Time for another guest post from one of our amazing Wisdom Council members! This week we have Roy DeLeon sharing his reflections with us on being a monk in the world. I first met Roy at St. Placid Priory about ten years ago, where we are both Benedictine oblates. Roy is also a yoga teacher with a true monk’s heart. We collaborated on a retreat several years ago on praying the Hours through yoga. Read on for Roy’s reflections:
A Buddhist teacher said, “The practice is about keeping the heart open in hell.” Somehow, this statement stuck with me. As a yoga instructor, I tell my students that the arms and hands are part of the heart chakra. Then I suggest that the arms and hands are messengers of the heart. In anger, our hands turn into fists. But before that happens, the heart, the same size as our fist, tightens, hardens, and shuts down. The breath shortens. The blood thickens. Oxygen supply to the brain slows down. Clear and compassionate thinking gasps for air. Violence grabs the chance to wreak havoc.
But Jesus looks at us with Love. With an open heart. His arms spread, as he did on the cross. Then once the noise dies down, once the heart softens and opens, his voice comes home again. And I hear the sweet words, ‘I Am here.’
That is my go-to image when I feel a storm threaten. But what do you do when you are blindsided, surprised by events you least expect? It’s never too late to remember to open the heart to avoid further damage and prevent future suffering.
So how does one practice opening the heart? There are several yoga postures where you can do the Jesus-on-the-cross arm pose. You can do it while standing, or in tree pose (one foot pressed against the inner thigh) and meditating on the image of Jesus nailed on the tree. The warrior pose too, with one foot in front of the other, can be modified by spreading the arms and reciting ‘My heart is ready. I shall not fear.’
This seated meditation practice can prepare you before you enter a space of conflict: Seated quietly, breathing smoothly, hands flat on the chest, on the exhale, open the arms as you softly say ‘Ye/shu/a,’ lengthening each syllable. Another chant is ‘Ma/ra/na/tha.’
For a heart-opening restorative pose (after a difficult or tense conversation, for example), tightly roll a blanket or a towel, place it on the floor, then lie down on it with the blanket under your spine. Make sure your head is supported and your neck is not strained. Spread your arms on the floor and surrender your shoulders and hips to gravity. Focus on lengthening the exhale as you say ‘hahhhhh.’
As a monk in the world, one of my commitments as an oblate of St Benedict is ‘continuous conversion of the heart.’ I think it’s similar to the practice of keeping the heart open in hell. Gives a twist to the phrase ‘See you in hell,’ doesn’t it? I imagine the Divine One saying it, for the psalmist said ‘even in hell, there you are.’
And as an artist, I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to share my love of praying with the body through my book, workshops, blog posts and YouTube/Vimeo postings.
Be ready. Stay open.