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Turn On, Tune In, & Pucker Up! January 22, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Texas, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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To paraphrase Timothy Leary, it’s time to Turn on, Tune in, and Pucker Up! February is going to be a busy month what with the usual holidays, everybody’s favorite yogathon (2016 KISS MY ASANA), and Walker Art Center’s “Winter of Love” event. Save the dates!

Tune In, Pucker Up & KISS MY ASANA!

When you think about it, February is the most obvious month to pucker up and KISS MY ASANA! Once again I am committing 4 weeks to raising awareness and resources for the adaptive yoga program at Mind Body Solutions. Matthew Sanford and the teachers at Mind Body Solutions “help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.”  They provide classes, workshops, outreach programs, yoga teacher training and highly specialized training for health care professionals. Their mission reminds us that there’s a yoga practice for everyone. And KISS MY ASANA is an opportunity to do yoga and share yoga, while helping others. For my 2016 offering, I have a few questions….

Keep in mind, this is only a preview so that you can start thinking about your answers. Tune in for daily KISS MY ASANA posts in February!

 

Turn On, Tune In & Breath Love!

To celebrate the last few weeks of their Hippie Modernism exhibit, Walker Art Center is offering “Winter of Love” – 12 hours of free programming during Valentine’s weekend. Join me on Saturday, February 13th at 5 PM and/or at 7 PM in the Star Tribune Art Lab for a brief introduction to meditation and a guided meditation suitable for all ages and experience levels. A limited number of cushions, mats, and chairs will be provided. (Please note that the sessions may be different.) Check out the museum’s website for more details about the exhibit and event.

 

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

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Happy Wisdom Day: To Noble Kings January 16, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mathematics, Men, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Today we celebrate the birthday
of a man who believed in angels and dreams.
We know he believed in the latter,
because he told us straight up,
“I have a dream…”
He was a man of faith,
who believed he could hear God’s voice (when Mahalia Jackson sings).
But did you know that
Dr. Martin Luther King
believed in living a three dimensional life?

– the beginning of my 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday class

 

This week has been a week of wisdom and legacy – or, maybe, that’s the legacy of wisdom. Monday was the birthday of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (b.1/11/1907), one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, who said, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” And, after each of my Monday classes, at least one person mentioned how inspired they have been (throughout their lives) by the blessing of Rabbi Heschel’s life. The thing is, on the outside, these people couldn’t have been more different (from each other and from Heschel) if they tried – and that’s the living legacy of Heschel: on the inside, we are all amazed by evidence of the Divine; on the inside, we are all seeking a relationship with the Divine.

“I prayed with my feet.” – Rabbi Heschel when asked if he found time to pray when he was marching to Selma.

The idea that one can pray with your whole body is not a foreign concept to me – nor would it have been to Rabbi Heschel, who was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to Marcus J. Freed (whose The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment combines weight training and yoga with Jewish mysticism), seven of the “10 Divine energies that emanate different attributes of God…are located in the body.” Malchut (Mastery/Nobility), Freed explains, is associated “with the hands, feet, and mouth. This makes perfect sense on reflection , as these are the organs that we can use to master ourselves and to complete the relationship with others, depending on the words we speak and the way we interact (e.g., Who we are giving to or walking towards and away from).” In Rabbi Heschel’s words and deeds we see this explanation of Malchut-Mastery/Nobility embodied.

Although Malchut-Mastery/Nobility is feminine in nature, it is often referred to as “Kingship.”And, today January 15th, we started the celebration of a King. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (b. 1929) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, four days and 22 years after Rabbi Heschel was born in Poland. Their beginnings seem as disparate as their appearances. But, go deeper and the similarities reveal themselves.

Both men descended from prominent religious leaders. Both men experienced ethnic persecution. Both men were called and ordained – and both men believed part of their calling was social action. By directly influencing Vatican II and by marching from Selma with Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel’s life became an instrument of the Divine used to combat racism, which he called “man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum hatred for a minimum of reason.” And, of course, Dr. King, himself, epitomizes a non-violent struggle for freedom, equality, peace, and brotherhood.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Oh, there will be a day, the question won’t be, “How many awards did you get in life?” Not that day. It won’t be, “How popular were you in your social setting?” That won’t be the question that day. It will not ask how many degrees you’ve been able to get. The question that day will not be concerned with whether you are a “Ph.D.” or a “no D.” It will not be concerned with whether you went to Morehouse or whether you went to “No House.” The question that day will not be, “How beautiful is your house?” The question that day will not be, “How much money did you accumulate? How much did you have in stocks and bonds?” The question that day will not be, “What kind of automobile did you have?” On that day the question will be, “What did you do for others?” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (from “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”)

In 1954, at the age of 25, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Some sources state that his first sermon, his trial sermon at Dexter, was the earliest version of a sermon he would give throughout his life: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”* Reading and listening to a 1967 version of Dr. King’s sermon, I am struck by the similarities between King’s description of a complete life (based on Judeo-Christian texts) and the concept of yoga (union) as described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of the Lord”).

The Bhagavad Gita captures the moment when the young prince Arjuna pauses in the middle of a civil war. He literally steps into the middle of the battlefield and contemplates laying down his arms. He says, “I shall not fight,” (BG 2:9) even though he is on the righteous side of the conflict. His close friend and charioteer, Krishna, reveals himself as “the Divine Teacher” (i.e., an avatar of God). Krishna then proceeds to explain the nature of the soul as well as the various types of yoga (union paths) by which a person may live a life connected to the Divine.

Last year, during the 50th anniversary of those seminal Civil Rights marches in Alabama, I drew a parallel between Krishna and Arjuna’s relationship in the Bhagavad Gita and the relationship between (Representative) John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams. Then I saw the movie Selma, and realized the filmmakers created a similar conversation/relationship between (Representative) Lewis and Dr. King. (The movie version even took place in a chariot/car!) Now, in Dr. King’s first sermon, the conversation about dharma (law) or one’s duty in life; karma (action) or one’s responsibility to others; and bhakti (devotion) or one’s love for God is directed to us.

“When you know the true nature of the material world your grief is destroyed; when you understand the true nature of the Spirit, bliss is acquired…. Divinity is subtle and beyond comprehension. It appears to be many but is one undivided.” – Krishna, Bhagavad Gita 13:1, 16

And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgment will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream…. When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”

(*NOTE: The three (3) links above for Dr. King’s sermon will take you to the same page, which contains the written text, as well as an audio recording of the text. You may also purchase recordings of Dr. King’s sermons and speeches on Amazon.)

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

MULTIPLYING YOUR POWER EXPONENTIALLY (TO THE POWER OF 108) January 3, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Algebra, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kundalini, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Whirling Dervish, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“(1, raised to the first power) times (2, raised to the second power) times (3, raised to the third power)”

– One of John G’s responses to my question about other people’s favorite reasons 108 is significant

 

“That’s the way, I remember it, I remember it that way / From the day, I was living there, I remember it that way /
Some of our stories fade as we grow older / Some get sweeter every time they’re told / That’s the way, I’ll remember you that way”

– “That’s The Way I Remember It” by Chris Gaines (aka Garth Brooks)

Memory is a funny thing. It is more about perspective than reality – and, as such, the days and moments we remember change as we remember them. On the flip side, our perspective shapes our reality.

So, if we remember ourselves overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges, we will put on our big boy/girl panties, keep our chin up, and ride through the next storm. If, however, we forget we survived the challenge, forget that we found a way to make the obstacle the way (to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius), and only remember how hard it was to ride while soaking wet, we’ll stop riding – which is just another way to say we stop living.

Doing 108 Sun Salutations is a wet and wild ride! While doing it, people experience all kinds of things. There are moments when they aren’t sure they’ll make it one more breath – let alone 6. 12. Or 20. There are moments when they wonder how they got talked into doing it in the first place. There are moments when they feel like I’m a toddler saying, “Again!” There are moments when they can’t believe they aren’t done – or that they’re still standing. There are moments when they feel vibrant and alive. There are moments when they are amazed at everyone moving and breathing together. There are moments when everything outside of the present moment ceases, stops.

Then, there is the moment when they finish – and, as Patricia and Elizabeth said first, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. And that’s what most people remember. That’s the reason people keep coming back to do it again, and again, and again.

A feeling of accomplishment, especially when it comes from harnessing the power of awareness (mind), community (body), and breath (spirit), produces a combination of momentum and clarity. Momentum and clarity are one way to consider the two kinds of energy that make things happen: Shakti (Prakriti) and Shiva (Purusha).

Shakti (Prakriti) is nature in action and stillness. Like the seasons, it is the power of change and movement. It is symbolically female and thus gives birth to ideas so that they move from the brain or heart and into the world. Shiva (Purusha) is pure consciousness. It is arrogantly untainted by doubt, fear, or prejudice. It is symbolically male and thus provides seeds of awareness. Everything and everyone in the world is created when an idea – which is a single (or series) of electrical impulse(s) in the mind – meets the step-by-step plan that makes the way for things to happen.

 “As my teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait explains: Tantric masters discovered long ago that the success in both the outer world and the spiritual realm is possible only if we awaken our latent power, because any meaningful accomplishment and especially the attainment of the ultimate spiritual goal requires great strength and stamina. The key to success is “shakti” – the power of the soul, the power of the divine force within. Everyone possesses an infinite (and indomitable) “shakti”, but for the most part it remains dormant. And those whose “shakti” is largely unawakened have neither the capacity to be successful in the world nor the capacity to enjoy worldly pleasures. Without access to our “shakti”, true spiritual illumination is not possible. Awakening and using “shakti” is the goal of tantra.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

A few Sundays ago I ended a conversation (with Terre and Jill at the Blaisdell Y) by saying, “Everything is tantra.” Meaning: Everything is the weaving of “the richness of spiritual experience and the fabric of everyday life into a single vibrant tapestry.” (Rod Striker, The Four Desires). You feel this weaving in the 108 mala when you have to deal with your personal limitations (physical, mental, and emotional) in order to connect the movement with the breath, and your mind-body with the spirit of the group. You feel the weaving when you recognize your heart’s desire – and start making it a real thing in the world. In The Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says “to attain what was previously unattainable” (i.e., coming together with your goal) is one way to define yoga.

Yoga and Hindu philosophies, however, are not the only places where you find this idea of weaving the seen and the unseen, the profane and the sacred. It is a fundamental aspect of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mysticism. It is why the Dervishes whirl; it is why anchorites and anchoresses (like Julian of Norwich) withdrew from the world; it is, on a certain level, why people say Mazel tov!

As I mentioned at the end of the 2016 New Year’s Day practices, I often find myself wanting to wish someone, including myself, “Mazel tov!” Just before New Year’s Eve 2015, I ended a journal page with the above blessing and then thought, “Good luck…that doesn’t sound quite right in this context.” But it felt right. So, I went deeper.

I knew that “tov” means good – and that in the Jewish tradition something is good because it is meaningful. But, to discern the meaning of “mazel,” I turned to Aron Moss, who writes on chabad.org:

“The word mazel literally means ‘a drip from above’ (in reference to the zodiac)….Thus mazel is the influence dripping down from the stars.”

 

“There is another meaning of the word mazel that is more relevant to the phrase Mazel Tov. Mazel is the term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul. The mystics say that only a ray of our soul actually inhabits our body. The main part of the soul, our mazel, remains above shining down on us from a distance.”

On special occasions, Moss says, we feel the power of that drop splashing down into us. It is a moment when we are consciously aware of our unlimited possibilities. It is a moment when we feel we can accomplish anything. And a critical part of success is remembering that feeling!

Completing 108 Sun Salutations is as much a symbolic accomplishment as it is a physical/mental/emotional accomplishment. That symbolic feeling may last for a few hours, a few days, or – like a drop of mazel – you may feel it splashing into you throughout the year.

I hope the latter will be the case for everyone reading this.

If you were not one of the 51 people who started 2016 with me or with a sense of accomplishment, do something now (!!!) that is the symbolic equivalent. Try something new, something you didn’t realize you could do, and (maybe) do it with some friends. Most importantly, do it with awareness. Then, once you’ve harnessed your power, set an intention (not a resolution, but a promise to yourself) to remember this powerful feeling.

2015 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I am an instrument of peace and love. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”

2016 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I have what I need to fill the world with love and light. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”


 

I am humbled, honored, and continually amazed by the presence of the people who share their practice with me. Know that you will be a great source of inspiration to me - and others this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you - 108 times over!

If you haven’t already done so, please check out my 2013 New Year's follow-up, which includes a link to the (password protected) Recovery 101 sequence.

 

Aron Moss ends his mazel article with the following blessing, which I offer to you:

“May this drip of inspiration from your soul above not dissipate, but rather have a positive and lasting effect, that from this event onwards you should live your life with higher consciousness. You should be aware of the blessings in your life and be ready to receive more and more…. Good mazel!”

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