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Getting Mystical, again (just the music) January 31, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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***NOTE: My apologizes to email subscribers who received the “Saturday post” with the “just music” heading. ***

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, January 31st) at 2:30 PM, CST. 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.

Sunday’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.)

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Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence (the Saturday post) January 31, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 30th. 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.]

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

No, actually, they’re not.

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man, get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were also injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 5th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will be “observing the conditions” of the heart. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence (just the music) January 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, January 30th) at 12:00 PM. 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.

Saturday’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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

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Divine Remembrance (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 30, 2021

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[My apologies for the very late Wednesday post. You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practices 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.]

 

“Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo;
pensa oggimai per te, s’hai fior d’ingegno,
qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo.”

“I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.”

 

– quoted from Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27), translated by Allen Mandelbaum

 

“I did not die, and yet I lost life’s breath: imagine for yourself what I became, deprived at once of both my life and death.”

 

– A popular, oft quoted, translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27)

 

In November 1301, Florence, Italy was the site of a great political upheaval that destroyed much of the city, established a new government, and resulted in the death or banishment of many of the previous leaders. One of those people exiled from their hometown was Dante Alighieri, who banished on January 27, 1302. Dante had very briefly served as the city’s prior, one of its highest positions, and when the new government – ruled by his political enemies – took over, he was accused of corruption, ordered to pay a fine, and to spend two years in exile. But, the poet didn’t believe he had done anything wrong and, more to the point, his assets had been seized by the new government. So, his sentence was changed to perpetual exile (with the threat of death if he returned without paying the fine.)

Thus began the poet’s bitter wandering. He was in his mid-30’s; and while he would participate in several failed attempts to retake Florence, much of the remaining 20-odd years of his life would be devoted to writing The Divine Comedy, a long narrative poem divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In the poem, the poet (and his soul) literally travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (or Paradise) – and metaphorically travel towards God. He is initially guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who represents “human reason;” but it is Beatrice, who symbolizes divine knowledge/love and who first appeared as the object of the poet’s great love in his “little book” La Vita Nuova (The New Life), who guides him from the end of Purgatorio into Paradiso. The poem reflects Dante’s medieval Roman Catholic beliefs and draws strongly from the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the great saints he meets in Paradise.

Article 1. Whether the soul was made or was of God’s substance?

Objection 1. It would seem that the soul was not made, but was God’s substance. For it is written (Genesis 2:7): ‘God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.’ But he who breathes sends forth something of himself. Therefore the soul, whereby man lives, is of the Divine substance.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a Qq. 90, volume 13) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

Even when we have different theological and/or philosophical beliefs, we can agree that breathing is a sign of life, of being alive. However, there are medical situations where someone is breathing and there are no other signs of life. Then there are medical and existential situations where someone is alive, but not living. This latter can be very subjective. Yet, I would argue that there are situations under which almost everyone can categorically agree that it would be really hard to truly live (and feel alive). Those same situations are the ones where it would be hard to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out.

I think, perhaps, Dante felt that feeling (of being alive, but not living) to a certain degree when he was exiled from his home and had almost everything familiar to him stripped away. However, Dante could still roam, and to a certain degree freely. He lived out his life in relative comfort and he was still free to worship according to his beliefs. He was not persecuted for his beliefs (only, for his politics) nor was he tortured because of his gender, ethnicity, height and appearance, or simply because he had a sibling born on the same day. He could write what he wanted to write and received recognition for his efforts. Furthermore, with the exception of what would happen if he returned to Florence, he did not have to fear being killed for his beliefs – or any of his personal attributes. He may have felt, metaphorically, as if he was “deprived of life and death,” but he still had some control over his life and his ability to live it. On the flip side, the millions of people rounded up, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed during the Holocaust, spent many of their days in a reality much like the first part of Dante’s poem: they were deprived of life.

“‘I [will never forget ‘the very bad things’….] I was there and had to see this with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘My mother and my father, and my 7-year-old brother, were murdered in another camp in Treblinka, which is not far from Warsaw.’”

 

– Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a 95-year old Holocaust survivor and lifelong rights activist, telling his story in “Auschwitz survivor reflects on Holocaust Remembrance Day” by Jessica A. Botelho (for NBC 10 News, WJAR, 1/27/2021)

The persecution during the Holocaust started with social and physical segregation; it escalated into government-sanctioned destruction of property; and eventually progressed to the establishment of concentration camps across German-occupied Europe. Millions fled their homes. Millions more would be held captive and tortured. An estimated two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered while the world stood by, in some cases in disbelief. In addition to the approximately 6 million Jewish people who died, the Holocaust claimed the lives of an estimated 5 million Slavs, 3 million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 members of the LGBTQIA+ community (mostly identified as gay men). This horrifically tragic destruction of society and community during the Holocaust was not, cannot be, over-dramatized. It also should not be forgotten.

In November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 designated January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition to establishing a day of remembrance and calling for an outreach program, the UN’s resolution also “urges Member States to develop educational programmes… in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide…; rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part; and condemns without reservation all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur.” The original resolution is reinforced by UN resolution 61/255 (issued in January 2007), which reaffirmed the General Assembly and Member States’ strong condemnation of Holocaust denial and noted “that all people and States have a vital stake in a world free of genocide.”

January 27th was chosen as a day of remembrance as it was the Saturday, in 1945, when Auschwitz-Birkenau (the largest Nazi concentration and death camp complex) was liberated by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. The liberators found approximately 7,500 survivors – not realizing at the time that these “survivors” had been designated as too sick or weak to be transported (i.e., marched) to another site as the Allies were closing in on the Nazis. The Red Army also did not initially realize that the camp complex had held at least 1.3 million prisoners, most of whom had been or would be killed before the other camps were liberated in April and May of 1945.

“For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways, disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.”

 

“What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

 

After all, God is God, because He remembers.”

 

 

– quoted from an April 7, 2008 All Things Considered: “This I Believe” essay by Elie Wiesel

 

Elie Wiesel was one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust. He was a teenager when he and his family were sent to the concentration camps. His parents (Sarah Feig and Shlomo Wiesel) and his sister Tzipora would not survive the camps. He was reunited with his older two sisters (Beatrice and Hilda) at a French orphanage. For 10 years, Professor Wiesel went about the business of living his life – but he did not speak or write about his experience during the Holocaust. He did not speak or write about his younger sister or about how his father guided him with reason and his mother guided him with faith. He did not speak or write about the guilt and shame of being helpless or about how (and why) he maintained the will to survive. Then he began to write and speak and advocate for change. He advocated not only for Jewish rights and causes, but also for non-Jewish people oppressed in places like South Africa, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Sudan, and Armenia. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and he received a plethora of awards from around the world, including the United States’ 1986 Medal of Liberty and the 1992 Presidential of Freedom.

 

Anne Frank was born less than a year after Elie Wiesel and would spend much of Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands in hiding. A mere five months before the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated Anne’s family and friends were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. She was 15 years old, basically the same age Elie Wisel had been when his family was rounded up. Anne; her mother Edith; her sister Margot; their friends Hermann and Auguste van Pels; and Fritz Pfeffer, the final person to hid in the Annex, all died in the camps or while being transported between the camps towards the end of the war. Anne’s friend, Peter van Pels, died 5 days after the camp he was in was liberated by the Americans. Peter’s parents (Hermann and Auguste), and Fritz Pfeffer all died in the camps.

 

Otto Frank was the only person hiding in the Annex who survived the camps. He was one of those designated as “too sick” or “too weak” to be transported and therefore was at Auschwitz-Birkenau when the camp complex was liberated on Saturday, January 27, 1945. He would soon discover that his family and friends had not survived. However, a piece of Anne and the family’s history had survived.

Miep Gies, his former secretary and one of the six Annex “helpers,” had held onto Anne’s journals. Those journals, which Anne called “Kitty,” were full of the day-to-day minutia of their lives in hiding; Anne’s thoughts about the state of the world, her feelings about her family and the others in hiding; details about her first kiss and budding romance with Peter; her personal ambitions and desires; and her passions. She wrote about the things that gave her hope: a tree, a patch of blue sky, fresh air, and music.

In fact, on more than one occasion, Anne Frank wrote about being inspired by music. She wrote about receiving a biography of the composer Franz Listz and about listening to “a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio” with Peter. It is presented as a date, a little living in the middle of hiding. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born January 27, 1756, might have especially appreciated that she wrote, “I especially enjoyed the ‘Kleine Nachtmusik.’ I can hardly bear to listen in the kitchen, since beautiful music stirs me to the very depths of my soul.”

“…music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure.”

 

– quoted from a letter (dated September 26, 1781) from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father, as printed in W. A. Mozart by Hermann Abert (Editor: Professor Cliff Eisen and Translator: Stewart Spencer)

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

“I first learned about the horrors of the Holocaust listening to my father at the dinner table. The passion he felt that we should have done more to prevent the Nazi campaign of systematic mass murder has stayed with me my entire life. It’s why I took my children to visit Dachau in Germany, and why I hope to do the same for each of my grandchildren — so they too would see for themselves the millions of futures stolen away by unchecked hatred and understand in their bones what can happen when people turn their heads and fail to act.

 

We must pass the history of the Holocaust on to our grandchildren and their grandchildren in order to keep real the promise of “never again.” That is how we prevent future genocides. Remembering the victims, heroes, and lessons of the Holocaust is particularly important today as Holocaust deniers and minimizers are growing louder in our public discourse. But the facts are not up for question, and each of us must remain vigilant and speak out against the resurgent tide of anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry and intolerance, here at home and around the world.”

 

 

– “Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” released January 27, 2021

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

Divine Remembrance (the music) January 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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Please join me today (Wednesday, January 27th) 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.*

*NOTE: The Spotify playlist required some substitution tracks – and, therefore, the timing will not match up. If you are using Spotify, you may have to pause towards the end of the practice. I plan to recalculate between classes to see if I can remedy this issue. My apologies for the discrepancy.

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.)

### 🎶 ###

Who’s Afraid of Breathing? Part II (the Tuesday post) January 27, 2021

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[This is the post for Tuesday, January 26th (12621). You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’s practices 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.]

 

“Who’s afraid of a deep breath in, a deep breath in, a deep breath out? Who’s afraid of a deep breath in, a deep breath in, a deep breath out? Not I!”

 

– A parody of a parody of a Disney™ song

Even before you get to the fact that I’m making a pun (on top of a pun), one might wonder why anyone would fear breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out. It’s kind of like asking who is afraid of living. Of course, living is different from just being alive; living comes with risks. And so it is very common for people to fear life beyond the simplest forms of experience. Additionally, when speaking about prāņāyāma and breathing exercises, even people like the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung have warned that the very thing that can bring peace and ease can also bring discomfort and dis-ease. It all comes down to how you do it and, to a certain extent, why you do it.

“People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practising [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

 

– quoted from the 1914 introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh

The “on top of a pun” to which I earlier referred, is related to Edward Albee’s award-winning play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which premiered in October 1862). When I first learned about the play, I expected it to be about people who feared and felt threatened by feminist ideas. So, I was really confused by the play which, while dealing with characters who (like Virginia’s Woolf’s characters) sometimes have a severe disconnect between what they are thinking and what they are saying, really has nothing to do with Virginia Woolf, or her ideas. While there is a little bit more to the story behind the name, ultimately the title refers to a pun based on the Disney™ song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” (1933) from the cartoon “The Three Little Pigs” – and the fact that the rights to the song and title were so expensive that people would sing, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.”

In the Disney cartoon and the nursery rhyme, three little pigs made houses out straw, sticks, and bricks/stones (respectively). Of course, the hay/straw and the twigs/sticks didn’t stand a chance against the big, bad wolf and the first two pigs had to escape to the home of the relative they teased earlier in the cartoon. Re-watching the carton as an adult, several things stick out to me. First, there are three obvious breath patterns exhibited by the pigs and the wolf – and a fourth, less obvious pattern of breathing. Second, the characters in the cartoon are anthropomorphic and so the four breath patterns in the story match common breath patterns related to real-life human experiences. Finally, when the characters are not exhibiting the fourth breath pattern (the one of peace and ease) the cartoon characters exhibit the same debilitating conditions Patanjali described in the yoga sūtras (1.30-31).

The first breath pattern is the one that allows the first two pigs to sing and dance (and tease their relative). After years working with professional performing artists, I can’t help but think of the level of training and conditioning that is required to put on a performance. The breath has to be deep and also sustainable. It has to be controlled and measured, in some ways similar to the way we control and measure the breath when practicing certain forms of prāņāyāma.

The second breath pattern is one that can be associated with fear. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. It doesn’t matter if the threat turns out to be real or not, the perception is what kicks that body’s defense mechanisms into overdrive. This breath pattern can manifest as shallow breathing and/or an involuntary breath suspension or holding of the breath. If this fear-based pattern is sustained for too long, it can become a habit – just as it has for so many in the world who have had to deal with extended periods of trauma – and often results in the “unsteadiness or trembling of limbs” described by Patanjali.

The third breath pattern is the breath pattern of the wolf. It is a pattern of anger and or frustration; it is “huffing and puffing.” This could also be considered shallow breathing (and one could easily argue that sometimes fear-driven breathing and anger-driven breathing are very similar, if not the same).

The fourth breath pattern, as I mentioned before, is a breath of peace and ease. It is a resting breath, a breath we experience in deep, peaceful sleep and also in meditation. It is the breathing pattern of someone who feels safe and secure, stable and steady, content and at ease. This is the breathing pattern of the third pig (who builds with stone). It is similar to the first breath pattern in so far as the fact that, with training, hard work and exertion can be achieved while maintaining a deep breath in and a deep breath out.

“We are alive because we breathe. The more harmonious the breath, the more peaceful and organized the mind. Unsteadiness in the limbs and organs caused by a vast range of mental negativity – particularly anger and fear – has a direct effect on the breath…. According to the yogis, fear and anger are the major causes of chest breathing. Chest breathing limits the intake of oxygen and the output of used-up gases. Our lung capacity declines, the level if vital nutrients in or blood drops, and the level of toxins in the body rise. Our physical vitality and strength decline, as does our mental clarity and ability to think linearly.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Throughout the year, I repeat the refrain: 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 the mind and the body. I keep coming back to this not only because Patanjali and the authors of other sacred text kept coming back to it, but also because it is a truth we can all experience for ourselves. We can all gauge the breath and, in turn, use the breath as a gauge to determine how experiences (thoughts, words, and deeds) are affecting us. At any given time, we can just take a moment to notice the breath – and consider which breathing pattern most consistently reflects those four from the story. Additionally, at any given time throughout the day, we can harness the breath – and the power of the breath – by breathing deeply in, and breathing deeply out. Changing the pattern of the breath can not only calm and balance the mind-body, it can also cultivate a little more peace and ease or a little bit more energy. These practices have short term as well as long term benefits, both of which can be cumulative.

Prāņāyāma, meditation, and other practices that might fall under the “mindfulness” umbrella cultivate clarity of mind and also get us in touch with the heart. In the Eastern philosophies, like Yoga and Buddhism, every emotion has a near-relation, a near-opposite, and an opposite emotion. In the case of fear, wisdom is the opposite emotion; and in the case of anger/frustration, loving-kindness is the opposite – these are the expressions of the heart when everything is in balance. Everything is in balance when the we feel safe, steady, comfortable, at ease, and maybe even joyful.

One additional note to consider: Yesterday, I chose not to mention some of the culturally problematic aspects of Virginia Woolf’s biography. However, I will take a quick moment here to address one of the many problematic elements within the Disney™ universe.

The pigs, the wolf, and the overall situation in the Disney™ cartoon are all symbolic. The pigs represent the different ways people deal with impending and inevitable disaster and the wolf symbolizes that something that will destroy the known world. People, especially when the cartoon first appeared in 1933, looked at it as Disney’s take on the Depression; and, would eventually also relate the story to World War II and the rise of fascism. However, like so many cultural elements from our past (and like way too many Disney pieces), “The Three Little Pigs” originally contained a culturally insensitive and highly problematic element: in this case, an anti-Semitic element whereby the wolf was depicted as Jewish. The audio was re-looped early on and, in 1948, Disney™ re-edited the original animation in order to completely eliminate the anti-Semitic trope and move onto the right side of history.

“chale vāte chalaṃ chittaṃ niśchale niśchalaṃ bhavet||
yoghī sthāṇutvamāpnoti tato vāyuṃ nirodhayet || 2 ||

Respiration being disturbed, the mind becomes disturbed. By restraining respiration, the Yogî gets steadiness of mind”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

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. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

 

 

### KEEP ON BREATHIN’ & BREATHIn’ & BREATHIN’ ###

Who’s Afraid of Breathing? Part II (just the music) January 26, 2021

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Please join me today (Tuesday, January 26th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will see how the practice “evolves.” 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’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

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.)

 

### 🎶 ###

 

Who’s Afraid of Breathing? January 26, 2021

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[This is the post for Monday, 12521 – another palindrome practice! You can request an audio recording of this 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 the center and its 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.]

 

 

“surājye dhārmike deśe subhikṣhe nirupadrave |
dhanuḥ pramāṇa-paryantaṃ śilāghni-jala-varjite |
ekānte maṭhikā-madhye sthātavyaṃ haṭha-yoghinā || 12 ||

The Yogī should practise [sic] Haṭha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

“… a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

 

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

 

In October 1928, Virginia Woolf gave two speeches to two different student societies at Newnham College and Girton College, which at the time were two of the all-women colleges at the University of Cambridge. (NOTE: Newnham is still an all-women’s college. Girton started accepting men in 1971 and started allowing men to be “Mistress,” or head of the college, in 1976.) The speeches were about women and fiction – and specifically detailed why there were so few women writers who had earned acclaimed (and, to certain degree, why those that did often did so anonymously or with “male” names). She also highlighted the absurd trichotomy between the two wildly archetypical way women are portrayed in literature and the reality of the very different types of women in the room, let alone in the world.

Born Virginia Stephen in Kensington, England, today in 1882, Ms. Woolf speculated about the works that might have come from a woman (say, in Shakespeare’s time) who had a helpmate to take care of the cooking, cleaning, children, and other household business. She also talked about the social constraints that not only prevented a woman from devoting copious time to the practical application of her craft, writing, but also the social constraints and inequalities that could result in what would amount to writer’s block. All this, she detailed, even before she addressed the issue of a market place predisposed to highlight male writers – and she introduced her ideas by establishing two (really three) of the things a woman would need to overcome the obstacles of society: (time), space, and money.

When I first started going deeper into my physical practice of yoga, I looked into some of the classic texts within the tradition. One of those texts was the Haţha Yoga Pradipika (Light on the Physical Practice of Yoga), a 15th Century text that focuses on āsanas (“seats” or poses), prāņāyāma (breath awareness and control), mudrās (“seals” or “gestures”), and Samādhi (that ultimate form of “meditation” that is absorption). Throughout the text, and in particular in the chapter on mudrās, there is a breakdown of how energy, power, or vitality moves through the body and the benefits of harnessing that power.

I would eventually appreciate how the text is almost a summary of the earlier Yoga Sūtras, but (as an English lit major), what struck me first was how similar these early instructions on a practice that can be used to cultivate clarity and harness the power of the mind, were to Virginia Woolf’s advice to women writers – about cultivating clarity and harnessing the power of the mind.

“athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||

Posture becoming established, a Yogî, master of himself, eating salutary and moderate food, should practise [sic] Prâṇâyâma, as instructed by his guru.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

 

“I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow.”

 

– quoted from “Susan” in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

 

Just as Virginia Woolf addressed misconceptions about women in her essays and fiction, Pancham Sinh addressed some misconceptions about people who practice yoga and the practice of prāņāyāma in an introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika. Part of the introduction is an admonishment to people who would study the practice, but do not practice it, stating, “People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practicing [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

Siddhis are the powers or “accomplishments” achieved from continuous practice. They range from being able to extend peace out into the world and understanding all languages, to being able to levitate and understand all languages, to the six “powers unique to being human.” Bandhas are “locks” and refer to internal engagements used to seal sections of the body in order to control the flow of prāņā. The three major bandhas referred to in the text are the same engagements I encourage when I tell people to “zip up” and engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominal cavity (mūla bandha), the mid and upper abdominal cavity (uḍḍīyana bandha), and the throat (jālandhara bandha). I typically refer to a fourth – pada bandha – which is a seal for the feet; however, in classical texts the fourth bandha is the engagement of the three major bandhas (root, abdominal, and throat) at the same time.

Before anyone gets it twisted, let’s be clear that this introduction is not advice to grab a book and follow instructions without the guidance of a teacher. In fact, Pacham Sinh specifically advised people to find a teacher who practiced and indicated that while one could follow the directions from a (sacred) book, there are some things that cannot be expressed in words. There are some things that can only be felt. This is consistent with Patanjali’s explanation that the elements and senses that make up the “objective world” can be “divided into four categories: specific, unspecific, barely describable, and absolutely indescribable.” (YS 2.19) That is to say, there are some things that have specific sense-related reference points; some things that can be referred back to the senses, but on a personal level; some things that have no reference points, but can be understood through “a sign” or comprehension of sacred text; and some things which cannot be described, because there is no tangible reference point and/or “sign” – there is only essence.

One of the things we can feel, but not touch, is emotion. Emotions can come with visceral experiences and, in that way, can fall into the “unspecific” category, but more often than not what we feel is “barely describable” (or even indescribable) – and yet, writers are always trying to describe or capture the essence of what is felt. As the author of nine novels (including one published shortly after her death), five short story collections (most of which were published after her death), a hybrid novel (part fiction, part non-fiction), three book-length essays, a biography, and hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays, Virginia Woolf constantly endeavored to describe what she felt and what she felt she saw others feeling. Even more salient, she often focused on the disconnection between what her characters felt and what they could describe about what they felt.

The author’s efforts were hindered, or aided (depending on one’s viewpoint), by the fact that she experienced so much trauma and heartbreak; much of which led to emotional despair. She was possibly (probably) abused by one of her half-brothers from an early age. Then she suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 13, after her mother died. Then she had to deal with the death of her half-sister and a maternal role model just two years later. When her father he died, in 1904, she had another breakdown, the severity of which landed her in the country for a period of convalescence. It was during this period that she began to write in earnest (even though the doctors had recommended that she only write letters) and that she would meet Leonard Woolf, the author whom she would marry in 1912. The writing helped, in that she seemed to find some mental and emotional stability for about 15 years. But, she would experience another breakdown after correcting the proofs of her first novel, The Voyage Out. The novel was published by her half-brother’s publishing company (yes, that aforementioned half-brother) and introduced the world to “Clarissa Dalloway,” the protagonist of her fourth novel.

“evaṃ vidhe maṭhe sthitvā sarva-chintā-vivarjitaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa yoghameva samabhyaset || 14 ||

Having seated in such a room and free from all anxieties, he should practise [sic] Yoga, as instructed by his guru.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

 

– quoted from The Hours: a novel by Michael Cunningham

It is interesting to me that while the instruction for the Haţha Yoga Pradipika instructed a person to practice when they were “free from…disturbances of all kinds” (HYP 1.12); “free from dirt, filth and insects” (HYP 1.13); and “free from all anxieties” (HYP 1.14), the vast majority of people practicing in the modern world do so in order to free themselves from the various maladies that plague them. Additionally, I find it interesting that historians, teachers of literature, and even psychiatrists spend a lot of time (theoretically) diagnosing a young woman (Virginia Woolf) who may have been experiencing (and working through) the most natural of emotions; natural, given her circumstances. Were her emotions extreme and potentially dangerous? Yes, by all accounts – including her own words and her death – her emotions were extreme and dangerous; as were her circumstances. Initially, she was able to work through her distress because she had the support of those to whom she was connected. In the end, however, she was left alone and feeling disconnected.

The Air I Breathe, one of my favorite movies, was released in the United States today in 2008. Inspired by the idea that emotions are like fingers on a hand, the main characters are known to the audience as Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers – and their stories are interconnected, even though they don’t necessarily realize it. In fact, some of the most desperate actions in the movie are motivated by fear and a sense of isolation. Promotional materials for the movie proclaimed, “We are all strangers / We are all living in fear / We are all ready to change” and in the movie Happiness asks, “So where does change come from? And how do we recognize it when it happens?” I think both the statement and the question could be applied to so many, if not all, of Virginia Woolf’s characters – and they could apply to all of us in the world right now.

“‘For,’ the outsider will say, ‘in fact as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ And if, when reason has had its say, still some obstinate emotion remains, some love of England dropped into a child’s ears… this drop of pure, if irrational, emotion she will make serve her to give to England first what she desires of peace and freedom for the whole world.”

 

– quoted from the novel-essay “Three Guineas,” as it appears in The Selected Works of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf

As I have mentioned before, I consider the 8-Limbed Yoga Philosophy to have very real-time, practical applications and I normally think of the physical practice as an opportunity to practice, explore, and play with the various elements of the philosophy. I will even sometimes use aspects of alignment as a metaphor for situations in our lives off the mat. Given this last year, however, I have really started to consider how āsana instructions from classic texts like The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali and the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, can be more practically applied to the most basic aspects of everyday life.

For instance, if we spend our time on the mat cultivating a “steady/stable, comfortable/easy/joyful” foundation in order to breathe easier and more deeply, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time cultivating the same type of foundation in our lives? Going out a little more, if we do not have the luxury or privilege of practicing “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully,” doesn’t it behoove us to create that land? Finally, what happens if we (to paraphrase yoga sūtras 2.46-47) establish a baseline for stability and then loosen up a little bit and focus on the infinite? Patanjali and the authors of the other sacred texts told us we would become more of who we are: leaner in body, healthier, brighter, more joyful, “clearer, stronger, and more intuitive.” In other words: peaceful and blissful.

“lōkāḥ samastāḥ sukhinōbhavantu”

 

– A mettā (loving-kindness) chant that translates to “May all-beings, everywhere, be happy and be free.”

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

 

“vapuḥ kṝśatvaṃ vadane prasannatā
nāda-sphuṭatvaṃ nayane sunirmale |
aroghatā bindu-jayo|aghni-dīpanaṃ
nāḍī-viśuddhirhaṭha-siddhi-lakṣhaṇam || 78 ||

When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, Anâhatanâda manifests, and eyes are clear, body is healthy, bindu under control, and appetite increases, then one should know that the Nâdîs are purified and success in Haṭha Yoga is approaching.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

 

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

 

 

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.

 

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTHI OM ###

Breathing Just Breathing January 24, 2021

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“Here we are – again, beginning and also ending. Ending also and beginning, again – are we here? Are we all in?”

– my “faux” palindrome from the 1/20/2021 blog post

Even though I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog, I didn’t mention Ed Roberts during yesterday’s practice. But, I was thinking about him. I was thinking about him and the way he had to breathe after he was paralyzed by the polio virus. Naturally, thinking about him breathing started me thinking about the different ways we breathe and how that impacts our practice – which, in turn, impacts our life and the way we live our lives.

Over the last few years, but especially last after last year, yoga teachers and teachers of other Eastern philosophies and contemplative practices have been joined by more and more people who are focusing on the impact of the power of the breath. Most recently, perhaps, the publication of James Nestor’s Breath has reignited interest in (a) breathing – something we know people have been doing since at least the dawn of man (or since God breathed into clay, depending on your beliefs) and (b) prāņāyāma or breathing exercises – something we know people have been doing for thousands of years. I have not read Breath, but I have been slightly amused and intrigued by the number of people that have called, texted, or emailed me in the last few months because of this book.

The conundrum, or riddle, to me, is that the people who reached out to me about the book are people who already had some experience with prāņāyāma. But, Mr. Nestor is not a teacher, by trade or by training. He is a journalist, who is about the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of things. His first book, DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves, exposed him to different breathing methods and also had him metaphorically exploring a space (the ocean) that teachers like me constantly use as a metaphor for breathing. His initial focus in writing his book on breathing was on presenting the facts, not cultivating the experience. (I say “initial focus,” because he is now very definitely engaged in the “cultivating the experience” of the practice – even if that change in focus is being driven by the desire to sell the books.) By presenting the facts and, also, cultivating the experience, he is proving to people that the practice works – and that draws more people in and more people deeper.

While I often provide “proof,” I am more about cultivating the experience – and so today, like every day, we breathe. As today, 1242021, is another palindrome day, we’re going to start off with a breath pattern that is the same coming in as going out. It is not technically and traditionally “box breathing”… so we can call it “palindrome prāņāyāma” – and we’ll use it to go deep.

“In a world of seven billion people, where every inch of land has been mapped, much of it developed, and too much of it destroyed, the sea remains the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness, the planet’s last great frontier. There are no mobile phones down there, no e-mails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface. The ocean is the last truly quiet place on Earth.”

– quoted from DEEP: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

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 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.

### Breathe In, Breath Out ###

Let Me Reintroduce the Practice (the Saturday post) January 24, 2021

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[This is the post for Saturday, January 23rd. It contains some examples not included in the class. 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.]

 

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Last week’s practice included a quick a quick summary review of the “Samadhi Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Concentration), in which Patanjali explains (in 51 sūtras) how the mind works and how to work the mind. This week’s practice focuses on reintroducing the practice that Patanjali introduces in the “Sadhana Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Practice), which is 55 sūtras outlining the 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy.

One of the things that I appreciate about the practice of the Yoga Philosophy is that it is practical. Granted, the Buddha (historically) did not agree. I have heard that, in his time, yoga as a philosophy was not widely practiced by householders and the Noble Eightfold Path was his codification of a practical practice for all. However, I feel that Patanjali also did this with the Yoga Sūtras. I feel that way because I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice yoga just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice Buddhism – just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, struggle with integrating the 8 elements of either practice into their lives. More to this point, however, is the fact that Patanjali starts off the second section of his practicum talking about “Yoga in action” (kriyāyogah).

Even before breaking down the 8 Limbs, Patanjali offers what some have called a prescription for achieving the state of yoga that will cease the fluctuation of the mind. This prescription is a combination of what he will eventually explain are the last three “internal observations” (niyamāh): “austerity or heat” (tapah), “self-study” (svādhyāya), and a trustful surrender to the Divine (īśvarapraņidhāna).

These are things anyone can do – if they truly understand what it is they are doing. Part of the problem in the modern world (and Buddhism runs into a similar problem) is that people get things twisted. They focus on what’s happening on the outside, superficially; rather than what’s happening inside. Even if they know that tapas can be defined as “heat, discipline, and austerity” – as well as the practices that cultivate the same – they might look at a really sweaty physical practice and think, “Oh, no, I can’t do that. That’s not for me.” And, while those styles and traditions can be a form of tapah, they are not the only form – and it is possible to do those very hot or heated practices and not cultivate discipline or austerity, which begs two questions: What are you practicing? What are you accomplishing?

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Having previously established (in the first chapter) how the mind works and how to work the mind, Patanjali reiterates the purpose of yoga (“union” of mind-body-spirit and an end to the causes of suffering) – this time as it specifically relates to afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns. He gives a more detailed explanation of those afflicted thought patterns by describing them as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He establishes ignorance (āvidya) as the root of the other four and states that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then breaks describes the different ways of āvidya manifests in the world – which basically takes us back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and explains how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how āvidya and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example. Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born today (January 23rd) in 1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung and, when he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that, just as he initially thought that, you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

 

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education of physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

He not only graduated from high school, he also attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of those students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads” – and they were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings, and therefore changing policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

In the second chapter Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali continues to emphasize the importance of the practice by explaining how the afflictions can end – with meditation being one of the methods – and also outlining the connection between these afflictions and karma (“work, effort”), which can be a never ending cycle of action and reaction. In explaining this connection, Patanjali (like the Buddha) points to how the causes of suffering can also be the way to “fulfillment and freedom” from suffering. He also breaks down the composition of the “objective world;” the three properties of energy; the four ways in which we can understand or sense everything in the objective world; and reiterates the power of the mind – both in its ability to delude and its ability to achieve clarity.

In his discussion of personal power, Patanjali expounds on how powerful the mind-body can be and how that power is magnified when combined with the power of the Divine. He also explains that this power, fueled by two levels of “unshakable discerning knowledge,” which fall into seven categories. After laying out this foundation, Patanjali states (just like the Buddha does after him) that his path leads one to the “end of suffering.” The remainder of the second chapter is devoted to outlining the 8-Limbed philosophy, and explaining the benefits of the first 5, as follows:

1. Yamās (External Restraints or Universal Commandments): Non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, an awareness of one’s connection to the highest reality, and non-grasping/non-hording

2. Niyamās (Internal Observations): cleanliness, contentment, heat/discipline/austerity, self-study, and a trustful surrender to the Divine

3. Āsana (Seat or Pose)

4. Prāņāyāma (Awareness and mastery of energy)

5. Pratyāhāra (Withdrawing the Senses, inward)

6. Dhāraņā (Focus or Concentration*)

7. Dhyāna (Concentration or Meditation*)

8. Samādhi (Meditation, Perfect Meditation, or Spiritual Absorption*)

 

*NOTE: Different English translations are based on different traditions.

 

Patanjali very specifically states that the five yamās (“restraints”) are “universally applicable” and are not limited by an individual’s identity and/or circumstances. Anyone and everyone can practice them! He emphasizes the importance of cultivating an awareness of opposites, which can be useful in attenuating negative and afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns, especially in the absence of or in conjunction with the 10 elements of the ethical component. He references seven steps (or stages) or prāņāyāma, as awareness of breath, and basic practice instructions related to the three parts of the breath. He then references a fourth state or experience, which transcends the other parts of the breath.

His explanation of the direct benefits of the first five limbs illustrates how each limb takes you inward in a way that can be partially measured by external factors. Additionally, he points to how the “mastery” of the third limb allows one to practice the fourth limb, the mastery of which allows one to practice the fifth limb, and so on. Even though he does not go into a great deal of detail (with regard to the final three limbs), Patanjali’s breakdown of progression in the practice is shown to also apply to those higher limbs: dhāraņā, dhyāna, and samādhi.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

 

### OM AUM ###