Namaste Spring!

Spring is in the air, and on my walls–where do all those boxelder bugs hang out and how is it they know when to emerge out of hiding? 

I am also looking forward to an emergent Spring.  After a difficult couple of years with difficult people being difficult, I am so relieved to have landed in a better place and shed the baggage of my HOA landlord! How naive I was to think the transient and transactional nature of an HOA would be compatible with a 20-year yoga community like ours!  Where was my Scandinavian cynicism when I needed it? Oh well, as my daughter likes to say, “Not my monkeys, not my circus”–it’s now my new mantra, very freeing!

As many of you know, I have landed in not just a better space, but a better place.  I said, “I’d never teach in a church,” and technically, PEACE calls itself a “Faith Community” foregoing the “church” label.  They’re by far the most progressive, academic, and humorous services I’ve attended. All kinds of couples feel comfortable sitting together which is key for me and Mr. HotDish. #loveislove

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been connecting the dots when it comes to the metaphor of “light” found in so many religions. PEACE makes much ado about light and we surely enjoyed all the holiday lights in our Wednesday evening classes that shone into February!

The light shines through the people there. I’ve never been in a community this outgoing and friendly to newcomers. It must be full of extroverts and some hard-trying introverts!  Everyone chats randomly at the complimentary coffee and bars bar. Oh, and BTW, this is NOT your grandparents’ coffee. It’s strong—and fair trade.

Most of you know by now that “Namaste” means, “I honor the light within you.” However, India and Hinduism don’t have a monopoly on light. Did you know, Quaker women referred to themselves as “daughters of the light” and spoke of “enlightenment?”

Quakers were some of the first women to travel internationally in the 1700s, often alone or in pairs, spreading the gospel. Voltaire called them, “tolerant, peaceful, benevolent paragons of enlightenment.”  They were about the only women who spoke publicly and wrote essays.  Naturally, they were accused of witchcraft and those pesky patriarchial Puritans burned a few of them at the stake.

A favorite Quaker pastime was, “antagonism to social rank” though they were technically pacifists. That said, when pushed too far by the British, they cooked up bullets in their kitchens (Betsy Ross wasn’t just making flags) and took up arms, risking ex-communication.  They deplored hierarchy and detested slavery. Disillusioned after the Revolutionary War, they thought Job-One was going to be to end slavery. They went on to be active in the underground railroad.  

Much like yoga nowadays, Quakers believe that absolutely all people possess an undeniable inner light, no exceptions! They believe everyone could and should tap into the source of that light.  Services consist of sitting quietly, in community, and sometimes sharing your thoughts aloud if you feel called to do so.

Sounds a lot like seated meditation doesn’t it? If you ever have a chance to attend a Quaker Meeting House (again, not a “church”) many of you would feel comfortable giving it a try–and you don’t even have to sit on the floor. Maybe that’s what Quakerism is in a nutshell:  meditation with chairs, hats before hierarchy! 🙂

If you would like to read more about Quaker history and be amazed at how much it mirrors yoga and modern ideas of social justice, check out Daughters of Light: Quaker Women Preaching and Prophesying in the Colonies and Abroad, 1700-1775.  You will see they were learned and literate, valuing “industry, integrity, and frugality.” 

Quakers don’t think people should act one way performing their vocation and another way at Sunday services. In other words, if what you do is in conflict with who you are, you should do something else! Early America had many industrious Quaker entrepreneurs. People sought them out as they had a reputation for honesty. In fact, you could argue that Betsy Ross was one of America’s first great female entrepreneurs as a single Mom and Philadelphia’s top upholsterer. Her frugality shone through when she cut back the stars on the flag from six points to five! She also became a Free Quaker (fighting Quaker) with her pivotal role in the Revolution. Just to meet w/ the Founding Fathers was incredibly risky to her safety and her profits.

I have been exploring my heritage as of late, making my application to the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I have “claim” to two patriots in my ancestry, but the one I’m most excited about is a Quaker woman named Mary Armfield.  She almost drowned bringing supplies to her husband in the Battle of Guilford Court House. Yep, she was as badass as they come back then! 

Much like the tale of Arjuna, in that quintessential yoga text, The Bhagavad Gita, we learn that even as peace-loving people, we are sometimes called to pick up arms or take an aggressive stand for something.  At first, Arjuna “The Archer” doesn’t realize he is riding shotgun to Lord Krishna, the blue guy driving the chariot. Bound for Kurukshetra, a huge battle in a brutal civil war that pits 2 interconnected families against each another, Lord Krishna finally implores Arjuna to stop cowering! He tells him to get up off the chariot floor and fight–it’s time!

A conflicted Arjuna finally realizes he has to do his duty, to follow his dharma, or destiny, which is one of a leader in battle. We can read all about spiritual paths, but they are rarely as obvious and straightforward as we’d like.  Krishna is more or less instructing not to get caught up in “paralysis by analysis.”   Non-action is still action, and it’s often the worst kind with the least favorable consequences.

The Bhagavad Gita is also a great read, and one of the most widely read religious texts in the world. My favorite take on The Gita is written by Stephen Cope, Kripalu’s former CEO, and Scholar-in-residence. It’s framed in a modern context toward finding your true vocational calling. I call it the What Color is Your Parachute of yoga! It’s not exactly a beach read though, so you may want to start it now. Hmm…a book club pick? 

Link to Cope’s The Greatest Work of Your Life: A Guide to the Journey of Your True Calling. If you ever have a chance to go to Kripalu and study w/ Stephen, take it! Oh, and if you’re “stuck on the chariot floor” –get up!

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham

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