By: Kyle Elden
I’ve been attempting to ask myself these questions each and everyday: am I living in truthfulness, am I embracing my life with a whole heart, do I choose to be honest, daring and brave in the face of difficulty and adversity, and will I graciously notice, appreciate, and accept the gifts from God that are before me? If the answer is no to any of these questions I realize I have, to a greater or lesser degree, pulled the heavy blanket of fear or indolence over my heart, muffling my life’s song – I have closed my eyes to the world and fallen asleep in the midst of a full and vibrant life that is calling me home. Bishop John Shelby Spong, when discussing living a prayerful life, states that prayer is a way of life, not necessarily an act we do from time to time. He urges us to become God intoxicated human beings, to live fully, love wastefully, and to be all that we can be. I strive to be intentional about following this prompt, which to me means to be alive and awake in my life. When I’ve come to a place in my life where I have literally awaken, I’ve discovered that it can often be a grueling and painful process to reach that end. It is through necessary darkness, sorrow, and heartache that I have broken open and become more than I ever would have been had I remained stagnant and stuck where I was.
When we find ourselves asleep in life, when we are depressed, dull and half-alive, it can be difficult to untangle ourselves from the darkness and confusion we are wrapped in, to find that faint pulse of what it is we can become and experience in this lifetime. When we are faced with difficult decisions, when we are holding onto what we need to let go of or taking for granted what we do have, when we cannot bear what it is we know we need to do ~ it is hard to know how to go about the business of life. It’s difficult to know what to do, how to trust ourselves, and how to follow our hearts skillfully and with intelligence.
There is no blueprint, no treasure map perfectly drawn out that will lead us to where it is we need to go to find fulfillment, to become self-actualized, to be whole. There is not a “one size fits all” answer to any of life’s quandaries. What is right for one person may cause immense suffering and sorrow for another. What works well at one time in life may become arduous at another time.
We tend to want to look at things through a black and white lens; we want to see things as either right or wrong. Yogic philosophy approaches life differently, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about cause and effect. I believe this helps us become more honest with ourselves and others as it allows us room to explore ourselves, our relationships, and our lives to discover the cause of any feeling, experience, or action and the actual impact it has on us, others, and the world around us. And however nice it would be if things just neatly fit into a category of “right” or “wrong” I’ve realized that not much in life is either/or as I so hoped it would be, it’s both/and. When I first gleaned this concept at a yoga workshop led by Deborah Adele, it opened up my world in a radical way. I no longer tried to shove everything into a box of “good” or “bad” and I began to see things more clearly in my own life and self as well as the way in which I perceive and judge others. This has led to much more humility and compassion both toward myself and others as I recognize we all stumble along through this human experience ~ not always as gracefully as it would be “right” to do so.
However much we may come to realize that there truly is no “one size fits all” blueprint for how we should all live our lives, we still seek answers and guidance – and rightfully so. I became interested in theology, namely Christian, and the concept of sin as a way to navigate through life skillfully. While I have found great truth and wonderful guidance in many regards, I’ve also found much disparity. People wax philosophical, argue, debate, and literally go to war over beliefs about “sin!” The truth of the matter is, even within the Christian context, the way the Bible is viewed is not completely black and white. To extremists, the literal interpretation of scripture may be considered an all or nothing approach. However, many communities recognize that cultural analysis is important in understanding how to appropriately follow God’s laws. This is clear because many cultural practices in biblical times are no longer interpreted and understood (by a majority of Christians) to be God’s laws such as polygamy, slavery, and the subordination of women.
Instead of getting so frustrated that I completely threw out the good with the bad, I sought deeper. I wanted to know what, beneath all the dogma, rules, and laws (of which there is much dissonance about), actually defines something as immoral or sinful? Borg and Crossen (2007) state that “human sin consists in abusing or destroying God’s creation—people, places and things, past, present and future” (p. 44). Tolle (2005) explains that “literally translated from the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, to sin means to miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target, so to sin means to miss the point of human existence” (p. 9). In this understanding sinning is basically living “unskillfully, blindly, and thus, to suffer and cause suffering” (Tolle, 2005, p. 9). Bishop John Shelby Spong states that “it is not what is good or bad in a cultural form but about what enhances or diminishes life as what is good or evil” (personal communication, March 13, 2009).
These explinations of sin profoundly impacted me. This deeper understanding challenges us to not simply look outside of ourselves at a specific scripture for example and find a one size fits all answer for how to address an issue, but to also look within ourselves and, as the yogis teach, investigate the actual cause and effect. This process requires measuring what is right for a given individual in their special and unique life circumstances though exploring honestly whether any given choice or decision has the actual impact of enhancing or diminishing their life as to whether it is sinful or not.
One dear friend of mine talks about how this is life, here and now, it’s not a dress rehearsal – today is the real thing. How true it is, we don’t get a chance to do it over. So to the best of our ability we shall strive to do it well and hopefully not diminish ourselves and our lives, or others in the process. To the contrary, may we do that which enhances our lives, that which is skillful, intentional, and alleviates suffering that would otherwise be endured.
With these questions I recognize that I don’t want the longings in my heart to be exiled or to be kept secret, like a bird held captive that is thrashing against the metal bars of fear. I want to feel the fluttering of my desire to be fully alive and awake flapping around, lovesick for life’s embrace and know it’s possible at any time to open the door to freedom. Like a baby chick delicately enclosed in its egg shell, the only thing it knows to do is break open, instinctively pecking at the only world it knows, pushing through to something much bigger and brighter than ever imagined. Let us be guided by this baby chick and continue breaking open – to a larger world, to a greater self – throughout our lives.