the art of transfiguration.

**Author’s note: I’m travelling abroad this month (I’ve been dreaming of seeing the rainforest since kindergarten, and dreaming of climbing Machu Picchu since I was in undergrad), and as I prepared for this journey to Peru, lessons I encountered a few years ago while on a journey across the western United States kept occupying my thoughts.  This article was originally published on sf yoga mag in 2011.  I’m re-posting my own words… you’ll want to read until the end, because I recommend two must-read books.

 The art of transfiguration.  

by Lisa M. Ash, 2011

Peering up from the highway to the ridge of a jagged, red-rock horizon, I was awed by the evidence of creative transfiguration that is manifest in exquisite landscapes. Nature’s features, simultaneously time standing ascetically still and time moving at the staggering speed of creation.  I recently drove from Kansas City, Missouri, to Orange, California: camping, hiking, and meditating along the way. The myriad of scapes racing past my window as I traveled across the country served as a humbling reminder that nature’s course was chosen millennia ago.

What I saw was a blessing of the moment.  It was just one momentary meeting of the immutable, and undeniably phenomenal, cooperation of wind, water, movement, change, and Nature in motion.


photo cred: EMA


Gorgeous landscapes—whose rock faces, sandstone formations, and courageous fauna are in the midst of constant tumultuous change—simply accept the change as perfectly normal.  Continuous molding, drifting, forming, burning, growing, shrinking, living and dying are all unceasingly embraced.  This embrace of transformation honors the natural ritam, or rhythm, of life as constant transfiguration.  This embrace honors Being. This honors the spirituality of the yogi:

“Spirituality is the art of transfiguration.  We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape…. It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than with the idea of will.”              –J. O’Donahue

An inspiring example of this is the sandstone formations that shelter the rugged, unforgiving terrain of southern Utah.  The unique formations reveal millennia of rock layers shaped by the forces of erosion and weathering acting in concert.  Made famous by the extreme sport and tourism industry of Moab, Utah, these tall, proud rocks are the face of a drastic desert-scape that inspires adventure.  For the yogi, the constantly evolving desert formations inspire contemplation; they are visible evidence of the Bhagavad Gita’s charge to embrace change as a necessary part of physical existence, understanding that the Essence of Life remains immutable even in the face of the storm.  In my eyes, the absolute power of the Living God is the invisible face of this ever-weathering sandstone.

The cavernous formations not only inspire a sense of humility by their sheer enormity, but they lend testimony to the miracle of transformation through surrender to creative power.

What if we, like the rocks, began to trust in the creative power of transformation through surrender, as opposed to personal will?  What if we, like the rocks, sensed the Divine touch of wind and water shifting and moving little bits of our lives, not with resistance but with a welcoming of erosion?

photo cred: McCormick

photo cred: McCormick

I believe the challenge of a yogi is, in fact, to embrace the immense creative potential in each gust of wind and in each passing breath. There’s really nothing new in this: for centuries, humans have been humbled and awed by the role of wind in the crafting of nature.  Just as each whisper of wind shapes the wild vastness of an epic rock-scape, one mindful breath can awaken creativity, change, and transfiguration in the lived experience of an individual.

The testimony of the desert-scape is that

creation is meant for transformation through breath.

 The challenge is to use our yoga practice as life practice.  The challenge is to breathe into the forgotten spaces of our lives, trusting in the embrace of this breath will be an embrace of the transfiguration of our spirit.  I challenge you to breathe with me.


When has a travel experience changed your outlook on life?  Tell me where you went and how you learned to breathe?  When has your life been changed in drastic ways and you’ve learned to trust the movement of the breath?  I’d love to hear your stories….


photo cred: EMA

Further Reading:  

Hawley, J.  The Bhagavad Gita: A walkthrough for Westerners.  New World Library: Novato, CA. 2001

O’Donahue, J.  Anama Cara: A book of Celtic Wisdom.  Harper Collins: New York, NY. 1997




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