Thursday, September 22, 2011


I had a powerful experience yesterday in yoga class.

Anyone familiar with yoga understands that the practice involves putting your body into postures that produce various forms of physical stress. Now there are right ways and wrong ways to do the postures, and often in yoga it's possible to experience added stress because you're doing the posture the wrong way. Instead of finding that place of perfect balance and harmony, you muscle your way through it -- and muscling your way through yoga becomes really exhausting really fast.

Of course, if you do yoga in a classroom setting, as I do, you have instructors who are constantly telling you what to do. Telling you to assume this position or that position, and also giving you pointers, tips on how to do the position right. "Fire up your quads! Lock your hips forward! Pull your belly button in to your spine! Lift your chest! Pull your shoulders back away from your ears!" And so on. (Yoga has taught me that there is power even just in the way we stand -- if we stand a certain way!)

Our instructors are often giving us so many instructions, it is easy to miss some of them. We tend to focus in on one instruction, figuring out how to follow that one instruction, but completely missing another instruction given right along with it. So it seems like every day at yoga I'm learning new things about postures I've already done dozens of times before. I'm learning how a posture I thought I was doing right, I've actually been doing wrong all along. So I'm learning and constantly adjusting. I have to accept that each new yoga class is in a way like starting from scratch.

So yesterday I was in class, and we were doing one of my least favorite postures. And as I was in this posture, sort of suffering and sweating, and praying for it to end, I heard the instructor say, "Release all tension in your arms and your back. Just hold tight with your hands and kick back! Your whole body except your legs should be completely relaxed." I think I'd heard this instruction at least a dozen times before. But now I realized fully for the first time ever, I had never actually followed this instruction. Every time I'd ever done this posture before, I had always tensed my shoulders, my chest, my arms. Now it finally sunk in. Hold tight with my hands, kick my legs hard, and relax everything else. So I did it, and all of a sudden, the posture was completely transformed! My shoulders relaxed and slipped down, and all of a sudden I was breathing fully and easily, and I felt this wave of relief move through my whole body. And I had this wonderful moment of pure illumination when I recognized: I Finally Understand This Posture! Wow!

It was a moment of spiritual illumination too, because I immediately understood the parallel between this experience in yoga and the larger spiritual principle of obedience. I recognized that God gives us commandments because he wants us to be strong and to experience our full potential. The commandments seem hard sometimes. There's lots of them, and we have a tendency to focus on certain ones, and miss other ones that are equally or more important. And so, figuratively speaking, we get into these postures that are extremely difficult. And we're not quite doing it right, so we just muscle our way through in order to make it work, and that hurts even more. But if we keep working at it (and there's no progress without working at it, so even doing it wrong is better than not doing it at all) eventually we have that "Aha!" moment when we realize, there's just that one simple adjustment we need to make, that one thing we need to do, and then all of a sudden everything falls into place. And we find our true power.

Yoga has certain broad principles that can guide its practitioners in getting into that groove, finding just that right posture. For example, in yoga, it is very important to learn how to breathe, and how to focus on breath. Similarly, there are broad principles in the Gospel that can guide us, and help us figure out how to make course corrections: principles such as love, forgiveness, trust, nonjudgment. (Yoga incorporates these principles too!)

The whole purpose of the commandments -- and this is what the Spirit spoke to me in yoga class yesterday -- is to teach us how to love, fully, completely, and without holding anything back. God's whole design for us is to help us become beings of perfect love. Obedience to God's commandments, in some ultimate sense, is the flip side of love.

Now obedience is impossible without trust. We cannot and should not obey someone we do not trust. We won't obey somebody until we are convinced that the person we are obeying loves us and desires our best interests, and also unless we believe that this person knows what he or she is doing. I've developed a level of trust with my yoga instructors that enables me to show up at class every day, and be willing to do some pretty difficult, physically stressful stuff, just because someone tells me to do this or do that. And my trust has been rewarded with strength and a feeling of physical well being.

So I understand how those of us who have been deeply wounded by the Church (and I have been deeply wounded too!) might be afraid of the Church. If we experienced grievous wrongs, it is natural to want to put some distance between ourselves and those who have wronged us, and then to want to stay away. Maybe some of those wounds can never heal in our life times. So maybe some of us GLBT folks who grew up in the Church and came of age in the 60s, 70s and 80s will never be able to experience sufficient trust to go back. Trust can be stretched pretty far, but once it is broken, sometimes it is impossible to restore no matter how hard one tries. So I understand why so many of my generation find it difficult if not impossible to imagine any sort of a positive relationship with the Church.

Some of us feel similarly betrayed by God. Though I would argue that it was never God who betrayed any of us, but rather a false image of God that was presented to us by fallible people.

The principle remains: in order to progress into the state of perfect love we all aspire to, we need to learn obedience. Obedience is a very, very good thing, and can help us to learn and grow in extraordinary ways. It can be a golden road to spiritual growth. If you have found the iron rod of the Spirit leading you through the mists of darkness, then all that remains is to listen to that, and to trust it and obey it. Obedience to God first and foremost outweighs all other kinds of obedience. Though I believe that obedience to God eventually leads us back into spiritual community, into the Church, where we can learn other kinds of obedience and trust and mutual submission.

And if you haven't found that iron rod of the Spirit (or if you're lacking your own Spirit Liahona), if you still feel lost, you need to find that. I think the best way forward, when we don't know who or what to trust, is to look around us. Who are the people in our lives who best seem to personify perfect love? Those are the people who are most likely to be building their lives on a foundation we can trust. Those are the people we can start to emulate, whoever they are, whatever religion they are, wherever we can find them.

If obedience leads us to perfect love, love can also show us the way to true obedience.


blog author Duck said...

(John, I do not know if you knew Elder Brough when he served as mission president of the area in which you live. If you did, I thought you would want this article from today's paper:

I could not agree with you more on what you have written about love. Thank you for what you have written.

Love and respect, always.

J G-W said...

Thanks... I'll check out the article...