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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Mysticism, Tragedy, Yoga.
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“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.


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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“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.