Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

I cannot condemn you: A lesson from yoga to stewards

One of the best lessons I have learned from years of teaching yoga is to be non-judgmental. Let me explain.

In doing a forward bend, some people can easily fold in half and grab their feet. Some may even be able to stand on a step, and reach down below their feet without feeling any discomfort in their backs or hamstrings. Others are just not that flexible. Bending over, they find that placing their hands at their knees is as far as they can possibly go.

You might think that the more flexible person, the one who stretch farther, is the better yoga practitioner. But that’s not necessarily so. If each person is at their comfortable capacity, on that edge where they are doing as much as they can, feeling that they are working, but are not doing harm to themselves; if each person is at that point, they are all doing the physical pose correctly. And only the person practicing the pose knows if that is where they are. The yoga instructor can’t see that, and neither can anyone else in the class.

There is another way yoga has taught me the importance of being non-judgmental. In my individual practice, I have learned from my teachers that I must seek for “the quiet in the pose.” As I hold a position, say triangle pose (trikonasana), I am to feel my body, observe its strength and balance and weakness without judgment.  I am to recognize what is. This doesn’t mean that I cannot challenge myself, to extend farther and make my body more closely approach the ideal form of the pose. It means that I accept what I am, the best that my body can do, without condemnation. Ideally, that acceptance can lead to a quietness of the mind, in which you are no longer criticizing or planning, and you can be at peace for the moment.

So I have learned that I cannot compare others, nor condemn myself, as I practice yoga.

I post this here, in a blog devoted to earth stewardship, because I want us to practice that same non-judgment with each other. Let us all practice stewardship together. Let us give each other the benefit of hope, that though our individual stewardships may look different to the outsider, that we each are striving to do the best we can, given our individual circumstances. Let us continue to strive to be good stewards, and not be discouraged by our own small failures to live up to our ideals.

I plan to continue to post on practical ways that we can be good stewards in the living of our daily lives. Please do not feel that your life must look exactly like mine, or dismiss me for working on such a small scale. In this practice, we must both do our best and accept our limitations. The merits of our stewardship will be seen in our lives, and I pray that that will persuade others to join us, and encourage us in our efforts, but in the end, only God can judge.

  • avatar Peter Ashcroft says:

    Thanks Rachel for the important perspective, which is frankly not the perspective I typically take. I tend to be preoccupied with the aggregate impacts of individual actions, and I’m often very critical of those impacts. (Things like species driven to extinction or resources squandered.) it’s important for me to be reminded that the individuals who make the decisions that lead to those deplorable outcomes might be doing the best they can, or acting on the best information they have. Patience and understanding don’t come naturally to me.

    • avatar Anonymous says:

      I plan to continue writing about practical things I do as a housewife that are physical manifestations of my belief in stewardship. But I felt it was important to have a post like this first, so I won’t discourage or turn off the people who don’t currently revel in compost, or whatever the topic may be. 

      We all work with what we have, and as we learn more, we can aspire to do more. I find that there is always more I should be doing, but as I look back over the last ten years of running my household, I can see definite improvement. 

      To get perspective, we have to look everywhere: at our own past and our hopes for the future, as well as the community around us. The non-judgmental aspect is that we use that perspective to encourage ourselves to do better, not condemn ourselves and give up.

  • avatar Karmen says:

    I think your analogy is terrific.  I recognize these critical problems in myself: 1) the tendency to condemn or at least criticize those who aren’t at the point that I am (and like to consider the baseline), and 2) my self-criticism for not being “as good as” someone else. 

    My earth stewardship attitudes and activities cause me great stress, all self-inflicted.  Principles of my faith, however, can mitigate that stress, IF I will allow it.  I can allow others the same need and time to grow that I desire for myself, and find comfort and peace knowing that although I can always do better, as long as I progress.  I continue working and believing, all while knowing there is a power greater than I that can make all things right.  That doesn’t take the sadness away when things go badly (e.g. tar sands development), but I look at it much like death or divorce — some things you can do nothing about and must suffer through the grief until all is made right again.

    • avatar Anonymous says:

      I recognize that feeling of stress, Karmen. I honestly believe as we allow principles of stewardship to guide our actions, we can live a happier life. But we’ve got to take it one practice at a time, otherwise we’ll feel overwhelmed and negative to the point of giving up. The first time I rode my bike with a trailer to pick up the local produce at our CSA, I felt very virtuous; it was a huge step for me. The second time, it wasn’t so special (and I was less smug about it). Now it’s just what I do, part of my weekly routine. As we stretch and try to do more, we will naturally find that had seemed like an alien exercise has become part of who we are. And then we won’t be doing certain things because they are green or because we are Mormon. We’ll do them because that is who we are, and it will be good.