jump to navigation

The Hardest Part of Knowing? Unknowing. October 11, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In stopping to think through the meaning of what I have learned, there is much that I believe intensely, much I am unsure of. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”


– quoted from the “Forward” to You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt


“I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision.”


– Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted in Laurence J. Peter’s Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time (1972)

Having established that all forms of avidyā (“ignorance” manifesting as misunderstanding the nature of things that are temporal, impure, suffering and different from the Soul, YS 2.5) are the bedrock for afflicted /dysfunctional thought patterns (kleśāh) that lead to suffering (YS 2.3 – 4), Patanjali’s Yoga Sutrās encourages us to really consider how we understand ourselves. Remember, the second type of afflicted /dysfunctional thought patterns is asmitā (“false sense of self”), which comes from the third and fourth types, rāga (“attachment” rooted in pleasure) and dveşa (“aversion,” which is attachment rooted in pain). So, when we initially turn inward, we are faced with the fact that our understanding of who we are is based on ignorance. Once we see this, we have to decide if we are ready to let go of what we once believed (about ourselves and the world) in order to embrace an existence with less suffering.

It seems like a no-brainer, right? Of course, we want less suffering. Of course, we want to be happy! Of course, we’re willing to…. Wait. WHAT?!!? I have to let go of my attachments?!!? I have to publicly appear and conduct myself in a way that is different from the way I have previously presented myself? I have to BE something other than what/who I said I was?

Even if what we are coming to understand about ourselves is more consistent with who we are and who we want to be – even if it is more consistent with our current and/or ideal behavior – we can get stuck (and experience a great deal of suffering in the process) because of that last afflicted /dysfunctional thought pattern: abhiniveśāh (“fear of death/loss”). Sure, we’re familiar with the idea Joseph Campbell expressed by equating letting go of our past with a snake shedding its skin. However the reality is painful. It’s painful now, at a moment when we don’t know what the future holds. One can’t help but wonder, “What if I let go of all the things that ‘bring me comfort and joy’ and I face more suffering?”

In the fog of our avidyā-based thinking, we may not be able to distinguish the difference between letting go of an idea, a person, a job, (or even a hat) and physically dying. It is all one and the same. We see this every day – not only in ourselves, but also in the world around us. From the outside looking in, it may be hard to understand how someone else holds on to something that is so clearly causing suffering (to themselves and others). We may question how someone can be so “ignorant.” We may think they are out of their mind to continue believing things that are so clearly (to us) false. And yet, we don’t always see that we are engaged in the same types of beliefs and behaviors. We don’t always notice that we are holding on, just as tightly, to some things that cause us suffering. Nor do we notice that we too are sometimes willing to struggle, even “fight to the death,” in order to protect our status quo.

Right now, someone is thinking, “Oh, no, what I’m doing is it’s different, because….”

Is it? Is it really?

Or are we, as human beings, just as reluctant to change as the other humans we believe need to change? Bottom line, the thought patterns Patanjali describes (as well as the suffering, obstacles, and ailments that follow) are part of being human. However, being human also includes the abilities to overcome this aspect of our lived experience. In fact, some people would say that overcoming that which separates us and causes suffering is exactly the point of living.

“Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively.”



– quoted from the “Forward” to You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt


“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”


– Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted in Joseph P. Lash’s Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972)


Born today in 1884, in New York City, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was an advocate for change. In many ways, she changed the role of the first lady by actively championing civil rights, challenging her husband’s policies (in order to ensure they equally served minority and underserved communities), and even advancing the rights of the disabled by encouraging the political career of her wheelchair bound husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She became the first to hold regular press conferences, speak at a national party convention, and write a daily syndicated newspaper column (“My Day”) as well as a monthly magazine column. She was also the first to host a daily radio show and continue her business and political speaking engagements – all while also being the mother of six children.

FDR served four terms, making Eleanor the longest serving First Lady of the United States. After leaving the White House, she continued her human rights efforts – even serving as a United States’ first Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (1945 – 1952). She chaired the UN’s Commission on Human Rights; oversaw the drafting of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; chaired President John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women; and was called “First Lady of the World” by President Harry S. Truman. At the time, some also considered her the most controversial first lady. Yet, she never let the criticism or detractors slow her down – neither did she let her recognized heritage stop her from bring beauty and truth to the world.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.’”



 – Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted in Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1944, 1948)


First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt lived and served during a time of great upheaval and fear. So, like her husband, she is often quoted when people (myself included) are promoting the benefits of being fearless. For instance, she wrote in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…. You must do what you think you cannot do.” While people can easily relate this concept of fearlessness with external activity, it is perhaps best applied when we turn it towards our inward activity. It’s still scary and challenging, but the benefit to changing how we understand ourselves extends beyond ourselves.

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened today in 1962, by Pope John XXIII, the council would entail four sessions and span a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correct those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

 “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”



– Eleanor Roosevelt, quoted from a Voice of America broadcast on November 11, 1951



“We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.”



– Eleanor Roosevelt, as quoted in Rosalie Maggio’s The Beacon Book of Quotations (1992)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 11th) at 2:30 PM. (Don’t be surprised if today’s practice brings up some fond memories, since a man who once described himself as “careless, thoughtless, godless” was born today 1821.)

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 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 YouTube.

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.)

“‘That they all may be one.’ (John 17:21)”



– original motto of the YMCA, established in the “Paris Basis” by the First World Conference of YMCAs in 1855



### “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? ER ###



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: