About mid-way through our short flight, the woman next to me said something. “Excuse me?” I asked as I pulled out an ear bud. She didn’t realize I was listening to music. She suddenly asks “do you recognize Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?”
I sat down in the middle seat next to my boyfriend, excited that we had been moved into the exit aisle of the plane since they originally had a 90 year woman sitting there (she was not up for the responsibility). Free upgrade! I was free of the corporate dominion and off for a long weekend in the mountains. I could feel the woman to my right eying us, seeking a way to start a conversation. After making the usual small talk with her (where are you from, what part of town do you live in), we settled into our seats. Headphones in my ears and a book in hand I was content.
About mid-way through our short flight, the woman next to me said something. “Excuse me?” I asked as I pulled out an ear bud. She didn’t realize I was listening to music. She suddenly asks “do you recognize Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?” I was stunned for a moment despite the fact that this was not the first time I had been asked this question by a total stranger. After recovering from the slight bit of shock I simply looked at her and said “I don’t think that is an appropriate question to ask a stranger on a plane.” She quietly said sorry and ran off to the bathroom as I went back to my music and book.
My reaction to this woman replayed. I went through all the typical mental chatter. Judgment—I can’t believe she just asked me that? Worry—Did I overreact? Did I hurt her feelings? Mental replay—Is she really crazy? We had a good laugh as I repeated the story later to my boyfriend at the irony of this woman choosing to ask me of all people this question. I have never believed in organized religion and do not think I ever will.
Perhaps it was simply a matter of coincidence as I did happen to just get seated next to her. Perhaps it was more than that, the perfect opportunity for me to get insight into some things I need to work on from the universe’s delightful way of bringing the right people together in random circumstances. In those moments of my mental chatter I was definitely judging this woman (and then judging myself for judging her—the maddening cycle).
The interaction led me to one solid question: How were my “beliefs” and systems as a yoga practitioner that different than hers? Were they at all?
Now before I take this story in the direction I’m heading allow me to place a careful caveat to prevent any misunderstandings of my intentions. I do not consider yoga as a “religion” defined in the traditional sense. I understand there are a myriad of differences that quite frankly are too long and extensive to go into at this point in time. That is not the point of this article. My purpose is not to initiate a discussion of whether people should follow organized religion nor any commentaries pertaining to that although I realize there is a chance of those who have stopped reading and possibly skipped straight to the comments. So let us continue…
How many times had I talked to someone about the practice of yoga and stated they should go to a class? How many times have I realized how attached to my practice I was because of how it has benefited me? How many relatives and friends have I said the phrase “do yoga” when they were complaining about some ailment? Anyone who knows me knows I instantly get engaged in conversation when yoga comes in, a light turns on.
How many times has that woman talked to someone about her religion and stated they should go to church? How many times has she been so attached to Jesus as her lord and savior because it had benefited her? How many relatives and friends has she stated to pray (or prayed for someone) when they were experiencing some ailment? I am quite certain if I had answered yes to her question on the plane she would have certainly been incredibly engaged in a conversation about Jesus if I were open to it.
Was I really so different from this woman?
Sure, we have probably had very different life experiences, at least our religious beliefs certainly were. We were on different paths up and I am certain that if you were to break down to the core the reasons why we even subscribed to any of our beliefs in the first place the reasons were probably very similar. We could debate about the differences for all of eternity. As much as I tried to separate myself from her, immediately dismissing her question as being inappropriate thereby dismissing her, I kept arriving at the same conclusion.
If there is anything I have learned over and over from all of my classes, workshops, teacher trainings, meditation, self-inquiries and time spent on my mat it is this: There is a source of energy that causes the electrical pulse in our heart, our lungs to fill with air and the neural pathways to connect and it comes from the same source for all of us. All the other perceived differences between us are matters of circumstances, facts, and the most dividing of all – mental constructs. This will be true for every single person (and in my opinion every being) you will ever meet, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, whether you respect them or not.
Ask yourself “how would I have reacted?”
It is very easy to cultivate compassion and be easy going as long as everyone around you thinks and behaves the same way as you do. What happens when they don’t? It is through this type of mental inquiry and recognition of hypocrisy that we can begin to see how there are individuals with unlimited oceans of compassion and understanding. If you are anything like me you must be reminded of this capability, sometimes by a complete stranger.
Therefore woman on the plane who asked me if I recognize Jesus Christ as my lord and Savior? If you were to ask me again my response would be “no I do not but genuinely respect the fact that you do.” I may even ask “have you ever tried yoga?”
Again I re-iterate. If you comment please have it be from a place of understanding and mutual respect.
Jasmine Gill has been practicing yoga for about 8 years, although only “seriously” practicing for the past two years. She attended teacher training for 200 hour Prana Flow Certification in 2010 and recognizes that the teacher training was just the beginning of a lifelong of learning and practicing. She currently lives in Tampa, FL however dreams of living in Boulder, Colorado one day.
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