I gain insight from my yoga practice that I didn’t ever imagine when I began. Somehow the physical practice embodies, for me, living truths of a life of faith. During the last weeks of spring, I found myself drawn to restorative and yin practices; I guess I needed this slowing of my mind and body. Typically these styles of yoga involve holding poses for longer periods. I recently read that restorative yoga moves us from letting go to letting be.
I have experienced a deeper listening —for me it is listening to my life and to God—during the slower paced yoga class because there is a suspending of time involved.
So, I was a bit surprised by what I heard last week when I ventured into a class that I knew to be physically challenging—Strength & Flow—that is the opposite of the contemplative practice where I was seeking solace. After a series of vinyasa flows, our teacher said, “Rest in down dog.”
A downward facing dog is technically considered a resting pose I suppose, however, it is filled with subtle alignment and awareness. It deeply stretches your hamstrings, shoulders, calves, arches, hands, and spine while building strength in your arms, shoulders, and legs – not exactly resting? In this instance, I was not actively moving, taking time to pay attention to my body and breathing. To me, the reality that your heart is higher than your head is not just a physical manifestation but also a metaphor to which I might need to pay more attention.
Not only did my teacher commend us to rest in our downward dog, she added, “you are also building strength.” She paused, laughed a little, and almost to herself reflected that this synergy of resting and building strength is a good metaphor for life.
In this blog, I’ve engaged ideas of letting go and loosening my grip but not much about letting things be. For the first time maybe, after thinking about my teacher’s comment, I’m considering how these stances are intertwined or evolve to strengthen us in our faithful living.
I have been anticipating change for months since I found out my job would be ending. For months, I’ve waited and wondered and watched as my husband did the job search. Now that we know where we are moving, the certainty compared to the searching seems, in some ways, more challenging. This is the biggest move we’ve made—traversing 2789 miles, across an international border, and there is no road to actually get there since it is on an island.
I’ve been waking up early, or even in the middle of the night, a bit anxious about all the things I don’t know or can’t imagine at this point in time. I am not able to sort out all the nuances of figuring out what we really need to move, what to get rid of altogether, how to find a place to live and one thing informs another. Until we spoke with the immigration lawyer last week, I hadn’t even thought of the steps involved in actually crossing a border and considering where and how and when. Letting go. Letting be?
I’m reconsidering what it means to be in a wilderness—in the place, real or imagined, where I am not the one in control. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have any control. There is a difference—the synergy of rest and strength.
What happens if I let things be? What happens if I just do some things each day that I can actually do, here and now, and not fret over the labyrinthine decision making process?
Scott Russell Sanders, in his book Staying Put, proposes a third response to the duality of flight or fight when we encounter challenges. He describes simply his decision to remain on his front porch when foreboding weather waked his senses and tornado sirens screamed in his Midwest neighborhood. Instead of retreating to the basement like sensible people would do, he chose to stay put and continue enjoying his dinner. What kept him there, he said, was “a mixture of curiosity and awe” and a desire to “see what comes.” Sanders continues,
Psychologists tell us that we answer trouble with one of two impulses, either fight or flight. I believe that …my own keen expectancy on the porch arose from a third instinct, that of staying put. When the pain of leaving behind what we know outweighs the pain of embracing it, or when the power we face is overwhelming and neither fight not flight will save us, there may be salvation in sitting still. And if salvation is impossible, then at least before perishing we may gain a clearer vision of where we are. By sitting still I do not mean the paralysis of dread… I mean something like reverence, a respectful waiting, a deep attentiveness to forces much greater than our own.
It is now six weeks before my husband is supposed to begin his new job. We have no place to live in the new city. We aren’t sure how we are physically moving. We aren’t sure when. Resting or letting things be doesn’t seem like an option. Considering the lilies (Matt.6: 28), unlike Emily Dickinson, is a commandment I’ve been breaking.
A small house in our new city is three or four times the cost of what we just sold our house here. On a recent, and my only, trip to Victoria, my husband and I drove around neighborhoods and mostly looked at the outside of apartment buildings and got a feel for different neighborhoods We toured a house divided into apartments and two single houses for rent. They stood side by side in a neighborhood of both houses and low-rise apartments in a coveted location close to downtown and blocks from the ocean. The houses were slated to be torn down in the coming year, hence the month-to-month lease and any pets allowed policy. However, just like another inquiry I made via email, I was told, “vacancy rate is less than one half of 1% here, so it is likely these will be gone quickly.”
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel. In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength (Isaiah 30:15). These reassurances are so easy to say but have to be re-lived with intention, over and over, when anxiousness and fear invade insight. Spiritual practice at its simplest is a moment-by-moment learning to respond to risk or opportunity another way.
So, like in the downward dog position, I have engaged my muscles a little by perusing rental sites, occasionally. I’ve spent a good bit of time getting rid of what we don’t need. However, the challenge comes in resting in this position, knowing that there is little, if anything, I actually control. I have to depend on God, on other people, on time unfolding, and on the fidelity of remembering that our needs have always been met throughout 39 years of marriage.
Resting in a strength building position is not doing nothing or being anxious about everything. It is being open, noticing, and yielding to make room for possibilities to emerge. This stance makes it possible to see enough light to keep walking even when the roads aren’t there.
Now to have the courage to take this lesson again off the yoga mat and experience the surrender of letting be, with reverence, a respectful waiting, and a deep attentiveness to forces much greater than my own.