Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yoga On The Rock -Yoga Teachers Training Research Paper

by Yoga Teacher Trainee - Matthew Sinclair - June 2015

There are many elements of yoga that continue to excite and inspire me. From the proposition of continuing to develop and deepen my asana practice to realign and reinvigorate my body to the practice of meditation to quiet and calm the mind, I have been swept up in my practice.


Whereas, I began my yoga practice more earnestly in October 2014 for the physical benefits of the asanas, the asana practice has become but one tool to empower me on my spiritual journey. As Swami Satchidananda said, "easeful body, peaceful mind." And so I strive for both with the intention of developing spiritually. That is, I strive to surrender to God's will.


At once, this quest to surrender inspires, scares, and perplexes me...yet I return to my practice of yoga. The aspect of yoga that has seemingly helped most on this journey is the seventh limb of Yoga, dhyana, or meditation. (Although, it could probably best be described as dharana, or concentration, at this stage of my journey.)


I love the simplicity and clear purpose of meditation. John Main describes this simplicity and purpose well in Moment with Christ: "Remember again the way of meditation. We sit down, we sit with our spine upright, we breathe calmly and regularly and we begin to say our word. The purpose of the word is to keep us on the path, to take us away from illusion, from desire. As long as we are on the way, as long as we are saying our mantra, we are turning aside from distraction and we are on the way to make contact with the root from which we are sprung."


It is a beautiful metaphor that reminds me firstly that by God's grace alone do we live and secondly that our growth, our becoming who we are called to be, will be enriched the more we are in contact with that root from which we are sprung. 


I have always been fascinated with philosophy and the idea of how best to live. I would rarely use the term "self-improvement," but I was always after a new way to improve myself, whatever that meant. (Clearly, direction was lacking.) My bookshelf holds the evidence. These "improvements" were always adjustments in ways of behaving or thinking that would allow me to attain something external.


For example, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done was acquired to help me hone in on my productivity at work for the ultimate goal of career progression. While this book does have merit for what it can offer people, I’ve more recently discovered a certain superficiality in these types of books. For what good is it to get more “productive” at a job that distracts with busyness from the core of who we are called to be?


The practice of yoga, particularly meditation, has given me the tools to become, as Matthew Kelly says, the best version of myself, or who God calls me to be. I never framed the thought of self-development in a spiritual context, but it certainly feels right and whole, and it has given my life clear direction. (Paradoxically, this clarity is comfort, or peace, with uncertainty.)


This becoming or bettering, I've begun to feel, is not an addition of some virtue to my personality, but rather a subtraction, a taking away of that which clouds my understanding of my true self. It's as if each time on the mat, a small candle is lit, which shines inwardly to create an awareness of all parts of me.  


Reading the words of Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation strengthened this insight: "For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore, the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self" (p. 31). Hereto, I find great appeal in meditation, knowing that each time I sit to meditate I am discovering who I am, without expectation of what or who I will find. 


This all seems straightforward and simple in theory, but I am recognizing that it requires great patience, faith and devotion in practice to remain committed to becoming the best version of myself. As in meditation, so too this is required in living fully, along with brutal honesty.


This honesty is another quality of meditation in which I find appeal: you cannot cheat. You simply sit and must be with whatever arises. I am reminded of the words of Bob Marley, whose life and music, has been for me a source of inspiration: "ya running and ya running, but you can't run away from yourself" (Running Away, Kaya, 1978). It's as if the only escape, or freedom, is to, in fact, to surrender to God's will. Meditation has allowed me to begin this process of surrendering to God’s will by first surrendering to who I truly am.


It might be evident at this point that the practice of yoga has caused a stir in my life. This, perhaps, is not immediately apparent, or at all, to other people, but I feel it in my heart. I am hopeful that this going within will prepare me for my work in the world and enhance my relationship with others. Fr. Tom Ryan’s words fill me with encouragement: “Through it [the mantra], the Spirit is at work resolving old conflicts, bringing us to face ourselves with honesty and humor, to accept ourselves and the inevitable gracefully, with joy and even gratitude. It is from this self-acceptance that we most effectively reach out to others, for when we can be with ourselves in tolerance and love, we can be with others in the same way" (Prayer of Heart and Body, p.113).


The practice of yoga has given me a confidence to know that I can face the world with courage, trusting in myself, and God's will for me as I endeavor to serve the world with my gifts and talents. This trust comes from faith in God and this faith is deepened through becoming closer to Him through meditation and other practices that allow for stillness, silence, and simplicity. 


Through meditation, the true self is slowly revealed and through this revelation we are more able to live our lives in accordance with God’s will for us. Initially, this insight discomforted me, but as I continue my practice of yoga, particularly meditation and svadhyaya (self-study, reflection of spiritual works), it has served as inspiration. “The mystery into which meditation leads us is a personal mystery, the mystery of our own personhood, which finds its completion in the person of Christ.” (John Main, Word Into Silence).


The attempt to live a deeply spiritual life is, in essence, not limiting (which frightened me), but liberating. To paraphrase Timothy Radcliffe, OP, in What is the Point of Being a Christian?, because we are made in God’s likeness, which makes us intelligent and free, and the source of our own actions, our deepest freedom “is spontaneously to do what is good, because it is what we most deeply desire” (p. 43) Our actions, when derived from the true core of our being, take us toward not away from God.


Therefore, meditation is not a luxury, but a necessity as it helps us to discover the true self within, and thus brings us closer to God, to the fulfillment of love and joy. I am not entirely certain on the semantics of being “closer” to God, but what I’ve experienced over these last six month is a greater awareness and appreciation of God’s closeness in my life, and in the life of the world.


I am blessed. Meditation has opened my life up to more truth and reason, which I’ve discovered in my Catholic faith, and in learning about other spiritual traditions. Indeed, as Pope Francis stated, “the Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to humanity’s deepest needs.” Therefore, meditation, while a seemingly subtle process of uncovering, has become a call to action.


How will I respond to humanity’s needs? Meditation has been a catalyst for allowing me to begin to answer that question. Only when I can live authentically out of my true self will I be able to respond fully to God’s will for me. Part of this journey is “…to discover the God who is the source of freedom bubbling up in the very core of our being, and granting us existence in every moment” (Timothy Radcliffe, What is the Point of Being Christian, p. 45). Meditation is the beginning of that discovery and appreciation. I guess getting up early isn’t such a bad deal after all.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Matt,

    Thank you for your paper and your honesty and quiet joy of how meditation has impacted your life. Your paper demonstrates a clear reflection of how the study and practice of yoga has had an effect on you and stirred in you a journey toward self discovery. I could not have asked for more as a teacher.

    How does one grade a paper like are my thoughts: You seem to have…..

    1. A clear appreciation for how one simple but deliberate practice of yoga “dyana” might work and explained it beautifully how you have used it in your life of yoga.

    2. Demonstrated a willingness to “stay” , despite the interest of the “ego” , to look at that deeper message of what God calls you to do…this is yoga truly, in practice…knowing that we never know for sure what we are meant to do, but trusting, having faith and believing in something greater than us to guide and lead us…this was clearly something I see came to light for you through your yoga…Yoga means union….you “get” this, it seems!

    3. An understanding of how to integrate various practices of yoga to support growth/develop and a deeper practice…I love the reflections from your self study…thanks for sharing….and how they have informed your “practice” and journey.

    4. A solid understanding of how to use the practice of yoga to influence and support Faith consciousness…using these user-friendly modalities to make you, a “better” Christian…for example…

    This is what I see in reading your paper and this makes me feel very satisfied that I have done my job with you in getting you to understand what yoga is…..

    - Yoga Teacher Trainer - Joanne - E-RYT 500