Advent, Yoga, & Equanimity

Advent, Yoga, & Equanimity

Finally, the season of Advent is coming to a close and the Christmas season is around the corner. Over the past four weeks, we have explored how the practice of yoga can help draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly. We were reminded that the birth of Jesus, first coming of Christ, was the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world and reunite heaven and earth. We considered how the second coming of Christ, in this present moment, transforms our hearts and minds by purifying the kleshas and dismantling the power of sin in our lives. Here, we will consider the third and final coming of Christ and how it can help us to see the world rightly enabling us to move through our lives with equanimity.

In The Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is defined as “equanimity” and it tells us that equanimity allows us to face difficulty with a “steady and quiet” mind.  When we cultivate equanimity, we are moved by injustice in the world and motivated to make things better, but our deep inner serenity is not disturbed. Equanimity should not to be mistaken for indifference, but rather a state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a reaction born of emotion or defensiveness.

So how can we cultivate equanimity?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra teaches that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, combined with vairagya, the willingness to observe an experience without reacting to it, will lead to equanimity. (Chapter 1:12-16) Calming breathing techniques, mantra meditation, and prayer for the happiness of all beings are prescribed to cultivate equanimity. While these techniques can be beneficial, their effects are temporary and hinge on the effort of the practitioner.

Advent allows us to cultivate equanimity that does not depend on human effort but on the power and promises of God.

 True, lasting, equanimity is a way of seeing correctly, a way of dealing with life, in which we are given a broader perspective of things. When in a state of equanimity, our attention is pointed to the bigger picture, which is the story God is telling in this world. When our attention from moment to moment, day to day, is pointed toward God, we are not affected as deeply by the lesser cares of this world. Through the story of Advent, we gain correct perspective, and our lives are re-ordered by God. Through the perspective that Advent offers us, believers can have equanimity in the face of adversity.

In the face of brokenness, our hope is in the final coming of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. We take comfort in the knowledge that through Jesus, God has defeated the power of darkness forever. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live as an “Advent people”. We are given a heavenly perspective and are enabled to view this world in light of eternity. We witness darkness, but are not overcome by it.  (John 1:5) We are: hard-pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Equanimity is remembering that you are part of the story but not the author. The season of Advent reminds us that the story is being told by God and invites us to observe ourselves as part of the story. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to reunite heaven and earth. As we look back to the first coming of Christ, we are infused with HOPE for the future. God is faithful, his Word is true, and we are living in the midst of his story.  We are assured of Emmanuel, God with us, even in times of trouble and we can gaze into the darkness of this world with a BOLD HOPE.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Romans 8:18-25 MSG

The transformation that started with the birth of Christ is not yet complete. We are living in a world that is still awaiting the final “coming of Christ” when Jesus will defeat the power of sin for all of eternity.  We long for the time when Jesus will shatter the chains of oppression, injustice, death, sickness, and sadness forever. We are desperate for the time when Jesus will split the darkness with his Light, obliterating it forever. True lasting equanimity is found through Jesus; He is our peace. The story God is telling in the world is not yet finished, however we know how the story the ends.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5 

Advent does not deny the darkness; but boldly claims HOPE in the face of darkness. We can cultivate equanimity because we know the end of the story, Jesus will come again and shatter the chains of sin and oppression once and for all.  When that time comes the Light will overcome the darkness forever and Jesus will establish His reign of Justice and Peace for all eternity.  Until then, we are invited to look forward to the final coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How does knowing the story of God change your perception of what you see happening in the world?
  • Do you have an attitude of anticipation and expectancy for Jesus to come again?
  • Are you ready? How does Christ’s return convict you? Are there areas of your life that need to change?
  • Are you waiting? Do you long for Jesus to return? How does Christ’s return comfort you?
  • How can the darkness around you enlarge your HOPE in waiting and expectation?

 

Pranayama breath prayer for Equanimity this week from John 16:33: (Jesus says) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Inhale: In this world you will have trouble.

Exhale: But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Heavenly Father, your word is eternal, your faithfulness endures forever, and all things serve you. We praise you Father for the story that you are telling. We are humbled that you invite us to be part of the story. Lord, we are yours; help us to see rightly and give us understanding that we may know your ways.  Teach us to be expectant with the hope of your promises. Show us how to wait with you for the time when Christ will come again to wipe every tear from our eyes, and when there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. Amen.

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Advent, Yoga, & Awakening to the Living Christ

Advent, Yoga, & Awakening to the Living Christ

During the Advent season, Christians are invited to awaken to the coming of Christ by recalling the past, awakening to the present, and anticipating the future. We are reminded that there is a bigger story being told in this world, and we are living in the “time between”.

In previous posts, we explored how the practice of yoga can help draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly and awakening us to the Advent, or coming, of Christ. We were reminded that the first coming of Christ, the birth of Jesus, was the fulfillment of God’s promises, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world; reuniting heaven and earth. Through Jesus, humankind was rescued from the power of darkness, and reconciled back to God as sons and daughters. Today, we will consider the second Advent of Christ.

The Advent season is a time of awakening to the present coming of Jesus Christ.

While we look back and rejoice over the first coming, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light born in the darkness, we cannot deny that there is still much darkness in the world. There is brokenness all around us: death, disease, addiction, pain, and suffering. Even more, if we look close enough, we can recognize the darkness that exists within our own hearts; the brokenness which is knit into our very nature.  Though we were made in the image of God, this image was deeply marred and severely distorted by the Fall of mankind. The good news of Scripture and the central message of God’s revelation tells us that through Jesus Christ, we are being made new and we are the first fruits of a new creation. Through the life-long process of sanctification, the follower of Christ is shaped by God, and is moved to love what God loves, to live the way that God would have us live, and is transformed into the likeness of Christ.

In the Bible, Paul teaches, “that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6) and exhorts us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

A traditional yoga practice outlines a process of self-examination in which the “kleshas” of the mind can be purified. Klesha is a term from Indian philosophy and yoga, meaning a “poison” or “affliction”. Like the biblical concept of sin, klesha is considered a negative mental state that clouds the mind and manifests itself in unwholesome actions. The kleshas are said to be the root cause of all suffering in the world. There are five kleshas which are explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as:

  • avidya -ignorance of or misunderstanding of the true nature of reality
  • asmita -over-identifying with your ego, (worldly identity versus heavenly identity)
  • raga -desire, or attachment to pleasure
  • dvesha -avoidance of what is not pleasurable
  • abhinivesha -attachment to life and fear of death

By understanding sin-nature in light of the kleshas, we are able to clearly see the reality of the world and our own true nature. The Christian believes that Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin. Jesus has gifted us with the Holy Spirit who is with us, and dwells in us, continually working to transform our lives from the inside out.  Meditation, reflection, discipline, communion and surrender to God are the techniques that Yoga offers us to burn away the impurities of the kleshas and to help purify the mind.

Advent invites us to see Jesus, coming into the present moment, dismantling the power of sin and allowing him to reshape our lives.  Christ is coming today, even now, into our hearts and minds to reveal the dark places, where fear, hurt, and sin would like to fester and multiply. Jesus is asking us to trust him, to allow him to heal our brokenness with the love of God.

During Advent, we look back to remember what God has already done, but we also look inward, to see what God would like to do, and we prepare room for the birth of Christ in our lives here and now. Finally, next week, we will look forward with anticipation to when Christ returns to rule triumphantly over life in heaven and earth. Until then, we are invited to awaken to the present coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How do we heed Paul’s exhortation for self- examination and confession? (here is a great resource)
  • What circumstances, situations and relationships in our lives seem hopeless and desperate?
  • How would God like to birth his Light & Love in the dark and messy parts of our lives?

This Advent, we are reminded that we are not left alone to deal with our kleshas, or sins, on our own. The message of Advent is Emmanuel, God with us, bringing his Light here and now, even in the darkest times and the messiest places. Jesus invites us to call out to him and ask him to birth his Love in our lives.

Pranayama breath prayer for Transformation from Psalm 51:10:

Inhale: Create in me a clean heart, oh God,

Exhale: and renew a right spirit within me.

 

 

Advent: Looking Back to Remember

Advent: Looking Back to Remember

In last week’s post, Advent, Yoga, & Maya, we considered how the practice of yoga helps to draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly, perceiving the whole picture of what God is doing in the world.

During the Advent season, Christians are invited to recall the past, awaken to the present, and anticipate the future. We are reminded that there is a bigger story being told, and we are living in the “time between”.

The season of Advent can be traced back to the fifth and sixth century when Christians first began to establish a specific period of time to prepare themselves for the Christmas season.  Advent, throughout the universal Church, consisted of making preparations such as the use of special decorations, music, and readings, as well as implementing the disciplines of fasting and prayer to help “make room” in the hearts and minds of believers for what was to come. Interestingly, the word “advent” is derived from the Latin word “adventus” which literally translates as “coming”.

But what is coming?  Why do we count down the days?  For what are we making room? What are we preparing ourselves for? Why are we waiting?

Advent is the season of readying ourselves for Jesus Christ to come into the world.  

Past….Present….and Future.

Advent is a time of looking back to remember the first coming of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Advent season, believers are encouraged to recollect what God has done throughout history. From the origins of Genesis, to the culmination of Jesus Christ, we are called to remember God’s graciousness to his people. Emmanuel, God with us…

During Advent, we are reminded that the Israelites were the original “Advent people”, waiting patiently and expectantly for the promised Messiah. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of this promises, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world; reuniting heaven and earth. Through Jesus, humankind was rescued from the power of darkness, and reconciled back to God as sons and daughters. In Christ, the Divine clothed itself with the flesh of humanity and established the first in the line of a restored humanity.  Through Jesus, we can see the original design for our hearts and the intended shape of our lives.

Even more, when we look back to the manger, we are given insight into the nature of our Heavenly Father. He was satisfied to be born in the most desperate of situations, the most meager of places. Poor, powerless, hunted, humble, and cast-aside, these are the circumstances which the Creator of the Universe chose for his entry point into this world.  Our God does not look past, or avoid, dark and messy places.  It is in those exact circumstances that God chooses for his Love to be born in the world.  Advent calls us to remember the first “coming” of the Christ-child in the manger.

As we look back to the first coming of Christ, we are infused with HOPE for the future. God is faithful, his Word is true, and we are living in the midst of his story.  Through the first coming of Christ, we are assured that God is with us, even in times of trouble and He is on the move. We can gaze into the darkness of this world with a BOLD HOPE, for God’s presence is with us, and He is working out his story in this world.

Advent reminds us of that there is more to this world than meets the eye and asks us to see with eyes of our hearts. For the Christian, yoga fosters the ability to move the veil of Maya aside, encountering the present moment not only through our physical eyes, but in light of God’s promises for the future. Through the practice of yoga, we embrace our unique positioning of being physically grounded here on earth while already being established in eternity.

As we look back to what God has done, we can look forward to what God is doing and will do with new eyes. Preparing for the coming of Christ, we make room for the birth of Christ even now, which we will discuss in next week’s post. Until then,  we are invited to look back to the first coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How does the first coming of Christ change our perceptions of the messy places, relationships, and people in our lives?
  • Do we view the darkness around us as full of promise and light?
  • Are we open to be surprised by God? For God to be born in the most unlikely places in our lives?

Pranayama breath prayer for Peace this week from John 1:5:

           Inhale: The light shines in the darkness,

           Exhale: and the darkness has not overcome it.

Holy Spirit teach us to “see” that which is not seen, and to “hear” your still small voice. Move illusions aside to help us to see you more clearly. Awaken us to your presence in the dark places, right here, right now. Assure us of your promises. Emmanuel, God with us…

 

 

 

Advent, Yoga & Maya

Advent, Yoga & Maya

Advent is a time of new beginnings.  Not only does Advent mark the beginning of the liturgical year in the Church, but Advent, for me, also marks the beginning of my journey of teaching Christ-centered yoga classes.

I first began teaching these Scripture-based yoga classes during the Advent season in 2012. I was in a sweet phase of impromptu, middle-of-the-night Bible-study in which my eyes were being opened to new ways of understanding the nature of God and applying the Truth of his Word. It was during this time that I first felt God prompting me to use Scripture in my yoga classes. I had been teaching yoga for several years, but I had never attended any faith-based yoga class, let alone one that was centered on Jesus. Hesitantly, I approached my supervisor about the prospect of teaching a Christ-centered yoga class. I secretly hoped that she would say no! I did not feel comfortable teaching Scripture, as I was not raised in the church and felt ill-equipped.  I also worried about who would attend and how they would respond to the blending of biblical Scripture and the practice of yoga.  I was uncomfortable and unsure of myself to say the least.

I reasoned with God…

ME:  I am not qualified. I need to get trained to teach Scripture-based yoga.

GOD: Jesus is the one who qualifies you. He will lead the way. Follow Jesus.

ME: I need a certification.

GOD:  My Holy Spirit is the only certification that you need.

ME: How will others respond?

GOD: I will be pleased with your obedience despite what others may think.

I stopped arguing. My supervisor gave me permission to teach. It was settled. I was to teach a 4-week series of yoga classes for Advent. It was time for me to prepare.

Up to this point, my knowledge of Advent consisted mostly of chocolates and calendars and counting down the days until Santa would pack up his sleigh and travel the world with gifts to give. What I found in preparing myself to teach those first classes during Advent was pivotal for me, my faith-walk with Jesus, and my yoga journey.

Maya and Advent

The philosophy of traditional yoga teaches the concept of “Maya”, the notion that there is more to this world than meets the eye. Maya is the illusion that things are as they seem, as we perceive them with our physical senses. Maya is the veil which keeps us from seeing the world clearly; prevents us from seeing the whole picture. Maya is a very interesting concept when placed within the Christian worldview, and the season of Advent helps to move the veil of Maya aside, in order for us to see the world, ourselves, and each other correctly.

For the follower of Christ, the season of Advent reminds us that our lives are connected to a bigger story that God is telling in this world.  Our stories do not stand alone, but have been placed inside the greatest love story ever known to mankind. God is redeeming the world, making all things new, and bringing Light forth in the darkness. And get this, we already know the ending to the story! Love wins, darkness is defeated forever, and there will be a time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

Entering into the season of Advent, Christians are invited to recall the past, awaken to the present, and anticipate the future. There is a bigger story being told, and we are reminded of our place in this story. We are currently living in the “time between” what has already happened through the birth of Jesus Christ, and what is still yet to happen when Jesus comes again to defeat darkness for all eternity. The Advent season assures us that there is a bigger story being told, and our lives are mere subplots in this story. When we are deceived by Maya, we cannot see and do not understand this as Truth.

How can we see beyond the illusion of Maya?

How do we see that which cannot be seen?  How do we perceive the Light beyond the darkness? How do we live with hope in the face of despair? How do we ground ourselves in the “now” while living on the promises of the future?

The practice of yoga draws back the veil of Maya, helping us to see what truly is- the realest reality. Yoga is a powerful tool for recognizing our roles in God’s big story, establishing our identities in Christ, and cultivating our hearts as an “Advent people”.

The practice of yoga is the practice of getting still…yoking ourselves to this place and time. Slowing the mind down to become aware of what is actually happening in this moment. What do I feel? What do I hear? How is my spine aligned?  Can I feel the breath in my lungs? Where does my flesh touch my spirit? Where does my spirit encounter the Spirit of God? And ultimately, how do I abide- moving through my life in communion with the Holy Spirit?

In yoga, we are taught to sit on a mat, watching, waiting, and listening. We cultivate eyes to see, ears to hear, and we are awakened to the real-est reality.

Yoga also helps us to recognize the past and the future as separate from, yet connected to, the present moment.  For the Christian, yoga fosters our ability to see clearly, to gaze intently into the darkness with a bright and bold hope. We are taught to encounter the present moment in light of God’s promises for the future. We learn to embrace our unique positioning, physically grounded here in this moment on earth, while already established in eternity.

Through the practice of yoga, we are awakened to the three comings of Christ, past, present, and future, which we will discuss here over the next four weeks of Advent.

For now, ,yoga teaches us to “see” that which is not seen, to “hear” the still small voice of God, and awakens us to the very real presence of God right here, right now.

Emmanuel, God with us…