July 24, 2011

Devotion in motion: prayer’s essence

“What’s that?” the security officer curiously asked of my non-descript, cylindrical blue nylon bag as it emerged through the opposite end of this airport’s scanning machine. My spontaneous response: “it’s my prayer mat.”

Instantaneously, his energy dynamic towards me transforms. I interpreted his gracious and respectful reaction as a mutual understanding created between two human beings that while we may not speak the same verbal language, at a cellular, sacred level, we both understand the essence of prayer.

To attempt to define prayer is a futile human attempt to make finite the infinite possibility that prayer is capable of invoking.

The act of prayer can take many shapes and forms. Its beauty lives in its commonality – to unify. All beings irrespective of belief or non-belief have some conceptual impression of prayer and its absence or presence in their lives.

Wherever I am, there I am

Upon reflection, indeed, contained within this plain blue nylon drawstring bag, is the place that wherever I go, there I am able to connect with a Divine source. Here, the practice [of yoga] becomes my devotion in motion – from vinyasa (combining movement with breath) to savasana (surrendering to proper relaxation).

Whatever emerges when I am on the mat, I grant it the space it needs, in the knowing that it has come to teach or remind me of a necessary lesson. Some days when I’m in meditation, The Lord’s Prayer might show up; thy will be done. Another time, I may find myself asking that all sentient beings be free from suffering. And yet, there are other days where just for today, one day at a time, I ask for help in detaching from ego – anger not, worry not.

OM, Aum, Shalom, Amen, reverberates in every fiber of my being as I close my practice in sacred chant.

What struck me about my encounter with the security officer in Bangui Airport in the Central African Republic (CAR) was his immediate and unquestionable respect of my faith.  Perhaps he thought I may be Muslim – there is a small presence in CAR. On the other hand, the sight of a dread locked woman dressed in camouflage with laptop strapped across her left and yoga mat dangling on her right side was in his mind, a contradiction of too many terms!

Largely, we live in a world where the vast majorities are eluded into the egoist notion that our rights and beliefs are absolute and inalienable. Sometimes we choose blindly, excluding the other who may be our parents, our children, our friends, even our enemies.

In the world of humanitarianism, many of us profess to want to save the planet, etc. Yet in so doing, we choose/wish to impose our doctrines on the other, showing little respect for their cultural norms, attitudes and beliefs. This is part of the darkness of the human condition. Rather than deny it, we need to be aware of it as this will better enable us to be of service to ourselves and others.

To make a change in the world, first we must be willing to understand the world, not from our vantage point but more so from that of the other. Several years of living in war torn and impoverished regions has taught me that the urgency of poverty robs it of integrity. Desperation gives rise to further desperation. This does not mean that I condone dishonesty either. Rather it teaches me the lessons of empathy and compassion.

Upon arrival at my destination, the presence of my mysterious blue bag seems to go either largely ignored (or through the increasing trend of yoga in the West) or recognized. I do not encounter a sense of wonder nor curiosity – just masses of people, mainly holiday travelers, going about their business, trying to get from one place to another so that they may relax from the confines of their daily lives.

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Nadine McNeil  |  Contribution: 7,500