Welcome to the Yoga Church Sunday Sermons

Early Fall 2020 | Living in Right Relationship


We’re coming to the end of our study of the yama-s (for now…) and I’m excited to share a guest sermon written by my friend and colleague Marci Becker. She offers deep personal reflection (that I know so many people in this community will relate to) and her hope for what’s possible in this life through practice.


Lady Gaga, Jesus, and an angel walk into a bar… (A recap of the Yama-s)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • What does it mean TO YOU to be non-violent and truthful? What does it mean TO YOU to not steal or grasp after things? How do YOU contain and manage your energy? What do the yama-s mean TO YOU? 
  • Are you doing anything differently in response to this study? In other words, how are the ancient teachings of the yama-s changing you? How are you integrating them into your daily life and practice?
  • Marci wrote: “practicing the yama-s is actually less about trying to ‘do’ them than it is about living into your true nature. They aren’t practices to do….they are WHO. WE. ARE. I’m going to say that again……they aren’t what we do, they are who we are.”
    • How do you respond to this idea?
  • Marci also wrote: “I’ve apparently just picked up a bunch of crap along the way that seems to be hindering this blissful existence (and likely you have, too). So, it’s really about digging out from all that. Uncovering that true nature that already exists fully and completely within me.  This is excavation work, not necessarily cultivation work. That is the work of all of Yoga, I was taught that long ago and, in theory, have known that for a long time….but connecting it specifically to the yamas only took me a decade.”
    • Marci is a builder so it’s not surprising that she’d ask a question that involves a tool… But she wonders: As you think about doing the excavation work described above, what do you want to dig out first? Where’s the first shovel going?

TRANSCRIPT

Guest Sermon by Marci Becker

I was first introduced to the yama-s in 2010 when I attended yoga teacher training at CITYOGA in Indianapolis. While I don’t remember a lot of specifics about that first exposure, I do remember how much sense they made to me and how right they felt. How they felt much more inviting than the 10 commandments I had learned years ago. There was a different energy to these than the ‘thou shalt nots’ of my past. The way I remember originally learning about them was that the yama-s and niyama-s aren’t necessarily requirements. They’re more like suggestions. Like, really important suggestions….but suggestions, nonetheless.  They show us how to exist in this world in a way that serves both us as individuals, and the world.  And the amount that one could adhere to these suggestions would likely determine the amount of suffering that would exist in one’s life. So, basically, I have a choice….all that good free will…and my choices impact the amount of suffering I have. This was a fairly new theological concept as compared to the religious philosophy I had been exposed to in the past. I grew up with mostly Methodist influences….with a dash of the ‘Crystal Cathedral’ and a few pinches of ‘Assembly of God’ thrown in there, just to keep things interesting. Choice and agency weren’t anything professed in those traditions, at least not that I remember. There was definitely a set of rules and behaviors that needed to be followed and if I didn’t follow them, not only would I not fit in but it would also show just how bad I was. I was a sinner. And in actuality, I shouldn’t feel too bad about being a sinner because that’s how I was born (we all were), according to those teachings: born bad. Original sin, and all (and they would have us thank Eve for that…but that’s a topic for another day). I also learned that because of Jesus, my sins would be washed away through confession. And I don’t know about you, but that was a lot for me to figure out, especially as a teenager. I mean…..wrapping my head around the fact that I was born a sinner. And, especially when the stakes are so high….I mean, eternal damnation is on the line, for crying out loud. I was confessing left and right and usually tried to end the day with a blanket confession, begging to be absolved of all the sins I wasn’t even aware I had committed. And I never ignored an altar call….I would accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior over and over again, just to make sure he heard me. Because I wanted on that list. That list that made sure there would be a place for me in heaven….a room in paradise with streets of gold and crowns and all that other good stuff. I mean, a lot of my time and energy was invested in apologizing and fretting about the afterlife.

Maybe my story sounds familiar to you. Maybe you’re even still in that place. For me, it was hard to make sense of this theology…..but at the same time, I knew that what I knew about Jesus…that made sense. Yea, I was down with him. What he taught and the example that he showed in how to live was something that very much made sense to me.  And, in fact, lines up with yogic philosophy in many ways. 

Since that training in 2010, I’ve been in what feels like a continuous cycle of learning about the yamas and the niyamas. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this would be a lifelong path for me. This isn’t a topic like {{learn how to sprout beans}}….or {{learn how to start your lawn mower}}….where you can learn it, put it into practice, and eventually even do it without thinking about it. No, the yamas and niyamas were going to be something I would continuously be learning.  The depth of each one feels unknown to me, even 10 years later. How they show up is so dependent on your unique path and experience and where you are in that very moment. And I’m always struck with the tailored manner in which they’ve presented themselves to me. A mystery that feels divine…..

Over the past few months, Summer has been taking us through the yamas: the ‘moral restraints’. She explains that they show us how to live in right relationship with society.  Each one feels extremely important all on its own…and when you put them together…wow. 

A quick refresher from what she has been teaching. I’ve pulled these from her teachings and the translations of the sutras she’s offered: 

Ahimsa – “most often translated as non-violence, but is so much more than the suppression of violence. Ahimsā is an inner attitude of reverence for all beings that simply doesn’t allow space for violence to arise.” 

Satya – truthfulness “The meaning of this somewhat magical-feeling sutra, is that everything someone says—someone who’s established in truthfulness—becomes true. It bears fruit.”  

Asteya – non-stealing “When one is established in non-stealing, all gems manifest.” 

“The yama of asteya is about equal exchange. It’s about cultivating an internal sense of abundance.”

Brahmacharya – balanced energy “Upon establishment in brahmacharya, great vigor is obtained.” 

“Brahmacarya, then, can be understood as brahmic conduct. We want to behave in such a way that we move closer to Brahman—closer to our understanding of Divine Mystery.”

Aparigraha – non-grasping/non-attachment “if we release our attachments, if we become steadfast and firm in greedlessness, if we stop grasping for things, stop trying to possess things, the nature and purpose of existence becomes clear.”

WOW. Can you imagine: zero animosity, bearing fruit, gems manifesting left and right, full of vigor AND knowing the purpose of existence???  Mic drop. Call it a day. Our work here is done. 

It sounds blissful. Lovely. It sounds a lot like freedom. And at the same time, it sounds a lot like a fairy tale; something too far away from what my day-to-day life often looks like. When I think about how much work would go into the full implementation of each of these into my life, it seems like too much! Like that’s a really HIGH BAR to live up to. Maybe even impossible. 

~~

When I tell you that 10 years in, I continue to have revelations about these concepts, I’m telling you the truth. Earlier this year, I heard it said (and I can’t even remember where to give proper credit….maybe it was Summer….or a course I took…or book I read…or some podcast I listened to) that practicing the yamas is actually less about trying to ‘do’ them than it is about living into your true nature. They aren’t practices to do….they are WHO. WE. ARE. 

I’m going to say that again……they aren’t what we do, they are who we are. 

I’ve apparently just picked up a bunch of crap along the way that seems to be hindering this blissful existence (and likely you have, too). So, it’s really about digging out from all that. Uncovering that true nature that already exists fully and completely within me.  This is excavation work, not necessarily cultivation work. That is the work of all of Yoga, I was taught that long ago and, in theory, have known that for a long time….but connecting it specifically to the yamas only took me a decade.  

Reverend angel Kyodo Williams, says: “That’s the paradox in what is possible from a liberatory standpoint is to recognize, we’re not trying to become something, we’re trying to unbecome. We’re trying to undo ourselves.” Summer talks about seeing the patterns of our conditioning so that we can be free from them. 

So maybe I wasn’t born bad after all. And maybe those people who taught me that concept years ago aren’t either. Maybe they also picked up some stuff along the way. This feels like a huge relief. Like, being something that I already am doesn’t feel so overwhelming.  Not to say that it is easy or that I can just flip a switch and be rid of all that stands in the way. The excavation to get there will take much effort and will likely take a lifetime…but for whatever reason, that feels so much more doable than trying to ‘be’ something different than what I am, at my core. So maybe I was born a non-violent, truthful being with balanced energy, who holds all things loosely and never takes more than my share. Maybe I was born into the blissful state that I seek.  As I type this, Lady Gaga’s anthem is running through my head: 

I’m beautiful in my way

‘Cause God makes no mistakes

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born this way.

And taking any of Lady Gaga’s songs with me into my work, feels right to me. Dancing around to this anthem, re-membering, also feels like freedom. 

If Jesus, Lady Gaga and Reverend angel all did walk into a bar….or anywhere else for that matter, I’d walk in with them. I’d want to hear what that have to say. You see, our teachers come from many places in this life, some unexpected. And I think they would all agree that the way I was born is truly the only thing I should be trying to ‘be’….and is one of the most important things that deserves my time and energy. 

So, I’ll take this with me as I set about the work of identifying anything that’s getting in the way. The work of excavation. The work of uncovering that true nature I was born with.  This feels like a better way to spend my time and energy. Better for me….and the world. A better way to honor the God of my understanding. 

So I’ll end with prayer for us today:

Open our eyes to all that keeps us from right relationship. Give us the wisdom, strength, and courage to dig ourselves out from this pile we’re under. A pile that might feel pretty comfortable, in some ways. 

Help us to un-become. 

To let more and more of the real ‘us’ out into the world. 

To be free. 

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?