Forming Compassion Through the Messy Contradictions

 

It seemed like just another Friday morning. I woke up too late, had breakfast, rushed 1.2 miles on my bike to the yoga studio. Drenched in summer morning sweat (WHY had I worn long sleeves?), I walked in the studio just in time for iRest® Yoga Nidra class.

For 2 to 3 years now, I’ve engaged in this practice of deep relaxation and guided meditation that helps practitioners heal “the various unresolved issues, traumas, and wounds that are present in the body and mind. It is restorative in that it aids its practitioners in recognizing their underlying peace of mind that is always present amidst all changing circumstances of life.”

I don’t know about all that healing unresolved stuff, but the rest and relaxation I receive in this practice more thoroughly combats the stress and toxicity of daily life than any other practice I have tried. It is totally worth all the rushing around to get my 8:15 a.m. Friday morning class.

I had spent nearly the first 2 years doing this practice purely as a way to rest. Most of the time I didn’t hear (consciously) many of the words of the guided meditation. More recently though, I come in and out of a conscious knowledge of the flow of the words of the meditation. I actually engage in the practices which only a totally relaxed mind and body could delve into.

That morning’s practice was a new one to this particular class. After an extended progressive relaxation, we were asked to pick an emotion that was cropping up for us. Then, we chose the opposite of that emotion. Our soothing and present teacher, Stella Cornett, asked us to alternate between the two emotions, exploring how they resonate in our bodies and minds. This part of the practice was not new to me; but the next part was.

My conscious mind had dropped out of the meditation for a few minutes after the emotion exploration. When I woke up enough to hear consciously again, Stella invited us to allow the emotion to take a visual form in our minds’ eyes.

Probably because my conscious mind was so relaxed, an image immediately leapt to mind — I saw myself as a child. She then asked us to interact with the person or image we saw, to ask it for its wisdom.

The wisdom this child-like version of myself offered came not in words or images, but crashed upon me in a huge wave of knowing — she was my own vulnerability, loneliness, feelings of unwanted-ness that I mostly try to escape in my conscious life.

The emotion I had chosen was unworthiness. I had alternated between unworthiness and worthiness. I had rested in what those two opposites felt like. Unworthiness was far more familiar and comfortable that experiencing its opposite, worthiness.

The waves of knowing continued to crash upon me. If we are able to accept ourselves as that vulnerable, hurting and lonely child, and are willing to sit with her in all that glorious mess of conflicting emotions, we are only then able to embrace others in their limited and conflicted selves. We can even learn to recognize the beauty and strength that lies on the sunny side of that shadow.

I did not rush to class that morning to have a life-altering revelation. I just wanted to rest. But, that’s when the practice always opens up so much more for me (for all of us really) when we are not expecting it. This is why we engage in these practices for weeks, months, years. We can rest into the practice long enough for the layers of our mind begin to peel back like an onion.

THIS is the place where compassion is formed: in the place where we develop comfort and even reverence for our messy, conflicted selves. Those shadows always have a bright side, a place from which our giftedness grows. They can then flourish in ourselves when we accept ourselves — vulnerability, flaws and all.

So I ask, what spiritual practice helps you engage your messiness, your conflicts, your unpleasant emotions? Do you have a practice and faithful guides who help you along the way? If you do not, what practices can you begin to incorporate?

Rev. Nicole Havelka has been integrating yoga into her practice as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ for the past 13 years. While serving as a chaplain to at-risk youth, she competed a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Chicago in 2009. She now currently serves as Minister for Resourcing, Networking and Creativity for the Ohio Conference United Church of Christ. You’ll find her on her mat as often as possible in her spare time. As an extension of her yoga practice, she swims, bikes and runs in triathlons. She loves exploring the spiritual dimensions of these physical practices and applying them to her work with local churches.

Connect with Nicole by “Liking” her Facebook page, following her on Twitter (@revnhavelka), Pinterest and Instagram. Her personal blog can be found at www.defythetrend.com

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