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New Year, New Season (a “missing” post for multiple Saturdays) March 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, New Year, Religion.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere.

[This post is related to three Saturdays, March 6th; March 13th; and March 20th. You can request an audio recording of any of the practices 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.]


“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”


– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

Today, Saturday, March 20th, was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, the Bahá’i New Year started at sunset on Friday evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”


– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali instructs us to pay attention to the transitions.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”


– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

When detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali explores the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and refers to them collectively as samyama. Once he explains how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautions against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineates the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible.

Obvious, right? But what happens when we “Get Inside” (as we did on Saturday, March 6th)?

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the artist, was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese (then the Republic of Florence and now Tuscany, Italy). Known for works like David, the Pietá, and some of the most well-known frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was known as Il Divino (“The Divine One”) by his contemporaries, because he had the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and to create terribilitá (a sense of awesomeness or emotional intensity). He said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

In the practice of Yoga, we use the first four limbs of the philosophy the way Michelangelo used his carving and painting tools: to bring what is inside out, to set our inner angel free. Or, as I mentioned on the 6th, we can use it to set our inner GOAT free.

“‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”


– quoted from the Ebony Magazine article, “Muhammad Ali: ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ – Despite his medical problems, ‘The Greatest’ says there is plenty of fight left in his body” by Walter Leavy (published March 1985)


In 1964, it was announced to the world that the boxer we now know as The Greatest of All Times would no longer go by his birth name or “slave name” – which was also his father’s name. The heavy-weight champion’s grandfather had named his son (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.,) after a 19th-century abolitionist politician in Kentucky (Cassius Marcellus Clay) who, by some accounts, strong-armed President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate Confederate slaves and freed some of his own slaves in 1844, but still kept some slaves on hand. Muhammad Ali wanted to distance himself from that legacy of slavery and forge his own path; so, he chose a name that reflected his faith and his skills: Muhammad Ali.

The name change wasn’t even close to instantaneous. In fact, with the major exception of Howard Cosell, who coincidentally had changed his own last name back to his family’s original Polish surname, most journalists and media outlets continued to refer to the prizefighter as “Cassius Clay” for over a decade. And it wasn’t just a matter of people getting use to the new name. Because he refused to answer to his birth name, journalist would address him as Muhammad Ali in-person, but then write about “Cassius Clay.” By their own account, The New York Times wrote about over 1,000 articles about “Cassius Clay” from 1964 to 1968, but only referenced “Muhammad Ali” in about 150. This practice continued well into the 1970’s! But the practice wasn’t even consistent; the media seemed to have no problem referencing “Malcolm X” – even though, at the time, he was still legally “Malcolm Little.”

Muhammad means “One who is worthy of praise” and Ali means “Most high.” The names, as he clearly stated, were symbolic in nature – as all names are. By changing his name, Muhammad Ali honored his outside (i.e., the color of his skin) while also placing emphasis on the inside (i.e., his talent and his beliefs). He also gave the world tools to focus on the inside and to become more intimate. Sadly, some folks kept themselves stuck on the outside.

Yoga Sūtra 3.7: trayam antarangam pūrvebhyah


– “These three practices of concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna), and samādhi are more intimate or internal than the previous five practices.”

Patanjali devotes a series of “threads” to the distinctions between internal/intimate and external in order to illustrate that perspective can make something that feels internal feel “external” simply because there is something more “internal.” One great example of this can be illustrated by comparing different types of physical practices of yoga. For instances: A vinyāsa practice (because it is a moving practice) is more “yang” or active than a YIN Yoga practice (in which part of the practice is not moving for what can feel like an incredibly long amount of time). On the flip side, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga can be significantly more “yang” or active than a “Slow Flow” and a Restorative Yoga practice can be significantly more “yin” than a YIN yoga practice.

By the same token, focusing on the breath and the awareness of the breath  begins to feel more internal than just moving the body without breath awareness, but the former begins to feel more external when you can concentrate without actively thinking about the fact that you are concentrating on your breath (or anything else). In other words, the object of focus is the “seed” – something tangible and understandable, with a reference point. Then, there is a point in the practice when the focus becomes “seedless” – at which point being “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” (which was our thread on Saturday, March 13th).

Yoga Sūtra 3.8: tad api bahir-angam nirbījasya


– “These three practices are external, and not intimate compared to nirbija samadhi, which is samadhi that has no object, nor even a seed object on which there is concentration.”


In our physical practice, more often than not, we use the breath as our primary “seed.” At first we may simultaneously engage it on multiple levels. After all, we can feel it, we can direct it, and (under the proper conditions) we can see it. Eventually, however, we become absorbed in the experience of breathing and being alive – which is obviously a different experience than actively working with the breath, but it is also a different experience than breathing and living without being aware of the breath. I often think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of someone like Joseph Priestley, just as I think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of those three people who left footprints on the side of a mountain in Italy over 350,000 years ago.

On March 13, 2003, Nature Journal published the work of three paleontologists who had identified fossilized footprints (and handprints) as belonging to three homo-genus individuals fleeing the then-actively erupting Roccamonfino volcano. Through those external impressions (embedded deep in the earth), we get an intimate glimpse into a brief moment of their lives. We know two fled the volcano together, one assisting the other. We know about their pace and trajectory, based on the zigzag patterns and the places where it appears one or more supported themselves with their hands. We can use their steps as tools and then, based on our own experiences, move deeper from there.

Joseph Priestley, born March 13, 1733 (according to the Julian calendar) was an 18th-century English theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, liberal political theorist, and a member of the Lunar Circle (also known as the Lunar Society). He is credited with discovering oxygen in its isolated gaseous state (which he considered “dephlogisticated air”). He also inventing soda water – which, he believed, could cure scurvy and which he called “impregnated water.” He also believed science was integral to theology and, therefore, all of his scientific work was a reflection of his liturgical work, and vice versa.

Even though much of what Joseph Priestley believed, scientifically speaking, has been superseded by advancements in technology and science, his work is one of the steps that brought us closer to the knowledge we have now. Think of his phlogiston theories as “seeds” at the beginning of the process. Now, consider, how – having moved beyond that point of understanding – we start anew… and go deeper. (As we did today, March 20th.)

“Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton and have traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might see nothing very extraordinary in the process.”


– Joseph Priestley


This week’s “threads” can be a little hard to take in just from the sūtras themselves. However, the point is to experience them and, once we have experienced them (in context) we realize they are easier to understand. There are some really great analogies related to movement and transition – which is the whole point of these threads – but the one that came to mind today takes us back to the boat analogy.

Take a moment to imagine your breath as a wave, with you floating on your back or floating in a boat. It doesn’t matter if you are lazily enjoying some time off or in a rush to go somewhere. Either way, there are times when you will have to make an adjustment – a course correction, if you will. Sometimes, you have to make big adjustments in order to stay focused; other times, little adjustments. Every now and again, however, there is a moment where you don’t need to make any adjustments or modifications. You don’t have to peddle to stay afloat and you don’t have to steer yourself in the right direction. You are one with the waves, going with the flow and “in the zone.” This is the next level of the Yoga experience. 

Yoga Sūtra 3.9: vyutthāna-nirodhah-samskāra abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhah-kşaņa-chitta-anvayah nirodhah-pariņāmah


– “When the vision of the lower Samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.”


Yoga Sūtra 3.10: tasya praśānta-vāhitā samskārāt


– “When this suppression of thought waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.”


The playlist for Saturday, March 6th (the “Getting Inside or ‘What Is Inside, IV’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]


The playlist for Saturday, March 13th (the “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]


The playlist for Saturday, March 20th (the “New Year, New Season” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.


“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”


– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali





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