by Catherine Ghosh
In yoga, one of the most important relationships we have is our relationship with our selves. This is directly connected to our relationship with divinity, as, at our core, yoga texts tell us that we are all made of the same divine substance. For this reason, our voice, and how we express it, plays a very important role in our yoga practice.
Sometimes people find it difficult to express their voices in a free, uninhibited manner that reflects their most authentic self. Then, when they feel they have, their voices may unfortunately land on unreceptive ears, leaving them feeling alone and disconnected. If people go unheard for long enough, it may injure their self-esteem and confidence.
Paul Tillich once said that the first duty of love is to listen. If we can’t even listen to each other, how will be able to truly hear sacred sounds? In yoga, sravanam, or hearing, is one of the main processes that quiets our minds and opens up our hearts to giving and receiving love. However, it’s not just a directive that applies to listening to ancient mantras, but also, to each other.
Over the centuries, it has been the voices of women, even within the yoga tradition, that have been left most unheard. Over ten years ago I began research intent on finding yoga texts written by women. The scarcity of them was disheartening to me: I came across many writings by men, but not by women. In certain instances, Indic studies scholars even expressed suspicion that men in the yoga tradition had published the realizations of women as their own. The voices of the yoginis had been eclipsed. It’s interesting to note that the female voices that did survive did so in the form of poetry.
Poetry seems to be the language of the soul. Its permissive perimeters make it the perfect vehicle through which to express spiritual experiences and journeys of the heart. It can describe places that exist outside our realm of knowledge and introduce us to new ways of perceiving reality and ourselves. Poetry acts as a doorway to the sacred, opening new ways of communicating with each other that are full of meaning and depth. For, much like music, poetry uses rhythm (among other means) to connect us with our spiritual core, and awaken our spirit.
After making these observations, and in an effort to add more female voices to the literary trail of spiritual practitioners, I began a virtual community called “Journey of the Heart” dedicated to listening to, and honoring the spiritual insights in the voices of women. Although the women who participated in the project belonged to various traditions, together they formed a kind of yogic sanga, or spiritual community in which their hearts and souls felt genuinely nourished. And the way in which they communicated with each other was through poetry.
As the community grew I received hundreds of heartfelt poems from all over the world that communicated dimensions and aspects of the sacred. The poems also created a dialogue with each other, that the women felt safe and comfortable participating in. The space we created together was a judgment-free zone in which insecurities were shed and voices were honored. Setting all pretenses aside, we spontaneously became each other’s friends, sisters, guides and inspirations. Something truly magical began to happen! The women participating began to feel more connected to their sacred core through the writing and sharing of their poems. This is the yoga of poetry.
Two years later the participants in the project asked me to gather their poems into a book. And so in August of 2014, we published “Journey of the Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry by Women”. To me, the book is evidence that yoga is being practiced all around the world, in all kinds of ways, as human hearts open themselves up to everything that touches them in life, as holding the potential to connect us with the sacred, if only we let it. For something as simple as the writing and sharing of a heartfelt poem can open our hearts, making them more receptive to sacred life all around us, and within us. Making us more open to yoga.
Whether it’s as a means to express your yoga journey, or whether it’s as the inspiration you receive from reading the poems of others, poetry is a wonderful tool to deepen our absorption in yoga. I invite you all to incorporate poetry in your yoga practice, and find your own heart in the pages of our new book, as we explore the themes of muses, nature, light, darkness, transformation, relationships, sisterhood and divinity: some of the main arenas sensitive souls frequent as they tether their lives to the sacred.
Catherine Ghosh is an artist, writer, mother of two sons and editor of Journey of the Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry by Women (Balboa Press, 2014). As a practitioner of bhakti yoga since 1986, she is co-founder of The Secret Yoga Institute with author and teacher Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., her life partner. Catherine has been a contributing editor for Integral Yoga Magazine, and is a regular columnist for Mantra, Yoga + Health Magazine. She is passionate about inspiring women to share their spiritual insights and honor their valuable voices. You may connect with her on FaceBook, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org A lover of nature, she divides her time between her two homes in Northern Florida and Southern Virginia. Check out Catherine’s book here: http://womensspiritualpoetry.weebly.com/the-book.html
By Jennifer Carter Avgerinos
Currently, there are some places in my life that feel like they exist purely as tests of will and mental endurance and other places that feel like huge gaping voids that I can’t seem to fill. I won’t elaborate on what those places are because when you’re manifesting, you aren’t supposed to talk about it. I also know people that are dealing with much larger challenges than mine and it’s always good to keep things in perspective. A good friend of mine is reeling from the implosion of her marriage, I have friends looking for work, and I have friends that struggle with depression and loneliness and chronic pain. Staying positive can be a challenge sometimes.
I bought this t-shirt that says TAKE ME TO PARIS and my husband jokes that it should say TAKE ME TO INDIA instead. We have been talking more and more about going there sometime in the near future. I occasionally fantasize about quitting my day job Jerry McGuire style and going there for a couple of months, to see Amma, the Hugging Saint and leaving all my worries behind. It’s good to have a dream, but we all know that sometimes the only way forward is by practicing acceptance of what is and finding some way through it.
I received an attitude adjustment when I learned about a defiant statement of faith that was scrawled on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany by a Jew hiding from the Nazi Gestapo during WWII. American soldiers discovered it below the Star of David when searching the bombed house. This poem is now a haunting anthem by Mark Miller. Here’s the poem:
“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
How this person could be so hopeful in the face of destruction is amazing to me. It puts everything into perspective very quickly doesn’t it? Suddenly, even our non-insignificant problems seem insignificant in comparison. I am a continual work in progress and life is like all things truly worthwhile, an art. So, I’m keeping my day dreams of India and I take it all one day at a time, valuing all things with such an openness as to provide not only the proper balance, but to allow for proper action when needed. What helps you get by when life gets rugged?