Thursday, March 9, 2017

Practicing Confession

Confession is a practice observed by both Catholics and Protestants. Catholics practice auricular confession to a priest, whereas Protestants are not required to confess to a priest but instead directly to God in prayer or to another person to whom we can be accountable in our spiritual practice. Here is a good summary of confessional practice in Christianity.

Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism also have particular methods for becoming aware of, identifying and purifying the effects of harmful behaviors, and there are many scriptures across the world's traditions for confession and repentance. For abridged information on these, here is a place to start.

In Yoga we are taught to become aware of our samskaras, our ingrained patterns in the mind and body which are leftover from prior actions and experiences in this lifetime as well as former lifetimes (honestly we all have enough baggage by a certain age in just this one lifetime to pay attention to samskaras).

In secular medicine and psychology we need to be aware of our history to begin the process of healing. Knowing the causes for injuries and dysfunctions is helpful if not essential. We don't have to dwell on the distant past, but it behooves us to get clarity around what we have done and what we have experienced. We have neuropathways which explain a lot of our current behaviors and reactions to different situations. Simply knowing this helps us tremendously. Some forms of damage are very difficult to undo, yet complacency about the damage usually won't make any of our problems go away.

No matter who we are or where we come from, we will undoubtedly benefit from some form of recurring self-examination and conscious process of releasing negative behaviors and resolving to improve.

Just this week, in accordance with traditional Lenten practices, I began making a list of recent and even more distant actions and patterns I would like to release and replace. A major issue for me is consistent accountability to some form of authority or teacher.

I am a yoga teacher but I truly do not think of myself as superior to the people who attend my classes or come to me one-on-one, and I don't like to hold myself out as an authority. I think of what I do as guiding a process so others can relax into it and enjoy it more than were they to come up with their own practices each time. Even though I may think I am humble and open to correction, I have not been going to other teacher's classes recently, and my church attendance over the past year has been lackluster. I have not been confessing my negative actions and thoughts to anyone other than God, and while that's consistent with a lot of Protestant teaching, I feel best when I tell someone else.

This week I told a Jewish friend, someone who is a religious Jew, about my need to become more accountable to others on a spiritual path and specifically to an authority figure I respect. I have always admired the Catholic practice of confession, not because I believe priests are truly endowed with supernatural power to forgive, but because I find the process to be effective when I confess to someone else. I also confessed to a Christian friend that I have a tendency to stay home and sheltered with my family rather than getting out among other believers, and I know this tendency needs to be balanced. It may be that at this time I need to feel the safety and comfort and unconditional love of home, but if this trend continues my growth will stagnate. I have other issues of course, such as spending too much time reading upsetting news online and frequently checking e-mail, texts and social media. I drink wine more often than would be optimal (abstaining altogether has crossed my mind). I often believe the worst about the intentions of others as a way to protect myself. These are the main issues I am struggling with right now. Confessing them privately to God is a good practice, but being accountable to others is a great help. I am already noticing positive changes after I spoke to my friends this week.

I offer you a simple practice of confession you can try today. Make a list of no more than three issues you are working to address in your patterns and behaviors. If you can't think of any, go back and try again. If you think of a lot more, save those for another day. Speak to someone you respect about these issues, and if that's not possible, write them down and save them to tell the person later. See how you feel after confessing and try to notice if anything changes for you in the coming weeks.

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