Sutra Sunday: Love and Community

Today’s study is about love and community.

1 Corinthians 13:3-8; 14:1 (The Voice)

I could give all that I have to feed the poor, I could surrender my body to be burned as a martyr, but if I do not live in love, I gain nothing by my selfless acts.  Love is patient; love is kind.  Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag or strut about.  There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude or indecent – it’s not self-absorbed.  Love isn’t easily upset.  Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth- yes, truth- is love’s delight.  Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes and endures no matter what.  Love will never become obsolete.  So in everything strive to love.

This passage is often read at weddings.  It is definitely a beautiful reminder for couples embarking on a new chapter of their love.  However, I feel, this neglects the true message of these words.  Love is not limited to our partner.  It is not limited to our families and friends.  The message can’t be any clearer “In everything strive to love.” 

Earlier in the book of Corinthians, Paul talks about the gifts each one of us is given to use during this life.  Some gifts or talents are given more weight than others.  This was a divisive element in the early church and is a divisive element of our society as a whole today.  Some talents are more valuable than others.  “…Paul shifts his focus to the central role love plays in a believer’s life in chapter 13.  Love is essential for the body to be unified and for members to work together.  Members of the body that are very different, with little in common, are able to appreciate and even enjoy others because of love.” (The Voice Commentary)

On some level we know this.  Sometimes love is the only thing we can share with someone who we don’t understand or agree with on any other level.  Though Paul is clearly addressing church members, this does not exclude non-Christians from the conversation.  If we can think of the body as this global community that we are all a part of, it is clear that love is the thread that was meant to bind us all together.  It is not enough to love our neighbors.  We are asked to love our enemies as well.  We are called to love complete strangers, as well as our closest friends.

This “we” I gather together is not the Church of Christ.  It is not a satsang of yogis.  It includes us all; all of the fabulous human beings participating in this crazy mess of life.  Everyone who is and was and will be.  The words of this particular book may be aimed at those who follow Christ, but those who choose another path are no less obligated to love those around them with all they are.

As a global community, we must find ways to allow the gifts of each person to shine.  The more we cultivate the talents of others with love rather than disdain, the more we allow others to become who they are, the more we discover how each person’s contribution can work together, the stronger this community will grow.  I realize we are a long way from this, but there’s no harm in dreaming.

When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts.  One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach.  One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community. (1 Cor 14:26)

Sutra Sunday: The Truth Hurts?

Bringing back the Sutras!

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gives five yamas, or restraints.  These are the things we should not do.  I outlined the yamas in Being A Bad-@ss YoginiThe first two yamas are ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth).  During teacher training, we discussed how sometimes these two ideas seem to work against one another.  As we often hear, “The truth hurts.”  Right?

I was taught by my teacher that ahimsa always comes first.  Above all, do no harm.  All other yamas are subsequent to this.  However, this does not give us a free pass to lie.  Little white lies are an easy way of preserving someone’s feelings, but this is not the lesson that we should be learning through these two yamas.  The real lesson here is awareness.

Some truths are simple.  They are harmful and therefore probably don’t need to be heard by anyone else.  A character from How I Met Your Mother put it this way, “Just because something needs to be said, doesn’t mean it needs to be heard.”  Taking a moment before you say something gives you the power.  It makes you a deliberate speaker and one who is an advocate for non-harm through real action.

Other truths are more tricky.  Sometimes the possibility of hurt feelings may save someone from harm in the long run.  This takes more discernment than deciding whether or not to say something.  Discerning what your intention is in saying something comes first.  Jake at InstantKarma.org says,

“Often, people say hurtful words and than justify these words by  saying that they had good intentions – they only wanted to help the other  person. This is usually associated with the idea that a person wants to teach someone  how to be a “better” person. If someone leaves their clothes on their floor, they  are given a lecture on how lazy and sloppy they are to help them become a  better person. The intentions of the lecture are to “help” this person. The truth  is, these lectures have very little to do with improving the person, these lectures are  given to change something about a person that someone does not want to live  with. A person usually does not give lectures on being sloppy or lazy because they  really want to help the other person – they give the lecture because they are  tired of cleaning up after them. The motives of such speeches are completely  for oneself.”

If the intention of the speech is truly to help someone, then the task is to decide how it should be said.  Creating a positive sentence takes more time and care than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.  However, it can often save people’s feelings as well as motivate them to take action.

“We can see that the idea of hurtful words and intention do  go together. Telling someone that they are lazy, forgetful, thoughtless,  uncaring, etc. are all hurtful words. Even if they are said with good  intention, i.e. to help “improve” the person, the hurtful words will create a  negative affect. There is an amazing difference in the affect that “Please,  honey, could you put your dirty clothes in the hamper instead of the floor” has  than “Would you stop being such a lazy pig dropping your dirty clothes all over  the damn floor!”. ”

Often we feel that people will be motivated by a blunt or somewhat harmful version of the truth.  This is probably true.  When people say hurtful things to me I automatically find a way to change so that I do not have to hear them again.  It is pain avoidance.  Not true learning.  Sometimes, as Jake stated, the person really does not need to change, you would like them to change to make you more comfortable.

No matter how kind the words, the truth might still sting.  We cannot always predict someone’s reaction to our truth.  But we can use kind words.  We can have good intentions behind our words.  And we can take a moment before we speak to decide.  Tap into your breath, become fully aware of your body in space, repeat a mantra, whatever brings you into the present moment.  Take that moment and make a choice.  Taking control of our words is a powerful message to the world, and ourselves.  We all have the potential to be messengers of truth AND love!

Are we missing the point?

If government was a magician, marriage equality would be the distraction we are meant to look at while the real work happens right in front of our eyes.   It is embarrassing that a nation which prides itself on “Justice for All” would have any question about what is right here.  Yet, no matter how ridiculous it may seem that we are talking about this year after year, it is important to stand with our brothers, sisters, friends and strangers in order that they be granted the same rights as all of us.  

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I have not heard a logical explanation as to why we should not allow legal gay marriage in the United States.  Most of them are framed in religious traditions that should not be used as the basis of any laws according to the Constitution.  Religious morals and beliefs are wonderful and personal, but the Constitution upholds many  laws that might offend certain parties.  There are religious sects that do not believe in the right to bear arms and groups that still believe all races should not have the same rights.

In truth though, I believe we are all missing the point.  On a political, religious and personal level it does not matter what “makes” people gay.  It does not matter if it is a sin.  It does not matter whether you agree with the lifestyle, chosen or otherwise.  It does not matter.

The point that matters, whether Christian, Yogi, Muslim or Atheist, is that as human beings we are charged to “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”  

This, The Golden Rule has been around since writing began.  It does not belong to any particular religion, but rather seems to be a thread through all religious traditions (check it out!! Wiki).  It is the only true north that can guide us when making any decision.

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’
“And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
—Mark 12:28-31
If we are to take Jesus literally here, he is telling us that love and equality between all are the two greatest commandments.  All others must come after. All else is distraction.  This is why I say we are missing the point.  We are being distracted from our true purpose by these flashy tricks.  It’s not so easy to love one another.  It’s easier to pick one another apart.  It’s easier to condemn than it is to have compassion.
It is easier to condemn that which we don’t like or agree with.  It is easier to hate than to love, especially when faced with something we can’t understand.  Searching for understanding, is the first step to acceptance.  We often fall short.  We stop at the law or teaching and forget that we must wrap each in a love blanket.  Love is the bacon of the world, it makes everything taste better.

God did not create us all the same, yet we are created equal.  If life is to be a lesson, differences are our greatest teacher.  The greatest lesson we can learn is to accept differences with love and compassion.  God did not create normal.  At the deepest level we really are all the same.  If our life is to be judged at our death, it will first be judged according to how we treated our neighbor.  All the rest will come after.  What happens when you don’t pass the first question?

The Golden Girls had it right the whole time:

The Greatest Challenge

The greatest challenge of life is to hold all beings as equal.  To loose and lose our chains ofjudgement and break down the walls that we believe separate us.  All other philosophy stems from this notion.

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Some of the greatest principles of humanity, such as “Do no harm” and “love your neighbor as yourself,” boil down to equality.  We must dissolve all feelings of separation, before love, true love, is possible.  It is not possible to love your neighbor as yourself if you see your neighbor as less than yourself.  Love is only possible when the mind recognizes what the soul already knows, we are all equal.

Stop and think about that for a moment, or rather feel on it for a moment.  Let the tendrils of the soul infuse the word with new and brilliant meaning.  Equality is overused, abused.  It is an ordinary concept of the soul that has been elevated to a radical notion by and through our humanity.  Close your eyes and know, we are all equal.  Even that stranger you saw begging on the corner.

We must recognize the inequalities we have created.  In order for us to feel special we have placed many beneath us on our imaginary ladder of successful life.  These are the people we pity and loath.  The ones for whom we make donations while scorning their bad decision.  We can recognize that we see them as lesser and do our best to replace our pity with true compassion and love.

Then there are those that we see as more special than ourselves (which might be why we feel the need to step on others, to bring back some of our “power”).  This is the flip-side of the inequality coin, placing some above us.  When we are told by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras to “Do No Harm” (ahimsa), this includes in thought, word and action.  Jealousy, envy, and disdain are three harmful emotions that manifest from feelings of inadequacy, from seeing ourselves as less than another.  In this way we have the potential to harm others through pent up frustrations.  In addition, we harm ourselves, feeling unworthy of love or just plain stupid for what we do or say.

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In this way, we create idols, people who are more special than ourselves and others around us.  This person can become our source of happiness, needing their approval or recognition or love in order to feel whole.  In Spirit Junkie, Gabrielle Bernstein reminds us that we do not only make romantic relationships special.  We can place our need for happiness in anyone’s hands, and it usually has something to do with how “cool” we think they are, and how cool knowing them will make us.  We separate ourselves from them, believing them to be better than us, therefore creating inequality where there is none.

There are wonderful people in this world; there are plenty of gorgeous souls you will want to emulate.  Give yourself permission to learn as much as you can from the people you admire.  Feel the weight of their worth in your life.  BUT don’t put them on a pedestal.  They are not super human or superior human.  Maybe they have made it further along the path of enlightenment, or just have more life experience, and they deserve respect, not worship.

Identify one person whom you have made special in your life, someone you feel is superior to yourself.  Meditate on this person, repeating “[Full Name of person] and I are equal.  We are equal.  We are the same.”  Notice if this changes the feelings you have about yourself.  Maybe just identifying this person will give you an idea of the type of person you want to become and the qualities that you must nurture in yourself in order to become a fuller person.

Big Love

Make Valentine’s mean something.  Make it about big love.

Around Valentine’s Day in Namibia, I taught an English lesson using the story of St. Valentine.  It wasn’t until today, on my way to class, while I was wracking my brain for something to talk about, that the story came back to me and I realized what the story was really about.

In case you haven’t heard the story in a while, Valentine was a priest in Rome.  During this time, soldiers were not allowed to be married, as it might take their energy away from the army.  Valentine believed in marriage and decided to help soldiers marry their ladies in secret.  He also continued to preach Christianity, even though it was against the law at the time.  For this he was thrown in jail.

In prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter.  The girl was blind, and it is said that he healed her blindness.  They fell in love.  Before his death, Valentine sent a letter to his love, signed “From your Valentine.”  Thus, the sending of cards to those we love on the holiday held in his name (although it was not associated with romantic love until the 19th century).

The love story is sweet.  Star-crossed lovers and all.  Romeo and Juliet would be proud.  The love between Valentine and the jailer’s daughter is only half the story, though.  Valentine was not made a saint because he loved a girl.  He was made a saint because he had Big Love.

Valentine went to jail for believing in Big Love, God’s Love, the greater love, collective love, whatever you wish to call it.  He went to jail and died to spread love.  He practiced Love, wide and deep.  He quietly protested that which he felt unjust and paid the consequences.

On this Valentine’s Day, we have a chance to practice Big Love.  We have all tapped into that bigger source of Love, maybe in a romantic relationship or through the birth of a child, or just seeing a particularly beautiful sunrise.  Tap into that source of love today and share it with a stranger. I challenge you. What can you do today to bring about the spirit of St. Valentine?

Why Christian Rock rocks my playlist!

I love Christian rock.  Especially for yoga class.  Why does it fit so well?  Positivity is what it is all about!

Yesterday a former American Idol contender, Colton Dixon, released his first album entitled A Messenger.  After listening to a few clips I downloaded a track called “Love Has Come to Me” and immediately added it to my playlist for the day.  After a few listens, I was hooked, I didn’t want to hear anything else in my ears.  This song was breath.  Like a child I played it over and over on repeat and since have downloaded the entire album.  The last song to hit me like this was “When the Saints” by Sarah Groves.  They are two very different songs, but they have one thing in common, they are categorized as Christian or Inspirational.

I have always loved Christian music. It is uplifting and makes my soul soar in ways few other genres can do.  I believe those who write music for God write with the pens of angels.  Though the melodies might not always be the most original and they are often full of cliches, the lyrics are comforting and the drums beat like thousands of hearts in sink.  Even after a thousand listens, the thousandth and one can still bring new meaning to punch you in the gut over again.  I concede that a lot of my love for this music is nostalgic, raised as a Christian it is familiar and comforting.  Still it has value outside the church.  It has value in the secular world.  But what about using it during a yoga class.

Now I love me some sanskrit chants.  Krishna Das breaks me open and has me singing along with him each time.  I love a good sitar scale.  However, I do not find it against the yogic principles to use other music during practice.  Some may argue music has no place in practice, and this may be true.  Maybe in the end the goal is to sit with your emotions without the aid of an orchestra.  Maybe.  I like to mix it up.

Creating yoga playlists is one of my favorite parts of my job and the one I feel the most responsibility towards (besides not injuring my students).  When yogis walk through the doors of the studio they put not only their physical but their emotional body in my care.  For me, and many others, the first way deep into my emotions is through music.  When people walk into class, in order to go inside, they must become invisible to others.  Then they become amplified, their experience becoming larger and larger to themselves alone.  Swelling violins and racing drums can get you there quick. In this state it would be easy to abuse their emotions with negative or destructive music.

I have often found myself placing music from the Christian genre with ambiguous messages into my playlists.  I’m not the first to do this, TV shows and movies often use this technique (one I remember is using Plumb in Drive Me Crazy, I actually bought the album having no clue of its deeper message).  Christian songs are written to bring people to God, whether they mention it or not.  The lyrics are meant to bring the message of Love in a safe but catchy way.  We can all use more messages of Love in our day, and this is why I use the music.

I do make sure that the language is “safe.”  That it is mostly devoid of the word Jesus or Christ or common Christian phrases.  This is not because I am ashamed to bring these to others, however I do not know anyone’s history with religion and would not want to trigger any negative emotions or thoughts.  This may seem somewhat strange since most of the Sanskrit chants are filled with names of Hindu gods.  Although it is possible that there may be someone in the room who has had a negative experience with Krishna, sadly, in this America we are living in it is much more likely that someone has had contact with Christ.

There is much to be gained by surrounding yourself with positive uplifting music, books and people.  It makes the practice of yoga as you walk throughout your day much less of a burden and more of an extension of the joy you feel from the beauty that surrounds you.  Try out the songs I have below and see if you can bring a little more light to your day.  Whether you be Christian, Jewish, atheist or agnostic, there’s nothing wrong with a good melody and a message of love.

What do you think?  Can you enjoy Christian inspirational music regardless of your religious feelings?