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Gazing into Our Self October 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“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”)

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