Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons.
March 31st, 2019
I am feeling inspired this morning… Yesterday I spent two hours in conversation and practice with the students enrolled in my online Yoga for Transformation course.
All month long we’ve been exploring the difference between goals and intention and yesterday we worked to craft intention statements designed to support our connection with our highest Self.
It’s hard work. But it’s good work.
And apparently it’s work that caught my heart… Because when I sat down to write this week’s sermon, the topic of intention is what poured out.
This week’s sermon is a bit of a love letter to my students. An encouragement that transformation is possible. And I’m very happy to share it with the wider Yoga Church community.
It’s my hope that this week’s sermon will help you contemplate intention and action and help you move forward in the direction you want to go.
Once you’ve had a chance to listen, I would love to hear from you!
In the comments below tell me how you use the practice of intention in your life. I’d also love to hear what questions you have about the practice of living with intention. And of course, I’d love to know if there are ways the Yoga Church can more directly support your efforts to work with intention.
We’re all in this life together. So let’s chat and support each other!
The Springtime Practice of Intention
Life can be an emotional roller coaster and sometimes it feels like we’re just along for the ride, like we have no control over where we’re going or what we’re feeling. Of course, feelings are one thing. How we respond to our feelings is another. Have you ever reacted to something so strongly and so quickly that it was as if you weren’t even actually there? That you were just the messenger of the feeling? Anger, sadness, anxiety, jealousy… Emotions are powerful things. They can shape our actions and our behavior.
Yoga teaches us to pay attention to how our habits are shaped by our attempts at self-preservation, how our actions are actually reactions to our attachments and our aversions, and to notice how our decisions are often rooted in fear. The ancient yogic scriptures teach us that when our habits arise out of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear we’ve forgotten who we are. We’re acting from a false sense of self. And this kind of action can only lead to suffering.
But we are never stuck in our patterns of suffering. One thing about life that is absolutely true is that change is constant, which means that we ourselves can change. Our habits can change. We’re currently experiencing the changing of seasons. We’re waking up from the long sleep of winter and stepping into the fertility of spring.
This is an inspiring time of year. If we pay close attention—if we really watch as the earth begins to bloom around us we might just remember that everything we need is innately part of who we already are. The spring chick comes from the stuff of the egg. The tulip comes from the stuff of the bulb. The leaves and buds come from the stuff of the trees. Our ability to shed the false masks of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear comes from the stuff of our soul.
Our actions don’t have to grow out of whatever strong emotion we’re currently experiencing. Our way of moving through the world can grow from the Light of our highest Self. This is a potent time of year to ponder what the Light of your heart—what your soul—is ready to bring forth into the world. It’s time for awakening. It’s time for cleaning and planting. It’s time to bring the gestating dreams of winter into reality. Spring calls us toward the practice of cultivation.
Whether we’re cultivating a piece of land, a new relationship, a new habit or skill, a new way of being in the world, or a deeper connection with our True Self—the act of cultivation takes attention, effort, focus, care. The practice of cultivation is the practice of tending to something or someone.
In Sanskrit the word for cultivation is Bhāvana. A word that shows up four times in the Yoga Sutra-s. Two times it speaks directly to the practice of cultivating—specifically telling us that when we feel like our thoughts and emotions are out of control and leading us toward negative behavior, we have to stop and cultivate the opposite. This is the practice of self-responsibility. It’s the practice of choosing to remember that we are not our ego or our fear. It’s the practice of choosing to remember that our life doesn’t have to be driven by our attachments or our aversions. This is the practice of learning to live from the perspective of our highest Self.
The sutra-s also use the word Bhāvana to mean ‘bringing about.’ We have spiritual practices in order to weaken our false identifications with ego, attachment, aversion, and fear and to bring about a unitive state of Being, one in which we remember our soul and move through life in constant connection with our True Self. But in order to let our life be directed by the Light of our soul, we have to cultivate an ability to hear the still, small voice within our heart.
We have to learn to dwell upon that voice. In the sutra-s we’re told that the mystical symbol of OM represents the Inner Teacher and we are to repeat the sound and contemplate its meaning. The word in this sutra is again Bhāvana, in this instance meaning to ‘dwell upon.’ As you work to cultivate a relationship with your higher Self—your Inner Teacher, your soul—what’s the symbol that matters to you? What’s the symbol that inspires you? And how often do you intentionally dwell upon—through mantra or visualization—this symbol of meaning?
Everything I’m talking about here is the practice of living with intention. The awakening, igniting energy of spring makes this an amazing time of year to articulate intention—to articulate your Bhāvana—to decide what you want to cultivate in your life and being.
Because whether we mean to or not, all day long we’re plotting out the course of our life. Whether or not we’re doing so with any purpose or vision, we’re constantly making choices and taking action. And every action—including the choice of inaction—is leading us somewhere.
So I invite you into the practice of Bhāvana—of learning to live with intention.
In the spirit of spring cleaning I invite you to start paying attention to the habits that keep you from recognizing the reality that all you need is already within you. You just have to get rid of the layers of gunk that keep the Light within you hidden and dull. Your inner Light is never dull. To borrow a word from my Jewish teacher, it’s the shmutz that’s dull! Not your Light!
In the spirit of spring planting I invite you to choose the seeds you want to nurture and grow. Rather than trying to force out the un-useful habits, begin with the practice of cultivating opposite habits. Habits that can support your effort to bring about a connection with your highest Self. I invite you to figure out the symbols that can jog your memory and connect you with your soul and then to dwell upon them. If you don’t yet have a symbol that is meaningful to you, you can experiment with waking up every morning and looking east. Feel the spring air and the spring time sun on your skin. In your mind’s eye, dwell upon the warming sun as a symbol of your growing inner commitment to water and fertilize the seeds that lead you toward… Toward… What?
I’m not going to finish this sermon.
You have to decide the seeds that you are being called to plant and cultivate this season. I’ll hazard a guess though… I’ll guess that you don’t want to water the seeds of ego, attachment, aversion, and fear. So a place to start is defining their opposites. What are the seeds that will help you move away from ignorance and into your Light?
- What are the habits that keep you from recognizing the reality that all you need is already within you?
- Rather than trying to forcefully change these habits, what’s a new habit that you can cultivate instead? What’s a small habit that can support your effort to bring about a connection with your highest Self?
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?