The elephant and the mahout.

Consider the image of the mahout on the elephant. He is a small man on a large beast, directing it wherever he wants it to go.

The elephant is huge. The elephant is powerful. It could run and the man could fall off. It could shake him off and kill him. But it doesn’t. It lets the man on, and lets the man tell it where to go. It passively gives up its power. It lets him use its power for his own purposes, which may have no benefit for the elephant. All day long the elephant moves trees or clears brush. The elephant does not get to do elephant things. The elephant has been tamed.

Sometimes we are the elephant. We are unaware of how much of our power we give away. We’ve let others tell us how to do things. We’ve let others convince us that we need them.

How are you being directed? Who is leading you?
Is it a teacher, or a minister, or a boss?
Is it a spouse, or a friend, or a neighbor?

Or is it something harder to see? That mahout directs the elephant and the elephant can’t even see him. Sometimes what controls us is the same way.

Is it bad habits?
Is it cigarettes, or food, or alcohol?
Is it a family tradition that doesn’t serve you anymore? Maybe it never did, but you faked it. We all do.

You are more powerful than you could ever know.

I’m pretty sure the elephant wouldn’t ever imagine shaking off that mahout and walking into the jungle. I’m pretty sure that elephant thinks that he has to have that mahout. How will he ever get food? Where will he sleep? What will he do all day without that mahout?

We are the same way.
We can continue to be bystanders in our lives, or we can move on.

Sure, it is scary. But it is less scary than spending your whole life doing things the way someone else wants you to live it.

Lay vs. Ordained – power play

I once saw a photo of a lay person distributing the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Now, the lay person was Sara Miles, so there is that. She is part of an Episcopal congregation in San Francisco and she is a writer about religious matters. This congregation also distributes the sermons on podcasts, so I’ve learned that she has delivered many sermons.

Wait. A lay person, someone who isn’t ordained, distributing ashes, and delivering sermons? This is in a denomination that licenses people to be able to distribute the wine at communion. In order to distribute the wine at communion, you have to be an adult member in good standing. That translates to showing up for service weekly and paying tithes. Then the priest has to send a letter to the Bishop nominating you, and then you get a certificate signed by the Bishop to do this.

There are a lot of control issues in the Episcopal Church. I suspect the same is true in a lot of churches.

Note this is just for the wine. Regular, un-ordained people can’t distribute the bread unless there is something pretty severe going on like the priest has hurt his back. And they certainly can’t bless it. You have to go to seminary to learn that trick.

Jesus didn’t go to seminary, and neither did his disciples. And they weren’t ordained either.

There is definitely a hierarchy of “us and them:. The lay people are told that they are ministers too, but they certainly aren’t seen as equal, and they certainly aren’t encouraged or taught how to deepen their ministry.

So this lady, doing priest things, really woke me up. I first thought how dare she? I then thought, I wonder if the Bishop knows? Then I thought why not? Then I was jealous.

It reminded me of all the micro-managing that my old priest did. And that my old manager did. And it makes me wonder why I keep getting myself into situations with controlling supervisors.

And it makes me think that the worst kind of controlling person is one who acts like they aren’t controlling you at all.

We’ve been bamboozled. We’ve been deceived. We’ve voluntarily given over the care and feeding of our souls to people we thought we could trust. Even if the priest / pastor / minister is a decent human being and not secretly embroiled in a scandal involving money or sex, we are still being led astray.

Consider a teacher. You’ll only learn what the teacher wants to show you. You won’t learn anything about what you are interested in. The teacher won’t be able to answer all your questions and if you ask a lot of questions (as I did) you’ll get some surly reactions from said teacher.

People in authority don’t like it when you ask questions. It undermines their authority. It reveals what they don’t know. It proves they are fallible. It unmasks the guy behind the curtain. You may learn it is all smoke and mirrors.

Don’t give them your power. Don’t entrust the care and feeding of your soul to another person. Question everything and everyone, and if they resist your questions, get as far away as you can. Worse, if they say they welcome your questions but distract you and don’t answer them or show you how to answer them for yourself, run.

I was lulled into a sense of complacency with the church I was in. It was pretty progressive. Big on women’s rights, gay rights, equality for all. Open to other faith traditions. But there is still that division of lay versus ordained. There is still the training that ordained people get that lay people don’t.

The priest can’t be everywhere. Remember the idea of don’t put all your eggs into one basket? Don’t put all of your ministry into the hands of one person.

What would it be like if Jesus had fed only his disciples with that bread and fish?

He didn’t. He gave thanks for it, and broke it, and it was distributed and fed thousands. This is what we are to do with everything. This isn’t just about food, or money, or power. Nothing is for keeping or hoarding. If we build up for ourselves treasures on earth, we are missing the point.

Yoga for beginners.

Sometimes my yoga class really bores me. The teacher does the same moves over and over. She uses the same words over and over. I feel that I’m not improving, not getting stronger, not stretching my boundaries. I feel stifled.

This is supposed to be a vinyasa class. I’m given to think that this is more advanced than the basic classes that are normally offered at the Y. I’ve taken the basic classes, and they are pretty basic. Sometimes they are so basic that we never even stand up. This is for 75 minutes. They certainly never do a downward facing dog. Planks are right out. Old women with oxygen tanks take this class. This class I go to is certainly more advanced than that, but it is still pretty easy.

Sometimes I think it has to be hard to teach a yoga class at the Y. You constantly have people who are at different fitness and experience levels showing up. You can’t start with beginners and train them and then do expert moves, because this week half your class has never stepped foot on a yoga mat.

You can’t expect them to do handstands or mermaid pose. They will never come back. But conversely, if your signature move is forward fold, your experienced students will get bored. There are a lot of forward folds in this class with this teacher.

Recently the teacher for the class I go to was out for several months on maternity leave. Her first substitute was hard core. Plank was her favorite move, with a lot of upward facing dogs. I’ve done yoga for a year and that tore me up. I was unable to get out of bed normally for three days. I had to roll over on my side and push myself up with my arms.

I kept going back. I was grateful there was a week between classes. I needed it to recover. I got stronger. I started to see a line in my abdomen that I’d never seen before, and it was going vertically. It looked awesome. I’m in my mid 40s and I’m developing a pretty amazing core. I didn’t think this was possible. I thought only rock stars with personal trainers had nice looking abdomens.

Then the sub got a sub. She taught us crow, and dolphin, and wild thing, and half moon, and handstand and headstand. I was over the moon. I surprised myself. I grew even more. I’ve incorporated some of these moves into my daily home practice.

But now the original teacher is back. I feel bored again.

But there is something to yoga. Even if it is the same move, over and over, there are micro adjustments to learn. I’m probably standing with my back foot wrong. There might be something about my arm alignment that is off. Even if I’ve heard the same instructions for a year, I probably haven’t really listened to them, so I’ve always got something to learn.

And there is always a way to push yourself. This time I was strong enough to do upward facing dog instead of plopping to the ground from plank and then going to baby cobra, or if I’m brave, full cobra. I did this the whole class. My arms and core have gotten stronger. I didn’t need to take a break in child’s pose. Previously I could do bridge, but I couldn’t do wheel. Now I can do wheel. The first time I did wheel I surprised myself. I decided to try it. The next thing I knew I was looking upside down, and I was happy.

The funny part is I still won’t do camel. It is the same as wheel in the backbend, but because of the angle, I think I won’t be able to get out of it safely. To me it is like climbing up a tree – I may be able to get up there, but I also have to be able to get back down.

So yoga is about stretching your limits and surprising yourself, but it is also about knowing your limits and respecting them. Yet, it is also about sticking it out when it is so boring you want to quit.

Yoga is the same as life, but with a cool soundtrack.

Thoughts about yoga.

Yoga is like learning how to drive your body. Yes, I stole this from Dharma from the show “Dharma and Greg”. It is still true. We take our bodies for granted, but they require skill to learn how to use. Consider that your body is a biosuit for your soul. Look at a professional dancer or martial artist. They can do things normal people can’t. It is because of training. Yoga is training for the average person to be able to do amazing things.

Yoga unkinks your body and your mind. Sure, you are stretching your muscles and tendons. But somehow your brain gets stretched too. Things seem to flow better. Stresses are easier to deal with.

Yoga is like acupuncture for your whole body. It makes the energy flow.

Yoga is like getting a full-body massage, but nobody has to touch you and you don’t have to get naked.

Doing yoga daily is like taking a multivitamin for your soul. I enjoy it when we set an intention at the beginning of practice. It is where you make a prayer, or a goal. What do you want to focus on, mentally, physically, or spiritually? What area in you or in the world needs love and light and growth? That is where you place your intention. That way, the entire practice is a prayer.

Yoga teaches you acceptance. This is acceptance not only of where you are, but who you are. It is about learning to work with what is, instead of what you’d like it to be. It is important not to compare how you are doing with other people in the room. The practice is your practice, not theirs. They are different, and that is OK. There will be things that they can do easily, and that are hard for you. There will be things that you can do easily, and is hard for them. There will be things that were easy for you last week, but are hard today. Every day is different, just like every person is different.

It is yoga practice, not yoga perfect.

Yoga teaches balance in body and mind. Sure, you may learn finally how to do Warrior three, or Eagle without having to stand next to something to grab onto for support. But there is something subtle about yoga that it teaches balance to your mind too. It realigns things. I don’t know how it works, but that is OK. I don’t know how electricity works, but I still take advantage of it.

The hardest thing about yoga is showing up. You say you want to, but you’ve just never made it to a class. Or you’ve gone for years and it has gotten boring and you think that you’ll take some time off. A week becomes a month becomes a year.

Yoga teaches discipline, but not a rigid sort. It isn’t “do this, this way”. There is a lot of flexibility. You certainly don’t make up all the poses – you are learning things that have been done this way for thousands of years. But, you are submitting to this practice, this path. Somehow you find yourself there, and you’ve learned a lot by aligning yourself with it.

Yoga strengthens and tones. There will be muscles you’ve never seen before. It is amazing and beautiful and inspiring to see these muscles develop. Forearms? Abs? Gotcha. They will look stunning. So will everything else.

It is weightlifting, but the only weight is you. No equipment to misplace, and completely portable.

“Hated”

We recently went to get gas at a local store. A carload of young black males pulled up in front of us at a diagonal. They were there to get snacks at the shop and to get gas. But how the driver parked was weird. He parked in such a way that there is no way we could pull forward to leave, and there is no way another car could have pulled through. How they parked was selfish and thoughtless and inconsiderate.

Then their music was insanely loud. I was in the car with the windows closed. Their windows were also closed, yet their music was still so loud I could clearly hear it. They did not care whether other people wanted quiet or not. Through their actions they showed that they didn’t care about other people at all. One of the passengers pulled out a roll of cash and started fanning it. There had to be at least five hundred dollars in his hands.

Then I noticed the driver’s shirt. It was black and had huge letters in a white typeface. The letters took up a fourth of the front of the shirt. They spelled out “HATED”

What a way to self-identify. My thought was if you feel like you are hated, then stop acting in a way that makes people hate you. Act in a civilized manner. Start acting as if you aren’t the only person around.

Then I remember how I’ve seen a lot of black mothers talk to their children. Not all, certainly. But I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Maybe one in ten use calm, friendly tones with their children. If they talk to their children at all it is sharply. It is hostile. It is frustrated. They bark at their children. “Stop doing that”. “Get over here.” The tone from these mothers says “you are a waste of my time. You are an inconvenience. I didn’t want you. ”

No wonder their children grow up feeling hated. No wonder they grow up angry. Maybe their mothers spoke the same way to them. I’m just reporting what I’m seeing. I’m not saying it should be like this. I’m saying it shouldn’t. I’m saying it is time to change things.

How much of this comes from the mothers reading “urban erotic fiction” with such winning titles as “Thong On Fire” and “Pit Bull in a Skirt”? No, I’m not making these titles up. Sadly, the most popular reading genre in my library for black women is “urban erotic fiction” – where the men are gangsters and the women are whores. It is junk food for the soul. Actually, it is worse than junk food. It teaches women that they are nothing. They are meat. They are things. They are something to be used and thrown away. Women read this and they learn this script. They learn that they are less than nothing. They learn that they have no purpose in life other than to get laid by a man, who is going to leave them.

Why would anybody want to put this message into themselves? This is poison.

While I support the right of everybody to read what they want, I also reserve the right to think that what they are doing is harmful to themselves, and by extension, society. I think the same of the general American culture as well. People can refuse to exercise and eat well. They have that right. But I still have the right to point out that not only will they suffer for their bad choices, but we all suffer from having sick people. We cannot possibly move forward if we are all stuck to the couch. And it doesn’t matter if we are on the couch eating junk food, or reading junk books.

Lamed vav-niks, or your efforts matter.

“There is a saying: The world is wicked, but in every generation there are thirty-six righteous souls, and for their sake, God lets the world exist. Thirty-six is written lamed (30) vav (6). These righteous are called lamed vav-niks, or 36ers. They are usually humble people, so one must be kind to everyone, because anyone might be a lamed vav-nik, one of the thirty-six.”
-From “Menorahs, Mezuzas, and Other Jewish Symbols” by Miriam Chaikin.

Related to this idea was if there were but 10 people in the town of Sodom who were righteous, the town would have been saved. Sadly, there weren’t ten good people. The town was burned to the ground with sulfur.

What about also trying to be a lamed vav-nik, or one of the 10? You never know when your town is being tested. Be good, so that the world is saved. This gives a whole new twist to “Be good for goodness sake.”

You may think that your efforts aren’t valuable. How do you know? Your effort might be all that saves the world. There might be 35 other people who are counting on you to make the cut.

Remember this proverb?
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail”

Your efforts matter.

Your body is a biosuit.

I recently heard the human body described as a biosuit. I like this a lot. I think it is important for us to see our bodies as the biochemical machines that they are. Perhaps then we will treat them better. Perhaps then we won’t take them for granted.

Consider your body is a car. Your soul is the driver. Your soul wants to travel from here to there, and it has to use the body to do it.

Perhaps your body isn’t perfect. Perhaps the car pulls to the right. You can notice this and do something about it, or you can decide to not pay any attention to it and be led astray. You won’t end up where you want to go. Perhaps the tires need air in them, or to be balanced. Perhaps it needs a front end alignment. Perhaps your body needs more sleep or more exercise, or better food.

It probably needs these things anyway. Just do it. Why do we get the idea of preventive maintenance for our cars, but not our bodies? Why do we wait until something breaks to take our bodies seriously?

Your body is better than a car. It can get stronger. You have the ability to improve it.

Your body is worse than a car. You can’t trade it in. You can sometimes get replacement parts but they are aftermarket and are subject to failure. Better to take care of what you have, because it is what you are stuck with.

The condition of your body affects the condition of your mind. They are not separate as Western medicine will tell you. Eat a lot of sugar and carbs and you will feel depressed. Eat a lot of fresh vegetables and you will feel refreshed. Exercise your body and it is like taking a vacation. Your stress level lowers. You are better able to handle things.

Don’t wait for that heart attack, or diagnosis of a chronic disease, or cancer.