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Take Another Look at Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post, which is a “renewed” post ) March 30, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Ramadan, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tennessee Williams, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“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! Many blessings to all during this “Season for Non-violence” and all other seasons! 

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, March 26th. It is also a revised (and expanded) from 2019, with an itty bit from 2020 – so, literally another look. Some links in the post connect to sites outside of the blog. 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.)

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

– quoted from the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

– quoted from the play Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (The first sentence is also the epitaph on his grave.)

There are people in the world who will say you haven’t read poetry until you read Robert Frost, and Southerners in the world who will say you haven’t seen a play until you’ve seen Tennessee Williams. Born 37 years and over 2,000 miles apart, these two literary icons shared a birthday (3/26) and way with words. Although, some would say they used their words in different ways.

Born in 1874, in San Francisco, California, Robert Frost wrote about things like “a snowy evening,” “mending a wall,” and “the road not taken” – although, in the latter case, people often mistake it for “the road less traveled.” His poems are often as much about perspective as they are about the way we tell a story (and the fact that the way we tell a story can change the story). They also illustrate how the stories we tell (ourselves and the world) are not always about the truth so much as they about what we understand about the world and ourselves.

Born in 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, Tennessee Williams wrote about emotionally volatile people in the South and from the South. He wrote about characters and circumstances that reflected the emotional turmoil he saw and felt inside himself and all around him. Then, so that the emotional states of the the people and situations could not be ignored (or missed) he reinforced them with the use of props, sound effects, and blocking. In other words, he used the physical to embody the emotional and energetic – and, in doing so, drew the audience into the hearts of the characters.

Even though their mediums and subjects were different, they both wrote in a way that can make you pause, look again…and again. Once or thrice you may even wonder how many ways you can see/interpret/understand what has been said, and how it applies to your life. A good story, regardless of the medium, will make you do that: consider how it applies to your life.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– quoted from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost

Every once in a while (as I did last Wednesday and again on Sunday), I mention Maty Ezraty, who was a teacher of teachers and who said that every yoga practice should be like a good story. One of my takeaways from that suggestion has always been that, each part of the mind-body-spirit is like a character in a story. Just like each character has a different purpose and a different point of view, each pose/sequence can give each part of our bodies and minds an opportunity to tell their story. Another takeaway is that everything is leading to and from the heart of the story.

So, let’s start with the hearts.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

– quoted from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

Yes, I said, “hearts” – plural. Swami Rama from the Himalayan tradition said that we have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left side; an emotional heart on the opposite side, which for most of us is on the right; and an energetic heart that connects the two. That energetic heart, which some consider a spiritual heart, connects our hearts with all the other hearts around us. Additionally, in yoga and other Eastern healing arts, energy for the heart flows through the arms.

The heart chakra, in yoga (as it comes to us from India) is symbolically and energetically associated with the upper torso, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. In Yin Yoga, which is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart median has three branches, one of which runs down the inner arms into the pinky fingers. According to the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, there are 10 Divine attributes (from the Tree of Life) through which G-d is revealed to the world – and 7 of these can be found in the body. Love/loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is associated with the right arm and is balanced by strength (gevurah in Hebrew), which is associated with the left arm.

Just as people contemplate the Divine attributes when they are counting the Omer in some Jewish traditions, people in Buddhist traditions contemplate the Divine abodes (brahmavihārāḥ in Sanskrit), which are heart practices: loving-kindness or benevolence (mettā); compassion (karuṇā); empathetic joy (muditā); and equanimity (upekkhā). In some Indian philosophies (like Yoga), the ability to cultivate a good heart/make friends (suhrit-prapati) and generosity (dana) can also be considered heart practices. On (and off) the mat, we can contemplate these same emotional and energetic aspects of ourselves by bringing awareness to our arms and how we use our arms… to reach out, to embrace, to extend ourselves.

We may notice – as we move through our practice or through our day – how we are expressing our heart or how we are withholding our heart. But, there’s always the possibility that we don’t notice. We may not notice when we are off the mat, because we are distracted. We may not notice on the mat, because we are focused on other parts of the mind-body. This is why it’s important to notice how we move and why we move the way we move – because it all tells a story.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,”

– quoted from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

There are hundreds of poses and hundreds, thousands – maybe even millions – of ways to move into and out of pose. And each one of those ways gives us another way of looking at the story. The tricky thing is that sometimes we keep coming back to the story the same way. But, what happens if we came at things a different way? What happens if we let a different part of our mind-body-spirit take the lead? What happens if our circumstances and understanding of the world changes? What happens if our understanding of ourselves changes?

Sometimes, the practice can be like a favorite story that we read again and again – or re-read, years after the initial reading – and we suddenly see everything from a different perspective. In fact, one of the things I like about the practice is the opportunity to revisit themes and/or sequences and suddenly discover something completely different. It’s also one of the things I love about reading (and watching) great works of art.

“We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.”

– quoted from the poem “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost

Parighāsana (Gate Pose) stretches the pelvic area and hamstrings, while also engaging the sides of the torso and abdomen eccentrically (up side) and concentrically (down side). According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, the pose “keeps the abdominal muscles and organs in condition and the skin around the abdomen will not sag but remain healthy. The sideways spinal movement will help persons suffering from stiff backs.” I find that it is a great way to get into the hips and the legs. Another aspect of the pose is what happens to the heart area – not only physically, but emotionally.

Parighāsana offers us the opportunity to open up the shoulders (physically) and open the gates on all sides of the heart (emotionally and energetically). It also offers some interesting insight into how we sometimes engage the different aspects of our heart. For instances, when I cue and describe the pose in a practice, many people have a tendency to lift the bottom hand up to meet the top hand – rather than extending the upper body down towards the lower hand. To be fair, many people do not have the strength and flexibility to kneel on one leg, stretch out the other leg, and then bend sideways until the top hand lowers down. But, what is interesting is how people deal with the resistance. Initially, they lift the bottom hand up – because it’s easy (and obvious). When I point out that it’s the top hand that needs to reach down, many people will fold in on themselves; essentially closing down and hiding the heart to make the connection. However, the “goal” is to open the gate and to stay open in the process.

“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams

We all build walls around our hearts. Sometimes we do it for protection, because we have perceived an actual threat. Other times, we build walls, because of fear associated with a perceived threat. That perceived threat might turn out to be an actual threat, but it could also simply be a possibility (or a misperception). Of course, we can also get in the habit of building walls – because it’s what others have done before us, what we’ve been taught, and/or because we have experienced harm in the past. But, even castle walls have gates and drawbridges, a way in and a way out.

When we really pay attention to the ways we engage our heart, on and off the mat, we may find it challenging to open the gate. We may find that we take the easy route – especially when there’s a little awkward balancing, as there is in parighāsana – and/or we may find that we are compromising ourselves (and our hearts) in order to make a connection. One suggestion I make, during the physical practice, is to bend the lifted elbow (so the hand is behind the head) and then use the whole body to rotate the elbow up. This changes the focus and reinforces the idea that we are opening the heart and the side-body. I often sequence a modified side plank after the “Gate Pose,” as a reminder that there can be more than one way to open a gate.

Take a moment to consider a time when you compromised yourself in order to make a connection. How could you have refocused your awareness, energy, and resources in order to reinforce what was important? Could you have made the connection (or a similar connection) in a different way?

In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Remember, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers. Click here for the brief 2020 post about making loving-kind connections.

“It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life–not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

– quoted from the essay “The Figure a Poem Makes” by Robert Frost (which served as an introduction to his Collected Poems beginning with the 1939 edition) 

Two of my favorite lines from Robert Frost speak of wisdom and delight, and the gift that comes from giving our whole selves. Every time I step on a yoga mat, I experience the wisdom and the delight. I also experience a plethora of gifts. One of those gifts is how the practice affects the mind. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams has Brick acknowledging that he is an alcoholic, but not seeming to want to give up his drinking because, “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” But then, as his father points out to him, there is the morning.

One of the gifts of yoga is that it brings peace without the hangover. It can flip the switch. Another thing to consider is that the practice has a way of opening the heart so we can get to the violets.

“To me, its meaning is simple. The hard, the cold, the oppressive will—at long last—be broken apart by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.”

– Patricia Clarkson explaining why she was quoting Tennessee Williams during a 2009 HRC New Orleans Dinner speech

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Errata: The Robert Frost poem is called “Mending Wall” and a link has been embedded for a Winter Solstice post.



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