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Who Is Minding the Store? (the Saturday post) January 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 9th. It was slightly edited in 2023. 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.]


“Man’s unhappiness, says Descartes, is due to his having first been a child. And indeed the unfortunate choices which most men make can only be explained by the fact that they have taken place on the basis of childhood. The child’s situation is characterized by his finding himself cast into a universe which he has not helped to establish, which has been fashioned without him, and which appears to him as an absolute to which he can only submit. In his eyes, human inventions, words, customs, and values are given facts, as inevitable as the sky and the trees….


From childhood on, flaws begin to be revealed in it. With astonishment, revolt and disrespect the child little by little asks himself, ‘Why must I act that way? What good is it? And what will happen if I act in another way?’ He discovers his subjectivity; he discovers that of others. And when he arrives at the age of adolescence he begins to vacillate because he notices the contradictions among adults as well as their hesitations and weakness. Men stop appearing as if they were gods, and at the same time the adolescent discovers the human character of the reality about him. Language, customs, ethics, and values have their source in these uncertain creatures. The moment has come when he too is going to be called upon to participate in their operation; his acts weigh upon the earth as much as those of other men. He will have to choose and decide. It is comprehensible that it is hard for him to live this moment of his history, and this is doubtless the deepest reason for the crisis of adolescence; the individual must at last assume his subjectivity.”


– quoted from “II. Personal Freedom and Others” in The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir


“What is an adult? A child blown up by age.”


– quoted from The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Do you ever take note of yourself? In particular, do you take note of who you are and what you are all about – and how you got in the habit of being you? That last part may seem weird, because you’re thinking that you just are you and that being you is a state, not a habit. However, philosophically speaking, we become who we are – more and more, every day – and, as we become who we are we less and less likely to deviate from a certain pattern of behavior. In other words, who we are in this moment is a habit.

Simone de Beauvoir, born today in 1908, was (along with her longtime companion Jean-Paul Sartre) one of the founders of existentialism; the philosophical and literary idea that freedom and the expression of personal freedom should be the foundation of and motivation for everything. Despite the fact that the couple, individually and collectively, sought to define themselves regardless of social conventions, there was a point when de Beauvoir had not considered how her sex and gender (and people’s ideas around her sex and gender) limited her freedom of being. In fact, she specifically told Sartre that she had not experienced any oppression or marginalization because she was a woman. (A comment I always find astonishing since one of the reasons the couple didn’t marry was because she had no dowry and said that made marriage “impossible.”)

Sartre basically told de Beauvoir to go deeper, and she did. The result of that deep dive was The Second Sex.

Published in 1949, the two volumes of The Second Sex (Facts and Myths and Lived Experience) provided a history of the treatment of women; made a distinction between biological sex and socially-constructed gender; and became the foundation for modern feminist theory – although its author was reluctant to call herself a feminist. One of the bottom lines from The Second Sex is that men (and in particular, in certain cultures, white men) are seen by society as the “norm” and that everyone else (and everything associated with everyone else) is defined (on a scale beneath men) in a way that “Others,” fetishizes, and demeans them. Additionally, she pointed out that to deviate from the “norm” and the resulting hierarchy can be detrimental.  

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?


To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”


– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  


We may think nothing of the way we think and the way our brains process stimuli, until there is a problem – a fracture in our understanding of “reality” – or we engage in a contemplative practice that requires us to question everything; including the way we think. The Yoga Philosophy continuously asks us to question… everything. As we must understand our selves and the way our mind understands the world (through the senses), the 8-limbed philosophy explores how everything we think, say, do, and experience creates a mental/psychological impression (samskara) through which we filter the next thing we think, say, do, and experience. We also look at how we repeat this pattern throughout every moment of our lives and how, unless we take note and do something to lift the “veil of impressions,” we become who we are because we are hardwiring ourselves to be a certain way.

Another way to think of this is purely neurological. Every time we do something new (so, everything we think, say, do, and experience) a neural pathway is created in the brain. This pathway gets hardwired as we repeat a thought, word, deed, or experience and this is how a habit is formed – whether it is the habit of eating or not eating certain food; drinking or otherwise imbibing to excess (or not at all); working out (or not); working 80 hours a week; procrastinating; not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much…. The list goes on, because once we repeat a behavior enough times, we do it without thought or consideration. And, when you think about it, this is how we become who are; who we are in the habit of being.

“Stendhal said: ‘All the geniuses who are born women are lost to the public good.’ To tell the truth, one is not born a genius: one becomes a genius; and the feminine situation has up to the present rendered this becoming practically impossible.”


– quoted from “Part II – History: Chapter VIII. Since the French Revolution: The Job and the Vote” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”


– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  

Using Simone de Beauvoir as an example, consider how her understanding of the world (as she had been taught as a child) meant that her lack of dowry prevented her from getting married. Yet, that same lack of dowry (that prevented her from getting married) allowed her to study an academic discipline she may not have been able to study had she been married with children. At some point and on some level, she decided to focus on the freedom she “gained” from not being married rather than on the limitations society placed on her because her family wasn’t wealthy. Freedom and expression of that freedom became everything! At various points throughout her life, there were situations (of oppression) that she was in the habit of ignoring, because she was in the habit (as her father said) of thinking “like a man” and acting accordingly.**

In some ways, the explanations above are overly simplified, because they barely touch all the layers. The reality is that all of our experiences are based around external sensations (whereby we receive information about an object through our sense organs) and the internal processing of these sensations (which is a mental engagement). Yoga looks at five senses, plus the mind: smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, hearing, and thinking. These senses are physically and mentally (neurologically) tied to a sense organ; to the mind; and, also, symbolically and energetically tied to a chakra. That chakra connection means that each sense is also associated to a part of the body that is not directly (physically) connected to the sense organ. Additionally, each sense is tied to an action: eliminating, (pro)creating, moving, grasping/holding, speaking, and thinking. When Patanjali explains the practice and experience of pratyāhāra (which is literally defined as “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point”), he specifically mentions indriyāņām, which are the 5 expressions of the physical-mental sense organ engagement and the 5 expressions of the corresponding action – with thinking sometimes ranking as an 11th indriya.

To get the real “big picture” we must also factor in our (emotionally) feelings about what we are sensing and thinking, as well as whether that emotion is rooted in the presence or (as is more often the case) rooted in the past. In the commentary for this week’s sūtra (2.55), Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, points out that there is a point in the (continued) practice when, “The joy engendered by this union [between mind and prana] engulfs the mind’s roaming tendencies. The cortex, which is the seat of the manas, the thinking mind, stops brooding on the future. This leads to freedom from anxiety. The amygdale, which is the seat of chitta, the storehouse of memories [and the processing point for decision-making and emotional responses], stops interacting with emotions associated with past issues. This leads to freedom from sorrow.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah


– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.


Yoga Sūtra 2.55: tatah paramā vaśyatendriyāņām


– “From that [pratyahara] comes the highest level of mastery over senses

Think back to the classic analogy of the senses being wild horses*; the mind/brain being the reins; the body being the chariot; the mind/intellect being the charioteer; and the Atman-Self being the passenger along for the ride. Think about how every experience involves a variety of sense objects which will attract the attention of the horses. Think how, if not controlled, the horses keep pulling in the direction of the sense object each one finds most appealing. Chaos reigns.

And we fear the chaos.

Now, think about what happens if the horses have been trained (though experience) to know which way is “the barn” and that “the barn” equals whatever appeals to the senses. Now, you could drop the reins and the horses would all go to “the barn.” The only problem is they are still pulling in a different direction – only now you know the why and the where. This is a more controlled form of chaos, because now the senses and the brain are in the habit of doing certain things given certain information (stimuli) and conditions.

What if, however, “the barn” is not where you are going? Now, you have to struggle a bit, to keep the horses on course – especially since each horse may be pulling towards a different “barn.” Maybe you hold too tightly to the reins, especially when you notice you’re going in the “wrong” direction; and then you go nowhere fast. The alternative, according to Patanjali, is to intentionally train the senses by drawing them in – almost like an American football huddle.

 Remember, this is not about suppressing or repressing natural abilities. Neither is this about becoming so “numb” you are sleep walking through life. No, this is about training – and/or retraining – the mind-body to process sensation/information in different ways. It’s not about being reactive, it’s about being responsive. It’s not about improving your sight, but rather about improving your vision (of yourself and the world). It’s not about denying or suppressing reality, but rather about believing in yourself. And, ultimately, it is about being in the habit of being your best self.

The beauty of this practice is that while it is not magical, and doesn’t happen overnight, it does happen.

“To make oneself an object, to make oneself passive, is a very different thing from being a passive object: a woman in love is neither asleep nor dead; there is a surge in her which unceasingly ebbs and flows: the ebb creates the spell that keeps desire alive.”


– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter III. Sexual Initiation” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir  


Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]


*NOTE: I decided to stick with the tried and true wild horse and chariot analogy, rather than the store analogy referenced in the title.

**NOTE: Sometimes Simone de Beauvoir’s behavior was so much “like a man” that had she actually been a man, I might put her in the same category as President Richard Nixon, born today in 1913, and not every focused a class on her contributions. A double standard? In this case, yes.

“The new feminism is radical, by contrast. As in 1968, its watchword is: change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”


– quoted from After the Second Sex: Conversations with Simone de Beauvoir by Alice Schwarzer


### Riding with a Charioteer Named Purpose ###



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