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Resurfacing the Quixotic Mind (the Saturday post) January 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Meditation, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 16th. 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.]

“‘Now look, your grace,’ said Sancho, ‘what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.’
‘Obviously,’ replied Don Quijote, ‘you don’t know much about adventures. Those are giants – and if you’re frightened, take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them.’”

– quoted from  “Chapter Eight – the great success won by our brave Don Quijote in his dreadful, unimaginable encounter with two windmills, plus other honorable events well worth remembering” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

Two years ago when I decided to start the New Year (of 2019) by introducing my Saturday class to the beginning Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it seemed like a grand adventure. Yes, there would be dreams and windmills and friendship, not to mention wild horses and beautiful landscapes. But, on a certain level, a philosophical level, I thought it would be the beginning of four years of relatively pedestrian exploration. Yes, I thought it would be intensive study that could be applied to our lives on and off the mat. Yes, I knew it would be a little too esoteric for some – especially those who just dropped in now and again and/or started new in the beginning of the year. But, no, I didn’t really consider that, off the mat, we would find ourselves in the middle of the same kind of social and political backdrop that inspired Miguel de Cervantes to create the ingenious gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.

First published today in 1605, Book 1 of Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is the beginning of what many consider the first “modern novel.” It is the second most translated book in the world (after the complete Bible) and it is also viewed as social commentary disguised as a fantastical farce. The primary character is, at best, idealistic – a dreamer beyond all dreamers; but, at worst, he is completely and utterly delusional. Is he speaking and moving through world as if everything and everyone in the world is a metaphor? Or, does he truly believe the windmills are giants that threaten the fair Dulcinea and all of their neighbors? Furthermore, does Cervantes – in writing what can (and was) easily be seen as social and political allegory – believe that those idealistic individuals who take on the political establishment are incredibly foolhardy or incredibly brave? Sometimes it is hard to tell. What is unquestionable, however, is that Don Quixote has a whole lot of things going on his mind and all of that citta vŗitti (“fluctuations of the mind”) determines how he interacts with the world around him.

“Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head”

– quoted from “Windmills of the Mind,” music by Michel Legrand with English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

Don Quixote, the story and the man, might have been very different if the title character did some yoga. Some might think there would be no story without the titular character’s mental confusion and delusion. However, Don Quixote, himself, was often very clear about his understanding of reality and very clear about the fact that the people around him disagreed with his understanding of reality. So… in some ways, maybe it would be the same story. After all, Cervantes frames much of the story around the way Don Quixote’s mind works and that is the same paradigm Patanjali uses in the Yoga Sūtras.

We contemplated the last sūtra of the second chapter last Saturday. Before we “progress” or move forward, I thought it would be a good idea to spend a little time reviewing the first two chapters and possibly delving a little deeper into certain aspects of the practices Patanjali recommends in the those chapters. So, this week’s practice includes 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.

“Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind!”

– quoted from “Windmills of the Mind,” music by Michel Legrand with English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman 

At the beginning, Patanjali explains that the practice of yoga (as well as the state of yoga that is “union”) cultivate stillness or quietude in the mind, thereby restoring or connecting the practitioner to their “own true nature.” He describes five types of mental activity: correct understanding (which is achieved through sense perception, inference, and/or revelation described in sacred text); incorrect understanding; imagination (which is activity not connected or rooted in reality as it currently exists); dreamless sleep; and memory (which can also engage the other types of activity) – and further breaks they types of mental activity into two categories two categories (klişţāklişţāh, “afflicted” and “not afflicted”); meaning they mental activity either creates suffering or does not create suffering.

To work the mind, in order to cultivate quietude, Patanjali recommends abyhāsa (practicing with devotion to the practice for a long period of time, without interruption) and vairāgya (practicing without attachment). He describes four levels of conscious awareness – which are also the four levels of concentration – as gross (meaning the awareness that something is happening); subtle (awareness of the different aspects of what is happening); bliss (enjoying what is happening); and i-ness (a level of absorption whereby there is a seamless connection between the person concentrating and the object on which they are concentrating).

Patanjali also explains in the first chapter that the benefits of the practice – which include faith, vigor, retentive power, stillness of mind, and intuitive wisdom – can be achieved in a time based on the level of engagement (mild, intermediate, or supreme). After detailing the importance of OM and the power of a devoted surrender to the Divine, he adds to the list of benefits by explaining that meditation helps one overcome nine obstacles (disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, an inability to withdraw from sense cravings, an attachment to misunderstanding, frustration, and failure to retain the highest level of conscious awareness) and their five accompanying ailments (pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling of limbs, abnormal or disturbed inhalation, and abnormal or disturbed exhalation).

Finally, he offers the following ways to practice concentration (that leads to meditation):

  • heart focus: offering friendliness to those who are happy; compassion to those who are suffering; happiness to those who are virtuous; and non-judgment or disinterest in those who are not virtuous;
  • breath focus: pranayama;
  • single-pointed focus: on a specific part of the body, a sense organ (and corresponding sensation); or an external object;
  • inner light & inner joy focus
  • focusing on a virtuous one who is without desire: choosing either a sacred person whose virtuous history is known or the best/ideal version of one’s own self;
  • wisdom focus: bringing awareness to knowledge gained from dreams and sleep; and
  • focus on a well-considered object (with some understanding of the benefit of the object)

“Translating from one language to another, unless it is from Greek and Latin, the queens of all languages, is like looking at Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, for although the figures are visible, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and cannot be seen with the smoothness and color of the right side….”

– quoted from  “Chapter Sixty-one – of what befell Don Quijote on his entry into Barcelona, with other Accidents that have more truth than wisdom in them.” in Part 2 of El ingenioso cabellero Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

Again, one of the goals and benefits of the practice described by Patanjali is the clarity of the mind – being able to not only see the beauty of something, but also how everything is put together. Here, in the first chapter, however, he really focuses on smoothing out the mind. One way I think about the meditation practice is that we spend some time touching on and scooping up all the bumpy distractions; then we wash over those same areas with the breath and the mind in order to smooth it all out; and then we use the breath and the awareness to seal in that smoothness. In this way, the practice is like a Zamboni®.

Invented by Frank Zamboni, who was born today 1901, in Eureka, Utah, a Zamboni® is an ice resurfacing machine that shaves the ice, collects the shavings, washes the ice with a cleaner, and then spreads a thin coat of fresh water to seal in the smooth(er) surface. Perhaps being born in Eureka destined Mr. Zamboni to become an inventor, but the resurfacer wasn’t his first (or last) bit of ingenuity. The son of Italian immigrants, he initially moved to California to help his older brother Lawrence run an existing business. But then the Zamboni brothers decided to try something different; they opened an ice-making plant. Not convinced the plant would sustain them once advancements were made in air conditioning and refrigeration; they decided to open Iceland, an ice skating rink in Paramount, California, with their cousin Pete.

Iceland (which still exists) was special and attracted a lot of attention, because Frank Zamboni figured out a way to eliminate the rippling effect that was caused by the pipes underneath the ice. He invented a circulation system and “flat tanks” that enabled them to build a rink that would hold up to 800 skaters at a time – making it one of the largest (and the smoothest) rink in the country.

Well… it was the smoothest, except after a day full of skaters.

“For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.”

– quoted from “Chapter Nineteen – An account of the second discourse that passed between Sancho and his master: the succeeding adventure of the corpse, and other remarkable events” in Part 1 of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

In 1949, a few years after opening the rink, Mr. Zamboni had invented (and eventually patented) the machine that would bear his name. Before his invention, resurfacing the ice required 5 men and 90 minutes. After his invention, resurfacing the ice required 1 person and 15 minutes. Figure skaters and hockey teams were quick to jump on board and, in a relatively short amount of time, Frank Zamboni had a new business venture. But, he wasn’t done. He would go on to invent mechanisms to remove water and paint from outdoor turf as well as to install and remove the turf (the “Grasshopper”). He also invented machines to fill dirt on top of a cemetery vault (the “Black Widow”) and lift and carry burial vaults (the “Vault Carrier”); and had a hand in building and selling machines to deal with snow, trenches, and air craft.

Frank Zamboni was a dreamer and, in some ways, he dreamed of things so fantastical most people couldn’t even begin to imagine them. He was awarded almost twenty patents during his lifetime. In 1988, his son Richard (who is Chairman and President of Frank J. Zamboni & Company, Inc.) told a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, “One of the reasons he stuck with it was that everyone told him he was crazy. When he finally finished, he was so sick of it that he didn’t even bother painting it.” So, in many ways, Frank Zamboni was a little like Don Quixote, trying to find a better way.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

– “Cervantes”, quoted from Act II of Man of La Mancha: A Musical Play by  Mitch Leigh, Dale Wasserman, Joe Darion

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“As the author of this great history reaches the events that he narrates in this chapter, he says the he’d have preferred to pass over them in silence , fearing he wouldn’t be believed, because here Don Quixote’s mad deeds approached the limits of the imaginable, and indeed went a couple of bowshots beyond them. But in the end, in spite of these fears and misgivings, he described these deeds exactly as they happened, without adding or subtracting one atom of truth or concerning himself with any accusations that might be made that he was lying; and he was right to do so, because the truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”

– quoted from “Chapter Ten – Gives describes Sancho’s cunning enchantment of the Lady Dulcinea; with other events as ridiculous as they are true” in Part 2 of El ingenioso caballero Don Quijote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha) by Miguel de Cervantes

A little note about quotes, translations, and “paramount”: My apologies for not citing the translators in the aforementioned quotes. I actually used more than one translation and, by the time I was putting this together, I realized that I hadn’t ever noted which quote came from where or when I had spliced translations. Part of my error comes from the fact that I don’t always reference translators during the practice.

Additionally, because of the different translations, I was not able to find the original source for the following great quotes, which are attributed to Cervantes and “Don Quixote” – but which may actually be from another (related) source:

“It’s up to brave hearts, sir, to be patient when things are going badly, as well as being happy when they’re going well…”

“…for hope is always born at the same time as love…”

Finally, I mentioned “paramount” during the practice (as a synonym for “supreme”) but neglected to tie that back into the theme. Serendipitously, “Paramount” kept coming up today as it is the name of the city where the Zamboni family opened their ice rink and also the name of the studio where the English version of “Windmills of the Mind” was originally recorded. Just a fun trivia fact for those of you who were wondering.



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