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Mystical Journeys Around the Sun (Monday’s post-practice post, that’s mostly about the links) January 31, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Meditation, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy (Lunar) New Year’s Eve!

This post-practice post for Monday, January 31st. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

“We’re all on a journey. We’re all going somewhere.”

*

“Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth, and there find ourselves in the stranger who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. This is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the Divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves.”

*

– quoted from the Emergence Magazine documentary On The Road With Thomas Merton, by Jeremy Seifert and Fred Bahnson, based on Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook, May 1968, by Thomas Merton

*

Click here for last year’s post inspired by Thomas Merton.

There is no music for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

*

This YouTube link will take you to the short documentary referenced above.

### How Do You “See” Things After You Sit & Breathe?” ###

For Those Who Missed It: Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence January 30, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted in 2021. Class information (including “First Friday” information) has been updated. This post does include disturbing (but not explicit) information.

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

 

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

 

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

 

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

 

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

 

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

 

No, actually, they’re not.

 

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

 

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

 

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

 

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

 

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

 

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

 

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

 

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

 

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

 

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, January 30th) at 2:30 PM. You can 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 (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01302021 Peace for the Martyrs”]

 

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.)

 

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) for a special welcoming. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

Knowing the Difference (mostly the music) January 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Music, Philosophy, Women, Yoga.
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“’10 litres of ligroin?’ The elderly chemist is not sure he has heard correctly. He adjusts his spectacles as if poor hearing can be corrected by a closer look. One thing is obvious: the lady’s dress is rather soiled. He thinks to himself that any lady venturing out in public in this state must be at least slightly crazy. Especially as the demeanour and speech of this particular lady are completely at odds with her appearance. ‘One litre of cleaning fluid will be plenty to remove the stains on your dress, madam’ he says in a mixture of irritation and fatherly concern. But the strange lady in the soiled clothing insists on buying the shop’s entire stock of ligroin. Because she has no intention of washing anything. She wants to refuel. So that she can continue the world’s first long-distance journey with her Benz Patent Motor Car. The lady’s name is Bertha Benz.

*

– quoted from the Mercedes-Benz website

 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, January 29th) at 12:00 PM. 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 “08072021 The Turtle’s Secret to Moving Meditation”]

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.)

 

### 🎶 ###

For Those Who Missed It (& those who still don’t get it): Divine Remembrance January 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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As I mentioned yesterday (and in the previous post), I find it twisted, upside down, and backwards that we need to remind each other that we were all born to be loved (and to love).

Similarly, it boggles my mind that on this day of remembrance there are still people in the world who want to brush the unsightly bits of our collective history under a rug or deny that certain atrocities even existed. Just as bad, in my mind, are people who just refuse to get that staying home and/or socially distancing so that a disease doesn’t kill them or someone they love, is not the same as hiding in an annex so that you or someone you love isn’t murdered. Wearing a mask (of your choosing) is not even close to wearing a yellow star – and it hurts my heart to realize some folks may actually believe otherwise.

The following was originally posted in relation to the January 27, 2021 practice. I’ve added an embedded video from last year. And, even if I’m “preaching to the choir,” I’m going to keep preaching.

 

“Io non mori’ e non rimasi vivo;
pensa oggimai per te, s’hai fior d’ingegno,
qual io divenni, d’uno e d’altro privo.”

“I did not die, and I was not alive;
think for yourself, if you have any wit,
what I became, deprived of life and death.”

 

– quoted from Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27), translated by Allen Mandelbaum

 

“I did not die, and yet I lost life’s breath: imagine for yourself what I became, deprived at once of both my life and death.”

 

– A popular, oft quoted, translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy – Inferno, Canto 34 (lines 25 – 27)

 

In November 1301, Florence, Italy was the site of a great political upheaval that destroyed much of the city, established a new government, and resulted in the death or banishment of many of the previous leaders. One of those people exiled from their hometown was Dante Alighieri, who banished on January 27, 1302. Dante had very briefly served as the city’s prior, one of its highest positions, and when the new government – ruled by his political enemies – took over, he was accused of corruption, ordered to pay a fine, and to spend two years in exile. But, the poet didn’t believe he had done anything wrong and, more to the point, his assets had been seized by the new government. So, his sentence was changed to perpetual exile (with the threat of death if he returned without paying the fine.)

Thus began the poet’s bitter wandering. He was in his mid-30’s; and while he would participate in several failed attempts to retake Florence, much of the remaining 20-odd years of his life would be devoted to writing The Divine Comedy, a long narrative poem divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. In the poem, the poet (and his soul) literally travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (or Paradise) – and metaphorically travel towards God. He is initially guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who represents “human reason;” but it is Beatrice, who symbolizes divine knowledge/love and who first appeared as the object of the poet’s great love in his “little book” La Vita Nuova (The New Life), who guides him from the end of Purgatorio into Paradiso. The poem reflects Dante’s medieval Roman Catholic beliefs and draws strongly from the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the great saints he meets in Paradise.

Article 1. Whether the soul was made or was of God’s substance?

Objection 1. It would seem that the soul was not made, but was God’s substance. For it is written (Genesis 2:7): ‘God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.’ But he who breathes sends forth something of himself. Therefore the soul, whereby man lives, is of the Divine substance.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a Qq. 90, volume 13) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

Even when we have different theological and/or philosophical beliefs, we can agree that breathing is a sign of life, of being alive. However, there are medical situations where someone is breathing and there are no other signs of life. Then there are medical and existential situations where someone is alive, but not living. This latter can be very subjective. Yet, I would argue that there are situations under which almost everyone can categorically agree that it would be really hard to truly live (and feel alive). Those same situations are the ones where it would be hard to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out.

I think, perhaps, Dante felt that feeling (of being alive, but not living) to a certain degree when he was exiled from his home and had almost everything familiar to him stripped away. However, Dante could still roam, and to a certain degree freely. He lived out his life in relative comfort and he was still free to worship according to his beliefs. He was not persecuted for his beliefs (only, for his politics) nor was he tortured because of his gender, ethnicity, height and appearance, or simply because he had a sibling born on the same day. He could write what he wanted to write and received recognition for his efforts. Furthermore, with the exception of what would happen if he returned to Florence, he did not have to fear being killed for his beliefs – or any of his personal attributes. He may have felt, metaphorically, as if he was “deprived of life and death,” but he still had some control over his life and his ability to live it. On the flip side, the millions of people rounded up, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed during the Holocaust, spent many of their days in a reality much like the first part of Dante’s poem: they were actually deprived of life and living.

“‘I [will never forget ‘the very bad things’….] I was there and had to see this with my own eyes,’ he said. ‘My mother and my father, and my 7-year-old brother, were murdered in another camp in Treblinka, which is not far from Warsaw.’”

 

– Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a 95-year old Holocaust survivor and lifelong rights activist, telling his story in “Auschwitz survivor reflects on Holocaust Remembrance Day” by Jessica A. Botelho (for NBC 10 News, WJAR, 1/27/2021)

The persecution during the Holocaust started with social and physical segregation; it escalated into government-sanctioned destruction of property; and eventually progressed to the establishment of concentration camps across German-occupied Europe. Millions fled their homes. Millions more would be held captive and tortured. An estimated two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered while the world stood by, in some cases in disbelief. In addition to the approximately 6 million Jewish people who died, the Holocaust claimed the lives of an estimated 5 million Slavs, 3 million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 members of the LGBTQIA+ community (mostly identified as gay men). This horrifically tragic destruction of society and community during the Holocaust was not, cannot be, over-dramatized. It also should not be forgotten.

In November 2005, the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 designated January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition to establishing a day of remembrance and calling for an outreach program, the UN’s resolution also “urges Member States to develop educational programmes… in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide…; rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part; and condemns without reservation all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, wherever they occur.” The original resolution is reinforced by UN resolution 61/255 (issued in January 2007), which reaffirmed the General Assembly and Member States’ strong condemnation of Holocaust denial and noted “that all people and States have a vital stake in a world free of genocide.”

January 27th was chosen as a day of remembrance as it was the Saturday, in 1945, when Auschwitz-Birkenau (the largest Nazi concentration and death camp complex) was liberated by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army. The liberators found approximately 7,500 survivors – not realizing at the time that these “survivors” had been designated as too sick or weak to be transported (i.e., marched) to another site as the Allies were closing in on the Nazis. The Red Army also did not initially realize that the camp complex had held at least 1.3 million prisoners, most of whom had been or would be killed before the other camps were liberated in April and May of 1945.

“For in my tradition, as a Jew, I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways, disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.”

 

“What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

 

After all, God is God, because He remembers.”

 

– quoted from an April 7, 2008 All Things Considered: “This I Believe” essay by Elie Wiesel

 

Elie Wiesel was one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust. He was a teenager when he and his family were sent to the concentration camps. His parents (Sarah Feig and Shlomo Wiesel) and his sister Tzipora would not survive the camps. He was reunited with his older two sisters (Beatrice and Hilda) at a French orphanage. For 10 years, Professor Wiesel went about the business of living his life – but he did not speak or write about his experience during the Holocaust.

He did not speak or write about his younger sister or about how his father guided him with reason and his mother guided him with faith. He did not speak or write about the guilt and shame of being helpless or about how (and why) he maintained the will to survive. Then he began to write and speak and advocate for change. He advocated not only for Jewish rights and causes, but also for non-Jewish people oppressed in places like South Africa, Nicaragua, Kosovo, Sudan, and Armenia. In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and he received a plethora of awards from around the world, including the United States’ 1986 Medal of Liberty and the 1992 Presidential of Freedom.

 

Anne Frank was born less than a year after Elie Wiesel and would spend much of Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands in hiding. A mere five months before the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated Anne’s family and friends were discovered and sent to the concentration camps. She was 15 years old, basically the same age Elie Wisel had been when his family was rounded up. Anne; her mother Edith; her sister Margot; their friends Hermann and Auguste van Pels; and Fritz Pfeffer, the final person to hid in the Annex, all died in the camps or while being transported between the camps towards the end of the war. Anne’s friend, Peter van Pels, died 5 days after the camp he was in was liberated by the Americans. Peter’s parents (Hermann and Auguste), and Fritz Pfeffer all died in the camps.

 

Otto Frank was the only person hiding in the Annex who survived the camps. He was one of those designated as “too sick” or “too weak” to be transported and therefore was at Auschwitz-Birkenau when the camp complex was liberated on Saturday, January 27, 1945. He would soon discover that his family and friends had not survived. However, a piece of Anne and the family’s history had survived.

Miep Gies, his former secretary and one of the six Annex “helpers,” had held onto Anne’s journals. Those journals, which Anne called “Kitty,” were full of the day-to-day minutia of their lives in hiding; Anne’s thoughts about the state of the world, her feelings about her family and the others in hiding; details about her first kiss and budding romance with Peter; her personal ambitions and desires; and her passions. She wrote about the things that gave her hope: a tree, a patch of blue sky, fresh air, and music.

In fact, on more than one occasion, Anne Frank wrote about being inspired by music. She wrote about receiving a biography of the composer Franz Listz and about listening to “a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio” with Peter. It is presented as a date, a little living in the middle of hiding. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born January 27, 1756, might have especially appreciated that she wrote, “I especially enjoyed the ‘Kleine Nachtmusik.’ I can hardly bear to listen in the kitchen, since beautiful music stirs me to the very depths of my soul.”

“…music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure.”

 

– quoted from a letter (dated September 26, 1781) from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his father, as printed in W. A. Mozart by Hermann Abert (Editor: Professor Cliff Eisen and Translator: Stewart Spencer)

 

The playlist for this practice is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “012701 Holocaust Liberation & Remembrance”]

 

“I first learned about the horrors of the Holocaust listening to my father at the dinner table. The passion he felt that we should have done more to prevent the Nazi campaign of systematic mass murder has stayed with me my entire life. It’s why I took my children to visit Dachau in Germany, and why I hope to do the same for each of my grandchildren — so they too would see for themselves the millions of futures stolen away by unchecked hatred and understand in their bones what can happen when people turn their heads and fail to act.

 

We must pass the history of the Holocaust on to our grandchildren and their grandchildren in order to keep real the promise of “never again.” That is how we prevent future genocides. Remembering the victims, heroes, and lessons of the Holocaust is particularly important today as Holocaust deniers and minimizers are growing louder in our public discourse. But the facts are not up for question, and each of us must remain vigilant and speak out against the resurgent tide of anti-Semitism, and other forms of bigotry and intolerance, here at home and around the world.”

 

– “Statement by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on International Holocaust Remembrance Day,” released January 27, 2021

 

Sssh. Listen. Selma is speaking!

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

Creating: Music for This Date II (the “missing” Wednesday post) January 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, January 26th. You can request audio recording of Wednesday’s practices 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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*

– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) 

Yesterday, I said that we all are creative. I didn’t say it as a platitude. I said it because it’s true. We can go back century after century and find people telling us this same fact, sometimes even in similar ways. Patanjali talked about the power that comes from focusing on the space/ether between an object, our sense organs, and our mind-intellect. Marcel Proust described the way our sensory perception can be like an index of our memories. Drs. Gerald Edelman and Oliver Sacks studied the way the mind creates the story. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has explained how the body tells the story. Just by being alive, we create.

Creativity is an aspect of the divine that is inside all of us – and yet, there was a time when I didn’t think of myself as creative. Or, more specifically, I didn’t think of myself as an artist. This was during a time when I worked with a lot of really talented artists and, even though what I did required a similar kind of finesse as their work did, I saw my work as being more technical than artistic – which completely negated the technical aspects of their craft and was (frankly) reductive. Truth be told, I carried that mindset forward so that even when I started teaching and others saw me as a storyteller, I didn’t quite see it.

Now, of course, I am very intentional about the way I tell stories – on the mat (and the blog). Now, I use all the technical (and artistic) tools I used in theatre, all the literary and symbolic tools I learned in school, and all the philosophical and energetic wisdom I’ve gleaned from life and from my practices. Now, I tell the story with the poses, bits of information, and the music… ah, yes, the music. There’s always a message (or two) in the music – even when there’s no lyrics.

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

*

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Sometimes I pick music because of the tempi or the tones of the music. Other times I pick music for the message in the lyrics. And while I almost never pick music I don’t like, the playlists are definitely a reflection of what I love. That said, I recognize that we all have different relationships with music. Some people never notice the music. Some people vibe to it. Others find it distracting. My goal is that if/when someone notices the music, it is a consistent part of the overall experience. It is a reminder to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate on the theme of the day.

I also remember that everyone is going to feel the music. They may just feel the vibration and the vibe. They may be really tuned into the tempi or the tones or the lyrics. However, some will also feel it because of what it brings up for them. Western science has shown that hearing music we haven’t heard in a long time “awakens” the body. Similarly, it can awaken memories, reminding us of days gone by.

Of course, most of the time I’m really transparent about all of this. The fact that the music is part of the story is also part of the narrative in the practice.

But, what happens if I leave out one (or two) pertinent facts? What happens if I leave out names and dates and maybe just allude to a few trivial facts?

Then the story becomes a bit of a puzzle (or a riddle). And the mind loves puzzles (and riddles). It loves to fill in the gaps. It loves to get creative. It loves seeing if/when you will figure out that I was never really telling you the story. It was always you.

“In reality, every reader, as he reads, is the reader of himself. The work of the writer is only a sort of optic instrument which he offers the reader so that he may discern in the book what he probably would not have seen in himself. The recognition of himself in the book by the reader is the proof of the its truth and vice-versa, at least in a certain measure, the difference between the two texts being often less attributable to the author than to the reader.”

*

– quoted from Time Regained, Volume 7 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Wednesday’s playlist was inspired by people and things related to this specific date in history. Tracks #2 – 15, plus Track #17 are (mostly) related to someone who was born on January 26th. There are two tracks in the before/after practice music that are actually related to an artist (Alicia Keys, b. 1981) whose birthday was the 25th, but that’s a whole other story. The earliest birthday year is 1925; the latest is 2009 – but the tracks are not in birthday order. Finally, I will admit that there are some historical (and current events) that influenced why I picked these songs rather than all the other similarly relevant songs.

The clues I gave out in class are below (mostly in the order they were given). If you highlight the space to the right of the “A,” you will find the pertinent name(s) and years.

*

Clue #1: Sometimes our bodies don’t feel the way we’re use to them feeling. They seem a little off and we can’t play the way we’re use to playing. We have to adapt, modify, or step back. A: Jacqueline Mary du Pré OBE was born in 1945, in Oxford, United Kingdom.

*

Clue #2: In the first pose, when they body really hasn’t had a chance to warm up, just offer yourself a little love, sweet love – or, as Bryan Kest says, “… some sweet touches.” Just a little tenderness, a little kindness, a little compassion. If you get in the habit of offering yourself a little love (sweet love), tenderness, kindness, and compassion, then you have the skills to offer the same to others. A: Anita Baker was born in 1958, in Toledo, Ohio, United States.

*

Clues #3 – #4.5: When you give yourself, just a little bit, you also have what you need to give to others. You can tap into that sixth siddhi or “power” unique to being human, the power of generosity. If you were blessed with good looks, gorgeous blue eyes, and a lot of talent, it seems like giving back is something you might do. Maybe you give back to kids – really sick kids. Or, maybe you realize that other people – people who like to eat well – would appreciate giving back too… while they eat. (In Downward Facing Dog, you can alternate bending your knees like you’re riding a bicycle… as raindrops keep falling on your head.) A: Paul Newman was born in 1925, in Shaker Heights, Ohio, United States.

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Clues #4.5 & #5: Some people are known what they do and for their sense humor. Some people even credit their wit and sense of humor for their successful marriage. (Some of those people were always up for a seventh inning stretch.) A: Bob “Mr. Baseball” Uecker was born in 1934, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.

*

Clue #6: Remember, one things I was thinking of today (thinking of, fondly) was an actual thing – a living, breathing, thing. Even if it’s broad to say it was born, it might be more accurate to say that it’s American cousin was “born” today. A: After a couple of weeks of previews, The Phantom of the Opera officially premiered on Broadway in 1988, at the Majestic Theatre.

*

Clue #7: There’s a point in every practice where someone, not every one, starts trying to calculate what comes next. But, it’s important to remember that the practice is fluid, we’re flowing – and sometimes fluid calculations are complicated. A: Dr. Susan Friedlander (née Poate) was born in 1946.

*

Clue #8: There are several people on this birthday-inspired playlist that only be described as disrupters and erupters. They erupt on the scene and disrupt the status quo. They make a name for themselves because of what they do and how they do it – which has the power to blow you away. Sometimes they even name the things they do. A: Eddie Van Halen was born in 1955, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

*

Clue #9: Some of those erupters and disrupters are told that they can’t be who they are or do they things they want to do (or love the people they love), but they just keep on being, doing, living, and loving. Maybe they even shrug their shoulders and tell the naysayers, “I was born this way.” (They might also say that while they dance, in their seat, and smile.) A: Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, United States.

*

Clues #10 – #11.5: Everyone on the list was born into different circumstances. Some were born into different cultures (and even different countries) and those circumstances, over which they had no control, became part of their story. Sometimes their circumstances were also why people told them no or couldn’t imagine them being, doing, living, and loving the way that they did. But, by disrupting the status quo – by living their Truth – their very existence allows other people to imagine themselves living their best lives. A: Kirk Franklin was born in 1970, in Dallas, Texas, United States.

*

Clues #11 & #11.5: There’s one thing about all the people on this list, that’s also true about everyone in the world: They were born to be loved. We are all born to be loved. The twisted, upside down, and backwards thing is that sometimes we have to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need someone to remind the naysayers of that. Yes, there are people on this list who were abandoned (at birth), forsaken, mistreated, and misguided. There’s a least one person who was treated like a slave; at least one person who was disgraced; and at least one person who was abused. But, all of them were born to be loved. A: Lucinda Williams was born in 1953, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States.

*

Clues #12 (– #19): So far as I know, most people who inspired this list were born on their own. But some were born with seven other people. A: Noah Angel Solomon, Maliyah Angel Solomon, Isaiah Angel Solomon, Nariyah Angel Solomon, Jonah Angel Solomon, Makai Angel Solomon, Josiah Angel Solomon, and Jeremiah Angel Solomon were born in 2009, in Bellflower, California, United States.

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Clues #11.5 & #20: Despite their circumstances, despite sometimes feeling less than free – despite not always being (legally) free – at least one person has dedicated their life to liberation and education.   A: Dr. Angela Davis was born in 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, United States.

*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(NOTE: I remixed the YouTube playlist after the 4:30 practice, because I had erroneously used the extended version of a song. The YouTube playlist also includes extra videos, which are not available on Spotify.)

Errata: As I was closing my browser tabs, I realized that I overlooked a birthday (and I’m kicking myself for it)! I’ve updated the playlist so that the before/after music includes a track for Maria von Trapp, born January 26,1905, in Vienna, Austria.

Yoga Sūtra 3.48: grahaṇasvarūpāsmitānvayārthavattvasaṃyamādindriyajayaḥ

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– “Through samyama on the sense organs’ process of perception, essential nature, identification with I-am-ness, constitution and purposiveness, mastery over them is acquired.”

*

Yoga Sūtra 3.49: ato manojavitvaṃ vikaraṇabhāvaḥ pradhānajayaśca

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– “Thence comes about quickness as of the mind, the state lacking sense organs and mastery over pradhana.”

*

### Embrace Your Creativity ###

Creating: Music for This Date II (just the music) January 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Music, One Hoop, Yoga.
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Please join me today (Wednesday, January 26th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: The YouTube playlist includes extra videos of certain songs in the before/after practice music.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, playlists, 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

*

### 🎶 ###

Sitting, Breathing… in a Room [the “missing” Tuesday post] January 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Warning: This post references to mental health and a person who experienced severe emotional distress.

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, January 25th. Links in the 4th paragraph of the “Coda” will connect you to other websites. You can request an audio recording of the 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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

Coda:

Do you ever think about what yoga and Virginia Woolf have in common? No? Just me? Ok, that’s fine; it’s not the first time – and will not be the last time that I make what, on the surface, appears to be a really random connection. It’s not even the first (and probably won’t be the last) time this week. However, in circling back to this practice and this theme, I found myself thinking a little more about mental health and the implications of having space, time, and the other resources to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate. 

Last year, this practice fell on Monday, 12521 (making it a palindrome practice). While I waited until the following day to reference Carl Jung’s thoughts on yoga and mental health, those thoughts are always hovering in the back of my mind. And yes, that is the second time this week I’ve mentioned the psychiatrist and psychoanalysis on the blog. However, he and his work have come up at least three times this week. Starting with a conversation I had with my brother.

As some of you know, my youngest brother is one of the coolest people I know. He is cool on a lot of different levels, including being pretty Zen in temperament. But, he doesn’t have a regular practice yoga or meditation practice and he doesn’t really talk about those things with people who do (except me). Over the weekend, he asked me about something he read regarding yoga, meditation, and people who have experienced trauma. Our conversations, as they often do, oscillated between the experiences of real people and the experiences of a certain Marvel comic book character. We talked a little about the emotional ramifications of sitting and breathing… and the things that come up when one is essentially alone with their thoughts. It’s a double-edged sword, as Dr. Jung pointed out – as Patanjali, Vyasa, and other early yoga scribes pointed out. So, we talked about the importance of practicing with care and awareness.

Today there is trauma-sensitive yoga, trauma-informed yoga, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), HeartMath®, and people who just practice yoga with an awareness that stuff comes up. I mean; we’ve all been through something and when you’ve been through something, stuff comes up. The more intense the trauma-related experience was, the more intense it can be when stuff comes up. Every practice doesn’t work for every person (even Patanjali pointed this out at the beginning of the fourth section of the Yoga Sūtras); but every person needs some way to process what they have experienced – whether they consider it traumatic or not.

Journaling is helpful. Talking to someone is helpful. Connecting with nature is helpful. Sitting and breathing is helpful. You may not need (or want) a “trauma-” label associated with your method of processing, but if you find yourself being overwhelmed by emotion, do something: Ask for help! Maybe a teacher engaged in mindfulness-based practices can help you. Maybe you have a spiritual and/or religious guide who can help you. Maybe you need a mental health professional. Either way, remember that sensation is information; it’s the way the mind-body tells our stories.

Matthew Sanford, the founder of Mind Body Solutions, talks about “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves (and each other) to explain our experiences. Those stories are one of the ways we process our stuff. Dr. Toya Webb reminds us that we are “always listening [to the story we tell ourselves] – whether it is destructive or productive.” Maty Ezraty, a master yoga teacher, said that every practice is like a good story.

Consider all of this as you read the following revised version of last year’s post entitled, “Who’s Afraid of Breathing?”

“surājye dhārmike deśe subhikṣhe nirupadrave |
dhanuḥ pramāṇa-paryantaṃ śilāghni-jala-varjite |
ekānte maṭhikā-madhye sthātavyaṃ haṭha-yoghinā || 12 ||

The Yogī should practise [sic] Haṭha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“… a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

In October 1928, Virginia Woolf gave two speeches to two different student societies at Newnham College and Girton College, which at the time were two of the all-women colleges at the University of Cambridge. (NOTE: Newnham is still an all-women’s college. Girton started accepting men in 1971 and started allowing men to be “Mistress,” or head of the college, in 1976.) The speeches were about women and fiction – and specifically detailed why there were so few women writers who had earned acclaimed (and, to certain degree, why those that did often did so anonymously or with “male” names). She also highlighted the absurd trichotomy between the two wildly archetypical way women are portrayed in literature and the reality of the very different types of women in the room, let alone in the world.

Born Virginia Stephen in Kensington, England, Janaury 25, 1882, Ms. Woolf speculated about the works that might have come from a woman (say, in Shakespeare’s time) who had a helpmate to take care of the cooking, cleaning, children, and other household business. She also talked about the social constraints that not only prevented a woman from devoting copious time to the practical application of her craft, writing, but also the social constraints and inequalities that could result in what would amount to writer’s block. All this, she detailed, even before she addressed the issue of a market place predisposed to highlight male writers – and she introduced her ideas by establishing two (really three) of the things a woman would need to overcome the obstacles of society: (time), space, and money.

When I first started going deeper into my physical practice of yoga, I looked into some of the classic texts within the tradition. One of those texts was the Haţha Yoga Pradipika (Light on the Physical Practice of Yoga), a 15th Century text that focuses on āsanas (“seats” or poses), prāņāyāma (breath awareness and control), mudrās (“seals” or “gestures”), and Samādhi (that ultimate form of “meditation” that is absorption). Throughout the text, and in particular in the chapter on mudrās, there is a breakdown of how energy, power, or vitality moves through the body and the benefits of harnessing that power.

I would eventually appreciate how the text is almost a summary of the earlier Yoga Sūtras, but (as an English lit major), what struck me first was how similar these early instructions – related to a practice that can be used to cultivate clarity and harness the power of the mind – were to Virginia Woolf’s advice to women writers.

“athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||

Posture becoming established, a Yogî, master of himself, eating salutary and moderate food, should practise [sic] Prâṇâyâma, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow.”

 

– quoted from “Susan” in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Just as Virginia Woolf addressed misconceptions about women in her essays and fiction, the translator Pancham Sinh addressed some misconceptions about people who practice yoga and the practice of prāņāyāma in an introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika. Part of the introduction is an admonishment to people who would study the practice, but do not practice it, stating, “People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practicing [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

Siddhis are the powers or “accomplishments” achieved from continuous practice. They range from being able to extend peace out into the world and understanding all languages; to being able to levitate and know the inner workings of another’s heart and mind; to the six “powers unique to being human.” Bandhas are “locks” and refer to internal engagements used to seal sections of the body in order to control the flow of prāņā. The three major bandhas referred to in the text are the same engagements I encourage when I tell people to “zip up” and engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominal cavity (mūla bandha), the mid and upper abdominal cavity (uḍḍīyana bandha), and the throat (jālandhara bandha). I typically refer to a fourth – pada bandha – which is a seal for the feet; however, in classical texts the fourth bandha is the engagement of the three major bandhas (root, abdominal, and throat) at the same time.

Before anyone gets it twisted, let’s be clear that this introduction is not advice to grab a book and follow instructions without the guidance of a teacher. In fact, Pancham Sinh specifically advised people to find a teacher who practiced and indicated that while one could follow the directions from a (sacred) book, there are some things that cannot be expressed in words. There are some things that can only be felt.

This is consistent with Patanjali’s explanation that the elements and senses that make up the “objective world” can be “divided into four categories: specific, unspecific, barely describable, and absolutely indescribable.” (YS 2.19) That is to say, there are some things that have specific sense-related reference points; some things that can be referred back to the senses, but only on a personal level; some things that have no reference points, but can be understood through “a sign” or comprehension of sacred text; and some things which cannot be described, because there is no tangible reference point and/or “sign” – there is only essence.

One of the things we can feel, but not touch, is emotion. Emotions can come with visceral experiences and, in that way, can fall into the “unspecific” category. More often than not, however, what we feel is “barely describable” (or even indescribable) – and yet, writers are always trying to describe or capture the essence of what is felt. As the author of nine novels (including one published shortly after her death), five short story collections (most of which were published after her death), a hybrid novel (part fiction, part non-fiction), three book-length essays, a biography, and hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays, Virginia Woolf constantly endeavored to describe what she felt and what she felt she saw others feeling. Even more salient, she often focused on the disconnection between what her characters felt and what they could describe about what they felt.

The author’s efforts were hindered, or aided (depending on one’s viewpoint), by the fact that she experienced so much trauma and heartbreak; much of which led to emotional despair. She was possibly (probably) abused by one of her half-brothers from an early age. Then she suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 13, after her mother died. Then she had to deal with the death of her half-sister and a maternal role model just two years later. When her father he died, in 1904, she had another breakdown, the severity of which landed her in the country for a period of convalescence. It was during this period that she began to write in earnest (even though the doctors had recommended that she only write letters) and that she would meet Leonard Woolf, the author whom she would marry in 1912. The writing helped, in that she seemed to find some mental and emotional stability for about 15 years. But, she would experience another breakdown after correcting the proofs of her first novel, The Voyage Out. The novel was published by her half-brother’s publishing company (yes, that aforementioned half-brother) and introduced the world to “Clarissa Dalloway,” the protagonist of her fourth novel.

“evaṃ vidhe maṭhe sthitvā sarva-chintā-vivarjitaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa yoghameva samabhyaset || 14 ||

Having seated in such a room and free from all anxieties, he should practise [sic] Yoga, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

– quoted from The Hours: a novel by Michael Cunningham

It is interesting to me that while the instruction for the Haţha Yoga Pradipika instructed a person to practice when they were “free from…disturbances of all kinds” (HYP 1.12); “free from dirt, filth and insects” (HYP 1.13); and “free from all anxieties” (HYP 1.14), the vast majority of people practicing in the modern world do so in order to free themselves from the various maladies that plague them. Additionally, I find it interesting that historians, teachers of literature, and even psychiatrists spend a lot of time (theoretically) diagnosing a young woman (Virginia Woolf) who may have been experiencing (and working through) the most natural of emotions; natural, given her circumstances.

Were her emotions extreme and potentially dangerous? Yes, by all accounts – including her own words and her death – her emotions were extreme and dangerous; as were her circumstances. Initially, she was able to work through her distress because she had the support of those to whom she was connected. In the end, however, she was left alone and feeling disconnected.

The Air I Breathe, one of my favorite movies, was released in the United States Janaury 25, 2008. Inspired by the idea that emotions are like fingers on a hand, the main characters are known to the audience as Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers – and their stories are interconnected, even though they don’t necessarily realize it. In fact, some of the most desperate actions in the movie are motivated by fear and a sense of isolation. Promotional materials for the movie proclaimed, “We are all strangers / We are all living in fear / We are all ready to change” and in the movie Happiness asks, So where does change come from? And how do we recognize it when it happens?” Happiness also says, “I always wondered, when a butterfly leaves the safety of its cocoon, does it realize how beautiful it has become? or does it still just see itself as a caterpillar? I think both the statement and the questions could be applied to so many, if not all, of Virginia Woolf’s characters. They could also be applied to all of us in the world right now.

“‘For,’ the outsider will say, ‘in fact as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ And if, when reason has had its say, still some obstinate emotion remains, some love of England dropped into a child’s ears… this drop of pure, if irrational, emotion she will make serve her to give to England first what she desires of peace and freedom for the whole world.”

– quoted from the novel-essay “Three Guineas,” as it appears in The Selected Works of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf

As I have mentioned before, I consider the 8-Limbed Yoga Philosophy to have very real-time, practical applications and I normally think of the physical practice as an opportunity to practice, explore, and play with the various elements of the philosophy. I will even sometimes use aspects of alignment as a metaphor for situations in our lives off the mat. Given this last year the last few years, however, I have really started to consider how āsana instructions from classic texts like The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali and the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, can be more practically applied to the most basic aspects of everyday life.

  • For instance, if we spend our time on the mat cultivating a “steady/stable, comfortable/easy/joyful” foundation in order to breathe easier and more deeply, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time cultivating the same type of foundation in our lives?
  • Going out a little more, if we do not have the luxury or privilege of practicing “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully,” doesn’t it behoove us to create that land?
  • Finally, what happens if we (to paraphrase yoga sūtras 2.46-47) establish a baseline for stability and then loosen up a little bit and focus on the infinite? Patanjali and the authors of the other sacred texts told us we would become more of who we are: leaner in body, healthier, brighter, more joyful, “clearer, stronger, and more intuitive.” In other words: peaceful and blissful.

“lōkāḥ samastāḥ sukhinōbhavantu”

– A mettā (loving-kindness) chant that translates to “May all-beings, everywhere, be happy and be free.”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“vapuḥ kṝśatvaṃ vadane prasannatā
nāda-sphuṭatvaṃ nayane sunirmale |
aroghatā bindu-jayo|aghni-dīpanaṃ
nāḍī-viśuddhirhaṭha-siddhi-lakṣhaṇam || 78 ||

When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, Anâhatanâda manifests, and eyes are clear, body is healthy, bindu under control, and appetite increases, then one should know that the Nâdîs are purified and success in Haṭha Yoga is approaching.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“Realize that there is freedom in telling your story and that there is power in your words.”

*

– quoted from the November 2018 TedxDelthorneWomen talk entitled, “Change Your Perspective and Change Your Story” by Dr. Toya Webb 

*

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTHI OM ###

Sitting, Breathing… in a Room (just the music) January 25, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Music, Yoga.
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Please join me today (Tuesday, January 25th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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.)

### 🎶 ###

Being: Lessons in the present moment (the “missing” Monday post) January 25, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post practice post for Monday, January 24th. Some links in this post will connect you to other websites. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

“‘And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, in going forwards (and) in going backwards, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in looking straight on (and) in looking away from the front, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in bending and in stretching, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in wearing the shoulder-cloak, the (other two) robes (and) the bowl, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in regard to what is eaten, drunk, chewed and savored, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in defecating and in urinating, is a person practicing clear comprehension; in walking, in standing (in a place), in sitting (in some position), in sleeping, in waking, in speaking and in keeping silence, is a person practicing clear comprehension.

*

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally… and clings to naught in the world. Thus, also, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu lives contemplating the body in the body.'”

*

– quoted from “The Four Kinds of Clear Comprehension” in Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

As I was getting ready for class on Saturday, I read that Thích Nhất Hạnh, the renowned Vietnamese Thiền (Zen) Buddhist monk had passed. He was 95, and while his life was not easy or – in some ways – peaceful, he had some ease and peace in his heart. He practiced and preached tapping into that ease and peace and he inspired others to do the same, regardless of their external circumstances. The world is lighting up with tributes to him that include details about his interfaith relationships with people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Forest, and Thomas Merton. People are talking about how he was exiled from his home for 39 years; how he founded Plum Village Tradition; and how, in the process, he founded one of the largest (if not, the largest) monastic Buddhist orders in the West. People are remembering that his peace activism included an investment in the ecology. People are also talking about his books, which is part of what I’m doing here.

Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote over a hundred books, including at least one book for kids, and even more articles. His writings, like his dhamma talks, workshops, and presence-in-the-world inspired billions of people to examine how they live day-to-day. Like so many people around the world, my life was impacted by this great teacher that I never had the pleasure of meeting in-person. But, never doubt that he was very definitely one of my teachers.

As I have mentioned before, I used to carry one of his books around in my backpack and I would give it to random people who expressed an interest in beginning a meditation practice. I have read some of his other books – just as I have read and practiced with related books by other authors – but one little book (published in 1975) keeps coming up. When Dr. Thomas J. Bushlack extended me a great honor, several years in a row, by inviting me to share my practices with his J-term students, I took the same little book along. And, of course, when I answered some FAQ’s as part of my 2017 Kiss My Asana offering, the book came up.

For Monday’s class, I shared some related stories from this little book. I shared vignettes about washing dishes, drinking tea, and eating a tangerine – first during an easy time with a friend (Jim Forest) and then during a time when that same friend was imprisoned because of political activism during the Vietnam war. These passages were just a few of my favorites, and I considered sharing more. But, ultimately, I realized what that just sharing those bits was like friends sharing slices of a tangerine: it was enough. It was a lesson in the moment and of the moment.

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance that might seem silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”

*

– quoted from “1. The Essential Discipline – Washing the dishes to wash the dishes” in The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh (English translation by Mobi Ho)

The following is an excerpt from a post dated April 15, 2017, in response to three FAQs about book recommendations.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas J. Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Thích Nhất Hạnh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Thích Nhất Hạnh is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“If we are are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.”

*

– quoted from “PART ONE: Breathe! You Are Alive – Breathing and Scything – Flower Insights” in Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thích Nhất Hạnh (edited by Arnold Kotler)

There is no music for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

[NOTE: Music referenced in relation to the date can be found towards the end of the Sunday post.]

*

“How long am I going to live?

*

Here is some good news. If you look deeply into everything, you can see that you will live forever. You will never die; you will just change form. You are like a cloud. A cloud can become snow or rain, but it can’t die. You are like a wave in the ocean. After you rise and fall as a wave, you will still be part of the ocean. Your shape will change but you won’t disappear.”

*

– quoted from Is Nothing Something? Kids’ Questions And Zen Answers About Life, Death, Family, Friendship, And Everything In Between by Thích Nhất Hạnh (edited by Rachel Neumann, Illustrated by Jessica McClure, with Cover and Interior Design by Debbie Berne)

For more about the tangerine meditation, check out this article by Thích Nhất Hạnh, posted at mindfulnessbell.org.

*

### “Half-Smile When You First Wake Up In the Morning” ~TNH ###

Doing: Lessons in unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable things (& “impossible” people) [the “missing” Sunday post] January 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Mantra, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 23rd (and contains 2-for-1 information related to January 24th). You can request an audio recording of the 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.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning…. Although meaning is an anthropomorphic interpretation it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as “meaning” may be in itself we have no possibility of knowing. As an hypothesis, however, it is not quite so impossible as may appear at first sight. We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.”

*

– quoted from “3. Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity” in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C. G. Jung

*

“This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of the them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right….”

*

– quoted from a letter addressed to Sir Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754, by Horace Walpole (The Right Honorable The (4th) Earl of Orford, Horatio Walpole)  

Causality, the principles of cause and effect, are a big aspect of the Yoga philosophy – and I am, without a doubt, a big fan. That said, I am also a big fan of synchronicity and serendipity. As much as I pay attention to cause-and-effect, I often delight in things that just seem to “randomly” fall into place and things (or people) that show up when I “need” them, but wasn’t looking for them.  Granted, there are times when I consider chaos theory and see if I can trace back to some little thing that started the domino effect; however, I’m also just open to being pleasantly surprised by “accidental goodness.”

Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? And how open are you to those kinds of things?

My guess, and it’s not much of a stretch, is that your open-ness, or lack thereof, is based on past experiences. I mean, on a certain level, everything is based on past experiences. We do something new and a new neural pathway is created, a new thin veil of saṃskāra (“mental impression”) is lowered over us. We do that same thing again and we start to hardwire that new neural pathway, the veil becomes more opaque. Over time, our behaviors and reactions become so hardwired, that our saṃskāras becoming vāsanās (“dwellings”) and we believe that our habits are innate or instinctive – when, in fact, they are conditioned.

This is true when things seem to randomly and luckily fall into place. This is also true when are not so fortunate or blessed; when things don’t seem to easily fall into place or when we don’t “randomly” get what we didn’t know we needed. And our physical-mental-emotional response to the so-called “happy accidents” is just as conditioned as our physical-mental-emotional response to things not going our way. We are as much like Pavlov’s dogs as we are like the one-eyed mule observed by the Princes of Serendip. To do something other than salivate at the appearance of certain objects and/or to eat on the other side of the road is “impossible.” But, little changes in the conditioning changes the outcome.

Also, remember that ad about “impossible….”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

*

Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s practice revolved around two stories related to January 23rd and January 24th. They are lessons on doing (rather than not doing) and opportunities for a little svādhyāya (“self-study’). One of the stories was about an “impossible” person who had to deal with unexpected tragedy and “ridiculously inconvenient” situations and expectations. The other was the story of a person, some might consider impossible, who had to deal with an unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable piano. As I’ll explain a little (a little later), I encountered both stories serendipitously, but there was also a little bit of synchronicity related to the second story. 

Again, I’ll get to the backstory a bit later. For now, consider that the habitual conditioning I mentioned above also applies to our expectations of ourselves and of others. So, when we tell ourselves and/or someone else that something is impossible, it is partially because we have not been conditioned to believe that the thing in question is possible. We haven’t seen any evidence that something can be done and, quite the contrary, maybe we have seen someone else “fail” in their endeavors in the same area. Maybe we ourselves haven’t succeeded… yet; and, therefore have decided to give up. 

But, what happens if we don’t give up? What happens if we give our all and then let go of our expectations? What happens if we plan to trust the possibilities and focus on doing what we are able to do, in the present moment?

A version of the January 23rd story was originally posted in 2021. Click here for that philosophical post in it’s entirety.

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“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Yoga Sutras offers a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

*

– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

If I remember correctly, I first dug into Ed Roberts’s story because someone on the internet mentioned him and his birthday. Maybe this was in 2017, when there was a Google Doodle to honor him. Or, maybe I made a note to myself when I saw the Google Doodle and then incorporated it into a class the following year. Either way, I had time to dig in.

Perhaps, since some of my themes are date-related and I do keep an eye out for such things, one might not consider my heightened awareness of Ed Roberts as being overly synchronistic or serendipitous. This is especially true considering that my annual participation in the Kiss My Asana yogathon is one of the many things that predisposes (or conditions) me to pay attention to stories about accessibility. If anything, I could kind of kick myself for not digging into his story sooner. 

But, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The odds are pretty high, though, that I would have eventually come across his story. What are the odds, however, that I would encounter the story of Keith Jarrett, Vera Brandes, and the unplayable piano mere days before the anniversary of The Köln Concert, which was performed and recorded on January 24, 1975?

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

If, like me, someone was creating date-related content, any time someone landed on their media, they’re very likely to come across a timely bit of information. But, what if the content is not date-related? Additionally, what are the odds if the person (in this case me) is late to the proverbial party and just starts randomly picking content? Without even going into the details of my adventures in podcast-listening (or how many I’ve very recently started picking through), let’s just consider the odds of me picking one out of, say, 40 non-date-related episodes and landing on the one that just happens to coincide with an upcoming date. 

I have no idea what the odds are, and maybe I haven’t provided enough information, but feel free to comment below if you are a mathematician.

My point is that all of this also happened around the same time that we are all dealing and sometimes battling with change. It happened during a time when the whole world is facing the conflict that can occur when our past and ingrained behaviors, habits, and responses bumps up against the desire for new behaviors, habits, and responses. What are the odds of coming across the historical version of what the comedian Seth Meyers calls, “The Kind of Story We Need Right Now”? What are the odds of coming across the story of a man who did what he considered impossible because of his past experiences, his preconceived notions, and other untenable circumstances?

Keep in mind, this is not only the story of a man who did something he considered “impossible,” it’s also the story of a man who did something that, on a certain level, he didn’t want to do.

You can, as I did, listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts. Had I listened to it just a few days sooner, it might have changed the January 8th playlist.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

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– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Like other musicians, he is also very particular about the instruments he plays – and this is where we meet “the unplayable piano.”

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”


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– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano). 

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

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– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

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So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

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As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

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Good luck!”

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– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

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“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

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### My Takeaway: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If there’s something in your life – in your field of experience – or something in your past that makes certain things seem impossible, in this present moment, then knowing that – understanding why it seems impossible to you, then pick something. Pick some really small thing that you can start doing – or that you can actually do right now – that changes your history moving forward. So that your field of possibility expands. So that tomorrow – maybe not 24 hours from now, maybe not even 48 hours from now, but at some point, what was impossible becomes possible…. Consider that we are doing things today that were considered impossible “yesterday.” ###