out of the forest

People talk about meditation as a new healing remedy, equivalent to the stardom of aspirin for heart attacks. Apps like “Headspace” and “Calm” lead users through a meditative practice, using words like “clear your mind, engage your senses, breatheeeee.” Sometimes this language feels foreign to those with busy minds and lives. It’s hard to see and understand the benefits of meditation unless you yourself experience it. I’m all for empirical evidence (and there is growing research on the benefits of yoga and meditation in cancer, post traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorder patients) so I understand the skepticism that often greets what some consider “out of this world” experiences. Meditation is much simpler than that though. It is simply making space to think, pray, dwell, or stop. It is a way to create opportunity for the thoughts you need to have about life, not the ones life is forcing you to have.

Last week during yoga, the end of my practice neared as we nestled into the comfortable and long-awaited pose of savasana or more clearly put: dead man’s pose. This pose is the final resting pose after many rounds of rigorous and challenging poses, a place to rest your mind and body and collect yourself before jetting off to the next appointed place. Savasana is a place where I’ve had some of my best thoughts, prayers, and ideas. Like meditation, this pose creates space.

I believe that God can give us visions, thoughts, words, people, dreams, signs — anything — to send us a message. The world is His creation and His spirit lives within us, so it is natural that when I have an image or word come in my head that I didn’t conceive, and it is good, then it is from God. I’ll try to describe my meditative vision I had last week during yoga as clearly as possible, leaving out personal details. I think anyone can imagine themselves as the narrator of this story, so I pray God uses my vision to speak to you as well.

I was standing outside of a very dense forest, with my nose almost touching the wintery, woodsy pines. I breathed in the crisp air around me and immediately felt filled with life and renewal. Curious, I took my hands and pulled apart the lush, thick greenery to peer inside the forest. My eyes wandered around as I drifted through the greenery and I saw old versions of myself deep within the woods, to the right and to the left. These versions of me were of my past, and I saw myself grappling with the old demons that caused me heartache, pain, and questioning. There were 3 distinct versions of me that I saw, each heartbroken over something in life that I’m now distinct from — redeemed from. As I observed the brokenness and pain that those girls felt — in middle school, high school, and college, I looked back at my path through the trees. The roots on the ground were knobby and distracting, the trees obstructed my vision to where the light came from, yet the path I had taken to this point was clear. As I left the forest and the past with it in those densely shaded trees and darkened canopy, I entered the light. I entered the present. I looked at myself differently now, with gratitude and love. I felt the warm sun shine down on my face. Instead of seeing my current flaws and shortcomings, anxiety and fears, I saw the triumphant moments I had overcome. I saw freedom, beauty, and healing.

I believe God gave me that vision to remind me to be thankful and to never forget how far He has brought me in this life. It was a simple, beautiful, and clear picture of God’s grace towards us in our brokenness, His love for wanting us even in those dark times, and the gratitude we owe to Him for pulling us out of the forest and into the light.

reasons

After reading When Breath Becomes Air, it caused many moments of self-reflection, recognition, and realization. The most profound of these moments was certainly the correlation that Dr. Kalanithi feels between the morality of humans and the principality of science – and the deep and undeniable connection between the two. My own experiences with realizing what morality is and how we as humans can approach understanding truthfully moral ways has heightened my awareness of the breadth, complexity, and utter incomprehension we have of the meaning and value of life. I don’t say this morbidly, because if you know me you know I am quite the optimist (insert cheesy smile), but I do say it with sincerity. There is such a truly bold connection between humans as spirits and souls that feel love, mercy, pain, and an array of emotional qualities, and the humans that are comprised of varying physiologies of biological and chemical pathways and processes. We are such a complex and deeply intertwined species, that pure science and pure metaphysics do not explain us. They require themselves and a few other important things for a full, robust and accurate description of what it means to be alive.

Deriving from my own experiences as a student, Christian,  and human (surprise!), I have found many truths and many troubling thoughts. Philosophy is something I have grown to love and hate at the same time, which I have commonly found is not unique just to me but to others who study philosophy as well. You may ask, what even is philosophy, and you may laugh at students that say philosophy is their major, but I encourage you to exercise some tact when approaching those who enjoy philosophy. But first, to answer your question in my own, rudimentary knowledge of the subject, I would say that philosophy is truly a search for meaning. Meaning of life, meaning of people, meaning of actions, of religion, of science, of thoughts, of generally anything that is worth searching for. And my own experiences with this quest have been… circuitous. Oscillating between why does this matter? and how could this not matter? has left me in a comfortable, but strange, place with philosophy. Almost at peace, so to say. I have found innumerable truths reading though the great minds of thought, peering into their own opinions on the most important matters of life: happiness, virtue, God, and learning to name a few. I have experienced these inquiries from mathematicians, career-philosophers (ha ha at that term), atheists, scientists, Christians, and teachers. What I have found is a universal truth: that we are humans, and that we take our experiences and we develop our own values, our own morals, our own ethics, our own vocabularies, our own meanings, and we are all developed differently but still the same. For me, this has allowed me to see Christianity in a newfound strength (insert: Go read Rene Descartes’s Meditations). It has allowed me to see the necessity with which there needs to be God. God is the true foundation for which all life, thought, and meaning is derived. He is the unifying alikeness that all humans possess, and He is the only thing that can complete science in its discrepancies and shortcomings. Maybe philosophy has the opposite effect for others, but for me it has challenged my thoughts in unseen ways (sometimes scary ways), but has allowed me to truly integrate every piece of my being – my desire to live a good life, my love and faith in Jesus Christ, and my infatuation with science. I don’t credit philosophy with helping me understand more about myself. I do credit philosophy with teaching me how to think, how to speak, and how to formulate my own ideas and opinions. I see the connections in my life, the concrete existence of a God that no, cannot be empirically proven, but can be proven by merely examining humans and experience. I have seen different parts of my life woven into a fabric that just makes sense. In a way, I felt it has set me apart more than before I had studied my own self and values so extensively (as a by-product of philosophy) and has made me difficultly different than other people in this way (hopefully other students can agree with me on this). Ultimately, I have realized the importance of dependency. The importance of friendship; the importance of conversation; the importance of sharing your life with others; the importance of NEVER thinking you are above others and cannot learn from them; the importance of bringing together all parts of your life and finding where you are genuinely the most happy.

This has been me incessantly rambling about how happy I am to have learned something about my life. The truth is, there are many, MANY, many things I do not know. In these are where my trust and faith in God prevails. I know not what my life holds, but I do know who has been entrusted with my future. And I do know that He has placed meaning, importance, and value in every life on this earth. I see these not just through a lens of spirituality but also a lens of philosophy. Until I am made fully aware of these things, I will keep striving to understand more about what God wants for me, how He wants me to live, and the ways in which I can more fully be His humbled, faithful, and loving daughter. I can pray we can do this together. (I also HIGHLY, highly encourage you to read When Breath Becomes Air… It is beautiful.)

 

pieces

Two nights ago I went restorative Yin Yoga at Shakti before my first day of classes yesterday. During one of the periods of long, extensive stretching I let my mind navigate to the place it wanted to go without my own coercing. During this small period of tabula rasa, I saw a girl trying to move very large puzzle pieces, almost as large as she was. At first I thought that the girl was actually a child and the puzzle pieces were indeed gigantic. Later I decided that the girl was not a child, but that the puzzle pieces were much larger than I had imagined. In this depiction of these large puzzle pieces, I was soon enlightened to find that the pieces were all different. Some of the pieces were people. Some of the pieces were experiences. Some of the pieces were memories. Some were ideas. Some were bright; some were dark. But the girl was trying so hard to put the puzzle pieces together. Fit this one here, put that one there. But she was struggling, for reasons unknown to me.

Until later.

We are boxes of puzzle pieces. My puzzle, the one specially designed for me, holds many different pieces than yours does. Mine is not any less than yours or better; just different. My pieces have my family, the people who have really taught me to grow, taught me to imagine, taught me to live, and most importantly taught me to love. Each piece is a sister, a mother, a father, a cousin, a brother-in-law, an aunt, a grandmother, a grandfather, a nephew, and the list continues seemingly infinitely. Each person has marked me like a sneaky, steady stream erodes the rock. The results are irreversible, good or bad. There are smaller pieces to my puzzle that are acquaintances, friends, and passers-by. Teachers, preachers, and leavers. The point is, each person I have encountered in my life is special to me because they have made me who I am, without me knowing it. It may be scary (and it is) that I really have limited control over whom becomes a new piece to my dynamic and changing puzzle. My experiences, memories, ideas, beliefs, successes, and failures are all essential elements of what makes my puzzle interesting and unique. They were all there, being ran over with the eyes of a girl trying to figure out where they all fit.

What differentiates me from the eggs, milk, chocolate chips, and flour sitting in a bowl? Why am I different than the neutrons, protons, and electrons out in the universe waiting to collide? How are these elements, when in combination with each other made whole, different from me? What makes me different is beautiful. I am different because I am not a bunch of puzzle pieces sitting in a box. I am not even puzzle pieces sporadically laid out on a table. I may sometimes be a girl trying to fit the pieces together in a way that looks satisfying to my own eye. But most profoundly, I am the daughter of the one interfering with my efforts. I am different from the cookies and the atoms because I am being actively formed. I am not just sitting, waiting to be combined or collided. I am a creation. My efforts are useless. My efforts cause me nothing but confusion. One of the major downfalls to my perception of this reality is that I see only a portion of my puzzle; whereas my Maker sees everything. He understands why some really ugly pieces are there. He knows with utter comprehension why a certain undesirable experience occurred. He knows, not because he sees the final picture, but because He created the final picture. He knows where every person will fit, not because He sees where the pieces should fit (this is the mistaken perception I have), but because He created those pieces to fit together. Some may disagree with this philosophy. And if you do, that is fine. But I would love for you to ascertain the idea that I wholeheartedly believe that you, too, are being created with intention and purpose.

So after seeing my obvious difficulties in trying to solve the puzzle, basically blindly, I have surrendered my efforts. I see the pieces, I acknowledge their importance. My Creator will create me. My Maker will make me. My role in this game is the accept the changes. The good ones. The bad ones. I don’t know what my puzzle will look like, and truthfully I don’t want to know. Because I know that God never creates anything less than perfect. And I rest assuredly in that. So God, take my pieces. And make them perfect in You.