“I honor the place in you in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Integrity, of Wisdom and of Peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are One.”
– The meaning of the Sanskrit salutation Namaste
“If Christ is in me and Christ is in you, we have something in common. We are no longer separate. We are no longer separated by so many miles—or by race or class or disease. We have something of our essence in common.”
– Br. Mark Brown, Society of Saint John the Evangelist
These quotations reveal a poignant similarity between the two paths of spirituality I walk – yoga and a private relationship with Christ. I’ve only just begun to explore the depth and breadth of either path. This interweaving of the two expands my capacity to know God within myself and to recognize God in others, my life and the world.
I believe it was the goodness and strategy of God that brought me into the spheres of two mentors, one for each path, who continue to have great influence on me and what I hope to offer the world.
Meaghan de Roos is a deeply inspired yoga teacher and co-founder, with her husband Gil Elhart, of Breathe Yoga Center in Norfolk, Va. Her classes are structured, informative and powerful. Too many times to count, I have felt awakened by her clearly stated, profound words coupled with thoughtfully led movement. Once, just before I participated in a difficult work meeting, I heard her say in a morning class, “Rest in your own center with your own Source.” I repeated this mantra silently to myself during the meeting and came through with my dignity and integrity intact.
Whitney Zimmerman Edwards is a humbly-brilliant, Episcopalian priest. She was recently named rector of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Westport, Ct. Years ago in a women’s Bible study in Richmond, Va., she said, “We each write our own gospel with our lives.” This seemed revolutionary to me: that the story of God continues to be written through me, and that my story matters. Last fall, in response to my questioning how God could allow incredible evil to be perpetrated against children, she wrote, “God is not a thing as much as the cosmic well from which is born any of the goodness, grace, peace and healing you and I have ever known.” I’ve been pondering that sentence for a year.
In the foreword to Eknath Eswaran’s translation of the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, he describes adventurers dedicated to “knowing the knower”:
“Yet there are always a few who are not content to spend their lives indoors. Simply knowing there is something unknown beyond their reach makes them acutely restless… This is true of adventurers of every kind, but especially of those who seek to explore not just mountains or jungles, but consciousness itself: whose real drive, we might say, is not so much to know the unknown but to know the knower… every now and then, like friends who have run off to some exotic land, they send back breathless messages… ‘Look at this view! Isn’t it breathtaking?’” (pp. 7-8)
At young ages, both Meaghan and Whitney were led to seek the Divine and testify to the deeper meaning of our existence. Each practices and, in her own authentic way, builds upon an ancient tradition. They send back “breathless messages” and lay paths and lend guiding hands for others to make their own journey.
Their respective ministries – one delivered in a studio, the other in a church – have led me to believe that both traditions can be mine and that I can delve into their synergies. It is going to require a commitment to deep study of the teachings of Jesus and an embodied investigation of the spiritual realm of yoga revealed through intense physical, meditative and breathing practices.
Day after day, Meaghan and Whitney give of their real and evolving selves to the healing of others and, as a result, the healing of the world. It takes great courage and a deep-rooted sense of purpose to be a seer who tells what she’s seen and admits she yearned to seek it in the first place.
I’m honored that both agreed to let me share with you a small glimpse into who they are and why I find them so inspiring. They both responded separately to the following set of emailed questions.
What in your life experience has most shaped your spiritual journey and what you believe to be true?
Meaghan: When I was 20 years old and a sophomore in college I developed an eating disorder that started as bulimia and progressed to full blown anorexia. I was at a cross roads where I had to decide if I wanted to live or die. I truly believe that my eating disorder was actually a deep longing for a fulfilled life, a searching for a connection to God, to something bigger than myself. Existing in the silence I was creating between my body and mind was a longing connected to my soul’s desire for healing and wholeness. That longing could be expressed in two ways: that of disconnect, cruelty, inward violence, and separation, or that of growth, connection to spirit, and a putting back together of fragmentation, therefore the possibility of wholeness. What I believe to be true from this experience is that there is shadow and there is light in all of us and that both are born of the desire to be at peace and to be happy, whole and free. In order to truly live in the light we have to be equally willing to be in the vulnerability of the shadow, of what we fear, and what causes us pain. We can’t selectively have one and numb the other. This is the fullness of life. And to me, it is what makes life worth breathing.
Whitney: Not long after my brother’s incarceration, our father drank until he died, and our mother did the same, only a little more slowly. I was left to my own devices at such a young age that I shudder to think what could have happened after leaving home with few possessions and a load of pain. But what did happen, instead, was grace, in the form of a grandmother who needed me almost as much as I needed her.
I was never allowed to visit my brother in a prison deep in the south. But a short ways down the river that ran beneath my bedroom window, there was a jail. So, I began my search there, which as best I could tell was the closest I could get to him and the events which had laid waste to our family and my innocence.
I didn’t go to jail looking for my life’s purpose: I went to find fellowship with the broken, the burdened and the blamed. I sought kinship in those who had suffered evils not spoken of in polite company and among them I came to know beauty beyond all evidence to the contrary and forgiveness for that which I cannot understand. And, most unexpectedly, in between the bars and gates and rolls of razored wire I kept meeting this character Jesus, who, it seems, had long awaited me. Jesus, who stretched out his arms upon the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace, was there living among men who had known and caused suffering beyond measure.
I went to prison looking for what had broken in me and by the grace of God I found Jesus and returned home every evening to tell my grandmother about him. And somewhere, on that short stretch of river between the two, I was saved.
What is God to you? What kind of trust do you place in that God? How do you believe God works in your life?
Meaghan: I have always felt a sense of connection to something bigger than myself. Early in life that was an experience of God in the way that people told me, as a man with a white beard and staff that lived in heaven and determined one’s goodness based on how one behaved. Over time my image of God became freer and more personal. It was later in life, in a class with my teacher Seane Corn, that I heard her describe God as the manifestation of truth and love. That really resonated with me and is most in alignment with how I experience God. God is the manifestation of truth and love in all things, a blade of grass, the ocean, an animal’s sweet face, a baby, a spider, the greatest joys in life, the deepest sorrow. There is no limit or separation in this manifestation of truth and love, and it is recognition of the goodness innately in all. I place enormous trust in my belief that everything in my life is happening to bring me to a greater understanding of truth and love. That means the easy moments in my life and, most definitely, the challenging ones. The stickier it gets, the more I squirm, the more I know God is all over it.
Whitney: I long for God in ways that surprise, feed and compel me. I was first able to articulate that longing as a teenager. I found myself in the midst of the Rose Test Gardens in Portland, an impossibly beautiful and fragrant spot. Looking at the snowcapped Mt. Hood, with a petal in my fingertips and the fragrance on the hot, dry air I had this perfect and fleeting moment of bliss and at that very moment I heard in my mind “this is what grace is”. I also realized that I have chosen to ignore grace by closing myself off to it countless times. Until that point I don’t ever remember wondering or caring about the nature of grace, but suddenly my senses had proven the means by which I could understand an aspect of God. God is pure gift: delight, beauty, life, hope, wholeness, and God pursues me with much more faithfulness than I have ever pursued God. The more time I spend with God the more any worries, fears, anxieties and wounds of life take their proper place in my consciousness.
What did it take to put yourself out there?
Meaghan: I don’t know if I ever would have pictured myself getting up in front of people day after day giving instruction, offering insight into yoga as I have experienced it through my life, and hopefully creating a container where people can feel truly seen and held. Truth is, I was a painfully shy and introverted child who liked the safety of my own home and the feeling of my own bed. I couldn’t look a stranger in the eyes without a ripple of terror pulsing through my body. My parents pushed me to do it anyway, and although there was a time in my life when I resented them for it, I am extremely grateful now. I am still introverted and it requires a lot of my energy to teach yoga in the way that I do. There have been times along the way that I have questioned if I am cut out to do this work, but every time I sit with that question I am absolutely clear that this is my dharma (purpose). I know because it is where I am asked to learn the most about myself and how I want to show up on this planet. It asks me to grow in ways I couldn’t otherwise. It asks a lot of me because it is through my teaching that I am coming to understand why I am here.
Whitney: My early story is a sad one, one that I do not tell often, but it deeply informs my care for others. I have known pain so intimately that others’ pain does not frighten me. Suffering is inevitable yet dreaded by all. It is never welcome and yet it refines the soul like fire. Our silly concerns, wasteful anxieties and selfish pursuits tend to burn off in the fires of pain and whenever that happens real and meaningful healing is possible, in the way that these epic fires burning across the West will prove the forests, making the conditions just right for an even healthier stand than there was before. I am honored to draw close to people in those terrible moments and remind them of a strength they possess not to endure but to flourish; helping them navigate their fear and discover more of themselves and God in the process.
What do you see in your students or parishioners that you wish they could see?
Meaghan: I see myself in every student that comes to class. I see the vulnerability of what it means to be alive on the planet at this time. I see how connected and alike we all are despite our surface level differences. I see the courage, strength and dedication it takes to make a commitment to practice yoga and develop a willingness to bump up against what is uncomfortable. I see the beauty and the wisdom that is expressed in each individual as I witness a collective moving and breathing together. I see what it means to choose a different path, one that is not ordinary or easy. I see the sacrifices that are made to carve out that bit of time to be on a yoga mat in a life that is busy and filled with responsibility. Most of all I see God…the manifestation of truth and love embodied through the practice both on and off the mat. And it gives me hope.
Whitney: God is in everyone. I am dedicated to witnessing to that and celebrating it.