This weekend I am going to a training in Chicago to learn to teach yoga in prisons. I have wanted to do this for a couple years. It hasn’t been like, “sweet – I bet teaching yoga in a prison is so awesome.” It has been more like the uglies of digging through my own shtuff, trying to forgive myself for this, that, and that too — that I have thought lots about people in prison and what a gift of life yoga might be. I have had some really vivid dreams about being put in prison for things I said, did, or didn’t do and obviously felt guilt and shame about it. I have woken up from those dreams feeling so grateful that I don’t have to carry all those regrets around with me in public documents and tell everyone about them again and again, as I imagine someone in prison or leaving prison is required to do. I have felt so grateful that those regrets, bad decisions, thoughts, whatever, have never been like The Scarlet Letter on my forehead that identified me as a person. I am able to grow, change, evolve and be more than who I am in my worst moments.
As I anticipate the training this weekend, I am again thinking about guilt and shame and what a huge, ENORMOUS, life changing gift it is to be able to forgive yourself, to change, to start fresh. And how really hard that can be to live out.
Yoga philosophy talks about “avidya” as the smudges through which we mis-perceive the world. So, whatever ways I feel bad about myself, the ways I have been hurt, all my regrets and shtuff are the smudges on the lenses I am looking out (and in). I think this is also a good description of how we experience sin in our life. We (mis)perceive the world and ourselves through our experience of sin. So, how do we clean our lenses to have a fresh, clean, and more loving view of ourselves and the world?
I have said this a billion times (one more time aint gonna kill ya); yoga is not a magic pill. But, yoga, with mediation & prayer (for me they are synonyms), is a way to clean the lenses off. You go through your body – to quiet the mind – and rest in the spirit. Once your busy, judgmental, critical mind quiets down you are better able to see the smudges for what they are – smudges on the surface of your lenses and not permanent stains on the core of your being. And when you can recognize that they are just smudges, they lose their power and their presence. This is when I can feel and know the compassion and patient love of God. I can nearly hear a sweet, kind, gentle voice saying, “You’re doing the best you can, I know – It’s alright” and giving me the softest little kiss on my forehead.
Don’t get me wrong, yoga is not always or even most of the time so amazing that I hear the voice of God or feel God kiss me on my head. BUT, the practice of yoga (with prayer & meditation) does remind and ground me in the absolute truth of God’s love, compassion, and forgiveness in my life, especially when I am NOT feeling it.
I imagine that I will learn as much about myself as I will about teaching yoga in prisons this weekend. I am also guessing that much of what is important to know about teaching yoga in prisons is good to practice outside of the prisons, where we can tuck our own Scarlet Letter in our pockets, hidden from view but burning a hole in our pockets.
I ask for your prayers, chants, thoughts, and words of encouragement in this all. I am guessing that prisons and detention centers are not posting help wanted ads in the newspaper for yoga teachers. It will be up to me to make it happen. And I really want to make it happen. So, please send some compassion, courage, and bold love my way.
And speaking of Compassion…the next Daily Bread Yoga retreat is Saturday, April 20th, 9a.m.-noon. The topic will be compassion, on and off the mat. It will be a great morning – please come. And check out The Prison Yoga Project on the interweb. They do great work.
peace and a soft kiss on your head,