In The Biblical Sense

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Many moons ago I found a book on the Yoga Sutra in a used bookstore that someone had marked up like an old Bible. When I was growing up students of the Christian Bible wrote in their Bibles liberally—underlining texts, making notes, highlighting passages, etc. I watched many a church lady listen to sermons on Sunday and take notes directly onto the pages of their Bibles. These notes fascinated me when I’d find a forgotten Bible on a pew. I’d turn the pages seeking out all those handwritten notes and highlighted scriptures and marvel at the insights written by my fellow churchgoers. The juiciest finds were the Bibles whose blank end papers were completely filled with handwritten notes. Those I loved the most, especially when blocks of notes were layered onto the pages like a text collage.

The best places to find the most notes in Bibles were with ladies who had owned their Bibles a long time. They naturally had more time to fill up all those margins and blank spaces, so the older the church lady the better the odds of finding a Bible rich in notation. Also, the older the the church lady the better the odds of being slipped a piece of hard candy during the sermon. I could snuggle up to a Blue Hair known to dole out butterscotch candy and pretend to listen until the preacher had called out that day’s scripture and the Blue Hair had written down the important bits. Sister Blue Hair would give me cinnamon or butterscotch candy for being so well-behaved and attentive during the service.

As the sermon waxed long and my candy melted away Sister Blue Hair would put down her pen. Then I could ask Sister Blue Hair if I might borrow her Bible. Blue Hairs always say yes if you ask to borrow their Bibles. She’d nod and slide her Good Book onto my lap and I’d blissfully sift through her note-laden pages as long as I could until the benediction.

When I got too mature to do this I tried to note-up my own Bible but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t listen to the sermons well enough take notes. Instead I tuned out the speech and made lists of names I liked. I wrote down random statistics and charted which parishioners sat in which pews. I recorded the births and deaths of family pets. I made tally marks for how many times the preacher said eternity. I underlined scripture I was supposed to memorize for Christmas and Easter plays but none that were independently meaningful to me. I coveted the authentic note-taking abilities of my brethren (and sisthren) as compared to my fake note-taking, which was probably a sin.

When I found this used yoga book marked up like a Blue Hair Bible I stood in the aisle of the book store turning the pages to read the previous owner’s notes in consideration of buying it. The book was written for women, by a woman, and this notetaker? Also a woman. I bought the yoga Bible as much for the notes as the author’s interpretation of the Yoga Sutra. Sometimes I read bits and pieces of it during Morning Prayers. I use a handful of bookmarks to mark important things rather than add my own written notes, or I put my notes in separate notebook. It feels irreverent to mark up someone else’s Bible even if it’s technically mine now (and technically not a Bible).

In my last post I mentioned those seven other branches of yoga that go along with the eighth and most popular branch practiced here in the West:  asana (the physical practice—the poses and classes). Today’s reading was an essay on another branch of yoga, brahmacharya.

Most Westerners interpret brahmacharya as celibacy for the unmarried or fidelity for the married. The typical response is either a polite [Nope!] or [Check—got it], and brahmacharya is dismissed. Since sex gets our attention like nothing else, the sexual example stuck, and nothing else. As time went by people forgot that brahmacharya was meant to be applied to daily lifestyle, not just our sex lives, but it’s usually only the sex part that gets a mention.

The underlying idea is living in moderation and keeping a healthy balance. The author noted the importance of living in harmony with nature’s cycles as an observance of brahmacharya. She pointed out that depleting our physical energies with lifestyles out of harmony with natural rhythms means that “vitality and vigor for spiritual practice will be unavailable.” I stopped to wonder at this.

Really? Why would vitality and vigor need to be available for spiritual practice. Is she saying spiritual practice requires vitality and vigor?

Oh…that’s right. I remember. It does. Yoga philosophy teaches that physical health and spiritual health are interdependent. Our physical practices and spiritual practices directly impact each other. Wear ourselves out with one and we’ve got nothing left for the other. Neglect one and we diminish the gains of the other.  Physical wellness bolsters spiritual wellness and vice versa. Ask anyone who’s lost a ton of weight and gotten physically fit to tell their story and you’ll hear similar themes; I’ve got so much more energy, I’m better at everything I do now, my whole outlook on life has changed, I’m so much happier, I’m doing things I never dreamed I’d do, etc. The benefits of physical fitness extend beyond strong muscles and smaller pants size. They are transformative. We know that.

Spiritual practice might be imagined to be low-energy and not particularly physically taxing but that doesn’t mean we don’t still need gas in the tank. Coming to our practice empty, tired, and injured/unwell means compromised energy and attention put into the practice regardless of how low-impact our spiritual practices might be. Blow it all out at work (or working out) and we’re tapped when it comes to the spirit. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, song, art, dance, service to others, charitable work–however we practice, we can’t access reserves if we don’t have any reserves. So we skip it. Or fake it. Or ignore it. The spirit languishes undernourished and crippled the same as the body does when we skip exercise and nutrition. Wellness is compromised instead of optimized. D’uh. I knew that.

Interestingly, the passage I quoted above was not highlighted or underlined by the previous owner of the yoga book. That intellectual shake-awake for me wasn’t a note made in her Bible. She took lots of other notes on the chapter (in the chapter) but for some reason that one point of wisdom must not have leapt off the page for her like it did for me. I spent my entire morning ruminating upon it as a reminder or reinforcement of a point I needed to reconsider. It was a nice nudge from the Universe via that messy little book so well-devoured by an unknown yogi before me.

I still didn’t write anything in the book though. I didn’t go back and underline it. I didn’t add my musings or make any notes. I wrote them here instead. That’s probably for the best since I couldn’t fit all of this text into the margins anyway. And I’m all out of hard candy.

Be well, friends.

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