My secret code for living a real spiritual life
Hint: it's not what you think! By Angie Follensbee-Hall
When I was very young, my family went to church fairly regularly and I did go through catechism school. We had pictures of Mother Mary, and Jesus in the house, and I prayed every night before bed. But my parents were certainly not strict Catholics. My brother and I were encouraged to pursue our own beliefs and follow our own paths. I recall many late-night car rides listening to the lulling buzz of my parents' voices discussing what they believed to be the true nature of God.
Fast forward to me being married and a mother of two daughters. I have not been back to the Catholic Church in my adult years. Only once did I find a longing to speak to a clergyman, when my eldest was very ill and hospitalized at age three, and I thought I would lose her and myself in the process. I remember seeing the chapel in the hospital and occasionally the priest would walk by. Once he even stepped into our room to bless my daughter. I don’t remember what he said, but somehow I connected his presence to God and I did long to talk to him. It was shortly after this time that I longed for healing and focused on my personal growth and spiritual practices. I found healing in the path of yoga. What drew me to yoga was its emphasis on personal practice: you have to show up and do the work to heal yourself and feel whole.
But Yoga is not all shiny wholeness, oms and love. Amidst the ever-growing popularity of yoga, I find the same ego issues that exist in all of our human endeavours. It’s not necessarily the stories of teachers acting in unethical ways with students that can be so troubling. I see a lurking egoism in all spiritual practices, despite our best efforts. The ego loves thinking it has the One Right Way. Religion and spirituality can be high-octane fuel for the ego. 'Look at me, I’m so spiritual living this wholesome life and doing alll the right things…' It’s far too easy to judge self and other. Those are ego actions. We ourselves are not practiced enough, or we need to take another class, training, or study with that special Divine Person to prove one’s true worth. There is an unspoken sentiment in the world of yoga that one can get 'better at yoga'. Now, I just don’t think that is how anything works at all.
I have certainly thought that I needed to take all the classes to make me 'better'. Have you thought this too? Maybe there is one more special training I need. Maybe I ought to go to the big yoga festival or teach at the festival to prove I am a good teacher. Do you get the retreat centre catalogue and think ‘I need go to all of these, then I will be enough'? Finally, there is the idea that: 'I can’t be spiritual until I’ve gone to India'. None of this is true. And if you keep following that logic, you will never feel whole. You will always be searching for something and never be satiated.
Eventually, I landed on what I was actually searching for.
Not in that ego way – it’s all about me. Simply: 'I am enough'. Nothing else will make me more perfect or whole. While taking classes and workshops can have great rewards, and travelling can indeed be amazing, I came to the same realization that my parents had on their path in Catholicism. And it wasn’t so different after all. There isn’t some magical person with a fancy ring somewhere who is going to give me the divine blessing to make me whole. I don’t need to learn that one special yoga technique, hand mudra, or breathing practice, I don’t need a ‘special spiritual name’ that might prove I can be a real yogi. These are ways to over-identify with form and I want to fuse with the movement beneath the form.
This is my secret code: I wake up. I move mindfully, I sit and breathe. I watch the trees bend and sway in the morning breeze. I kiss my husband when he leaves for work. I kiss my daughters when they wake up in the morning and when they go to bed at night. I look for wholeness in each moment, and I allow the divine to emerge from within.
Angie Follensbee-Hall is a yoga teacher, studio owner, artist, and lifestyle coach with over 20 years teaching experience.