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Speaking of Rivers… and the New Year (the Tuesday post) February 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Meditation, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

*

– “Teaching Santipat,” Sanskrit chanting by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

On a certain level, there is always a question about how to begin… anything.

Just sticking to the physical practice for the moment, though: Is it best to begin in Child’s Pose, which by it’s simple physicality requires us to turn (and curl) inward? Or is it better to begin on one’s back, which promotes a certain amount of openness? Both have symbolic benefits as they relate to our lives and our practice – as does starting in a seated position on our sits-bones, which can also cultivate mindful awareness and a certain openness to wisdom. Having options, and being aware of the different benefits of the options, is a wonderful thing and I general encourage people to start where they are comfortable. However, I usually have a suggestion. After all, the beginning is an indication of how we mean to go forward.

In Chapter 17 of All of Grace, the Reverend Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.” Known as “the Prince of Preachers,” The Reverend Spurgeon was an English Particular Baptist, who was specifically offering advice about “The Fear of Final Falling,” or not being able to persevere on a righteous path; however, a lot of people consider his advice as applicable to all situations. Even if you are not particularly religious (or not religious at all), it would behoove you to start – anything – by connecting with the breath (which is a symbol of your life-force and your spirit) and letting that connection be your guide as you move forward.

Naturally, that is one aspect of how every physical practice of yoga begins. But, many practices also start with a chant – or you can think of it as an intention, a wish, or even a prayer or blessing. When I am leading the practice, I generally start with an English translation of the “Teaching Shantipat.” It is a very definitive declaration of how I would like to move forward. Every once in a blue moon, I use a meditation chant from Swami Jnaneshvara, that is specific to deep-seated mediation. Then too, there are times when the occasion calls for a big welcome or cheer – that sometimes comes in a different language.

“财神到 财神到
Caishen dao caishen dao [The god of wealth has come! The god of wealth has come!]

*
好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

*
财神话 财神话
Caishenhua caishenhua [Myth of money, myth of money]

*
揾钱依正路
wen qian yi zhenglu [if you follow the right path]”

*

– quoted from the song “Cai Shen Dao” [“The God of Wealth Has Come!” by Sam Hui, lyrics in Hanzi [Chinese characters], pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

Today is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. While many East and Southeast Asian cultures are celebrating at the same time – and even though there are some similarities to celebrations held at other times of the year – each culture has different rituals and traditions that connect people with their extended families, ancestors, and heritage.  For example, in parts of China and the diaspora, the beginning of the New Year is also the beginning of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. On the other hand, some Buddhist people celebrate the birth of Maitreya Buddha on the first day of the lunar new year and will New Year’s Day, as well as several days leading up to the first day, chanting, praying, and/or meditating (depending on their beliefs). People will also light candles and make offerings at the temple before their feasting begins.

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, this year is the year of the (water) Tiger. However, even in China (and its diaspora), where each day of the Lunar New Year has a special significance, each region has different stories and traditions related to that significance. For example, according to one Chinese creation story, different animals are celebrated depending on when they were created; thus, today is the birthday of all chickens. Others are celebrating the birthday of the water god and, therefore, will not wash their hair or their clothes on the first two days of the new year.

Even though there are some differences between regions and cultures, there are some common elements. The Lunar New Year celebrations generally include extended family coming together; the welcoming of ancestors and (in some households) the welcoming of household deities (like the water god); red clothes, red decorations, and red envelopes; fireworks, parades, and loud noises, a bit of feasting, and (of course), the wish, prayer, blessing, or shout for prosperity: “Cai Shen Dao! [The God of Wealth has come! in Mandarin]”

Since the (secular) Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, the Lunar New Year falls at different times according to the Western schedule. This year, the beginning of the Spring Festival is also the beginning of February – which means it’s also the beginning of “special” month in the United States.

A version of the following was original posted in 2021.

“I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

– from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Since 1976, February 1st has marked the beginning of Black History Month in the United States of America. I always found it curious: Why February, the shortest month of the year (even during leap years)? I sometimes wondered if the reason had anything to do with Langston Hughes, who was born today in 1901.*

Born James Mercer Langston Hughes, the poet was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance and the first Black American to earn a living solely from writing and public lectures. In addition to poetry (including jazz poetry, which he started writing in high school), he wrote novels, plays, essays, and letters…so many letters. He wrote so many letters, in fact, that at one point he was writing 30 – 40 letters a day and, by the end of his life, he could have filled 20 volumes of books with his letters.

He traveled the world, wrote about his experiences in Paris, Mexico, West Africa, the Azores and Canary Islands, Holland, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the Caribbean – but he always came home to Harlem. After all, his patrons were in Harlem. They were, in many ways, the very people about whom he said that he wrote: “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” He made a name for himself specifically writing about the Black experience, but (in doing so) he wrote about the American experience.

“Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.”

– quoted from the poem ”Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

Being an African-American born at the beginning of the 20th Century meant that Mr. Hughes easily trace his heritage back to slavery. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were slave owners.

He could also trace his heritage to freedom and a time when there was no question about freedom – as well as the time when people appreciated their freedom in new ways. His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was African-American, French, English, and Indigenous American. She was also the first woman to attend Oberlin College. She married a man, Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed heritage, who died in 1859 while participating in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and eventually married her second husband, Charles Henry Langston. The senior Langston, along with his brother John Mercer Langston, was an abolitionist and leader of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, who would eventually become a teacher and voting rights activist.

“So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

– quoted from the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

The Langstons’ daughter, Caroline (Carrie), would become a school teacher and the mother of the great poet. Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother, Langston Hughes should a definite talent and interest in writing at an early age. He was also devoted to books. Despite being academically inclined, he struggled with the racism in school – even when it seemed to benefit him, because he couldn’t escape the misconceptions, marginalization, and oppression that came with the stereotypes.

Still, he persisted. He attended Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he was the classmate of the then-future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And, when he had the opportunity to share his poetry with a popular white poet whose poetry “sang” (and was meant to be sung), he took advantage of the moment – even though he was working as a busboy at a New York hotel where the poet (Vachel Lindsay) was having dinner.

“I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,”

– quoted from “I Dream A World” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes and his words left an indelible mark on the world. As Black History Month is all about recognizing African-Americans who were influential to our society – but not always recognized by society; I have often wondered if Langston Hughes’s birthday being on the 1st was the reason Black History Month is in February. Well, as it turns out, it’s just one more example of serendipity.

 Created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian who was the son of former slaves, the annual celebration initially started as “Negro History Week” – and it was the second week in February for fifty years. Mr. Woodson started the week so that it coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and the observed/assumed birthday of Frederick Douglass (2/14/1818), the abolitionist, who escaped slavery at the age of 20). The existence of this heritage month has inspired heritage and cultural observation throughout the year so that the calendar, in some ways, reflects the United States: diverse and (academically) segregated. It has also changed the way some aspects of American history are taught.

“I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

– quoted from the poem “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 1st) 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. [Look for “Langston & Day 1 2022”]

*

*2022 NOTE: According to most printed biographies (that I checked), Langston Hughes was born in 1902. However, many digital sources indicate that he was born in 1901 – and this earlier date is based on research and fact checking reported for the New York Times by Jennifer Schuessler (in 2018). Curiously, the 1940 census listed his birth as “abt 1905;” however, this information would have been given to a census taker by one of the poet’s roommates. (Additionally, we know from one his poems that Langston Hughes didn’t think very highly of the “census man” and the accuracy of census information.)

*

“When the firstborn, P’an Ku [a primordial being in Chinese mythology], was approaching death, his body was transformed. His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became peals of thunder…. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind [his breath] and evolved into the black-haired people. (Wu yun li-nien chi, cited in Yu shih, PCTP 1.2a)”

– quoted from Chinese Mythology: An Introduction by Anne Birrell

IT’S ALMOST TIME! Are you ready for another “First Friday Night Special?” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will consider the importance of having a plan. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

*

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.)

### KEEP ON A-CLIMBIN’ ON ###

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