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Time To Breathe, with Gratitude (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. 

[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 22nd. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

 

Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1-8), KJV

When most Americans – especially most Christian Americans – think of Ecclesiastes (or Ecclesiastes – Or, The Preacher, as it is called in the King James Version), they think of the beginning of the third Chapter. It is no accident that this passage about the different seasons in our lives, like the whole book, sounds a lot like the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”), which is often recited or chanted during Rosh Hashanah services. In fact, this whole book of the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament) focuses on how one could spend their time. So, it is not surprising that people within the Jewish community (and those who observe the commanded holidays) spend some time in the fall reviewing this book of the Torah. What may be surprising to some is that a community review of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes doesn’t happen during the High Holidays. It happens after.

Yes, after spending (at least) ten days reflecting, remembering, repenting, and planning for a New Year, people within the Jewish community then spend a little time celebrating what’s to come with the observation of Sukkot. Remember, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is a time to give thanks for blessings that will be given and during this time people read the twelve short chapters featuring the philosophy of a teacher (or a preacher) who is identified at the beginning and only speaks directly at the beginning and the end. Some people, even some religious scholars, consider the wisdom within these pages to be rhetorical questions and musings only intended to get people to think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a pessimistic meditation with a shot a fatalism. Others, even some religious scholars, view these passages as words by which we all should live: giving, allowing, and embracing each season of our lives as full as possible. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a life affirming meditation on the power of the gift that has been given: this present moment.

“Breath of breath, said the Teacher; [like the shadow of mist that passes], all is breath.*

What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it yearns and rises there.

It goes to the south and goes to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits.”

 

(*NOTE: The Hebrew word “hevel” (variations of which occur 3 times in K-E 3.1) is often translated into English as “vanity,” “futility” or “meaningless,” but is literally translated as “breath.)

 

 – Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (1:2-6)

As the sun rises and sets, as “it goes to the south and goes to north,” people around the world mark the changing seasons with a variety of rituals and traditions. This year, the second day of Sukkot (September 22nd) was also the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (which is the Vernal or Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. So, while some people spent their twelve or so hours of daylight practicing a 108 Sun Salutations or finishing up mooncakes left over from Mid-Autumn Festival (a Harvest Moon festival in China that actually fell on September 21st this year), some people spent the twelve or so hours of daylight (and nighttime) eating, sleeping, reading Kohelet – Ecclesiastes, and giving thanks outdoors in their sukkah.

I keep saying, “twelve or so hours” because everybody everywhere doesn’t get exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime on the equinox.

Giving thanks – that’s one way we can spend our time. One way we can spend our breath. Some even say it is one of the most powerful ways to spend our time, because it is a way to cultivate happiness. In fact, appreciating what is (in any given moment) is one aspect of santosha, the second niyamā (internal “observation) in the yoga philosophy.

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

Patanjali used variations of the Sanskrit word “sukha” throughout his treatise on the practice. For example, he used it in his explanation of the third limb of the philosophy, āsana, where it (sukham) is often translated into English as “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” (YS 2.46) Prior to that, in offering different ways to clear the mind, he suggested offering “the essence of friendship” or “friendliness” to those who are sukha and “a joyful condition of the mind” or “happiness” (muditā) when dealing with people who are virtuous (puņya). Furthermore, in our physical practice of yoga, we have Sukhāsana. A pose kids know as “criss-cross, apple sauce,” but it is often translated into English as “Easy Pose” – even though it can be quite challenging if your hips are tight and/or you have knee issues. Literally speaking, though, it could just as easily be called “Happy Seat.”

This year it really struck me that the Hebrew word for “booth” or “tabernacle,” the same word applied to an ancient farmer’s temporary shelter, sounds (and looks) like the Sanskrit word for “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” We could get into the etymology and shared roots of ancient languages, but for the moment I want to focus on context. In ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts, there are two different ways in which one can experience happiness, pleasure, and/or bliss. There’s the conditional and transitional experience that you might have after, say, eating your favorite meal or dessert. It is short term, not lasting, when you’re patting your full belly and not thinking about anyone but yourself. That is preya.  On the flip side, there is an experience that is more intrinsic and more lasting, one that is associated with something that is “good” in that it serves a purpose.

Consider, for example, the feeling experienced by a farmer who, after bringing in the harvest that will feed their family and friends, has a moment in the temporary shade where they look out over all of their land and experience satisfaction that is tied to the land, tied to the work of their hands, and also tied to the future. Yes, that single moment of deep satisfaction may only happen for a single moment (then it’s time to get back to work) and it can absolutely be something that is connected to one’s ego. (Again, making it preya.) However, here I’m talking about a sensation born from living a life of purpose and living a life that requires complete commitment to the purpose. The person who cooks during and after the harvest may look around the table and recognize how their efforts are connected to the overall effort and also experience a bone deep satisfaction that comes from complete commitment.

By complete commitment, I mean mind-body-spirit aligned with thoughts, words, and deeds. When that commitment is experienced along with an awareness of how everything (and everyone) is connected and with a true understanding of how everyone (and everything) works together in order for there to be past (and future) harvests, then we are entering into the “sukha” realm. The farmer recognizes that they can’t work without the efforts of the cook; the cook recognizes that they can’t work without the farmer; both recognize that they cannot do what they do without the land, the seasons, and – especially in this context – without God (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Descriptions of this lasting type of “happiness” are found in the Upanishads as well as in Buddhist texts like the Anaņa Sutta. In the latter, the Buddha describes “four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions….” (Sound familiar?) Descriptions of the first two kinds of joy – the bliss of having and the bliss of [making use of] wealth – emphasize the work (or effort) of a person and the righteousness of that work (meaning it is wise or skillful work, in the Buddhist sense). Descriptions for the latter two kinds of joy are shorter in that they simply describe how one is debtless (because they are without debt) and blameless (because they are without kamma/karma). Even though the last two have shorter descriptions, it is clear that to move through the world without owing and/or harming anyone is a skill that requires practice.

So, the question remains: How will you spend your time?

“So the whole point of that is not, sort of, to make, like, a circus thing of showing exceptional beings who can jump, or whatever. It’s more to say that mind training matters. That this is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

 

– quoted from a Ted2004 talk entitled “The Habits of Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 3”]

Here’s another one of my 2020 Sukkot posts about practicing gratitude in order to cultivate happiness.

“Misconception #2: ‘If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I’ll lose my motivation to achieve more.’

Happiness doesn’t drain your energy. It adds more!

Ask a happy person: ‘I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?’
He’ll say: ‘Great! Let’s go!’

Now ask someone who is depressed: ‘C’mon, let’s go fishing!’
He says, ‘I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain…’

Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There’s never enough time to do everything they want to do.”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

### Breathe In, Breathe Out: Give Thanks ###

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