Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons
Late Autumn 2019 | Exploring Darkness
My dear friend has a little sticky note on her bathroom mirror. It reads: “What you pay attention to grows.” I can’t remember if there’s an author’s name or not… But I always remember the quote. It’s such a simple sentiment. And a deeply powerful truth.
What you pay attention to grows.
Life is a series of small moments. And if we allow our attention to get lost on the wrong things we run the risk of creating an identity that isn’t connected to the truth of our heart’s deepest desire.
This week’s sermon includes teachings from the book of Ecclesiastes, the Buddha, and Krishna. There’s a lot of ancient wisdom packed into 6 minutes! And it’s all related to our attention. How does what we pay attention to shape our mood, our actions, and ultimately, our life?
Late Autumn Part 4: Turn, Turn, Turn
And for the readers…
I’d like to begin by reading a familiar verse from the Hebrew Bible.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I imagine you’re at least somewhat familiar with this section of Ecclesiastes. It’s become clichéd to the point of throw pillow inspiration… But most clichés started out as a new and powerful way to express truth. And these verses are trying to express big truth. They’re attempting to describe the totality of human experience. They’re found in a book written to remind us that we’re just one small part of a much larger scheme and that we’d better come to accept that ‘all is vanity.’ Ecclesiastes is a great book and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t or haven’t in awhile…
But I’ve shared these verses today to call our attention once again to the cyclical nature of life. We exist on a spinning planet and we’re constantly cycling through the various aspects of life—pleasure and pain, success and failure, hope and despair. Of course we’re all drawn toward ease, laughter, and happiness. To the excitement of birth. To the passion of love. But the reality is, and will always be, that pain is part of our existence too. Death and mourning will always be with us.
We don’t have control over much. In fact, we might only have control—true control—over one thing. Our attention. Life is a beautiful, complicated, painful thing. And what we pay attention to matters. Because through focused attention we’re able to experience life with awareness and clarity.
The Buddha taught that pain and suffering are like two arrows. Pain is the first arrow. Its shot can’t be avoided. We’ll all experience seasons of painful darkness. But the 2nd arrow is suffering and its shot can be avoided. The 2nd arrow represents our reaction to the pain that comes our way. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says:
“Let this, the dissolution of union with pain, be known as yoga.” (Bhagavad Gita 6:23)
Two of the Sanskrit words in this scripture are Samyoga and Viyoga. Coming together and moving apart. Union and dissolution. Ecclesiastes spoke of times to tear and times to sew, times to build up and times to break down. In this scripture Krishna is asking us to break down the ways that we’ve united ourselves with pain.
The root of the word yoga is yuj, which means yoke. In life we’ll walk through all different seasons. We’ll experience darkness and light. Dormancy and activity. Pain and gladness. But here’s the thing. We can’t yoke ourselves to any of them. The changing seasons are just one part of the ever changing nature of life. The goal of spiritual practice, ultimately, is to yoke ourselves with the Unity of all things, with Divine Mystery. But the journey toward this ultimate goal is made up of millions of small moments. Moments of pause where we notice what we’ve yoked our attention to…
When we find ourselves ruminating on how we feel gloomy and cranky about the darkness, we can yoke to something else. I’m being serious here and deeply practical. I’m, of course, not trying to diminish the pain of serious depression and grief. If you’re lost in deep darkness, please seek help. What I’m talking about is the everyday variety of malaise and irritation that I hear from so many people in response to darker and darker days. So I’m asking: when you find yourself feeling gloomy and cranky about the darkness can you redirect your attention? What brings you joy? What are your dreams? What do you love?
For everything there is a season. It’s currently dark and cold outside. In the Northern Hemisphere the earth is taking time for regeneration. As we wait for the natural light to come back to us can we turn our attention toward the wisdom of mother nature? Can we take time for rest and recuperation? Can we use the cover of darkness to imagine our dreams more fully? Can we use the quiet of darkness to more deeply yoke ourselves with inner joy and build up our reservoir of love?
- Everything in life is in a constant state of change. Are you able to move through the flow of change with ease, or does change cause you stress? Can you identify ways that you fight against the tide of change? If so, what happens? Does your fight with the reality of change lead to ease or pain?
- In the scripture quoted in this sermon (Bhagavad Gita 6.23) Krishna is asking us to break down the ways that we’ve united ourselves with pain. Can you identify ways that you’ve united yourself with pain? Are there painful stories or fears or outdated ideas that you give a lot of your attention to?
- What brings you joy? What are your dreams? What do you love? How can you strengthen the habit of focusing your attention toward these things?
- What would you like to separate from (viyoga)? What would you like to link with (samyoga)?
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?