Sunday, February 6, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Bright Faith/Choshin, 2011
IN THE FIRST EXCELLENCE of yoga, we aspire to “come to the matt.” This first step is much more than simply settling in and stilling “body and mind.”
In preparing to begin our practice, we cross a threshold, stepping apart from the high-speed chatter of the everyday into sharanam—“refuge,” a place of safety, a shelter. We settle ourselves, and calm, and surrender into this safe anchor. We begin to allow history and future expectations to diminish in importance for a time. We aspire to touch our true home—the present moment. And by returns to this practice, the remarkable depth and reach and grace of the present moment may be opened.
Once settled, perhaps we bring our awareness to our breathing—to connect the mind to the body. The breath is a wave and our awareness, a rider. We allow our breathing to gradually draw our awareness inward.
Especially in the quietness and calmness of restorative yoga, we are offered time to listen to the body and to our immanent environment rather than “do” something to or for ourselves. In restorative practice, we are offered an entire practice to take refuge in this sanctuary within ourselves. By devotion to practice that aspire to sustain calmness and quietness, we can traverse deeply. Deep within ourselves, we may experience an unbreakable landscape within us. And touching this deep reserve of energy within us, we might experience opening a reservoir of luminous energy and, as a result, emit radiance.
Against the drudgery of the surrounding landscape of poverty, the established convents of Mother Theresa’s sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are purposefully elegant where possible, offering restorative refuge for those whose avocation offers unconditional kindness to others forgotten or overlooked by others and inhabiting a wretched landscape. Similarly, we can take refuge in our practice, as Judith Lasater admonishes, as “an act of kindness toward oneself.” By our returns to our practice, we can enter this refuge wherein we can replenish ourselves, no matter how difficult the everyday circumstances in which we might find ourselves. But rather than being self-centered, the energy that we open in ourselves gradually blossoms into a broader practice of kindness to others and connection with others, and we may even begin to emit this kindness in a sense of calm radiance in the everyday that others can perceive.
Paradoxically, the more that we go deeply within, the more that we are opened and drawn beyond ourselves. We begin to experience this unbreakable sanctuary within us as being gateless—not exclusively within. Boundaries may begin to soften. By returns to calm practices, even in just “coming to the matt,” our perception can open to connection, inclusion and wholeness that, in turn, contributes to the support and contentment of others—those who might be joining us in these moments in practice, those with whom we will interact in the coming hours and days, and those for whom we will advocate and perhaps never directly encounter.
When we come to the matt space, we take refuge in the entire universe. No matter where we find ourselves, we are where our most elaborate our science is telling us we are—always center-point in the universe. Wherever we find ourselves—in the moments of practice or in everyday life—we are offered this chance to deeply open the First Excellence of yoga, and take refuge/sharanam. Remarkable, yet not special or exclusive, everywhere, we might enter that unbreakable terrain that we can then express, emitting radiance.