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Auspicious and Holy Stories (the “missing” Wednesday post) March 22, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Abhyasa, Art, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all! “Happy Ugadi, Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating! “Nine days and nine nights of blessings and happiness if you are celebrating Chaitra Navaratri!” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who is observing the holy month of Ramadān. Blessings to anyone observing Lent or Great Lent during this “Season for Non-violence” and all other seasons! Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere & Happy Fall to those in the Southern Hemisphere.

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 22nd. 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.

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.)

“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion)”

– Maty Ezraty

People often tell me that one of the things they like about my classes are the stories, as well as the way the poses and the music tell the stories. They may even wonder why I tell such stories. Bottom line: I come from a long line of teachers who think the practice is a way to tell our stories and also a way to process our stories, every time we inhale, every time we exhale. It’s a way to go deeper into our stories.

But, since we all have different stories, we need to get on the same page – and I just happen to have the privilege of turning that page.

Today is a day when I normally tell the stories of four very famous storytellers born on March 22nd. These storytellers tell/told their stories in different ways; however, the storytellers themselves have something in common – other than the fact that they are all, as it turns out, the same gender and race and share the same profession and birthday. They all know/knew how to tell a good story. Regardless of if you read the adult novels or children’s books of one of my parents’ favorite authors; the poetry of one of my favorite poets; or listen to the brilliant lyrics and music of the two composers on the list, you will find that they follow a simple structure. It is the same structure we follow in the practice; a structure containing the three parts highlighted by Maty Ezraty and, also, a Chekhovian promise (which we’ll get to in the end).

As I said before, today is a day when I normally tell their stories. However, this year, I feel compelled to tell a few different stories. They are the stories being told, celebrated, and observed all over the world today. They are auspicious stories. They are holy stories. They are stories filled with their own promise: a promise of hope and renewal.

Some elements of the following were posted in 2020 and 2021, in a slightly different combination and context. You can click on the years to find the original posts. There are also some embedded links below, which connect to additional context.

“The truth, from my perspective, is that the world, indeed, is ending — and is also being reborn.  It’s been doing that all day, every day, forever.  Each time we exhale, the world ends; when we inhale, there can be, if we allow it, rebirth and spiritual renewal.  It all transpires inside of us.  In our consciousness, in our hearts.  All the time.”

– Tom Robbins quoted in the Reality Sandwich article “The Syntax of Sorcery: An Interview with Tom Robbins” by Tony Vigorito (posted online June 6, 2012)

“Renewal” is a funny word, because I don’t think it is (technically) a homonym (i.e., a word that has multiple meanings), but it is a word that can conjure up very different sentiments. Simply stated, a “renewal” is the continuation or extension of something. Sometimes we think of it in the context of an activity or state that has been continuous, but had a set ending date – like when we borrow a book from a public library. Other times, we think of it in the context of continuing something that has been interrupted. Renewal can also be used to refer to something that has been repaired and/or restored to its original state… so that it can continue fulfilling its purpose.

Regardless of how you think of the word, “renewal” is a concept that we often associate with Spring. In fact, similar to how cultures all over the world celebrate light overcoming darkness during the darkest times of the year, cultures all over the world spend some portion of Spring celebrating renewal. In many cases, these celebrations mark a renewal of faith and a celebration of the continuation of a covenant with God.

Today, March 22, 2023, is a time when at least five different communities around the world are observing rituals related to renewal. While people within the Bahá’i Faith just finished observing the Bahá’i 19-Day Fast and celebrating the Nowruz (the New Year) –  and have a few weeks before their most holy festival, Western Christian and Eastern Orthodox Christian communities are observing the last few weeks of Lent and Great Lent. At this same time, some people in India and the Indian diaspora are celebrating Ugadi, the Hindu (or Indian) New Year, which is also the beginning of Chaitra Navaratri. Finally, the holy month of Ramadān in Islām is scheduled to begin tonight at sunset. (In countries that do not have sightings of the crescent moon, the holy month will begin on Thursday or Friday). Some of these celebrations and observations will extend into April, overlapping even more auspicious and holy times for even more communities around the world. Each ritual has different customs, traditions, and significances; however, what is important to note is how each observation renews people’s connection with their faith, their community, and the deepest parts of themselves.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. Luke (4:1-2, NIV)

NOTE: This is almost identical to The Gospel According to St. Matthew (4:1-2, NIV)

As I’ve mentioned before, the word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “spring season” and is a period of 40 days meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness prior to being betrayed, crucified, and resurrected. For Christians, it is seen as a period of preparation (for Easter) and involves fasting, prayer, reflection, redemption, and (yes) renewal. While the story is the same, the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions use a different calendar than the Eastern / Orthodox Christian traditions. The way the Sundays are counted is another difference in the way Lent and Great Lent are observed. In Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, Sundays are considered “Feast Days” – anniversaries of Easter and the Resurrection – and, therefore, they are not counted as days of penance. In Orthodox traditions, Sundays are included in the count.

The holy month of Ramadān is another observation within an Abrahamic religion – and it also involves yet another different calendar; so, the overlap in holy times is not always the same. Ramadān is an Arabic word derived from a root word meaning “scorching heat” or “dryness.” In addition to being the name of the 9th month of the Islāmic calendar, which is a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community, it is also one of the 99 “Beautiful Names of Allah” (also known as “99 Attributes of Allah”). While the fasting from sunrise to sunset during the holy month is a holy obligation (for those who are physically able) and one of the Five Pillars of Faith in Islām, I normally don’t focus on this particular ritual and tradition until the end of the holy month – which includes a night that is considered the holiest night of the month, a night of revelation and destiny.

“I know I’m waiting
Waiting for something
Something to happen to me
But this waiting comes with
Trials and challenges
Nothing in life is free”

“My Lord, show me right from wrong
Give me light, make me strong
I know the road is long
Make me strong”

– quoted from the song “Make Me Strong” by Sami Yusuf

There are several calendars used in India and Southeast Asia which may be referred to as the Hindu calendar (or, in some cases the Buddhist calendar). For the most part, these are lunisolar calendars. Some, like those used in Nepal and certain regions of India, emphasize the lunar cycles and start with the (spring) harvest season. On the flip side, the Tamil calendar emphasizes the solar cycle and begins around the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. (In fact, I have seen the Tamil calendar described as a purely solar calendar.)

The Indian calendars tend to have twelve months, however, in some areas (particularly in the North) a month begins the day after a full moon and in other areas (often in the South) the month begins at sunrise after the “no moon” or new moon. The months are usually divided into the bright half (waxing, when the crescent appears after the new moon) and the darker half (waning, the day after the full moon). Because of the different starting points, the same lunar-oriented religious holidays may start at slightly different times throughout the continent. Either way you look at it, many people are beginning their observations and celebrations of Navaratri.

Navaratri (which means “nine nights” in Sanskrit) technically occurs four times on the Hindu calendar, although extra emphasis is put on the one beginning today and the one in the fall. Like the others, the fall celebration of Sharada Navaratri is a celebration of divine feminine energy – specifically of Durga, the divine mother, in various manifestations. It is considered the most celebrated. Magha Navaratri and Ashada Navaratri are the least celebrated, although they have special significance in certain regions. The second most celebrated Navaratri is Chaitra Navaratri, which begins today and is also Ugadi, the Hindu or Indian New Year.

Like the others, Chaitra Navaratri begins by celebrating Durga as Shailaputri (“Daughter of Mountain”). Shailputri is the daughter of Himavat, the Mountain King or Guardian God of Himalayan Mountains, and is recognized as a divine manifestation of Mahadevi and a reincarnation of Sati (the wife of Shiva), who then reincarnates as Parvati. In art, she holds a trishula or trident in her right hand and a lotus in her left hand, all while riding Shiva’s bull Nandi*, whose name means “happy, joy, and satisfaction.” In some regions, this spring celebration culminates on the final day with Rama Navami – a celebration of the birth of Lord Rama.

“Lord Ram gave Hanuman a quizzical look and said, ‘What are you, a monkey or a man?’ Hanuman bowed his head reverently, folded his hands and said, ‘When I do not know who I am, I serve You and when I do know who I am, You and I are One.’”

– quoted from the epic Sanskrit poem Ramacharitmanas (Lake of the Deeds of Rama) by Goswami Tulsidas

All of the rituals and traditions mentioned above could be considered vigils (or feature vigils at some point during the observation) – as they are periods of time when people are “keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.” Even when people are not literally staying up all night, they are required to be mindful (i.e., awake) to how they can fulfill the obligations of their faith on a day-to-day basis. All of these rituals and traditions are practiced in community. Finally, they all fit into the rubric of kriyā yoga, as described by Patanjali in Yoga Sūtra 2.1-2. They all involve a combination of tapah (“heat, austerity, or discipline” and the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity on a number of levels), svādhyāya (“self-study”), and īśvarapraņidhāna (“trustful surrender to [God]”). Furthermore, they all have the intention or goal of bringing about that ultimate “union” and the end of suffering – which is, on a certain level, a promise made by all the major religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical traditions.

Which brings us back to that Chekhovian promise.

Anton Chekov said that if there is a rifle (or a pistol) hanging on the wall in the first chapter/act, it must go off in the second or third. He told another playwright, “It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

Whenever we step on the mat, there’s a part of us that is making a promise (to ourselves). We are also, on a certain level, keeping a promise. Whenever I put together a sequence, there’s a part of me that thinks about that promise and how I can honor it. I also think about a song by Stephen Sondheim (“Putting it together…bit by bit…piece by piece”), as well as about Maty Ezraty’s sequencing advice about the middle (the heart) of the story. I consider how I can build up to a big heart opener (and/or a big hip opener). I also think about how we each need to process our own personal story in order to not only lift and open our hearts, but also to support our lifted and open hearts – especially in times when it is so easy to close off. Then I think about what best moves us into stillness and a period of reflection, after all that we’ve done to get to the middle (the heart). Finally, I think about rituals and traditions.

I often indicate that traditions are rituals that have lost a little bit of their meaning. Saying that may, sometimes, take away from the fact that both rituals and traditions are powerful. They have powerful affects on our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. They are part of our stories – and, also part of the ways we tell and share our stories. They can also be the ways in which we process our stories. Similarly, our practice is full of rituals and traditions that – on and off the mat – renew our connections with our beliefs, our communities, and the deepest parts of ourselves.

“Practicing yoga is a privilege. And with this privilege comes a duty to be kind, to share a smile, and to offer yoga from the mat into the rest of your life.”

– Maty Ezraty

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Two quick notes about the music: First, some of the songs on the playlist are, or could be considered, Nasheeds (meaning they are religiously moral songs) that, in some traditions, are meant to be sung without instrumentation or only with percussion. I have, however, included orchestrated versions of these songs, because this seems to have worked best in an in-studio setting. I mean no disrespect by this choice. As far as I know, percussion or voice only recordings of each song are available (if you want to build your own playlist). Alternatively, you can practice without the music. Second, I broke one of my personal rules and included a song (in Hindi) for which I only have a partial translation. I’m still searching and seeking.

*CORRECTION: During the 4:30 practice, I mixed up Nandi and Nandini, the cow of plenty in the Mahabharata. My apologies for the confusion.

### Unity yields Equity and Equality ###


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