I grew up believing that when people start hearing voices, it’s the sign that they are beginning to go crazy. How much the more so when the person is hearing “religious” voices. Such occurrences often I thought were followed up with medication, hospitalization, or – in a few special cases – a move to Jerusalem where the voice-hearer declares himself the messiah.
I started hearing voices. That should be making me feel nervous, but surprisingly it hasn’t. In fact, as I’m hearing voices, it’s making me feel increasingly sane.
Am I Going Crazy?
It began in a pseudo-religious setting, Yogaworks Tarzana, where I engage in the spiritual practice of yoga. After a long weekend of inspiring teen-led worship services, intense pastoral counseling, awesome adult learning and our heartwarming Mitzvah Day social action project, I arose early to start my week with an energetic 6:30 am class.
Yoga mat spread out – 2 blankets, 2 blocks and a strap by my side – cell phone silenced, I assumed the cross-legged Sukasana pose to begin. I set a practice-guiding intention (that’s English for kavannah) to guide my day’s yoga practice: that I be mindful, becoming aware of the thoughts that arise in my mind, yet simultaneously moving them aside non-judgmentally so I can focus on my yoga practice. Simple enough to declare; challenging to live.
That’s when it began. As the yoga increased in purposefulness, I began to lose focus on the poses. At first, thoughts about work – the growing to do list, people I need to call, intriguing new ideas – invaded my mental space. Although I wanted to contemplate each one, I let them go, lest they turn me aside from being present in the yoga flow. “That was good,” I thought to myself.
Then our yogi intensified the practice, leading us into Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). Stretching along the top side of the body, from the back heel through the raised arm, my body began to complain. My thighs burned in concert with my breathing; my brain kept telling me I couldn’t hold this pose or others for more than a breath to two. I began berating myself for my failure, my inability to do what days ago was so simple and natural. An old story, perhaps, but quite effective in sabotaging my spiritual work.
Along Came New Voices, More Intense
That’s when the voices became quietly insistent. “Listen,” they said. “Listen to yourself, and see the judgments that pervade your mind. Let go. Let go of judgmentalism and just embrace what is. Accept what you can do for today without assigning blame or finding fault.”
“I’m hearing voices,” I thought. And I let it go.
I smiled. I slowed my breathing. I reengaged with the flow. I let go.
I recognize those voices, I realized. And I let that realization flit away. I let them go.
Naming the Voices
Only later, on reflection, could I put names to the voices. The cautionary voices, reminding me that I could choose to let go of judgment, were those of Rabbis Jonathan Slater and Sheila Weinberg, my teachers and spiritual directors from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. I attended a two year rabbinic program with IJS – silent retreats, yoga, meditation, study of chassidic texts – and years of distance learning and Spiritual Direction since.
Accept what is without judgment.
Move on beyond it.
My teachers had gotten into my head. And yet again, when my practice – and my life – threatened to spin away from me, their voices – implanted within – helped stabilize me until in savasana – the lying on back restorative pose – I was subsumed by silence outside and silence within.
Yes, Today I Heard Voices, and They Kept Me Remarkably Sane.
May you too find voices within that calm you within and without. Thank you Institute for Jewish Spirituality and YogaWorks for the lessons and the mindfulness.