I’ve been asking my inner muse, “What is grace?” since deciding to have this as our theme at the once-a-week yoga class I lead at Discovery Yoga, here in sunny St. Augustine. Words have always carried an intrigue for me. Since earliest memories I’ve been interested in their origin, their common usage, their symbolism, their impact. I must credit my beautiful yogini-pal Pam Esty for having shared that she’d dedicated a recent class of hers as well, to the same theme: Grace. It set my mind to thinking:
I’m no philosophy teacher, but I do know how yoga works in my life. I’ve seen how it works in others’ lives, too. From the very first start of my personal journey with the practice of tuning into my spiritual side (which is yoga, the union of mind-body-spirit) I have experienced grace. Starting in my teens I’ve had one grace-laden experience after another, so I have a strong relationship with grace.
When I talk about grace here I’m strictly talking about my own experience. Others may have different meanings attached to that word “grace.” When I was was forced to study catechism as a kid the word grace pretty much seemed to be the name of God’s breath. That’s as good a place to start with as any here today. Although today I also think of the action behind “grace” just as spontaneously, along with the superior, sacred quality implied in its origin.
To be filled with the grace of God, is to be alive. We are filled with holy breath. Everything starts with breath.
The grace I was told about as a kid, at the time, appeared to be like an invisible shower of Good Luck and pats-on-back from heaven on high, given to only those who deserved it. That sure wasn’t me, I thought back then. But today, that religious definition of grace doesn’t work for me anymore. Never did. I always felt left out. Now I feel All-One, not alone.
Right NOW, when I think of grace, I think of the reward I get for having a belief in something.
For me, the biggest reward of all is the inner peace I get from knowing that something much bigger than my little ‘I’ is in charge of things. I’m thinking a lot about this subject of HIgher Power these days, because I’m just completing a book about this very subject. How I taught at-risk teenage girls in high-security lockup, how to have a relationship with that deepest, most intimate place of all. Our inner Self. (Inner Self is another name for Higher Power, for me).
Back in ’04 I volunteered to teach yoga and meditation to a population of imprisoned juvie youth offenders in the most central part of Florida: No Man’s Land. This next book I”ll be publishing is the story of how a killer-hurricane happened to hit dead-on this same facility, terrifying all its isolated occupants. Because I’d spent the previous two years teaching the inmates how to access their inner state of calmness, they avoided a catastrophe. Instead of the trauma and horror of going through the eye of hurricane Charley, the girls at the academy (full security youth prison) stayed calm, and had a beautiful life-altering experience.
Such is the power of grace.
It takes us to the next right place, at the right time, with the right people. Knowing exactly what grace-filled action to take, or not to take. (in yoga, inaction is as much of a choice as action is). Grace is when we’re at ease We know we’re there by how peaceful our “gut” feels. How settled our inner being is.
Of course we have to trust that grace exists. And that is the key. This takes having a belief.
For me, I learned to trust yoga and meditation not because someone else told me to, extolled its great characteristics, or convinced me. I simple “did it” because it arrived in my life’s path. The back story will be revealed, bit by bit, in the series of books I will be publishing. I learned hatha yoga (the poses) at 18 when I bought a book to help my bad back. The rest … is history.
Right here I’d like to announce the next right step for me. I am committing to publishing three of my books—that’s right, THREE!—right in a row during the next year’s time. Stay tuned!
Grace showed me (because I asked) that I was not to despair that my super wonderful literary agent couldn’t sell the book she’s been showing to major publishers for the past year. Grace showed me that this was meant to be. Grace strongly whispered, “It’s much better for you to do your own publishing.” I listened. Grace pointed out to me that, once again, what I thought was best, wasn’t. Grace gifted me with the reward of following my bliss, so the next step could be revealed. Everything counts. Nothing is a mistake.
Grace shows me (when I get quiet and listen, within) what to do, every time I’m wondering. Through breath work, mantra repetition, withdrawal from negatives, I seek my inner guide. And Grace is the language this inner guide speaks.
In order for me to understand the very plain directives this inner guide gives me, I must be on its same level. That means I have to let go of any negative feelings, because those are nothing but blocks to what Grace tries to impart.
Here’s how grace worked in my life recently:
Couple weeks ago I had a bout of the “poor-me’s”. That’s prime-time negative thinking, betcha all agree. So I wallowed for a while, felt my disappointment—shared to my consort about feeling low, allowed myself to feel human—and then asked for the pain of disappointment to be lifted. Then, almost as if by magic! The negatives disappeared. Vanished! And in place was a clear message of … “what to do next.”
I knew I was supposed to take action, and I did.
Both the receiving of the “direct message” and the fact that I took action … both ARE grace.
Let me explain further this two-fold aspect of grace: the action and the origin.
When a dancer (whether of salsa, hip-hop, , ballet, or Mark Morris modern) glides into action, s/he does so with grace. Even if at first appearance, such as with contemporary dance’s oft-jarring moves, grace is at work even if it appears to be clumsy and far from graceful.
A dancer practices their moves. They know how the flow/steps go. They have the rhythm in their head even if there’s no music playing. The grace comes from an internal connection with the flow the dancer has already “fixed” in their minds and hearts. Even an improvisational dancer at least knows some things: the limited area to dance within; a time limitation; knowing if audience can see all angles? Does an audience even matter (not to all dancers)?
The action a dancer takes is energy harnessed with effort in a graceful manner. The grace is the ease with which the dance is executed. For instance, if a dancer hasn’t prepared sufficiently, there might be a fall, a crash, a harsh grimace. All those are missing from a graceful execution of dance of any kind. There’s nothing like a smile! And a smile is impossible if one does not feel at ease.
When one’s at ease … that’s grace.
The action is the effort. So where does the creation of the dance itself come from? What is the origin of the idea behind a graceful action?
This is probably the most important aspect of grace. The source from which all grace descends into those willing to receive it.
That’s key to grace! To be able to receive! How many people do we/I know that simply can’t or won’t receive grace? Don’t believe it exists. Don’t feel they need it in their lives.
To explain, allow me to go back to a yoga approach. In my own practice, I think of “doing yoga” as if I’m “praying with my body-soul-spirit.” It’s a ritual. I set an intention. Even if it’s just to feel better. Sometimes I direct the energy I’m about to generate (my effort) toward a certain thought/person/cause. After setting my intention, I then release that thought and go about focusing all my senses onto creating the most balanced, breath-filled, eye-stilling, muscle-joint-engaging pose I know how. This is not only so much fun, but of course … challenging.
The grace I receive from my efforts is absolutely commensurate with the amount of effort, focus, detailed adjusting, etc. entailed in each and every move of my hatha yoga practice. I’ll give you a for-instance.
When I’m standing in tadasana, the mountain pose, on the outside it seems like the epitome of simple. But on the inside it’s a real effort to get all my joints lined up, engaged, yet remaining still, like a mountain. To do this, I have to look down each of my sides to see that knees are stacked over my hips, shoulders over feet, head aligned with neck angle, etc. And the belly breathing! I have to remember that, don’t I? And the eyes focused on one itsy-spot. Gotta do that! I have to remember the ABCDs (the A-B-C-Ds of yoga, teZa style).
the Core (the mulabandha, the base-of-spine “lock,” an engaged perineum)
the Drishti (the gaze focused, inside and out)
If I’m doing all these 3: breath/core/drishti … I’m in a yogic state of grace. My pose is awesome! To me, on the inside.
So where does this grace come from?
I believe in the Magic of Life. The Mystery. I’ve experienced it in my day-to-day. I’ve had magical events pounce on me out of the blue (the time I saw our old dog “appear in the bedclothes, the blankets” … hey, this is real! Here’s the photo for skeptics taken by moi).
Magic happens. Some like to call it God’s Grace. The cosmic clown. Some call it serendipity, the Force, or … how ’bout weird. Whatever we call it, this unexplainable energy-occurence is as real as the keys I’m typing on. Some of us learn how to work with this ever-present energy in our lives. Others scoff at it, and that’s okay, too. Chances are if you’ve made it this far in this post you know magic intimately.
Another word for magic is grace.
If we ask, we will receive all the magic/grace we need/want in our lives.
If we are closed to it, we will wonder where the hell is all this stuff everyone’s so sure about?
It’s each our own decision, to remain open to grace or closed to it. I think the very best way to start, if any of you are still skeptical, is to start asking for something. And watch what happens. Don’t get obsessed about it. Just whenever you get a negative thought in your mind, replace it with a positive thought. That’s “asking” to be relieved of negative thinking. This is asking for grace to fill our lives. Try it!
With much love,
your pal LordFlea aka teZa
ps. I’m starting a mailing list to keep people informed of the THREE BOOKS I’ll be publishing soon. Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a note here if you’d like to be included in this list.