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A Day for Children (a Sunday post practice post) November 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, November 14th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice 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.

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“You must have read many fairy tales and stories of long ago. But the world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that was ever written. Only, we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens out to the life and beauty of the world.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

How many of the fairy tales, stories of adventure, and lessons from childhood do you remember today? How many of them have you internalized and used as you’ve navigated your way through life? How many have you gone back and re-read, as an adult, only to find you remembered things differently or have a different understanding as an adult? It happens to all of us. We learn so much about the world and so much about ourselves as children, but there’s a lot we don’t fully understand until later in life. Then, just as we are (maybe) starting to figure out the lessons of life, we find ourselves teaching others. The problem with teaching children, however, is that sometimes we’ve forgotten the best parts of being a child. And, sometimes, we are so busy teaching children how to be adults, that we forget to celebrate what it means to be a child.

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy highlight the mindset of a child with practices like shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santōsha (“contentment”), respectively. However, being the adults that we are, we can take these practices so seriously that we lose the wonder. We forget to celebrate childhood… and children. We forget that there is wisdom (and strength) in being a child. And so, sometimes, we need to literally put ourselves in the position of a child.

“So we must also think of their country and of many other countries in the world and remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and play, sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

Take a yoga class – almost any yoga class – for about a year, and at some point you’re going to come across a position you naturally found yourself in as a kid: Bālāsana, “Child’s Pose” or (quite literally) the “Child Seat.” The Sanskrit word shares roots with the Sanskrit word for “strength” and the “force [of an army]” as well as a medicinal plant, which is why some traditions call it “Leaf Pose.” In sacred philosophical texts, like some of the Upanishads, bālā is the word used for “boy” or “young child,” and so it is also associated with the power of wisdom. And while I just said, you could take almost any yoga class for about a year and come across “Child’s Pose,” in some styles and traditions it will be the very first pose on the very first day.

To get into the pose, you bring your big toes to touch behind you, sit on your heels, and then fold forward until your forehead and nose touch down and your arms rest by your hips. There are some extended variations where the arms rest on the floor over your head and there are some variations where the knees are spread wide. Some people can do it without props; some people can only do it with props; and some people do it with props even when they can do it without them. However, how ever one does it, it is a pose that we’ve all pretty much been in at some point in our lives. In that sense, it’s like a lot of other yoga poses; in that it occurs naturally in nature.

True and funny story, though: You won’t find the pose in very many texts on the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition – and definitely not in any of the early texts (even though it seems very similar to the seated and supine poses found in classical texts). Even more interesting, to me, is the fact that when you do find the pose it is considered an energetically “neutralizing” pose and assigned a difficulty level of 1 (meaning relatively easy). However, the pose offers a lot of benefits and can be quite difficult for some people.

For example, if you have knee issues; tight hips; tight quads; ankle issues; some digestive issues (particularly stomach issues); and/or issues like claustrophobia, you might find the pose really challenging. Some of these challenges can be overcome by sitting on a prop like a block or using a bolster to support your head, torso, and hips. You could also use a rolled up towel or blanket to support your head and even place a rolled up towel or blanket between the backs of thighs and the calves (i.e., between your hips and your heels). In some cases, you might feel best when siting in a chair with your toes tucked back (if that is accessible to you) and then folding over a table – with or without something to cushion your head. In the absence of props, you could rest your head on your stacked fists, hands, or forearms.

An option I often give, for people who are not pregnant, is to just lie flat (with or without props). Lying flat on your belly can provide the same opportunity (that Child’s Pose does) to physically and mentally rest between challenges. It can also help you get centered at the beginning of the practice and can provide similar release in the low back, the neck, and – depending on the arm placement – the shoulders. Laying flat can also be a similar way to mentally and emotionally decompress and turn inward. However, there are some benefits to practicing Bālāsana (and it’s play-cousin “Puppy Dog”) that you won’t experience when you lie down flat. For instance, Child’s Pose not only helps you release your low back, it also helps to stretch the entire length of the spine. It also helps to stretch out the quadriceps, knees, hips, ankles, and tops of the feet. According to some modern texts on āsana, Child’s Pose and it’s play-cousins (like “Puppy Dog” and “Downward Facing Hero”) relieve breathlessness, dizziness, fatigue, stress, and headaches; reduces high blood pressure; reduces acidity and flatulence; and alleviates menstrual pain and depression associated with menstruation.

I usually say “Child’s Pose is a modification for every pose,” because not only can you hang out / rest in Child’s Pose until you’re ready to re-join the sequence, but also the extension of the torso creates the opportunity to approximate the engagement of other poses. The adaptability of “Child’s Pose” is very much reminiscent of the flexibility and adaptability of an actual child – which we have all been. Funny thing, though: what happens on the mat is a reflection of what happens off the mat. Just like we can progress and mature in our practice in such a way that we forget the beauty and possibilities of a pose, we can progress and mature in life in a way that can cause us to forget the beauty and possibilities of life.

“As I write I think of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages, wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like on another. If you bring them together, they play or quarrel. But even their quarrelling is some kind of play. They do not think of differences amongst themselves.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

There are several days throughout the year when children are celebrated. November 14th is India’s Children’s Day (Bal Diwas), which is observed every year on the anniversary of the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister. Prime Minister Nehru was born [on this day] in 1889 and was a prominent figure in India’s independence movement. He was known as “Pandit Nehru,” because of his Kashmiri Pandit heritage, and had such an affinity for the children of his country (and they for him) that Indian kids called him Chacha Nehru (Hindi for “Uncle Nehru”). He advocated for the rights, care, and education of children – who are the light of the world. He specifically supported the idea that a well-rounded education resulted in a better society and considered children the foundation (and strength) of the nation.

Prime Minister Nehru was born into wealth and was able to pass wealth and other resources down to his children. His early childhood included governesses and private tutors, as well as exposure to Indian philosophy and theosophy (which was created in the United States). In fact, his family was friendly with Anne Besant, one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society, and he was initiated into the society at the age of thirteen. He studied natural science at the Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with an honours before moving to London and studying law at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar (i.e., qualified to practice law) in 1912 and returned to India where he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, at least as a lawyer. However, his father, Motilal Nehru, would eventually serve two terms as president of the Indian National Congress (1919 and 1928); India was changing; and all of his studies about politics, economics, socialism, and philosophy ended up interesting the young barrister more than the existing laws. He not only became involved in the Congress, supported Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts for social change in South Africa, and campaigned against indentured servitude and other forms of British-enforced discrimination against Indians.

Later, the future prime minister would be jailed for following Gandhi’s example and illegally making salt and he continually fought for India’s independence. As prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru changed laws in order to criminalize caste discrimination; increase the legal rights and freedom of women; and provide more education opportunities for previously disenfranchised populations. He also attempted to redistribute land wealth; maintain a political friendship with Great Britain; and establish India as a secular, global power.

The Nehru family’s involvement in Indian politics did not end with father and son. Jawaharlal Nehru married Kamala Kaul, who became an activist and organizer in her own right. In addition to reading his speeches to the public when he was jailed, she organized women’s groups in boycotting non-Indian vendors and created a dispensary to treat activists, their families, and the surrounding community. She and her popularity in India were, ultimately, recognized as a threat to British rule. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (née Nehru), the oldest of Prime Minister Nehru’s younger sisters, was the first woman appointed as the (6th) Governor of Maharashtra (1962-1964) and the (8th) President of the United Nations General Assembly (1953-1954). In addition to taking over her brother’s seat in Parliament in Lok Sabha (1967-1971), she also served as India’s diplomat to the Soviet Union and the United States (as well as the United Nations.

Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, the youngest of the Nehru siblings, was also an activist; however, she may be most well known as the biographer of her brother and her niece. That niece – Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru’s daughter – Indira Gandhi held several political offices and became India’s 3rd Prime Minister and the only woman (to date) to hold the office. While a BBC poll named her “Woman of the Millennium” in 1999 and a 2020 issue of Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 powerful women of the 20th century because of her leadership, her times in office were marked by strife, calls for revolution, and suspension of civil liberties. She served from 1966-1977 and was re-elected for a third term in January of 1980. She served until her assassination, by her own bodyguards, on October 31, 1984. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was immediately appointed as her successor and served as India’s 6th Prime Minister until December of 1989. He was India’s youngest prime minister and his time in office was also full of controversy, scandal, and civil rights issues; but he continued to hold other political offices until his assassination on May 21, 1991. His widow and their son have also served in Congress, parliament, and other political offices.

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

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– quoted from “Tryst with Destiny” address to the Constituent Assembly of India in New Dehli, August 14 – 15, 1947, by Jawaharlal Nehru

Thinking back to the practice about fate and destiny, we can look at a family’s legacy and see the lessons that are passed from parent to child and then on to the following generations. Looking at the political legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi (which is only politically connected to Mahatma Gandhi’s family), we can clearly see an emphasis on education and social / political engagement. Additionally, we can look at letters, speeches, and family recollections to find which lessons were direct and deliberate and which lessons were inferred. Either way, it is interesting to notice what sticks.

It is not uncommon, as we have even seen in the United States, for parents to encourage their children to follow in their footsteps. But what happens when the child has different interests? Even more importantly, what happens when a child is encouraged to follow their own interests no matter where they might lead? It is, after all, possible to serve – and even to promote social change – without going into politics. In this day and age it is possible for a child to serve – and even to promote social change – in ways that were not available to their parents…. even in ways that were beyond their parents’ imaginations.

Children, and children’s lives, are full of possibilities. But those possibilities can be limited by our imaginations and our conditioning. Here I am specifically referring to the imaginations and conditioning of adults. We have, after all, learned to see the world in a limited fashion; while children are still learning how to see the world. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget that there are other was to see them and ourselves.  It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to discover what’s beneath the labels, superficial layers, and trivialities that we use to separate ourselves from each other. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to keep our minds open with wonder and curiosity. We are, after all, all microcosms, little worlds.

“Our country is a little world in itself, with an infinite variety of places for us to discover. I have travelled a great deal in the country and I have grown in years. I wish I had more time, so that I could visit all the nooks and corners of India. I would like to go there in the company of bright young children whose minds are opening out with wonder and curiosity. I should like to go with them not so much to the great cities of India as to the hills and and the forests and the great rivers and the old monuments, all of which tell us something of India’s story.

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

 

“This is based on a true story. While hiking in the hills of Rishikesh in India, we encountered a holy man who approached with light in his eyes and love in his heart… just beaming with inspiration. He spoke as if he were channeling the divinity ever present in that wonderful country and spoke these words… “Light of sun in the sky sends the message: Be Fearless and Play!” We were fascinated and inspired by his simple but insightful words.”

 

– quoted from the liner notes for the song “Be Fearless and Play” by Wookiefoot

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### Be Mindful What You “Teach Your Children Well” ~ with all respect to CSN&Y ###