Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ramblings on faith & tragedy

The last week feels like a blur.  I had a wonderful birthday, I celebrated Marc's birthday with him, and most significantly, we suffered an extreme national tragedy.

After hearing about Newtown last Friday while I was at work, all I wanted to do was go into a room all by myself and glue myself to the TV for any updates and just cry and cry and cry.  I wanted to take every single child I know and squeeze them tight and feel that they were safe.  I wanted to hug all of my teachers, including my mother who was an elementary school teacher and would often substitute teach at my school as a kid (it always made me so proud when my mom was the teacher for the day!).  I wanted to hold my best friends and fellow teachers - whether it's yoga, music, even nannying - so we could console each other.

I don't know what to write about today.  This will probably be a non-cohesive mish mash of various things that will hopefully all make sense strewn together, but if not, bear with me...

Marc's wonderful dad came into town for work and among the many topics we debated and dissected was faith.  He is a Christian, even though he doesn't trust any man-made organized religion.  He's a skeptic and a believer all in one.

We had a huge and fascinating conversation about how he defines faith, and how faith is different than belief.  In response to his good-natured assertion that an agnostic is just too lazy to call themselves an atheist, I said that I'm not even sure if I'd go so far as to claim the label as agnostic.  I'm one of those many, many modern people who describes themselves as "spiritual, but not religious."  It's basically the same thing - a searching, undefined gray area where we want to believe in something but just can't seem to figure out what.

I do pray, but I have no idea who or what I'm praying to.  I believe in something, but I'm just not sure what.  I'm not comfortable totally aligning myself with any kind of text, because I think they were all written by man and no man (or woman) is perfect.  Although I try to live by some of the principles written out in the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita, yoga isn't a religion and I'm nowhere near well versed enough in them to claim that I live my whole life by them.

Where does that leave us spiritual seekers after a tragedy like this?  After twenty babies are horrifically murdered for absolutely no reason, not to mention the adults who looked after them and gave their lives to try to save them, what do we do?  Who do we turn to for comfort - aside from each other?

This shooting is also bringing up so much debate about so many different things, and probably the hardest one to deal with is those who claim that it happened because we took "God" out of the classroom.  That offends me to the absolute core.  There are plenty of good, gentle, kind, intelligent Christians who live up to that honorable ideal.  There are also plenty of unkind, hypocritical, extreme, and violent Christians.  You don't need a God to know that killing an innocent person is wrong.  People do that every day with or without a personal relationship with God and with or without ascribing to a particular religion.


This isn't one of those blogs where I have an answer and I explain how I came to my tidy conclusion.  I'd love to speak more eloquently and knowledgeably about this but I just can't.  I know I'm jumping all over the place, but there's so much to say and I have so little idea how to say it.

All I know is that this tragedy, and even the fact that it was sandwiched by my birthday and by Marc's as we move ever closer toward cementing our commitment to live our lives together, has gotten me thinking about faith.  I'm nowhere close to defining it, but there is one definition by Judith Hanson Lasater that I absolutely love.  From her book Living Your Yoga:

"...I came to understand that belief is a preconception about the way reality should be; faith is the willingness to experience reality as it is, including the acceptance of the unknown.  An interesting way to understand the difference is to use the words interchangeably in the same sentence:  I believe in Santa Claus.  I have faith in Santa Claus.  Belief can impede spiritual unfoldment; faith is supremely necessary for it."

"Reality as it is" is sometimes tragic and horrifying. It's sometimes wonderful and fortunate beyond all measure.  Both of those things are always true all at the same time all around the world.  All we can do is deal with whatever is in front of us with as much grace and love as we can muster.  And to hug children and each other whenever we get the opportunity.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

As my birthday gift to myself...

...and also in the spirit of doing less to survive December, I'm letting someone else do the writing for me this week.

This blog post by Jessica Berger Gross speaks to a lot of what I feel often, and was particularly feeling last night as I was about to go to sleep.  I have a big to do list, as I often do, and I spent the evening after getting home from work plowing through it.  Christmas cards, cleaning, budgeting, wedding stuff - the usual.

As I was going to bed and making a new list of all the things I didn't get to, it occurred to me that day after day and week after week I obsess over my list and of crossing things off, but I very rarely take time to appreciate or applaud all that I actually do.  I don't really give myself credit for the productivity that I work so hard to achieve.  It made me think a lot about the niyama santosha, meaning contentment, that I've been hoping to spotlight this month.  Celebrating the now instead of constantly anticipating with joy or trepidation the next item on the to-do list, the next party - or my wedding.

Searching for morning inspiration, I came across this lovely, concise little blog that says so much of what I want to say from another person's perspective.  Given that she's a mom, it adds a whole new interesting layer to the dilemma.

I hope you enjoy - I'm off to enjoy my last day as a 27-year-old!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Finishing Strong in 2012

Things seem to be starting earlier and earlier this season - Christmas decorations go up before Halloween is even a week away, the Christmas carols follow not too long after, and we all heard about the drama of starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving night (don't even get me started on that).  For the most part, I think it's all more than a little ridiculous, and does nothing but contribute to people being more likely to be Scrooge-y - who can blame you when you've just heard Here Comes Santa Claus for the 47 millionth time before December has even started?

This is one instance, however, where I am more than delighted to get a jump start.  I got an email from Athleta yesterday about a really great idea that happens to support a really great cause.

If you've ever watched The Biggest Loser or had a track coach or personal trainer, you've probably heard the phrase "Finish strong!" a lot.  It's at the end of a workout, whether it's the last mile or the last few reps, that you're tested the most and you're truly building your mental as well as physical strength.  Athleta is applying the mentality of "Finish Strong" to the year 2012 - why wait until January to set fitness goals for yourself?  Keeping up with a pledge to yourself will not only make you feel awesome instead of burned out at the end of the season, but it can benefit a fantastic organization, Girls on the Run, as well.  Read on:

Athleta will be engaging women to finish their 2012 strong by inspiring users to share their remaining 2012 aspirations and goals and encourage them to realize them before the year’s out.  In the spirit of community, the efforts made across Athleta’s Twitter and Facebook will collectively result in inspiring and empowering young girls (through the amazing organization Girls on the Run) to do the same. 

How it Works
Housed on Athleta’s Facebook page, Athleta will ask, “How will you Finish Strong in 2012?”. When an individual makes a pledge to themselves, it is published to their Facebook wall and then aggregated with other responses to form an inspirational mosaic of pledges within the application.  With every action (pledge, share or like), Athleta will donate $1 to Girls on the Run.

In addition to entering goal pledges through the Facebook app, users can participate via Twitter by tweeting their goal with the hashtag #FinishStrong2012.

The Facebook app will pull in all tweets with this hashtag and display them on a randomly selected background. Each use of the hashtag will drive a $1 donation for Girls on the Run.


My pledge is to run at least 2x/week and to strength train - either through the amazing Refine Method, or my beloved Jillian Michaels - at least 1x/week.  It's definitely not the most ambitious of fitness goals I've ever set, but let's be realistic, y'all - December is madness.  Setting yourself up for failure can sometimes be just as destructive as not setting any expectations for yourself at all.

I hope you'll join Athleta in supporting Girls on the Run and supporting your own good health!  Happy December!