Ever since I started doing kundalini yoga, I’ve associated it with Isaiah 50:7, which reads as follows: “For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.” I never put much thought into why that phrase often ran through my head as I went through my daily practice, but this morning I felt to study it a bit more. Forgive me as I indulge in some back story; I promise I’ll get to the point eventually : )
Despite hailing from very athletic parents, I have always been somewhat challenged in the physical arena, unable or unwilling to throw or catch or really apply myself with any real grit to any athletic pursuit for most of my life. For some reason, however, kundalini woke something up in me that gave me a glimpse of what other people experience when they play sports: I was not only willing to push myself, but I felt a burning neeeeeed to do so. I had to complete the exercises, I had to hold the poses for the full times, no matter how much my body was screaming at me. Suddenly, physical exertion fulfilled a spiritual purpose in my mind, and that was all the motivation I needed. A few months in to my serious practice, I had a six-pack without ever once realizing I was “working out.” So that’s what I would think of: my face was set like a flint when I sat down on that sheepskin and tuned in. I was going to complete what I came to do.
Fast forward a couple years, and my practice is not quite so enthusiastic most days anymore. It’s not as thrilling to keep up as it is to begin. I don’t feel the burning need to wake up at 4 and to complete a set that pushes me to the edge every morning, and some days I sleep in or even skip my sadhana altogether, which would have been completely unbelievable to prior me, but there it is. And lately, I’ve been avoiding God a little bit because I know what I’ll hear is not going to be entirely palatable, so for the last couple of weeks, I’ve completely abandoned my practice. But yesterday was a yogini friend’s birthday, so we planned a virtual sadhana to celebrate. Except she missed her alarm (I’m sooooooo sorry, Siri Kirti!!), so everyone went back to bed. But I figured I should probably do it for once, so I stayed up... Wahe guru!
Before I began my kriya, I asked for some direction concerning a persistent problem I’ve been running into lately, and as I began warming up, that phrase came into my head again: “I have set my face like a flint.” Because I’m super out of shape physically and mentally, I did a fairly easy set, but it ends with frogs. I hate frogs. You squat like a frog with your heels touching up off the ground, and you repeatedly straighten your legs and bring your face to your knees, up and down. It makes my whole body shake once I get past about seven. This kriya was the first one I did for a 40-day sadhana, and I remembered how I would dread the frogs the entire time, so much so that my body would start to tremble during the last couple exercises in anticipation, because in my beginner’s zeal, I was dead set on getting through all 54 without taking a break, and because I was so weak, at the end I would sometimes be crying from sheer exhaustion and frustration that it was so difficult. But I would do it, and then I would lie down and every particle of my body would spasm for quite a while as I exulted in my achievement and marveled at how much pain I was in.
As I am no longer a zealot and tend to give myself more breaks than I should, I was only doing half times on my easy kriya, so I only had 26 frogs to do at the end (I know that’s not half, but that’s how many you do for half time!), and as I geared up to do them, I had the thought that I should channel some of that earlier me and do them all at once. This was once a very easy task, but again, I am very out of shape now, so it was a challenge, and around 19 or 20 I was definitely thinking a little break would be nice before the last few, but I remembered that I had decided to push through, so I did. Not a big deal. Except that it was, and as I lay down, feeling the rush of good tired trembles, my whole body was filled with the words, “Just decide. Then do it.” And I had my answer to my question, and I was overwhelmed with the goodness of God.
Now, I’m pretty sure every human who has ever made a goal and struggled to achieve it has berated him/herself with a variation of that phrase. It is certainly not earth-shattering originality. But this was an embodied experience of what that means and a reminder that I do have the capacity to choose in every moment how I act. I have the literal power to accomplish what I desire. When I act contrary to how I say I want to, it’s because I haven’t really decided that I will make the choice I desire no matter what. And being the person I want to be really does come down to a truth as simple as that: I decide, and then I do it.
After my meditation, I studied Isaiah 50-52 for a little while. The verse I so love is spoken Messianically, and I love that image of Christ acting as the example to follow as ever, setting his face like a flint in the face of everything he knew was coming, deciding then that he would follow through, and then it was as though it were already done in a sense. When you are filled with knowledge that God will help you (here the word is the one also translated as succor, and it means to cover or surround with protection) and that your sacrifices will not result in shame, then there is no suffering. There is only liberation. We are asked to take Christ’s name upon ourselves, and this is one example of him showing us what that means: we walk into our sacrifices knowing that we walk in light (v. 10). We trust God wholly.
Then I googled flint, because what do I actually even know about it other than it sounds strong and sharp and reminds me of childhood attempts to start fires? Turns out it’s super fascinating stuff. No one knows exactly how it’s formed, but it’s hypothesized to be formed under high pressure that causes chemical changes in various layers of sediment to become one (often complexly shaped) stone. It’s been used forever and ever (or about that) to form tools due to its sharpness and strength; it is also used to create sparks to light fires--that same sharpness and strength mean that when flint is struck by steel or pyrite, it is that which smites, not the flint, that is chipped and exposed to oxygen, and the resulting chemical reaction breeds fire. It has also long been used as a stable but beautiful building stone. Interestingly, it is also prone to violent fragmentation (read: exploding) when exposed to high heat due to impurities within that expand at inconsistent rates; to combat this tendency, it is recommended that flint be slowly heated to less extreme temperatures and allowed to marinate in them for a day or so before being cooled back down to help homogenize it--or, you know, purify it as it becomes more one with itself, shall we say? Gentler heat prepares it for greater heat, and that is neat! There is so much in these lovely verses.
To sum up, I did what I was told for once, and I had a transformative day. Listening to God tends to be the best course of action, it turns out, again. Choosing to do so is oddly difficult when it wounds our pride and cuts down the ego, but it is the only way, and I learned it again yesterday, and I am so grateful. God is always looking to heal us and more fully equip us--always. Wahe guru.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.