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The Bard of Democracy (and of getting better air in our lungs) May 31, 2020

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“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”

 

“A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

 

– excerpts from the essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 05/25/1803)

 

“I was simmering, simmering, simmering. Emerson brought me to a boil.”

– Walt Whitman (b. 05/31/1819) as quoted in a February 1902 article by John Townsend Trowbridge, published in The Atlantic Monthly

 

There are times when we have so much churning inside of our minds and our bodies that it can make us physically ill. It churns and churns, until it spills over. Or, another analogy is to think of all of that emotion as water inside of a pot on top of an open flame: it’s “simmering, simmering, simmering…” until it boils over. When we are children, we are taught to be mindful of the hot stove and the pot that sits on top. We watch our elders; placing various ingredients inside, stirring, churning, adjusting the flames – even tasting along the way, sometimes even letting us taste a little. We watch and learn that we can make something delicious, or potent medicine, or poison, or paint and dye. We watch and learn that if we don’t pay close attention we will make a big, unusable, inedible mess. We watch and learn that if we are not careful, we can hurt ourselves or others.

Many of us in the United States of America were raised with the idea that America is the great melting pot – a mixture of so many different cultures and flavors coming together into a single delicacy. The term started gaining traction as a metaphor for the USA after the production of the play The Melting Pot, which premiered in Washington, D. C. in October of 1908. The play had a happy ending. However, years before it was written (way back in the mid-1800’s), writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman had noticed that no one was watching the pot, or the open flame.

Emerson encouraged American scholars, clergy, poets, and every day people to take responsibility for the-pot-on-the-flame that is society. He kicked off the Transcendental movement and inspired people like Whitman, who decided he would be “The Poet” that Emerson said was needed to capture the spirit of America. Born today in 1819, Whitman was the father of “free verse.” He wrote about what he observed and what he perceived. So, he wrote about baseball, and slavery, and leaves of grass, and women’s bodies, and women’s rights, and men’s bodies, and their rights, and his own body, and about all of humanity crossing a single point over decades. He wrote about breathing, and about questioning everything.

6

….

“Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,

For you only, and not for him and her?

7

A man’s body at auction,

….

Gentlemen look on this wonder,

Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,

….

Within there runs blood,

The same old blood! the same red-running blood!

There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,

(Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,

In him the start of populous states and rich republics,

Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?

(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)

8

A woman’s body at auction,

She too is not only herself, she is the teeming mother of mothers,

She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?

Have you ever loved the body of a man?

Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,”

 

– excerpts (abridged) from “I Sing The Body Electric” by Walt Whitman

 

The first edition of Leaves of Grass (published in 1855) contained twelve unnamed poems in 95 pages. It was a collection intended to fit in someone’s pocket. Right off the bat, Whitman had critics – and those critics included luminaries like Willa Cather (who called him “that dirty old man,” “the poet of the dung hill as well as the mountains,” and compared one of his poems to what would happen “If a joyous elephant should break forth into song….” But, among his fans, was Whitman’s inspiration: Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson’s approval inspired Whitman to not only produce a second edition of Leaves of Grass (published in 1856), but to add poems and increase the number of pages to 384. He did not stop there, however. After “33 y’rs of hackiling at it” (according to a letter Whitman wrote to a friend) – or after “thirty-five or forty years” (as announced in the New York Herald) – Whitman released the sixth, seventh, or ninth edition (depending on how you count) shortly before his death. This 1892 edition is referred to as the “deathbed edition” and contained almost 400 poems.

In a mini biography for Biography, Dr. Robert Hudspeth, Research Professor of English at Claremont Graduate University, said, “Whitman was called ‘The Bard of Democracy’ because all of his poems are based on the notion of a universal brotherhood. He thought that the possibility of America was to achieve a brotherhood that no other culture had yet been able to achieve.” This view of what the country could be was a true melting pot – that is to say, a heterogeneous society becoming a homogeneous society by virtue of all the cultures melting together to form something new. Whitman saw the ideal (American) society as one where everyone recognized the value and humanity of everyone else. What he saw around him, however, was that the-pot-on-the-flame that is society was boiling over. Instead of coming together, melding together, everything (and everyone) in the proverbial pot was churning in a way that overflowed; meaning, some things (and some people) were getting pushed out of the coming together process. The country was becoming homogeneous not because it was melding together, but because it was excluding certain aspects that made it heterogeneous.

Whitman tried, he really did, but ultimately, he could not get enough people to pay attention to what was happening around them. People, even back in the 1800’s, were distracted by his sexuality and the sensual nature of the poems. Writers like Willa Cather referred to his work as “ridiculous” and people in power (including the head of the Department of the Interior, for which he worked) called Leaves of Grass offensive, filthy, and/or sinful (especially to Christians). As harsh as some of that sounds, these are some of the least caustic reviews. (Much worse was actually printed in the press.)

And so here we are… Fast forward and the-pot-on-the-flame that is society has officially boiled over. Walt Whitman knew it was coming and he didn’t just leave us a little advice. He left us a whole manual for moving forward. In the preface to Leaves of Grass he wrote “This is what you shall do….”

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

– from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman believed in celebrating the body, exploring, questioning, and coming together – and we can do all that in yoga. Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 31st) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is an upgrade that went into effect yesterday (Saturday, May 30th). If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: The YouTube playlist includes recordings of some of the poems, as part of the before/after class mix. These tracks are not included on Spotify.)

 

“Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs.”

 

– Walt Whitman writing about the new game, baseball, in the Brooklyn Eagle (07/23/1846)

 

 

### “A KELSON OF THE CREATION IS LOVE” (WW) ###

See Change May 30, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– The essence or nature of the knowable object or experience exists only to serve the Seer.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.22: kŗtātham prati naşțamapyanşțam tadanyasādhāraņatvāt

 

– Once the knowable object has served its purpose, it is destroyed [in the mind/eyes of the Seer], but it continues to exist to all others.

As we explored last week, once you see something you cannot unsee it. Your perspective is forever changed. While this is true of optical (and auditory) illusions – and devastating events like those we are currently witnessing in the Twin Cities – Patanjali focused on how a change in our perspective literally changes our reality.

Remember, in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali pointed to how suffering is the result of the way we think and the world is also the result of the way we think. He also indicated (in Yoga Sutra 2.18) that all things in the material world serve “two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.” This week’s sutra informs us that once we see the true nature of something, once we are free of the afflicted thoughts surrounding the object, it ceases to exist in the material world. However, it only ceases to exist as that material object to the Seer(s) who see the object’s true nature; to everyone else, the object is still in its material illusion.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 30th) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, while now also considering how what we perceive and understand changes our reality. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. NOTE: At some point today, Zoom is switching over to 5.0. Give yourself plenty of time to upgrade if you have not already made the switch.)

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: These links are for the “05032020 See Clearly” playlist. Do you see what I did there?)

 

 

### STAY SAFE, BE WELL ###

A Place to Start… May 30, 2020

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Where to begin?

Like me, you may be reeling from the events of this past week, month, year, decade, lifetime. You might be hopeful about where we go next, cautiously optimistic, unusually pessimistic, or completely numb. You might be feeling a giant ball of emotion which sometimes spills out and sometimes just churns around in your stomach… until the next time it comes out. Or maybe you are safely, and blessedly, removed from it all.

For anyone slightly (or greatly) confused, let me break this down for you: I’m a Black woman from Houston, Texas who teaches yoga in the Twin Cities (Minnesota). This week, George Floyd, a Black man from Houston, Texas was killed here in Minneapolis. (For those of you who have read the last few months of posts, George Floyd grew up in the neighborhood where my grandfather had his bars and he was killed (Monday, May 25, 2020) on a corner where he and I quite possibly crossed paths (on Saturday, September 16, 2017). His death has sparked protest around the country, and some of those protests have turned violent. At least one additional person has died in the last few days during the protests. Millions and millions of dollars have been lost as local and big box businesses have burned to the ground and/or sustained damages that make it unlikely they will re-open. All of this is happening after a racially-charged death earlier this month (in the Saint Paul); after several years of racially-charged police-related deaths in the country; and during a global pandemic that has shut down much of the world over the last few months.

People are hurt, angry, confused, and fed up. People are also hurt, angry, confused, and scared. At least one international correspondent has said she has never seen anything like what’s going on here in all her years of covering protests and civil unrest all over the world. So, the question becomes, “Where do we go from here?”

As friends and family call and text to check on those of us that are here – and as we call and text to check on each – I have struggled with what to say to my students. We are largely impacted in very different ways because of our very different circumstances and backgrounds. However, because this is not our (the USA’s) first racially-charged rodeo, we have to face up to the fact that amidst all the possible aftermaths there are two very real probable outcomes:

(a) nothing-to-very little changes on a systematic level, or

(b) everything (or almost) everything changes.

For the latter to be even a remote possibility we have to heal and move forward together – something that may seem impossible when we are so far apart.

So, back to a variation of that first question: Where do we begin?

First, keep breathing. Like Eric Garner, who was killed in New York in July of 2014, one of the last things George Floyd was able to say was, “I can’t breathe.” Breathing is connected to our autonomic nervous system; it is something that happens to us, and also something we can engage or control. Situations that activate our sympathetic nervous system (making us want to fight, flee, freeze, or collapse) also create a breathe pattern that is not sustainable over long periods of time. Unfortunately, we are living in a time where are sympathetic nervous system is constantly activated – sometimes to the point of being over stimulated – and we develop a habit of bad breathing. Don’t take this next breath for granted. Never take your breath, which is a symbol of your life, for granted. Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day. Then follow it with another… and another. Make it a habit, a practice, to very deliberately and intentionally breathe. Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who “can’t breathe.”  

Second, pay attention to your heart. As I prepare to post this, the officer primarily associated with George Floyd’s death has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. (This could change, but I’m not betting on it.) My understanding is that in the State of Minnesota “third-degree murder” is associated with the term “depraved-heart murder;” that is to say, a murder committed by someone who acts with “depraved indifference to human life.” You can easily find more details on the legal points if you so desire. I, however, suggest considering that concept of a depraved heart.”

The word depraved comes to us from the Latin (roots meaning “down thoroughly” and “crooked, perverse”) by way of Old French and late Middle English. The late Middle English definition is to “pervert the meaning or intention of something.” So, while the modern usage of the word “depraved” is (linguistically) used to indicate something or someone is “morally corrupt or wicked,” the original idea of the word in this context is that this was a murder which perverted the intention of the heart.

Let that sink in for a moment. Now, consider the purpose of your heart. Energetically, even emotionally speaking, our heart(s) are connections and connectors. They are also a symbol of our lives. The operation of the physical heart is autonomic, but it is connected to the way in which we breathe. So, as you spend some time taking that deep breath in, and that deep breath out, focus on your heart. Notice how it feels and notice what it needs to stay connected.

Finally, listen. Below are links to “A Place to Start” playlist. If you click on the first video, it will take you through the others. Or, you could just click randomly on the videos. At some point I may add to this playlist. Listen. Notice how your heart reacts to what you see and hear. Breathe – and do it all over again.

A young man sings from his heart.

 

Could be my brother…except for that one part.

 

Asking the question again.

 

Part of the answer.

 

Part of the process.

 

A question and an answer, maybe.

 

A personal perspective.

 

Hoping.

 

A song I dreamed of us all singing and then woke up to two angels singing it.

 

 

 

{Sorry Twin, I thought it would be less words.}

### STAY SAFE, BE WELL ###

 

How We Learn To Feel (and what we learn from feeling) May 27, 2020

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“But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.”

 

– Rachel Carson accepting the John Burroughs Medal (April 1952) and printed in Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

 

“It had been Nashibitti who had taught Leaphorn the words and legends of the Blessing Way, taught him what the Holy People had told the Earth Surface People about how to live, taught him the lessons of the Changing Woman – that the only goal for man was beauty, and that beauty was found only in harmony, and that this harmony of nature was a matter of dazzling complexity.”

 

– from Dance Hall of the Dead (Navajo Mysteries #2) by Tony Hillerman

This week, as we step back and really take a look at “role models,” the roles of our ancestors and elders, and the lessons they’ve taught us about how to live and interact with ourselves and each other, I thought we might take a moment to consider how we’ve learned to live and interact with the planet we call home. Behavioral scientists, and people who are interested in the science of our behaviors, are quick to point to incidences of animal mutilation in childhood whenever someone perpetrates great violence against humanity. There were signs, you see. And, sometimes, we missed the signs or didn’t pay enough attention to the signs.

A recent incident in New York sheds an interesting light on this subject, especially when it is viewed through the lens of everything else that is happening around us. In a situation where one person is committing emotional violence against another person and physical violence against a pet, some people quickly turn their focus on the pet’s distress. Others condemn such a reaction. However, it’s a very real and honest reaction. Rather than condemning how someone else reacts to trauma, I suggest we go deeper.

“‘Don’t think a man don’t care about one goat because he’s got a thousand of ‘em,’ Hosteen Nakai would say. ‘He’s got a thousand because he cares more about goats than he cares about his relatives.’”

 

– from People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries #4) by Tony Hillerman

People who react to the pet’s distress (what they can see as well as hear), as opposed to the other person’s distress (what they may not be able to hear or completely understand as they cannot see the person) are still expressing empathy. This is important, because when scientist, writers, and lay people talk about childhood instances of animal mutilation part of their focus is on a lack of empathy. So, first and foremost consider the importance of empathy. While empathy is a natural emotion , we learn lessons throughout our lives about whether or not to trust – let alone engage – emotions like empathy. If we don’t trust our own emotions and intuition, it’s harder – almost impossible – to trust the emotions of others.

EMPATHY [Greek > German] – The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another…without having the feelings, thoughts, and experiences fully communicated in an objective and explicit manner.

 

SYMPATHY [Greek >> Latin] – Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

 

COMPASSION [Latin>> Old French > Middle English] – To suffer with.

There is a difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion – and the difference is critical. Compassion and sympathy are a much older words than empathy. Compassion refers to our ability to understand another’s pain and suffering, and to simultaneously have the desire that the other’s pain and suffering ends. Sympathy holds multiple meanings, including “having an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other” and “a feeling of loyalty; tendency to favor or support.” When we speak in terms of the emotional experience of sympathy, however, there is a layer of pity. That is to say, our feelings of sympathy are more often than not associated with the feeling that someone of something is beneath us: we feel sorry for them. Furthermore, while we may feel sorry for someone, we may not every feel or express the desire that their pain and suffering ends. We may not ever make the connection between what they feel and what we can feel.

Empathy, on the other hand, is the emotion that bridges the gap between what we are feeling and what another is feeling. Coined (from German) by English psychologist  Edward Bradford Titchener, the word “empathy” was used in the early 1900’s to describe the process of projecting one’s own emotions (and thoughts) onto another person or object. This emotional projection was considered a kind of animation or emotional play that allowed one to feel kinship (or sympathy) with another. Over time (and thanks in part to the work of experimental psychologist and sleep expert Rosalind Dymond Cartwright, in collaboration with her mentor, sociologist Leonard Cottrell), the word “empathy” became associated with the final experience: feeling the same as another, without experiencing what the other experiences.

“‘I didn’t want to believe it. Too many old friends are dying. I didn’t really think I could learn anything about that diamond out here. I just wanted to see if I could bring back some old memories…. Maybe it would help me get into harmony with living with so many of my friends gone.’”

 

– from Skeleton Man (Navajo Mysteries #17) by Tony Hillerman

Some of Dr. Cartwright’s research focused on how empathy related to a patient’s “need to change” and ability to progress in therapy. So, there is the even deeper side to the conversation on empathy. The role empathy plays in allowing us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes may also be the role it plays in our ability to change.

As you consider that, also consider the last time you paused and really considered why you react to what you can see more than what you feel?

Writers and other artists are in the business of creating work that cultivates empathy. It’s why most of us can say, would say, we have never been a dog – but on a certain level we can imagine a dog’s life (as there are plenty of books and movies that have encouraged that viewpoint). Rachel Carson (born today in 1907) started Silent Spring with a parable, in part to elicit empathy for Nature before she started getting into the science. Tony Hillerman (born today in 1925) was a veteran and a journalist who wrote 18 novels about Navajo police officers and their role in protecting the people, the heritage, and the landscape within their keeping. If you miss the fact that Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are environmental and cultural gatekeepers, you missed part of what made Hillerman’s work so emotionally compelling.

“‘Everything is connected. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him.’”

 

– from The Ghostway (Navajo Mysteries #6) by Tony Hillerman

 

“In these troubled times it is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility. There is modern truth to the ancient wisdom of the psalmist: `I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’”

 

– from Rachel Carson’s original submission to “Words to Live By” for This Week Magazine (1951)

 

The question now becomes, when was the last time you put yourself in the shoes of someone you perceive to be different from you? When was the last time you imagined the life of someone whose life experience and life lessons are very different – or may seem very different – from yours? When was the last time you empathized without sympathizing (or pitying) another?

These are tricky questions that lead to a tricky conversation. And, while I say “conversation,” understand that the conversation is mostly an internal dialogue. Discernment, recognizing the movements of one’s own heart, is an internal process. Sure, we can have conversation with one another, but that requires gut-wrenching honesty. In order to have that gut-wrenching honesty with another person, we must first have it with ourselves. And that’s the tricky part: gut-wrenching honesty is gut-wrenching for a reason; it’s painful and pain is one of those things we want to avoid at all costs. So, rather than truly feel another’s pain – rather than truly feel our own pain – we “pity the fool” and go on about our day.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”

 

– from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

“It was not a Navajo concept, this idea of adjusting nature to human needs. The Navajo adjusted himself to remain in harmony with the universe. When nature withheld the rain, the Navajo sought the pattern of this phenomenon – as he sought the pattern of all things – to find its beauty and live in harmony with it. Now Leaphorn sought the pattern in the conduct of a man who had tried to kill a policemen rather than accepting a speeding ticket.”

 

– from Listening Woman (Navajo Mysteries #3) by Tony Hillerman

 

In Coyote Waits (one of my favorite Leaphorn and Chee mysteries), Hillerman wrote, “‘I think from where we stand the rain seems random. If we stand somewhere else, we see the order in it.” The Sanskrit word vinyasa means “to place in a special way” and shares a root with vipassana, which means “to see in a special way.” The practice is all about order, and also about what we think (and see) because of where we stand. It also, gives us an opportunity to stand (and see) in another place/way and to find harmony. Remember, we cannot understand what our minds have not shown us.

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 27th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice and reflection on what we’ve learned about interacting with harmony and beauty. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Don’t forget that you can request an audio recording of any class via a comment below. If you have been thinking about joining us, but haven’t been able to work it out, this is the week to request a class recording. If one of the themes from this week doesn’t immediately resonate, I am happy to offer a suggestion.

“‘Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying. Spring dried up. No water. The Hopi, and the Christian, maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain. The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought. You see what I mean. The system is designed to recognize what’s beyond human power to change, and then to change the human’s attitude to be content with the inevitable. ’”

 

– from Sacred Clowns (Navajo Mysteries #11) by Tony Hillerman

 

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

 

– from Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

### MANY BLESSINGS ###

Fearless Play with Miles & Sally May 26, 2020

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“I’ve discovered that half the people would love to go into space and there’s no need to explain it them. The other half can’t understand and I couldn’t explain it to them. If someone doesn’t know why, I can’t explain it.”

 

– Sally Ride

 

“If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!”

Miles Davis  

I often say that when I think of being fearless, I think of jazz and the rules of improve. I think of saying “yes, and….” I think of people like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Joshua Redman, the Marsalis family, and Jason Moran.

I also think about Miles Davis, who would have turned 94 today. But we’ll come back to him, because when I think of being fearless I also think of women like Christa McAuliffe and Sally Ride.

Ride, who was born today in 1951, was the first American woman in space and the third woman overall, (after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya). She is still the youngest American astronaut to have traveled into space and, although it wasn’t known at the time, she is now acknowledged as the first GLBTQIA astronaut. She once said, “I love the John Glenn model… I may call NASA in 25 years or so, and see it they’d like to send me to Mars.” And, she probably would have if she hadn’t been so busy teaching, running public-outreach programs for NASA, serving on two aerospace accident investigation boards, writing 7 books for children, and starting and running “Sally Ride Science” (which creates entertaining science programs and publications aimed at upper elementary and middle school children).

Part of what made Sally Ride fearless was that not only did she (to paraphrase McAuliffe) say yes to a seat on a rocket, she also said yes to being a role model. She kept the focus on the science even as she endured the most sexist questions from the public and the press; however, when she realized certain people were going to keep coming back to her gender, she used the platform she was being given to make room for more women and girls in the sciences.

“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

– Sally Ride

The fact that pretty much anyone (and everyone) in the public eye ends up as a possible role model can be dangerous – especially when people don’t accept the responsibility, or take it for granted. Miles Davis fits into this category. Born today in 1926, Davis said, “The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does the man have ideas.” Davis did and had both. He was a musical innovator who studied at the Institute of Musical Art, now known as Julliard, but also studied in jam sessions with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was a trailblazer, who kicked off the “cool jazz” movement, developed “hard bop,” and ultimately fused jazz with rock and funk. He would lose old fans, win new fans, and then gain the old fans back – because he did the thing he told other musicians to do: he didn’t play what was there, he played what wasn’t there.

“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it.”

 

– Miles Davis

For all his musical success, however, Davis battled demons. He grew up in a fairly well off family, but people often assumed he grew up poor and was uneducated. He struggled with the fact that although albums like his Birth of the Cool were historically and musically important, they didn’t have the same success as albums by white musicians in the same genre. He also struggled with cocaine and heroin addiction, once broke both ankles in a car accident, and by all accounts (including his own) he was physically and emotionally abusive to all three of his wives (and most likely any other women with whom he had a romantic relationship).

Miles Davis was a narcissistic abusive jerk. He was also a genius. Interestingly, even now, Pearl Cleage is one of the few people to speak of his abuse. Not because she personally experienced it, but because she wanted people (especially men) to stop and think about how they engage in relationships. She wanted shine a light on how not to act in relationships.

“No, you should not feel guilty. Miles is dead. We can just hope the next time he comes around his spirit and his personality will be as lovely as his music.”

 

– Pearl Cleage, author of Mad at Miles: A Blackwoman’s Guide to Truth, in a 2012 interview for Atlanta Magazine (when asked about listening to music by Miles Davis)

This week, we reconnect and remember those that came before and consider what lessons their lives have to teach us. Please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a little fearless play in the form of a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

 

### THERE’S A COUPLE OF ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM ###

We Will Remember Them May 25, 2020

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

 

– from “Ode of Remembrance” taken from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

 

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May. It didn’t start that way. Going back as far as the 1800’s, people in the South had regular communion with the dead. On birthdays, as well as wedding and death anniversaries, people would have picnics in cemeteries and lay flowers on the graves of their dearly departed. It is something that some still do. In fact, visiting family graves was a regular part of my childhood and something I still do when I am in Texas. I think nothing of benches sitting under the trees in the middle of a cemetery. If you didn’t bring a blanket or weren’t sure your creaky bones would get you up again, where else would you sit to remember the dead?

In the 1860’s women in the South were observed decorating the graves of soldiers who were lost during Civil War battles. Some people associated Decoration Days with the Confederacy, but the truth is that families in the South had relatives fighting for both the Union and the Confederacy and, thus, lost both. Still, the perception in the North was that “Decoration Day” was a Confederate thing, so people started referring to Memorial Day as a time when soldiers of all wars would be remembered. The rituals were pretty much the same. Not necessarily the picnics, but the decorating and a moment when people collectively stepped away from the hustle and bustle of regular life in order to remember those who lost their lives, ostensibly so that we could all go about the hustle and bustle of regular life.

Various states and towns have laid claim to being the birthplace of “Memorial Day;” however, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially named Waterloo, NY as the birthplace of Memorial Day. For decades, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th. Then, in 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved four federal holidays to specific Mondays, thereby changing Memorial Day to the last Monday of May. The change in date established a long weekend that marked the beginning of summer, an opportunity for retail sales, and the end to Memorial Day being a very personal holiday for many Americans.

“…in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer.”

 

– Veteran and Hawaii Representative Daniel Inouye

Some Veterans have stated that people saying, “Thank you for your service” has become a throwaway line with very little meaning. I still say it, but not on Memorial Day, because (as many Veterans will tell you) while Memorial Day has lost its meaning for many of the general population it is still very meaningful for people who have lost someone during their service. It is still a day to remember family and friends, comrades and colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms. It is still a day people to remember how someone died, but – most important – how someone lived.

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 05/25/1803)

 

“Compassion. Respect. Common Sense.”

 

– Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Time Chambers (a.k.a The Saluting Marine) when asked what he wanted to inspire in people who see him standing/saluting

 

There are 86,532 unaccounted service members dating back to World War I. 1,587 of the MIA/POWs are from the Vietnam War. At least 6 are from Iraq and other conflicts. Then, there are the ones we could be losing. Those who survived lost family and friends, comrades and colleagues, brothers and sisters in arms – and today, like every other day, they remember. Every 72 minutes, a veteran or active service member takes their own life; that works out to ~17 – 20 people a day…~140 a week. These numbers do not include people who attempt suicide or consider it. Keep in mind, that there are a lot of different things people feel when they consider suicide. It’s emotional. There are, also, a lot of different things that pull people back away from the edge. It’s personal.

Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Tim Chambers is spending today (Monday, May 25th) as he has spent Memorial Days since 2002: standing. He stands during the Rolling Thunder event that remembers and raises awareness for MIA/POW service members. This year, he plans to stand for 24 hours, without food, water, or bathroom breaks. He stands to raise awareness about veteran suicides. He stands very publicly (and sometimes very privately) in honor of those who were lost, but also those who are trying to survive. Chambers started an organization called “The Saluting Marine Cares,” which pays for veteran medical bills left uncovered by the Veterans Administration. One of The Saluting Marine Cares staff members, Sabrina Barella said, “Health, relationships, financial, those are the biggest things that contribute to suicide.”

“Health, relationships, financial concerns” are also the things that need to be addressed in order for someone to continue living their lives. Remember, “relationships” are at the top of the list. Relationships are what made “Decoration Days” personal and compelling.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

 

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (b. 05/25/1803)

 

On Memorial Day, let’s make it personal. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, May 25th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

#### “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” RWE ####

 

That’s the Eid May 24, 2020

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 “Eid Mubarak, Blessed Festival!” to anyone who was observing the month of Ramadan. Many blessings to everyone, everywhere (even if you weren’t).

“When butterflies leave their silk palaces
And the scent of the garden blows
Towards Heaven’s way,
Like the toils of man,
Those who worked for tomorrow
Will not miss the dreams of yesterday.”

 

– “When Butterflies Leave” by Yusuf Islam

 

“It’s a blessing to have seen another Ramadān but it’s also a blessing to see the first day of Shawwal and every tomorrow that I will see. Don’t focus on what you don’t have. Definitely don’t focus on what others see that you have. But just take a moment and think about all that you do have and let gratitude carry you through the days.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 30) for Huffington Post

 

There are times – in particular there are really challenging times and really fortuitous times – when it is hard to remember that an ending is also a beginning. We reach the end of something and, even if it’s the end of a not so great time, we may feel a little anxious about moving forward. We fear the future, even when we look forward to it. We grieve the loss of what was familiar, even when it no longer serves us (and especially when we feel like it still serves us).

When I worked in theatre, especially when I freelanced, I experienced an emotional and energetic crash at the end of every production. There was so much energy, effort, and momentum to getting ready and then the thrill of the performances, and then…nothing. Even the wrap up and postmortem didn’t carry the same energetic charge; it was something that needed to be done, not something anyone looked forward to doing. (And there were no collective gasps, sighs, or thunderous applause.) When I was in a staff position, the crash was easier to manage. First, because I knew it was coming and I knew what I need to recover. However, it was also easier to manage because something else was coming; there was the next production in the rep.

These feelings I’ve described are natural, normal, human even. We all feel them at some point in our lives. There are times when those very human feelings feel overwhelming. Sometimes they may even feel bigger than what led up to them. Personally, I’ve been feeling those feelings a lot during this pandemic and especially now that places are starting to open back up. While this is not completely over, we are ending one phase and beginning another. As Muslims around the world finish the month of Ramadān and mark the beginning of the new month with Eid al-Fitr (“The Breaking of the Fast Festival”), they too may feel these very normal feelings magnified.

“Many of us at times leave the month of Ramadān in a state of anxiety rather than a state of gratitude or appreciation. As I’ve said before, the last 30 days and nights were not meant to be an escape from reality, but rather a means to enhance our understanding of it. It’s understandable to long for Ramadān, but don’t do so without asking yourself where that longing comes from. You can carry with you what you took from the month. You just have to let yourself. You can still lift your soul by feeding it more than you feed your stomach. You just have to see the benefit in the former and not focus on the deprivation that comes with the latter. You can still give, be generous, and gain a sense of fulfillment by serving others. You just have to keep seeing what others will gain and not focus on what you are losing. You can diminish the anxiety experienced by Ramadān coming to an end. You just have to see it with gratitude and appreciate that you witnessed it rather than focusing on it being gone.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 30) for Huffington Post

Fasting during the month of Ramadān is one of the Five Pillars of Islām (part of the framework of worship and signs of faith) and it is traditionally practiced in community. Muslims mark the end of the month of Ramadān with a celebratory feast, a sermon, prayers, and extra alms giving. In particular, people will give the gift of food (one of the very things they have given up for a month) to those who are less fortunate. Just like the month of fasting that precedes it, Eid al-Fitr is traditionally a time of community. But, even as some people are coming out of quarantine – and even taking diagnostic tests to see if they can break bread with their ummah (“community”) – people all over the world are faced with challenging choices. Everyone has to reconsider (or, maybe for the first time consider) what it means to be in and with community.

UMMAH [Arabic] – Community, refers to a group of people who share common religious beliefs, often used as a synonym for “ummat al-Islām” (“the Islāmic Community”). Also appears in the Qur’ān as “Ummah Wāhida” (“One Nation”).

 

SHA’B [Arabic] – A Nation or Community which share common ancestry and geography (but not necessarily culture, language, or beliefs).

 

DHIMMĪ [Arabic] – Protected Person, historically used in reference to non-Muslims living within an Islamic state and conveys certain legal rights related to life, property, and religious freedom.

Part of yesterday’s practice was about looking at the divergences between the Abrahamic religions through the lens of chaos theory. It was just a passing point; however, to really do that kind of work – to really see how Judaism, Christianity, and Islām developed to the point where many people do not see (or are often unaware) of the commonalities – we would have to look at the various points in history where each religion emerged and, also, where the denominations of each religion diverged from the main body. If we just look at Islām for a moment, then we see that the Qur’ān was revealed during a time of great tribalism and that one of the missions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was to deliver God’s message to a community that extended beyond his bloodline: Hence, the emergence of the ummah as a religious concept. (Christians may argue here that Jesus and the disciples had a similar mission, but that’s a conversation for another day. As is the conversation about how we’re back to, or never really left, the trouble with tribalism.)

The word “ummah” appears in the Qur’ān over 60 times and, like other words which reappear consistently throughout a sacred text, it has nuanced meanings throughout the text. Religious scholars indicate that the term evolves throughout the main body of the text. Scholars also point to the fact that at times the term specifically includes Jewish and Christian people as part of the same faith-based community.

Bottom line, we are all part of more than one community and sometimes we not only haven’t considered how we are connected – we haven’t considered what it means to be “in community.” What we are finding, when we really pay attention, is that it means more than being in the same physical space with someone. Furthermore, it has always meant more… we just have a habit of taking that more for granted, or ignoring that more all together.

Finally, as we really take a look at how we are in and with community, we also might want to consider that our beliefs are on display. What we really believe down to our core, those guiding principles that determine how we act and interact with ourselves and the world around us (with our communities), are not only on display they are also defining some of the communities to which we belong.

“Take a moment to break your mind free of any distraction that causes your heart to be shackled in anxiety or pain. Remove from yourself any feeling of emptiness or remorse that comes from having to put on a face that is not your own to gain acceptance from a society that won’t take you as you are. Let your thoughts move away from those who can’t look beyond the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, the accent that you speak with, or anything else that makes you beautiful. Don’t chase after words that are unfamiliar to you but seek and speak with words that are sincerely your own. Be with those who give you hope and courage, who help you to be bold in your prayer. Forget the judgments and harshness of any who have lead you to believe that you cannot ask of your Creator for whatever your heart wishes. Don’t inhibit yourself in anyway. God is Most Generous and Most Merciful, and we all are entitled to benefit from that generosity and mercy. You are going to stand in front of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, One who looks for a reason to accept from you, not push you away.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” (Day 26) for Huffington Post

 

It’s time to celebrate, and also to continue reflecting. Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 24th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is an upgrade that goes into effect on Saturday (May 30th). If you have not upgraded by Saturday, you will need to give yourself extra time the next time you use Zoom.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### KINDNESS & MANY BLESSINGS ###

 

 

 

Let’s See…Where We Go May 23, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

 

“‘Stay on the Path. Don’t go off it. I repeat. Don’t go off. For any reason! If you fall off, there’s a penalty.’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

There are some things that once seen (heard, felt), cannot be unseen (unheard, unfelt). Those things – whether we like them or dislike them; whether we truly understand their nature or not – become part of us and part of our world. Those things – whether we recognize/identify them as part of ourselves and/or part of our world – become how we perceive ourselves and the world. Those things – whether they are specific, unspecific, barely describable, or absolutely indescribable – play a part in how we understand ourselves and our world. Those things… are (almost) everything: and everything can lead to fulfillment and freedom.

The statements above are a way to view Yoga Sutras 2.17 – 2.20, which we’ve covered on Saturdays in the last few weeks. (The calendar on the side will link you to posts on any given date if you want to review.) Those statements are also the scaffolding for this week’s sutra (2:21) which gets to the heart of why (to paraphrase the anonymous quote) everyone can only understand from our level of perception – as well as why one person doesn’t automatically “get” what another person “gets.”

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.21: tadartha eva dŗśyasyātmā

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

One of the reasons I share/teach the things I share/teach is that I understand we (read: our minds) have to be prepared for epiphanies. In other words, we (our minds) have to be prepared to understand what we are seeing. Also, once we have that epiphany – that “aha” moment – where we start to see things in a different way (a special way), we can’t “unsee” that different perception of reality. It’s like the dress or the sound or the picture of the animal or the picture I once shared in the downtown studio.

Some people only ever see/hear/experience things a certain way. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, we can only believe what we understand; and so, you can talk until you are blue (or gold) in the face and some people will never understand anything other than what they first perceived. Their minds have not shown them any other possibility (YS 2.20). On the other hand, some people, when presented with the truth about the reality of the dress, the sound, or either picture will start to perceive the object in a different way. And, once they do, that new perception becomes part of their understanding of reality (YS 2:18 – 19). When presented the object of experience again, they may first still see what they initially perceived, but their mind/intellect will now also present them with the other option(s). Add to this the fact that there are some people who will initially experience both/all options (YS 2:15 – 17). While people in this last category can isolate what others perceive, they will also still understand the ultimate reality: it’s all about perception, baby.

And, our perceptions play a starring role in our actions, our suffering, and our ultimate freedom from suffering.

“We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall have still not made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made a choice at all, not have a free will to do so.”

 

– from The Essence of Chaos (1993) by Edward Norton Lorenz

 

We have reached the end of the month of Ramadān, which can be viewed through the Yoga lens of Kriyā Yoga (a prescription or path to union). Part of the reason I share some of the history, pillars, and articles of faith related to Islam (as well as to Judaism and Christianity) is because if one person gains insight or additional understanding it not only changes their perception, it changes the way they relate to themselves and to the world. Sure, I hold out for the possibility of more than one person, but I also acknowledge that one person can make a big difference… if you know where to look for the change.

“‘A little error here would multiply in sixty million years, all out of proportion. Of course maybe our theory is wrong. Maybe Time can’t be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far­-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn’t see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain…we’re being careful. ’”

– from “A Sound of  Thunder” (June 28, 1952) by Ray Bradbury

 

“ Lest I appear frivolous in even posing the title question, let alone suggesting that it might have an affirmative answer, let me try to place it in proper perspective by offering two propositions.
   1. If a single flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, so also can all the previous and subsequent flaps of its wings, as can the flaps of the wings of millions of other butterflies, not to mention the activities of innumerable more powerful creatures, including our own species.
   2. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.
   More generally, I am proposing that over the years minuscule disturbances neither increase nor decrease the frequency of occurrence of various weather events such as tornadoes; the most that they may do is to modify the sequence in which these events occur.”

 

– from initially untitled speech given by Edward Norton Lorenz at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, D.C, on December 29, 1972

 

It might seem random that a technical talk to a science organization in 1972 would popularize a theory that dates back as far as 1800. Turns out, however, that it’s not random, it’s chaos (theory) and changing a seagull’s wings to a butterfly’s wings was just the beginning of a ripple of effect with a “strange” legacy. According to Edward Norton Lorenz (born today in 1917), he did not submit a title for his now famous speech (“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”). The title, which came from the session chair, Dr. Philip Merilees, carried “the idea that small changes in initial conditions could result in vast differences in the initial outcomes” beyond mathematics, physics, computer science, and meteorology. It carried it everywhere – even into the social sciences, even into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. (Even though sometimes people don’t actually understand – or even know – the actual theory.)

If you are interested in experiencing some theory and “seeing” where it takes you, please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 23rd) at 12:00 PM. We will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand, this time using the lens of Ramadan and chaos theory. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for the “Ramadan 2020 75+ mins” playlist.)

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music (or use this “chaos” music).

 

(A little theory to go.)

### X Y Z ###

 

 

 

Just Leave The Light On May 20, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

 

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

 

“Kuraib reported that Ibn ‘Abbas spent a night in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) and he said: The Messenger of Allah may peace be upon him) stood near the water-skin and poured water out of that and performed ablution in which he neither used excess of water nor too little of it, and the rest of the hadith is the same, and in this mention is also made (of the fact) that on that night the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made supplication before Allah in nineteen words. Kuraib reported: I remember twelve words out of these, but have forgotten the rest. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘Place light in my heart, light in my tongue, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light above me, light below me, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, place light in my soul, and make light abundant for me.’”

Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1680)

 

In a 2012 “Ramadān Reflection” in the Huffington Post, Imam Khalid Latif mentions the importance of searching for the Night of Power when it comes to the last days of Ramadān. My understanding is that, regardless of our faith or overall beliefs, we have to actively participate in our fate and in our practices. We have to actively seek in order to find. So, while, I could point out all the different ways in which “light” comes up in different religious and spiritual practices, while I could outline a little comparative analysis between the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions and songs by Yusuf Islam, Santana and Everlast, Matisyahu, and the Maccabeats, I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to seek and see what you find.

True, you can follow the links (above) and maybe find something new (or remember something you had forgotten). However, more than anything, I encourage you to sit with your own history and tradition for a moment and consider what comes up. How does light come up? When and where does light come up? How do your internalized references to light compare to those I’ve mentioned (above and below)? How do you describe those moments when you put your light on and let it shine?

 

“I used to trust nobody, trusting even less their words,
Until I found somebody, there was no one I preferred,
My heart was made of stone, my eyes saw only misty grey,
Until you came into my life girl, I saw everyone that way.
Until I found the one I needed at my side,
I think I would have been a sad man all my life.

I think I see the light coming to me,
Coming through me giving me a second sight.
So shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine,
Shine, shine, shine.”

– from “I Think I See the Light” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam

 

As I recently (and virtually) discussed with two dear friends (as well as in classes), the similarities between the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – is no coincidence. These traditions share historical, spiritual, and liturgical roots. How do we explain, however, these same similarities when they come up in non-Abrahamic religions? Yes, yes, the cynical parts of us can say that language and customs were co-opted in order for missionaries to more easily conquer and convert. But, how do we explain that the elemental foundations – the opportunity to co-opt – already existed? How do we explain, for instance, the focus on light other than it is a fundamental and universal experience? We can be cynical for days, but at some point we have to “step into the light, baby.”

 

 “‘O Allah ! place light in my heart, light in my hearing, light in my sight, light on my right, light on my left, light in front of me, light behind me, light above me, light below me, make light for me,’ or he said: ‘Make me light.’”

 

 – Sahih Muslim 7673 (Book 4 Hadith Muslim 1677)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 20th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM, if you are interested being the light you want to see in the world. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Pray for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

Please let me know if you would like an audio recording of the practices related to the month of Ramadān.

 

### OHR OR DAW ###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Night of Great Power, A Night of Great Peace May 19, 2020

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(“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan.)

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam.

 

HADITH [Arabic] – Speech, Narrative, Talk, or Discourse, refers to one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law. It contains the words and recorded actions of “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)” which make up the SUNNAH.

 

QUR’ĀN [Arabic; also “Quran” and “Koran”] – The Recitation, refers to the primary sacred text of Islam as it was reveled by Allah (God). It consists of 114 “sūrahs” (or portions).

 

RAMADĀN [Arabic] – derived from root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness” and refers to the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”).

 

In the Yoga Sutras, when Patanjali codifies the 8-Limb philosophy of Yoga, there are certain elements that he combines in order to emphasize their power. For instance, the philosophy begins with 5 Yamas (“External Restraints” or “Universal Commandments”) and 5 Niyamas (“Internal Observations”) and Patanjali combines the last five niyamas (tapas, svādyāya, īshvarapraņidhāna) to form Kriyā Yoga, which is a prescription for union. This prescription, or path, to the ultimate union – Union with Divine – is a cleansing ritual consisting of tapas (“heat”, “discipline”, and “austerity”, as well as the practices that build heat, discipline, and austerity); svādyāya (“self-study” – which is reflection); and īshvarapraņidhāna(“trustful surrender to the Divine”). Examples of kriyā yoga – that is to say, rituals made up of these exact three elements – exist outside of yoga and include observing a silent retreat (Buddhism), giving up leavened bread during Passover (Judaism), fasting for Yom Kippur (Judaism), fasting during Lent (Christianity), observing the 19 Day fast (Bahá’í), and fasting during the month of Ramadān.

“Use your time wisely. Spend it only in pursuit of things that are good. Hold the world in your hand if you so desire, but never let the world use your heart as its abode. Your understanding of the world around you will be based off of how you take care of the world within you. Treat your heart as something precious and let only what is good for [it] have the privilege of receiving its love.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2013 “Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

People who are not familiar with the tenets of Islam are often surprised to learn they believe things that Muslims believe. For instance, in Islam there are Six Articles of Faith: a belief in the Oneness of God, a belief in Revealed Books, a belief in the Prophets of Islam (which include Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed), a belief in the Days of Resurrections, a belief in Angels, and a belief in Qadair (“predestination”). The Five Pillars of Islam (in Sunni order), which make up the framework of worship and signs of faith, include: the Islamic Creed (a declaration of faith, proclaiming one God); daily prayers; alms giving; fasting during the month of Ramadān; and a Pilgrimage to Mecca (the holy city). To comply with that 4th pillar, those who are able must refrain from eating, drinking, cursing, violence, any of the vices (including sarcasm and gossip), and engaging in sexual activity from dawn to sunset during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar-based calendar. The month lasts 29 – 30 days and the fast begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Like some of the instances mentioned above, this is a moveable feast… I mean, fast – although, at the end of each day and at the end of the month there is an eid or “feast” to break the fast.

“We sent it [the Qur’ān] down on the Night of Power.
And what can make you know what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit [the inspiration] descend therein by their Lord’s leave for every affair.
Peace! It is till the rising of the dawn.”

 

Sūrah Qadr (“Portion 97 of the Qur’ān”) 1 – 5

Even though Islam is one of the three Abrahamic religions with very definite historical (and theological) ties to Christianity and Judaism – and even though I have known Muslims throughout my life – I did not spend a lot of time studying Islam in the earlier part of my life. I did a lot of soul searching before I decided to teach a series of yoga classes focused on the theme of Islam and the observation of the month of Ramadān. Even though I sometimes have Muslim students in my classes, I knew that it was unlikely that any would attend during the month – which meant these practices would mostly be for people whose only intersection with Islam might be the news, passing someone in the locker room or some other publicly accessible space, and/or random encounters at school or work. Contrary to popular belief, there are conservatives (even conservative Christians) who attend yoga classes (even my yoga classes) and so I knew that there might be some people in the practice who were Islamophobic or regularly associated with people who were Islamophobic. So, in many ways, the practice served as an “explanatory comma” as well as an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). As I was not expecting many Muslim students, but wanted to really touch on some key elements, I decided to lead these classes at the end of the month, which is the most powerful time of the month.

Laylat al-Qadr, translated as “Night of Power,” “Night of Destiny,” “Night of Value,” Night of Measure,” Night of Decree” or “Night of Honour” is commemorated as the anniversary of the Qur’ān being reveled to the angel Gabriel in a verse-by-verse recitation, which Gabriel then recited to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) over the last 23 years of his (the Prophet’s) life. It is also considered the night when a certain evil spirit can do no harm/evil, when past transgressions are forgiven, and when Allah decides everyone’s destiny. (Notice the similarity to the High Holidays in Judaism?) It is a night so powerful that people will stay up all night praying because it is believed their prayers are more powerful on this most holy night.

There’s just one problem….

No one knows which night is the holiest night.

“Many Muslims will give emphasis to the 27th of Ramadān… but, the opinions on what day it is varies. The Qur’ān doesn’t mention a specific date for Laylat al-Qadr and the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation: to ‘Seek it in the last 10 days, on the odd nights,’ indicates the importance of searching for it.”

 

– Imam Khalid Latif in a 2012 Ramadān Reflection” for Huffington Post

Some people set their eyes on this past Sunday, while others will be praying tonight (Tuesday, May 19th) as it is the 27th night of the month of Ramadān. There are at least 1.8 billion Muslims in the world (almost a quarter of the world) and about 3.5 million Muslims (or a little over 1%) in the United States. Even when you consider that the pandemic (and the fact that illness is an exception to fasting) means not everyone is fasting or praying; that’s still a lot of people fasting and praying. It’s an even larger number of people when you consider that some non-Muslims are also observing.

“Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”

 

Sahih al-Bukhari 35 (Vol. 1 Book 2 Hadith Bukhari 35)

 

All that is to say, tonight is the night we’re going to open our eyes, or hearts, our bodies, and our minds. If you’re interested and available, please join me today (Tuesday, May 19th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, while the most of the musicians featured on the playlists during these final days of Ramadān are Muslim there are some exceptions. One of the notable exceptions – notable, because she is the only female soloist and the only non-Muslim singer on the list – is Reba McEntire. Her song “Prayer for Peace” is on the playlist because she released it during the month of Ramadān in 2014 – but not just randomly in the month, the song was released in the last ten days of the month! Second, there are some songs on the playlist that are Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music.

 

### PRAY FOR PEACE ###