My yoga teaching career began in the dusty corner of a church basement. This was the same church I had gone to as a child and even though I had stormed away from the place at the ripe old age of 18, there was a certain comfort in coming back. There was something special about offering the yogic path in a sacred space that was open to spiritual community, that was filled with the pungent scent of incense, and that, from time to time, offered the voice of the choir as background music. There was an ease to those days when I would skip down the church stairs to the basement, bags of towels and blocks in hand, to clear the always-cluttered back corner and to make space for my students. Eventually my series ended and my classes shifted to the professional space in my home.
Last June, I found myself back at the church to discuss the possibility of running another series in the basement. I remember walking through the doors, rounding the corner to the hallway that led to the church offices and stopping dead in my tracks. In 36 years of association with the place, I had never seen anything like what was facing me–WALLS. Walls had been built around the offices, completely obscuring them from view, and the windowless door that led inward had a security keypad attached to it. There were no signs but the message was clear–KEEP OUT! For the first time ever, I felt unwelcome in this place.
The meeting went well and it was decided that I would run another series come January, but a few things had changed. I would no longer be able to simply arrive at any time and begin to set up. The doors to the church basement were now permanently locked until 45 minutes before any session was to take place. More blockage…less flow. All of this, the walls upstairs and the locked doors below were the results of parishioners not respecting the personal space of the priest upstairs, and community members thoroughly trashing the holding space downstairs that contained donations of food and furniture for those in need. It makes sense, then, doesn’t it, to build walls and lock doors?
But does it?
Since we’re talking about a holy place here, I can’t help but think of the Christian, “What would Jesus do?” Or Gandhi. Or Mother Teresa. Or Buddha. Would these highly compassionate forward-thinkers put up walls and send out a message to keep out? I can’t help but think–NO. Somewhere in my bones I get the sense that these great people would resist the urge to close down and would instead open themselves up further. They would throw open the doors. They would invite people IN to their homes. They would wait in the space that has the goods-for-donation and open a discussion with those who had come to destroy. I imagine them asking, “What’s going on for you right now? How can I help you?”
That’s the hard stuff, isn’t it? Staying open when we feel violated or betrayed. Daring to allow for free movement and connection even when it makes us incredibly uncomfortable. We humans don’t like that much. Punt us out of our comfort zones or trounce on spots we take personally and we’re suddenly up in arms, defending “our” space, and rushing off to the hardware store to buy drywall and an alarm system.
When I told K. about the locked doors and newly built walls, and the reasons behind them, she asked, “Do you blame them?” I was surprised by my answer:
I expect more from them. I expect them to lead by example, to take the hard road and to remain open. I expect them to demonstrate how to bridge the divide between people and, in that way, stand as true beacons of peace in this world.
But churches are, after all, places filled with humans with all of our foibles, and when walls are built against certain people, it speaks to me about the wounded hearts of those who lead these communities. So maybe, then, it comes down to each individual, to you and me. Maybe the task is for each and every one of us to take up the great challenge of staying soft and open even when we feel betrayed. Maybe we need to learn to bridge the gap between ourselves and the ones with whom we quarrel. I don’t think the end result is as important as the process, so maybe that gap will never be bridged but you, in making the attempt, have grown warrior-soft in the heart. In that way, you help make this a better world.
I dream of the day when:
is replaced with:
Can you imagine what that would do for this world? I can, so I keep working to inch this crusty heart open. Will you join me?
In love and daring,