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The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story (2 “missing” Saturday posts) May 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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Many blessings, also, to those who are Counting the Omer (and, also, to those who are not).

[This is a post related to Saturday, May 1st and Saturday, May 8th (making it a preview for Saturday, May 15th). You can request an audio recording of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of the Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who not only raised Jesus (at God’s behest), but also taught Jesus a trade and (as a carpenter) emphasizes the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lapis” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how I’m living now and how what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeline or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what has happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

The playlist for Saturday, May 1st is available on YouTube and Spotify.

The playlist for Saturday, May 8th is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

  • ### WORDED (that’s the whole story) ###

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