Monday, February 4, 2013

the r-word

For a long time the term religion would typically conjure for me images that are unsavory at best: pedophile priests, the reverend Fred Phelps, Islamic jihadists,the ritual of sati, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, etc. etc. etc.  Unfortunately it seems many people, to some degrees rightfully so, also hold religion in suspicion.  In light of this situation, and so as not to ruffle feathers, yoga practitioners often refer to what it is we do as spiritual, or maybe sacred.  However, I've been coming to terms, more and more lately, with the fact that my practice of yoga is a religious act.  This realization has been gradual and subtle.  You see, I come from a family of liberal, secular, intellectual snobs.  I love them/us, don't get me wrong, but we are what we are.  My mother, who became disillusioned with the Catholic church she was raised in, decided to keep our upbringing secular.  So when I began practicing yoga I would bristle even at the notion of it being a spiritual thing, much less a religious one.  I "got" the philosophical aspects of it, but that came from a more detached scholarly and intellectual place.

Then a funny thing happened.  The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said something along the lines of: "sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, sometimes your smile is the source of your joy." Change can come from the outside in, in short.  A few years ago I began a year-long apprenticeship with my teachers Kino Macgregor, Tim Feldmann, Greg Nardi, and Angelique Sandas.  Part of the deal was that I had to buckle down and commit to daily practice and vegetarianism, among other things.  I have stayed mostly true (I still eat fish maybe three or four times a year) to this ever since.  Here I've been, living a holistic way of life, replete with rituals, ethical principles, etc. the goal of which is to experience something which is unable to be verified empirically.  What else can you call that?  In the several months I've taken the final step and self-identified as religious.  I wouldn't want to be like those people who are monogamous, spend all of their time with, and truly like their significant other but if you ask them if they're in a relationship or if the person in their life is their girl/boyfriend they scoff.  It just isn't productive not to accept a label just because it may seem unpalatable when the label fits.  Why waste time denying what is?

I also have to give credit to my wife Nubia for helping me get to where I am now.  She is a devout Catholic. Back when we started dating I was not totally comfortable with that.  I thought it would be a deal breaker, being still in my intellectual/secular frame of mind and all.  Then her faith pretty quickly became one of my favorite things about her.  She remains my moral compass, always.  One of the things she taught me is that when you are part of a faith you try to follow it to the best of your ability.  It's not a one or zero proposition.  You just do your best and accept that you will fall short because you are human.  I learned, or rather really experienced, that not everybody who is religious is a proselytizing hypocrite.  I'll bet plenty of you readers out there know that, but it was a hang-up I had, I'm embarrassed to say.

For those of you still uncomfortable with the r-word, let me say that just because you have a daily practice doesn't mean you're necessarily gonna see the light.  It doesn't happen for everyone, but it did for me.  I'll wrap this up with a very loose paraphrase of John 9:25: whether or not all this is really just bullshit, I cannot say.  All I know is that I was weak and miserable, and now I am at peace. 


  1. Blogger doesn't have a like button. I have nothing to add except that I am very glad I got to read this.

    1. thank you very much. the nicest thing i've read today...