the help-desk with respect.  Mind your manners, and you never know what could open up for you!

Songs I am OBSESSED with [playlist]

Today’s music post is a little different.  These are all songs that keep making it onto my playlist over and over.  Some are new, some are old, all strike my soul.  At the bottom of the post is the Spotify playlist with them all.  Please share your obsessions in the comments!

Joshua James: From the Top of Willamette Mountain

I am currently obsessed with this entire album.  Actually, I’m pretty must just obsessed with Joshua since I hear “FM Radio” and listened to it on buses across Spain while reading Into the Wild (also an obsession).  My favorite songs at the moment are : “Mystic”, “Queen of the City” and “Wolves,” in which the howling just forces you to sing along!

Colton Dixon: “You Are”

Angela Miller (American Idol): “Set Me Free”

I cannot put this one on a playlist as this has not been recorded yet, however it is a gorgeous song.  This is the best thing I’ve seen from Idol in a long time.

Jewel: “Life Uncommon”

I could write a diatribe on how under-appreciated Jewel is by the world as an artist.  Her lyrics are divine.  I have heard this song many times, but this live performance is amazing (too bad the front verse is cut off…)

I have added a few other songs to the mix:

Homemade Hummus [recipe]

A quick and easy hummus recipe.

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Ingredients:
1 can of chickpeas (drained)
Juice of half a lemon
olive oil
apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed (optional)

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I use a Cuisinart Smart Stick immersion blender for this recipe.  It comes with a mixing cup that is the perfect size and seems to smooth the hummus better than a food processor.  You can find one of these online or I got mine at Kohl’s.  It is my favorite kitchen tool.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a food processor.

1) Place all the ingredients in the food processor or a bowl.  I use about 2 Tablespoons of oil and 1 to 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar.

2) Mix until smooth, adding more oil as necessary to smooth the mixture out.

This creates a very tangy, simple hummus.  The garlic is fairly strong.  You can add many other ingredients to this recipe.  Traditionally, tahini is added.  This will give it less of a tangy flavor.  You could also add roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes or a plethora of spices.

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Enjoy!!

Is there life before death?

People spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen, for everything to be perfect, before they get busy living.  Yoga calls us to live in the moment, to create now, to live now.  

I am currently reading The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.  The author Shane Claiborne is a founder of The Simple Way, a non-profit Christian community, that serves Philadelphia and throughout the world.  The book is a memoir of Shane’s journey as a Christian, from church in childhood to the streets of Philadelphia and Calcutta through the founding of the Simple Way.   It is also an invitation to change the world through radical love.  I am excited that I will be seeing Shane speak this weekend at The Justice Conference in Philadelphia.  If you are in the area, check it out and sign up!  Otherwise, you can join through simulcast!

Chapter 5, “Another Way of Doing Life” questions whether Christians must really live a life apart, a life that looks different than those of non-Christians.  It begins:

We have not shown the world another way of doing life.  Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.  And doctrine is not very attractive, even if it’s true.  Few people are interested in a religion that has nothing to say to the world and offers them only life after death, when what people are really wondering is whether there is life before death.

…And yet I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live.  Otherwise, much of Jesus’ wisdom would prove quite unnecessary for the afterlife.  After all, how hard could it be to love our enemies in heaven.

This might upset you.  It is meant to.  The path takes a turn, the world flips upside down, and you are left wondering, what now?

I believe Shane’s message here is two-fold:

1) We must stop waiting for tomorrow to start living.  I have heard it many times and many places, don’t put your life on hold until the until.  In high school religion class (I went to Catholic school) we read a poem about waiting at a train station, and when the train finally comes you switch your wait for the destination.  It is the message of the song “Cat’s in the Cradle”.

In yoga we are constantly asked to “stay present” or “be in the moment”.  We focus on the breath and stay with each pose.  Or we worry what the other people will think and stop ourselves from progressing until our hamstrings are looser or our arms are stronger.  In truth, the only way they will become different is to work on changing them.  Not through wishing and hoping but through the actual practice.

In life, everyone seems to be waiting for that perfect job, the right amount of money, the perfect city, the kids to leave the house, graduation, retirement… Waiting for that paradise, whether it be here on earth or it be in the afterlife, waiting.  When really, the paradise we are looking for is something we can create right here, right now (cue the music).  We are here to use this life we were given to help create the world that the ancients envisioned.  Jesus, Buddha, Patanjali and many others, along with their followers, all left instructions to live life in the moment.  They also left instructions on how to live that life.

2) That brings us to the second message.  It is not easy to live life according to the Bible or the Yoga Sutras or whatever precepts by which you lead your life.  Even when they are self-made precepts, they are difficult to follow one-hundred percent of the time.  No one is immune to hypocrisy.  It takes discipline and vulnerability to follow a spiritual path.  It also takes complete honesty with oneself.

These precepts were not meant to be easy to follow.  If they were easy, we would have all reached enlightenment already.  However, many of us want to get enlightened first and then live by the precepts of Yoga.  We want to wait to get to heaven to love our brother.

There really is no little nugget I can give you that will spring you into a life lived in the present.  There are no neat way to wrap this up.  But I can say,

Be present and live fierce.  

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I realize that some people may find my marriage of Christianity and Yoga unappealing.  I know that there are some who see yoga as something Christians should not engage in too deeply.  There are some yogis who might find the use of Christian language off-putting.  I was raised in America (a culture very heavily influenced by Christian symbolism) as an Episcopalian, went to Catholic school and started yoga in the midst of it all.  Christian doctrine and stories hold a lot of meaning for me and I believe in the fundamental teachings.  I do not find them entirely different from the fundamental teachings of Yoga.  And when they are conflicting, I get to ask why and delve deeper into my faith.

I remember reading a quote from a prominent Buddhist once, admonishing many Christians for jumping into Buddhism because they were unhappy with their own religion.  This is like eating hard-boiled eggs when you are tired of scrambled.  Different form, still an egg.  We must understand what it is that is making us discontent with what we already know.  I get that this will not be popular with everyone.

Current Events in Yoga

In history class we had to read an article on what was currently going on in the world.  Here are a few articles I thought I would share from the yoga world.

I read in the latest issue of Yoga Journal that the Cleveland Clinic now employs a full time yoga teacher for staff and patients to attend classes.  It is great that yoga is starting to be recognized by such an esteemed program as a valuable therapeutic tool.

Yoga Discussion: Is Yoga for Narcissists : This is a great collection of articles from the New York Times, discussing what part the ego plays in yoga, especially focused on yoga ego in the Western culture.  I most enjoyed Why Are We Having This Conversation by Sarah Miller.

Strength Focus Balance aka Adam Levine does Yoga: Celebrity endorsement of yoga is a double edged sword, sometimes making me angry because it makes a spiritual practice a pop culture phenomenon and sometimes overjoying me because it is bringing awareness to yoga.  Once people are hooked, they may want to learn more.  Adam Levine, who has been practicing for 5 years, was recently featured in Men’s Health Magazine (see his side crow below).  I thought this article did a nice job of encouraging people to start where they are at and not need to push push push.  Levine says, “There’s nothing to win in yoga. You just do what you can do, one day to the next.”

Confessions of a Loved & Hated Ashtangi: In this article from Elephant Journal, celebrity yogi Kino McGregor explains some of her choices.  It is nice to see someone open up about their imperfections, but also stay strong in their choices.  She receives a lot of criticism and she seems to handle it here with grace.

And I leave you with this video of what is going on in everyone’s head during yoga:

Sweet Release

Yesterday I was witness to such a beautifully sweet release during a one-on-one with a student.  

When I disclose that I am a yoga teacher, people often ask “What is so special about yoga?”  There are many answers.   They are meaningful, but generic.  For most teachers, I suspect, the answer is not a thought that is easily encapsulated by words.  It is a feeling, a deeper knowing, of the true and lasting change that yoga can incur in the life of an individual or group.  It is a magical miracle.  It is a seeing-is-believing type of knowing that only comes through witness to the shifts that occur.

Yesterday, only one lady showed up to my class.  Some people are unsure about taking yoga one-on-one, but this lady was excited.  So was I.  Before we began she asked many questions.  She is currently taking a yoga teacher training at another studio, so I knew I could delve a little deeper into the terms and the science of yoga.  I was in heaven.  This is what I live for.  Sharing what little knowledge I have of the rich history of yoga.  I wish every class was so juicy.

She mentioned that there was tension between her husband and herself and also that her upper back felt tight.  I noted this, pressed play on a gentle playlist and the session commenced.  We flowed through the sun salutations and aligned standing poses, pausing for demonstrations and explanations.  I added a lot of heart openers, especially triangle, and some shoulder openers.

As we came to a close, I led her into Yoga Mudra (which is meant to seal the energy worked up in the practice).  She loved it and I felt at that moment she had really received the gift.  I know how precious this gift is, because I had received it from my teachers, and they theirs.  She had found something deeper, right there in the simplest, but perhaps most powerful, asana.

She took savasana, laying down on her back.  I led her through relaxing the body, letting go of the breath and releasing the thoughts.  I lifter her legs, and her arms, massaged her shoulders and head.  Then something told me to sit and do Reiki.  I held one hand at the crown of her head and one hand over her forehead.  I moved my hands, hovering over her forehead and heart, feeling my hands heat and then cool.

Coming back up to sit, we finished with one OM and opened our eyes.  She looked at me and asked, “Do you do Reiki?”  I answered that I had done some while she lay in savasana.  “I feel like I could cry,” she said.  And in that small sentence there I knew why I became a yoga teacher.  I also know that I had nothing to do with helping that woman release.  It is always something greater when these miracles occur.

A few tears slid down her cheeks and she told me how awful she had been to her husband.  I listened, while she talked herself into letting it go.

“He’s such a saint.”

“He chose you,” was all I could reply.

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I cannot explain what happened in that room today.  It is all beyond my human comprehension.  But I know it was great and big and that I was a part of it.  For that I am thankful.  I am thankful to be a conduit for healing.  I am thankful to be able to live a life in service to others.  I am thankful to be a yoga teacher.