Expanding Your Gaze
Affirmation: I choose peace and love.
Have you heard of Yogaville? It is a yoga ashram located on 750 acres in Virginia. It was founded by Swami Satchidananda. The shrine, called the LOTUS was opened in 1986. It’s an acronym that stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine. I was looking for something to do with my granddaughter, Isabelle (age 17), for my birthday because my husband, Sandy, had told me he would be traveling at that time. Isabelle and I had been practicing yoga together for a while before this and I thought it would be a great adventure for us to share. It turned out to be only a three-hour drive from our home. I signed us up for a course called “Healthy Relationships in Yoga & The Path of Heart.”
God bless my granddaughter. What a light she is and what a good sport! The diet was strictly vegan and we were quite challenged to find something on which to focus other than kale and tofu. Also, she was the youngest by about ten years. Her youthful spirit and presence alone brought joy and smiles to everyone we encountered. We laughed, we ate weird food, we met new interesting people and most importantly we created some wonderful memories.
One of the first things we were told when we arrived was not to miss seeing the shrine. We were in the middle of nowhere and I envisioned a small concrete or wooden structure with maybe a Hindu deity in the middle. The next morning we headed out to walk about a mile through the woods to take photos and see what there was to see. We reached a road and followed it up a hill and then from out of the valley below rose a giant pink and blue lotus shaped building. It was, I guessed, as large as the White House in DC but it wasn’t white. We were stunned. It’s one of a huge complex consisting of three buildings that started at the top of the mountain and ended down in the valley. What would we find inside?
On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2015 Kate Cook was the yoga teacher at Fire Fly Hot Yoga here in Cary, NC. She leads an hour and a half Intensive Slow Flow class. She’s one of the best Yoginis with whom I have ever studied. She is so precise in her language and she always brings a lesson with her to deepen our practice. This last week she instructed us to gaze on the ball of energy we created when we cupped our hands and placed them in front of us. As we breathed in our hands moved together, as we breathed out, they expanded. Then as we were doing our balance poses, she encouraged us to “change our gaze.”
Normally, when one is balancing the instruction is to focus on one point. In Yoga it’s called a “drishti.” Kate reminded us that our mat practice is a metaphor for our life practice. What we learn on our mats, we have the opportunity to take with us out into the world. As far as I’m concerned developing balance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate for ourselves. I do like to remind myself, however, that as one yoga teacher said, “There is no balance, there is only balancing.” We are either coming into balance or falling out. I know this is true for me. As I stood there on one leg with my fingers wrapped around my big toe and my lifted leg straight out to one side, my drishti was on some unmovable object in front of me. Trying to stay upright and trying to remember to breathe, Kate then suggested we “change our gaze” and look in one direction and then the other. I fell over and I tried again and I fell over and again. I lost my balance. Without a focus I couldn’t stay steady with a focus I couldn’t see the rest of the space. Which is better? I decided neither. Sometimes one is needed and other times, a grater perspective is essential.
It’s good to be focused. It helps me accomplish the tasks I set before myself but when it’s limits my perspective on life, it shrinks my world into a smaller box and I need to get smaller to fit into it. I don’t want to be small. At five feet tall, I’m small enough. I want to take a big giant breath and expand my world to include all sorts of people, places and ideas. Then I have to decide what to allow to stay with me and of what I want to let go. What is “of God” and what is not. What will enhance my life and what will diminish it? It’s a mediation, don’t you think? We are faced with this choice day in and day out. Sometimes it’s about food. Sometimes it’s about activities. It can be about people and most certainly it’s about our ideas, our beliefs, our concepts.
The shrine in Yogaville is dedicated to all religions in the world, those that are well known and those that are yet to come. There are twelve altars in the lower level with reminders of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Moslem faith and eight others. It was respectful and well presented. It was a home for all, even the atheist. My initial reaction was small minded but I prefer to be an inclusive person and Kate’s recently taken yoga class helped me respond in a more open, accepting, non-judgmental mode.
I’m reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He too talks about accepting all faiths, not judging, even accepting the non-believers. Peace. I believe this is Peace. I know we are instructed to “spread the good news.” We are actually commanded to do so. The best way I know to do that is to try to always be a kind and compassionate person but when someone tells you they are right and you are “so very wrong,” what is your reaction? It’s not normally a peaceful one, is it? The course Isabelle and I took was led by two of the founders of Yogaville, Jeevakan & Priya Abbate. They were kind, gentle, compassionate people. I could see why so many are attracted to this place. It radiated peace and acceptance. One of the lessons was around the concept that, “We can be right or we can have peace.” I’ve also heard it phrased, “We can be right or we can love.” This is the difference between having a focus and seeing the broader picture.
I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. Here I sit with a focus on Christ but for me, God is everywhere. God is everything. I am not here to limit God’s unfathomable power. Yogaville was a good place for me to share an adventure with Isabelle. It was a great birthday weekend. I was outside of my comfort zone. I had to broaden my horizons and see God in all things, even within a giant pink and blue concrete flower rising out of the Virginia valley.