The Idea of God

From Mary Oliver's book 

Why I Wake Early:

Where Does the Temple Begin,

Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach.  But

you can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away.  The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,

out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing

from the unreachable top of the tree.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around

as though with your arms open.

And thinking: maybe something will come, some

shining coil of wind,

or a few leaves from any old tree – 

they are all in this too.

And now I will tell you the truth.

Everything in the world


At least, closer.

And, cordially.

Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.

Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold

fluttering around the corner of the sky

of God, the blue air.

The idea of God is one that has confounded me for as long as I can remember. Growing up with a family mix of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Pagans, Thespians, Poets, Hippies and Tree Huggers, I was left to paint my own picture of the big spirit in the sky. Now, immersed in the diversity that is New York City and from my time spent in Japan, I've added a few more colors to my palette. 

The word God did and still does bring a certain friction to my ears and my tongue. Reading this poem, there is a mild inward cringe that comes over me at the mention of God. Let's face it, this big word carries some big baggage for millions of humans around the world. What does it/he/she/they look, sound and feel like anyway?

With my deepening study of yoga came my study of two primary texts on yogic philosophy, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Bhagavad Gita. I spent some time in denial of the profound importance of God to these texts. It's not really about God, I would argue. It's about consciousness. Individual consciousness, supreme consciousness, the interconnectedness of it all. I quickly learned that there is no way around it, that these texts are indeed about God.

I am looking. As Mary Oliver writes, "Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open." My arms are open. Through my study of yogic philosophy and in practicing with my teachers, I've come to experience God as an outlet for staying present. A divine inspiration for remaining open to the questions that arise, and dropping into the bigger reality of what's important and what's actually happening right here and now.

In his book,

Light on the Yoga Surtas of Patanjali

BKS Iyengar writes:

"An everyday example of our consciousness taking on the absolute quality and form of the object we observe, is when we gaze into the dancing flames of a fire, or at the waves of the sea, or the wind in the tree-tops. We feel totally immersed in watching, without thought or impatience, as though we ourselves were the unending waves or the flickering flames, or the wind-swept trees."

This is the essence of interconnectedness I've come to know as God. It has nothing to do with big or small, with greater or less than. It's all about becoming fully immersed in the presence of all that is. A sustained, disciplined and immensely challenging practice of observing what is here and now without grasping on and without pushing anything away.

I've come to approach my relationship to God in fluid terms. The way I experience something today will inevitably change tomorrow. It's a relief to know that I can continue to learn, adapt and move forward from where I stand.

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject. Has your practice of yoga shaped or been shaped by your relationship to God?