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First Friday Night Special #16: “The Diff’rence A Moment Makes” February 6, 2022

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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #16 from February 4th. This practice featured a Restorative Yoga sequence with emphasis on releasing the midsection (belly+low back and iliopsoas).

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”

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–  Rosa Parks

We all have defining moments in our lives. These may be moments that we use to describe the trajectory of our lives or maybe moments that we use to describe ourselves. Either way, when a single moment plays a big part in who we are and what’s important to us, we sometimes forget that that single moment – as important as it may be – is part of a sequence of moments. It is the culmination of what’s happened before and the beginning of what happens next; it’s just a single part of our story. Even when – or especially when – that moment is the story, we have to be careful about how we frame it. It doesn’t matter if we are telling our story or someone else’s story; how we tell the story matters.

For a lot of people who are celebrating the Lunar New Year, the fourth day is the day when things start going back to normal (whatever that is these days). People go back to work and back to school. People who were able to travel to see family start heading back home (or are already home). Even though those celebrating the Spring Festival for 15 days, will reign in the festivities a bit. However, each day still has significance and special rituals. For instance, the fourth day of the Lunar New Year is not only the birthday of all sheep (in some Chinese traditions), it is also the day when the Kitchen God returns to the hearth.

According to one set of stories, the Kitchen God was at one time a man who, after gaining a certain amount of power and wealth, abandoned his first wife and married a younger woman. Years after the original couple divorced, the man fell on hard times. He lost his wealth, his power, his second wife, and his eyesight. He became a beggar on the streets. One day, the stories tell us, the man’s first wife saw her former husband begging in the streets. She was a woman of great kindness and compassion and so she invited him to her simple home and offered him a shower, some food, and a moment of warmth by the fire.

Remember, the old man could no longer see and didn’t know that this generous woman was the same woman he had treated so poorly. Full, clean, and sitting by the fire, however, he started to talk about his first wife. He lamented about his first marriage and the life they could have had if he hadn’t dumped her. In the process of soothing her now sobbing former husband, the woman revealed her identity and said that she forgave him. Miraculously, the man was suddenly able to see; but he was so distraught that he threw himself into the kitchen stove.

Legend has it, the woman could only save his leg – which became the fireplace poker – and the man became the “Kitchen God,” who leaves the kitchen alter just before the New Year and returns to heaven in order to give the Jade Emperor an accounting of each household’s activities during the previous year. In the final days of the old year, people will clean up their homes – so the alter(s) will be ready for the return of the gods and ancestors – and, sometimes, smear honey on the lips of the Kitchen God so that his report is extra sweet. Then the Kitchen God and other household gods return on the fourth day of the New Year.

I always imagine that some years the Kitchen God’s report is really, really, wild. Can you imagine? Seriously, imagine what he would say about the way we have treated each other over the last few years. Sure, some of us might not be portrayed too badly; but others of us….

More to the point, consider what happens when the Kitchen God’s report includes an update about someone’s defining moment. Just imagine a report from the beginning of 1913 (which would have been the end of the year of the Rat); some point in 1932 (the years of the Goat and the Monkey); not to mention 1943 and 1955 (both Goat years).

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents, Leona (née Edwards) and James McCauley, were a teacher and a carpenter, respectively. When they separated, Rosa and her younger brother moved with their mother to a farm in Pine Level (or Pine Tucky), an unincorporated rural community about 25 miles outside of Montgomery, Alabama. The farm they moved to belonged to Mrs. McCauley’s parents and it was there that Rosa Parks learned to sew and quilt. Even though she went to school for a bit, even started her secondary education, she ended up dropping out of school to take care of her mother and grandmother.

So, it was that she grew up to be a housekeeper and a seamstress. She married Raymond Parks, a Montgomery barber, when she was 19 years old (in 1932) and he encouraged her to get her high school diploma. It wasn’t something that very many African-Americans had at the time, but Mr. Parks was very active in the advancement of the people. In fact, he was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and by 1943 she was too. Rosa Parks not only served as the NAACP secretary, she also worked with her husband on anti-rape campaigns and was a member of the League of Women Voters. She was also determined to register to vote – which she finally did, on her third attempt. Although she attended Communist Party meetings with her husband, she was never a member. She did, however, practice haha yoga, the physical practice of yoga (as early as the 1960s).

A job at Maxwell Air Force Base exposed her to the possibilities of integration and then she  started working for a liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr. The Durr’s were not only liberal leaning, they were also fairly well connected. Both the Durrs were Alabama born and bred, but ended up furthering their education outside of Alabama. Mr. Durr attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and then became a lawyer, whose income insulated the Durrs from some of the hardships others around them experienced during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Mrs. Durr was essentially raised by Black women (as many children in well-to-do Southern homes were at the time) and then attended Wellesley College, where she regularly ate her meals with women of different races. She would eventually befriend First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and become the sister-in-law of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Given their backgrounds, it is not surprising that the Durr’s encouraged (and even financially supported), Rosa Parks’s activism.

During the summer of 1955, just before the murder of Emmett Till, Mrs. Parks attended trainings at the Highlander Folk School (now known as the Highlander Research and Education Center). The training, led by Septima Clark (the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement), focused on civil disobedience, workers’ rights, and racial equity. The combination of the training, her previous life experience and activism, and the hot toddy of emotion bubbling up from the 1955 murders of Emmett Till and two Civil Rights activists (George W. Lee and Lamar “Ditney” Smith) proved to be a powerful force – a force, perhaps, that explains her hardened resolve on December 1, 1955. It was a force that definitely led to progress.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free…so other people would also be free.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

Samayama, comes from the root words meaning “holding together, tying up, binding.” It can also be translated as “integration.” In some traditions (e.g., religious law), it is defined as “self-restraint” or “self-control.” Patanjali used the term to describe the combined force of focus, concentration, and meditation – and he basically devoted a whole chapter of the Yoga Sūtras to the benefits of utilizing samyama. Interestingly, the chapter he devoted to the powers/abilities that come from applying samyama is called “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.”

As I have previously mentioned, 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) – and 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.

According to yoga sūtra 3.53, applying samyama to a moment and it’s sequence (meaning the preceding and succeeding moments) leads to higher knowledge. This higher knowledge gives one a higher level of discernment; knowledge and discernment that transcends categories and fields of reference. We can easily look at what happened after Rosa Parks refused to move, but; to truly understand the power of that single moment, we have to also consider the moments that preceded it.

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

In addition to some of what I’ve already referenced, it’s important to remember that December 1, 1955 wasn’t the first time that a Black person, let alone a Black woman, had defied the unjust laws and social conventions. It wasn’t the first time it had happened that year. Remember, Claudette Colvin’s refusal to move and subsequent arrest happened in the spring of 1955. Furthermore, it wasn’t even the first time that Rosa Parks had been in that situation… with that particular bus driver. In fact, Mrs. Parks and that particular driver (James F. Blake) had had multiple conflicts.

One incident that stands out (because it is often highlighted) was in 1943, when he told her that, after she paid her fair at the front, she had to re-enter at the back of the bus. This was a city ordinance, but some drivers didn’t enforce it. For whatever the reason, there was conflict and when she exited the bus, he drove away before she could re-enter. (Note: This would have been right around the time she started actively working with the NAACP.) While Rosa Parks reportedly decided not to ride with that driver again, the driver was (allegedly) in the habit of driving past her when she was at a stop. Bottom line, there was a lot of water under the bridge between 1943 and 1955. Some of that proverbial water included Mr. Blake’s ongoing conflict with at least one other Black woman, Mrs. Lucille Times.

Mrs. Times, who died last year, and her husband Charlie were active members of the NAACP, registered voters, and activists. According to various reports, Lucille Times and James F. Blake were involved in a road rage incident that led to a physical altercation and Lucille Times’s decision – during the summer of 1955 – to “disrupt” Mr. Blake’s route by offering African-Americans rides. She continued that practice all the way through the official end of the Montgomery bus boycotts in December of 1956.

Finally, there’s the issue of the seat. Rosa Parks sat down in the “Colored” section of the bus. Somewhere along the route, the bus driver decided to make room for more white passengers by telling Black passengers to move. Then, after some grumbling and resistance, he moved the sign so that anyone who didn’t move (i.e., Rosa Parks) would officially be breaking the law.

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

*

–  Rosa Parks

So, there was Rosa Parks: Tired after working all day and then shopping for Christmas presents. Tired of people in her community not being guaranteed the rights promised to them. Tired of people in her community being murdered when they worked to legally secure their rights. Tired.

And there was the bus driver, who called the police and filed a complaint.

I will resist assigning any emotional underpinnings to his decisions. I haven’t found any quotes from him that would humanize him and make him more than a stereotype. But, then again, I don’t need to do that. Just as we can put ourselves in the shoes of 15-year old Claudette Colvin or Lucille Times or Rosa Parks, we could put ourselves in his shoes. We can, if it is in our practice, apply samyama to his thoughts (as reflected by his words, deeds, and physical expressions) to know his state of mind, as described in yoga sūtra 3.19. Similarly, we could apply samyama to his heart to deepen that understanding (see yoga sūtras 3.20 and 3.35). Remember, however, that this is not where the practice begins. Additionally, we would only apply samyama in this way to gain a deeper understanding of our own hearts and minds.

“I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.”

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–  Rosa Parks

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” – I recommend Track 3 on YouTube or Track 1 on Spotify, but any track will work.]

A little something extra…

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### “In this undiscovered moment / Lift your head up above the crowd / We could shake this world / If you would only show us how / Your life is now” JM ###

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