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Knowing and Unknowing, Part II (repost) October 11, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, First Nations, Healing Stories, Life, One Hoop, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Most of the following was previously posted on October 12, 2020. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s Common Ground Meditation Center 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 the center and its 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.]

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

I learned something new last week. An interesting bit of history that gave me some new perspective on what I thought I knew. I’m not one to ignore new information – or keep it to myself. I am, however, the type of person who considers the impact of how I tell the story… especially since how one tells a story is part of the story. How one hears and understands the story… is also part of the story.

If I take out the details and just giving you the general facts of the story, it becomes a story of propaganda… which it is. And, if I don’t tell you that up front, you might just soak it up and form an opinion, which may or may not change once the details are layered on top. Because, once you know I’m talking about how today is a holiday that centers around events related to today in 1492, what you know brings you smack up against opinions you’ve already formed.

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
He didn’t know what he thought he knew
And someone was already here.
Columbus knew the world was round
So he looked for the East while westward bound,
But he didn’t find what he thought he found
And someone was already here.

 

Chorus:

The Innuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onadaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.

 

– quoted from the song “1942” by Nancy Schimmel © 1991

 

So, if you didn’t skim over the first line of the quote – thinking you knew what the rest said – you may be thinking, “Wait, wait, that’s not the way the song goes!” True, this is not the poem most of us learned in school about Christopher Columbus, the Niña, the Pinta, and Santa María. Neither is it Jean Marzollo poem that aimed to correct some of the original misinformation (but without being too controversial). Instead, this is a song that gives kids a much broader picture. The “problem” with getting a bigger picture is that it calls into question all the things we think we know and begs the question: Why do we have a federal holiday that celebrates a mistake (i.e., a man who got lost) which led to a ton of atrocities?

 

For a long time, I thought I knew the answer to the question. I had answer that was built around wealth, class, whiteness, and nationalism. In some ways, my old answer includes some truth; however, last week a heard a new part of the story. It’s an oddly familiar bit about heritage: one that also includes elements of wealth, class, whiteness, and nationalism. But that heritage part… it’s the twist.

 

“They faced prejudice, violence and, after a 1924 law that aimed to limit immigration to desirable “old stock” Northern and Western Europeans, legal exclusion. But Columbus Day offered ethnic power brokers the opportunity to ‘rebrand’ their groups public image.”

 

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled “Columbus Day had value for Italian Americans – but it’s time to rethink it: It helped erode discrimination but also upheld racial prejudice” (10/12/2020) by Danielle Battisti (author of Whom We Shall Welcome, Italian Americans and Immigration Reform)  

 

While we might not necessarily see the difference between certain groups now, there was a time when a large group of ethnically white people were publicly viewed (and ostracized) as racially diverse. These immigrants came from all over the Europe and were, in some respects, lumped in with immigrants from Asia and Latin America. These immigrants not only reflected diversity in race and ethnicity, but also religion. They spoke different languages and ate different foods. Again, we may not see the difference now, but as the 20th century approached there was a big perception difference between non-British or non-French immigrants and everyone else. “Everyone else” included about 4 million Italians who had something the other immigrants didn’t have – Christopher Columbus: the image of a “hero friend,”

 

By creating annual celebrations, art, and memorial tributes (in the form of street and building names) dedicated to Columbus, Italian Americans changed what we “know” about the explorer, about the country, and about who is “American.”  This very successful PR campaign resulted in Columbus Day becoming a federal in 1934, and Columbus himself becoming a national icon. To me, this is not unlikely the Lost Cause campaign in the South, which resulted in the celebration of the Confederacy (i.e, people who lost a war). And, ultimately, it comes with the same avidyā-related headache: we are celebrating something impure as if it is pure.

 

“… but I came to gradually see that laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals concerned and a moral change still depends on the individual and not on the passage of any law.”

 

– quoted from the a July 14, 1939 My Day column (about prohibition) by Eleanor Roosevelt

 

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Understanding is a two-way street.” And, as more people became part of the conversation, more understanding was gained, and more and more people publicly questioned the decision behind the federal holiday. South Dakota officially shifted the focus of the second Monday in October by renaming it Native Americans’ Day (in 1990) and a protest surrounding the 500th anniversary of 1942 led Berkeley, California to start observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day (in 1992). Today, Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont officially observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday; South Dakota still (only) observes Native American Day as a holiday; and Hawai’i officially observes Discoverers’ Day* (cause ya’ know, there’s that whole part of the story whereby other people “discovered” the Americas before Columbus). Alabama celebrates both Columbus Day and American Indian Heritage Day (which is consistent with the way they celebrate other controversial “heritage” days) and Oklahoma celebrates both Columbus Day and Native American Day. As of 2021, Nebraska recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day as well as Columbus Day. In recent years, governors in at least seven other states and the District of Columbia Council have signed proclamations in order observe “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” – but these proclamations only apply to the year in which they are signed (and are generally signed on or around the second Monday in October).

*NOTE: Speaking of what we know and what we don’t know, I learned today that when Discoverers’ Day was established as a state holiday in 1971, it was legally designated as a day “to honor all discoverers, including Pacific and Polynesian navigators.” According to some sources, it is no longer a state holiday.

These changes, however, have come with resistance – as is often the case when a group of people experience growth and change. A lot of the resistance comes from our very human fear of change (i.e., abhiniveśāh; “fear of death/loss”). Some of it, however, comes from fear of the unknown.

 

“American scholars, compared with Iranian scholars, enjoy much greater freedom in approaching questions of faith and reason, and in knocking down barriers that hinder discussion of those questions. They also enjoy much greater latitude in ensuring protections for the rights of all religious and ethnic groups.”

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

 

When Will Joyner introduced the main articles appearing the Autumn 2006 edition of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, he explained that all three articles “ could have ‘carried’ the cover in expressing our focus on, and concern about, the gaps and bridges between faith and reason,” but that the article by Ronald F. Thiemann focused on a unique intersection between American and Iranian scientists at a time when the United States and Iran were in conflict “beyond the tragic events that unfolded in Lebanon and Israel.” He also mentioned how the articles by Mark U. Edwards, Jr. and John Hedley Brooke highlighted the need to consider “how personal faith affects your work and workplaces, and your participation in the other public places of America’s democracy.” Yes, he was talking about science and religion, but explicitly states that his words also apply to those outside of science.

 

Joyner’s words also apply to what we believe (i.e., our faith) about ourselves and our country and how that overlaps with reason and innate curiosity.

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

As I mentioned during the 2021 practice, I don’t always remember that the second Monday in October is Thanksgiving in Canada – even though I’ve attended a Canadian Thanksgiving. I neglected to mention, however, that this year all of these “complicated” observations around identity occurred on October 11th, which has been National Coming Out Day in the United States (since 1988) and was designated by the United Nations as International Day of the Girl Child (on December 19, 2011). The intention of both of these days is to move towards more understanding, visibility, equity, and equality –  which was also the underlying intention of some of the efforts mentioned above.

Facts, with a side of Funny

 

Just the facts

Have your voted for the Carry app?

### “… joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing.” DB in 2013) ###

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). You can request an audio recording of either 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.]

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short, the ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary, however, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real) if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāṇāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

 

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 
 

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###

New Year, New Possibilities (just the music) September 8, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Music.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 8th) 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. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. 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). If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can also donate to me directly. Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

### Just Imagine ###

Repeating The Echo: The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This was originally posted as “The Cagey Truth About Nothing” on September 5, 2020. Today’s class details have been updated.

“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians – who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 5th) at 2:30 PM. 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

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.)

Pure Cage

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

 

John Cage

 

### UNCAGED ###

.

A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’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. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

New Year, New Season (a “missing” post for multiple Saturdays) March 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, New Year, Religion.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere.

[This post is related to three Saturdays, March 6th; March 13th; and March 20th. You can request an audio recording of any of the 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.]

 

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

Today, Saturday, March 20th, was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, the Bahá’i New Year started at sunset on Friday evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali instructs us to pay attention to the transitions.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

When detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali explores the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and refers to them collectively as samyama. Once he explains how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautions against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineates the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible.

Obvious, right? But what happens when we “Get Inside” (as we did on Saturday, March 6th)?

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the artist, was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese (then the Republic of Florence and now Tuscany, Italy). Known for works like David, the Pietá, and some of the most well-known frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was known as Il Divino (“The Divine One”) by his contemporaries, because he had the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and to create terribilitá (a sense of awesomeness or emotional intensity). He said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

In the practice of Yoga, we use the first four limbs of the philosophy the way Michelangelo used his carving and painting tools: to bring what is inside out, to set our inner angel free. Or, as I mentioned on the 6th, we can use it to set our inner GOAT free.

“‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”

 

– quoted from the Ebony Magazine article, “Muhammad Ali: ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ – Despite his medical problems, ‘The Greatest’ says there is plenty of fight left in his body” by Walter Leavy (published March 1985)

 

In 1964, it was announced to the world that the boxer we now know as The Greatest of All Times would no longer go by his birth name or “slave name” – which was also his father’s name. The heavy-weight champion’s grandfather had named his son (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.,) after a 19th-century abolitionist politician in Kentucky (Cassius Marcellus Clay) who, by some accounts, strong-armed President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate Confederate slaves and freed some of his own slaves in 1844, but still kept some slaves on hand. Muhammad Ali wanted to distance himself from that legacy of slavery and forge his own path; so, he chose a name that reflected his faith and his skills: Muhammad Ali.

The name change wasn’t even close to instantaneous. In fact, with the major exception of Howard Cosell, who coincidentally had changed his own last name back to his family’s original Polish surname, most journalists and media outlets continued to refer to the prizefighter as “Cassius Clay” for over a decade. And it wasn’t just a matter of people getting use to the new name. Because he refused to answer to his birth name, journalist would address him as Muhammad Ali in-person, but then write about “Cassius Clay.” By their own account, The New York Times wrote about over 1,000 articles about “Cassius Clay” from 1964 to 1968, but only referenced “Muhammad Ali” in about 150. This practice continued well into the 1970’s! But the practice wasn’t even consistent; the media seemed to have no problem referencing “Malcolm X” – even though, at the time, he was still legally “Malcolm Little.”

Muhammad means “One who is worthy of praise” and Ali means “Most high.” The names, as he clearly stated, were symbolic in nature – as all names are. By changing his name, Muhammad Ali honored his outside (i.e., the color of his skin) while also placing emphasis on the inside (i.e., his talent and his beliefs). He also gave the world tools to focus on the inside and to become more intimate. Sadly, some folks kept themselves stuck on the outside.

Yoga Sūtra 3.7: trayam antarangam pūrvebhyah

 

– “These three practices of concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna), and samādhi are more intimate or internal than the previous five practices.”

Patanjali devotes a series of “threads” to the distinctions between internal/intimate and external in order to illustrate that perspective can make something that feels internal feel “external” simply because there is something more “internal.” One great example of this can be illustrated by comparing different types of physical practices of yoga. For instances: A vinyāsa practice (because it is a moving practice) is more “yang” or active than a YIN Yoga practice (in which part of the practice is not moving for what can feel like an incredibly long amount of time). On the flip side, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga can be significantly more “yang” or active than a “Slow Flow” and a Restorative Yoga practice can be significantly more “yin” than a YIN yoga practice.

By the same token, focusing on the breath and the awareness of the breath  begins to feel more internal than just moving the body without breath awareness, but the former begins to feel more external when you can concentrate without actively thinking about the fact that you are concentrating on your breath (or anything else). In other words, the object of focus is the “seed” – something tangible and understandable, with a reference point. Then, there is a point in the practice when the focus becomes “seedless” – at which point being “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” (which was our thread on Saturday, March 13th).

Yoga Sūtra 3.8: tad api bahir-angam nirbījasya

 

– “These three practices are external, and not intimate compared to nirbija samadhi, which is samadhi that has no object, nor even a seed object on which there is concentration.”

 

In our physical practice, more often than not, we use the breath as our primary “seed.” At first we may simultaneously engage it on multiple levels. After all, we can feel it, we can direct it, and (under the proper conditions) we can see it. Eventually, however, we become absorbed in the experience of breathing and being alive – which is obviously a different experience than actively working with the breath, but it is also a different experience than breathing and living without being aware of the breath. I often think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of someone like Joseph Priestley, just as I think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of those three people who left footprints on the side of a mountain in Italy over 350,000 years ago.

On March 13, 2003, Nature Journal published the work of three paleontologists who had identified fossilized footprints (and handprints) as belonging to three homo-genus individuals fleeing the then-actively erupting Roccamonfino volcano. Through those external impressions (embedded deep in the earth), we get an intimate glimpse into a brief moment of their lives. We know two fled the volcano together, one assisting the other. We know about their pace and trajectory, based on the zigzag patterns and the places where it appears one or more supported themselves with their hands. We can use their steps as tools and then, based on our own experiences, move deeper from there.

Joseph Priestley, born March 13, 1733 (according to the Julian calendar) was an 18th-century English theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, liberal political theorist, and a member of the Lunar Circle (also known as the Lunar Society). He is credited with discovering oxygen in its isolated gaseous state (which he considered “dephlogisticated air”). He also inventing soda water – which, he believed, could cure scurvy and which he called “impregnated water.” He also believed science was integral to theology and, therefore, all of his scientific work was a reflection of his liturgical work, and vice versa.

Even though much of what Joseph Priestley believed, scientifically speaking, has been superseded by advancements in technology and science, his work is one of the steps that brought us closer to the knowledge we have now. Think of his phlogiston theories as “seeds” at the beginning of the process. Now, consider, how – having moved beyond that point of understanding – we start anew… and go deeper. (As we did today, March 20th.)

“Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton and have traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might see nothing very extraordinary in the process.”

 

– Joseph Priestley

 

This week’s “threads” can be a little hard to take in just from the sūtras themselves. However, the point is to experience them and, once we have experienced them (in context) we realize they are easier to understand. There are some really great analogies related to movement and transition – which is the whole point of these threads – but the one that came to mind today takes us back to the boat analogy.

Take a moment to imagine your breath as a wave, with you floating on your back or floating in a boat. It doesn’t matter if you are lazily enjoying some time off or in a rush to go somewhere. Either way, there are times when you will have to make an adjustment – a course correction, if you will. Sometimes, you have to make big adjustments in order to stay focused; other times, little adjustments. Every now and again, however, there is a moment where you don’t need to make any adjustments or modifications. You don’t have to peddle to stay afloat and you don’t have to steer yourself in the right direction. You are one with the waves, going with the flow and “in the zone.” This is the next level of the Yoga experience. 

Yoga Sūtra 3.9: vyutthāna-nirodhah-samskāra abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhah-kşaņa-chitta-anvayah nirodhah-pariņāmah

 

– “When the vision of the lower Samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.10: tasya praśānta-vāhitā samskārāt

 

– “When this suppression of thought waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.”

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 6th (the “Getting Inside or ‘What Is Inside, IV’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 13th (the “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 20th (the “New Year, New Season” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###

Knowing and Unknowing, Part II October 12, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, First Nations, Healing Stories, Life, One Hoop, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[My apologies for the delayed posting. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s Common Ground Meditation Center 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 the center and its 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.]

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

I learned something new last week. An interesting bit of history that gave me some new perspective on what I thought I knew. I’m not one to ignore new information – or keep it to myself. I am, however, the type of person who considers the impact of how I tell the story… especially since how one tells a story is part of the story. How one hears and understands the story… is also part of the story.

If I take out the details and just giving you the general facts of the story, it becomes a story of propaganda… which it is. And, if I don’t tell you that up front, you might just soak it up and form an opinion, which may or may not change once the details are layered on top. Because, once you know I’m talking about how today is a holiday that centers around events related to today in 1492, what you know brings you smack up against opinions you’ve already formed.

“In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
He didn’t know what he thought he knew
And someone was already here.
Columbus knew the world was round
So he looked for the East while westward bound,
But he didn’t find what he thought he found
And someone was already here.

 

Chorus:

The Innuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onadaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.

 

– quoted from the song “1942” by Nancy Schimmel © 1991

 

So, if you didn’t skim over the first line of the quote – thinking you knew what the rest said – you may be thinking, “Wait, wait, that’s not the way the song goes!” True, this is not the poem most of us learned in school about Christopher Columbus, the Niña, the Pinta, and Santa María. Neither is it Jean Marzollo poem that aimed to correct some of the original misinformation (but without being too controversial). Instead, this is a song that gives kids a much broader picture. The “problem” with getting a bigger picture is that it calls into question all the things we think we know and begs the question: Why do we have a federal holiday that celebrates a mistake (i.e., a man who got lost) which led to a ton of atrocities?

 

For a long time, I thought I knew the answer to the question. I had answer that was built around wealth, class, whiteness, and nationalism. In some ways, my old answer includes some truth; however, last week a heard a new part of the story. It’s an oddly familiar bit about heritage: one that also includes elements of wealth, class, whiteness, and nationalism. But that heritage part… it’s the twist.

 

“They faced prejudice, violence and, after a 1924 law that aimed to limit immigration to desirable “old stock” Northern and Western Europeans, legal exclusion. But Columbus Day offered ethnic power brokers the opportunity to ‘rebrand’ their groups public image.”

 

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled “Columbus Day had value for Italian Americans – but it’s time to rethink it: It helped erode discrimination but also upheld racial prejudice” (10/12/2020) by Danielle Battisti (author of Whom We Shall Welcome, Italian Americans and Immigration Reform)  

 

While we might not necessarily see the difference between certain groups now, there was a time when a large group of ethnically white people were publicly viewed (and ostracized) as racially diverse. These immigrants came from all over the Europe and were, in some respects, lumped in with immigrants from Asia and Latin America. These immigrants not only reflected diversity in race and ethnicity, but also religion. They spoke different languages and ate different foods. Again, we may not see the difference now, but as the 20th century approached there was a big perception difference between non-British or non-French immigrants and everyone else. “Everyone else” included about 4 million Italians who had something the other immigrants didn’t have – Christopher Columbus: the image of a “hero friend,”

 

By creating annual celebrations, art, and memorial tributes (in the form of street and building names) dedicated to Columbus, Italian Americans changed what we “know” about the explorer, about the country, and about who is “American.”  This very successful PR campaign resulted in Columbus Day becoming a federal in 1934, and Columbus himself becoming a national icon. To me, this is not unlikely the Lost Cause campaign in the South, which resulted in the celebration of the Confederacy (i.e, people who lost a war). And, ultimately, it comes with the same avidyā-related headache: we are celebrating something impure as if it is pure.

 

“… but I came to gradually see that laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals concerned and a moral change still depends on the individual and not on the passage of any law.”

 

– quoted from the a July 14, 1939 My Day column (about prohibition) by Eleanor Roosevelt

 

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Understanding is a two-way street.” And, as more people became part of the conversation, more understanding was gained, and more and more people publicly questioned the decision behind the federal holiday. South Dakota officially shifted the focus of the second Monday in October by renaming it Native Americans’ Day (in 1990) and a protest surrounding the 500th anniversary of 1942 led Berkeley, California to start observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day (in 1992). Today, Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont officially observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday; South Dakota still (only) observes Native American Day as a holiday; and Hawai’i officially observes Discoverers’ Day (cause ya’ know, there’s that whole part of the story whereby other people “discovered” the Americas before Columbus). Alabama celebrates both Columbus Day and American Indian Heritage Day (which is consistent with the way they celebrate other controversial “heritage” days) and Oklahoma celebrates both Columbus Day and Native American Day. In recent years, governors in at least seven other states and the District of Columbia Council have signed proclamations in order observe “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” – but these proclamations only apply to the year in which they are signed (and are generally signed on or around the second Monday in October).

 

These changes, however, have come with resistance – as is often the case when a group of people experience growth and change. A lot of the resistance comes from our very human fear of change (i.e., abhiniveśāh; “fear of death/loss”). Some of it, however, comes from fear of the unknown.

 

“American scholars, compared with Iranian scholars, enjoy much greater freedom in approaching questions of faith and reason, and in knocking down barriers that hinder discussion of those questions. They also enjoy much greater latitude in ensuring protections for the rights of all religious and ethnic groups.”

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

 

When Will Joyner introduced the main articles appearing the Autumn 2006 edition of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, he explained that all three articles “ could have ‘carried’ the cover in expressing our focus on, and concern about, the gaps and bridges between faith and reason,” but that the article by Ronald F. Thiemann focused on a unique intersection between American and Iranian scientists at a time when the United States and Iran were in conflict “beyond the tragic events that unfolded in Lebanon and Israel.” He also mentioned how the articles by Mark U. Edwards, Jr. and John Hedley Brooke highlighted the need to consider “how personal faith affects your work and workplaces, and your participation in the other public places of America’s democracy.” Yes, he was talking about science and religion, but explicitly states that his words also apply to those outside of science.

 

Joyner’s words also apply to what we believe (i.e., our faith) about ourselves and our country and how that overlaps with reason and innate curiosity.

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

Facts, with a side of Funny

 

Just the facts

 

### “… joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing.” DB in 2013) ###

The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians – who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

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.

Pure Cage

 

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

 

John Cage

 

### UNCAGED ###

.

The Impossible Cornerstones of Liberty August 6, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Poetry, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Wednesday, August 5, 2020.]

 

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

 

Today (August 5th) in 1844, when the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was placed on a rainy Bedloe’s Island, it seemed impossible to complete the project meant to be a testament to freedom, friendship, and the spirit of the people. People in France provided the funds for the statue designed by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (with scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel), while people in the United States were meant to pay for the base and pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The only problem was that the Americans were short…about $100,000 short.

Hunt’s design for the pedestal and base incorporated the eleven-point star foundation of the army fort (Fort Wood) which had been built in 1807 and abandoned during the Civil War. He always intended his design to be simple, so as not to take away from the statue itself, but raising money for his design turned out to be such a challenge that he scrapped twenty-five feet from the height of his original design. He also cut back on materials so that instead of the pedestal and base being constructed entirely out of granite, he had to make do with concrete walls covered with a granite-block face. His cost cutting measures still might not have been enough if a certain newspaper man hadn’t decided to tap into the spirit of the people and, in doing so, overcame what some viewed as an impossible obstacle. That newspaper man was Joseph Pulitzer and on March 16, 1885 he implored people in the United States to give what they could, even if it was a penny, in order to pay for the base and pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with an ad and a series of front page editorials, he was able to crowd fund over $100,000 in about 5 months.

“We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people – by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans – by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.

Take this appeal to yourself personally. It is meant for every reader of The World. Give something, however little. Send it to us. We will receive it and see that it is properly applied.”

 

– quoted from The New York World editorial by Joseph Pulitzer, 1885

Joseph Pulitzer offered people a six inch metal replica of Lady Liberty (described as a “perfect fac-simile”) if they donated a dollar to the “Pedestal Fund” established by Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and a twelve inch replica if they donated $5. While that may not seem like a lot today, keep in mind that this was after the Financial Panic of 1873 (which created a depression in the United States and Europe). Also, interest seemed to be in short supply since the United States was still trying to recover from the Civil War – which left many Americans desiring heroic public art rather than allegorical public art. But, Joseph Pulitzer had a way with words and there were a group of people – immigrants – who were inspired to donate specifically because of the symbolism of the statue. Ultimately, over 125,000 people donated – most donating a dollar or less. They not only donated to receive the replicas, they donated via auctions, lotteries, and boxing matches.  They donated by depriving themselves of things they needed or things they wanted. Some kids donated by pooling their “circus” and candy money. Some adults donated what they would normally spend on drinks. At the end of the fundraising, Joseph Pulitzer printed every donor’s name in the New York World – regardless of how little or how much they donated.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a building or structure. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone; thereby making it the very foundation of the foundation. It determines the overall position of the structure and is often placed with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. It is usually inscribed with the date of its placement and often includes a time capsule, which includes some clues as to what was important to the people who attended the ceremony. Such was the case with Lady Liberty’s pedestal cornerstone, which was placed over a square hole dug for a copper time capsule. The time capsule contained a number of articles, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States – both documents considered to be the cornerstones of the United States and the ultimate law of the land.

Although we don’t always think of it this way, one of the cornerstones of the legal system in a commonwealth is a bar. It might be wooden railing, it might be metal railing; however, historically, this bar separated those within the legal profession (specifically the judge and those who had business with the court) from everyone else. In particular, “everyone else” referred to law students whose aspirations were to “pass the bar” – meaning they would be on the other side of the symbolic railing. This symbolic railing is also used to refer to professional organizations, membership in which is sometimes required in order for an attorney to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Let’s skip “state bars” for a second and just focus on “voluntary” bar associations – which, in the United States are private organizations which serve as social, educational, and lobbying organizations. Legal professionals can not only use these bar associations to network with other professionals and the general public (hence expanding their practice), they can also advocate for law reform. I place “voluntary” in quotes, because I’m not sure how possible it is to practice law in the United States without being a member of a “bar association” (not to be confused with a state bar).

Even if it’s possible to practice without being a member of a bar association – and I trust one of you lawyer yogis will educate me with a comment below – I imagine it would be quite challenging (maybe even impossible) to successfully practice. Especially, back when there was only one major bar association in the United States. And, especially back in the 1920’s when your race and gender prevented you from joining said association. Such was the plight of Gertrude Rush (née Durden), born today (August 5th) in 1880 in Navasota, Texas. Ms. Rush not only became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Iowa (state) bar, for about 32 years she was (sometimes) the ONLY female attorney practicing in the state of Iowa (1918 – 1950). She placed a particular emphasis on women’s (legal) rights in estate cases and had a passion for religion, extensively studying the 240 women whose stories are featured in the Bible. Many within the local court referred to her as the “Sunday school lawyer.” She took over her husband’s law practice and, in 1921 (just a year after women’s right to vote was ratified by the United States Congress) she was elected the president of the Colored Bar Association; however, it was impossible for her to be admitted to the American Bar Association. She tried. So, did several other African-American lawyers. They tried because the ABA had one Black lawyer and was, therefore “integrated.” Eventually, however, they stopped trying to join an organization that didn’t want them and started their own organization.

“…a very worn Bible is almost as prominent as the well-thumbed Iowa code on the desk of Mrs. Gertrude E. Rush.”

 

– quoted from “Iowa’s Only Negro Woman Lawyer Firmly on the Golden Rule” article about Gertrude Rush, located in Iowa Public Library (excerpt printed in Notable Black American Women, Book 2 by Jessie Carney Smith

Gertrude Rush was one of the founding members of the Negro Bar Association, which was incorporated on August 1, 1925 with 120 members (which was about 11 – 12% of the Black lawyers in the US at the time). Eventually renamed, the National Bar Association, the NBA ” addressed issues such as professional ethics, legal education, and uniform state laws, as well as questions concerning the civil rights movement in transportation discrimination, residential segregation, and voting rights.” The NBA supported civil rights groups by providing legal information, filing outside legal briefs (amicus curiae), and blocking federal court nominees who opposed racial equality. As a bar association, however, the NBA did not directly participate in civil rights activities. Instead, NBA members like Gertrude Rush and (eventual) Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall became members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

It was as part of the NAACP’s legal team  that Justice Marshall argued cases like Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Raymond Pace Alexander founded the National Bar Journal (1941), which became a way for Black lawyers to challenge legal principles which conflicted with the interest of African-Americans. The Rev. W. Harold Flowers, a co-founder with Ms. Rush and a former president of the NBA (who would eventually be appointed as an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals), was the attorney whose motions in 1947 resulted in a reconfigured jury after he pointed out that the Arkansas court had not had a Black juror in 50 years. Additionally, the NBA established free legal clinics in 12 states, thereby creating the foundational cornerstone for the poverty law and legal clinics of today.

Gertrude Rush was also one of the organizers of the Charity League, which coordinated the hiring of a Black probation officer for the Des Moines Juvenile Court; created the Protection Home for Negro Girls, a shelter; and served on the boards of a host of other women’s organizations.

Stay tuned for news about when I will resume classes.  If you want to practice with one of the previously recorded classes, I would suggest June 17th (a Lady Liberty class with a lot of arm movement, good for the brain and shoulders – some of you call it a “sobriety test”).  The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlist starts with instrumental music. If your Spotify is on shuffle, you will want your music volume low at the beginning of the practice.)

Feel free to email me at Myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com if you would like a copy of the recordings from Wednesday, June 17th.

 

As I running late, this August 5th post is actually being published on August 6th, which the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law.

Today, August 6th, is also the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Confiscation Act of 1861 and the U. S. bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality and effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, he signed them into law anyway. To this day, people are still debating the effects of the bombings on August 6th and 9th (Nagasaki), both of which clearly broke the Golden Rule (and the not then established Geneva Convention).

As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

 

 

A Brother’s Love August 2, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Writing, Yoga.
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“Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

 

– Muhammad Ali

Yesterday I referred to Maria Mitchell as an impossible woman. Back in 2016, thanks to Justin Timberlake quoting Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I started thinking about what it meant to be an impossible person and spent the first week in August highlighting impossible people. Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin is – by his own words – my second impossible person.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Mr. Baldwin’s life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of the opinions of his father (who he referred to as his father), his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Mr. Baldwin not only leapt into writing. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

 

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or biography of James Baldwin is to read a who’s who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son), 110 pages on Truman Capote (In Cold Blood), and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country – despite the fact that the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

 

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

 

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

 

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of the his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some who called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

 

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

 

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

I have cancelled class today and tomorrow night, but encourage you to practice. Practice with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud.

In the past, I have used a variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist, which features Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and a whole lot of Bach. You are welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube. However, if you have time, I would encourage you to grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the aforementioned jazz.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

 

 

– James Baldwin

 

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