Purloined Practices

Having been raised by two intellectual, politically liberal, socially conscious parents in a general, Christian way, I was short on meaningful rituals in my life, and I’ve always participated in other people’s whole-heartedly. While I understand that purloining a practice may diminish it, taking it out of its context, the ones I’ve modified to suit my purposes enrich my life and are an easy way for me to pray.

For example, I have a mezuzah on my door although I’m not Jewish. The words on the scroll, an important Jewish prayer, are not words I speak, but the idea of remembering the sanctity of my shelter and of all those who come within helps me express gratitude in multiple, mini-moments throughout my day. I touch my fingertips to the case of the mezuzah upon leaving home or returning. The mezuzah was given to me by my best friends, the kind who become family after a number of years, and the mezuzah reminds me of them too, and by extension my whole tribe—at its most expansive, every sentient being.

I’m thinking about purloined practices because I’m going away for a few days and in searching for a notepad to take with me, I came across the one I took on my trip to Bali. In Bali, there were offerings everywhere—the entrance way to every shop, at every cross roads, at various places within the living compound where I was staying. They were made fresh daily from leaves, flowers, a little rice, and a stick of incense and were gorgeous looking at first and bedraggled as the day went on, especially the ones on the hot stone sidewalks. Here is an example of a Balinese offering.

A young Balinese woman I talked to while my traveling companion checked email told me jokingly that she worked much harder after she married a man whose family traditionally used 25 separate pieces in their daily offerings while her family used only 12. I asked her if, given the opportunity, she would ever want to visit my country as I was visiting hers, and she said, “Who would make the offerings?”

One of the offerings at the compound sat on the kitchen counter, and I thought that, short of making multiple little offerings, I could at least make one daily offering in gratitude for food and water. In Ohio, I can’t shake frangipani blossoms out of a tree all year long, but I put incense in a ceramic holder next to a flower from my garden in the summer and one from a houseplant in winter. As the scent of sandalwood fills every crevice I give thanks.

Yoga, too, is a purloined practice, modified to suit the cultural and social life in the West, as is evidenced by the many disputes regarding whether some expression of it is legitimate or bogus, whether it has become too materialistic and competitive, too divorced from its spiritual roots, too focused on the asanas as a physical fitness regime, too stylishly encased in spandex. I don’t care. I’ll never be able to practice yoga as though I was raised in India in a culture that supported its teachings from my infancy. I’ve purloined the practices. Sometimes, at a random moment during my day I’ll be filled with joy, for no reason whatsoever. The joy is not so much a consequence of practicing yoga as the background of life if you drop the foreground concerns long enough to feel it. And dropping into the background, foregoing the intense focus on the self is one of the gifts of yoga. I’m grateful!

When I told Jasmine about the little offerings on the threshold of every shop in Bali, she wanted to litter the entrance to YOHI with them. If you see a little mound of flowers on a leaf along with incense and a pinch of rice next time you come to practice, spend a moment giving thanks.

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One Response to Purloined Practices
  1. Jennifer

    Lovely! I could identify a bit because while I was growing up I often went to Catholic Church Service with friends much like my family and found comfort and beauty in their rituals. Thank you for sharing!