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The Power of a Good Story April 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week, Great Lent, or Passover! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This chapter-length post, related to the last few days of Holy Week or Passion Week and the beginning of Passover, is a combination of several revised posts from previous years, with some additional context. In addition to the quotes, there are additional section headings (in color) you can use to break up your reading time. You can request an audio recording of any of the pre-recorded 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.)

Remember, there is no class this Sunday.

“And God saw that it was good.”

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– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t – Genesis

Tov is a Hebrew word that means “good.” At the beginning of the Torah (also the Christian Old Testament), God defines something as “good” when it is useful and serving its purpose. In our physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, we want every pose to be “good” in this way. However, in a modern context – when we think of the word “good” as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome – we can find ourselves in a bit of a quandary, when we don’t know what we’re doing. On the mat, that quandary may mean we’re doing poses without understanding how they serve or benefit us – and then doing them in a way that means we’re not getting all the benefits. It could also mean doing poses and sequences for the wrong reasons. Off the mat, that quandary can result in us doing things that have lost their meaning.

I often point to the fact that there was a time when everything people did had meaning. Over time, as people got further away from the meaning, rituals became traditions – things people did just because their ancestors did them. When those traditions lose meaning, they just become things people say. There are some rituals and traditions that have their meanings baked into the practice; however, even then, people sometimes don’t really understand the meaning. Then, too, things can get even more confusing when cultures overlap and suddenly people are witnessing practices they don’t understand – because they don’t know the meaning.

These kinds of perplexing situations happen a lot in the Spring, when all the major religions and philosophies have significant observations and celebrations that overlap. This can get ever more confusing when, for instance, people outside of Judaism wonder why there’s a celebration associated with a time of so much suffering and non-Christians have a hard time understanding how the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week can be simultaneously associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and also good. It’s a bit of a conundrum… until you go a little deeper.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

PLEASE NOTE: This next portion, revised from April 2020, involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

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– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb (on April 11, 2020). One was from a friend, sharing the Sarah Kendzior quote (above). The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way.

On Friday 15, 2022, people all over the the world will be beginning the third week of the holy month of Ramadān; celebrating Good Friday (in the Western Christian traditions); getting ready for Holy Saturday (on April 16th, in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions); and, at sunset, beginning Passover. Then, there’s Easter Sunday (in the Western Christian traditions), which this year is also Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. It is also the time, in the Jewish traditions, that people begin Counting the Omer. Oh, and then there are people who will celebrate Easter and Passover, and maybe even start Counting the Omer. Plus, outside of the Abrahamic religions, there are millions more who will celebrate Hanuman Jayanti, also on the 16th. When you consider that these observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keeping in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

If we just stick with the Abrahamic religions for a moment, remember that Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and, therefore, Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four gospels indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originated within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus met the qualifications. According to most Jews, he did not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

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– quoted from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this: The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

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“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

In the Exodus story, while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the Jews be released. Moses had an interesting backstory and was, in some ways, the perfect person to be the (human) hero of the story. However, he was humble to the point of lacking confidence and ended up asking his brother Aaron to come along on the mission. When their show of power didn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone was subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffered. The Jews, who were already suffering the hardship of slavery, also had to endure the additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families were told to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They were also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happened in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial spoke to Moses and Moses asked for G-d’s identity, Moses was told three times that the One who spoke was the One who would always be with Moses and the Jewish people. Regardless of what they experience, Rashi explained, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.7 – 8) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time) was, and future Christians are, kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he was betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously was not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb was opened and there was some confusion about what had happened, Jesus was essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, were either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

IT’S ALL TOV

Portions of the following were originally posted in April 2021.

The rituals related to the aforementioned observations emphasize a specific order of events and how a story is told through the order of events. In the case of Passover, the story of Exodus is told through the symbolic elements of the Passover Seder. The Seder (which means “order” or “arrangement”) moves through 15 steps, including “The Four Questions” that lead to the telling of the story. It’s a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a dinner party wrapped in a children’s bedtime story disguised as a tradition.

For Good Friday, many Christians move through the Stations of the Cross, a visual pilgrimage of Jesus’ last moments. The earliest “Way of the Cross” or “Way of Sorrows” artwork and the Scriptural Way of the Cross (introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, and approved by Pope Benedict in 2007) depict 14 scenes or “steps,” ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. The Resurrection is often considered to be the 15th Station of the Cross. (NOTE: The Resurrection is the 14th Station according to the “New Way of the Cross” in the Philippines; however, this version is different from the previous mentioned versions.) The art is meant to mirror Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Sorrow/Pain”) in Jerusalem, the actual path Jesus would have taken to Mount Calvary. So, when people “move through the Stations of the Cross” it is a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a walking tour wrapped in a children’s picture book disguised as traditional art.

Within the Jewish community, the sacred ritual of Counting the Omer begins on the second day of Passover. This is a period of 49 days, a total of 7 weeks, leading up to Shavuot (also known as the “Festival of Weeks”) – which itself is a commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Commonly associated with Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), the practice of Counting the Omer involves 7 of the 10 attributes of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life. Each day is associated with a different attribute, as is each week – which means that for 49 days people are focusing-concentrating-meditating on the interrelation of two attributes. Since each attribute is associated with a different part of the body, and some people combine a physical component, it’s a ritual exercise wrapped in a mystical meditation  disguised as a 49-day perspective changing challenge.

Coincidentally – or, perhaps, divinely intentionally – this year’s celebrations of Easter (in Western Christianity) and Palm Sunday (in Eastern Orthodox Christianity) – which, again, are all about the power of G-d’s love – overlap the second night and day of Passover, which is also the beginning of Counting the Omer, when people focus on “Love/Lovingkindness in Love/Lovingkindness.”

All of the religious rituals above traditionally involve prayers, which I do not include in the practices. However, if you are religious and observing there’s always an opportunity to pray as you feel is appropriate. If you are not religious and/or are not familiar with the stories, you can think of what I offer as a history lesson wrapped in a little svādhyāya (“self-study) disguised as a physical yoga practice… or you could ignore what comes up for you and just decide I’m stepping out of my lane.

SOMETHING GOOD… ON FRIDAY

Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020.

“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

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– quoted from the song “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

2020 was the first time in 11 years that I did not teaching on Good Friday. It was also the first time in 11 years, that I taught on Easter. It was (and still is) a little surreal and bittersweet. While I know some people appreciate a yoga practice that essentially mirrors the Via Dolorosa and walks through the Stations of the Cross; I also know it’s a little much for some folks. Every year, someone asks me if I’m going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanks me and says that it’s meaningful, which is good.

Getting back to that idea of the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week being good, remember that in Christian traditions Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He serves his purpose, because he lives, suffers, is crucified, dies, is buried, and rises – in order for sins to be forgiven. There is no passion, no crucifixion, no death, no burial, nor resurrection, however, without the betrayal. Implying that the betrayal and Judas, by extension, are good, because they are meaningful (and have a purpose) is one of the things that gets me into trouble.

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.9) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9) by Jack Hawley

Every year that I taught at the YMCA, with the exception of 2019, someone complained to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It didn’t matter that the complaint often came up in a class where I also told the Passover story. It didn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It was always Passion Week that caused someone to say that what I teach and the way I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, it’s still very common for people to tell me that I made them uncomfortable (or even touched them) because of something that was personal only to them. Yoga can be very healing, but in the process it can bring up a lot of trauma. Religion, specifically religious fanaticism, has caused a lot of harm in the history of the world; so, it is not surprising that hearing me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice is upsetting to some. It’s especially not surprising or unexpected if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes went through management and it always involved Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association. (As a side note, outside of the YMCA, I have had someone complain that Judaism came up a lot throughout the year.)

“That they all may be one. (John 17:21)”

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 – YMCA motto adopted, along with the “Paris Basis,” by international delegates at the First World Conference of the YMCA, 1855

I would like to think that I’ve become a little wiser and a little more conscious as a teacher. I definitely appreciate feedback and take it into consideration. That said, I still teach the themes I teach. I still teach with the understanding that everyone doesn’t believe what I believe. I still teach with the understanding that even when I teach from a historical, philosophical, and conceptual perspective, some people will think I am of a certain faith and have a religious agenda.

I hate breaking it to y’all, but I’m neither Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Daoist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, nor any number of things you might have considered. But, I do have an agenda.

“Yoga” means union. Throughout the 8-Limb philosophy there is a recognition of and belief in something Divine – G-d. Whatever that means to you at this moment, it is simultaneously that and not that (neti, neti). The end goal of the philosophy is sometimes referred to as “union with the Divine.” That, however, does not mean – or does not only mean – union with an anthropomorphic being. It does, however, mean a state of awareness and existence that understands how everything and everyone is connected. Being connected, working together, that is yoga. Being intentional about our thoughts, words, and deeds, because what we think, say, and do affects everything and everyone around us, that is part of the practice. As someone who practices the philosophy, that’s my agenda: yoga.

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

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– quoted from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

This year, 2022, I am not teaching on Good Friday or Easter Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, Palm Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions, and Hanuman Jayanti). However, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I will also send out pre-recorded practices to anyone on the Friday or Sunday lists.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, I offer you a little taste of my personal practice (see meditation below) followed by Meghan G’s Good Friday message, which was part of my 202 Kiss My Asana offering. Yes, yes, the annual yogathon where we “do yoga, share yoga, and help others” is coming next week.

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

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ONCE MORE MORE WITH FEELING

This excerpt was part of a 2020 Kiss My Asana offering.

In my Good Friday post, I alluded to some people who would miss my Good Friday class. One of those people that immediately came to mind was Meghan G (who some of you will remember as Yogi #12: The Fixer during Kiss My Asana 2016). When I requested stories for Kiss My Asana 2020, Meghan G sent me the following Good Friday story:

“My story has happened quite recently. On Good Friday, just last week, I was feeling so disconnected from my faith community of Saint Joan of Arc, my yoga community Downtown YMCA Friday night yogis and really the whole human community.  Every tradition or ritual that I/we have grounds me in the meaning of Holy Week was uprooted.  Holy Week, and Good Friday contemporary stations of the cross in particular, is one of the most sacred times of the year.  It almost felt to me that day as though it was being ignored.

In an effort to stop the downward spiral of disconnectedness, I sought out Saint Joan of Arc’s Good Friday celebration on video, posted on the website.  I had tried to worship this way on Holy Thursday, but found myself distracted, multi-tasking and unfulfilled by the experience.  So this Friday I decided to stop the swirling in my mind I would lead myself through a series of poses to calm and focus my mind.  Myra had prepared me well for this.  As I listened to the Stations of the Cross and the familiar music and stories from my faith community I progressed through a series of poses that were also as familiar and soothing as the service.  I was able to connect Jesus’s suffering on the cross with the greater suffering in our world right now (and always) and feel again a part of the human community.

Thank you, Myra, for teaching me over the years to do yoga as you do life…with intention and love. Happy Easter, Meghan”

Thanks, again, Meghan!

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“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.6) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

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[NOTE: As much as I am able, I like to highlight the quotes with a good color, i.e., a meaningful color. Today that color is black, for those who know.]

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### “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt” (John 1:5) ###