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The Order of Things (with all due respect to Michel Foucault) April 17, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the month of Ramadan. Many blessings, also, to those celebrating Chaitra Navaratri.

“The discrepancy between faith and the facts is greater than is generally assumed. The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.”



– Brother Juniper in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder, born in Madison, Wisconsin, today in 1897, wrote a lot of biographies. I mean… a lot of biographies. Granted, he mostly wrote biographies about fictional people, but that didn’t stop him from creating (and then recreating) the layers and layers of these people’s lives – and, in doing so, highlighting cause and effect.  In fact, that process of deep diving into someone’s personal history in order to better understand the end result of their history is Brother Juniper’s primary motivation in The Bridge of San Luis Rey (for which Mr. Wilder won his first Pulitzer Prize).

Ten years after winning that first Pulitzer Prize (in Fiction), Thornton Wilder won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Our Town, a play that not only highlights cause and effect, it includes a scene where a woman (Emily Webb) gets to playback a portion of her life. He would win his third Pulitzer Prize (also in Drama) in 1943, for The Skin of Our Teeth – a play that is notable for being out of sync and full of things that are out of time. In addition to his three Pulitzers and numerous other awards, Mr. Wilder won the 1968 National Book Award for Fiction for The Eighth Day, a multi-family biography disguised as a murder mystery. Or, maybe it’s a murder mystery disguised as a biography of two families. Either way, it highlights a sequence of events and how they are connected.

“This is a history.

But there is only one history. It began with the creation of man and will come to an end when the last human consciousness is extinguished. All other beginnings and endings are arbitrary conventions – makeshifts parading as self-sufficient entireties, diffusing petty comfort or petty despair. The cumbrous shears of the historian cut out a few figures and brief passage of time from that enormous tapestry. Above and below the laceration, to the right and left of it, the severed threads protest against the injustice, against the imposture.

It is only in appearance that time is a river. It is rather a vast landscape and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.”



– quoted from The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder

What we find, in just about every work by Thornton Wilder, is that there is always a time and a place, but our understanding of the time (and the place) – as well as our understanding of ourselves – changes based on where we start and how the story unfolds… or, more specifically, how the story is told.

As a writer, Mr. Wilder decided who knew what when for his characters and also for his readers. According to Patanjali, our brains are like the author: showing us different things at different times and, also, not showing us things that other people see/understand with clarity. Additionally, things play out in a certain sequence. Yet that sequence is not always the sequence we (individually and/or collectively) experience or understand.

It can all get quite confusing, which is why (on Monday) I asked the question “Where to begin?” – because where we begin establishes a sequence of events that is paramount to our understanding of cause and effect. Remember, as Edward Norton Lorenz established with chaos theory, changing the beginning of the sequence can change the end results.

Yoga Sūtra 3.13: etena bhūta-indriyaşu dharma lakşaņa-avasthā- pariņāmah vyākhyātāh


– “In this [one-pointed] state, [the mind] passes beyond the three kinds of changes which take place in subtle and gross matter, and in the organs: change of form, change of time and change of condition.”



Yoga Sūtra 3.14: śānta-udita-avyapadeśya-dharma-anupātī dharmī


– “A compound object, containing the attributes, and is subject to change, either past, present or yet to be manifested.”



Yoga Sūtra 3.15: krama-anyatvam pariņāmah-anyatve hetuh


– “Change in the sequence of the characteristics is the cause for the different appearances of results, consequences, or effects.”

Swami Vivekananda illustrated Yoga Sūtra 3.13 by describing the changes in form, time, and condition of a lump of gold. For a moment, let’s apply the same thread to water. Water can be in the form of liquid, solid, or gas and it can be pure or sullied or in the process of running clear or becoming muddy. Additionally, water can take the form or shape of its container – whether that is a shoreline or a mug – and can also absorb vibrations in a way that changes its form. All of this happens through spans of time and, under certain conditions, includes a decrease or increase in the volume of water. When we apply this same line of thinking to our thoughts and the fluctuations of our mind, we begin to see how meditation works.

 Of course, for the process of meditation to “work,” we must practice in stages and be willing to let go of previous layers of thought, sensation, and understanding. We must, as Thornton Wilder indicates, move around and view the landscape from different vantage points – which we can only truly do if we practice non-attachment and are willing to see everything (including ourselves) from all sides. This requires a bit of that same suspension of disbelief that we engage when we read a book or watch a movie; it requires us to focus and be fully engaged in the present moment as it fluctuates between the past and future moments.

“‘My friends,’ continued Chrysis, turning her eyes slowly from face to face….


‘Suddenly the hero saw that the living too are dead and that we can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasure; for our hearts are not strong enough to love every moment. And not an hour had gone by before the hero who was both watching life and living it called on Zeus to release him from so terrible a dream.’”



– quoted from The Woman of Andros by Thornton Wilder



“EMILY: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER: No. [Pause.]The saints and poets maybe – they do some.”


– quoted from Our Town by Thornton Wilder


One of the side effects (some would say “benefits,” others would say “disadvantages”) of this type of practice is the awareness that things are the way they are and work the way they work, because of a very specific sequence of events. If the sequence of events changes, the outcome changes; however, to change the sequence (in order to change the outcome) we have to know where to begin.

Yes, yes, we are back to that – and back to the butterfly effect. Of course, since we cannot go back and change what has happened in the past, we can only move forward. Moving forward with awareness – awareness of how and why things are the way they are and work the way they work – requires understanding cause and effect.

In The Essence of Chaos, Edward Norton Lorenz emphatically argued for believing in free will and wrote, “Before proceeding further, we need to consider the question of free will of human beings, and perhaps of other animate creatures. Most of us presumably believe that the manner in which we will respond to a given set of circumstances has not been predetermined, and that we are free to make a choice…. Our behavior is then a form of randomness in the broader sense; more than one thing is possible next.” However, according to Eastern philosophies like Yoga (and current events), we are conditioned to “respond to a given set of circumstances” based on our previous circumstances and our understanding of those circumstances (i.e., our samskaras, layers of mental impressions). Therefore, while I agree with his basic premise and overall idealization of free will, our behavior might be better described as a form of “random chaos” – in that there are multiple outcomes, but those outcomes are limited by our ability to see the choices within a given situation and the possible outcomes… and our ability to see clearly is limited by the situation and by our previous experiences.


“STAGE MANAGER: Wherever you come near the human race, there’s layers and layers of nonsense….”


– quoted from Our Town by Thornton Wilder



“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”



– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, April 17th) at 12:00 PM, for an experience. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.


Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]


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.)



“Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.”



– quoted from The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder



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