Many Faces of the Divine
As I begin to write this article, I am less than two hours from teaching my first yoga class. I’m tucked away with 6 other soon-to-be yoga teachers in the Gold Coast hinterlands undertaking my 200 hour training course. In the West, yoga is known by insta-headstands #lululemonathletica, sweaty bikram workouts, looking hot or maybe chilling out in Bali. This is a far cry from the roots of yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, a concise scriptural text which emerged in India around 200BC.
Each morning, I rise before 6 to flush salt water up my nose and squeeze my stomach into my chest. Then, it is time to practice Asana – the physical poses that we know as Yoga. We learn how to breathe, how to align our bodies, how to sense energy and finally how to be still. We learn philosophy and about loving service to the Divine. We talk about Shiva, sing about Krishna, while our teacher confesses to still praying to Jesus.
Learning the Secret Language of the World
My Yoga journey began in Rishakesh, the birth place on modern yoga in the north of India. Here I met a Sheik man who had a picture of a Hindu goddess on his wall. “Happy” explained to me “There is one God. The One God has many faces. This is the face that I most connect to”. I met some Muslims in Varanasi who made silk for the Vatican. They, too, told me that there was One God, and that religious difference is man-made story. Hindu’s call this God – Ishvara.
I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, New-Agers, Shamans, Indigenous people… and I’ve found it immensely excited to find that we are all the same, and our God does indeed have many different faces. I’ve also stayed with a few “cults”, who’s insistent exclusivism felt unsettlingly similar to Christianity.
When any group claims to have a monopoly on God, we find ourselves taking the Lord’s name in vain. We have reduced the God of The Universe (and Beyond) to a petty tribal deity of our own design. The Hebrews had it right when they proclaimed that the name of God was unpronounceable – YHWH, resembling more closely the breath than any identifying title.
The name I AM is even more mind-boggling, a name spoken with power by only very few who had emptied themselves enough to speak the name of God with any authority. These names for God are beyond description. They represent Ishvara – the unmanifested, unmoved, unborn, and incarnated black hole from which All That Is comes forth.
A higher perspective on Love
A good conservative Christian friend once shared concern with me. She said “Daniel, it seems like you are willing to take on any idea, other than those expressed within mainstream Christianity”. This caused me to ponder. Her observation was pretty accurate. What is it that I resist, speak against and even find myself provoking in other people within the church?
At some stage in my journey, I became more loving and forgiving than my image of God. This didn’t sit right with me. This image of God had to die and be reborn. I find myself hungry for any discussion that leads to a bigger God, a feeling of expansion, possibility, more love. Not less love, not exclusivism, not judgement. I want to journey endlessly through the cosmos, learning more and more about God, deepening that relationship, the Knowing of the Divine.
When I come to yoga, I engage in a physical practice that prepares me to embody my spirituality, to bring forth a message of love and of peace into the world. Jesus had similar practices, such as fasting. When I read the Indian mystics, I become enraptured in the language of the Soul – new words to deepen my understanding of the Divine. The Bible also comes to life in a new way.
I mentioned this phenomenon to my father, who has been a faithful pastor his whole life. It’s sometimes with trepidation that I share my journey with him, not knowing whether my freedom will be met confrontationally or with familiarity. Dad confirmed that there seems to be something missing when we read an “Eastern story” like the Bible with “Western eyes”.
Surrender to Life
In meditation we practice the art of “letting go”. Letting go of our identity. Who we think we are. Letting go of our beliefs. Perhaps the most faithful proclamation about the Mystery is the agnostic “I don’t know.” When we empty out in this way, we create the space for God to move. Then we come into Union. This is the meaning of Yoga.
Daniel is a wanderer. Sometimes globally, always internally. His wandering has lead him to two questions - what are the obstacles to the flow of love and how can we transcend them? Daniel is a yoga teacher, a love healer and one who thinks too deeply. He is the one who puts the pen to the paper.
See all previous articles by Daniel Strelan