Yoga, Meditation, Spiritual Well-being: Soul Restoration at Sunrise
Not long ago, a simple trip to the beach to perform yoga asanas at sunrise proved to be both a cleansing experience as well as a sacred one. This came about as a result of my search for peace and spiritual well-being during the turmoil of transition. After mentally succumbing to the emotional and physical fatigue of a rapid succession of life changing events, I had lost any optimism that spirituality had ever instilled within me. Because of all the familiar faces and settings changing and leaving my life, I was convinced that I was alone, vulnerable to the ills of life, overwhelmed with choices, and that if there was a connection to a universal Source, that I had permanently lost alignment with it.
People who knew me and took an interest in my strong spiritual convictions were always surprised to hear me speak with such pessimism. Most could remember that my spiritual training started from an early age and as I grew, evolved into an eager student of spirituality. My upbringing was one of conventional spiritual practices that always included Sunday school and church each week. As a child, I can recall hours of fidgeting on the hard wooden pews during church sermons as my schoolyard friends romped and tussled in the nearby parks. Even so, I had no animosity toward this practice because early on, I’d felt something blissful about the act of prayer. In my mid-teens, my eldest sister exposed me to the practice of yoga, which proved to nurture the individuality of my spirit and spark personal growth. It wasn’t long before I was reaping the physical benefits of the practice as my body grew in flexibility and muscle tone.
Soon to follow, were those serene, blissful moments of aligning with spirit to experience the true essence of life, Divinity. I grew to fully embrace a daily relationship with the inner Source of my good through the practice of Hatha yoga before and after school and work. As the years went by, I developed a sense of ritual with my yoga practice. Each morning I would rise at 5:15, roll out my yoga mat and experience the rejuvenating and blissful rewards of elongating yoga postures and deep breathing exercises complete with candles and incense. This ritual became my open door to my own spiritual essence, my connection to the power of Divinity within me. The process of elongating my body, lubricating my joints, and drawing in deep waves of breath revitalized me and kept me grounded in spirit as well as helped me to tap into my creative nature. I was truly an optimist who dove into sun salutations and gratitude meditations at every open opportunity whether it in the solitude of my apartment or in my office at work during my lunch hours. It was a regular habit for me to take time to rejuvenate, revitalize my spirit, the ability to avoid judgment, and see Divinity in all. My elation grew leaps and bounds as I learned to blissfully relax into the asanas through the coordination of deep diaphragmic breathing, movement, and heightened awareness in the present moment.
As time went on, I began to experience many profound changes in my life that tested my spiritual steadfastness and my ability to cope with change. In February of 1999, I sat stunned at my mother’s hospital bedside after she’d just taken her last breath before me. Not many years before that, I lost my father to cancer. Two months after my mother’s passing, my wife of 5 years, informed me that she felt that she was a loner and wished to divorce me in that she could be out on her own. My siblings were quarreling over material possessions that my mother left behind. Acquaintances that helped me to grow were relocating and one close friend had even passed away unexpectedly. I became consumed in the reality that my advisor, my friend, my confidant in my mother was no longer with me. As far as my home life was concerned, I was coming to grips with the fact that I would no longer turn my key in the door and hear my 4 year old son running to jump into my arms. The silence in my apartment, the stillness in my mother’s house, and the distance between my friends overwhelmed me. Because of so many profound changes in my life, my yoga practice became less frequent. I immersed myself in the day-to-day adult responsibilities of life, as well as completely alienated the spiritual ritual that had been the root of my equilibrium. My musing on the disappearance of the comfort of familiarity and being thrust into an unknown future quickly gave me a feeling of aloneness.
I felt myself sinking and decided to seek help. I joined a spiritual community who served as a support system, however not even their optimism in spiritual truth could comfort me, convince me that I was not alone in this world. I was constantly being told that I was never alone. That my own spirituality would be the healer to my many wounds and that God existed within me and was expressed through me. I heard these things so many times that they had begun to sound cliché. I would always respond by describing this feeling to people as that of a tiny grain of sand that had been swept away from the security of a large stone by an enormous, turbulent ocean. The violent tide swaying it through worlds of darkness, vulnerability, and uncertainty. I was fearful of the future, of being out in a world of so many choices.
One morning, as I was preparing for work, I noticed my yoga mat in the corner of my apartment. It was as if I was gazing down at an old, faithful friend who had been carelessly discarded. Looking at it, I decided that I would return to yoga the next morning in an attempt to regain some energy since I had been feeling rather listless the entire month. The next morning, I began rolling out the yoga mat and found some peace at the sounds of the birds singing outside my window. It was 5:00 in the morning and still very dark outside. At the time, I associated my apartment with the energy of my pending divorce and it was difficult for me to be there. I had grown accustomed to staying out late at a bookstore and coffeehouse, only coming back in when it was time to cook dinner and go to bed. Even the few minutes that I was contemplating yoga, the silence of the apartment was making me nauseous with the grief of missing my son. My mind focused on this place where the walls once reverberated my son’s laughter as we caroused with one another was stark silent. Along the shelves sat the idle stuffed animals and action figures that he and I played with on the floor for hours on top of hours. Noticing that there was a smooth, yet rather cool breeze blowing through my screen, I decided it would be good to remove myself from that energy and go out into the open. It was then that I remembered that I lived only blocks away from the beach and so decided to go there to experience the peaceful sounds of the lake.
I began mountain biking through the streets of Chicago to the narrow concrete walkway that led to the beach. After securing my bike, I walked closer to the lake, and as I did, the pre-dawn air was brisk, cold against my skin and I was even contemplating going back home. I simply could not return back to the apartment where I would be consumed with thoughts of missing my only child, as well as all the other people that were no longer in my life. I instead opted for enduring the morning cold and dismal sky. I walked on even as the wind engulfed me with every step. I was determined not to go back to the shell of a home that I was residing in. Aside from the gentle rustling sounds of the lake, the darkness and cold air made it a gloomy setting. I had intentions on achieving some form of rejuvenation by venturing out to the beach, however, the dusky, purplish sky and cold winds were proving to only augment the hollow feeling inside. I walked through the darkness to a concrete path overlooking the lake and unrolled my yoga mat. Tentatively, I began performing my postures, still preoccupied with the dreary purple skies and eerie whisper of the wind through the trees. Inhaling deeply, I stood in mountain pose, and with my eyes closed, attempted to detach myself from the dreariness surrounding me. Placing my palm on the cold yoga mat, I extended my right arm to the sky in triangle pose and it wasn’t long before my body began to relax from coordinating deep inhalations with the stretch. I began to focus on areas of my body as well as to block out the sounds of the haunting wind. Reaching, stretching, breathing, I felt a glow of peace and serenity growing within. With my eyes still gently closed, I began to release thoughts of unrest by mentally absorbing the sounds of the beach around me. I immediately found solace at the sounds of the seagulls and the rustling of the lake’s waves just yards away from me. Frequently thoughts of my mother and my son came to mind, however, I immediately focused on parts of my body that the postures addressed. I began to use my breathing as a metaphor to release, upon exhale, all forms of thought that I knew caused feelings of discernment. Diving down, arms spread into sun salutations, I filled my lungs with the cool breeze from the lake and on the exhalation, visualized feelings of aloneness leaving every pore of my being. I sank deep into Vibranasana (Warrior Pose) and felt my thigh muscles constrict and as before, I could feel strength developing in my lower body as well as my spirit.
As I continued to stretch, I could feel a gradual warmth envelop me. Just as I stopped to remove my long sleeves, I opened my eyes to notice a metamorphosis occurring before me. Gradually, the deep purplish sky began to fade to a warm, velvety pastel lavender which in turn slowly blossomed into a tapestry of bright red, orange, and the most brilliant gold. My skin, once cold and clammy was blanketed in the warmth of the rising sun. It cast its hues of golden essence shimmering off the sands’ crystals, glistening off the waves of the lake, and gently shadowing the driftwood and stones. Encased in a gentle, almost caressing breeze, I resumed my sun salutations stretching my arms to the heavens, inhaling the invigorating sea breeze, and basking in the rejuvenating energy of the sun. The rays of the sun, in conjunction with the combination of deep breathing, stretching and visually releasing constricting thoughts, I began to feel a rush of energy surge throughout my entire being. I was no longer experiencing the cold of the pre-dawn air nor the eeriness of the dusky sky and the haunting sounds of the wind whipping through the trees. Most importantly, I was no longer feeling alone. Because there before my very eyes, as I took in the exquisite picturesque site of the sun rising, I felt as if I were truly witnessing the face of God looking back at me, bringing me back to vitality. The abundance of choices that I feared, I was beginning to see as opportunities. The faces that had left my life, I let go of them out of all the love in my heart. I knew in my heart that my ending marriage became opportunities for both my ex-wife and I to move on and be happier people. And I also knew that my love for my son would only flourish and I would become an even more attentive father.
As the intensity of the sun grew, I could feel tiny sprinkles of water misting in from the rustling lake to cool my skin. I was quickly recognizing the truth that there was no separation between myself and the grace of nature unfolding before me on the beach of Chicago. Looking out over the lake’s horizon at the blanket of golden light, the jubilance of the seagulls, there was a knowingness that that same light resided within me as spirit form. It told me that not only was I witnessing the face of God before me, it was also a reflection of me, my God-self, my true essence outside of my rapidly changing surroundings. With that very thought, I was able to release the worldly concerns, the feelings of aloneness and allow that truth to lift me up, sustain me, and strengthen me as my yoga practice had done for me.
Since that day, I cannot say that difficult times did not arise. Although there were plenty, they were all diminished in importance in comparison to the healing truth of Light that came from returning to my spiritual practice of yoga and meditation as the window to my origin of pure spirit form. After much contemplation of the difficulties that I had experienced, I attributed my initial melancholy to my inability to cope with change. Granted, some of these changes were life altering and required deep inner work in shifting consciousness to allow spirit to take over the situations. My perspective of this now is that such life changing events are actually opportunities to allow our spirits to grow and expand beyond our comfort zones. Without growth, there would be no life. Recovering from the loss of my parents, missing my only child after divorce, relocating friends, were all not-so-subtle signals that it was time for me to grow, to move on to the next phase of my journey. After my enlightening experience at the beach, growth began to come my way. I lost the rigidity and resistance to changing events around me and instead smiled upon them all as avenues to expand my consciousness, be a better father to my son, and practice kindness to others. My window to this truth just happened to be my yoga meditation and practice. Through that experience, I had learned that when I am encountered with situations that could possibly send me into worlds of confusion, that was the time that I should walk through the door of spirituality that is open and available to me at all times.
By Johnny Gillespie