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FTWMI: Sailing Into New Beginnings January 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Movies, New Year, Peace, Religion, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to everyone.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in January 2021 and re-posted in 2022. I have made some slight revisions and updated some links and class details. 


“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”


– quoted from “Chapter LVIII. Brit” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

On more than one occasion, I have compared breathing to our “own personal ocean.” I even once honored one of my teachers by sharing that at the end of her classes people felt like there were floating on a surfboard after a spending a whole day riding the waves; muscles completely relaxed, the mind-body completely one with the rising and falling of the waves as they ebb and flow. Those are just my words to express very common experiences. And, before you ask; no, I don’t actually surf. I have, however, spent all day, for several days, learning how to sail and much of my young life playing and swimming in the ocean water of the Gulf. I also read a lot. And, the way the brain works, it’s not uncommon for me to make the visceral connection between something I’ve done and something I’ve read.

It happens with the very best of books: we find ourselves in the middle of a grand adventure, full of pirates, mutineers, and cannibals, or elves, dwarfs, and hobbits. There may be dragons to slay, train, or befriend; there may be fire on the mountaintop; there may be rings of temptation or friendship; there may be wagers in the middle of battles and so much merriment we can barely contain the laughter that pops out loudly enough that we find ourselves, suddenly, back in the our ordinary lives.

“Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?’ He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.’”


– Frodo reminiscing with Sam and Pippin in “Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

The thing we sometimes forget is that our ordinary lives can not only lead us to great adventures, they can themselves be great adventures. We may not, as a young Herman Melville did when he set sail for the South Seas today in 1841, find ourselves actually taking part in a mutiny; landing in a Tahitian jail; escaping from that same jail; and then wandering around the island for two years before serendipitously befriending another great literary mind. We may not, as J. R. R. Tolkien was today in 1892, be born into a family of clock, watch, and piano makers; have an Aunt Jane who lived on a farm called Bag End (with no reference to us); and have cousins named Mary and Marjorie who made up a language called “Animalic” (inspiring us to make up our own languages); nor might we spend our adulthood in close friendships with some of the greatest literary minds of our time; and neither might we share those friendships with our son. Still, just as Melville and Tolkien did, we could write about our own lives and life experiences in a way that (sometimes) entertained and amused others. I say “sometimes,” because both authors produced work that has had mixed reviews.

While Melville’s first two sea-based novels met with quite a bit of success, his third book was so poorly received he said that he wrote the fourth and fifth just for the money. His sixth novel, Moby Dick, or The Whale, was first published in London in three installments and is now easily considered his most famous novel, but it was a critical flop when first published. On the flip side, Tolkien was surprised that his first book of fiction, The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, turned out to be such a hit… with children – and was later surprised that he and his work inspired a very passionate, loyal, and scholastic fan base. Even though his books were heavily influenced by his Catholic upbringing, his experiences at war, and his fascination with all things mythical and mystical, he was not always a fan of other work in the “fantasy adventure” genre and thought people read way too much into his books.  

“Call me Ishmael”


– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville


“‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,’ said Pippin….


‘I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.’”


– Pippin and Merry meeting “Treebeard” in “Book 4, Chapter 4: Treebeard” in The Two Towers (Volume 2 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien


Remember that, in the yoga tradition, our ability to combine meaning with sound, remember and share the combination, and create and share a visual representation of the combination of sound and meaning all fall into one of the “powers unique to humans;” and, as I mentioned yesterday, the brain likes naming things. So, there is great power in a name. J. R. R. Tolkien was very clear about this on more than one occasion in his books and the idea of words being powerful is further emphasized by the fact that he made up languages to solidify the cultures of the different characters he created. Herman Melville, on the other hand, started off his most well-known novel with the introduction and naming of a character that plays a major role in the telling of the story, but a minor one in the action.

The opening line to Moby Dick, or The Whale is easily in the top 5 most well-known (and quoted) opening lines of fiction. It is extra interesting when we consider the name (Ishmael) as it is connected to the Abrahamic religions. First, the name is often associated with people of little means and few (blood) relational ties – and Melville’s narrator explains that he was both, at the time of the story, “having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore[.]” Second, the name itself can be translated into English as “God has hearkened” – meaning “God (has) listened.” Which begs the question, how can we (mere mortals) not listen?  

“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.


‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given, us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.’”


– quoted from “Book 1, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien


“I try all things; I achieve what I can.”


– quoted from “Chapter LXXIX. The Prairie” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville


In a normal year (depending on which study you read and the time period studied), only about 20% – 40% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their desired goals. I know that’s a big gap, but either way you look at it over half of people who make resolutions don’t follow through. There are all kinds of explanations for this, and all kinds of “life hacks” to improve your odds, but ultimately it all comes down to little things. Little things and baby steps can make a big difference. They keep us focused on our intentions and they keep us progressing on the right track – even when there’s a detour. Little things and baby steps even help us appreciate the detour that is actually the scenic route. As we leave a year that was hard for just about everyone – and figure out a way to look forward to what’s to come – I wouldn’t be surprised if the odds are stacked against us.

Daunting thought I know. But, as Tolkien reminds us (in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again), “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” So, think for a moment about the fact that something as small and powerful as a word, or a name, can change the odds in your favor. Now ask yourself: What name would you choose for yourself to indicate how you want to move through this New Year? What’s you symbol, what’s your sign, for this new beginning? What will be your own personal reminder throughout the year and thus, at the end of the year, part of your story?


“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”


– quoted from “Chapter XXXIX. First Night-Watch: Fore-Top (Stubb solus, and mending a brace)” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville



“‘No!” said Thorin. ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!’”


– quoted from “Chapter XVIII: The Return” in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Even though many, maybe most, are still struggling with all those we’ve lost and everything we experienced, these last few years have reinforced the value of friendship, fellowship, kinship and a good laugh shared at the expense of no one. They have also made people reevaluate their values – although, again, this is one with which some are still struggling. But, no matter where you are in your journey, I encourage you to never underestimate the power of being nice, smiling, and eating a second dinner (and then dancing or walking it off, you know, Hobbit style).

Keeping that in mind, I just want to say, for the record, that I have not forgotten about those of y’all who are counting the “Days of Christmas.” To catch up, today is the 9th or 10th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; and “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments.

Note, again, that there are different versions of the list and the last four or five days worth of gifts deviate the most (in type of gift and order) from one version to another – which might be the cause of the effect of people getting all mixed up. In fact, The Journal of American Folk-lore, Volume XXX, No. CXVII (published July-September 1917, edited by Franz Boas), features an article on “Ballads and Songs” (edited by G. L. Kittredge) specifically listing a wide variety of versions that include (but are not limited to): “some part of a juniper tree;” “a-bleating lambs;” “a-bleating rams;” “fiddlers fiddling;” “bulls a-roaring;” “stags a-leaping;” “silver florins;” “golden pippins;” “hounds a-howling” – and a 78-year old singer from Massachusetts who, according to assistant editor Kittredge, forgot the eighth day gift on December 30, 1877.   

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”


  – The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (2:22 – 5:23, NIV)


Please join me today (Tuesday, January 3rd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01032021 Melville Sails Tolkien Beginnings”]


“It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”


– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville



“Not all those who wander are lost.”


– quoted from a letter dated “Midyear’s Day, Shire Year 1418” from Gandalf to Frodo, delivered by Strider/Aragon/Elessar in “Book 1, Chapter 10: Strider” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

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.)


### Grace (Enuf) ###


The Purpose of Naming (a revised and updated post) January 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Mantra, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy 2023 to Everyone!

The following was originally posted in 2021. I have added some extra bits for 2023; but, if you had a particularly challenging 2022, you might also be interested in last year’s post for January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’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. Donations are tax deductible.]

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet….


‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”


– Juliet (on the balcony) in Act II, scene ii of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Here we are, a New Year and a new beginning – but we still have a big mess leftover from before. The world has been here before. In fact, Johannes Mercurius found himself here in 533 AD. He was a native of Rome, who became a priest at the Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) on Caelian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The basilica has an interesting history – not the least of which is that contains memorials and references to “Johannes surnamed Mercurius” and “Presbyter Mercurius.” I might dive into that rabbit hole one day, but I mention all this today, because Johannes made quite a name for himself in the church.

Quite literally, he made a name for himself: Today in 533, he was elected pope and decided to change his name to Pope John II. Nowadays, someone changing their name when they are elevated to the Papacy is the ruler rather than the exception. However, Pope John II was the first pontiff to take a new name to mark the beginning of his Papacy and he did it for two reasons. First, he was named after the Roman (and therefore “pagan”) god Mercury; which made his birth name highly inappropriate. Second, he wanted to send a message to the Church and the world about his intention and expectations as Pope.

Pope John II started his Papacy during a time when everything and anything within the Church was for sale. “Simony,” named for a Simon who is associated with sorcery in The Acts of the Apostles, is the practice of purchasing or selling religious appointments, offices, and positions. According to The Catholic Catholic Encyclopedia: Infamy-Lapparent (as published in 1910), the Church’s highest office was unfilled for two months and, during that time, people were very openly, and “shameless[ly] trafficking in sacred things…. Even sacred vessels were exposed for sale.” Given that the position was ultimately filled by a man bearing a Roman god’s name, who had given the Church quite a few “gifts,” one can’t help but wonder how Pope John II came into his position. Either way, simony was outlawed by the Church and the teenage king, Athalaric, right around the time the new pontiff was elevated.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”


The Acts of the Apostles (8:18 – 8:22, KJV)

The 533 decree outlawing simony is interesting in that this rule banning bribery required that whenever there was a disputed election, the Church had to pay the poor three thousand pieces of silver. King Althalaric gave Pope John II the responsibility of overseeing the collection and distribution of such penalties. At the same time, the new pontiff had to deal with an adulterous bishop and also had to decide whether or not to reinstate bishops in Africa who had started teaching and practicing a form of Christianity that rejected the theology of the Holy Trinity. Clearly, he had a lot on his plate and he wanted – nay, needed – a name that sent a very definitive statement about his intentions moving forward. He needed a name that held some esteem, especially as it related to the bishops in Africa. Ultimately, he choose to name himself after Pope John I, who had been beatified and venerated as a martyr after establishing a precedent in relation to Christians who denied the divinity of Jesus in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire.

Pope John II did not have a chance to make a ruling on the issue of bishops in Africa, as the controversy was brought to him shortly before his death on May 8, 535. But the practice of changing one’s name had been established. It didn’t take right away. In fact, it would be 450 years after Pope John II changed his name before another pontiff (this time, birth name Pietro Canepanova – a very good Catholic name, as he was named after the first Pope) would change his name: also to John. This Pope John (XIV) would immediately be followed by a “John” who actually kept his birth name, Pope John XV (born Giovanni di Gallina Aba), who would be followed by a series of pontiffs who would change their names. Thus far, Pope John is the most popular papal name, with 23 (excluding the ones known as John Paul).

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called , by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”


– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

There is something to be said for naming things, and people – even, maybe especially, ourselves. January 2nd is a day when I usually ask people to consider what name they would use to indicate how they would like to move through the new year. The name would be something positive and active – something from the heart – that can serve as a message to others and a reminder to one’s self: something to bring the awareness back to your purpose, mission, or guiding principle. Something to keep one focused.

At the end of 2021, I heard someone talking about a retreat (or workshop) where people wrote down a name that they associated with themselves before a transformative experience. Similar to what we used to do at the end of the New Year’s Day 108 mala, they threw the names in a fire; letting go of what no longer served them. Hearing about that ritual reminded me that we know the story behind Juliet imploring Romeo to change his name and we know why Pope John Ii changed his name. Being just as clear about our own motivations can help us stay focused in the year ahead.

Yoga, Buddhism, and even modern Psychology all have practices centered around the naming of things. The naming, or sometimes labeling, of an object (even a non-tangible object) is a way of bringing awareness to awareness and also to one’s understanding (or lack of understanding) about the nature of things. This practice can be a vital aspect of practicing non-attachment. It can also help someone stay focused, in particular by continuously turning the awareness back to a single point and/or away from that which may be distracting.

You can try this by doing “that 90-second thing” with the intention of focusing on your breath and, anytime your mind drifts away, continuously bringing it back by thinking, “Inhale. Exhale,” in tandem with the breath. Alternately, you can think there word, “Thinking,” or some combination thereof. The more you do this, the less you may need to do this in order to stay focused. Never forget, however, that there is merit/benefit to doing this type of practice every time you sit (if that’s what the mind-body needs).

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


“Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness…. There is an analogous phenomenon in those who lose their sight; some people who become blind may have, paradoxically, heightened visually imagery.”


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

Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of the 8-limbed Yoga Philosophy, is often defined as sense withdrawal. People may think of it as suppressing the senses or ignoring sensation, but in fact the practice is more about acknowledging all that is and then choosing on what to focus the mind. Additionally, the yoga tradition understands the experience of sensation as an engagement of the sense organs and also the mind. So there is internal and external action, which makes the practice two-fold and as much, if not more, about turning inward as it is about turning away from something outward.

In the commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, explains that, “Following the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, it is translated from back to front: hāra means “to pull, to withdraw, to bring, to carry”; ā means “from every direction in every respect”; and prati means “toward.” Thus pratyāhāra means “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point.” The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali not only defines and lays out a path towards the practice; it also offers instruction on some beneficial focal points.

One point that consistently stands out as beneficial is the practice of drawing all awareness to the breath and the experience of breathing. (YS 1.34) Remember, however, that before one can really focus all awareness on the breath and the experience of breathing one’s mind-body has to be stable and comfortable, steady and at ease, balanced between effort and relaxation. (YS 2.47) Even then, one has to be aware of all the parts of the breath and the different experiences of breathing in order to transcend the experiences of the various parts. (YS 2.49 – 2.51) Even then, one has to be willing to put in the time and effort… especially the time, because there is a bit of math related to the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah


– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.


“A minimum of 48 seconds is required for the bonding between prana and mind to fully mature. Thus pranayama is not defined by how long we hold the breath but rather by how long we hold our mind on the subtle movement of prana in the pranic field.


When mental concentration is 12 times longer than the period of concentration defining pranayama, it is pratyahara…. Dharana, concentration, is 12 times longer than pratyahara. Our capacity to concentrate increases with practice, allowing dharana to mature into dhyana and Samadhi.”


– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.54 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD


There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation practices.


The playlist revised for 2022 is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]


Did you know that I spent 2022 making a video series about changing perspectives and habits? Here is the last video in the series, which is an invitation to begin the series.


“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”


– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz


Errata: The 2021 post cited the wrong Romeo and Juliet scene number.