I remember my Catholic school days, Mrs. O’Rourke’s Religion class and fascination with the Bible stories we read aloud together as a class, one paragraph per obedient student.
I was secretively fascinated because I didn’t think Religion should be my favorite subject. Gym…of course, art…good answer, Math?…yes, also a fine answer. But, Religion? At my judiciously assigned seat among a meticulously arranged grouping of 4 desks, knowing that this was my absolute favorite class, the reading of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-21) ignited a flame in my heart, a yearning to experience this God who could will miracles; allowing a shrub to burst into flames, whilst not consumed by them. I accepted this story as truth and I craved more accounts of miraculous events.
My heart candle, once like arid brambles ready to ignite with a spark of fire, went dormant like old votives placed on a high shelf of a back hall closet. Innocence lost as I learned too much, became too academic and lost inherent knowledge of the heat. Insidiously, the mind overwhelmed my being and these formerly miraculous events were relegated to quaint fairy tales, silly stories to pack away with Barbie dolls and My Little Pony figurines.
In college, the figurative candles moved from the dark recesses of the closet, the box dusted off and placed in front of my curious, but skeptical, eyes. I signed up for a survey class—The History of Religion, joined an Interfaith dialogue group and attended Sufi meetings. Searching for something, but not remembering what it was that I had lost. Blindly drawn to didactic explanations of spirituality, my favorite course was Jesus, Buddha and Plato. The curriculum used Socratic questioning and Platonic dialogue to evaluate scripture. Intellectually stimulating, I was fascinated, but still afflicted by an itch I could not scratch. A lost sheep in nerd’s clothing, seeking devotion.
A debilitating illness resulted in my leaving the University. In retrospect, this was just another chapter in the infinitesimally small progression of this soul. I began to practice Yoga, yoga with a capital “Y”—the type you find after being physically and mentally broken, humiliated and unrecognizable to your own small self. The kind of Yoga you seek when you are so diminished and weak that the only option left is to accept the grace of the Divine.
On a good day, I am moving in and out of this Grace; on a bad day, my mind shifts to the mundane. In spite of this moment to moment challenge, I am more content because I know what I am looking for; the magic of truth, oneness…God. My pursuit has become far less academic and more experiential as I slowly, and often painfully, learn how I am more than just this body and this mind. I have become a mad scientist with asana, meditation and kirtan as my chosen instruments. I have learned to pray with intention in the same manner as I consciously place or niyasa the poses of the Sun Salutation.
It would be quaint to express that my story has come full circle—from my Catholic school uniform to my present life as a Yogi, and to neatly tie all the loose ends together. To philosophize an explanation of the burning bush, I will accept something closer to a horseshoe-shaped enclosure. I see the dots connecting and a circle forming, though the full picture eludes me. I am learning to see through naivety, though complexity; and with my heart, to catch a glimpse of simplicity on the other side of of the illusion. I believe the bush really did burn without being consumed by the flames. I believe this, not as a child, not as a scholar, but as a seeker, as a yogini.
Nina Hayes is a Jivamukti Yoga instructor who is passionate about yoga as a vehicle for living with courage and equanimity. Describing her yoga mat as a magic carpet, Nina experienced a transformative ride through physical, emotional and spiritual challenges. She credits her beloved teachers Sharron Gannon and David Life, as well as her practice, with providing her the tools to consciously navigate life’ obstacles.
This article was prepared by Assistant Yoga Editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj.