Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons


After a beautiful conversation about the source of love at last week’s Yoga Church Gathering, I set out to write a sermon on the topic. But, as often happens in the practice of writing, I went in a completely different direction than I expected.

I ended up writing a sermon that begins with a personal confession and ends with an exploration of mental and emotional spaciousness.

Instead of writing about the source of love, I ended up writing about what keeps us disconnected from that source.

In this meditative sermon I invite you into the truth of your being and the spaciousness of your heart.

S P A C I O U S N E S S

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • Have you ever experienced a deep sense of inner spaciousness?
  • How often does your body, mind, and heart feel constricted in some way (tangled up by old habits and deeply rooted conditioning)?
  • What are the practices that help you move from constriction to spaciousness?
  • How often do you practice them?

TRANSCRIPT

Several years ago, something happened that made me realize just how bad I’ve always been about asking for help. I was filling out a form in a workshop about organizational structure. I filled everything out except for one column. It was labeled “partners” and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to put in that box. I seriously couldn’t figure out what was being asked… But as I listened to everyone else in the room talk about all different kinds of partnerships, I started to get it. And I realized that something important was missing in my life and work.

So I came home and did what I always do… I brought it into my practice. I brought this experience—this moment of clarity—into my practice. And in the spaciousness of meditation I was able to surface the fear that holds me back. It’s the fear of appearing weak, or vulnerable, or like I don’t have control of every given situation. This fear is rooted in some pretty serious childhood experiences. But somewhere along the way it turned into a long term habit. And, of course, it doesn’t help that I live in a society that values individualism and strength above just about everything else. Through a whole host of factors, I’ve been trained to appear always strong, always in control, never in need of help.

We all have our own unique combination of experience and memory and family and societal conditioning that’ve shaped our personalities and our habitual behavior. But as Swami Rama told my teacher: The whole goal of yoga is to surface our conditioning so that we can be free of it. In other words, I’m not stuck in my old patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. And you’re not either.

It’s not easy, but we can start to become aware of our automatic patterns of reaction. And over time, we can begin to shift our reactionary behavior. Through practice (through lots of practice) I’ve gotten better about asking for help. I’ve become more willing to allow my vulnerability to show up. And while it’s an ongoing process, I’m coming to realize that my attempts to project an image of control are rooted in the myth of separateness. These attempts are rooted in the belief that I can stand alone, somehow apart from everyone else. Which is, of course, nothing more than an ego trip.

And so I come to practice. I pay attention to what the tradition of yoga calls the seeds of suffering. I notice how feelings of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear show up in my body as constriction. I watch as thoughts based in ego, attachment, aversion, and fear fight with one another in the space of my awareness—constantly changing and morphing into ever new versions of themselves to fit whatever situation is at hand. In the container of practice I watch as these feelings and thoughts arise and dissolve, shift and morph, and I’m able to find the spacious energy that exists around and between them.

In his book, Love and Rage, Lama Rod Owens describes space as an important aspect of happiness. He writes:

“There is no happiness without mental spaciousness. Space is something that we do not need to create in our minds; it is naturally there if we can notice it.”

What Lama Rod is talking about here is the ground of the mind—the substrate of unbounded consciousness that exists apart from the ever changing movement of thought. The Yoga Sutra-s tell us that as we’re able to still the mind, we’re able to rest in our original nature.

In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi describes it like this:

“Paying attention to the ground of the mind is like observing the sky rather than than the things in it. We may notice a bird flying through the sky, but certainly the sky does not become smudged from this movement. Today it is rainy, but somehow the sky does not become wet. Tomorrow it is sunny, but the sky doesn’t ignite into flames. The next day there is an exciting show of thunder and lightning, yet no one rushes around trying to repair the sky. In the same way, when we have the discipline to stay with our practice, we insist on remaining identified with our own neutral witness, the part of us that stays the same regardless of the passing show.”

The teachings of yoga tell us that we’re not our conditioning. We’re not our fears. We’re not our bank account. We’re not our reputation. We’re the sky. We’re the spaciousness that always and already exists in and around the ever changing reality of life. This isn’t a teaching we can understand intellectually. It must be experienced.

  • So if it’s safe for you to do so, I invite you to pause in this moment and come to stillness…
  • Bring your attention to the tip of your nose and the fact of your breath…
  • If it would be helpful you could bring one hand to your chest and one hand to your bottom ribs…
  • Feel into the movement of breath in your body…
  • Notice any unnecessary tension…
  • Maybe in your shoulders or jaw…
  • Invite the body to soften around the breath…
  • Take a moment to watch the breath…
  • Without any force, watch as the body receives and releases breath…
  • Inhale… exhale… receive… release…
  • Begin to look for the space between breaths…
  • Can you find the space that exists after each exhale… the space that exists just before the next inhale begins…
  • Now, let your attention come to the mind…
  • Notice if there are any thoughts present…
  • Can you find the space that exists between thoughts… the space that exists after one thought dissolves, before another thought arises…

Remember Lama Rod’s words. Space isn’t something we need to create in our minds. It’s there, but we have to attune ourselves toward it…

As you feel into the spaciousness between thoughts, remember Donna Farhi’s words: “Paying attention to the ground of the mind is like observing the sky rather than than the things in it…”

Practice is a way of de-conditioning and re-conditioning ourselves.

We dedicate ourselves to the practice of awareness. We give ourselves the spaciousness to look honestly at what’s happening in our body, energy, mind, heart, and spirit. And over time, we work to surface the negative conditioning that keeps us stuck in ego and fear based behavior.

In the container of our practice we open ourselves to the always present spaciousness that exists within and around us. We practice remembering, again and again, that the constrictions of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear are rooted in a fundamental misidentification. These seeds of suffering show up when we take ourselves to be the things in the sky, rather than the sky itself.

Practice is the ongoing habit of noticing when everything is getting tangled up and constricted in our bodies and minds and hearts and redirecting our attention toward the always and already present spaciousness within and around us.

As I’ve deepened into my practice over the years, this feeling of spaciousness has become more and more real for me. And I invite you—whenever you feel old habits and deeply rooted conditioning constricting your body and taking over your mind—I invite you to pause and feel the movement of your breath. I invite you to feel into the space between breaths and to remember the spaciousness within and around you.

I invite you to remember the ancient wisdom of the Chandogya Upanishad, which tells us:

“As great as the infinite space beyond is the space within the lotus of the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained in that inner space, both fire and air, sun and moon, lightning and stars. Whether we know it in this world or know it not, everything is contained in that inner space.”

COMMUNITY COMMENTS

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?