Her: Y'all got it confused!
She spoke with a boisterous tone of self-righteousness and ridicule.
Me: Actually, we don't.
Spoken so softly, confidently and lovingly that it gave room for her to pretend she didn't hear me.
This was only part of an exchange that I found myself a part of recently. The bigger context of this short but bittersweet conversation was one of divisiveness. Initially dismissing and demeaning what I do as a yoga instructor as merely getting people to stretch, this friend of a friend literally laughed at the suggestion that it's about way more than that. "I gets my spirit at church", she said. "Y'all got it confused!"
Ok, let it be suggested time and again, for all of eternity, by someone unfamiliar with yoga that it is not a spiritual practice. Whether the root is ignorance or defensiveness, I acknowledge that we are usually uncomfortable having our perspectives challenged, but c'mon really? Even more uncomfortable, I'm sure, is the thought that originates from within -- "perhaps, on some level I'm wrong on this issue".
Maybe we consider the retort from a different angle. No right and wrong. No us and them. Just a little contemplation.
What is spirit? What is spirituality? What are we doing in life that isn't a spiritual practice? And if there is such a thing as non-spiritual doings, wouldn't that imply that we have some choice here?
Spirit: the animating or vital principle which gives life to physical organisms; sacred essence of who we are beyond thought and ego. To be spiritual then, can be simply defined as an ability, or willingness to operate with an ongoing awareness of this sacred essence.
The extent to which one is continually aware of and guided by love, intuition, and wisdom, determines his/her level of spirituality. This can also be referred to as being Self-aware. Conversely, the extent to which one is unaware, and perhaps in denial of influences beyond the thinking mind, or concerns beyond the material or superficial, exemplifies a lack of spirituality. This is widely referred to as being ego driven. The spiritual journey is then, as I've said before, a journey from being primarily grounded in headspace to being primarily grounded in the heart.
So, my answer to the question: "What are we doing in life that isn't a spiritual practice?", I say nothing. Because, even in a state of contraction, where we are ego driven and out of touch with our essence, we are still on our path. To walk around ignorant of one's truest nature is simply a starting point. Let's imagine ourselves somewhere on a continuum where on one end, there's complete ignorance, and on the other end, full enlightenment. We, like the rest of nature, are in a constant state of expansion and contraction. We move along this continuum, back and forth, depending on the day, the situation, or even the mood. Like the universe, the life-cycle, and the breath itself, so is the expansion and contraction of the awareness of Self.
So, what about choice? There are two choices that continually present themselves as universal. The first isn't about choosing whether to be spiritual or not. We are at our core, what we are. It's about choosing whether or not to recognize the spiritual nature of your existence as the foundation. The second is a choice to try. Let us try to live in accordance with our personal nature, as we do with all of nature. We do not seek to build a house where an avalanche is pending. We do not expect to go for a run in the rain and remain dry. Living in conflict with nature is not only futile, but it will inevitably lead to suffering. Same is true for our spiritual nature.
If our nature is to be present, peaceful, and content, shouldn't we seek out and participate in activities that lead us to experience this? His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggests that our purpose here, now, in this life is simply "to be happy". So then, the pursuit of activities that make us happy; that create a sense of heightened awareness and connection to something innate, is undoubtedly spiritual in nature. Go to church. Meditate. Bake a cake. Run a marathon. Go on a yoga retreat to Costa Rica. Snap some photographs. Whatever it is, realize that it is Spirit at play. The mind itself cannot be gratified. It can only think its gratified.
"Y'all got it confused", she said.
Actually, we don't.