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Focus+Concentrate+Meditate = Sweet Heaven (just the music) February 20, 2021

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Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, February 20th) 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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Laissez les bons temps rouler on Day 5 (the “missing” posts) February 20, 2021

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Happy Mardi Gras and Happy New Year! Many blessings to those observing Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday!

[This is the post for Tuesday, February 16th, with information relevant to the practice that was cancelled on Wednesday, February 17th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.]

 

“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

 

– Louisiana French for “Let the good times roll!”

 

Today has many names, but for many it is Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, the end of the Carnival season and the day before the Lenten season in the Western Christian traditions. It is also known as Shrove Tuesday or (especially in the UK) Pancake Tuesday. It is a moveable feast day of indulgence, when people treat themselves to anything and everything – but especially the things they are planning to give up during Lent.

“Shrove” comes from the word “shrive,” meaning “to absolve” and for Christians who are focused on “shriving,” today is a day of self-examination, repentance, and amendments as a way to prepare for the Lent. While people observing Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day may indulge in “fatty foods,” they may do so with an eye on symbolism. Different countries and cultures have different traditional recipes, but the recipes generally include what can be considered symbols of the four pillars of Christianity: eggs for creation; flour as the staff of life or mainstay of the human diet; salt for wholesomeness; and milk for purity. Some churches will make a point of ringing the bells on this day to “call the faithful to confession” – and to remind people to begin frying up the pancakes.

Carnival season begins with Three Kings’ Day (also known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany in some traditions) and ends with the biggest celebration of the seasons, Mardi Gras (not to mention Lundi Gras)! In much of the Americas, Carnival and Mardi Gras are traditionally celebrated with parades, beads, masks and costumes, and parties from sunrise to sunset. Of course, Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janiero is the largest and most well known Carnival celebration and New Orleans is practically synonymous with Mardi Gras; however, in the mid-80’s, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Australia started drawing large numbers of celebrants from around the world.

In New Orleans, it is customary to celebrate with a King Cake, featuring a little plastic baby figurine. The person who finds the baby is promised health and wealth – and is often expected to provide the following year’s King Cake. And while many people toss or “request” beads during the parades, very few people remember that there was a time when the beads were made of glass and the bead colors had special meanings: purple for justice; gold for power; and green for faith.

“… don’t tell no lie! Cause we gonna have fun, y’all, on Mardi Gras! … I’m not gonna tell no lie. We not gonna let Katrina, y’all, turn us ‘round.”

 

– Theodore “Bo” Dollis, “Big Chief” of The Wild Magnolias opening the song “Brother John Is Gone / Herc-Jolly-John” on Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album

Carnival and Mardi Gras have outlasted gangs, political coups, police strikes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. This year, while much of New Orleans was shut down, the good times still rolled on – just not in a way that would turn Mardi Gras into a super spreader. Remember, as glutinous as the tradition may appear on the outside, its roots are in something more than the desires of the flesh. Thus, just as has been the case with so many other cultural traditions and religious rituals, the pandemic forced people to figure out how to honor the traditions while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

One New Orleans business owner decided to follow the normal parade route – but in his car and in the early, early morning. Of course, he was blasting New Orleans jazz all the way! Many others tweeted and created virtual events. Then there were the thousands of people who decorated their homes and businesses in the same way they would have decorated their krewe’s floats: They called it “Yardi Gras!”

Today is also the fifth day of the Lunar New Year. For many people celebrating the Lunar New Year, this is the day to go back to work after a four-day holiday. Businesses opening back up are met with great fanfare: parades, music, and fireworks. There’s also the promise of “lucky money,” in red envelopes; which business owners will give to their customers – who will then promptly spend some of the money in the business. This fifth day is particularly auspicious in parts of China where it is recognized as the birthday of the God of Wealth.

Of course, all this focus on wealth, indulgences, and vices, makes me think about the things we like and the things we don’t like – and how those preferences contribute to our overall experiences of life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.7: sukhānuśayī rāgah

 

– Affliction that has pleasure as its resting ground is attachment.

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.8: duhkhānuśayī dveşah

 

– Affliction that has pain as its resting ground is aversion.

Very early on in our human lives, people start to establish preferences. There are things (and people) we like and things (and people) we don’t like – and we will spend an extraordinary amount of time creating situations and environments full of the things (and people) we like and free of the things (and people) we don’t like. When things are not to our liking we experience suffering that we often attribute to things not being the way we want them. However, according to Eastern philosophies, believing things (or people) can make us happy or miserable is ignorant. Specifically, in the Yoga Philosophy, this is avidyā (“ignorance”) related to the true nature of things, which is a dysfunctional or afflicted thought patterns. Avidyā is seen as the bedrock of four other types of dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns – two or which are rāga (“attachment” or what we like) and devşa (“aversion” or what we don’t like) and it is these afflictions (kleśāh) which lead to our suffering.

To experience freedom from craving and liberation from avidyā, and the subsequent suffering, Patanjali’s recommendations include abhyāsa (a devoted and uninterrupted “practice” done with trustful surrender devotion) and vairāgya (“non-attachment”). What is always interesting to me is that when you combine abhyāsa and vairāgya with the niyamās (“internal observations”) you end up with a practice that can looks very much like Lent – and even though it looks odd on the outside, celebrating Carnival and Mardi Gras / Pancake Tuesday are all preparation for the observation of Lent.

In the Christian traditions, Lent is a 40-day period (46 when Sundays* are counted) when people actively focus on their spiritual life and connection to God by fasting, praying, and either giving up something – something to which they have a strong attachment (or aversion) – and/or doing something positive. When people give something up they will often donate the money they would have spent on whatever they gave up. The 40-day ritual is a mirror of the days Jesus spent in the desert and is an opportunity for Christian contemplation, discernment, and self-reflection. Like the observation of Passover, the month of Ramadan, and the Baha’i Nineteen-Day Fast, observing Lent falls under the rubric of what Patanjali describes as kriyā yoga (“yoga in action”), the combination of tapah (“heat, austerity, or discipline”), svādhyāya (“self-study”), and īśvarapraņidhāna (“trustful surrender to [God]”).

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

 

– Ceremonial words used on Ash Wednesday (drawn from Genesis 3:19)

 

“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

 

Ceremonial words used on Ash Wednesday (drawn from The Gospel According to Mark 1:15), Roman Catholic tradition after 1969

The Lenten season officially begins with Ash Wednesday. For many it is a day of fasting and prayer – and it is also the day when people truly begin to get ready for Easter. Many take a moment out of their day to attend Mass or services and receive ashes, which are traditionally made from the previous year’s Palm Sunday fronds. In a ritual that has ties to Judaism and Biblical times, the ashes are a sign of penance and preparation. They are sometimes sprinkled on the crown of the head, but the more common practice in modern times is for a priest or pastor to use the ashes to make the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead. People are not required to wear the mark of the cross throughout the remainder of their day; however, many choose to maintain that link and reminder.

The practice is considered sacramental in the Roman Catholic tradition, but the ashes and receiving the ashes are not sacraments; which means they serve as a symbol and preparation aide for holy sacraments, as well as a reminder of the grace of the sacraments. The fact that receiving ashes is not a sacrament also means that, in the Roman Catholic tradition, anyone (including non-Catholics and those who have been excommunicated by the Church) may receive ashes.

“When I was in college, my Jewish roommates used to tell me what to give up for Lent….

 

Since then, for over 20 years my friend Rob has phoned me every Ash Wednesday to assign me a Lenten sacrifice. The sacrifices have grown easier over the years since Rob is running out of things for me to give up. For a few years he favored spices. One Lent I was suppose to avoid anything with oregano. It sounded easy until it dawned on me that pizza was out of the question for six weeks. Having another person choose your sacrifice adds an extra dimension to Lent. Since my penance is not within my control, it feels a little more spiritual. As with far more serious struggles in life, like an illness or the loss of a job, things outside our control are the most difficult to deal with. They are, in traditional Christian theology, crosses that eventually need to be accepted, much as Jesus finally accepted his cross.

 

When I was dealing with a long illness, I once complained to an older priest that I didn’t want that particular cross. He said, well it wouldn’t be much of a cross if you wanted it, would it?”

 

 – Father James Martin quoted from the interview “Priest Lets Friend Choose His Sacrifice for Lent” with Melissa Block on NPR’s All Things Considered (2/28/2006)

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no Wednesday playlist this week.

 

Virtually Mardi Gras

 

*NOTE: Sundays during Lent are considered anniversaries of Easter and the Resurrection; therefore, they are not counted as days of penance.

 

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Being Red (the “missing” posts) February 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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Happy (Lunar) New Year! Happy Carnival! Many blessings to those preparing for Lent.

[This is the post for Sunday, February 14th, with information relevant to the practice that was cancelled on Monday, February 15th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

 

“EARNEST, adjective

  1. Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain; having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

They are never more earnest to disturb us, than when they see us most earnest in this duty.

  1. Ardent; warm; eager; zealous; animated; importunate; as earnest in love; earnest in prayer.

  2. Intent; fixed.

On that prospect strange

Their earnest eyes were fixed.

  1. Serious; important; that is, really intent or engaged; whence the phrase, in earnest To be in earnest is to be really urging or stretching towards an object; intent on a pursuit. Hence, from fixed attention, comes the sense of seriousness in the pursuit, as opposed to trifling or jest. Are you in earnest or in jest?”

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People premiered on February 14, 1895 at the Saint James Theatre in London. It is a love story (or love stories) of sorts, but it is also a comedy of errors and a social satire full of love, love triangles, double entendres, double lives, mistaken identities, the dichotomy of public versus private life in Victorian society, and so many trivialities that one can hardly be blamed for questioning that about which one should be serious… or earnest. Like his other plays, Earnest was well received and marked a professional high point in Wilde’s life. However, it also marked a personal low point: Wilde’s trial, conviction, and imprisonment for homosexuality – which was illegal in Victorian England. Earnest would be the last play written by Oscar Wilde and, some would argue, his most popular.

While English speakers around the world might not come up with the same definition of “earnest” that was known in Victorian England, I would expect there would be some consensus around it meaning “serious” and “true.” On the flip side, the color red means something different to everyone. Webster’s 1828 dictionary clearly defines it as “a simple or primary color, but of several different shades or hues, as scarlet, crimson, vermilion, orange red etc.” – but even that doesn’t begin to address the fact that, on any given Sunday, the color signifies different things to different people all over the world. I say, “on any given Sunday,” but let’s just look at this year’s Sunday the 14th, when red is associated with Valentine’s Day, The Lunar New Year celebrations (in some countries), and even the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Many people associate Valentine’s Day with red hearts, cards, chocolates, flowers, romantic dates, and romantic love – a very commercial endeavor – but it didn’t start out that way. The day actually started as (and to some still is) the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, in the Western Christian tradition. There are actually two Christian martyrs remembered as Saint Valentine, but the most well-known is the 3rd-century Roman saint (who is honored on July 6th and 30th in the Eastern Christian tradition). According to the legends, Valentine was imprisoned for practicing Christianity during a time when Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire. Before and during his incarceration, Saint Valentine had several conversations with the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Throughout these discussions, the emperor tried to convert the priest to the Roman pagan religion (ostensibly to save the priest’s life) and the priest tried to convert the emperor to Catholicism (theoretically to save the emperor’s soul, and the souls of all that followed him and his decrees).

Around this same time, Valentine had multiple interactions and conversations with the daughter of his jailer. (During class, I mistakenly referred to her as the emperor’s daughter, but she was actually the daughter if Asterius.) Julia, the daughter, was blind and one the last acts Valentine reportedly committed before he was executed was to heal Julie’s sight. After he was martyred (around 269 A. D.), Julia and her household converted to Catholicism in honor of Valentine. His feast day was established in 496 A.D. and around the 18th century, many additional details of the story started cropping up. One such detail was that Valentine married Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry (possibly because it would divide their focus and loyalty). Another detail was that he left Julia a letter and signed it “Your Valentine.”

“For this was on Seynt Velentynes day,

Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,”

 

“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Parliament of Fowls” by Geoffrey Chaucer, translation by A. S. Klein  

 

As to why red became associated with Valentine’s Day, there are lots of theories and they all come back to the embellishments to the story (some of which are attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer), which focused on Saint Valentine as the patron saint of lovers – and love was associated with the heart, which people associate with red. Additionally, a red stain is traditionally viewed in the Western world as the sign that a woman came to her marital bed as a virgin (and so there’s some very suggestive, subliminal messaging going on).

But, let’s go back to the idea of the heart being red. Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, use green to symbolize the heart chakra (i.e., the energetic or spiritual heart), but of course, these systems also recognize that the physical heart is red when exposed to the air – or it’s being depicted by an artist, which is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted as red. And that sacred heart is one of the things motivating Christians who are preparing for Lent.

“Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.”

 

The Gospel According to St. Luke (18:31, NIV)

For some Western Christians, Valentine’s Day this year is a “Regular” or “Ordinary” day – meaning it is outside specifically designated periods of liturgy. For some the day is specifically referenced as Quinquagesima, as it is 50 days before Easter (including the Sundays, which are excluded when counting the 40 Days of Lent); and for others the day is Shrove Sunday (which, in some traditions is also Transfiguration Sunday). Keep in mind that these are all “moveable feasts,” meaning their dates on the secular calendar change depending on the date of Easter each year. Also keep in mind that the Western and Eastern Churches have different calendars. So, these last days of Shrovetide (which includes Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday) will be observed next week by some in the Eastern Christian traditions.

But, regardless of when they start getting ready, many Christians around the world are preparing for the Lenten season, a period of fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter. Shrove comes from the word “shrive,” meaning “to absolve” and for Christians who are focused on “shriving,” Shrovetide is a period of self-examination, repentance, and amendments of sins. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the last Sunday before Lent (which this year will be February 21st March 14th on the Eastern calendar) is known as “Forgiveness Sunday,” which includes “Forgiveness Vespers.” By emphasizing forgiveness of sins and transgressions, as well as fasting, as a foundation for beginning the Great Lent, people believe that they will be better able to focus on the spiritual aspects of life with a pure heart.

“As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”

 

The Gospel According to St. Luke (9:29 – 31, NIV)

 

Valentine’s Day 2021 also coincides with the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year. This year we are moving from the Year of the (Metal) Rat to the Year of the (Metal) Ox and the third day, according to some Chinese creation mythology is the birthday of all boars. Some people will also visit the temple of the God of Wealth and some people associate this day with the “marriage of mice.” In addition to providing treats as a “dowry” for the mice, some people will go to bed early to ensure the mice have a peaceful ceremony and will not pester them (the humans) during the rest of the year.

Another reason people may go to bed early on the third night of the Lunar New Year is that, in certain parts of China, this third day is the “Day of the Red Dog” or “Red Mouth” Day and there is a greater danger of conflict on this day. People may also stay home and avoid anyone outside of their primary family circle in order not to say the wrong thing in anger – as a Chinese word for “red dog” is also a description for the “God of Blazing Wrath.” Some people also associate the tendency to say the wrong thing on the third day with the demon (or monster) Nian.

The Hanzi (Chinese character) for Nian also means “year” or “new year” and, according to the legends, the monster Nian would come out of the sea or the mountain once a year looking for crops, animals, or villagers to eat. All the villagers would hide at this time of year, but one time an elderly gentleman was outside during the time Nian came to visit the village. One version of the story says that the man was a Taoist monk (Hongjun Lozu) who, like Br’er Rabbit, was a bit of a trickster and he convinces the monster that he will taste better if he can take off his outer clothing. In the version I tell in class, there is a big chase and the monster rips the man’s outerwear with his sharp teeth and claws. Either way, when the gentleman’s bright red undergarments are revealed Nian freaks out, because he is afraid of the color red (and loud noises). Therefore, it became auspicious to start the New Year (or even a marriage) wearing red; placing red throughout the village or town; and making a lot of noise.

“恭禧发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai [Congratulations and Prosperity!]
Gong Hey Fat Choy [Congratulations and Prosperity!]

 

– A common New Year’s greeting in Hanzi [Chinese characters], Mandarin and Cantonese pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

 

### “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital importance of being Earnest.” ~ OW ###