Over the last week, I spoke often in class about grace. It can be a loaded word, with many and varied histories for each of us. Perhaps from a young age, some of us were labeled graceful or ungraceful. Perhaps from a young age, the word grace was connected indelibly with a religion either beloved or rejected. It’s not uncomplicated. Yet I believe this word’s untangling can be a noble and transformative work.
Simone Weil, the spiritual thinker and activist, has a collection of essays titled “Gravity and Grace.” Her work is decidedly religious, but from the first time I saw the title of the book, a non-theistic concept of gravity and grace has stuck with me. In yoga classes, it’s common to hear a phrase like “root to rise.” We think of the groundedness and roots of our foundation, along with the energetic lifting and strength of our muscles. This, to me, is the physical layer of gravity and grace. The gravity that keeps us rooted on this planet infinitely spinning, with the grace of knowing we have the power to rise. Yoga teaches us to feel into opposites, into complexity, into courage within chaos; to feel into both our individuality and our connection to everything that exists. The practice of asana, then, is where we explore and build our skill set for navigating through these contradictory ideas.
There is a word in sanskrit, kripa, which is variously translated as grace, mercy, or blessings, depending on the context. Like many belief systems, its early usage was connected to religion; but over time the idea has been expanded to included several forms. What interests me most at this time is the idea of atma kripa, or grace of the self. This is seen as a grace earned through our own efforts. When we choose to practice, to study, to wake up, to pay attention, to observe, to step forward into our own intellectual and spiritual quests -- we find atma kripa. This could be akin to a ‘flow state’ found in the midst of doing something you love most, that you’ve spent years learning to do. It might be the state when a disciplined musician drops so fully into a moment of performance that the rest of the world falls away. In our yoga practice, it might be the experience of an exceptionally deep savasana, when we receive the blessing of simply being after the hard work of doing.
I claim no expertise on the deeply rich history and meaning of this sanskrit concept. I simply invite us all to consider the possibility that the hard work we are in right now, the hard work of surviving this global trauma, will eventually lead us to a certain kind of grace. I invite us all to breathe into the possibility of a grace that will continue to unfold in coming days; that may eventually help us move through even one moment in a day with less struggle and more faith. I invite us to breathe into the possibility of feeling even slightly less shaken by the world’s chaos, for even one moment in a day, leaving room for a sliver of hope. I invite us to embrace this grace as a momentary awareness of the gift we give ourselves when we do deep, capital-S Self, work. And then, eventually, I invite us to take this deep work back out into the world. To use this breathed-into space of possibility to restructure and rebuild. The velocity with which we as the human species will stumble, fall, or rise will depend entirely on our ability to bring ourselves back together with more room for the collective care and connection our wildly spinning planet deserves.