I grew up Catholic. Not super-strict Catholic, but we did have to go to catechism at the church each Sunday before Mass. Truth be told, I grew to enjoy it, and was particularly lucky as my teacher, a nun, was tough but also blessed with a warm personality. I “felt” a specialness about her which made me want to learn what she knew. In addition, my mom taught catechism for years, so listening to her as she prepared for her class was also fascinating to me. My mom was super smart, and she knew kids in 6th grade had a hard time paying attention, so she would always make up a game of some sort to keep them interested and help them retain the information. My dad is the youngest of nine kids, and his mom – or my “Nanny”, as we called her – was a saint, as I now realize looking back. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany (a diocese is a district divided into parishes and run by a bishop), was within walking distance from my Nanny’s home. So, on Sundays, when all my dad’s siblings and their children (including me) would be over, and at times the bishop and other “holy” men would be there, too. I “felt” something very special when I was around my Nanny, and the feeling was more powerful around these “men of God.”
At Michigan State where I went to college, I found a great catholic church that was much like the ones I grew up with – big beautiful cathedrals. However, what I loved the most was the priest there who was young and hip and related to all of us college kids so well. I liked the church so much that I joined a bible study group and even played some softball games with our priest. He had the ability to reach into the hearts of people, and again there was that special feeling within me that came from just being around him.
Moving to California is not for everyone. California, thankfully for me, is like one big freelance state. You can contract out to anything you’d like and it is all accepted and good: a cornucopia of choices. I took advantage of that and opened up to differing perspectives on religion ranging from New Age, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, and with yoga, Kriya yoga and other concepts from the Bhagavad Gita. I am not an expert in any area (not even Catholicism), but each discipline gave me something to ponder and each gave me a unique look into a larger force than myself which brought me closer to that “feeling.” As I see it now, I know it’s the “feeling” I was always in search of, not just the ideas presented.
Discovering yoga, Bikram yoga, was a complete surprise. I originally went to class to get relief from the huge amounts of stress in my life, and to also get a good workout in to maintain my health. However, after finishing those classes that can leave you completely flat on your back for the rest of the day, I noticed that familiar “feeling” rise within me arise. I’ll let you in on a secret. There are times now in class, when I’m in an awkward posture, that a Catholic hymn comes to mind – one I used to sing at Mass holding my Nanny’s hand. It’s crazy how the yoga can stir up old memories. I smile when it happens and find myself inwardly humming the song (Don’t tell the teacher, as I am supposed to be concentrating on getting my heels up, knees up). Of course, yoga is not a religion, but if you listen, it brings in all those concepts every religion tries to convey, and for me stirs up that “feeling” in every class, every time – it’s the feeling of peace.
Even Bikram will tell you with his sharp tongue and aggressive tone that the ultimate destination for each of us is mental peace. For years, I heard that. If you believe in the law of attraction, perhaps the feelings from my Sunday school teacher, my Mom, my Nanny, the “holy” men, my college priest, and all the concepts from the many spiritual disciplines I studied, were part of my quest to attract that feeling – of peace.
I don’t think that I am alone. I believe all of us, and I mean all of us, no matter what race, color, creed, or history, have a story that starts when we were young. A personal journey ensues towards that feeling of peace. During the holidays, we can recount our story and heighten our feeling of peace, but we can also miss it if we aren’t careful.
“For it is peace that we seek, and not piece that we seek.” Gifts and great tangible gestures are fun for sure, and can momentarily give us pleasure, but they are no substitute for the real feeling we are after – peace. The holidays can invoke those feel good chemicals in the brain. That’s okay. Just be aware of it. Also go further into the meaning of the holiday: embrace the feeling you get from acts of kindness both extended and received, hear the joys of laughter and not the joke itself, enjoy the ability to sit still and be a companion to yourself with these extra days off of work, and be careful not to fill them with bustling, stressful activity. The holiday is a “holy” day, or better said, your own sacred, devotional time. Get some mileage out of these days you have, and conjure up that feeling of peace. 2011 will benefit from you having done so.
The yoga has become a self study as I get to learn daily how to generate my own feelings of peace, and better yet, how I can become a better instrument of peace. May you practice yoga refueling your feelings of peace this Holiday Season. That’s the destination states Bikram. Only then, do we have a chance at living life more fully and freely. Now, that’s a gift!