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Send Light December 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[“Happy Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!]

“I wanna listen to the song that made me breathe
Gonna listen to the music that I need”


– quoted from “Music That I Need” by Hothouse Flowers

On more than one occasion, I have been told that music is not part of yoga or meditation. Such conversations can easily devolve (or evolve, depending on your perspective) into a conversation about culture, politics, and dogma. I’ve even been on the wrong side of these conversations. One thing I keep in mind, however is that the yoga-related conversations almost always start as conversations about āsana and involve people who may be unfamiliar with mantra, bhakti yoga, kirtan, and/or nāda yoga.

Mantras are sacred sounds, words, and/or phrases repeated to achieve a particular effect. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali specifically refers to the use of mantra as one “tool” to achieve a clear mind. Repeating (and repeating) the mantra transforms the sounds into a chant or song – I would say, “without the music,” but the words actually become their own music. While mantras are associated with Indian philosophy and religion, there are hymns, prayers, and words from cultures all over the world that also count as mantras – and they are used in the same way. Bhakti is a Sanskrit word for “attachment” or devotional love and it is one of the forms of worship mentioned in sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gītā (“The Song of the Lord”). Kirtan is the Sanskrit word for “telling” a story and combines mantra with music to form a type of bhakti (or devotional) union. Finally, nāda yoga is literally union through sound and is a system of practice that utilizes vibrations in order to unblock and/or balance the energy inside and all around one.

Given that music (and the messages within the music) has been part of the fabric of my existence since my childhood, no one should be surprised when music informs my practice – even practices without a playlist playing in the background. Take today, for instance. On the surface, it is a simple practice incorporating lojong (Tibetan Buddhist “mind training” techniques) aphorisms or statements. The very first (of 59) aphorisms states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” In the commentary, Pema Chödrön explains that the four (4) preliminaries are reminders: to “maintain an awareness of the preciousness of human life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; and contemplate that as long as you are too focused on self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will suffer.” This is a foundation on which one builds the rest of the practice.

“(10) Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”


(16) Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join in meditation.”


(49) Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment”


– from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

Just as the āsanas (“seats” or poses) prepare one for more breath awareness and, in turn, a deep, seated mediation; practicing lojong prepares one for tonglen (“giving and taking” or “sending and receiving”) meditation. Since today is the fourth day of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, it also makes sense to incorporate a little light work into the practice.

Simple, right? Sounds like the quintessential yoga practice hosted by a Buddhist meditation center. Picking up on yesterday’s reference to alignment (and the fact that B. K. S. Iyengar was born today in 1918), it also makes sense that the practice will be classic… and simple. I can even explain that one of the first ways I learned tonglen it involved the visualization of darkness being vanquished by the light. However, no matter how true all of that is, it leaves out a step. It leaves out the music.

There are a lot of songs that pop up on my light-related playlists this time of year – and several of them invoke the image of being a light in the world and (physically) inspiring others to shine. However, I recently came across two songs that very specifically speak to the idea of actively shining in order to alleviate the suffering of others. The first song is one I’m saving for a little later. (I know, I know, 2020 has been a cautionary tale about holding things back, but I don’t think the end of the video is appropriate for Chanukah.) On the flip side, the second song was sent to me this weekend by the dearest of people (LM) and the more I listened, the more I recognized it as a “tonglen song” – in that it is a giving and receiving song, a song of compassion and empathy.

“I am sending you Light, To heal you, To hold you
I am sending you Light, To hold you in Love”


– quoted from “Sending You Light” by Melanie DeMore

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, December 14th) 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, BUT….


here is Melanie DeMore “Sending You Light”


Double the Light (the very late “missing” post) December 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[“Happy  Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!]

[This extremely delayed posting is from Sunday the 13th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.)]

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up is Chanukah, which started at sunset on Thursday (the 25th of Kislev). This year, the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlaps the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – so we get double the light.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“Chanukah” means “dedication” and the holiday is a commemoration of Maccabees restoring the temple in Jerusalem after centuries of religious persecution (and a battle that was in and of itself a miracle). Before the battle, however, the Maccabees spent about a year hiding in caves and studying Torah. They would have been very clear on the importance of lighting the candles on the menorah in order to establish the sanctity of the temple. After all, it is commanded in the Bible. The only problem was that the temple had been desecrated and almost every vial of olive oil previously sealed by the high priest had been contaminated. I say “almost every vial,” because (miraculously) there was one still sealed vial of oil. Not enough, they thought, to last all the days and nights (8 in total) required to make and to bless more oil – but just enough to show their faith and their intention, to show where (and how) they stood in the world.

When people celebrate Chanukah, they light 8 candles in honor of the 8 days and 8 nights during which there was, miraculously, light when people were expecting darkness. Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. However, being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley