To paraphrase Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell’s character in “Anchorman”): I used to be kind of a big deal. When I was in the Air Force I not only had the privilege of literally planning, flying, and fighting with the “best of the best”, I was an instructor at the school for training elite warfighters! Then, in a turn of events that belongs more in a movie than life, in 2008 while hiking with my fiancée and our young kids, I slipped and fell 30 feet off a cliff headfirst onto a boulder. While I didn’t die, my Air Force career did.
On the other side of the accident, I went to seminary (2010-14) to become a pastor. Having done quite well in the military, I imagined I’d pastor and speak to hundreds and thousands of people via church. Yet, while I did my best to travel that path, today my pastoring is teaching a person, or three, or ten in a yoga class … and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! It seems failure brings flourishing.
A key life lesson I learned from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, the seminary I attended, was the importance of pastors being inand withthe community they live in and serve. As fellow humans, it’s vital for pastors to find ways to connect with people outside of church. Having experienced the life-giving/changing power of practicing yoga first hand, loving teaching, and being invited to instruct yoga by the owner of the studio I went to, it seemed to me Spirit was nudging me to start instructing yoga, so I did! While I continued to primarily pursue and dream about being a more traditional pastor.
As this journey was beginning to unfold, I went through my second divorce. A reason Carla gave me for ending it was she “didn’t want to be married to a pastor.” Ouch! Even though it made my inner guidance system sick to imagine doing any other job, I honestly did offer to go a different route … but it wasn’t enough to save our marriage.
While I traversed this traumatic time, and the following tender season of healing, I was part of the leadership team at newlife church in North Kitsap. I’d done my seminary internship there and the leaders knew I dearly desired to become a pastor, ideally at newlife. In a tragically poetic turn of events, I was married to Carla for nearly five years andinvolved at newlife with the expressed yearning in my heart to be a pastor for almost five years, when both effectively told me “thanks, but no thanks!” (At different times)
As best as I could I poured my selfinto both relationships, only to be left alone as an unrequited lover. I emphasize “self” because it turned out to be the key that turned failure into flourishing. You see, it’s easy for us to find our identity and significance in our jobs, titles, relationships, and accolades, so when I lost in both love and occupation, it felt like I lost my self, because I was ALL in for both endeavors. In both experiences I could feel myself unraveling.
The beautiful plot twist, though, is the failures and the undoing/losing of my self were my salvation! You see, while “Carla’s husband” and “newlife pastor” were things I did, or wanted to do, neither of them were who I was at/in my essence. Quite possibly the favorite phrase of the author of much of the New Testament, Paul, is “in Christ”. Jesus’ emphasis of how important it is for one to “lose your life to find it” is the perfect companion to Paul’s pet phrase because it’s precisely by losing our small selves (jobs, titles, relationships, possessions, accolades, etc.) that we find our True Selves (in Christ).
I’ve come to understand Christ as the blueprint for reality, the Spirit that animates us all, the beauty that fills nature, the glue that connects us all together, and the Love that’s both within us and all around us. In Christ, I found my True Self; Love without end, Light undiminished, and beauty unblemished, notfrom any of my doings, but simply by being created as a beloved child of the Divine.
To receive and feelthis gift has brought thriving and flourishing in my life, work, and relationships that defies words. To pastor is to care for souls, which means journeying with people toward a beautiful, blissful, and holistic existence. So, after “failing” at pastoring in a church, I’ve since viewed my job title as yoga pastor. In a very real sense I’m never not pastoring in that everything I do revolves around my life mission: Awaken, open to, and Be LOVE together! Side note, I think the energy/flow of Love (i.e. the giving of oneself for thriving and flourishing) has a name and it’s “Christ”, but you might not and that’s totally cool because when it comes to the big mysteries like Love, God, suffering, infinity, and death, words inevitably fall short and are just the best we can do to “name” something bigger than and beyond ourselves.
Imagine you are like a Russian nesting doll. Your outer doll may be your ego self, who identifies with achievements. The next layer could be your relational self, who labels itself based on what others think of you. Beneath that might be your mental self, who defines “you” by your thoughts and emotions. There’s likely “dolls” for your physical self, possessions self, job self, family self, and so on. When I teach yoga (or practice it, or live life for that matter) my goal is to help people remove the “dolls” of their small selves in order to uncover and experience her/his True Self, wherein we open ourselves up to the heavenly gifts of peace that passes understanding, joy unbounded, and Love without limits.
As a yoga pastor I think of myself as a conduit for Love/Christ and endeavor to help people tangibly feel and experience the bliss of being in Christ. The way I like to think of it goes like this: As we breathe mindfully we take in Spirit, as we move purposefully we integrate and harmonize our body, mind, and spirit, and as we unclutter our minds and lessen our thoughts we shift our experience from small selves to True Self. Throughout their yoga practice I do my best to constantly embody Christ to others by reminding them the essence of who they are is how the Divine views and created them: Whole, Loved/Love, Precious, and Included.
Another way to say this is practicing, teaching, and living yoga is all about becoming more fully alive, what Jesus said he came to help us do. One of my greatest joys is watching people become more zestfully alive by practicing yoga. Their faces brighten, the tone of their voices shift, the way they carry themselves transforms, the way they see relationships and life blossoms, and more. In short, practicing yoga allows people to light up from the inside out!
While everything I’ve shared is true of my experience and beliefs, I also struggle and need the same reminders and guidance I do my best to allow to come through me (I honestly frequently feel like “my” teaching isn’t me, but is Christ flowing through me). I feel like the luckiest guy alive, not only because Christ has given me the incredible gift of being beloved, valued, and included exactly as I am, NO doing required, but also because I have a loving and life-giving circle of friends and family who affirm, encourage, sympathize, build-up, lovingly critique, and basically fill each other up on the regular. Their loving-kindness, practicing yoga, reading and listening to Love-centered and Christ-centric blogs and podcasts, and mindfully bringing my awareness to the Truth that Christ/Love is all around me, with me, for me, and in me at all times has brought a life better than I ever dreamed possible. I hope and pray you experience the same deep connection, profound peace, jubilant joy, and Love!
Grace and peace,