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Laissez les bons temps rouler on Day 5 (the “missing” posts) February 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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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.

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“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.

 

### NOTICE THE SPIRIT OF THINGS ###

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