Recently I lead my third annual retreat “Connect to Your Spirit,” at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Each time I lead a retreat (I only lead two a year. The other is called “Practice Gratitude, Receive Grace, at LuxYoga) I rethink what the theme means to me and design an entirely new curriculum. It’s the only way I know how to teach. Even if I’m teaching a workshop title, I’ll pull out the class, and re-write the whole thing. I’m constantly evolving, therefore how and what I teach will too.
This past year, while thinking about what it means to connect to your Spirit, I felt inside, and realized without an open heart connection to spirit will be very difficult. Near impossible.
I know, I know. This is nothing original. Christians have been using this language for years, beseeching us to open our hearts to Jesus Christ.
But, the framing here is different.
Isn’t it enough to say a hardened heart keeps us from connecting to ourselves? A closed heart is a closed eye that cannot see the beauty all around us, and therefore prevents us from enjoying our lives? This sort of framing is so much easier for people of all faiths and persuasions to connect to. It says nothing about God. It doesn’t even strive to answer the question “what is Spirit?” This framing orients you towards appreciating your time here on earth. That’s all.
The key connecting concept between opening your heart and connecting to your spirit, as I found myself articulating it at the retreat, is experiencing Beauty. The moment I uttered those words, I knew I had entered into an intellectual conundrum.
“Beauty” as we think of it in our media-obsessed culture means something that it pleasing to the eye. And from a feminist perspective “beauty” is an elusive standard that keeps women disempowered. In the body positive movement, we are spending enormous amounts of time repositioning the idea of “beauty” to include everyone. And, as Melissa A. Fabello points out, this is incredibly helpful and healing to people who have never before considered themselves beautiful (just take a look at this video to see something amazing). BUT. She goes on to say:
Amen! Why spend so much time working with an idea that was flawed from the outset? Let’s take it apart, and redefine it. Beauty itself is valuable. How we have come to define it is the problem.
What I’m aiming to write about here, is this deconstruction and redefinition with a framing that comes from my own background, Forrest Yoga, and my teacher’s grounding in Native American medicine. I am and always will be a student of this way of thinking, because I am not a First Nation individual. Thanks to Ana Forrest, I’ve been introduced to a way of viewing Sanctity in the world that doesn’t rely on deities, Gods, or even children of God. To me, the things I’ve learned about Native ways of thinking, it bears resemblance to Taoism. In Taoism, there is no God. There is only “the way.”
Tao #1 says: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
In Native philosophy it is called The-Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things. I’m no expert in the lineage of these ideas, but they strike me as similar.
What I said at the Kripalu retreat is: Beauty is a feeling. I don’t mean “I feel beautiful.” No: “beauty is a feeling” means that you can sense when something from the outside world has touched your heart, and in that moment, it has changed you. Even if it just cast a little ripple in the pond of your soul, and that ripple then quickly disperses: that’s still Beauty. It is the Spirit moving through you. It is a feeling.
At its lowest common denominator, in my own homemade understanding of it, Beauty is when there is an energetic shift, from a lower vibration, to a higher one.
Here’s some beauty that I’ve experienced in my own life.
- The beauty of one person generously helping another
- Experiencing loyalty
- A person relieving the suffering of another person or living being, animal, or plant
- Comprehension filling the space where confusion and misunderstanding previously existed
- Epiphany, insight, and intuition
- Experiencing a healing moment within yourself , where a difficult thought, emotion, or experience is transformed into something with clarity and spaciousness
- Finding a creative solution to a problem: or seeing an opportunity where you previously only perceived an obstacle.
- Being touched so deeply that it brings tears to your eyes
- Experiencing kismet, serendipity or coincidence
- Suddenly being struck with the speandour of our natural surroundings, and having that touch your heart
- Spontaneous fun and laughter
Interestingly, some Beauty ties in directly with Magic. Magic, itself, I believe is Change. Think about it for a moment. How did the baby that you once were become a full-grown human. Magic. How does anyone grow in their thinking about the world, or change their own mind? Magic.
But, back to Beauty.
In my life, I’m aiming for Big Beauty. The kind of resolution that when I’m on my deathbed, I can look back and think I made a lot of Beauty here in this world. I may have just left this place a tiny bit better than I found it.
“I first heard about Walking in Beauty from the Dine (Navajo) Native Americans. It comes from a ceremony called ‘Beautyway,’ which helps ‘the patient’ to re-establish the balance in their life when they are ill, depleted, sad.
To Walk in Beauty means to walk in harmony with all things—not only physically, but also with feelings and our inner wilderness. Also with people, objects, animals…with life!”
Her brief discussion provides many more questions about Beauty than it does answers. What is harmony? How do we come into it with our feelings? What is “inner wilderness?” After spending time with her, listening and doing my best to learn from her, I’ve developed the hypothesis that I’ve elaborated above. It’s about opening your heart, transmuting energy from lower vibrations to higher ones, seeing with your own eyes that can see beyond the physical The-Spirit-That-Moves-In-All-Things everywhere.
Ana talks about Beauty Reports, which is, in her words “when we see or experience something that dances in our heart.” Many of her Beauty Reports include what she also calls “Sweet Medicine,” (a topic worthy of its own, full-length article), which, in brief, is where a challenging or difficult experience reveals a silver lining, or is midwifed through by assistance from the spirit or animal world, or shows its own vision of Beauty that you otherwise would not had the opportunity to see.
And so, I have a call-to-action. In 2016 I would like to disrupt the common idea of “beauty.” Join me this year in a hunt for Beauty. Find our what “dances in your heart.” When you see it, when you feel it, when you have and experience of Beauty, share it. Tell us about it. And be sure to tag it. We’ll redefine the hashtags #beautyobsessed and #beautyobsession.
I think that this practice is crucial. An open heart is key to so very many things. In closing, here is a powerful quote from one of our modern writers about the experience of yoga, Stephen Cope:
A true contemplative is one who lives with a broken heart. A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time. This brokenness produces the kind of grief that expands the heart so that it can love more and more.
Her’s to living with a heart wide open. To being touched, and broken, so that our hearts are broken bigger. I am Beauty Obsessed. Will you join me in my #beautyobsession?