Photos c/o Melissa Hope
The word meditation used to freak me out. It was reserved for those hippy dippy LA types who had rooms filled with crystals, incense, and burning sage. But me? I avoided meditation like I avoided going to the dentist—which I successfully did for a decade.
A few years ago I fell hard for yoga. It was as though I had just started dating a guy and was head over heels. Completely infatuated, I practiced as much as I could. I loved the way it made me feel physically, and the tangible differences I could see my body. But there comes a time when infatuation fades or shift into something deeper. My relationship with yoga was the latter. Sometimes I’d find myself at the end of a class with tears streaming down my cheeks as I was moving through heart break—or wound so tight that I thought I might snap my hamstring because all I could think about the whole class was how am I going to pay next month’s rent?
One of my instructors recently said, “Yoga is a moving meditation.” The tension in the room immediately rose. To which he responded, “Calm down; it’s just meditation. Meditation is listening, and prayer is talking. We pray all the time, people! We need to learn how to listen.”
That struck me. Every morning I get up, grab a cup of coffee, and snuggle into the corner spot of my couch where I read my Bible and pray. I talk with God, ask Him for things, complain, cry, and share with Him the dreams that are so vulnerable only He knows about them.
But being still, listening, waiting—it’s vulnerable. What if I listen, and don’t hear anything? Or what if I wait, and don’t get the response I’m hoping for? It feels like stepping off a cliff hoping I’ll know how to fly.
Risky as it felt I found myself start asking God, before each class, to give me a word, phrase, picture, or Bible verse to focus on. I began to practice meditating on whatever He gave me. I began to listen, and notice—not judge—just notice. With each inhale, exhale, and transition from posture to posture I slowly began to hear. Sometimes it felt like I was the only person in the room. For an hour it was just me and God — moving and breathing together.
Over time my yoga mat has become a stage God uses to reveal what is going on in my life. When I go to class and spend the hour comparing myself to the person next to me, there is usually some other area in my life in which I am comparing my journey to someone else’s. If I find myself wanting the instructor to see me and be impressed, it usually means I’m trying to win the respect of people I admire.
There was a time when I was scared to try a handstand, because I was terrified of falling. Then one day I went for it — and fell — only to realize it didn’t hurt that bad. It was such a metaphor for my life that I laughed out loud in the middle of class. I feel drawn to try so many things in my career – but am terrified of failing. What if I go for it, and fail, and realize that failing isn’t that bad? What if I go for it and succeed?
Lately the verse I’ve been meditating on is, “your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.” In yoga class it resonates because I have no idea what the next pose is, or where the instructor is taking us. I have to trust that at the right moment the instructor will take me to the next pose. And I know how every class will end—in rest.
All I can do is show up and trust. Oswald Chambers calls this “gracious uncertainty.” He said we may be uncertain of the next step, but we can be certain of God. If I can trust that my instructor will lead my mindfully, how much more can I trust that the Creator of all things will guide me even when all around me feels dark?
A friend asked why I’m so motivated to work out. It dawned on me that I no longer consider yoga a work out. That said, I’m sore constantly, and leave class dripping with sweat. The physical practice is meant to be difficult, and it is. But it’s not why I go. What brings me back to yoga is the sacred time I have with God. Each morning I still have my time of reading and prayer. But yoga is my time to quietly move with and listen to God.
Meditation is no longer like the dreaded dentist chair — it is simply listening and trusting that God will speak. And He will. I’ve found that He is with me—on the sweet days, and on the days when I’m terrified to take even the tiniest step for fear of failure. When I’m stuck judging myself, I’m met with a God ready to forgive. When I’ve blown it, I find myself in the warmth of His embrace. And when I walk to the edge of that cliff and step into thin air, even there He is with me — catching me and teaching me how to fly.