Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
– Zen Saying
I’ll never forget my first taste of enlightenment.
I was sitting in the driveway, surrounded by three children, two still in diapers, and one rambunctious puppy. My middle child, typically the one causing problems, was happily creating a masterpiece at my feet with sidewalk chalk. In a valiant effort to preserve her peaceful state, I was desperately trying to keep the puppy and my youngest child from eating her chalk while, simultaneously, preventing my oldest child from mischievously throwing that same chalk over the fence. The yoga book I’d been hoping to read while they played had fallen unceremoniously to the pavement.
“For Pete’s sake!” I thought. (Honestly, that sentiment is considerably whitewashed.) I closed my eyes and rubbed my head. “All I want to do is go somewhere to study yoga and figure out how to be a better person and I’m trapped in this whirlpool of chaos!”
In the two seconds that my eyes were shut, the puppy grabbed my book and my daughter erupted into a tantrum because her brother had pitched her precious pink chalk over the fence. Fighting back a tantrum of my own, I found myself taking a deep breath. As I exhaled, I suddenly “got it.”
“This is my life and I wouldn’t trade one of these little chaotic beings for all the peace and quiet in the world. This is my classroom. There is no school or ashram better suited to teach me how to live the lessons I’m learning on my yoga mat. This is where I’m meant to be. This is where I will figure out how to be a better me.”
And, with that, I rescued my book from the dog’s mouth, guided my son and the baby toward his wagon, retrieved the pink chalk from the neighbor’s yard, and plunked down on the ground to draw with my daughter. From the brink of a tantrum to full surrender to the moment in the time it took to take a deep breath. If that isn’t yoga, I don’t know what is.
Richard Rohr, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes that “there is no authentic God experience that does not situate you in the world in a very different way.” He’s not saying that seeking spiritual growth will lead you to a new life. He is saying that when you spiritually awaken, you suddenly experience the life you have – “the good, the bad and the ugly” as they say – in a whole new way Every encounter, every action, every word you speak becomes an opportunity to share God’s love in the world. This is what we’re here for.
Seen through the more “earthy” lens of my moment of enlightenment, living my yoga meant being a mom in the same way that I imagined I’d be a full-time yoga student in an ashram. Every encounter, every action, every word I spoke could be an opportunity to live as the person I yearned to be. I’d glimpsed this “me” on my yoga mat, but she was elusive. She had a frustrating tendency to slip away as soon as I walked back into my house after class. I now knew that she could exist in my actual life.
In hindsight, it was in this moment of clarity that I took my first step toward truly, consciously, deliberately living like the person I wanted to be – that I was, in fact, created to be. This isn’t to say there have not been (and continue to be) a million steps in the other direction – steps when I throw the tantrum rather than taking the breath, steps when I wish away the moment I am actually having. But this first step and all I realized at that moment has never left me.
To this day (please keep in mind that the baby who was eating chalk that long ago day is now in high school), the light from that first moment of spiritual understanding still redirects me when I find myself lost or wandering. Whether you find yourself stretching to act and live as a person of faith or as a the person you are on your yoga mat or a little of both, I hope the story of my moment of enlightenment gives you the peace and willingness to rise to the challenges and to receive the gifts of your life as it is – right here and right now.