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Personal Development
summer 2021

Surrender To The Flow

Poses, Pain and Peace— Minister-at-Large Kim Copeland Shares Her Journey of Hope
Written by: Andy Butcher

For all those people who have found themselves in uncharted waters over the past year or so as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Kim Copeland has some gentle advice: go with the flow.


That’s not just bumper sticker spirituality, but a deeply held conviction from an unconventional minister who draws from her own experience of coming through unexpected rapids to encourage others that life can be good again no matter how bad it has been.


“We’re going into a new normal,” she says of the post-COVID-19 world we are edging into. Rather than resisting the change that demands and trying to hold on to what was, we need to “trust the current and let it all happen.” She quotes the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who observed that life is lived forward and understood backward. “Trust that at some point you are going to be able to look back and see that this journey makes sense,” she adds.


The former Wall Street analyst doesn’t fit into many traditional faith boxes, serving as an unofficial pastor to an informal “congregation,” while also blending her Christian beliefs with Eastern practices as one of only a small number of Black yoga instructors.

I had to allow myself to be carried, to allow God to carry me.

KIM COPELAND


Being mindful
Teaching several vinyasa classes each week as Reverend Yogi (a nickname she was given by students), she sees them as “another platform” away from the pulpit for encouraging others to find peace and healing. She peppers her sessions with yoga instruction and insights from her ministerial training. Rather than a divide between the worlds of church and chakras, she sees them working together.


“I talk about the science of yoga,” she says. “When you are engaging in all these unusual shapes in your body, it stills the activity of the mind… and in communion with God you are able to hear, able to receive differently.”


Confining people to home and cutting them off from some of the typical ways they might have previously burned off tensions or distracted themselves, COVID-19 made many people more aware of the need to be able to slow things down internally, Copeland observes.


“We’ve not been using our bodies in the ways that we did before. So where does all that energy and activity go?” She points to an uptick of interest not just in mindfulness practices like yoga but high-intensity exercises such as home Peloton sessions—while the two may seem to be contrary, both help people calm their minds, she believes.
“At the end of the day, they are both helping people be more centered,” she says. “When we move in these unusual ways and we manipulate the body in this way, we actually tend to be able to calm ourselves.”


Copeland’s discovery of this for herself came through great loss which isn’t immediately evident in the peaceful, contented person people meet today. But in 2010, she found her fiance, Kesner, dead at his home. “I couldn’t see a way forward,” she recalls of the tragedy. “I had to allow myself to be carried, allow God to carry me.”

Slowing down
Today she can call all that happened a gift for the way it forced her into a “radical allowing.” But at the time all she could do was fall back on the love and support of family and friends who helped her through. That was when she first began to explore yoga, finding it to be “a very empowering experience,” something she knew she wanted to share with others.


“We always have available to us the fundamentally rich, present moment, and it’s wonderful,” she says, recounting a conversation with a neuroscientist who told how a scan of a baby’s brain reveals sparks “going off all the time” as they experience something new. In contrast, a scan of an adult’s brain shows few sparks “because we are so into our routines.


“We do everything the same way, all the time,” Copeland notes. “So what mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation do is they take us out of those routines and bring us back into that fundamentally rich, present moment.


“Even if just for a few minutes, when we can have those sparks, we can be wowed again by an apple and a cup of coffee, by a plant on our mantle. The whole experience of being in a pandemic has been an invitation to slow down.”


She sees the last 18 months forcing many people to deal with things they had put off facing for too long—not only day-to-day problems but bigger issues like health and mortality. She uses the analogy of a seed beneath the ground, which has to soften and crack open in order to grow.


“For many of us, this pandemic has been like the darkness, we’ve been seeds beneath the earth…and some of us are breaking and we’re growing. Newer levels of dependency are opening people up to spirituality in different ways: if your security is falling apart around you, you are opening up to God in different ways.”


Copeland documented her own journey through grief in a series of blog posts that she more recently turned into a podcast, Thank You Very Sweet, described as “transparent, vulnerable and real.” The title came from Kesner’s last words to her, in an email expressing gratitude for a bag of groceries she had left for him on his porch.


Raised in a churchgoing home, Copeland knew from childhood she wanted to help others, though she ended up following an unorthodox path. After three years working for Merrill Lynch in New York City, she realized she didn’t see a long-term future in the financial world.

If your security is falling apart around you, you are opening up to God in different ways.


Increasing diversity
Going to Princeton Theological Seminary (from where she received the John Alan Swink Prize for Excellence in Preaching) for her master’s, she interned with prison programs that led her to a job working with women who were returning from prison to life in the community.


For the past several years she has been director of social services for RPM Development Group, one of New Jersey’s leading affordable housing providers. As such she is responsible for helping several thousand residents.


“It’s interesting, these days people don’t necessarily have churches they feel connected to, so knowing someone who is a minister has been very helpful.” Ordained through her former church back in Cleveland, she officiates numerous weddings and funerals.


Having wanted to be “a different representation of who’s teaching yoga,” Copeland has been part of efforts to make yoga more accessible, through school and community programs. She is pleased to see “more and more diversity in my classes,” while connecting with other Black teachers and in turn connecting them with students of color.


One of the enduring changes she observes from the coronavirus pandemic is a heightened thankfulness for togetherness. “Whether it’s just seeing a person that you haven’t seen for a year… there’s just an appreciation for connection.”


Andy Butcher is editorial director of WayMaker Journal.