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FTWMI: A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted today in 2022. In addition to some slight edits, this post includes updated class details and a remixed playlist.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In American English, “bad” has two meanings, one of which is “even better than good.” The saying “bad to the bone” fits with that positive description and is often associated with someone who is “cool,” rebellious, and radical in a way that bucks the system… in a way, even, that can bring much needed change. There are some people who play with the idea of being “bad to the bones,” but the truth is that that kind of goodness has nothing to do with the clothes one wears so much as it has to do with what’s underneath, what’s at the core and the roots of a person. In other words, what matters is who they are all the way down to their bones.

One of my favorite inspirational reminders is based on the idea that, in Judaism, there are 248 mitzvot aseh (“positive commandments”), which are commands to perform certain activities, and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (“negative commandments”), which are commands to abstain from certain activities; meaning, we should avoid avoid the negative things every day of the year and do the good things with “every bone in our body.”* To me, someone who manages to do that in a very public way is “bad to the bone.”

The following is an abridged version of a post from January of 2021. Click here for the original post.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. At times he felt abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven areas of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life):

  • Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm;
  • Gevurah (“strength”), left arm;
  • Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart;
  • Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg;
  • Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg;
  • Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus;
  • Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth.

Being in the habit of seeing the body as something intended to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but also an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, he honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Please join me today (Wednesday, January 11th) 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. 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.

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). Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

*NOTE: The aforementioned aphorism is based on an ancient Hebrew idea that there are 248 bones or significant organs in the body.

### Amen, Selāh ###

Simple and True, with Music (the “missing” Tuesday post) January 11, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This “missing” post related to Tuesday, January 10th is an expanded and revised remix of a 2022 post. You can request an audio recording of either year’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.

“Some days I catch a rhythm, almost a song
in my own breath. I’m alone here
in Brooklyn Heights, late morning, the sky
above the St. George Hotel clear, clear
for New York, that is. The radio playing
“Bird Flight,” Parker in his California
tragic voice fifty years ago, his faltering
“Lover Man” just before he crashed into chaos.”

– quoted from the poem “Call It Music by Philip Levine

Breathing is something we all do. It’s something we all must do in order to survive – and, yet, it is all to easy to forget about it. Even in this day and age, it is all too easy to take our breathing for granted. So, take a moment to breathe.

Just breathe and pay attention to your breath.

Catch the rhythm that is your breath, the rhythm of your life.

Breath – and the awareness of breath – is the guiding teacher that we carry with us where ever we go. Our breath can be a true reflection of how we are living and/or surviving in any given moment. It can tell us if we are about to soar like a bird and/or if we are about to crash into chaos.

“The perfect sunlight angles into my little room
above Willow Street. I listen to my breath
come and go and try to catch its curious taste,
part milk, part iron, part blood, as it passes
from me into the world. This is not me,
this is automatic, this entering and exiting,
my body’s essential occupation without which
I am a thing. The whole process has a name,
a word I don’t know, an elegant word not
in English or Yiddish or Spanish, a word
that means nothing to me.”

– quoted from the poem “Call It Musicby Philip Levine

There are any number of words in any number of languages that could come to mind when reading the words of the poet Philip Levine, who was born January 10, 1928, in Detroit, Michigan. Of course, the word that immediately springs to my mind is the Sanskrit word prāṇāyāma. Defined as the awareness of breath and the extension of breath, prāṇāyāma is the fifth limb of the 8-limb Yoga Philosophy. It is the second half of the physical practice of yoga and it bridges the gap between the mind-body and our awareness of our mind-body.

Although there are many techniques, basic prāṇāyāma is a very simple practice: focus on your breath for a set period of time. While the practice is just that simple, it is not always easy. There are lots of things that can get in the way. However, one of the great things about this practice is that paying attention to the breath is also the true way around those obstacles. I would even argue that nothing is more simple and true than breathing and bringing awareness to that automatic entering and leaving.

“Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.”

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truthby Philip Levine

Philip Levine was the second of three sons (and the first identical twin) born to Jewish immigrants just as the Nazi party was getting a foothold in Germany. He had the unfortunate experience of watching anti-Semitism rise in is own (proverbial) backyard and to also witness how racism (and other -isms) created a schism between the different people who made up the working class. Following in the tradition of Walt Whitman, he started giving voice to America’s voiceless and – even after he left the “mitten state” – he wrote poems about the plight of regular people in his hometown.

In some ways, Mr. Levine followed in his parent’s footsteps. His father, Harry Levine, owned a used (car) parts store; his mother, Esther Priscol (Pryszkulnik) Levine, sold books; and, starting at the age of fourteen, the poet worked in auto factories as he pursued his literary degrees. After graduating from Detroit Central High School, he earned his Bachelor of Arts, in literature, from Wayne (State) University and then “unofficially” attended classes at the University of Iowa. He earned a mail-order master’s degree and then returned to the University of Iowa to teach and pursue a Masters of Fine Arts, which he completed in 1957.

By the time he graduated from the University of Iowa (1957), he was beginning to gain significant recognition as a poet. In addition to teaching at a plethora of major universities around the country, he was lauded and recognized with national literary awards, including the two National Book Awards (1980 and 1991), Guggenheim Foundation fellowships (1973 and 1980), the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1995, for the collection The Simple Truth), and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1987). He served on the Board of Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1000-2006) and as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (also known as the U. S. Poet Laureate) from 2011-2012. In collaboration with saxophonist and composer Benjamin Boone, Philip Levine created a collection of jazz poetry, “a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music” – which was released in 2018, almost exactly three years and a month after his death. As a writer, he not only protested the Vietnam War, he kept speaking for the disenfranchised using simple truths… truths that could not be denied.

Can you taste
what I’m saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truthby Philip Levine

The sixth chakra, which is located around the third eye (and about in inch into your forehead, half an inch above there), is symbolically associated with big “T” Truth – and with our ability to seek it, perceive it, and recognize it when we encounter it. The energy of this area is a curious energy, in that it continually pushes us to question everything. It supports healthy self-inquiry when the energy is balanced; however, when out of balance, it can manifest feelings of doubt or an inability to “see the truth” when it is right in front of you.

In Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith, Ph.D., connects the sixth chakra to “knowledge, understanding and transcendent consciousness,” as well as to intuition. In Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, Caroline Myss, Ph.D. further connects it to the Christian sacrament of Ordination and the sefirot (“emanations” or Divine attributes) of Binah (Divine “understanding”) and Hokhmah or Chokmah (Divine “wisdom”). Similar to the love described in the sixth mansion of Saint Teresa of Ávila‘s El Castillo Interior or Las Moradas, ordination distinguishes and elevates the faithful. Note, also, that in the Kabbalah-inspired system I have previously mentioned, the “higher” or mind-related sefirot are not included in a physical practice of the Divine attributes.

My standard summary of how the energetic and symbolic elements manifest in our lives goes something like this: Consider how where you come from determines the friends you make (or don’t make); how where you come from and the people around you play a role in how you see yourself; and how where you come from, the friends you make along the way, and how you see yourself, play a part in how (or if) you embrace yourself (or others), embrace a moment, and extend your gifts out into the world – or not. Consider also how where you come from, the friends you make along the way, how you see yourself, and whether you extend what’s in your heart connect to how you express yourself, how you know (or don’t know) the truth when you perceive it, and how all of that contributes to your experience of this present moment.

That summary can be extrapolated and applied to a variety of scenarios, including how we cultivate new habits and achieve our goals, dreams, and desires. Consider, for instance, that the first chakra is related to physical survival and physical form – which means it is our matter. It is also our plans. Friends are our support system, cheering us on and/or providing guidance, while also providing accountability. When I think of the third chakra, the solar plexus – as it relates to our self esteem, our personality, and our sense of self – I think of the idea that we have “fire in the belly.” We can think of this idiom literally, in terms of digestive juices – which is a whole other conversation – and we can think of it as the internal element that keeps us physically motivated. To continue the metaphor, it’s what makes us hungry for more.

Then there is the heart, which connects the physical with the mental and emotional. It’s the energetic-emotional connection between the mind and the body. Here, it is the connection between the idea (the pattern) and the manifestation (the matter). This is also the idea of purusha (pure consciousness) and prakriti (elemental, unformed matter or substance). When we get into the throat chakra – related to mental determination and willpower – we are starting to move into the intangible. Those parts of our lived experiences that are “barely describable” and can only be indicated (lingamatra) and those things that are “absolutely indescribable [because they are] beyond any point of reference” (alinga).

Consider that last bit a moment. As you think about that last part, also think about the idea that your goals and desires, your wishes, hopes, dreams (and yes, even your fears), are fully formed somewhere in your heart… and maybe the back of your mind. Somewhere out in the ether, that possibility is real. But there are a lot of steps between conception and manifestation. And until we take the first step, they all feel like giant leaps.

To make life even more challenging, anybody can give anyone a metaphorical road map about physical survival and what it takes to sustain the body. We know the body’s basic necessities and there are people who are dedicated to breaking that down into what different body types need to survive at a peak level. On a certain level, people can also create road maps for the mind – and we do, all the time, which is why the self-help industry is so massive. But, there’s still a part of the journey that can only be experienced by the person taking the trip. There’s a part of the journey that is barely or absolutely indescribable. It’s the part of the journey that can never be duplicated. It’s the journey between what’s in a person’s heart and what’s in their head.

Even if someone explained how they got from point A to point B – and even if that explanation came with a Jean-Paul Sartre nauseous-level breakdown of how they felt and what they thought along the way – the only thing the rest of us could completely replicate would be the physical aspects of the journey. But, that part in between, it’s like getting lost, stuck in a traffic jam, and not knowing where you’re going – all while on a schedule.

The longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart.

*

– possibly a Sioux statement, although it is often attributed to Anonymous

*

Tuesday’s (2023) playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: The end of the YouTube playlist includes a special recording of the Bird Flight radio show, hosted by Phil Schaap on WKCR 89.9. I couldn’t find it on Spotify (maybe because I’m like “Lazy Bird” – which is what rounds out the Spotify playlist).

Last year there was a surprise posting! Did you see it? It’s the first step in a journey (that we’ve already begun and finished)!

*

### Always Get Into The Habit ###