When I started with this self-help, get better, try-to-be-less-crazy stuff, I had the impression that if I did it really, really well, my life would not only be better, but more importantly, much easier.
I’ll wager a nickel you’ve gotten that message once or twice from the self-help establishment…
But–! Hold up now. In the Biblical sense, being endowed with God’s grace (call it what you will…Spirit, Higher Power…but, this grace idea is uniquely Judeo-Christian, I think, so not sure the mixed metaphors work here…) is inherently “underserved.” Meaning, anyone, anywhere, of any socio-economic condition, skin-color, or even gender are eligible for the grace lottery. Like being touched with a magic wand: Ping!!! Now you are graced!
Here’s a definition: Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
More confounding yet, maybe…maybe even people who behave badly could experience grace?
Still, it’s very hard to stop believing that there is some corollary between being “graced by God,” meaning “blessed,” or somehow kissed by angels, and being…good. This is very hard for me to wrap my head around, perhaps because humans have defiled the idea of grace. But, it really seems like somehow we’ve made modern grace about BEING good, BEING better than others, BEING more deserving.
Grace, of course, has other meanings too. It is associated with beauty of movement. Also, with good manners, as in “being a gracious host” or “having a gracious home.” The word “grace” also names The Graces of Greek Mythology, also known of as the Three Charities. They are Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrysyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). In general, things that are bright, and good, and make people feel positive about themselves, and hopefully, help other people feel amazing about themselves too.
Some of these gracious blessings, come with talent and a natural-endowment. Like having a skill in the arts, or in sports. Others, can be cultivated, like good manners, or diplomacy. And, here I think, is the truly important idea about grace, and perhaps where we missed a message: there’s a difference between inherent goodness, and earned goodness. People can ALWAYS work to become better versions of themselves, and, in fact, that is what a spiritual or contemplative life is about. Growing. Evolving. Attaining a higher state of consciousness. Doing the work to get there.
So which camp do you align yourself with? The grace-will-fall-into-my-lap-even-if-I-do-nothing camp, or the maybe-I-can-create-the-circumstances-for-this-to-happen camp?
Personally, I like a both-AND approach. Like the Tao #9 says: This is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back.
If you were to WORK to practice Grace, to cultivate the conditions to invite grace into your life, what would that look like?
I relate almost everything to my yoga practice. Along the way, in my Forrest Yoga training I was exposed to the writing of Caroline Myss. She authored a book called Defy Gravity: Healing Beyond Bounds of Reason. In it, she explores what she names The 7 Graces, which stand in opposition to their shadows, The 7 Dark Passions (which are the 7 deadly sins, renamed).
The 7 Graces are, in Myss’ world: Reverence, Piety, Understanding, Fortitude, Counsel, Knowledge, and Wisdom.
Enticing concepts, indeed. I’ve found, as an extreme thinker, that shiny concepts attract me but ultimately leave me feeling undernourished, like empty calories. What I cherish about my yoga practice–and especially my Forrest Yoga practice–is the way that we weave concepts into embodied experience.
An embodied experience is one where concepts are woven into a corporeal adventure, so that you understand said concept not just with your mind, but with all of yourself, and above all, your body. The expression “I could feel it in my bones,” or “I knew it in my guts” refers to that knowledge that comes through understanding something in your mind as it lives in the rest of you. See, your mind isn’t just stuck in your brain. It lives in ALL of your body.
Writing about these grace, and embodiment, is just one way to bring your attention to their currency. But, I believe firmly that our lives are for experience, and experience happens through living in your body. Therefore, my teachings are best experienced in person, where our bodies can occupy the same space.
Once a year, I lead a retreat called Practice Grace, Receive Gratitude, in partnership with my teaching buddy Benjamin Sears of Lux Yoga. All the words in the world will never encapsulate the teaching, learning, and transformation that occurs at this retreat. If these concepts–grace and gratitude–are part of your spiritual and transformational life, definitely bookmark us and this retreat. People come back annually to experience it, and deepen and enrich their relationship to themselves, with and through Grace.
This is the way of Heaven. Do your work. Then quietly step back.
Practice Grace. Feel the Joy of being alive. Feel Grateful. Then–all things everywhere will feel like Grace to you.