Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.

October 21st, 2018

{psst: there’s downloadable art farther along in this post, so be sure you make it all the way to the bottom!}

Love is a word that means SO many different things in our culture. It can be utterly casual—almost to the point of meaninglessness. But it’s also a word powerful enough to change our lives. Sometimes it’s the word we deeply need to hear. Sometimes it’s the word we’re terrified to say.

I know that we all need love. I know that we want to be loving people. And I think the vast majority of us are interested in learning how to expand our capacity to love. In my recent contemplations on the idea of love, two questions kept arising for me:

  1. Are we willing to make sacrifices in order to love the world better?
  2. And what stops us from loving the people around us?

I’ve gotta tell you, this week’s sermon was hard to write. At times I was sitting at my desk crying. I felt deeply challenged by the words poring out of me. But we live in challenging times and if we truly want things to be different, we have to be different.

Commenting on “the middle ground between love & contempt” yoga church community member Katrina wrote:

“This brings up the idea that you can’t change an existing paradigm with current technology (or beliefs). Something has to change for change to happen.”

In other words, if we want change to happen in the world, we have to change ourselves. As Gandhi so beautifully said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” This saying has almost become cliché. But when we stop to really examine what it means, we realize it speaks of the hardest thing.

Luckily for us, we don’t have to tackle the hardest thing all on our own. My sermon ends with a community challenge. Once you’ve had a chance to watch it, please leave a comment and share one action you can take in response to the challenge. Let’s encourage each other to love better (even when it’s hard).

Love & Sacrifice

Watch:

or Listen:

or Read:

In my last sermon I explored the difficulty of loving people we don’t respect or like—people for whom we feel contempt. My sermon worked from the assumption that there is value in learning to love those we call “enemy” in our life. This assumption grows from my study of Eastern traditions, which teaches that we and our enemies are actually one.

The Isha Upanishad, one of my favorite scriptures, says:

Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no fear. Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees its unity?

The world appears to us as separate. We feel separate. We feel a deep sense of I, me, mine. According to Eastern tradition, this sense of “me” as a separate entity is the grand ignorance. Yoga is defined as a mental state so clear and still that we are able to rest in our true nature. Even though language never quite measures up, our true nature can be described as unbounded consciousness or pure awareness. In more traditionally religious language it can be understood as being-in-union-with-God or remembering ourselves as that of God within us. But the yoga sutras remind us that this isn’t the state we normally live in. We normally live in ignorance allowing our true nature to be overshadowed by the constant movement of our minds. We identify ourselves—not with God, not with a sense of our unity with all of creation—but with whatever thought happens to be passing through our mind.

We are deluded by the multiplicity of life and we lose sight of its unity. When Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, tells us: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” we still feel separation. Doing to others what we want done to ourselves is still about us—about what we want for ourselves. I don’t think this was the original intention of the teaching, but it’s what our minds, so trained for individualism, hear.

It is only through our attachment to individualism that we are able to hate, oppress, and ignore. Notice this list. We may not show up in the world as actively hateful people causing obvious oppression. But how does our attachment to individualism—to self-preservation as the most important thing—allow us to ignore our unwitting participation in the hate and oppression that surrounds us? I say this as someone well aware of my own attachment to individualism. I will own that I’m part of the problem. I love these scriptures that teach of our unity with all that exists, but I’m sorry to admit that I don’t always enact them. I haven’t figured out how to feel the teaching that we are all one as my constant reality.

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna: “At the beginning, humankind and the obligation of selfless service were created together.” The sanskrit word translated as selfless service here is Yajña and it means sacrifice. This scripture is telling us that we human beings were created together with sacrifice. It goes on to describe a relationship of mutual nourishment between humans and deities. Seeker and scholar Ravi Ravindra wrote: “Yajña is an internal activity that does not involve any external human priest. … It signifies the process of exchange between levels of existence in mutual nourishment. And, of course, the greatest force of mutual nourishment is that of love. There can be no practice of love without sacrifice.”

If I want to live out the words of the Isha Upanishad that all people are part of me and I am part of all people, I have to expand the vision of myself beyond I, me, and mine. I have to actively practice moving beyond the separateness so deeply ingrained in my psyche. If I truly want to learn to love my so called enemies I have to actively practice love. Which may mean, I have to practice sacrifice.

This is where we hit a speed bump in our journey. Because we’re talking about shifting our sense of identity, which leads us right back to our attachment. We have to decide what we actually want. Do we actually want to expand our capacity to love? Or are we simply looking for a way to feel better about the suffering and injustice of the world? I’m going to be really honest with you and say that my answer fluctuates. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to follow in the footsteps of people dedicated to radical love. I think of Peace Pilgrim, a woman who spent 28-years on a personal pilgrimage for peace. She walked more than 25,000 miles wearing a blue tunic and carrying only a comb and toothbrush. She walked and walked and shared her message that when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war. She’s an incredible example of what it means to be truly established in love. But, even though I have spent more than a decade working toward my own inner peace, I’m not going to leave everything in my life and follow in her footsteps. So my question becomes: If I want to expand my capacity for love as a tool for justice in the world, what am I willing to sacrifice?

The yoga sutras offer us a practice called Pratipaksa Bhavanam, which means cultivating the opposite. If our attachment to individualism—or to our small “s” self—is what allows us to hate, oppress, and ignore then we need to cultivate the opposite of individualism. We have to cultivate a relationship with our capital “S” Self. We have to actively practice being in relationship with others in a way that fosters the belief that we are part of them and they are part of us.

So here’s my challenge for our community. Can we each do some honest self reflection about the kinds of people and situations that make us uncomfortable or maybe even scared? And can we sacrifice a bit of our own comfort to actively practice love? Can we find a way to be of service to the people or situations that we fear and judge and ignore? If going straight to the source is too difficult, find a book or a movie that will help shift your understanding and perspective. If you feel ready, find a volunteer opportunity or a public event that you can attend. Put yourself in a situation that expands your understanding of the world. I’ll do it too. We can find courage in each other. We were created in relationship to sacrifice. Can we sacrifice some of our ego and our comfort in order to expand our love? Can we hold the words of the Isha Upanishad as our inspiration:

Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no fear. Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees its unity?


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • How would you describe your mindset most of the time? Are you connected to your True Self? Or lost in the ever changing movements of your mind?
  • What do you identify with?
  • Do you feel connected to all of creation? Or more like a separate entity?
  • Do you want to expand your capacity to love? 
  • What kinds of people and situations make you uncomfortable? What kinds of people scare you? Do you know why?
  • Will you risk yourself a bit? Will you sacrifice some of your comfort? Will you find a way to actively practice love? Will you find a way to interact with people different from yourself?

Downloadable Artwork!

This week I wanted to give you something tangible… Something to serve as daily inspiration and support. So I did some experimenting with color on wood (one of my favorite ways to paint) and added the scriptural text from this week’s sermon. The painting is actually 12×16, but it’s formatted here as a letter sized .pdf for easy printing! Once you’ve hung it up somewhere, send me a photo. I would love to see it out in the world reminding us all to love better. <3


Share your wisdom and insight!

We all benefit from spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation.

And this week, share one action you can take in response to the community challenge I offered.