The Spaciousness of Love, Revisited

Dear Readers, 

I wrote the original version of this essay a few years ago and have decided to revisit it.  What you’ll find below is a slightly reworked version oriented toward finding ways to take right action in light of the most current tragic events in the U.S. and the revelations of social divides and social injustice made more evident by this pandemic.  I hope there is something within these words that resonates with you, and that it helps inspire you to reach deeply into your own heart; find new ways of loving and embracing yourself, so that you may find new ways of loving and embracing the people in your own community, and so on outward to your village, township, parish, county, city, state, country, continent, and world.  My invitation to you is to start with yourself, and only then move outward, because you are just as worthy of your own love as your neighbor is.  The Divine lives in all of us and is the center of all things.  God is the hub; we are the spokes; this life is the rim.  And the closer we get to each other, the closer we get to God.    

As I write these last words, the reality of quarantine and safe (or social) distance measures strikes me squarely in the face.  My heart longs to enter back into the world, and yet I feel trapped, without clear pathways, and also a little fearful.  The need to take action is strong within me and many of the people in my community.  I am reminded by my teachers that right action will look different for each and every one of us.  For some of us, our first right step might be to hold our children close and feel what it feels like to be safe.  For some of us, getting involved in our community’s social justice groups is the most pressing immediate action.  And others of us will be called to speak in loving kindness with family, friends, and neighbors, or write letters of trust and strength and hope.  Still others of us will find ways to connect with our spiritual communities and allow the passion and guidance of our spiritual leaders to bolster our hearts in faith and love.  

May we be drenched in Holy Spirit wisdom, and soaked in gratitude, faith, hope, and love.

The Spaciousness of Love

If love is kind,
it is not cruel.

If love is not jealous,
it is supportive.

If love is not pompous,
it is humble.

If love is not inflated,
it sees rightly.  

If love is not rude,
it is enlightened.  

If love is not self-seeking,
it is generous. 

If love is not quick-tempered,
it is tranquil.

If love does not brood over injury,
it is forgiving.

If love does not rejoice over wrongdoing,
it offers compassion.

If love bears all things,
it turns nothing away.

If love believes all things,
it does not deny. 

If love endures all things,
it does not cede. 

If love never fails,
it always triumphs.

In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, a scholar of Jewish law asks Christ, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus says to him in reply, ““What is written in the law? How do you read it?”  The scholar responds with what we know as The Greatest Commandment:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus replies to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-8).

From this quick exchange it seems our purpose on earth is simple, our mission, obvious, and the answer to the question of inheriting eternal life, a short one: love.  That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.

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However, as simple as love appears to be, isn’t it simultaneously complex?  What, exactly, is love?

In his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul articulates clearly and beautifully what love is and what it is not, what love does and what it does not do.  And he acknowledges that our actions can be either devoid of love or infused with it.  We can serve in bitterness and resentment or in humility and compassion.  Even our most helpful of actions can be empty of love, performed in a negative spirit that crushes our own and that of the recipient.   St. Paul even goes so far as to proclaim that love is the greatest of all virtues, greater than faith and greater than hope:  “Love will remain even when faith has yielded to sight and hope to possession” (USCCB Commentary).

Thankfully we can look to these guidelines and explanations of love to give us a starting point, a kind of pathway forward, but I know how much I stumble and wander about aimlessly, how often I fall and clamber in the dark of my ignorance, for even though I hear the encouragement, “love one another as you love yourself,” it is as if I do not have ears; I still find myself screaming, in my most wretched hour, “How?”

The Greatest Commandment, love one another as you love yourself, assumes that we already know how we are to love ourselves.  

Zen priest and founder of the Center for Transformative Change, Angel Kyodo Williams, describes love as space:  “[Love] is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are — that is love”  (OnBeing interview with Krista Tippett).

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If love is space, it is not a vacuum; it does not pull all things into itself but expands and allows people to be who they are.  Love makes room for the full expression of the human experience.  Unfortunately, there have been many times in which I’ve been loveless.  I’ve had a habit of pulling all things into myself, making myself the center of the multiverse, sucking the life out of life.  I have been selfish, judgmental, prideful, vain, and vacuous, full of disdain, contempt, and self-righteousness, as I suspect most of us have at one time or another.  It is a crushing cycle to find oneself in, as it damages others, as well as ourselves, on multiple levels.

I want to choose space.

Choosing space is hard.

It’s good to remember that love is not passive; it’s an action, whether or not it looks like action from the outside.  To love is an act of the will; it is to choose, and we can’t make choices without awareness.  To be aware is to choose to see rightly, to see ourselves as we really are, without quite so many labels, inherited or created, without stories in which we are always the protagonist; but instead, to choose to see ourselves simply as children of God worthy of love, worthy of forgiveness, by our sheer existence.  Awareness can help create this space to see, this space in which we can choose dignity, this space to act in love toward ourself and our neighbor.

All this takes practice.  When we work on our yoga mat to create space in the body for healing, we do so with awareness.  When we work on our meditation mat to create space in the mind for choice, we do so with awareness.  And when the mind is able to choose, we are able to work in our daily lives to create space in the spirit for loving ourselves.  The hope is that if for a moment we can focus on the tree trunk, instead of the ever changing leaves, perhaps we will be able to notice, for even an instant, our constant spirit, instead of our changeable thoughts and emotions. And from inside this space, this separation between ourselves and our thought-feelings, we will find compassion for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, and for each person we encounter.

Photo by Mateusz Sałaciak on

Creating space isn’t easy.  It requires openness of mind and heart.  This can be unnerving and can seem irrational.  As human beings we strive to protect ourselves from the possibility of physical, mental, and emotional harm and to fulfill our basic needs.  This is survival mode, and it causes us to lose touch with others and even with our truest selves.  As we frantically search and scan our surroundings, our circumstances, we become absorbed with negativity.   When this is our baseline functioning, we run the risk of closing in on ourselves, forgetting who we are, and who we are in relation to those around us.

But we can try, little by little we can try to find that necessary spaciousness.  What can we practice letting go of to make space for something else, something like welcoming, like embracing?  Making space for ourselves, and making space for one another are true acts of love.  Even paying close attention is loving, for where we place our attention, there also will our love be.  Bringing our awareness to the present moment, including the people and events within that moment, and allowing space for the moment to be what it is, is living in love.

Our practices of the limbs of yoga – the yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dhyana, dharana – with the wisdom of Holy Spirit, will lead us to the answers.  We’ll figure out what needs letting go of through practice, so we can’t quit; we can’t give up; we can’t deny ourselves the practices even when we are overcome with grief and anger – we take the grief and the anger to the practice with us. Just like we take the joy and the delight to the practice with us.  We take everything to the practice. Practice is truly our own best teacher.  

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Yoga instructor Bryan Kest speaks of a yoga practice on the mat as being like a mini-day, or a mini-life in which we encounter obstacles and challenges, and we practice being with them with equanimity, so that when we go out into the world we function from this baseline of non-reaction, with gentleness and self-compassion as our default mode.  Not only do we practice navigating difficulty as yogis, but we also practice nurturing ourselves through deep restorative postures and energy work that have the capacity to restore and bolster our right action in the world.  And this is paramount – we must care for ourselves so that we can care for others.  Continued, sustained practice creates in us the capacity to grow in wisdom and expand in love.  It is when we deny what is present, when we hide from what is happening, when we close in on ourselves and shut everyone else out through fear that our chests tighten, our hearts constrict, and our capacity for love diminishes.  Kyodo Williams encourages us when she says, ” for people who are not monastics, the world is our field of practice.”

And so we practice. We get on our mat every day; we let go of reactivity, harsh self-criticisms, vanity and pride, greed and grasping; we start to cultivate space for responding, for healing, for choosing, and for seeing rightly. We fail. We try again.

Photo by Ahmed Aqtai on

We welcome wisdom into our heart and begin to understand what it means to be wisely generous and wisely selfish, so as not to overextend or overwhelm ourselves, but so that we pace, renew and restore and keep going. We take that spaciousness off our yoga mat, through the doors of our worship space and out into the moments, the circumstances of our lives, and we practice some more, and we practice again, and unceasingly, like prayer.

Love is not cruel; it is supportive and humble.  Love sees rightly and is enlightened.  Love is generous, tranquil, forgiving, compassionate, courageous, honest, eternal, and triumphant.  Love is wise.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

Love bears all things because love is spacious.  When we understand this and put it into practice by giving ourselves the space to be who we are without judgment, we will be able to give this same non-judgemental space to others.  From this place we will hear the encouragement, “Love one another as you love yourself,” and we will know, because we live it, because we feel it in our bones.

Space is ever-expanding.  So is love.  Love never ends.

Setting intentions for a new year (PART 2): 4 encouragements to keep your light shining

In Part 2 of this series, you’re invited to be curious about different ways to live out the intentions you set in Part 1, specifically, ways to take action, stay motivated, access creativity, and overcome hardship.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

– John 1:5

Living Out Your Intentions

Saying a big Yes to God can be difficult, even scary. But when saying yes to God is also saying yes to our truest self, the path can be much more fulfilling and something for which we brim with gratitude.

In part one of this series you used a meditation to discover your sankalpa, or vocation, God’s unique calling for your life that can evolve and shift as you grow and change. When I practiced setting intentions last year, I realized that my heartpath was one of service. One of my deepest longings is to feel that I have a purpose, and one way to do that is to offer my gifts and talents where I find a need for them. My intention setting this year revealed that another of my deepest desires is to be at ease in my connections with others. This one seems much harder than last year’s! Mostly because being at ease is an internal state of being, so I have to figure out what actions I can take that will manifest this. And, while life is definitely good and sweet, with its unexpected hills and valleys, tidal waves and doldrums, it certainly takes a lot of navigating. At times this can make living our heartpath, while both fulfilling and joyful, quite challenging.

However, God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). So when you feel your light fading, remember that you are a child of God, filled with the light and power of Christ (John 1: 12-14).

Below you’ll find some suggestions for how to keep your intentions in your awareness, live them out each day, and keep your light shining. Remember, God isn’t going to ask you why you were not Moses, Ghandi, Mother Theresa. God’s not going to ask you why you were not your grandmother, your father, or your best friend. God’s going to ask you why you were not you, the unique person God created you to be. (This is inspiration enough!) So keep your light shining and walk courageously along your heart’s path!


The spiritual life is both contemplative and active.  While it can be difficult at the beginning and throughout the journey, if we hope to embody the fruits of our contemplation, taking action is necessary.  Choose one concrete action based on your intention, and do it. Daily.

“Concrete action” can take many forms. For instance, if your intention is to create positive change in your family or workplace dynamics, your action might not be something obvious like initiating special prayer times or hosting a non-violent communication seminar (though it might!) Your action could be something as invisible as shifting your own thought patterns. When you notice a negative thought, consciously searching for the positive counterpoint is sometimes a sheer act of will.

This kind of action is only obvious to you, but it can have enormous impact on everyone around you. If your intention is to take care of your body, your concrete action might not be driving to the gym for an hour workout (though it could be!). Your invisible, yet still very concrete action might be pausing to take three deep breaths to notice if you’re physically hungry, or if your craving is mental or emotional and then choosing whether or not you will have a second helping at dinner. Again, this is another action that functions more like the wind: you can’t see the wind itself, but you definitely see and feel it’s impact.

Start by posting your intentions somewhere you’ll see them everyday. (Mine are taped beneath my bathroom mirror.) Then your first action can be as simple as repeating your intentions in your mind while brushing your teeth. You can also hold your intentions in your heart while getting dressed. You can even say them out loud before heading out the door. This kind of repetitive action will have a lasting effect: as you repeat your intentions in present tense, notice any felt sensations in your body or any energetic shifts. Does simply acknowledging your intentions allow your shoulders to lower, or bring about a sense of ease or lightness in your heart? If you notice a felt sensation in your body related to your intentions, it’s more likely you’ll be able to touch back into your sankalpa throughout the day. You’ll quite literally have a touch or a feeling associated with your heartpath that can come back to you at key decision points and allow you to make choices that are true to your calling.

I admit, sometimes taking action is super hard. By far, the strongest motivator for me to take action is other people.  When I am doing something for someone else, I show up and give my best effort because people are counting on me.  My students, my colleagues, and my family members are the reasons I put thoughts into plans and plans into action.  

When you begin living your heartpath, who will be the beneficiaries?  (Don’t forget to include yourself!)  Keep these people in your mind and heart and allow them to inspire you.  You might also consider sharing your intentions with one or two people close to you and offer to hold theirs, as well.  Check-in with each other often for inspiration, support, and encouragement.

Staying Motivated

Getting motivated is one thing, staying motivated is another. To cultivate longstanding inspiration on your heartpath, investigate the science, touch back into your sankalpa, and celebrate the successes of staying true to your intentions, both large and small. 

Habits are a huge part of being human, and it’s possible that various habits can block or hinder living our heartfelt desire.  Numerous studies show that habits are created by repetitive actions* over the course of 14, 24 or 40 days.  Consider just one or two intentions, look to the deepest layer of your heart’s desire, and set your eyes on a stepping stone of 10 days; notice the positives and celebrate them!  When you enjoy the benefits of your hard work, you are more likely to keep going.  After that, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, and beyond will seem a bit easier and the rewards a bit greater.**

*This is also true of thoughts and emotions.

**Please keep in mind not all habits are changed or created in a short amount of time.  Some long held behaviors can take months or years and require the guidance of trusted counselors or medical professionals. 

Creative Ways to Practice

Because your calling, sankalpa, and intentions are scandalously particular to you, I can’t really offer specifics.  However, being creative can simply mean doing something in a way you, personally, wouldn’t think of at first go.  Ironically, sometimes living from our truest self can mean letting go of what we think makes us us. The terms “true self” and “false self” were first used by Thomas Merton, 20th century writer and Trappist monk, and are now used by Fr. Richard Rohr “to clarify what Jesus surely meant when he said that we must die to ourselves or we must ‘lose ourselves to find ourselves’”(Mark 8:35).

Consider a thought experiment and approach your intentions from someone else’s perspective.   How would your friend, neighbor, or coworker put this into action?  Would your cousin, sibling, parent, or elder have a different plan? Remember the WWJD bracelets from the ‘90’s? Well, what would Jesus do in your situation?

Remember, changing habits and creating habits means doing something different.  And you don’t have to come up with all the answers on your own:

  • Ask the close friend with whom you shared your intentions for their thoughts.  
  • Ask a group of children for insight.  Tell them, “I’m going to practice ________.  Do you have any ideas about how I could do this?”  (Often, these ideas are the best!)  
  • Be open to the creativity of the Holy Spirit.  
  • Consider letting go of expectations as you ask God for guidance, inspiration, and opportunities to open up in front of you.  
  • Start looking for what you hope to find.   Search for opportunities to practice your intention and you might begin seeing them everywhere!

Overcoming Hardship

Self-Compassion has great benefits.  Being compassionate to yourself involves recognizing your struggles as part of the shared human experience, and it brings about mental, emotional, and physical well-being.  Touching back into your sankalpa, and the truth that you are already all you need to be, encourages resilience.  It can also bring comfort and the agency to continue making choices based on how you want to show up in the world.  

“Above all else, be gentle with yourself.”

Using God’s eyes, look to the big picture, the long term.  When you find yourself in what looks like a slump, or what you might reactively label as failure, above all else be gentle with yourself.  Be as forgiving and as kind to yourself as you would be to your friend.  Then, touch back into your sankalpa and call to mind the felt sense of living from a place of wholeness.  Call to mind the felt sense of well-being you experienced during your meditation and after a few days or a couple weeks of practicing living your intentions.  Acknowledge that you are, indeed, enough.  And you have within you all you need to live out your God-created calling.  

“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

– St. Teresa of Avila

May you know Love, Light, and any amount of Action!

(photos by pexels)

A Note From My Teacher

Holiday Greetings, Yoga Friends,

One of my teachers, Bryan Kest, leads a Holiday Sanity & Wellness Challenge. I always appreciate his practicality, authenticity, and encouragement toward holistic health (taking care of our body-mind, our wholeness). I especially love his orientation toward benevolence.


Please enjoy Bryan’s latest post below, and visit for tons of great videos and his “Absurdity Series” blog posts.

Remember that your asana yoga practice enhances your life; it is not your life.  So if your current circumstances happen to allow for a mat-based practice, awesome; but if not, enjoy lots of rest and lots of fun, and know that all the hours of work you’ve put in on your mat will sustain you when you need it most.  Feel your feet.  Find your breath.  Being present to the joys and the hardships is yoga; noticing what is happening, now, is yoga; wishing yourself, others, and the world safety, health, and happiness is yoga.  It doesn’t all happen on your mat — or, at least, it shouldn’t stay there!

Happy Practicing, one way or another,

The Catholic Yogi

P.S.  When you find yourself back on your mat, it’ll be sweeter than ever.

Aloha everyone,

I hope this message finds all of you doing well. Life is full of ups and downs yet through it all “I shall breathe”…stay with your breath. As you move through your days start noticing when your mind drifts into thoughts and pull your attention back to that quiet place. Then see if you can direct your mind to thoughts of kindness and appreciation. Send love to all you see and send compassion to all, as we all are dealing with so much.


Keep directing your mind to this benevolent place. Jesus set the example of compassion in the most difficult moment and the next holiday is meant to honor him. His example is for all of us if our goal is wellness. Happy Holidays :)))

Aloha bryan

Tip: For inspiration this week, check out our new blog post,Loving Kindness and Yoga.