Advent’s Beginning

Today is the second day of Advent, a holy season of anticipation, preparation, and by the end, we hope, a readiness.

It is easy to get caught in a whirlwind of perfectionism in which we strive to meet unrealistic expectations of our own making or those of others.  It is even easier to strive and then compare ourselves and our families to everyone around us, including those halfway around the globe.  Are my spiritual traditions better or worse than my neighbors’ traditions?  Am I teaching my children less effectively, less ideally than my friend is teaching hers?  The perfectionist/comparison trap yields only two results, both unwelcome:  placing ourselves above others, or, putting ourselves below others.  Tons of judgment.

Image result for christmas tree

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outline ten ethical principles, yamas and niyamas, or social and individual observances.  One of the yamas that might help with this perfectionist/comparison trap is aparigraha, or the practice of non-attachment.  This non-attachment extends to more than the material objects we surround ourselves with, but to all of our inner and outer experiences as well.  We can become attached to anything and everything, such as the results of our hard work, or the outcome of situations and circumstances we struggle to orchestrate.  This attachment is also described as a “hunger” or a “craving,” and we can crave the bad things as well as good.  We can strive to have the most tastefully decorated house on the street, give the best gifts, host the most entertaining parties.  At times we even hunger after noble things like becoming an excellent yogi, or a good Christian, or a Catholic saint.

 

While it is wonderful to have the passion and energy for virtuous pursuits, it does no one any good if we constantly judge ourselves as “not living up” and make every one of us miserable in the process!   If we can practice letting go of our attachment to any particular outcome or result, we give ourselves a great gift of grace.

Perfection comes in the fullness of time.  We can’t rush it or control it or demand it.  All of us ripen at different stages and in different seasons, and none of us will reach perfection this side of death.  But if we practice even a bit of non-attachment throughout this holy season, we might just find a contentment that feels like heaven.  And not only will we have a more restful and happy spirit throughout the holidays, we will have souls ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, our Lord and Savior, through whom our perfection comes.

Image result for advent candles

 

The inspiration for this post came at church the week before Thanksgiving.  I picked up a copy of The Magnificat Advent Companion, a small book of blessings, daily scripture, reflections, and prayers, and inside the front cover I found a poem by Rita A. Simmonds.  It is simple and profound.  Enjoy.

This Advent

Prepare a Christmas list.
Don’t tell lies about what you want.
Go outside
and ax the dying tree,
watch it crash in the snow
leaving behind brown and green needles both.
Clear the cupboard of expired soups and noodles
old antibiotics
stiff marshmallows never melted,
and give away
the fresh box of cereal
the olives and canned tomatoes
flour, salt and sugar.
Don’t stuff a turkey
that’s already stuffed.
Make room in the refrigerator
for fresh fruit.
Clear your closets.
Give away blankets and boots
jackets and gloves
that no one has worn.
Confess the cobwebs
and skeletons
past celebrations
have kept and ignored.

Image result for christmas nativity

May we all be blessed with holy simplicity this Advent season.
Happy Practicing!

The Catholic Yogi

*All photos via google images.

 

 

Practice in Virtues, Catholic and Yogic

As we continue to move through this season of anticipation here at the Catholic Yogi, the second week of Advent found our family practicing Understanding, and now, in the third week, the week of rejoicing, we are practicing Kindness.  As the weeks pass, much to my children’s dismay, we can’t happily throw out the patience we learned, the understanding we realized, or the kindnesses we are uncovering.  Instead, we are striving to create habits of these virtues and so carry them with us into our final week of preparing the way.

The kiddos cheer when they think “a week of being patient” has passed, the pressure’s off, no more patience needed!  But when we look at the root of all the virtures we find their life force is the same, Love.  So, in Understanding, we still find patience, and in Kindness, we still offer understanding.  When our fourth week of Advent brings Honesty to our door, I suspect patience, understanding, and kindness will inform our practice of truth.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga according to Patanjali offer Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines for ethical and moral behavior.  (For a quick peek at all eight limbs, check out this article by Mara Carrico.)  When I think of Patience, the second niyama, Samtosa, comes to mind.  It means Contentment.  Sometimes when practicing patience, finding contentment in our hearts is not only helpful, but necessary.  All the grasping that lives within our impatience is calmed when we are able to embrace the goodness of the right here and now.

Svadhyaya, the fourth niyama, is the study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self.  This reminds me of Understanding.  When we seek to be understanding we can study our own habits, thoughts, and behaviors; we can study the scriptures of our own cultural and/or religious disciplines; and, finally, we can study the circumstances, experiences, and situations of others, of our close family, as well as members of our greater communities, even those we haven’t met.  When we have a better grasp of ourselves and others, empathy comes more easily.

Empathy has the ability to spur our feelings into action and take us from contemplation into motion.  Acts of Kindness resonate with the first yama, Ahimsa, meaning Non-violence.  In addition to avoiding harmful behaviors, we seek out ways to lighten the burden and bring comfort.

Satya, the second yama, means Truthfulness and is a great tool in our practice of Honesty.  (You can read an excellent article by Judith Hanson Lasater on the practical applications of truthfulness here.)  When we are sincere in our interactions with others, way down in the depths of the daily things, like “Are you hungry, would you like to eat before we leave?”  “Yes, I am.  That would be great,” we find there is less strife, less bitterness, less frustration, and less regret.

With all of these virtues swirling around in our hearts, what great gifts we can give to each other, not just one celebratory day each year, but here and now, way down deep in the daily living.

Happy Practicing!

The Catholic Yogi

~ For a more in-depth look at the Yamas, read Beginning the Journey by Judith Hanson Lasater, and for the Niyamas, read Cultivate Your Connections.

A New Season, A New Year

“Love is patient.”                                             ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4

Greetings, Friends,

It is a new year in the Christian Church calendar, and a new season is coming for all.  We are practicing Advent at our house these days, the season of preparation.  We are attempting to sweep out the dust and junk to make room for pretty trees and bright lights; we are readying the house for wonder and magic, renewal, peace, hope, and joy.  The kids ask, loudly and with great passion, “Why do we have to clean before we decorate?!”  Living long enough, we realize it just doesn’t feel quite right to decorate over dirt.  So, insted of getting overwhelmed, we take our time, picking up, putting away, wiping this, and shining that.   We have weeks ahead of us, and not everything must be completed in a day.

All this physical work is the manifestation of the spiritual discipline going on inside, successes and failures.  The kiddos roll their eyes at me when I talk about sweeping out our hearts.  “Sweep out our hearts!” I exclaim as I sweep through the house.  “Sweep out the anger! the whinning and pouting! the self-pity!”  Of course, I am exclaiming these things first to myself.  See, the children are a miraculous aid in undestanding, and in the daily practice of loving and being loved.  Without them I am nothing, and my spiritual practices lie dormant at best, absent at worst, devoured by self-centeredness.  But with the little ones at my feet I am mindful of them and the presence of God.

Advent is four weeks long.  I tell the children we will clean out our heart of all the negative stuff that has collected in our absent-minded way of moving through the days, and each week we will decorate our hearts with virtue.  My husband has chosen Patience, Understanding, Kindness, and Honesty as the qualities our family will cultivate for Christmas, gifts we will give to each other, and so to Christ.

Certainly, as Christians and Yogis we are called to grow these goodnesses in our hearts and spread them all year, daily living mindfully, living and practicing the presence of God.  But seasons help us focus.  So today, join us in practicing patience and long-suffering.  It’s well is deep and full.

Happy Advent, Happy Practicing!

The Catholic Yogi

“The word mindfulness is not used [much] in Christian and Jewish circles because mindfulness is a Buddhist word.  But what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness is to be aware of everything you do every day.  Mindfulness is a kind of light that shines upon all your thoughts, all your feelings, all your actions and all your words. Mindfulness is the Buddha.  Mindfulness is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit, the energy of God.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh