My yoga teacher

My yoga teacher

“Whether our practice strengthens our ability to be present with all that we experience is the only criteria we need for what we do or don’t do on the mat.”
— Donna Farhi, Bringing Yoga to Life

I’ve mentioned before that the new thing in my life these days is yoga.  I am very much a novice, having taken only a dozen or so beginning classes, but I like it very much and sometimes even feel I need it, like a craving.  And it will surprise no one that I’ve also been reading  few books about yoga.  Often a writer’s words help me to articulate and name the feelings and thoughts that rise from my direct experience.

The following words from Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life resonated with me and gave me food for thought:

“Any practice can be used as a shield to protect us from life. . . . we can make schedules, control, and otherwise fill up our day with so many plans that there is not even the smallest crack for an outside influence to seep in.”

“An important part of learning to channel our energies is increasing our tolerance for staying in the pause between desire and satisfaction. . . . learning to be in the pause between a feeling and a reaction.”

So as you focus on your breath and the pause between inhaling and exhaling, allow the pause to be “a neutral place from which to make a new beginning.”

“To the degree that the mind is preoccupied with memories of the past and fantasies of the future, that is the degree to which we cannot reside in the present moment.”

“. . . there is no experience that is permanent and intransigent.”

“Working with discrete increments of awareness gives us the ability to separate and define our day-to-day experience as multidimensional rather than the smear of consciousness that is the product of the untrained mind.”

“What does incremental awareness afford us?  First of all, it allows us to reclaim our lives and the joy of everyday experiences.  We become actualists instead of theorists or fantasists.  We stop choosing for or against our experience or the assumption that it should somehow be different than it is.  Once we drop these assumptions, we can start choosing to open ourselves to all of our experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant.”

“Whatever connects us to our essence is our practice.  Whatever clears our head so we can see what is important is our practice.  Once we get clear that we are practicing to live, not living to practice, we can bring the concept of formal practice into perspective.  If our formal practice is utterly disassociated from our everyday lives, no amount of time on the mat will bring us peace of mind.”

“. . . it matters less what we do in practice than how we do it and why we do it.”

“. . . this radical process called yoga asks us to live without solidifying our viewpoint or fixing our point of reference.  There is no experience from our past that needs become a fulcrum for the one we are having now — or the experience we have yet to have.”

“We begin to create a more peaceful world the moment we develop the tolerance to be with a feeling without having to immediately act upon it.”

“. . . the practice is the reward.”


July 29, 2010

“Spirituality . . . is a commitment to divine reflection.”
     — from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan Chittister, OSB

"Prayer is the filter through which we view our world." Joan Chittister, OSB

“Praying with Imagination” was crafted to deepen our capacity to listen attentively and live each moment in an intentional way.  Kathleen, our Prayer Leader, introduced us to several prayer practices, and each morning during the retreat, we sat as a group in visio divina, one form of prayer.  This involved gazing at an image from the St. John’s Bible and listening attentively to Kathleen’s reading of a passage from scripture.  She read the same text four times, using the following format:

  • During the first reading, we listened for words or phrases that especially resonated with us, and then after the reading, we spoke these words out loud to the group.
  • During the second reading, we pondered the passage and image again, and then shared with the group what we saw and heard.  I came away with many snippets of wisdom and insight articulated by the perceptive women in the group. 
  • We listened to the reading a third time, and then we shared a spoken prayer with the group.
  • Finally, we listened to the reading a fourth time, rested a while in silence while gazing at the image, and then listened to Kathleen’s closing prayer.

Becoming attentive to words as a catalyst for contemplation

I found it very helpful to use the art of the St. John’s Bible as a tool for deepening my understanding of the words.  The illuminations in this edition of the bible hold layer upon layer of meaning.  Donald Jackson, the artist who created many of these images, said:  “The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.”  (from The Illuminator)

"Scripture, the Rule insists, must be read daily. How can we hear the voice of God if we are not familiar with it?" Joan Chittister, OSB

I am not averse to reading scripture, but I consider the Bible as one tool among many (such as nature, people I meet, craftsmanship, homemaking, gardening, essays, novels, etc.) to becoming a more spiritual person.  I hope to continue the practice of visio divina when I read the St. John’s Bible at home.  I bought two reader’s guides, The Art of the Saint John’s Bible by Susan Sink, to help me with this project.

Susan Sink's Reader's Guides help explain the layers of meaning in the art of the St. John's Bible.

The retreat activities were scheduled around Morning Prayer, Noon Prayer, the Eucharist, and Evening Prayer at the St. John’s Abbey Church so that we could, if we wished, participate in the Benedictine  monks’ daily prayer practices.  I attended Morning Prayer at 7:00 a.m. every day.  The monks chanted and sang the Psalms in dialogue from their seats around the altar, and I loved sitting in the presence of this ancient tradition.

The St. John's Abbey Church's soaring 112-ft. bell banner glows in the morning light.

The interior of the St. John's Abbey Church, illuminated by light through the stained glass windows of the facade.