A few years ago, I found this quote, attributed to Muhammad Ali, from a 1978 Time Magazine article: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” This quote spent some time on the wall at the Project Yoga Richmond studio, where our weekly classes, donation-based and open to all, also support our outreach yoga classes for under-served groups. Since our inception in late 2010, we’ve come to roll out 1200-1600 yoga mats each month to individuals of all abilities across our community: young people with autism, seniors in marginalized areas, incarcerated young women, adults with developmental delays, kids in city schools, people in addiction recovery. Those who support our studio know that their practice has tremendous power for others.
It’s a striking thought: That we’re given the gift of space and time, on this planet, in this lifetime, and that we owe it to each other to serve. I agree.
But the word “rent” is a little problematic for me: paying rent was something I once dreaded as a young person more interested in shiny new things than financial obligations. But service, as I have come to know it, is a joy.
I’m fortunate to have landed some years ago, through a swirling tornado of genetics, mishaps, foxhole prayers and pure Grace, into a spiritual community of equals who, whenever possible, sits in a circle, shares safe space, and offers up incredibly raw and honest reflections in the interest of vulnerability and empathy– but most importantly, in service. It’s powerfully healing to be yourself, to allow shifts in dogma, doubts, emotions, and afflictions so that the space for something greater might open. And when it does, there is deep wisdom that speaks to the heart- that same spiritual heart experienced in yoga. I believe it can best be felt when we have given and received unconditional permission to just be. As a teacher of mine says: “Energy only moves when it feels safe to do so.” We have a tremendous opportunity to offer our students, ourselves, and each other safe spaces to share, to release held patterns, to transcend trauma, to move beyond fear.
I’ve been reflecting lately on spiritual bypass, and how I can let my practice take the place of real svadhyaya, the work of deep inner study. I say it often: yoga is not an inoculation against inauthenticity. The honest, mindful study and practice of this ancient yet modern system of artful living offers a unique opportunity to meet resistance with ease, experience conflicting thoughts and energies with acceptance, and create space. Space.
I remember Ali’s quote, and realize that this “space” granted in practice is sacred. It’s everything. And once established, it cannot be un-experienced. For me, it has been the doorway to true healing and freedom. So the opportunity to pay that rent, to pay forward the gift of yoga, is a priceless gift in itself, to be given and received, time and again.
Photo Credit: Stacy Abbott | McAbbott Studios