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Can You Be Like The Bird? (the “missing” post) September 15, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

“Gentlemen, there are three things which belong to God and which do not belong to man: the irrevocable, the irreparable, the indissoluble. Woe to man if he introduces them into his laws! (Movement.) Sooner or later they cause society to bend under their weight, they disturb the necessary balance of laws and customs, they deprive human justice of its proportions; and then this happens, think about it, gentlemen, that the law terrifies the conscience. (Sensation.)”

– quoted from Victor Hugo’s address to the French Constituent (General) Assembly, September 15, 1848

“Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.”

– quoted from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Consider Victor Hugo the tail end of the story… or the braid.

On the best of days, explaining the beginning of an idea is like pointing to the beginning of French braid wreath or the beginning of an ensō. I can point to a section of my very thick, very curly hair and explain that I separated this section from that and that section from this one and then started braiding them together as I, simultaneously, pulled in extra pieces from here and here

But that leaves out the fact that first I had to wash and comb out my very thick, very curl, and very unprocessed hair. Still, even if we skip the part about where and when I learned how to braid my hair, we can repeat the steps above and get a different result every time. Sometimes it’s a relatively easy, even meditative process. Other times it is super frustrating and, after starting and stopping half a dozen times, I may or may not finish it the way I originally intended. I mean, let’s be real; sometimes it’s just going to be a scarf, bandana, or baseball cap day.

I say all this to explain that while I can definitely say that today’s class was influenced by that age old discussion of right and wrong (that so many are debating right now) and there are definitely the reverberations of some of the links embedded above. In some ways, today’s class theme started with yesterday’s class theme – but only if you go back to September 14, 2016.

“The heart becomes heroic through passion. It is no longer composed of anything but what is pure; it no longer rests upon anything but what is elevated and great.”

– quoted from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Ivan Pavlov (sort of) and also the date when Francis Scott Key penned the poem, “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” that would eventually be combined with an English drinking song in order to become America’s national anthem.  In my September 14, 2016 classes, at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA and Nokomis Yoga, I used the national anthem as an example of a habit we had developed as a nation without really giving it much thought. Keep in mind that in August of that year, Colin Kaepernick had started sitting – and then kneeling – during the national anthem as a form of political protest. Neither he nor those who joined him in the NFL protest were protesting the flag or people who had served in the military, but their actions caused a great deal of uproar nevertheless. While, they had given some thought to why (they thought) that would  be an appropriate time and place to protest, my point in bringing it up in class was that other people (most people) weren’t looking at the context, in part, because of the habit of “honoring the flag” with that particular song  and in a very specific way. The habit was (and is) so deeply engrained it is part of people’s asmitā (sense of I-am-ness, which is the second affliction) and to question it (or even consider it in its entirety) activates people’s abhiniveśah (“fear of death,” which is the fifth affliction.)The song and the ritual around it are, I suggested, create a Pavlovian response and (to some) altering the tradition in any way, shape, or form is akin to threatening death.

 “Try as you will, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love.”

– Victor Hugo

Fast forward to 2020, and the country is (in some ways) even more polarized. So, when I got ready for my Monday class, I debated making the connection. It was a different audience, a different medium, and a different time – so I considered the merit; weighed the possibility of there being more good, in the reference, than harm. Even as I started the class, I was still carrying on that internal debate (which is why there’s no reference in yesterday’s blog post). Ultimately, I decided to end with the reference – and buddy, am I glad I did!

“Our mind is enriched by what we receive, our heart by what we give.”

– Victor Hugo

After class, a friend who is a music teacher told me about a composer and University of Minnesota professor, Abbie Betinis, who inverted the music for the “Star Spangled Banner.” The composition is pretty brilliant. It adds a timbre and tone that, if anything, highlight the weight of what Scott Key witnessed and all the battles that have led us up to today. I immediately started thinking about how we look at things from a different perspective when we (or the things) are upside down and backwards. Ms. Betinis (who has a January birthday) has a catalog of beautiful music, including a song inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo (who has a February birthday).

And it was right around this time that I realized Victor Hugo had been following me around… for days!

He was in conversations about “the republic” and underscoring contemplation about right and wrong, morals versus ethics versus laws. And he was in a friend’s Twitter feed (which is totally random, ‘cause y’all know I’m not on Twitter). Then I started delving into the speeches he made to the French Constituent Assembly and, in particular, to the speech he made today in 1848 calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

“I regret that this question, perhaps the first of all, arrives in the midst of your deliberations almost out of the blue, and surprises unprepared speakers.

As for me, I will say few words, but they will start from the feeling of a deep and ancient conviction.”

“Well, think about it, what is the death penalty? The death penalty is the special and eternal sign of barbarism. (Movement.) Wherever the death penalty is lavished, barbarism dominates; wherever the death penalty is rare, civilization reigns. (Sensation.)

Gentlemen, these are indisputable facts. The softening of the penalty is a big and serious step forward. Part of its glory, the eighteenth century, abolished torture; the nineteenth century will abolish the death penalty. (Cheers! Yes! Yes! )”

– quoted from Victor Hugo’s address to the French Constituent (General) Assembly, September 15, 1848

And it got me thinking about Victor Hugo as an activist and as a writer of social commentary. It got me thinking about all the struggles, trials and tribulations, and suffering found in his fiction – but also how there is always, always love. Despite the most horrible of odds, there is love. And, finally, it got me thinking about how any one of us is responding/reacting to all the mayhem, civil disobedience, civil unrest, and isolation we are currently encountering – and how we might react differently if we were a character in a Victor Hugo novel…or poem. Or, for that matter, how we might react if we were Victor Hugo, himself. How we can we stay true to ourselves even when “the bough is slight” or we are on shaky ground?

“Be like the bird, who
Pausing in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him
Yet sings
Knowing he has wings.”

– “Be like the bird” poem by Victor Hugo

Keep in mind, that some of this will not be evident in the class. Keep in mind, also, that my hair is super curly and super thick. So, when I braid my hair, all I have to do to keep all these threads together is keep joining everything together until I reach the end. Violá! Yoga (Union).

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) email myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“I feel in myself the future life. I am like a forest once cut down; the new shoots are stronger and livelier than ever. I am rising, I know, toward the sky. The sunshine is on my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but heaven lights me with reflection of unknown worlds. You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of the bodily powers. Why, then, is my soul more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”

– quoted from essay on Immortality by Victor Hugo (published in Sacramento Daily Union, March 16, 1882)

“The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds.”

– quoted from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

### “To love another is to see the face of God.” (Les Mis, VH) ###


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