Pope Francis And The Antidote To Spiritual Apathy
Metallurgy: a process whereby metal is treated in various ways, often with heat, to remove impurities and alter the physical properties of the metal itself, making it stronger or less susceptible to stress and corrosion, etc. Over that last two years, I have watched with the rest of the world, as Pope Francis leads the Catholic Church in a new direction. As a result of conversations with friends and family, I am certain there are some within the Catholic community who feel uncomfortable with his leadership. For others of us, his leadership has been the much needed cocktail to resuscitate a dying patient. The new Pope's combination of humility, love and transparency have began to steer us back to the underlying message of the christian faith. The message is one of transcendence and mystical heroism, rather than one of suffering and sin. Joseph Campbell refers to it as the feathered serpent motif; a symbol representing bondage to the earth, the serpent, and illumination or release, the bird. Francis brings with him this sense of joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. He has shifted the message back to participation in the underlying ritual of christian mysticism.
Like most longterm thought movements, yoga has never been static. Yoga has been redrawn countless times over the centuries to suit the needs of the moment. Practitioners alter rituals in small or large ways to suit individual needs. The needs and focus of a culture can change substantially over time much in the same way that the needs of an individual practitioner may change over the course of their life. The experience we seek to have through ritual at 25 might be markedly different from the one we seek to have at 65. Should the ritual, in this case yoga, be invalidated because it has changed to suit the needs of the end user? Some would argue yes and some no. All I can say with certainty is that rituals will change, they do not remain fixed or static and some of the most potent rituals have been the most transmutable. Life is change, why would ritual be any different?
Yogis, teachers and students alike, can be a very fickle and judgmental group. We become easily distracted by the idea that one teacher or practice style is better than another. We substitute the hard work of self-reflection for the self-serving belief that we have found the secret elixir in a person or a studio or even in a practice. Of course there is no secret elixir, nothing can replace hard work in reshaping how we experience and frame our world. I believe WE are the architects of our own personal sense of wellbeing, health and success. Secret elixirs, all knowing teachers and magical thinking are great plot devices for movies but they don't have a place in my world view. The power for positive change lies within the practitioner and has been there all along, much in the same way that the strength or pliability of metal was there from the start. The metallurgist understands how to inspire transformation within the metal but ultimately it is the metal that must undergo the transmutation. Teachers and their methods are important tools on our road of transformation but they are not responsible for the change itself...we are. To paraphrase Gandhi, we are the change we seek. Finding the best teacher or the right practice is a lifelong endeavor that may change as you face new challenges and opportunities. The idea that there is only one method for transformation is a distraction that serves only to limit our ability to mature into ever greater awareness.
Pope Francis has served as an inspiration for me for the last two years. He clearly understands the teaching of the religion he is leading. As importantly, if not more so, it appears he is striving symbolically and literally to embody the often missed message that christ willingly sat upon the cross, he made a choice. Actively seeking god or spiritual participation has been out of fashion for quite awhile in our culture and yet here we have a man showing us through his actions that it is in the doing that we find a way to deepen our faith. He carries a heavy burden but he does so, it seems, with great enthusiasm and even a sense of joy. I can't help but see myself in his humanity and feel inspired to live a life of joyful participation in seeking the divine.