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Uncovering Layers to Reveal Truth (the “missing” Saturday post) March 2, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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Many blessings to those observing Lent or the 19-Day Fast!

 

[This is the post for Saturday, February 27th. 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 can already be seen in the different reception given a new citizen of the world. If the father or someone else asked what ‘it’ was after a successful birth, the answer might be either the satisfied report of a boy, or—with pronounced sympathy for the disappointment— ‘Nothing, a girl,’ or ‘Only a girl.’”

 

– Bertha Pappenheim as quoted in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Koultun

 

Imagine that, at a very early age, you are exposed to an idea. It doesn’t have to be a big idea, stated and codified in a systematic way. It could just be a statement. It could just be an idea (or a statement) about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious and/or political beliefs – it could even be an idea about height or weight or hair texture (or length) or skin and/or eye hue. In the moment that you are exposed to the idea, some part of you questions whether it is true and even considers the validity of the idea/statement based on the source. You may not be conscious of this questioning, but it happens – sometimes quickly, in a blink – and then, as you move forward, other things (and people) either confirm the veracity or the idea or invalidate the idea.

Now, imagine that you grow up with this idea and this idea, whether you feel it is directed at you or at people around you, becomes – on a certain level – the lens through which you view yourself and the world. You may not be conscious of this lens. In fact, in most cases, this bias (whether we view it as positive or negative) is unconscious… subterranean. In the Yoga Philosophy, samskaras are mental impressions and they are the foundation or roots of our thoughts, words, and deeds. Neurologically speaking, we can think of them as hard-wired pathways that are such an integral part of us they make habitual responses to certain situations appear instinctual. They are the beginning of the best of us… and also the worst of us.

“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.”

 

– Sigmund Freud, as quoted in his New York Times obituary (09/24/1939)

We all know that if we want to get to the root of a problem, we have to start at the surface – or start with what we can see – and dig deep. This is obvious, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because, even knowing this very basic principle about where things begin, we can easily get distracted by fruit flies, rotting trunks, fungi, and beings throwing things at us from the tree limbs because we have worn out our welcome. We can just as easily get caught up in the beauty of the blossoms and the promise of a swing. We can also get defeated by all the work/effort that it takes to get to the bottom of things.

However, being distracted (or defeated) doesn’t change the fact that to get to the bottom of something, we have to literally get to the bottom of something. It also doesn’t change the fact that if we want to grow or build something, that has a chance of withstanding the changing of the times, we have to build from the ground up. Nor does it change the fact the fact that when we run into a problem – as we build a life, a business, and/or a home – we may not have to tear everything down and start over from scratch; but we do have to trace back from the top to the bottom.

This very basic principle is the reason why existential therapists, like Virginia Satir and Irvin Yalom said that the “presenting issue,” “surface problem,” and/or life’s “givens” were not the problem; rather, people’s problems are how they deal or cope with various elements in their lives. This is commonly understood today, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s these still groundbreaking theories. While modern psychotherapists (and even corporate change management specialists) continue to build on the efforts of those aforementioned therapists from the mid-1900’s, the roots of their work can be found in the work of Drs. Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer and in the life and work of Bertha Pappenheim.

She would ultimately become a feminist, education organizer, activist, writer, and translator – whose work and life often appeared in newspapers. She would translate Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Women; the Western Yiddish memoirs of her own ancestor, Glückel of Hamelnl; the “Women’s Talmud; and other Old Yiddish texts (written for and/or by women) into German. She also founded organizations like Jüdischer Frauenbund (JFB, the Jewish Women’s Association); served as the first president of JFB and a board member of Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine (BDF, Federation of German Women’s Associations) ,when JFB joined the national organization; and also as director of an orphanage for Jewish girls that was run by Israelitischer Frauenverein (Israelite Women’s Association). She even appeared onstage as her ancestor in a play (that she produced) based on her Glückel’s memoirs.  But before she made a name for herself through her efforts to improve the conditions and the world around her – especially the living and working conditions of the women and girls around her, Bertha Pappenheim was known to the psychoanalysis world as “Anna O” or “Only A Girl,” because of the work she did to improve her internal conditions.

 

“Other details of Glückel’s life story doubtless also held great appeal for Pappenheim. As a survivor of mental illness and the inventor of the ‘talking cure,’ Pappenheim may also have been intrigued by Glückel’s disclosure that she started her memoirs as a sort of ‘writing cure’ to ward off ‘melancholy thoughts’ in the sleepless nights after her husband’s death.”

 

– quoted from Let Me Continue to Speak the Truth: Bertha Pappenheim as Author and Activist by Elizabeth Loentz

 

Born in Vienna on February 27, 1859, Bertha Pappenheim was the third daughter born into a wealthy and prestigious Jewish family, with Orthodox roots, and she was born knowing that her family and her community prized sons over daughters, boys over girls. She was raised as was appropriate for her station in life – learning needlepoint and multiple languages and attending a Roman Catholic girls’ school while observing Jewish holidays. At the same time, she had to deal with the understandable emotions that came from knowing that one of her older sisters died in adolescence (before Pappenheim was born) and then experiencing the death of the second sister in adolescence (when Pappenheim was eight). Then there was the normal stress that occurred when her family moved into a primarily improvised neighborhood (when she was eleven); the expected jealousy she felt when her younger brother went to high school (even though she had to leave school at sixteen, despite her curious mind, because of the whole being a girl thing); and then that whole being “just a girl” thing that loomed like a specter over many of her experiences.

Notice, I use words like “understandable,” “normal,” and “expected” to describe Pappenheim’s emotions, but the reality is that her emotions were not recognized, acknowledged, nor honored as valid. In fact, as was common for the time and her station in life, her experiences were largely ignored… until there was a problem. Her “problems” initially presented themselves as physical and mental ailments: “a nervous cough, partial paralysis, severe neuralgia, anorexia, impaired sight and hearing, hydrophobia, frightening hallucinations, an alternation between two distinct states of consciousness, violent outbursts, and the inability to speak German, her native tongue.”

The presenting ailments started when her father became ill, when she was twenty-one, and worsened after her father died. She was diagnosed with “hysteria,” because… well, that was the most common diagnosis given to women at the time regardless of symptoms. As I mentioned on the anniversary of Freud’s birth, Breuer didn’t try to cure or “correct” the patient he would call Anna O. Instead, he started her under a new therapy he was trying out: he hypnotized her and encouraged her to talk in order to reveal the underlying causes of her symptoms. Pappenheim called it her “talking cure” or “chimney sweeping” and reported that it alleviated her symptoms. In theory (Breuer’s theory), it helped her get to the root of her problems.

Psychoanalysis in the hands of the physician is what confession is in the hands of the Catholic priest. It depends on its user and its use, whether it becomes a beneficial tool or a two-edged sword.”

 

– Bertha Pappenheim (also known as “Anna O”)

 

Breuer’s “theory” became Freud’s “therapy.” But, take a moment to notice that these ideas about how the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind interact and manifest in our mind-body can actually be found in ancient texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, and even the Ashtavakra Gita – texts on systems and processing “therapies” that predate the births of everyone mentioned above! Patanjali even described obstacles and ailments which match up with Bertha Pappenheim’s symptoms. (Also interesting to note is the fact that modern medical scientists and historians, after reviewing her case, have diagnosed Pappenheim with everything from “complex partial seizures exacerbated by drug dependence” to tuberculosis meningitis to temporal lobe epilepsy.) More important, even, than Pappenheim’s diagnosis is what she was able to achieve once she was able to get to (and address) the root of her problems.

In describing the methods of his therapy in The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud wrote, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” The entire system of the 8-Limbed Philosophy of Yoga is sometimes called “Rāja Yoga” (literally “king union” or “chief union”), which is understood as royal union. Given her background, Bertha Pappenheim might have equated it with the sefirot (or divine attribute) of Malchut, which is Queenship or Kingship on the Tree of Life and denotes mastery. While the system as a whole is full of tools for introspection, the ultimate tools are the last three limbs (dhāranā, dhyāna, samādhi) which combine to form the most powerful tool: Samyama, which is like a laser beam or a drill that lets you see beneath the surface.

Yoga Sūtra 3.4: trayam-ekatra samyama

 

– “Samyama is [the practice or integration of] the three together.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.5: taj-jayāt prajñālokah

 

– Through the mastery or achievement of Samyama comes higher consciousness or the light of knowledge.

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.6: tasya bhūmişu viniyogah

 

– It is to be applied or practiced in stages.

This week’s sūtras are not only instruction or guidance, but also a warning from Patanjali. In short, no matter how excited or anxious we may get about the powers and abilities that can be achieved through the practice, it is best not to rush the practice or skip steps. Perhaps Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood summarized it best in their commentary when they wrote, “It is no use attempting meditation before we have mastered concentration. It is no use trying to concentrate upon subtle objects until we are able to concentrate on gross ones. Any attempt to take a short cut to knowledge of this kind is exceedingly dangerous.”

The dangers are relatively obvious when we are dealing with certain poses. For instance, we would be ill advised to a Sideways Floor Bow (Pārśva Dhanurāsana) if we have never practiced a regular Floor Bow (Dhanurāsana) – how would we even get into the pose?? And, it would not be very beneficial to attempt Floor Bow if a backbend like Locust (śalabhāsana) is not accessible. While we can easily see that in the physical example, it can be a little harder to see when it comes to concepts and ideas. For instance, when we see something wrong in the world and we can see the root of the problem, we may be in such a rush for other people to see what we see that we skip the steps that allow them to get it. Just as there is great power in the process, there is great power in being able to walk someone through the process.

“It only remains to say that his speech was devoid of all rhetorical imagery, with a marked suppression of the pyrotechnics of stump oratory. It was constructed with a view to the accuracy of statement, simplicity of language, and unity of thought. In some respects like a lawyer’s brief, it was logical, temperate in tone, powerful – irresistibly driving conviction home to men’s reasons and their souls.”

 

– quoted from Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (Volume 3) by William H. Herndon and Jesse William Weik

On February 27, 1860, the future President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. The address essentially walked people towards the roots of the problem of slavery and the opposition to ending slavery in the United States. He started with the Declaration of Independence and the “intention” of the Founding Fathers and then elucidated on the differences between Republican and Democratic views at that time. It was one of his longest speeches and one that required a great deal of research. Many historians agree the Cooper Union address solidified Lincoln’s selection as the Republican nominee for President and, possibly, clinched his win. It was even printed in the newspapers and distributed as part of his campaign. (William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner at the time, stated that while it may not have actually taken campaign workers three weeks to fact check the speech – since most of the facts came from single set of sources – the fact checking was no small endeavor.)

Lincoln’s Cooper Union address has been described as “stunningly effective” and one of the “most convincing political arguments ever made in [New York] City. It did not, however, convince everyone; perhaps, in part, because while he went towards the roots, he didn’t really get to the bottom of the problem. The bottom of the problem being that, while the Founding Fathers recognized the problems and inhumanity of slavery, they compromised on the issue in order to gain the political leverage they needed to unanimously declare independence from Great Britain. Lincoln was also willing to compromise in a similar fashion; however, he was very adamant in his belief that the original compromise was enacted with an understanding that slavery would end on its own (as a natural evolution of the country’s development) and/or that the there were means available for the Federal Government to step in and make the change that was needed for the country to adhere to its founding principles.

“If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that ‘our fathers who framed the Government under which we live’ were of the same opinion – thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument. If any man at this day sincerely believes ‘our fathers who framed the Government under which we live,’ used and applied principles, in other cases, which ought to have led them to understand that a proper division of local from federal authority or some part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so. But he should, at the same time, brave the responsibility of declaring that, in his opinion, he understands their principles better than they did themselves; and especially should he not shirk that responsibility by asserting that they ‘understood the question just as well, and even better, than we do now.’”

 

– quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s address at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, February 27. 1860 (during which he repeatedly quotes a statement by Senator Stephen Douglas)

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05062020 What Dreams May Come”]

 

“This is the testimony of one who was present on that historic occasion: ‘When Lincoln rose to speak, I was greatly disappointed. He was tall, tall, – oh, how tall, and so angular and awkward that I had, for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man. His clothes were black and ill-fitting, badly wrinkled – as if they had been jammed carelessly into a trunk. His bushy head, with the stiff black hair thrown back, was balanced on a long and lean head-stalk, and when he raised his hands in an opening gesture, I noticed that they were very large. He began in a low tone of voice – as if he were used to speaking out-doors, and was afraid of speaking too loud…. But pretty soon he began to get into his subject; he straightened up, made regular and graceful gestures; his face lighted up as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured. I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities. Presently, forgetting myself, I was on my feet like the rest, yelling…. When he reached the climax, the thunders of applause were terrific. It was a great speech. When I came out of the hall, my face was glowing with excitement and my frame all a-quiver, a friend with his eyes aglow, asked me what I thought of Abe Lincoln, the rail-splitter. I said: “He’s the greatest man since St. Paul.” And I think so yet.’”

 

– quoted from Abraham Lincoln and the Downfall American Slavery  by Noah Brooks (published 1888)

 

MAKE SURE YOU’VE SAVED THE DATE! This Friday (March 5th) is the next “First Friday Night Special! Join me (7:15 PM – 8:20 PM, CST) to “give something up” / “let someone go.” Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### “The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.” ~ SF, maybe ###

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