During the year my first husband and I were separated, I serendipitously got a job teaching yoga at our local health club. It was good for me. Yoga is all about being centered. It’s about staying calm and feeling peace inside, even with the storms of stress on the outside. It’s about feeling your muscles burn and quiver and not deviating from the breath. It’s about learning to not react. All things that I needed during that tumultuous time in my life.
I taught a 90 minute class four times a week, and it was a very rigorous Ashtanga routine. I don’t think my muscles ever recovered between workouts. They were in a constant state of strengthening, being torn apart and healing. Just like me. Some days were so hard for me to get out of bed and teach that class, especially if I’d been up crying through the night. But I would go, and face my dedicated students, most of whom had no idea what was going on in my private life.
How hard it was to clear my mind! How hard it was to keep my breathing calm. How hard it was not to burst into tears when I felt that calm. Letting the truth of my life flow through me, and not reacting. Most of the time I was breathing, I was praying. And the rest of the time, I was listening.
At the end of the series of asanas, or poses, we finished up with guided deep breathing and meditation while lying on the floor in corpse pose. Ironic. Boy, at that time didn’t I feel like the walking dead! I would walk the class through relaxing each part of the body, starting with their toes and ankles, and ending with their foreheads and eyeballs, and even their scalps. All the tension you never even know you’re holding. One by one each muscle was softened. Let it fall away from the bone. After several deep, controlled abdominal breaths we would let the breath continue, softly, shallowly, almost imperceptibly, for five whole minutes. Eyes closed, mind clear. This relaxation is a vital part of yoga practice, when the body can respond to the healing and the opening that has taken place, and it’s a welcome retreat at the end of a rigorous class.
But my eyes were sometimes open. Sometimes, I was staring at the ceiling tiles and the pattern of dots on them, looking for familiar shapes as one would do while staring up into the clouds. Once, I could vividly see in the pattern the face of Jesus. I stared at it the entire time. "I’m trying," I prayed internally. "I’m trying. Tell me what to do. Tell me I will be okay." I blinked. Opened again, and it was still there. The face of God.
After that class, I looked forward even more eagerly to the relaxation, when I would scan the ceiling tiles looking for that face again. Anything. I wanted, I needed anything to give me the strength to keep going. A sign. Sometimes the stillness, the lack of distraction, the focus, it was all just too painful. Many times as I lay there, little warm tears spilled down my face and hit the mat. Nobody ever saw, or knew. But if I could just see His face, even in ceiling tile dots, it would give me comfort.
I saw the face of God many times during those years. But it took many forms. Once, when I knew I had to mow the overgrown front and back yards by myself--an arduous task--I struggled and struggled to get that lawn mower started with no success. I started to feel embarrassed, wondering if my neighbors were watching me struggling alone. I was falling apart on the inside, but I wanted at least not to look completely inept on the outside. I was wrenching that pull cord as hard and fast as I could, and I could not get the engine to start up. I said a prayer right there in the front yard: "Heavenly Father, I can’t start the lawn mower! The yard is a mess. Couldn’t I at least have things look like life is normal around here? Maybe if things could look normal, you know, if people didn't have to drive by my house and know just by the look of things that there’s that poor woman whose husband left her, well, then maybe it would be easier for me to deal with everything. Please send someone to help me start this mower. Please. It’s a small thing, I know, but it would make me feel better."
And the phone rang. It was a brother in our ward who lived at the end of my street. He was driving home from the grocery store and wondered if I could use a few gallons of milk. Could I? Oh, yes! I had forgotten to tack that small problem onto my prayer! Oh, yes, thank you! When he pulled up, he saw the lawn mower, and simply asked, "Can I start that for you?" There it was. The face of God.
It probably most often works that way, with us, His children, doing what He would do if He were here. One of the blessings of a broken heart is being primed to receive Him, through the service given to us by others. One of the blessings of having one’s heart broken is being in the state to hear Him telling us what it is He needs us to do, where to go, and who it is that needs to see His face.