Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ~ Romans 12:2
Christ is God’s Infinite Intelligence that is present in all creation. The Infinite Christ is the “only begotten son” of God the Father, the only pure Reflection of Spirit in the created realm. That Universal Intelligence, the Krishna Consciousness of the Hindu scriptures, was fully manifested in the incarnation of Jesus, Krishna, and other divine ones; and it can be manifested also in your consciousness. ~
I pity the Hindu who does not see the beauty in Jesus Christ’s character.
I pity the Christian who does not reverence the Hindu Christ. ~ Swami Vivekananda
Several years ago, I ran into an old friend from The Samarya Center. He was someone who used to be a dedicated student and even a part-time yoga teacher, but I hadn’t seen him in a very long time. This was when we had just relocated the studio, and I asked him why he hadn’t yet been to the new space.
He told me, “Well, you just seem so into God now, that’s not what I’m into.” I remember feeling defensive, like, “I’m not that into God, what does that even mean?” I felt really irritated, and remember wanting to distance myself from the perception that I was somehow “into God.”
I was just a yoga teacher, and I was just teaching what I was learning from the practice. I wasn’t into God, I was just getting into the idea of “the Divine,” as I understood it in my practice and study of yoga. That wasn’t God; it was …… well, something else. I just wasn’t sure what.
But the exchange with my friend kept coming back to me. How could someone say I was into God?
I didn’t even know what “God” was – in fact, I still don’t.
Sure, I have tried to put my thoughts about God into words, and essentially, when I use the word God it is closest to what the ancient scriptures of yoga and Vedanta would call Brahman, an experience of love and space, a sense of holding and connectedness and solace and intimacy – an intimacy that transcends every other intimacy I have ever known. And this experience, I found, was deeply comforting when things felt really hard, or when I felt really alone inside my own head, or when I felt the deep suffering of those around me, and it felt like it could almost be too much. This sense of connection and intimacy came from my yoga practice – my studies, my meditations, my own longing. It was something, I thought, altogether different than the “God” I had grown up with, the God that my friend seemed to be referencing, the personified, punitive God of my Catholic upbringing.
Like so many others with similar backgrounds, during the time I was learning more and more about yoga and “Eastern” traditions, I was simultaneously rejecting the religion in which I had been raised. Perhaps because I “grew up” with Jesus, and associated Jesus exclusively with the religious doctrine – and in my experience, often the hypocrisy, exclusion and wounding that his name invoked – the idea of Jesus as the “lord and savior,” bumper stickers about Jesus, or really anything that seemed overtly “Christian” made me cringe. But pictures of Shiva, or Ganesh, or quotes about the Buddha on a bumper sticker seemed to carry a different weight. In their “newness,” they moved me in a way that references to Christianity did not.
I was surprised then, when I first read Autobiography of a Yogi and found how much Paramhansa Yogananda loved Jesus, and whose mission was “to reveal the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna.” My surprise turned to deeper intrigue when I began studying at the Vedanta Society and saw that along with Sri Ramakrishna and Buddha, Jesus Christ always had a prominent place on their altar – one year I even attended a Christmas eve service there, singing religious Christmas Carols with the Indian swamis and devotees. It was in this spirit that I began to reexamine my own relationship with Jesus, with Christ consciousness. I began to understand, in an entirely different way than I had before, my own desire to offer the practices and teachings of yoga to those least likely to have access to it, but most likely to benefit from it.
It was from this desire that I first began offering yoga teacher trainings in 2002, but it was divine intervention that I ended up giving these trainings at the Grunewald Guild, a “Christian” retreat center in the mountains of Eastern Washington. I was still suspect of being in a place that described itself as Christian – that felt really different to me than being at the Vedanta Center and inviting Jesus in. The centering of Jesus still brought up the uncomfortable feelings of (ironically) white supremacy, exclusionary rhetoric and a domination paradigm that sought to control its followers through fear, judgement and eternal damnation. And yet the Guild was different. It was sacred, quiet, inclusive, reverent. More than anything, it was the home of its founder, Liz Caemmerer who came to be one of the greatest influences of my spiritual life and teachings. Liz was (is) down to earth, a straight talker, an artist, an avid hiker, a spiritual director and a mystic. We began to take walks together during my trainings and I would always return to my students wide eyed and inspired. Everything Liz talked about in the context of her Christian faith – and this is mostly what we talked about on those walks – was exactly what we were learning, studying and doing our best to apply in our yoga teacher training. How could these two seemingly completely disparate paths be such perfect reflections of one another?
It was Liz who, in those walks, introduced me to Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation, and in the summer of 2017, I began my two year journey with the Living School, a two-year program grounded in the Christian contemplative tradition. I had come full circle. While I still didn’t – and don’t – identify as Christian, I was back to Jesus, back to the roots of faith planted in my childhood, but understood in a new way. The Living School teaches the Christian tradition as a mystic tradition. Richard Rohr, the school’s founder says, “All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect. That place is called freedom.”
This is the same freedom, exactly the same freedom, that is the promise of the practice of yoga.
Suddenly everything seemed to make sense. I had many moments in that first symposium in July, and many more in the continued study that reminded me of all I had gained through my experience in practicing and teaching yoga. I understood non-dualism, I understood being grounded in compassion, I understood that compassion for one another, and especially the most forgotten and marginalized, is at the heart of a spiritual practice. And I understood that it was, in fact, my spiritual practice, both the one I had been raised in and the one I was in which I was now immersed, that was the foundation of every other thing I did in terms of therapy, service, radical inclusion or social justice. And further, that at their mystic roots, these traditions were the same in their pursuit of union with God, by whatever name she might be called. I understood too, that to have this experience, one had to prioritize one’s own personal relationship with God, and one’s own dedication to that relationship. This too, is part of the teaching of yoga.
Earlier this month, I spent a week with the Living School faculty and fellow students before being “sent” – marking the completion of the two year program. In our very first lecture Father Richard talked about his newest paradigm for thinking of spiritual life. He frames it in the words, public, devoted and simple. While was inspired by and felt deeply aligned by his description of devotion – a heartfelt life over a belief system, and of public vs. private virtue – to be motivated to achieve a common good, not simply “character development,” and felt like I had done a pretty good job of living those two, it was the third, “simple,” that really got me. In describing simple life, Father Richard talked about prioritizing humility, small scale, downward mobility, ordinariness, non-seeking of power, not needing to be the best. He ended by closing his notes and looking directly at us,
“Do what is yours to do and stop climbing.”
What a completely contradictory message to all I have experienced and aspired to in my privileged life. How could I “be someone” if I couldn’t be the best, if I couldn’t have recognition for my achievements, if I was, God forbid, “ordinary.”
And yet, I left that symposium, and that program, feeling more grounded, more secure, more with “my people” than I have in any other experience in my life. When I tried to explain to friends what the Living School gave me, there is one thing that stands ur more than anything else. The experience of being with people who use a common vocabulary, who have a common foundation built on faith in our divine interconnectedness and who draw their own courage and sense of self not from what they have achieved, but from who they are based on a quiet, contemplative, and deeply personal relationship with something that is far greater than us, and almost greater than our imaginations can even bear. What I would want people who know me to know about me now is that I am the same! I do not now suddenly talk about God’s grace, and love of Jesus, or anything like that. I still drink beer and curse and love and get angry and depressed and fall down and get up again. I”m the same Molly you have always known. And yet, I am also different. I am comfortable with this language, with these conversations, with hanging in the paradox of faith over belief, and above all, of deriving my sense of worthiness not from what I have accomplished on the outside, but who I am understanding myself to be on the inside.
I have finally settled in to this understanding, just as I have settled into being comfortable with being “into God.” To me, this is only proof that yoga – as a spiritual, mystical tradition – really does work. I believe this to be true. If we focus first, and with deep dedication, on our own devotional life, our own intimate experience of and relationship to the divine, if we align ourselves with wisdom teachers across all spiritual traditions, whether Sri Ramakrishna, or Thich Nhat Hanh, whether Saint Ignatius, or Saint Bonaventure, or the Sufi mystics like Hafiz or Kabir, we will be naturally inspired to love God, and to love and serve others as reflections of God. We will become naturally attuned to the common philosophies of all of these teachers, to the perennial wisdom, to the most important message: do your practice, see God everywhere, serve God by serving and standing with your fellow beings.
I guess my friend was right. I guess I really am “into God” now, whoever or whatever “God” actually is, or whether or not God is “real.” If this sense of divinity provides us with solace and grounding, and inspires us to love and care for one another, and ignites in us the courage to face our own limitations, biases and growing edges then who cares to argue about proof of God’s existence, or how to name her, or how we come to that experience, whether through yoga, or Krishna, or Jesus, or the sound of the wind in the trees?
I am ready to share, and excited to be in your presence as we navigate these scary, confusing and often isolating times together. I will be coming up to the Northwest to teach after an intense year of grief, of learning, of studying with and graduating from the Living School, of building and creating community at my home in Mexico and of missing my community in the Pacific Northwest that I called home for 25 years.
The two programs I have put together seek to build resiliency in faith, relationship in collective care, and a chance to learn more about how mapping perennial traditions grounds us more deeply in our own personal faith, no matter what it might look like. These classes will all be practical, inspiring, and fun. I hope you can join me for one or all of them!