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What Makes Us Do What We Do (Where We Do It) June 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. A lady of my acquaintance said, ‘I don’t care so much for what they say as I do for what makes them say it.’”

– quoted from 1875 essay “Social Aims” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you believe? It seems like such a simple question – especially since it’s not “In what” or “In whom” do you believe? But simple questions can be the trickiest. Because if you believe something – really, truly, believe with your whole heart and every fiber of your being – than your actions will reflect your beliefs. Right? Everything will be in alignment. Right?

Only, we humans tend to be a little more complicated than that. So, maybe the next thing to consider isn’t whether your every thought, word, and deed perfectly reflects what you believe. Maybe the next thing to consider is whether or not you are willing to put all of your efforts – all of your thoughts, words, and deeds – on the line, in support of a campaign (or an organization…or a country…) in which you believe. What would you do for freedom, for country, for God (what every that means to you at this moment)?

Prior to going to London in 1841, George Williams was a young draper from the countryside (Dulverton, Somerset, England to be exact) who had attended school in Tiverton, Devon and apprenticed at a shop in Bridgewater (also in Somerset). He was not a man of the world. But he had a sense of self and described himself as a “careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow.” For all that, when he arrived in London for a job, he was way out of his depth. He saw London as a dirty place, a place of temptation, a kind of hell on Earth. (Keep in mind; I have heard that he couldn’t tell the difference between schoolgirls in uniform and prostitutes if they were standing on a street corner.)

“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

– 1 Corinthians 9:25 – 27 (NLT)

Motivated to overcome the unhealthy living and working conditions and inspired by Muscular Christianity, a mid-19th century philosophical movement based on the idea that one’s mind-body and actions should glorify God, Sir Williams gathered together 11 other drapers to create a place for healthy and moral activities and for, as he said, “the improving of the spiritual conditioning of young men engaged in drapery, embroidery, and other trades.” They gathered together today, June 6th in 1844, to create what one of the drapers, Christopher W. Smith, suggested they call the “Young Men’s Christian Association” [YMCA].

The ideas behind the YMCA expanded and, by the early 1850’s, there were YMCA meetings and branches throughout the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. Jean-Henri Dunant (who would later co-win the first Noble Peace Prize for founding the International Committee of the Red Cross) was the founder of the Swiss branch of the YMCA, Secretary of the YMCA Geneva, and the person who spearheaded the idea for a YMCA World Conference. At that first conference, in August 1855, 99 delegates from nine countries adopted the Paris Basis, which included an international mission and motto. That motto came from John 17:21, “That they all may be one.”

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

– quoted from the June 6, 1944, printed “Order of the Day” (issued to 175,000 troops by Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force) and the subsequent speech by United States General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of Operation Overlord

Exactly a hundred years (to the date) after the founding of the YMCA, a World War II battle began on the beaches of Normandy, France. At least 156,000 Allied troops put their lives on the line in the effort to liberate Western Europe from Nazi Germany. Today is the anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of the Battle of Normandy, which lasted from June 6, 1944 until August 30th. Codenamed “Operation Overlord,” the military campaign was a coordinated amphibious and airborne effort on five beaches by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway.

The original plan was for troops to land on June 5th, on beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha, and Utah. However, bad weather delayed the start – and created tactical issues. Some troops were not able to land when and where they were scheduled to land – in one case, at Juno, infantry made it to shore ahead of their supporting armour – resulting in many casualties. The Allied forces met their heaviest resistance, and possibly the highest casualties, on Omaha Beach, but by the end of the day, the Allies had invaded Nazi-controlled territory.

The campaign that started today, in 1944, moved across the Normandy countryside, engaging over 2 million Allied troops. By the end of August, Paris had been liberated, Germany was forced out of northwestern France, and Allied forces were prepared to join their Soviet allies in the continued effort to rid the world of fascism and end what we now know was the Holocaust.

But, of course, there was a cost. An estimated 226,386 Allied troops died in the campaign, with the Axis powers losing somewhere between 288,000 – 530,000 troops. An estimated 25,000 to 39,000 civilians died (between the pre-invasion bombing and the actual bombing).

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

– from “Ode of Remembrance” taken from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

When we remember those who were lost today and throughout the war – as well as when we remember those who survived, but were left with permanent scars, inside and out – we must remember that even during times of war, even when there is a draft, people put their lives on the line for a lot of different reasons. People put all of their efforts – all of their thoughts, words, and deeds – on the line, in support of a campaign (or an organization…or a country…) because of something in which they believe. Maybe, like those who engaged in the Muscular Christianity movement of the mid-19th century, it’s a belief in patriotic duty, discipline, self-sacrifice, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism. Maybe it’s a belief in freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe it’s a belief in life.

We can’t always know why someone thinks what they think, says what they say, or does what they do. We can, however, give some thought to how our thoughts, words, and deeds reflect our deepest beliefs.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 6th) at 2:30 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.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06062020 D-Day & YMCA]

Click here for a different take on this theme and date.

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.)