“Gods become demons when you use them to keep yourself in that room with the doors and windows closed.” – A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron.
I cooked my Nana’s recipes for Thanksgiving this year. By that I mean I cooked my Nana’s recipes, because my mother and my other Gram don’t have any recipes worth repeating. When I cook Nana’s food, I remember the sight of her standing over the stove, carefully pulling just the right amount of fat out of the turkey pan drippings, while staring out into the yard at her cottage on Lake Erie.
Who taught Nana to cook? Nana survived the loss of her mother when she was a child, ultimately helping to raise her 8 siblings. Nana graduated from college with a degree in History. Nana sur-thrived the death of her husband at only 62, carrying on with her hair in place and her clothing perfectly pressed. Nana marched with Occupy Pittsburgh in 2011 at the age of 84. Nana kicks butt at the New York Times crossword puzzle. Nana has attended every church service I can remember, and Nana has volunteered at the church for just as long. She is by any measure an accomplished and admirable person.
And she is stone cold.
When I first fell in love with yoga, I made the mistake of being like Nana. I let discipline teach me how to behave at the expense of it teaching me how to feel. I woke at 5am to meditate, I became vegetarian, I left parties early and got a good night’s sleep, and I practiced every day. I was skinny, determined, and seeking happiness through rigidity.
I used the rules to close the doors and the windows to keep out the darkness; I kept out the light as well.
My Gram’s best recipe is grilled cheese. She didn’t go to college, she has never done a crossword, and she is barely making it through the loss of her husband at age 92. In the months since, she has grown a mustache and doesn’t bother with her hair curlers. She lets everything touch her heart.
There is a place for gods on the path of yoga. But there is a more important place for common people, common emotions, and the everyday commitment to open the doors and windows to let in both the light and the darkness.