jump to navigation

Houdini’s Last Month (and Allhallowtide) October 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“My brain is the key that sets me free.”

– Harry Houdini’s motto, as quoted in the Houdini Museum (Scranton, Pennsylvania)

October 1926 was not a good month for Harry Houdini. On October 11th, during his Water Torture Cell escape, a piece of equipment struck him and fractured his left ankle. But, “the show must go on” and so Houdini continued his tour. He did, however, rest his ankle whenever he could and so he was lying down, having a casual conversation with students, after giving a lecture at McGill University in Montreal on October 22nd. One of the students cited the Bible and asked if it was true that he could sustain blows to the belly without being hurt. The magician/illusionist casually said yes, and I can only imagine him lying there and smiling or chuckling as he said it. He had no idea the student wanted a demonstration and, therefore didn’t stand up and brace himself (as he normally would for the “trick”).

Neither Houdini nor the students, including the student who hit him, knew that Houdini was suffering from acute appendicitis. Some have speculated that had he not been hit, the magician/illusionist would not have ignored the stomach pains he felt during that evening’s performance and over the following two days. Furthermore, some people think he would have gone to see a doctor sooner. I argue that it might not have mattered, because when Houdini (suffering from by then constant pain and a 102˚ fever) finally saw a doctor and received the diagnosis, he disregarded the advice to have immediate surgery. Instead, he continued to perform. On October 24th, at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, he gave his last performance – with a 104˚ fever, cold sweats, and acute appendicitis. He was rushed to the hospital after the performance, but it was too late. His appendix had burst, the toxins had spread, and he would spend his final days in Grace Hospital’s Room 401. He died at 1:26 (EST) on Halloween 1926 (and this year’s annual séance to contact his spirit is on Zoom, but you’d have to skip today’s practice if you plan to log into it).

Given his background and his beliefs, I find it very interesting that Harry Houdini died on Halloween, which is the beginning of the Western Christian feast of Allhollowtide and connected to the pagan celebrations of Samhain.

Samhain, “summer’s end,” was a time when the Celts believed that the door between “this world and the next” was opened just enough for the dearly departed to step back for a visit. Some of those visitors were welcomed… some not so much. Either way, people developed rituals to pay respect to the dead and also to ward off evil. Those customs included guising or mumming (also souling), where people would dress in disguises and go door-to-door offering prayers and songs in exchange for alms and treats (like soul cakes). Fire is a big element in the celebrations as it is an element of purification. Additionally, it was believed that passing cattle around a bonfire would reveal any spiritual possession. Pope Gregory IV moved the Christian feast All Hallows’ Day, or All Souls’ Day, to November 1st in 835 – thereby making October 31st All Hallows’ Day Eve. In Scottish, the word “eve” is “even” and contracted to “e’en” or “een,” making today Halloween – the scariest day of the year!

“My chief task has been to conquer fear. The public sees only the thrill of the accomplished trick; they have no conception of the tortuous preliminary self-training that was necessary to conquer fear.”

– Harry Houdini

One of the greatest escape artists of all times failed to escape the thing many people fear most: death. That fear of loss, fear of death, is the very last of the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns which cause suffering (according to the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras) and it can be the most paralyzing because it is, in some ways, the culmination of all the other afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns. People hate change because it is – in some way, shape, or form – the end of what is known/perceived; who we think we are; and what we like and don’t like. Even when we acknowledge that an ending is also a beginning, even when we can see how the end of something can also be the end of suffering, we cling to what is familiar, known, and tangible. We don’t want to let go…. Even though, Patanjali (and all the other mystics and seers) tells us, again and again, that the secret to ending suffering is letting go.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] is achieved.”

Even though repetition (japa-ajapa) is an integral part of the practice of mantra, and the practice of the mantra OM (or AUM) is highlighted in the sūtras, Patanjali doesn’t normally repeat (almost verbatim) what he has previously instructed. With this week’s sūtra, however, we find ourselves tossed right back to the “secret of concentration” found in the first section of the book. So there must be something to this “trustful surrender” – something that lifts the veil between the known and the unknown, the natural and the supernatural. Or, you can think of it as something that opens the door between the sense world and the “Other” world.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, October 31st) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes – including the first “Friday Night Special” on Friday, November 6th!

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

### TRICK OR TREAT? ###

Drum roll, please… (& breathe) October 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“Yes I understand
That every life must end
As we sit alone
I know someday we must go

Oh, I’m a lucky man
To count on both hands
The ones I love
Some folks just have one
Yeah, others they got none

Stay with me
Let’s just breathe”

 – quoted from “Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam


Coincidentally, the lyrics of the (above quoted) Pearl Jam song could be a great way to start off an October 31st class that also happens to be a class about Yoga Sūtra 2.45 – but that’s not this post. (That post is coming in a few hours.) But this post…. This post is to officially announce that I am offering the first in a series of “Friday Night Specials” on Friday, November 6th. These specialty practices, offered periodically (maybe once a month), will focus on a particular element of the practice or a style of practice other than vinyasa. First up: Prānāyāma.

“Let us go forth a while and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms.”

– Walt Whitman (writing about baseball in the Brooklyn Eagle, 1834)


We are living in interesting (a.k.a. challenging and stressful) times – times which can make it harder and harder to breathe. When bad breathing becomes a habit, it compromises our physical, mental, and emotional health. On the flip side, proper breathing lowers stress, cultivates clarity, and supports our nervous system. And it all starts with the awareness and extension of breath, or prānāyāma, which is the 4th limb in the Yoga Philosophy.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Friday, November 6th at 7:15 PM (CST). The meeting ID and link are available in the “Class Schedules” calendar. (You will need to open the event entry for details). You can request a link by emailing myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com.

This practice will begin with limited movement, includes several breathing techniques you can practice on and off the mat, and concludes with a breath-focused meditation. It is accessible and open to all, regardless of age, experience, or fitness level. You will need something on which you can sit comfortably (chair, mat, and/or cushion, etc.) and possibly a mat or something on which you can recline. It is best if you begin the practice with a (relatively) empty stomach.

In the spirit of generosity (dana), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. You can also purchase a drop in class.

### “MEET YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE” PJ ###

Breathe Into How You’re Feeling October 28, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“I am now wholly occupied with the new work … and it is hard for me to tear myself away from it. I believe it comes into being as the best of my works. I must finish it as soon as possible, for I have to wind up a lot of affairs and I must soon go to London. I told you that I had completed a Symphony which suddenly displeased me, and I tore it up. Now I have composed a new symphony which I certainly shall not tear up.”

– quoted from an 1893 letter from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to his brother Modest, as published in Tchaikovsky: The Man Revealed by John Suchet

Abbie Richards is a graduate student at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands who, in addition to being an environment and climate scholar, has studied the history of racism, sexism, and classism in golf and also created a hierarchical pyramid of conspiracy theories. I serendipitously came across a story about her conspiracy pyramid and I started wondering where, exactly, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 would fall in the ranks.

Going by the Gregorian calendar, “The Passionate Symphony” premiered today in 1893 in Saint Petersburg, “the Cultural Capital of Russia.”It was the second work dedicated to the composer’s nephew, Vladimir Davydov (or “Bob,” as the composer called him) and, understandably (given Bob’s personality and temperament) was full of feelings. But, before we get all up in the feels, consider that the “tenor” of the piece changed when Tchaikovsky died nine days after he conducted the premiere.

“The Passionate Symphony” was the last piece premiered in Tchaikovsky’s life time and the penultimate piece he composed (with the Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 75, the last “completed” work, premiering after his death). The symphony’s second performance (on November 18, 1893) was a memorial tribute and contained some changes made by Tchaikovsky in the nine days between the premiere and his death. Conspiracy theories about the piece started almost immediately, fueled first by a passing comment between Tchaikovsky and his dear friend Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and then by Tchaikovsky’s sudden death, not to mention the “in memorium” subtitle that accompanied the second performance.

“If this symphony is misunderstood, and torn to shreds, I shall think it quite normal, and not at all surprising. It will not be the first time. But I myself absolutely believe it to be the best and especially the most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any single one of my other musical creations.”

– quoted from an 1893 letter from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to his nephew Vladimir “Bob” Davydov as posted in “Music History Monday: His Own Requiem?” by Robert Greenberg

Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov were part of “The Five” (or “the Mighty Handful” or “The Might Five”) who collaborated together and promoted a distinctly Russian style of classical music during the 19th century. Around the time of the first performance of the “The Passionate Symphony,” Rimsky-Korsakov reportedly asked Tchaikovsky if the piece was or had a program, referring to a narrative or specific atmosphere. Tchaikovsky said yes, but did not elaborate. The fact that the a cruciform melody (changing tones giving the physical appearance of a crucifix) appears in the symphony and that the symphony ends in an unconventional way got people thinking,

When some of those same people attended the memorial performance on November 18th, they listened closely for some sign that the piece was a musical farewell or “symphony as suicide note.” Of course, confirmation bias kicked in and to this day people point to all kinds of musical “evidence” to support their theories, despite the fact that just a month before the premiere, Tchaikovsky stated that he was in no mood to write a requiem. Plus, there’s the fact that the composer could not have known he was going to die unexpectedly at age 53 and was planning a trip to London. His death is officially attributed to cholera (reportedly caused by drinking contaminated water), but conspiracy theorists have other ideas. (And, I suppose, the fact the Tchaikovsky’s mother died of cholera when he was 14 years old is just more proof for the conspiracy pudding).

“It was not true that cholera victims were always placed in sealed coffins, and Tchaikovsky’s own mother was the proof. It is documented that she lay in an open coffin, and her children were brought into the room to kiss her forehead. None of them contracted cholera as a result.

The custom in Tchaikovsky’s day, she told me, was for the coffin to be open for family and friends to pay respects, and then sealed for the funeral.

As if to clinch the argument, she told me Tchaikovsky’s death had been certified as caused by cholera by several doctors, all experts in their field. The death certificate, and other necessary paperwork, was signed and countersigned in accordance with procedure. Furthermore, since cholera was so epidemic in St Petersburg, the newspapers carried a daily list of victims in its pages. Tchaikovsky’s name had appeared, along with others. A cover-up would have been impossible.”

– quoted from Tchaikovsky: The Man Revealed by John Suchet

But, let’s get back to what we (for a fact) know to be Tchaikovsky’s intent: a tribute to Bob. The composer’s nephew was reportedly an artistic young man who ultimately decided to go into the military. Both Tchaikovsky and Davydov struggled with depression and, it appears, their relationship helped them bolster each other. Uncle and nephew had a close enough relationship that the composer at one point considered moving to be closer to the person he described as “the paramount condition of my happiness.” Additionally, Tchaikovsky left all his royalties and copyrights to his nephew, who would eventually resign his commission in order to help his uncle Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky (the composer’s brother) run the museum created to honor the composer’s life and work. To my knowledge, there’s no question about the fact that Vladimir “Bob” Davydov used morphine and other drugs to numb his feelings or that he committed suicide at the age of 34 – something his uncle didn’t see coming.

Both uncle and nephew, as I mentioned before, could be described as “passionate” or “emotional” (with a side of suffering) and this was the original meaning of the title Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky assigned to his penultimate work, Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74. Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest (Bob’s other artistic uncle) claimed to have suggested the title Pateticheskaya (Патетическая ) which contains an emotional nuance and complexity not found in a single English word. The nuance (and subsequent meaning) gets further lost to modern audiences, because the most common title for the piece is the French word Pathétique – which is sometimes reduced to “The Pathetic” to distinguish it from Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1798 piano sonata (with the same French name).

Based on his response to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s question and the fact that Tchaikovsky’s abandoned a title that would have called attention to “a hidden program,” there is evidence that the composer did not want people to be too curious about the meaning. That evidence suggests that Tchaikovsky just wanted people to feel – maybe even to feel some of what he and Bob felt. Or, maybe, the whole piece was just note from uncle to nephew, saying, “You are not alone in this.”

“While on my travels I had another idea for a symphony – a program work this time, but its program will remain a conundrum to everyone. Let them guess at it. This program is imbued with subjectivity. While composing it in my thoughts, I often wept a great deal. Then I began writing drafts, and the work was as heated as it was rapid. In less than four days I completed the first movement, and the remaining movements were outlined in my head. There will be much that is new in this symphony where form is concerned, one point being that the finale will not be a loud allegro, but the reverse, a most unhurried adagio. You cannot imagine the bliss I feel after becoming convinced that time has not yet run out and that it is still possible to work.”

– quoted from an 1893 letter from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to his nephew Vladimir “Bob” Davydov as posted in “Music History Monday: His Own Requiem?” by Robert Greenberg

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 28th) at 4:30 PM 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. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“…You see, my dear friend, I am made up of contradictions, and I have reached a very mature age without resting upon anything positive, without having calmed my restless spirit either by religion or philosophy. Undoubtedly I should have gone mad but for music. Music is indeed the most beautiful of all Heaven’s gifts to humanity wandering in the darkness. Alone it calms, enlightens, and stills our souls. It is not the straw to which the drowning man clings; but a true friend, refuge, and comforter, for whose sake life is worth living.”

– quoted from 1877 letter from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Nadezhda Filaretovna “N. F.” von Meck (who supported the financially supported the composer for 13-years), as published in The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky by Modeste Tchaikovsky

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 WAS A WHOLE LOT OF SHAKING GOING ON TODAY IN 1957 LA ###

Fourth Step: Once More, With Feeling October 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

– quoted from the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

In another time and place, today was a day all about poetry and literature. Specifically, today was day devoted to the work of Sylvia Plath (born in Boston, Massachusetts today in 1932) and Dylan Thomas (born in Swansea, Wales in 1914). I even once squeezed in a couple of references to Zadie Smith – even though she was born on October 25, 1975 (in the London borough of Brent). And, while I might make a brief reference to these literary greats in class today, I find myself a little hard pressed to navigate the emotional and socio-political quagmire of yesterday when we are all so steeped in the emotional and socio-political quagmire of today. (Even though, let’s be real, some things have not really changed.)

I was especially reluctant to stick to “the way I’ve (always) done it,” because one of the elements to the way I use to lead the practice isn’t readily available. So, yesterday, I found myself looking for a something new, something special about today. Of course, there were a lot of things that caught my eye. However, thinking about the Cold War left me a little cold and, while I felt a little inspired by President Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech (which aired today, as part of the “Rendezvous with Destiny” television special in support of the presidential nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater), that just opens a political can of worms.

Just to give you an idea of how my brain works: The title of Goldwater’s (Republican) TV special was inspired by a June 27, 1936 (Democratic) speech given in Philadelphia (which was founded today in 1682) by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The fact that FDR’s (Republican) cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, was born today (in Manhattan, New York City in 1958) opens a whole other (political and religious) can of worms. However, I did find it amusing that President TR, who won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize and served in the United States military as well as serving as Vice President, got married on his 22nd birthday (today in 1880) – and therefore shared a “wedding” anniversary with Sonny and Cher (who had a ceremony in Tijuana, Mexico today in 1964).

“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”

– quoted from the poem “And death shall have no dominion” by Dylan Thomas  

There’s more, but most of it is tragic. We can be horrified by what happened in Missouri today in 1838 or anger about the children killed in Syria just a year ago today, but I find there is too much heaviness in my heart already to devote a whole class to these tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of forgetting people who were killed for just being who they were – people like United States Navy radioman Allen R. Schindler, Jr. (who was murdered today in 1992 because he was gay) or the people of devotion who were killed and wounded during the 2018 shooting during morning services at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation. But, right now I feel an overwhelming need to keep focusing on the breath, and on breathing into the present moment.

The irony of all my mental gymnastics is that even when I focused on Thomas and Plath, today was always about the breath and breathing into the heart needs in the present moment.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

or

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

– quoted from two different editions of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath  

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 27th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”]

The Tuesday evening playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down: [up] man’s old –  old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”

– quoted from the 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech by Ronald Reagan

### SIGH IT OUT ###

Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, October 26th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual 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 deductible.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

First Step: Breathe In, Second Step: Breathe Out October 25, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
2 comments

“People always call it luck when you’ve acted more sensibly than they have.”

– Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler, born today in 1941, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, grew up in a way that was very different from the way most people reading this grew up. Her family was Quaker and she spent much of her childhood in intentional communities, where people raised their own food, created folk art, and sang traditional music. It wasn’t just the level of community that made life different, it was that every interaction – with herself, the environment, and the world – was different than it was when her family left commune-life. For instance, Anne Tyler was 11 years old before she used a telephone, went to public school, or regularly wore shoes.

Even though I also moved around a lot as a child, my life experiences were very, very different. Some differences could be easily attributed to race and education (one of the motivating factors behind our moves was that my father was earning his PhD), but then you have to explain some of the similarities – like our love of reading and writing, and our habit of observing people in order to tell their stories. If you take a moment to think about it, you too could categorize all many of ways in which you are also different from us…. But, then, what about the similarities.

“Missouri made an exasperated face. ‘You don’t know,’ she told her. ‘You don’t know how it would work out. Bravest thing about people, Miss Joan, is how they go on loving mortal beings after finding out there’s such a thing as dying. Do I have to tell you that?’”

– quoted from The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler

“‘Everything,’ his father said, ‘comes down to time in the end – to the passing of time, to changing. Ever thought of that? Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn’t it all based on minutes going by? Isn’t sadness wishing time back again? Even big things – even mourning a death: aren’t you really just wishing to have the time back when that person was alive? Or photos – ever notice old photographs? How wistful they make you feel? … Isn’t it just that time for once is stopped that makes you wistful? If only you could turn it back again, you think. If only you could change this or that, undo what you have done, if only you could roll the minutes the other way, for once.’”

– quoted from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

“You wouldn’t question your sanity, because you couldn’t bear to think it wasn’t real. And you certainly wouldn’t demand explanations, or alert anybody nearby, or reach out to touch this person, not even if you’d been feeling that one touch was worth giving up everything for. You would hold your breath. You would keep as still as possible. You would will your loved one not to go away again.”

– quoted from The Beginner’s Goodbye

As different as our circumstances, our appearances, and personalities – and therefore our lives may be – there are certain things we all have in common. We all live and die, love and are loved, experience great wins and great loss. We are also, to paraphrase First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, all in this together – even when we feel alone, isolated, and going through things we can’t imagine anyone else understanding. Yet, here we sit and stand and lie – here we are, struggling together and apart; finding our way together, even though we are apart.

Over the last few days, I spoke to some friends and we reflected on what how we’re getting through our current circumstances and constant changes versus how we were getting things in the middle of March… or the end of May and the beginning of July. Even with all of our differences and distances, we can all chart the highs and lows of what LG and S call the “coronacoaster.” I mentioned that at the beginning – or at what some might refer to as “the end of before” – I was firmly entrenched in the group of people who emotionally wanted bits of before, something familiar. By April, however, my body wanted (and needed) something a little different – but my mind wasn’t completely on board. So, I had to figure out how to compromise and navigate the conflict – just as if my body and mind were an old married couple (or new friends) suddenly finding themselves in lockdown together.

Then there were more changes, more challenges, more conflicts, and more compromises. And, through it all, I did the same thing you did – I kept breathing. What was helpful (and continues to be helpful), above and beyond everything else, was knowing how to breath and being surrounded by people who also were focused on knowing how to breathe. Breath, after all, is life. It’s not enough just to breathe, however, because how we breathe determines how we live.

“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

There is a whole industry built around teaching people how to breathe when they are giving birth. Certain techniques not only lower stress, and therefore trauma, they can also help everyone in the room stay focused on that task at hand – keeping everyone healthy and whole. Funny thing is, proper breathing techniques in our day-to-day lives also lowers stress; decreases our trauma-sensitivity (which means we may have a better recovery experience, even when the initial trauma is significant); and helps us stay focused on the present moment. Research has shown improper breathing leads to physical and mental fatigue, high blood pressure, brain fog, increase stress levels, and (ironically) poor sleep. Some people eat more when they are stressed, others eat less – but, either way, poor breathing can disrupt digestion: the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and expel waste. All of this leads to poor health – something the ancient yogis, Buddhist, and contemplatives documented long ago.

Patanjali specifically states, in yoga sūtra 1.34 that clarity of the mind comes from focusing on the breath. So, take a moment, to notice your breath. If you are not breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out, consider what you need to relax the tension in your body in order to breathe more fully. I’ll give you a hint: start with your belly, your fingers, and your toes… as you breathe through your nose.

“She thought of how she had kept at Fiona, whom pregnancy had turned lackadaisical and vague, so that if it hadn’t been for Maggie she’d have spent her entire third trimester on the coach in front of the TV. Maggie would clap her hands briskly – ‘Okay!’ – and snap off the Love Boat rerun and fling open the curtains, letting sunshine flood the dim air of the living room and the turmoil of rock magazines and Fresca bottles. ‘Time for your pelvic squats!’ she would cry….”

– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 25th) at 2:30 PM. I am in the process of updating the links from the “Class Schedules” calendar; however, the Meeting IDs in the calendar are the same and are correct. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”]

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### BREATHE IN, BREATH OUT ###

Gazing into Our Self October 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

Even in years like this, when I don’t actually teach on the anniversary of the birth of the philosopher of Friedrich Nietzsche, his words creep into my brain. I find myself, on the mat or on the cushion, seeking the form or āsana (“seat”) where power increases and overcomes resistance, so there is happiness. I find myself seeking truth by exploring the realm of “any form of scepticism to which I can reply, ‘Let’s try it!’ But I want to hear nothing more about all the things and questions that don’t admit of experiment.” And, while I definitely consider what makes us stronger, I also consider on what we focus, concentrate, meditate; and how that focus affects us.

Towards the end of the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers various ways to meditate – which he later explains (YS 2.11) can destroy the afflicted thought patterns which cause suffering. But towards the end of that list, he seems to throw his hands up and say, “You know what, focus on whatever.” (YS 1.39) Yes, yes, the actual word he uses, abhimata (“well-considered”) is a little more precise than “whatever.” More importantly, however, is that he goes on to tell us “that meditating on different objects leads to different experiences.” (YS 1.41)

And there, again, is our old friend Nietzsche, making us consider into what we gaze!

“[M]y work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Born today in 1632, in Delft, Dutch Republic, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is known as the “Father of Microbiology,” because he gazed long into tiny microscopes and then wrote letters to the Royal Society in London describing what he found. Van Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist, however. Instead, he was a draper who used lenses (as drapers and jewelers do) to see the quality of the material. But he was also a very curious person and so he started playing around with making his magnifying glasses more magnificent. Eventually he developed a (teeny tiny) lens so strong he could see what he called “animalcules.” And those “tiny animals,” which we now know as “microbes,” were everywhere! On his fine linen, on his tables and chairs, on his skin, in his body, on (and in) his family and friends – even in the air he breathed.

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek observed unicellular organisms as well as multicellular organisms (in pond water). He was the first to observe and document muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells, and blood flowing in capillaries. In part because he wasn’t a scientist, and in part because no one else had observed such things, people were a little skeptical. The thing was (and is), his observations could be duplicated. Other people could see what he saw – using his super strong lenses that magnified up to 275 times.

To add a certain level of credibility, van Leeuwenhoek allowed people to believe he spent all day and all night grinding glass and then peering into it. And, in fact, he did make about hundreds of lenses of various intensities and at least 25 different types of single-lens microscopes. It did not, however, take as much time as he led people to believe. He was after all, a businessman who had a shop to run. Sometimes, however, credibility comes down to illusion.

“People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I’ve spent more time than many will believe, but I’ve done them with joy, and I’ve taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Today in 1926, the internationally acclaimed Harry Houdini performed his last show. He was at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, performing with a 104˚ fever, cold sweats, and acute appendicitis. Additionally, he had fractured his left ankle when a piece of equipment accidentally struck him on October 11th and then, on Oct 22nd, a student at Montreal’s McGill University punched him in the stomach before he could brace himself. (Note: The student wasn’t trying to hurt Houdini, but instead wanted to see for himself if the illusionist could resist hard punches.) After the show in Montreal, Houdini complained of stomach pain; but the show must go on. He collapsed after the show in Michigan and was rushed to Grace Hospital, where he died in Room 401 on Halloween.

People were, and continue to be, fascinated by Harry Houdini’s life and death. To this day, people hold séances on Halloween night in an attempt to contact his spirit. James “The Amazing” Randi, a famous magician and (perhaps the most famous) skeptic, died on October 20th at the age of 92. He broke some of Houdini’s records and was one of the co-founders of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which endeavors to debunk some larger than life myths and promotes (observable) science in classrooms. I’m guessing his husband, Jose, is not of the same mindset as Houdini’s wife, Bess, who set up the first Halloween séance 10 years after Harry Houdini’s death. However, I’m betting someone still tries to contact him, because wouldn’t that be the ultimate coup: winning The Amazing Randi’s $1M prize by successfully contacting his spirit.

“Magical thinking, you know, is a slippery slope. Sometimes it’s harmless enough, but other times it’s quite dangerous. Personally, I’m opposed to that kind of fakery, so I have no kinds of reservations at all about exposing those people and their illusions for what they really are.”

– James “The Amazing” Randi

James Randi, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Friedrich Nietzsche, and even Harry Houdini encouraged us to consider our thinking. Why can we be fooled and why do we sometimes not believe what is right in front of ours. There is also the question of what do we believe and what do we want to believe. All things that can best be answered by gazing long into ourselves – and this, again and again, is what Patanjali recommended.

One of the niyamās (“internal observations”) is svādhyāyā (“self-study”) which is a form of discernment whereby we look at ourselves – our thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, or even historical scenarios. In explaining the benefits of this type of internal observation, Patanjali references “bright being(s),” “angel(s),” or “God” (depending on the translation). It’s not the first, not the last time, Patanjali references something higher than our physical form. Each time, however, he is very deliberate about the word he uses. During the practice, I often say, “God – whatever that means to you at this moment” and, in the case of Yoga Sūtra 2.44 we have an opportunity to really focus, concentrate, meditate on what that means to us, and why it matters.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, October 24th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “Guru Purnima 2020”)

### LOOK HERE, LOOK INSIDE HERE! ###

Getting the Light On October 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“‘I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come indirectly through accident, except the phonograph. No, when I have, fully decided that a result is worth getting, I go about it, and make trial after trial, until it comes.’”

 

– Thomas Edison, as quoted in “A Photographic Talk with Edison” by Theodore Dreiser (printed in Success Magazine, Feb. 1898)

We often think of “ah-ha” or “eureka” moments, light bulb moments, and epiphanies as being sudden and unexpected. In fact, the word “epiphany” comes to us from Greek (by way of Middle English, Latin, and in some sense Old French) from a word that means “reveal.”And, one of the definitions is “a moment of sudden revelation or insight” – reinforcing the idea that something is happening in the snap of a finger. The reality, however, is that there is a back story to ah-ha moments, epiphanies, and even the Epiphany.

Consider that The Three Magi don’t follow the star from the East to honor “‘the child who has been born king of the Jews’” if there isn’t a foundation of faith. Theoretically, without his background in science, Ian Fleming would have returned to his lab and thrown out the culture plates he had forgotten to clean when he left for his 2-week vacation in 1928. Without all his previous years of research, he wouldn’t have known what he was looking at and he wouldn’t be credited with discovering penicillin. Then there is Thomas Edison, who had a lot of “light bulb moments.”

Thomas Alva Edison, born February 11, 1847, didn’t invent electric lights (or even light bulbs). They already existed when he set up his Menlo Park, New Jersey lab in 1876, but electric lights were too bright for household use, burned too quickly, and could be dangerous when they melted. So, most people just stuck with gaslights. The problem with gaslight was that it was also dangerous and didn’t provide consistent light (because it flickered). Edison decided he could do better… he just had to invent the infrastructure to safely bring electricity into people’s homes, interior fixtures, and some kind of cost-effective and efficient bulb. The bulb, it turned out, was the rub.

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

 

– (attributed to) Thomas Edison  

Edison and his team spent several months working 16 – 18 hours at a stretch and testing at least 1,600 different materials – including fishing line, coconut fibers, beard hair, and platinum wire. The platinum wire was moderately successful in that it typically had a high melting point. However, additional research showed that air absorption weakened the filament causing it to melt at lower temperatures than expected. Edison, resolved the issue with a vacuum bulb, but ultimately deemed the design (with its low electrical resistance) too expensive. So, back to the drawing board they went; breaking up their hours upon hours of work with beer and music played (by Edison) on the lab’s pipe organ.

Some would say that the “ah-ha” moment came to Thomas Edison one night when he was “absent mindedly” rolling a piece of lampblack (or black carbon) between his fingers. But such a depiction ignores all the previous experiments, his scientific knowledge, and the fact he had used lampblack in his telephone transmitter. Such a premise also discounts the additional changes that would be made before the bulb was commercially viable. Either way, at some point late on the evening of October 21st, or sometime in the wee early morning hours of October 22nd, 1879, Thomas Edison, age 32, tested what we now consider the first successful (commercially viable) electric light bulb. The carbonized cotton could burn for up to 14½ hours. Later, Edison would switch to bamboo fiber, which lasted for 1,200 hours.

During his lifetime, Thomas Edison would be granted over 1,083 patents for things like the phonograph, the carbon transmitter, the motion picture camera, and the commercial electric light bulb. He was married with children, had influential friends in high (and low) places, and successfully ran an industry that provided for his family and the families of others. Then, at an age that was considered significantly old at the time, he lost “everything. At around 5:20 PM on December 9th, 1914 an explosion ripped through the lab, destroying ten buildings, thousands of prototypes, and years of research. By the time the fire was contained, a little after midnight on December 10th, the damage was estimated at over $2 million dollars and affected over half of the plant’s property. The loss was even bigger when people realized that the insurance wouldn’t even cover a half of the damage.

While those around him were devastated, the 67-year old was in awe of the fire produced by all the different chemicals, fibers, fabrics, and elements in the labs. He was also energized about the possibility of starting over the very next day! His resilient attitude was contagious and, thanks in part to a loan from his friend Henry Ford, the plant was back in operation within three weeks. By the end of the following year, the plant had almost $10 million dollars in revenue.

“It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”

 

– Thomas Edison (to his son Charles), as quoted in a 1961 Reader’s Digest article

 

 

“There’s only one thing to do, and that is to jump right in and rebuild.”

 

– A. H. Wilson, vice president and general manager of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park

Speaking of resilience and starting over: Today is the anniversary of the birth of the chemist, engineer, inventor, and philanthropist Alfred Nobel. Born today in 1833, the founder of the Nobel Prizes was flabbergasted when his brother Ludvig died (in 1888) to discover that all of his efforts to make gunpowder safer had been completely misunderstood and condemned. A French newspaper erroneously reported the wrong brother’s death and proclaimed Alfred “The merchant of death” who “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” Losing (yet another) sibling, reading your own obituary, and having your “death” celebrated by people who considered your life’s work to be evil would be devastating to most. And, it probably was to Dr. Nobel. It was also, however, the catalyst that led to the Nobel Prizes, which are given to “to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Officially presented on the (actual) anniversary of Dr. Nobel’s death, December 10th (1896), the prizes in physical science, in chemistry, in medical science or medicine, in literature are presented at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden; while the Peace Prize, given to someone who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” is awarded in Oslo, Sweden. In addition to the original five prizes established by Dr. Nobel’s will, there is a “memorial” prize in Economics, which is also presented at the Stockholm ceremony. Nobel Laureates receive a gold medal, a diploma, and a substantial monetary award.

“If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.”

 

– Dr. Alfred Nobel

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 21st) at 4:30 PM 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. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”

 

 

– Thomas Edison (to his son Charles), as quoted in a 1961 Reader’s Digest article

 

 

### KEEP YOUR LIGHTS ON ###

Walking the Big Dogs October 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“In order to control the mind, we have to get to know it. Few of us know, objectively, what the insides of our minds are really like. Our dominating fears and desires have become so familiar to us that we do not even notice them; they are like recurring drumbeats going on in the background of our thoughts. And so, as a preliminary exercise, it is good to spend some time every day simply watching our minds, listening to those drumbeats. We probably shall not like what we see and hear, but we must be very patient and objective. The mind, finding itself watched in this way, will gradually grow calmer. It becomes embarrassed, as it were, by its own greed and silliness. For no amount of outside criticism is so effective and so penetrating as our own simple self-inspection. If we continue this exercise regularly for several months, we shall certainly make some advance toward mental control.”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:53 – 2.55), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Have you ever walked a big dog or a puppy that’s going to become a big dog? Imagine that for a moment, you’re walking a big puppy that’s going to become a big dog. The dog may be very well trained, not really trained, or somewhere in between – but, it’s still a puppy and it’s going to get distracted to some degree. Sometimes it doesn’t take much: a change in smell or a leaf fluttering in the breeze. Sometimes there’s a big distraction: squirrel, another dog, a little human that wants to play, or a big human that they love. Doesn’t really matter, because at some point you are going to experience the perfect storm where the level of distraction overwhelms the level of training and the puppy pulls you in the direction it wants to go – which is towards the distraction.

Now, let’s say you have five or six of these pups – all with different levels of strength, sensitivity, and training – and they are all on leashes. You see where this is going right? Even if all the puppies get along and are fairly well trained, there’s going to be times the leashes get tangled up and intertwined. Sometimes you’re out a nice little walk with just an occasional tug here or there, but (inevitably) you’re going to get pulled by one or more of the puppies. Hopefully, they pull in the same direction, because that keeps things simple. But that might be a best case scenario, because sometimes you are going to be pulled so hard the direction may not matter. Sometimes they pull so hard that they practically (or actually) pull your shoulder out of its socket, torque your spin, and/or misalign your hip and knee.

“The sense-organs are like animals which instinctively imitate their master. If the master is weak and subject to certain passions, then the sense-organs will imitate and even exaggerate his weakness, dragging him along after them as a child is dragged by a strong, unruly dog. But when the mind is strong and self-controlled the sense-organs become its orderly and obedient servants. They imitate its strength instead of its weakness. Every movement of the body expresses the self-control of the mind.”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:53 – 2.55), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

On Saturday, I mentioned several different analogies for the connection between the mind, body, and senses. Previously, I have mentioned that the untrained mind is often compared to monkeys, elephants, wild horses, or little puppies that want to play. And there are still more in the toolbox; more examples of cittavŗitti (“fluctuations of the mind”). Remember, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali explains how the mind works, how to work (or train) the mind, and the benefits of training the mind. Bottom line he explains, right off the top, we can be ruled by the roaming tendencies of the mind-senses or reside or rest in our own true nature.

Consider for a moment, how you make decisions when you feel like you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions versus how you make decisions when you are well rested and guided by the inner movements of your own heart.

Most of us spend most of our lives feeling like the dog walker with six moderately to poorly trained puppies. However, we may also feel like our puppies are the greatest ever and are coming along in their training. We may get a little lax about reinforcement. We may even shrug off other people’s suggestions. (We’re fine. We know what we’re doing. Haven’t we had these pups all of their lives?) There is definite joy in being surrounded by the exuberance of the young, but there is also danger which can cause physical, mental, and emotional harm. To ignore the risks – not only to your own self, but also to others – is irresponsible. And, contrary to what some believe, we control our thoughts. We can train our mind and, in the process, train our senses.

Pratyāhāra (“sense withdrawal”) is the fifth limb of the Yoga Philosophy. It falls directly after the elements of the physical practice, āsana and prānāyāma. So, while I often say that the physical practice (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is classically used to prepare the mind-body for deep, seated meditation, the truth is that that simplification skips a step: pratyāhāra.

In order for the mind to focus, concentrate, meditate on a single object it has to first eliminate the distraction of all other objects. Included in “the distraction all other objects” is the minds preoccupation with the name(s) of the single object; all of the meanings associated with the name(s); the fact that you are sitting, breathing, and focusing on the object; and the preoccupation with the process of meditating. All of these are contributing factors to the beginning of the practice and can become obstacles to the practice. Yes, all of these factors can lead to suffering; but, they can also serve as paths towards the ultimate goal. Again, just like with the puppies, the object is not to ignore what is happening – neither is it to abuse and torture them into submission. The object of this part of the practice is to rein in everything. Once your mind-intellect reigns over the body-mind-senses, you begin to go in the direction you want to go.

“The willingness or unwillingness 
to withdraw attention from sensory experience 
is a significant dividing line between 
those who experience true meditation and 
those who experience only physical relaxation.”

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swami J)

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 20th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

“The senses are turned inwards and the rhythmic breathing calms the mind’s wandering. This brings a feeling of inner peace and one hears the divine voice of his self within, ‘Look here! Look within! not outside, for the source of all peace is within yourself.’

– the effects of Şanmukhī Mudrā (“Six-face Seal”) described in Light On Yoga (Yoga Dipika) by B. K. S. Iyengar

A Kiss My Asana Flashback!

### NOISE, NOISE < >, less noise ###

Consider What Is Useful October 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“Now I’m allowing myself to lose my inner peace and happiness. This is a much greater loss than losing a portion of my material wealth. Furthermore, such occurrences are commonplace. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In worldly matters I will do what needs to be done, but never at the cost of losing the pristine nature of my mind. I must adhere to the higher virtues of my heart.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Over the past several months I have focused on the practice of “cultivating opposites” a time or two. It is a practice that comes up in Eastern philosophies like Yoga, Buddhism, and Daoism. It can be a tricky practice for the Western mind, because we don’t always have a true understanding of what is actually opposite and how the practice can be useful or helpful. And being useful or helpful is the key.

In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is comprised of 8 methods or areas of practice, which flow into one another: Understanding (or View), Thought (or Intention or Resolve), Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration (or Meditation). Each area is preceded by a single adjective emphasizing why it is important to practice. Now, it would make sense (for obvious reasons) if the adjective used in English was “Noble” – and perhaps there are teachers who use that, but I’ve never seen or heard that. Instead, I have heard “Right,” “Skillful,” and “Wholesome” – making other ways of thinking, speaking, and acting “wrong,” “unskillful,” and “unwholesome.”

Sometimes, however, it is hard to wrap our heads around the idea that our regular, every day, “normal” way of being is wrong, unskillful, and unwholesome. Sometimes those adjectives just add another layer of shame to a lived experience that others have already deemed shameful. And I’m not sure we need more mortification – in fact, I’m positive we don’t; because I see too much pain and suffering coming from people’s shame and embarrassment. Also, we live in a world where people are sometimes described as shameful just for existing – which, let’s be honest, is beyond not helpful.

And there it is again: the idea that something is valuable because it is helpful (as opposed to not helpful), useful (as opposed to not useful). In the Yoga Sūtras, as well as in stories about the Buddha teaching, there are explanations about why something is useful. Even the legend about the origin of the written Tao Te Ching declares that the teaching is valuable because of how it can be used. So, what happens if we think of the path as Useful Understanding, Useful Intention, Useful Speech, Useful Action, Useful Livelihood, Useful Effort, Useful Mindfulness, and Useful Concentration – with the understanding that these are the things we use to alleviate suffering?

“Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.”

 

— quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

In Yoga Sūtra 2.33, Patanjali specifically instructs that when we are not able (for any reason) to practice the ethical components of the practice (the yamās and niyamās), then “thoughts of an opposite kind must be cultivated.” He then goes on to explain the benefits of practicing the five “external restraints” or universal commandments (yamās) and the five “internal observations (niyamās). Great teachers of Yoga Philosophy offer practical commentary about how certain ways of thinking, speaking, and acting are not useful. Specifically, they articulate cause and effect by pointing out what comes from the not useful. Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swami J), within the Himalayan tradition of Yoga, offers what is essentially a mantra for each opposite, “[B]y reminding oneself that [while] such behaviors, words, or thinking will only bring personal misery and suffering, the ensuing letting go process allows…”

  • “… a natural demeanor towards which others drop any feelings of hostility or ill-will.” (YS 2.35)
  • “… a natural flow of goodness or positive fruits to come.” (YS 2.36)
  • “… a natural flow of material and non-material positive benefits to come, those which will help on the journey of life.” (YS 2.37)
  • “… a natural flow of energy that can be used in positive ways.” (YS 2.38)
  • “… there to be a natural awareness of the breadth of the mind-field, revealing the content we typically call past and future.” (YS 2.39)
  • “… a natural flow towards the inner reality of the divine to come and also brings purification of the subtle mental essence (sattva), a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a one-pointedness with intentness, the conquest or mastery over the senses, and a fitness, qualification, or capability for self-realization.” (YS 2.40 – 41)
  • “… a natural flow of contentment, clarity, cheerfulness, and high-mindedness to come.” (YS 2.42)
  • “… the deep impressions or samskaras to naturally purify and reduce their potency.” (YS 2.43)
  • “… a natural contact, communion with the higher reality or force towards which one is drawn.” (YS 2.44)
  • “… a natural flow towards the deep absorption or perfected state of samadhi.” (YS 2.45)

Similar to the reminder offered by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (see top of post) Swami J also offers a “mantra” for all twenty-seven occasions when you might engage in unhelpful thoughts, words, and deeds:

“Mind, this is not useful; this is going to bring me nothing but more suffering, and lead me into greater ignorance of truth. Mind, you need to let go of this.”

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swami J)

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, October 19th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual 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 deductible.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Mother Teresa (born August 26, 1910; baptized August 27, 1910; awarded Nobel Peace Prize October 17, 1979; Feast Day is September 5th (d. 1997); beatified by Pope John Paul II today in 2003

### HONOR YOUR THOUGHTS ###