I’ve spent more time than most working out the way in which my yoga practice intersects with and feeds my faith experience. Still, I find myself unexpectedly delighted each time I find a new point of convergence. Recently it struck me that the last stop in Christianity’s liturgy of hours — Compline, the final office of the monastic day established by Saint Benedict in the sixth century — is directly analogous to the savasana (corpse pose) with which we end our yoga practice. Both are contemplative closing ceremonies of sorts for cultivating spiritual peace within their own traditions.
They are markers which prompt us to stop and enter into a stillness in which we absorb the events of the day (or the results of our practice) without the analytical fervor that we, in our humanity, often bring to bear on such recollections. Both Compline and savasana have an osmotic quality about them that brings gentle closure with no effort on our part but surrender.
So as I sat by the fire after 2012 had turned into 2013 without any pomp and circumstance, it occurred to me that the waning hours of the year are very much like Compline and savasana. We look back on the year and say our nightly prayers like the monks at the end of the day. Then we lie down on a bed of energy created from all that has been in the last twelve months while opening ourselves to what is to come, like the yogis do in savasana.
Even more profound to me than the holy congruity between the two spiritual practices, is the fact that they are both rituals that happen without exception. They are not earned for good behavior, as in, “I’ll allow myself a period of savasana if I do an extra long shoulder stand.” Monks don’t say, I’ll indulge in a candlelit Compline if I do an phenomenal job on turnip-chopping during kitchen duty today.” They are graceful practices that arrive on schedule, unrelated to our performance, undeterred by the faltering and mundanity of our lives.
Perhaps some of you had the postcard New Years Eve. You know the one—sparkly hat, dressed to the hilt, a glass of champagne in hand and a passionate kiss from your sweetheart at the stroke of midnight. Mine looked nothing like that. But, guess what? It came anyway. The New Year didn’t wait around, lingering in the shadows till I donned my party dress and got my groove on. It came while I watched a dinosaur movie with my nine-year-old son and his buddy. Which was right after my teen-aged daughter announced that I was ruining her life by not letting her go out that night. And while my sweetheart was already sleeping. Alas, no midnight kiss.
But 2013 snuck in, tiptoeing and was waiting when I crept back to sit by the fire that should have long petered out. It came in the midst of my imperfect life that defies the flickering plastic images that try to tell me how to look and how to live.
There have been times in my life when I have shouted for the clock to hold up and wait until I was ready—until I had myself pulled together—ludicrously thinking I had the ability to control such things. Sitting by that New Year’s fire, listening to the rain, it hit me that while nothing about that night echoed the cultural ideal, it was, in its own odd way, perfection. I had a deep knowing that everything was exactly as it should be. And there was nothing I could do to make it better or worse. It was Compline, filled with relief and gratitude, and followed by a savasana-like sleep.
I had unwittingly embraced the imperfection. The choice, after all, is always ours in such moments—pine for what could have been or gaze with grateful eyes at what is before us. Here’s to knowing that whatever 2013 brings, God’s soft, Sophic light will be illuminating our path.
Monette Chilson is a yoga practitioner and writer who contributes to Yoga Journal, writes regularly for Om Times and pens a monthly column for the Texas Yoga Association newsletter. Her search for the sacred reveals itself in her writings on her blog and her first book, Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga. She blogs at http://www.SophiaRisingyoga.com
I just finished reading Leo Damrosch’s magisterial 2005 biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius) and I’ve been thinking a lot about how Rousseau’s vision ties in neatly with what Christian Yoga is all about. (Full disclosure: My wife hates Rousseau because he forced his lifelong mistress, Therese Levasseur, to give up their five children to foundling homes and then had the temerity to instruct women on why they should breastfeed their children and raise them according to his precepts.)
Rousseau, born in Switzerland in 1712, was basically a professional vagabond and loafer who ran away from his home in Geneva at the age of 16, was almost entirely self-taught, and who earned his living through menial jobs, copying musical manuscripts and writing books that both titillated and outraged most of Europe. Rousseau’s basic argument is that “civilization,” far from being an engine of progress and advancement, is actually a corrosive, even destructive force. Read more
By Francis X. Clooney, S.J.
Several months ago I mentioned that I was teaching a seminar on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This fundamental yoga text, from nearly 2000 years ago, is brief — 195 very succinct verses — but it is the reference point for all the later yoga systems. I promised to report on the results of the seminar (with ten fine students) at its conclusion (this week), and so here (and hereafter) I offer some reflections.
Given the great popularity and accessibility of yoga — I was told recently that 20 million Americans practice some version of it — it may seem a bit too academic to go back and study the Sutras, but I was convinced by my seminar that this is very much worth the effort, even necessary if we are to know what yoga is all about.
Anthony de Mello, SJ, was a famous Jesuit priest, psychotherapist and seminar leader who sought to fashion a “Christian spirituality in Eastern form.” Anyone interested in Christian Yoga should definitely check out his many books — especially his seminal and fascinating text, Sadhana: A Way to God.
He was born in Bombay in 1931 into a large Portuguese Catholic family whose ancestors were converted by the early Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier. He attended a Jesuit high school and joined the Society of Jesus in India in 1947. Following a typical Jesuit course of studies that included philosophy in Spain, theology in India and psychology in the U.S., De Mello was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1961. Read more