and into the city and the rest of your life.
We all come to yoga, because we're seeking some sense of peace or increased happiness, whether that be in the body, mind or both. What does yogic philosophy have to say about the place of joy in an integrated life?That is the description of a class each Sunday morning at 11 AM at Flow Yoga Center on P Street NW in Washington DC.
The teacher is the inimitable Greg Marzullo. If you want to know more about Greg, two possible ways
1. Go to this link for the class schedule at Flow and look for his name and click - there you will get some good information
2. Go to his website where you can read his blog, about some of the retreats he does, and more.
Greg is my principal yoga teacher and now also a friend, so I am prejudiced. I happen to think he is one of the best teachers of any sort I have ever encountered.
I cannot always attend this Sunday morning class, because it conflicts with Meeting for Worship at my Quaker Meeting, on whose committee on Ministry and Worship I serve, but I did attend yesterday, which is the occasion of writing this post.
I ask that you keep reading, even if you do not think you are interested in yoga, either as a means of physical condition or as a philosophic approach.
I began doing yoga on December 30. A good friend of ours who lives near us, STK, is in one of the teacher training programs at Flow, and also takes a good number of classes. Because she does not drive, my wife has been somewhat insistent that I at least pick her up after her evening classes so that she does not have to walk to metro, take metro, then walk over a mile back to where she lives not so far from us. I decided on that day to take a class at the same time as she was. I quickly got very involved, even though I had little idea of what I was doing. At 68 I was out of shape, my upper body and core lacked strength, and my flexibility was almost non-existent.
Since then I have been very active. While there are days I take no classes, either because of conflicts in time (such as the four days i was volunteering in dental triage at Wise VA, which is relevant as I will explain) or when my body needs a rest, it is not at all unusual for me to do as many as ten or 11 classes during the course of a week. At the same time I have changed my diet, done other forms of exercise (running, light weight work) and in general gotten much more physically healthy. I had also returned to a pattern of keeping a small spiral notebook with me, and taking multiple occasions during the day to record reflections and observations.
I had, despite attending several of the City Yogi classes, in general resisted buying in to the yogic philosophy. I understood what Greg was teaching, but still was somewhat resistant.
Yesterday I was writing in my notebook before class while having a cup of coffee. I had driven into DC a bit early to make sure I could find a parking space (a lot of nearby places offer brunch).
I have understood for quite some time that I must have a holistic approach to all of my life - I cannot compartmentalize my life and have any sense of integrity, wholeness, or health.
At various points in the path I have tried to use different lenses through which I viewed the world, perhaps derived from whatever religious tradition in which I was then rooted. I probably came closest to finding this during the more than a decade when my personal spiritual father was the abbot of a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece and I was a serious Orthodox Christian.
One reason I turned to the Quakers is that the idea of George Fox that we should walk gladly across the earth answering that of God in each person we meet has been central in my thinking for almost 5 decades, since shortly after I began at Haverford College in 1963.
And yet, I had never fully extended that to a comprehensive lens through which to view my life and the world in which I live. I was more than inconsistent, I was contradictory.
Perhaps as close as I might come was the reminder I gave myself by how I end most of my posts here: Peace.
But Peace is much more than the absence of conflict, military or otherwise.
It is a mindset.
It is ultimately a worldview.
It occurred to me in my morning reflection yesterday that as I work to develop my own lens I suffer no harm by attempting to grasp FROM THE INSIDE other lenses that help people approach wholeness.
I understand that this is a journey as much as it is a destination, and how I travel is at least as important as where I am heading.
As my wife has pointed out, when I am impatient in my driving my Quaker bumper sticker should remind me to take a breath - what I am saying about my being a Quaker if this is how i act?
Similarly, STK has on occasion asked how that impatience and irritability can be reconciled with with my practice of yoga. So long as I refused to open myself to the yogic philosophy other than intellectually, it was not a "problem" for me.
I entered yesterday's class with a different mindset.
Which turned out to be appropriate.
Greg chose to focus the class on how we react to the crises we see around us, how we may perhaps feel impotent to do anything about longstanding conflicts at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean or planes being shot down in Europe.
He talked about how we can address things at home. To illustrate he talked about a friend who regularly goes and volunteers in dental clinics - I had sent him the link for this piece, written after I had returned from the Wise Virginia event the previous weekend. He then turned to me and basically invited me to share about it.
The class covered several other points before we turned to our focused meditation, including understanding that our serving of others is a way we connect, that we have to ourselves be open to the idea of others serving us and not (as I so often am) be stubborn in accepting help because what we have in common is our brokenness. As often happens in these classes, the students offered some of the more profound insights as they responded to what they heard, from Greg and from others.
Greg also reminded us of something else important - that to be so negative about oneself is a destructive form of egotism. The focus is still upon ourselves as separate from the rest of the world.
After the class several of the others came over to talk to me, one a woman who has dentists in her family who want to volunteer at such events.
As I have continued to reflect upon the class, I realized something else, perhaps almost fully for the first time.
Living the expression of George Fox of answering that of God in each person and walking gladly across the earth has to be the basis of all I do.
It has nothing to do with "worship" in the traditional sense. I am reminded that Jesus in the Gospels asks how we can love God whom we cannot see when we hate our brother whom we can see.
That does not mean I cannot criticize actions. But it is why I should not totally reject the person who does that action, because it is always possible that person can change.
Taking that approach may open me to "hurt" of one sort or another. That I have always understood. What I begin to grasp now is that I cannot be angry when that happens, nor can I choose to close myself off. A closed heart is like a clenched fist, which cannot grasp or embrace. An open heart should be capable of accepting hurt and still continuing to love.
Earlier I mentioned that my weaknesses included my core, and that I lacked flexibility. At that time I was writing about my physical condition.
But those statement are equally true about my "spiritual" condition - the word is in quotes because I want to be clear that this is independent of any particular notion about a deity or deities. If you prefer "psychological" so be it - I do not want terminology to serve a barrier to communication and understanding.
How I view the world will inevitably shape how I respond to those I encounter in the world.
It is humbling at age 68 to struggle physically with basic postures and movements of yoga. I cannot force myself, I have to be willing to fall out of a posture, I can only get there not by force of will but by surrendering to my body, to the posture itself.
The posture does not exist in isolation.
Nor do I.
On a physical level I am learning things.
Those things mean little unless I carry them with me when I roll up my mat and leave the studio.
Perhaps it is in part because of my yoga that I have felt less impelled to post here. I do not honestly know.
What I do know is that I am beginning to change how I react to things around me.
As I prepare to teach in a new school, including half my classes in a subject I have never before taught (Advanced Placement Economics), I find how I think about teaching is also changing.
My body feels different because of yoga.
That is good, but insufficient.
Now I have to take my yoga, as incomplete as it is, off the mat and into the city:
- in how I react in ordinary life situations, including the drivers around me who do foolish things
- in how I approach my participation in politics, including my writing here
- in how I teach
- in my marriage.
I do not yet know quite where it is I am headed.
I only know that I am changing how it is that I am going there.
Because it is the only way I can hope to come close to what my real goal is: