The Peace Project with Mike Ward

Mike Ward

Mike Ward

I’ve been listening to a podcast called “The Robcast,” with Rob Bell, author, speaker, and former pastor. In his first podcast of the new year, during a conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert in which she asks him to define ‘lust,’ Bell says that lust is “a hunger, a thirst, a drive that comes from knowing that this is not how life should be.” He expands on this, getting to the heart of what leads to these drives, saying that we are born into disconnection from the earth, from our bodies, nations from other nations, and we are all longing for connection.

He says that Jesus spoke of the “‘renewal of all things’ because all that is broken wants to be put together. The grief we feel over the current state of things is our knowing that this is not how it’s supposed to be.”

I feel this sentiment in the ripples of anxiety and frustration that are evident in so many conversations in person and online; evident in the way I watch people show up on their mat so often looking distant, heavy with grief and stress; and evident in the way diseases of heart, mind, body, and soul are mirrored in the diseases of our country, our politics, and our planet.

I mentioned a particular part of this Rob Bell conversation in my post from January, and I’ve been ruminating on it ever since — Bell says that we can not make the evolutionary shift to be able to care for our environment, or anything really, until we work to heal ourselves and connect to our body home. Bell says, “For many people the body is just an encasement, a boundary, a border, for all that happens within.” These same disconnections reveal themselves in our relationship to the earth.

He says, “The leap has to be made on a consciousness level to understand that the environment is both internal and external — our bodies are made of the same stuff as the creation around us. The envir0nment is both us and the setting we’re in. Asking people to care about the earth when we’re disconnected from our body is like skipping several steps in evolution. We have to restore proper reconciliation with this body environment before we can evolve to care about the bigger earth environment. Getting to know this thing we’ve been journeying in will make us able to see the bigger differently.”

What a powerful place to begin a journey toward healing our world — starting with our very own self. I can think of nothing that is simpler, more necessary, and likely as difficult, as this. Connecting to our body home isn’t complicated; however, we are living with so many habitual forms of disconnection from our precious bodies that to heal ourselves and experience our body fully may be one of the most challenging tasks we undertake. Yet, has there ever been a time when it’s been more necessary? How can we become aware enough of all that is outside of us in order to effect any real healing, when we are walking around completely unaware of, separate from, our first home — the body?

I posed this question to Mike Ward, a teacher with us in Winchester: does our yoga practice create healing and connection to our self that ripples outward in order to heal not only the humans around us but possibly the whole planet? From that question, Mike revealed all the ways that he’s experienced healing — each example an offering that has changed not only his own life but the lives of people he’s close to.

“We have to heal ourselves,” Mike said. “We have to make ourselves good before we can make anything else good, before we can heal anything else. When I come in here to teach, I try to help people to feel better than when they came in. This is the intention I set in my own practice for myself and what I want for others.”

Mike is a down to earth man, level-headed and kind; hard-working and inclusive. When Mike first started taking classes with me, there were many postures that were impossible or quite limited for him. It was the desire for physical benefits that first drew him to yoga, and as he practiced, many of the physical limitations dissipated. His body began to unfold into postures that required deep attention and a slow unfolding into flexibility, ease, and the ability to let go. While it was his outer physical body that I could see visually, I sensed that these same qualities were being revealed within him, mentally and spiritually. The very same ease I saw unfolding in his reclining postures could be seen in eyes and smile as he began connecting not only to himself, but to the practitioners around him. I got to see the evolutionary process of connection happen to him as his dedication to the practice deepened during last year’s teacher training. Not intending to teach, the training was something he’d decided to do for himself, again to enhance the physical benefits. But as his work in the practice grew, his intention shifted, and he knew he had to teach:

“I was always a lot like my dad in it was hard for me to let things go. He was someone who would never try yoga. Meditation and yoga have been a huge influence in helping me to let things go. I think of yoga as a way to let go of the things that are holding one back, physically and mentally. By letting myself flow through the practice it is a way to cleanse my mind of things that might be bothering me as well as a way to cleanse my heart and body of things that may be holding me back. I have a long way to go, but I read that ‘yoga is about the journey, not the destination.’…There is so much to learn on the journey that we may never truly get to a destination but if we keep at it, we can become better people. This creates that ripple effect.

“My yoga practice has made me a better person, a better husband, a better leader at work. My co-workers comment on it — I am calmer and more focused at work, able to deal with deadlines and other people. Terri [my yoga teacher wife] and I can feel the effects in our marriage. Our yoga practice has brought us closer together and has made life easier for us. We’ve both moved from being reactive to being proactive. This has definitely been healing.

“As for the world, I just wish I knew the words that could help people understand the true benefits of yoga…until I can no longer do it, I hope to continue to put forth the effort, continue healing, and to try to find those words to help others learn what I have learned and will continue to learn.”

I would say that he is expressing this to the world without needing words, in the very way he’s living and showing up for people. I watch his students light up when they see him because he’s remembered their name, or because he’s encouraged them toward a greater connection within their self. His grounded ease of presence is calming to be around. He says this wasn’t always the case. Hearing this, I’m reminded that all of us humans — men and women — experience the painful dis-ease that come from separation from self and each other. Feeling both separate, and the “lust” to be connected, is a universal human experience. As each human experiences him or herself as calmer, more centered, able to navigate conflict without aggression and defense, it is possible that a current of connection — first to our own body and spirit, then to each other — will extend further and wider than we might ever imagine. And while he may not say that what he’s doing is healing the planet, each time he speaks and responds in a way that is not wounding, in a way that makes space for connection and love, healing the planet is exactly what Mike is doing. It’s not easy work, but it is necessary if we want to evolve toward true health. And as Mike reminds us, no effort is wasted and there is no failure — “even a little effort toward spiritual awareness can heal.” And what else might then be healed? Who knows — perhaps even the whole planet.