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For Those Who Missed It: What You Will See January 5, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Mantra, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone! Happy Twelfth Night, to those who are celebrating!

The following was originally posted in January of 2021. Class details and some language have been updated.

“I’ll do my best” 

 

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act I, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga and/or meditation, there can be days where it is hard to focus. Sometimes the practice is all about bringing your awareness back to your focal point – again and again and again, to the best of your ability…. Actually, that is always the practice; it’s just that sometimes we are more aware that to keep our awareness fixed on something requires a certain amount of conscious effort – until it doesn’t. It requires a certain amount of conscious effort until the mind moves through the layers of words and meaning and effort; and becomes absorbed or merged with the object of our focus. Until that time, we just have to be like Viola.

Sometimes, the object itself is the most helpful anchor for our awareness. In the first part of Yoga Sūtras, the chapter or foundation on concentration, Patanjali offers a list of objects on which one might focus in order to overcome the obstacles to practice and achieve clarity of mind (YS 1:28, 1:32 – 39: repetition of OM/AUM; attitudes of the heart (loving-kindness for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, happiness for the virtuous, and non-judgment for the non-virtuous); the parts of breath; a point on the body and/or a sense organ (and it’s corresponding sensation); the point of inner light and joy; a person who is virtuous and free of desire/suffering (or our own self in such a state); intuitive wisdom (revealed in a “dream” state); or “whatever”… in other words, “what you will”).

Yoga Sūtra 1.39 doesn’t actually instruct us to literally bring our awareness to “whatever” or “what you will.” Patanjali is more specific than that and literally states that “… by meditating on a well-considered object of one’s choice, one attains steadiness of mind.” Whenever we focus-concentrate-meditate, that combined effort (samyama) will lead us somewhere; it will lead us towards the object, possible into absorption or the merging with the object. So, Patanjali cautions the practitioner to choose wisely, to pick something – something “well-considered” – that will lead one towards peace, balance, maybe in joy; something that will lead us, as gently as possible, closer to our goals and closer to the people around us. So, focus-concentrate-meditate on what you will; but with the full awareness that some objects will just create more confusion where there is already a lot of confusion.

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. 
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.”

 

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act II, scene ii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

There is a lot, and I mean, a lot of confusion in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What You Will. There’s confusion around identity, the state of twins, and who loves whom. Don’t get it twisted, people know who they are (inside and out), but people are disguised – and that often involves a little gender bending or reversal of “social norms.” Then, people fall in love with people who are in disguise; other people think they are loved (sometimes by someone in disguise); and still others try to fool someone into thinking someone loves them. I know, this all sounds really convoluted and confusing… because it is; it is intentionally so.

The confusion in Twelfth Night, or What You Will, results in much of the audience’s entertainment. But, let’s be real, sometimes even the audience is just as confused as the players. There’s just so much; kind of like the “Twelve Days of Christmas Song,” which sometimes gets confusing as we get closer to the end – especially if it is being sung in a round.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

 

– Orsino (Duke of Illyria) in Act I, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Depending on when you started counting the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” today is either the eleventh day or the twelfth day. According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles; and “twelve drummers drumming” for the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed.

I personally get “confused” – or, maybe a better word is flummoxed (in the sense of dumbfounded) – that the eleven “faithful” apostles are highlighted, but one of the key elements of the 12 points of doctrine is directly tied to the “unfaithful” servant. But, let me not jump ahead; because that just makes things more confusing. 

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” 

 

– Feste (the Countess Olivia’s servant, a jester) in Act III, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Going by the Western Christian tradition, tonight is either the Twelfth Night, or tomorrow night is the twelfth night. I know, still much confusion. One way to clear things up is to consider that Twelfth Night, or What You Will is often considered twelfth night entertainment for people awaiting a moment of “striking appearance.” Think of Scrooge being shown a twelfth night play by one of the ghosts: It is a way to spend some time, preparing, until it is time to see what one is prepared to see.

Although, for some, it is entertainment for the celebration after they have seen what they are prepared to see.

Still confused? That’s OK; we’re getting closer to clarity.

January 6th is Epiphany. It’s almost always Epiphany, also known as Theophany in some Eastern traditions, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). Also, In the Eastern Christian traditions that use the Julian calendar, January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

Clear as mud, right? Maybe this will help.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as an incarnation of God. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, and so the day is also known as “Three Kings Day.” Other traditions focus on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (during the Wedding at Cana).

“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” 

 

– Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s uncle) to Malvolio (Viola’s steward) in Act II, scene iii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

However one looks at it, Twelfth Night is directly tied to Epiphany. It marks the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Epiphanytide, which for some Christians rolls directly into Carnival or Mardi Gras season… or Shrovetide… or Ordinary Time – all of which leads to the Lenten season and, ultimately, to Holy Week and Easter (and then, for some, Pentecost). There are a lot of different cultural traditions associated with Twelfth Night celebrations, but many in the West center around caroling, feasting, and wassail (a mulled cider). Some people will wait until Twelfth Night to add the “Three Wise Men” (and even the little drummer boy) to their Nativity scene. Some people will share a “Three Kings” or Twelfth Night cake, which will have a coin or a baby figurine inside. The person who receives the “prizes” is considered extra blessed or lucky – and sometimes has to bring the cake the following year.

If you are not Christian, or are unfamiliar with why different Christian traditions have different customs, consider that the liturgical season is a way to tell the story of Jesus – and the story of God’s relationship with people, through a Christian lens. As with any good story – or any history – there are different perspectives and different narrators. Each tradition highlights the aspects of history in a way that helps people understand what is important to the faith.  

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

 

– Fabian (a servant for the Countess Olivia) in Act III, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, January 5th) 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. [Look for “01052021 and Twelfth Night” or “01052021 aka Twelfth Night”]

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.)

 

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

 

– Malvolio (a steward for the shipwrecked twins) in Act II, scene v of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

 

### BE GREAT, BE GRATEFUL, & BE NICE ###

For Those Who Missed It: The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push January 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone!

The following was originally posted in January of 2021. Class details have been updated.

 

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton proved that sometimes we all need a little push. At the age of 43, he published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which included his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and an expansion of Galileo Galilei’s observations and of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which were themselves modifications of the observations and heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus). There are several elements in the Principia that can apply to the physical practice of yoga (and to the practice of the Yoga Philosophy). However, the most direct application comes from the laws of motion, the first of which is also known as “The Law of Inertia.” We can see these principles at work just by observing a tension-free belly rising and falling as the breath enters and leaves the body.

We can go deeper with the mathematics and the science; but, just for a moment (maybe even 90-seconds) stick with the breath. Notice the Inhale, the pause, and the exhale…. Notice that third law kicking in….

Also, notice how the “force” of the breath, which is a symbol of our life and a symbol of our spirit, is an agent of change – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even energetically. Just as lengthening the breath and observation of the breath (which all can be described as prāņāyāma) change things when we are practicing on the mat, they can be an agent of change off the mat. We just have to pay attention and stay focused. But, paying attention, staying focused, and even breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out can be challenging in certain situations… especially situations involving challenging people.

“Thirdly, that I do justly value your excellent disquisitions, and I am extremely well pleased to see those notions promoted and improved which I long since began, but had not time to complete. That I judge you have gone farther in that affair much than I did, and that as I judge you cannot meet with any subject more worthy your contemplation, so believe the subject cannot meet with a fitter and more able person to inquire into it than yourself, who are every way accomplished to compleat [sic], rectify, and reform what were the sentiments of my younger studies, which I designed to have done somewhat at myself…. Your design and mine are, I suppose, at the same thing, which is the discovery of truth, and I suppose we can both endure to hear objections, so as they come not in a manner of open hostility, and have minds equally inclined to yield to the plainest deductions of reason from experiment.”

 

– quoted from a 1675-76 letter from Dr. Robert Hooke to Sir Isaac Newton, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

“I most gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concerns than that for truth; but what passes between friends in private, usually deserves the name of consultation rather than contention; and so I hope it will prove between you and me….

 

But in the mean time, you defer too much to my ability in searching into this subject. What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in considering the colours of thin plates. If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

 

– quoted from a letter marked “Cambridge, February 5, 1675-76” from Sir Isaac Newton to Dr. Robert Hooke, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

One might think when first reading the polite words and oh so charming letters between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton that theirs was a destined to be a friendship like that between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you have never heard of Hooke, that their correspondence was more akin to that of the epistles between Rainer Maria Rilke and the 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, whereby the world becomes overly familiar with the work of one because of their letters – and, in some ways this would be true. Along with Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, as well as John Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (the first two designated Astronomer Royal (whose observations Newton used in the Principia), Dr. Robert Hooke could be considered one of Sir Isaac Newton’s “giants.” But don’t get it twisted; Hooke and Newton were not “besties.” If anything, they could best be described as each other’s master teachers and precious jewels.

I often reference “master teachers and precious jewels” as people who push our buttons and get us hooked; people who give us master classes on ourselves; and/or people who add value to our life experience (even as they drive us crazy). These are the naysayers, the antagonists, the doubters, and our own personal heretics. They are the ones who never believe we can do something; hardly every give us credit when we do it (see Hooke and Newton, above); sometimes claim the credit for their own (also see above); and just seem to make everything harder. We can look at them as obstacles, road blocks, and detours on our journey towards our goals – or we can look at them as teachers. We can borrow a page from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and look at them as “the way.” Or, to paraphrase Stacy Flowers, we can look at them as the coach.

Stacey Flowers is a motivational speaker, mother, and “eternal optimist” who gave a 2016 Tedx Talk about “The 5 People You Need to Be Happy” (cheerleader, mentor, coach, friend, and peer). After last year, we might think of them as the five people who keep us grounded and focused. The way she counted them out, each finger was very intentionally chosen as a symbol for the role each person would play in someone’s life. For the coach, the one whose job is to push us farther than we think we can go and consider possibilities that seem outside of our arena, she uses the middle finger (which in some, but not all, cultures is a major league insult). The correspondence between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton are basically them giving each other the finger – without which some advancement in science might not have been made at the time.

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

Hooke and Newton’s debate about the existence and characteristics of ether and the nature of light started in a very public, and very acrimonious, fashion. There was some shift, between the public and private discourse; however, in that Hooke went from publicly stating that Newton basically stole his ideas to acknowledging how Newton continued his ideas. Meanwhile, Newton went from publicly giving Hooke no credit for the premise of the ideas – and, also, stating that Hooke’s conclusion “seems itself impossible” and was based on “both experiment and demonstration to the contrary” – to privately (in his letter) acknowledging Hooke’s contributions. But, again, this shift only seemed to be in private. In public, the disputes continued even past Hooke’s death. These disputes, along with disputes the good doctor had with other scientists, allowed Newton (and others) to paint a very negative picture of Hooke’s character.

Sir Isaac Newton also, reportedly (and as indicated above), had a contentious character. He is remembered, however, for his work. On the other hand, Robert Hooke is infamous for his plethora disputes with other scientists (in a lot of different disciplines) – and many of those debates seem to be directly tied to Hooke trying to multitask. But, no matter how much some might want to consider him a waste of space, his disputes actually contributed to the advancement of scientific discovery. In part, perhaps because they were all members of The Royal Society of London (and, therefore, dedicated to “improving natural knowledge”), the others never completely disregarded Hooke’s insights and hypothesis. Instead, they continued the inquiry. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but there seems to be little cognitive dissonance on the part of those with whom Hooke quarreled, because everyone was constantly running experiments and make observations in an effort to find proof of the truth – or maybe just to prove Hooke wrong.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

On some level, we all know someone like Dr. Robert Hooke. We might even be someone else’s Dr. Hooke. Either way, consider how you feel when you encounter that person who pushes your buttons and/or is constantly telling you that you are wrong – or, sometimes (even worse), that person who refuses to see that they are wrong. Ani Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, describes a tightening that happens when we get “hooked.” We don’t all feel it in the exact same place and in the exact same way, and the intensity may vary; but we all know that feeling. The question is: Do we always notice that feeling? Second question: Do we notice the beginning of the sensation or only when it is about to go nuclear (meaning our sympathetic nervous system is all systems go to fight, flee, or freeze)? Finally, what do we do when we recognize that feeling?

Ani Chödrön specifically recommends practicing the “4 R’s;” while others might just say, “Stop and breathe for a moment.” Either way, taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening (how we are reacting) and giving ourselves an opportunity to respond rather than react can be the difference between someone’s negativity being an obstacle versus becoming a way for us to continue moving forward. That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between succeeding in our goals (like Sir Isaac Newton) and failing to follow through on all our goals (like Dr. Robert Hooke). That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between making our way through (or around) an obstacle and being stuck.

What I’m saying is that that metaphorical push can be the force we need to make the change we want. This is especially true after last year and the negative energy that has followed us into this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting anyone actually push you around – not even in a metaphorically sense and definitely not in a physical, emotional, and/or energetic sense. But, I do think it is important to acknowledge that we all push and pull each other on a certain level, because we are all forces of nature. While we may welcome, even solicit, a little push from someone we see as a mentor, friend, and/or peer; we may not always appreciate the shove from “the coach” we didn’t ask to coach us. Always remember, though, that there are many ways we can utilize a contentious relationships. Or, more specifically, there are many ways we can benefit from noticing how we react or respond to contentious relationships in our lives and in our practice.

Just consider, for a moment, how you (physically and mentally) react to the following:

When going by the Gregorian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was born today (January 4th) in 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. As a scientist and a man of letters, Newton would have been fully aware of the Gregorian calendar, which Catholic-ruled lands started using in 1582 and Protestant German states in 1699. However, he lived his whole life officially using the Julian calendar (because England and it’s colonies did not switch until 1752, 25 or 26 years after Newton’s death). If you go by the Old Style, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day – a fact that really got some people hot (as in pissed) when it was pointed out on Twitter a few years back.

Speaking of Christmas, today (January 4th) is the 10th or 11th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; and “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 4th) at 12:00 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. 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.

Tuesday’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.)

 

Who are your five people?

 

### (Don’t even get me started about….) ###

Updated! Purpose Driven (a Thursday post, that’s also for Saturday!) December 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The commentary below was originally posted for the fifth day of Kwanzaa 2020 (which was today, Thursday, in 2021) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request last year’s audio recording of via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. The New Year’s information has been updated!

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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 or donations for New Year’s Day are not necessarily deductible.]

“There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it.”

 

 

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

For those of you keeping count, Wednesday and Thursday make up the 5th,  6th, and or 7th “Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; and “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination).

Given the Oliver Sacks quote above, you might wonder if that musical “stimulus and reward” are the only reason I keep repeating aspects of this myth (that even advocates accept is not historically true). The truth is that while there is something truly appealing, on a musical level, to the whole idea, the main reason I keep referring back to myth is because it serves a purpose. And, if we’re going to talk about faith, we have to talk about purpose.

There was a time when everything people did had purpose, had meaning. Rituals were the way people made sense of the world and the way people stayed connected to each other and to what they valued. This is another reason why I like the “12 Days of Christmas” catechism idea. Over time, however, some rituals lost their meaning – or people became separated from the meaning. Rituals separated from their meaning became traditions; behavior people did because their elders taught them the ways of their ancestors… but without the deeper connection. In some cases, people lost so much of the meaning, became so separated from the meaning, that they were just things people said. I could be wrong about this, but I partially blame the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason for some of that lost / disconnected meaning.

The 18th Century Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason, which was preceded by the emergence of the modern sciences, was a time when people started feeling confident in their ability to find the reason behind all the mysteries in the world. Don’t get me wrong; there were, and are, still great unknowns / mysteries in the world. But, as the Western world (in particular) started moving out of the Middle Ages, there was a steadfast belief that the answers to everything were available to the human mind. As more and more people focused on “finding the truth,” some moved away from mysticism – and, when as there was less acceptance of mystery and less acceptance of the unknown, there was less “need” for ritual. Or so it would seem. The truth, however, is that even as we gained knowledge and lost mystery, humans craved ritual. In fact, some would say that our brains are wired for ritual.

“And I actually think one of the great things about getting older, about being in my 50s, they say that when we’re younger our brains are tuned to novelty, to be animated by novelty. But as you get older, you’re less tuned to novelty and I would say more naturally attuned to kind of take pleasure in what is ordinary and habitual. And I think that’s a great gift.”

 

 

– Krista Tippett, being interviewed by Pico Iyer, about her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, on “The Mystery & Art if Living” episode of On Being (with Krista Tippett (July 10, 2016)  

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the social pendulum swung back and people started seeking ritual, returning to mystery and mysticism as well as the comfort that can be found in repeated behavior. We see this in the resurgence of the physical practice of yoga in India and to the way the practice eventually spread into the Western world. We also see this in the emergence of mega churches and the wave of young women considering the convent. We even see this in the fact that some atheists have “church.” The only problem with this swing back to ritual was that sometimes people overlooked what was gained during the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason and focused on the outer (superficial) aspects of rituals rather than the inward (meaning-filled) experience. Moving into the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, this trend led people to spend copious amounts of money trying to recreate ancient rituals that were previously free – all to get that deeper feeling of connection. The problem was the lasting connection people were seeking doesn’t come from the outside. Yes, we can see it on the outside. Absolutely! But, deep, lasting, sustainable connection starts with an internal purpose.

A key aspect to ritual is the purpose behind what is done, how it is done, and when (i.e., the order in which it is done). Again, everything has a purpose and that purpose reinforces the repeated behavior which, in turn, reinforces the connection to others observing the ritual. In fact, that reinforcement of connection is another purpose found in ritual. A perfect example of this is the repetition of prayer or chanting, especially when there is an embodied component. The embodied component could be someone praying with a rosary, chanting with mala beads, whirling (in the Sufi tradition), or practicing 108 Sun Salutations; either way, there are very specific ways that the words are uttered or thought and very specific ways the body moves – even when it is just the fingers and the hands moving.

In Sanskrit, such a ritual is referred to as ajapa-japa, “without (mental effort) effort repeat-repeat” or “repeat and remember”. Over time, the practice reinforces itself in such a way that it turns into itself and, in doing so, turns the practitioner inward. Over time, the meaning of the words and/or movement is completely embodied so that there is seamlessness between the doer and the doing. The practice becomes ingrained. It becomes like breathing, which can be another form of ajapa-japa.

I could go into all kinds of scientific detail about how this happens and why it works. But, just for a moment, be open to the mystery… and just focus on the purpose.

“You can perform japa, repetition of a mantra or Sacred Word, in the midst of your day-to-day work. Then, when it becomes a habit, even when you are working intensely a portion of the mind will keep repeating the mantra always. That means you have locked one end of your chain to a holy place, while the rest of the chain remains still in the outside world.”

 

 

– a note written by Swami Satchidananda, quoted in Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace by Sita (Joan Weiner) Bordow

Feast / Holy Days are celebrations of sacred mysteries and significant events. Note that even when the focus is tied to a specific person (martyr or saint, including Jesus and the Virgin Mary), there is a connection to miracles, which are beyond science – in other words, more mystery). In addition to serving the purpose of commemoration / remembrance, feast days stimulate excitement around spirituality and help people embody the stories and history of their faith. In Christianity, particularly in the Catholic tradition, the order of the feast / holy days (throughout the year) is its own ritual storytelling. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a history of calendar reforms that have served the purpose of reinforcing the liturgical aspects of their rituals, thereby bringing faith into the foreground of people’s lives. Keep in mind, however, that this tradition did not start with the Christianity. The Hebrew Bible is full of commands from God about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“The philosopher Abraham Kaplan calculated that over 60 percent of Judaism’s 613 commandments involve physical ritual: lighting candles, ritual baths, etc. These deeds are a kind of language, a way of expressing things that are too deep for words.”

 

 

– quoted from a New York Times letter to the editor entitled, “There Should Be More Rituals” by David Brooks (dated April 22, 2019)

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday of light, incorporates rituals and traditions from several different faiths and several different cultures. As is often the case, these rituals are centered around symbolic objects: a mkeka (“mat”); kinara (“candelabra”); Mishumaa Saba (“seven candles,” one black, three red, and three green which symbolize the Black community, the historical struggles faced by the community, and the future possibilities of the community); mazao (“crops”); Muhindi (decorative as well as edible “corn”); a Kikombe a cha Umoja (“unity cup”); and Zawadi (ceremonial “gifts”). People often incorporate kente cloth and other Afrocentric decorations, such as black, red, and green Pan-African flag.

During Kwanzaa celebrations, people take a moment to pause and reflect, focus, concentrate, meditate, and contemplate one of the Nguzo Saba (“seven essential pillars”). On December 30th, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, people focus on the principle of Nia (“purpose”): To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. In other words, there is a reminder, in the middle of the week, that this is a purpose driven festival and that the future of the community depends on people being purpose driven in a way that brings about individual and collective healing.

When I started thinking about the posts and classes for this week, and in particular about how to address the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, I wanted to offer little bits of purpose about everything we were doing in the physical practice and also bits of purpose about various celebrations happening around the world. In considering all the different celebrations that fit under the rubric of ritual, and all the purposes behind the ways people are currently celebrating their holidays, it occurred to me that all these rituals share two common purposes: they bring people together (in peace) and they bring people closer to something bigger than themselves, something Universal, something Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

“My research over the last decade has helped understand why rituals in particular (and not any other behaviors like habits, for instance) are effective at battling negative emotions. Be it anxiety, stress, fear, doubt, sadness, grief – you name it. Rituals are there to save the day. The dread we feel after experiencing a loss happens because it feels like the situation is outside our control (and it usually is). Rituals reinstate that control.

 

Consider, for instance, in moments of grief, rituals help ease our pain and suffering. But, again I ask, how do they do this, and why rituals in particular? As my collaborators Mike Norton and Francesca Gino have shown, rituals alleviate feeling of grief and loss by increasing a feelings of control.”

 

 

– quoted from “The emerging science of ritual – a new look on an ancient behavior: And how you can use it to live life to the fullest” by Dr. Nick Hobson (contributing to the ThriveGlobal.com, Dec. 7, 2017)

For the last seven (going on eight) years, I have started the New Year by leading at least one 3-hour japa-ajapa mala of 108 Sun Salutations. For the last several years, I have wrapped up New Year’s Day with a 2-hour Yin+Meditation practice. The practices are very, very different. Although we do mix it up and break it down a little (so that it is accessible to everyone), the 108 mala is very vigorous and repeats 12 poses in a very specific sequence. (You can see some of the reasons for that number here and here.) The Yin+Mediation combines the meditative aspects of deep seated mediation with specific poses held 3 – 5 minutes in order to address the deep tissue, joints, and connective tissue. Props are useful for both practices, but are definitive part of the Yin Yoga practice – and you can use some household items as props.

 So, the practices are very different and yet they both help us to move through this liminal or “threshold” time between the old and the new years. Also, they each incorporate key elements of ritual and allow us to tap into the power of intention as well as community.

This year is different, obviously. Because of the pandemic we are on Zoom for both events (which means that there is no limit to the number of participants). It will feel different as we won’t be so close together and, unless you have your heat turned up, the 108 might not steam up the windows or get your walls all slimy.

However, for all that is different, there are some things that stay the same. I will still keep count and guide you through the experience. We will still set intentions and dedications for each round and plant some karmic seeds. We will still have the opportunity to “burn some karma” in the 108 and release some tension (in both practices). We will still have moments of reflection and insight – and, whatever comes, we will still begin and end and move through it all together.

Both practices are donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admitted if you get dumped from the call.)

 

Here are some of the many ways to mindfully start the New Year. Please note that this list includes a variety of practices, styles, and traditions (and it is only a sample of what’s available). Also note that some events are on Zoom and some are In-person, but I have noted all the distinctions here since some may change.

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration (Please register here.)

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Mindfulness, Recovery, and Twelve Steps meeting (Details are available here.)

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 PM – 12:00 PM Dharma Practice Reflections (meditation) with Ramesh Sairam (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM “Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat 2022 Vision Board & Sankalpa Cultivation” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Yin+Meditation with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM “New Year Mala Making and Charging ‘In Person’” with Kathleen “Kat” Sprole (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM “Our Sacred Garden Kickoff” with Amanda Brink (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat Yin, Restorative, & Yoga Nidra to Welcome 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Facing the New Year” with Tracy Vacura (see Yoga Sanctuary for details*)

 

Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. 

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 – The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

For Those Who Missed It: Appreciate the Power by Using the Power, Wisely December 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Innocents.]

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. Class details have been updated.

 

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al (August 1962)

 

I can’t help it. I’m sorry (not sorry), but I. Just. Can’t. Help. It! When I think of responsibility one of the first things that pops into my head is that famous line from the 1962 introduction of Spiderman. Then I start thinking about Stan Lee…

Born today in 1922 (as Stanley Lieber), Stan Lee did not invent the phrase or the sentiment many associate with Peter Parker and his uncle Ben Parker. He did, however, make it wildly popular and combined it with the awareness that everyone can do something to help alleviate the struggles and suffering of others. After all, for the most part, Lee’s characters in the Marvel Universe were not and are not (initially or typically) perfect alien humanoids without a care in the world. They were not sent to Earth to save humankind. No, they were making their home a better place.

And, Lee’s characters were just like his readers: people with very human fears, flaws and insecurities; people with bad tempers, impatience, fits of melancholy and vanity; people who bickered, worried about paying their bills, worried about impressing a love interest; and people who got bored or even sick. They were people – like the Fantastic Four (1961), Spiderman (1962), X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, the Avengers (1963), and Black Panther (1966) – who had to reconcile their abilities, their sometimes suddenly discovered powers, with all the need in the world… and the fact that people often thought they were freaks … and the fact that they couldn’t always solve every problem. But, neither, could they look away.

We are all able to do something. Sometimes we think what we are able to do is not much – which can be a self defeating attitude. Sometimes that attitude comes from not think about people who are not able (physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or energetically) to do what we can do. Nor do we always think about the importance of doing things the special way we do them. In neglecting to appreciate what we have to offer, we run the risk of missing an opportunity to make the world a better place.

“‘Nevermore shall men make slaves of others! Not in Asgard — not on Earth — not any place where the hammer of Thor can be swung — or where men of good faith hold freedom dear!’”

 

– quoted from the end panel of “Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: Trapped by the Trolls” in Journey Into Mystery Volume I, with the Mighty Thor #108 (1964) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Art Simek, et al (1964)

Ultimately, each Marvel character is charged with doing “what they can, as much as they can, for as long as they can” in order to help the people around them. While that description fits two of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, today I’m mostly going to focus on today’s principle, the third principle; Ujima (collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Ujima is connected to the first green candle on the kinara (special candelabra), which is a symbol of the future and prompts celebrants to consider a future free of some of our current struggles, suffering, and plights.

We may not be able to travel through time and change the future like Dr. Strange, Rina Patel, or Iron Lad, but each of us has the power to consider cause-and-effect. We can take a look at how our past actions are reflected in our current circumstances and how our actions in this moment are the seeds that blossom into “tomorrow’s” circumstances. In fact, in the Yoga tradition such abilities are included in a list of siddhis, supernormal “powers” or abilities.

Some siddhis very much seem like Marvel Universe powers or Jedi Knight Tricks. However, there are six that are described as being “powers unique to being human.” We not only find these specifically human powers (as described in the Sāmkhya Karika) in every Marvel comic book, we find them in every one of ourselves:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., intuitive knowledge);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

In addition to being the Stan Lee’s birthday and the third day of Kwanzaa, today corresponds with the third or fourth day of the “12 Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); and “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Finally, as many Christians (and in particular Catholics) observe these days between  Christmas and Epiphany as “fast free days,” I will mention that one of the feast days associated with today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas or Innocents Day. This is a day devoted to the remembrance of young children killed in Bethlehem when King Herod the Great learned that the Magi, at the suggestion of an angel, had tricked him and would not lead him back to the newborn Jesus. This day (today in Western Christianity, but December 29th in some Eastern traditions) has been observed as a fast day and was even, at one time, associated with practices considered a mockery of the faith and religion. However, today some consider it a day for children to be children… and do the things that children do (especially when they do not fear persecution, oppression, hunger, famine, or disease).

“All six of these stories – nearly half the stories in the book – speak to me of a longing in our human condition, a desire for more life (either here or in the hereafter) or a desire to turn regrets around to something joyous….

 

None of the characters in this collection are more powerful than a locomotive, none are faster than a speeding bullet, but what they are able to do, I believe, reveals something of our desires, something of our humanity – the best and worst in us.”

 

– quoted from the introduction to able to…: a literary look at super powers by…, edited by Neil Ellis Orts

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 28th) at 12:00 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

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.)

 

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

### You’ve Got the Power! ###

For Those Who Missed It: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

 

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Please join me today (Monday, December 27th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

 

“Umoja (unity) — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) — To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose) — To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity) — To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith) — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) 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 is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

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.)

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: Living “A (SAD) Wonderful Life” December 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday or otherwise, may have a favorite Christmas story or carol. These stories – which become such perennial favorites they are often turned into plays, ballets, musicals, and all manners of pageants – are full of not only the trappings and traditions of Christmas, but also the spirit. You may think the spirit of which I speak is the hope, the cheer, and the good tidings; but, one consistent element in these stories is grief, desolation, isolation, sadness – and yes, also SAD-ness.

The Greatest Gift was self-published by its author, Philip Van Doren Stern, in 1943 – exactly 100 years after Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. In fact, Stern (who was half Jewish) was partially inspired by the Dickens-classic. Although the story takes place at Christmastime and was initially sent out as Stern’s 1943 Christmas cards, the author intend the story to be universal. The following year the story was picked up by a two different magazines (including Good Housekeeping, which called it “The Man Who Was Never Born”) and a movie production company. By 1945, the original movie rights for The Greatest Gift had been sold to director and producer Frank Capra, who would change the title and tweak some of the details.

Current fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which premiered today in 1946, might be surprised to learn that the movie was not an instant success. The movie’s general release faced stiff competition from movies like Stairway to Heaven (released as A Matter of Life and Death in the UK) and Miracle on 34th Street – both of which shared elements of fatalism vs. free will, life vs. death, and hope vs. despair, as well as bumbling “angels” (in the former) and adorable children (in the latter). There was also drama behind the scenes and, ultimately, proceeds from the initial release barely covered the production cost. But, like A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured a protagonist who could have had SAD and who experienced a major shift because of spiritual intercession. Only, in the case of the movie, the spirit was actually an angel.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

In the movie, Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody (portrayed by Henry Travers) must convince 38-year old George Bailey (immortalized by Jimmy Stewart) that his life is “wonderful”… or, at least worth living. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Bailey has spent his life trying to help others, but a mistake – involving his good intentions and his own personal “Scrooge,” Mr. Potter (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who actually spent 20 years portraying “Scrooge”) – leads to criminal charges and the feeling that nothing he has ever done in his life makes a difference.

The truly ironic, and potentially tragic, part of George Bailey’s life is that he made a significant difference in his community. He saved more than one life and, on more than one occasion, gave up his savings to help others. He absolutely lived a life that was the embodiment of those last three siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human: the capacity to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the cultivation of a good heart (which is the ability to make friends); and generosity (the ability to give). Yet, in a moment of weakness, Bailey neglects to recognize his own power or potential. He has thoughts of self harm – one of the symptoms of SAD.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

“You see George; you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Real life is different from a novella by Dickens, a short story by Stern, or a movie by Capra; in part because there’s not a writer or director making sure the intervention happens. Also, not everything gets tied up at the end. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with SAD, it is important to take two big lessons from these fictional works: 1. You are not alone. 2. You can get help.

The ghosts in Dickens’s classic and the angel who gets his wings by helping out a good person are (literally) inspired symbols. They are the spirits or real people. (Sometimes they are even “strange” people, like in The Greatest Gift.) In real life, we are each other’s Christmas Past, Present, and Not Yet – just as we are each other’s guardian angels. We can show up for each other – and we must show up for each other. Real life is different in that sometimes the person that needs help has to ask for help (and/or the people around them have to notice what constitutes “a cry for help.”) In real life, happy endings don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.

“Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

– George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Please join me today (Monday, December 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner…
George Bailey: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

– quoted from It’s A Wonderful Life

### “Gotta love it… gotta live it… try to savor every moment” ~Anointed ###

Miracles in December (the Sunday post) December 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, December 12th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.)

“I try to find you, who I can’t see
I try to hear you, who I can’t hear

Then I start to see things I couldn’t see
Hear things I couldn’t hear
Because after you left
I received a power I didn’t have before”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracles in December” by EXO

‘Tis the season for miracles!

Ok, let’s be real. If you look at a calendar – you will find that there a plethora of miracles in every season. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a whole calendar that, essentially, celebrates miracles attributed to various people. This time of year, however, there seems to be a concentration of miracles – or maybe it just feels that way because so many of the miracles are similar and/or connected.

On Wednesday, I mentioned that within the Roman Catholic tradition there are almost 20 Marian feast days (i.e., days honoring the Virgin Mary), excluding local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. I even mentioned that December 9th, like December 8th, is a day when some people in the world celebrate the miracle of this blessed woman’s birth, a birth… which was itself a miracle. Of course, when most people (even many Christians) think of the miracle of birth, they think of the newborn baby and, in this context, they think of Jesus. Interestingly, December 12th is also a Marian feast day in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is a day associated with several miracles that occurred over a series of days (beginning on the aforementioned December 9th) in 1531, culminating with the fourth (or fifth) miraculous apparition occurring on December 12th.  

Or, at least that’s how the story has been told for almost 500 years.

But, it turns out there was more to the story.

And whether you believe the story or not*, it’s a tale full of compelling evidence. One could even say that the “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of the evidence” was enough to convince a man who identified himself as being “poor” (possibly in spirit) and who was not inclined to believe his own senses.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

 

– Stuart Chase

An important part of this story is the timeline.* However, before we get started, we need to clarify the timeline. In October of 1582, Papal-governed nations like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth switched to the Gregorian calendar. Up until then, these nations – as well as their colonies – used the Julian calendar. So, keep in mind that even though the events of our story took place according to the Julian calendar, most people today celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar.

That said, our story begins on Saturday, December 9, 1531, when an Indigenous man in what is now Mexico City was walking to mass. His journey took Juan Diego Cuāuhtlahtoātzin across Tepeyac Hill, which many modern people believe had been a sacred Aztec site associated with a mother goddess. Please keep in mind that this future saint, Juan Diego, was an adult and Spanish missionaries had only been in his country for about eight years. So, if historians are correct, he would have known the significance of the site. Either way, as he was walking along his way, he started hearing birds singing. It was an odd time of year to hear this type of birdsong and so it made him pause.

Perhaps he looked around for the source. Have you ever done that? Heard some beautiful sounds in nature (or maybe something that startled you) and you looked around to verify what you were hearing? Perhaps that’s what San Juan Diego did in 1531. Only, instead of birds, he saw the vision of a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that would have been familiar to him and she spoke his language (Nahuatl), but what she said was strange. She identified herself as the virgin mother – which was weird, because she didn’t look like the pictures and descriptions that came courtesy of the priests. She was not fair-haired or fair-skinned. She looked and spoke more like Juan Diego’s people. Stranger even than her appearance was that she wanted this poor man to go to the Franciscan bishop and ask that a chapel be built where she appeared. 

Now, a little back story about this bishop might be handy (just so you can understand his possible state of mind). His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. was born into a noble Basque family in Spain. I’m unclear when he entered the priesthood; however, several significant things happened when he was approaching 60 years old. First, he was named as custodian of a convent. That same year, 1527, he was appointed as a judge in a court investigating witches and recommended by the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V) to be the first bishop of Mexico (New Spain). A year later he was in the “New World,” but only had the title(s) of bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians.” His role was not officially consecrated until April of 1533 – which means that in 1531, during the time of our story – he could not fully execute his duties. Oh, also there was dissension in the ranks and the ever-present possibility of a socio-political and religious mutiny.

So, here comes Juan Diego with his message from the Divine Mother. To be clear, he was a reluctant messenger from the very beginning, but he was even more so after visiting the bishop-elect, who (naturally) did not believe him. I say “naturally,” because even if Juan Diego was 100% convinced of his mission, the bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians” would have been skeptical. He may have wondered why this “poor” indigenous man would be blessed with a visitation instead of someone like him, who had devoted his life to God and the Church. He might have questioned Juan Diego’s description of the woman. Finally, his previous experience serving with the court that examined witches, may have made him skeptical of anything that might be considered “hallucinatory,” especially if it was related to women.

On his way back home, defeated, discouraged, and doubtful, San Juan Diego again saw and spoke with the lady on the hill. At some point, he even pulled a Moses and suggested that someone else would be better suited for the job of messenger. But no, the blessed mother was sending him; the man whose surname (Cuāuhtlahtoātzin) means “He who speaks like an eagle.” 

“Do you hear what I hear?
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear? (Hear what I hear)
Ringing through the night, shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear (Hear what I hear)
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

 

– 1st verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

The next day, Sunday, December 10th, Juan Diego went back to speak to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola. Again, he was not believed; but this time the man who would become the first bishop and the first archbishop of Mexico told Juan Diego to go back to Tepeyac Hill and ask for proof. He wanted some form of religious currency – and here, I don’t mean a bribe: he wanted a verifiable miracle.

As instructed, Juan Diego went to the hill to request proof, which he was told he would receive if he came to the hill the next day. Unbeknownst to him, the bishop elect sent servants or guards to follow him, but “some how” they lost him. Of course, the servants or guards weren’t going to admit that they lost an indigenous “peasant.” So, they went back and told the bishop-elect that Juan Diego was a liar who had made the whole thing up. They accused him of a number of things that would be considered heretical and blasphemous. If this story were happening today, he might have been accused of “pushing a woke (or liberal) agenda” – because who else but a social justice warrior would request a church devoted to a brown-skinned Madonna.

Now, here’s where the story takes a turn, because Juan Diego does not return to Tepeyac Hill on Monday, December 11th. It’s not that he didn’t believe or didn’t take his task seriously, it’s not that he didn’t care. But, he did have a more urgent need to address: his beloved uncle Juan Diego Bernardino was deathly ill. This uncle, who had taken him in after his parents died, needed someone to take care of him; and so Juan Diego did what was needed. At some point, however, it became clear that San Juan Diego’s physical ministrations were not enough. That Tuesday morning, December 12th, he left home to find a priest who could administer the last rites. 

Imagine his grief. Imagine his pain. Also, imagine the urgency of his quest and the shame. Yes, he felt shame and embarrassment, because he hadn’t gone back to the hill to get the proof requested by the bishop-elect. He was also in a hurry and so he tried to figure out another route. Some other way that he could reach the church and find a priest without being stopped by the vision. But, to no avail. Our Lady of Guadalupe was still waiting for him.

“¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?”

[“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”] 

 

– Spanish quoted from the front entrance of the modern (or new) Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, based on the 17th century Nahuatl text Nican Mopohua (Here Is Told)

 

The vision of the Divine Mother told him that his uncle had recovered. (Later he would learn that his uncle Juan Diego Bernardino had also received a visit from the Blessed Mother.) Our Lady of Guadalupe told the future saint that if he went up to the top of the hill, where it was the coldest, he would find proof that he could take back to the bishop-elect. Juan Diego did as he was told and found the peak covered in roses. These were roses that were not indigenous to the area. Fragrant roses that could not be bought at any supermarket or mercado in the area. Flower covered in morning dew – even though it was too cold and out of season for such flowers to grow. As astounded as he must have been (and relieved because his uncle was well), he managed to gather as many flowers as he could carry in his tilma (or cloak) and brought them to the vision. She touched each flower and placed them back in his blanket-like cape. 

Now, to be clear, at this point in the story, Juan Diego had experienced these miracles with almost every one of his senses. He has heard them, seen them, smelled them, and felt them. He has thought about them and remembered them with clarity. One could argue that the only sense not engaged was his sense of taste; but since smell and taste are closely connected, we can’t exclude the possibility that the fragrant flowers left and impression on his tongue.

Yet, there was more.

After some resistance (mostly from the servants or guards at the Church), Juan Diego was admitted into the bishop’s chambers. When he opened his tilma the roses fell out onto the flower. More roses than he could have carried and, again, roses that were out of season and not available in the area. Some say they were Castilian roses, meaning they were indigenous to Spain and, theoretically, would have been recognizable to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. as such.

But, there was more.

When the roses fell on the floor, they revealed an image in the tilma: a vibrant image of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to Juan Diego. She appeared to be mestiza, a mixture of two ethnicities: Aztec and Spanish. Her dark hair was parted to indicate that she was a virgin. Her blue-green mantilla or veil was covered in stars, indicating that she came from Heaven and also (by their pattern) establishing the date and time of her appearance. Her hands were in prayer with her fingers pointed to the cross that she wore at the top of her dress. A black ribbon tied beneath her hands and above her belly indicated that she was encinta, “enclosed in the ribbon” – which means she was pregnant. Four-petaled and eight-petaled flowers covered the cloth over her belly and the lower portion of her dress. She stood in the clouds, in front of the sun (which some say represents Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun and of war). She also stood on top of the moon (some say crushing the Aztec’s Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent moon god) with a shoe that looks like the tilma. Finally, the edge of her mantilla and the edge of her dress were held up by “an angel with eagle wings” who wore a shirt and cross that matched hers.

I say “finally,” but – to be clear – I’ve only highlighted some (but not all) of the most obvious elements of the image. An image that scientists have said was not painted and has no (significant) brushstrokes. An image that, though I refer to it in the past tense above, reportedly looks almost** exactly the same as it did when it was first revealed (almost 500 years ago) – despite the fact that it was not protected from the elements for over one hundred years.

Also, I’ve left out explanations for a lot of the symbols, a note about Her name, and a few things that would not have been obvious when the image was first revealed. For example, the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe are shaped like a real person’s eyes and modern science has revealed that they contain two images: reflections of two scenes which include the images of people like San Juan Diego and His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola.

Then there are the flowers…

Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having it’s own function and character, contributes to the whole.

 

– quote attributed to Pythagoras (of Samos)

The arrangement of the stars and flowers held significance right off the bat. Some of the flowers even look different when viewed at different angles, but a Mexico accountant (recently) discovered that there’s more to the arrangement than date, time, topography, and religious symbolism. According to Fernando Ojeda, a member of the Instituto Superior de Estudios Guadalupanos (ISEG), the arrangement is, well, an actual arrangement. It’s music.

Analyzing the image from a mathematical perspective, Fernando Ojeda found that it was symmetrical and maintained the golden ratio. When he asked what would be considered the “most symmetrical” instrument, someone told him it was a piano. So, he framed a copy of the image with a golden triangle and had a musical colleague overlap the image with a drawing of a piano so that they could transcribe the stars and flowers into music notes. Then, Fernando Ojeda plugged the notes into a computer program and (with the help of some classical musicians) produced what could easily be described as something heavenly.

I know, I know. Even if you believe all the rest of the story, you might be skeptical of this last bit. Especially if you know about John Cage and the wind chimes.  However, when the ISEG analysts reportedly applied these same methods to paintings from the 16th and 17th century, the painted stars and flowers did not produce anything that would have met with Bach’s approval.

“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

 

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube only. Spotify users can find similar music on the Mother’s Day 2020 playlist.

[NOTE: I could not find “the music of the mantle” on Spotify, but it’s embedded/linked below along with a third track that is not on the Mother’s Day playlist.]

I can’t help wondering, is this the music (of the birds) that San Juan Diego heard?

 

A longer version…

 

“Miracles in December”

 

*NOTE: Many scholars and theologians are skeptical about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some of the skepticism surrounds the timeline and the fact that the first written account didn’t appear until the 17th century. There is also some confusion about the name, confusion that is heightened by translating into (and out of) languages that don’t share an original culture. Some of that language confusion all revolves around a misunderstanding about what is a title and what is a name.

 

**NOTE: Acid was spilled on the tilma in 1791, but it appears that there was minimum damage and/or (as some people believe) the image healed itself. The visions crown has been altered. Scientists have disagreed about how much the image has faded or flaked over the years, but consistently agree that it seems to be very little.

 

 

### WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE? ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: Music for This Date (“the post that almost wasn’t”) December 8, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This following was originally posted in December of 2020. 

I wasn’t 100% sure if I was even going to post it back then, but…here it is, again, for your pleasure and consideration. Class information has been updated and I did remix the playlist. (The original is still available if you go back to the original post.)

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Take a moment to notice how you feel – maybe even do that 90-second thing.

I mention all the time that what is happening in this moment, including how we feel, is the culmination of all the moments that have come before and that this moment is the beginning of everything that comes next – including how we feel in the next moment. But, take a moment to consider how what you think and believe about what’s happening (and what you’re feeling) directly impact this moment… and therefore all the other moments. What we think and what we believe impact not only what we are feeling, but also what we are doing and how we do it. So, go a little deeper into what you believe.

There was a time, when people within the Roman Catholic tradition referred to today as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today in 1854, however, Pope Pius IX issued a dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception – declaring her “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” – and making today the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is one of almost 20 Marian feast days on the Roman Catholic Calendar – not to mention the many local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. Eastern Orthodox Christian churches have a different calendar, as well as a different definition of Immaculate Conception, and celebrate tomorrow, December 9th, as the Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos or the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary.

“…what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.”

– quoted from Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX (“Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, in the eighth day of December, 1854, in the either year of our pontificate.”)

Pope Pius IX was pope from June of 1846 until February 1878 – and, for most of that time, he was also the (last) Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States, making him simultaneously “King” and “Pope.” Meaning, he was the last pope to serve as both a secular and spiritual ruler and therefore he was officially concerned with both secular and spiritual issues. Sometimes, there were obvious conflicts. At one point during his reign he was seen as liberal enough to appoint an enlightened minister; release religious political prisoners; and nullify the requirement for Jewish people to attend Mass. However, he also upheld the Church’s right to remove a child from their Jewish parents simply because the Church recognized the child as Catholic (it’s a long and sketchy story). Some people’s opinion of him changed after he released a very dogmatic encyclical, today in 1864, condemning what he defined as 80 errors or heresies of the modern age (including liberalism, modernism, and secularization, just to name a few).

If you are Catholic, or even some version of Christian, certain aspects of today’s practice may feel extra connected to the story and symbolism of the Virgin Mary. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, you may not even notice those elements – except when they feel good to you or not so good to you. This is true of every one of my practices. There is always a physical-mental element, as well as the emotional-energetic elements and psychic-symbolic. Sometimes I break down the meanings and the whys and wherefores of a practice. Every once in a while, however, I just put it out there – and then each element is significant to you based on what you feel, think, and believe. This happens not only with the sequence and the stories I choose to tell, but also with the music. Noticing how you feel about any and all of that (i.e., self-study) is a key element of the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

Today’s playlist features a few of the many really amazing musicians who were born on this date (and one really amazing musician who was killed on this date). Notice how your prior connection to the music and/or the musicians changes your experience of the practice. Notice, also, the times when you don’t have a prior experience and yet you are still able to get something out of the moment.

“‘If I don’t work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn’t have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look – which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job.’”

– Phil Collen, quoted about his cardio, lifting, and Muy Thai kickboxing exercise regime and vegan diet in “Work-Life Balance: Get Fit, Lose Weight: What Happened When I Tried Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Fitness Program” by Jeff Haden, published on Inc.com (June 1, 2017)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 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, 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.)

“Music for the Date” features Sir James Galway (b. 1939), Sinead O’Connor (b. 1966), Sammy Davis Jr. (b. 1925), Jim Morrison (b. 1943), Gregg Allman (b. 1947), Phil Collen (b. 1957), John Lennon (d. 1980) – with references Nicki Minaj (b. 1982) and Sam Hunt (b. 1984). If I remix The remixed playlist it will also includes part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, which premiered today 1813.

“During the later war years, he had composed the Seventh Symphony in the Bohemian town of Teplitz in 1811 – 1812 and Wellington’s Victory, both of which were premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven conducted the concert himself and addressed the audience before the presentation, saying, ‘We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.’”

– quoted from Double Emperor: The Life and Times of Francis of Austria by Chip Wagar

### OM AUM ###

How Do You Shine? (Stories For the Living, redux) December 1, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

*

– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

So far this week I have centered classes around a series of interrelated, light-related questions: 1. When do you shine the brightest? 2. Why so much focus on light? Of course, these questions are inspired by the fact that it is Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights. When I tell the story of Chanukah, I endeavor to highlight the different “miracles” within the story, the little things that turn into big things, and to also show that each and every one of us, is the light. People – and the way they shine – are every day miracles. I consider the Maccabees the shamash of the story; the way they show up, keep their faith, and inspire others when faced with oppression is one example of how people can shine in the world. That people still observe Chanukah is another example of people shining in the world.

Additionally, as I said mentioned to a friend yesterday, there are plenty of other stories in the world about people who show up and shine despite tragedy and oppression. There are several stories associated with today that feature people who are, in their own rights, the attendants, caretakers,  and light workers of the world. People who helped make the world better, because they showed up and shined. As you read or hear today’s stories (or even take another look at the Chanukah story) consider how each person was in a unique position to make a difference, to shine. Then, consider your unique position and how you can shine.

Most of the following was originally posted on December 1, 2020. Dates and playlists have been updated. Some supplemental information has been added.

“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, [we] may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

*

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

*

“‘Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’”

*

– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

Today I have two stories for you. Both are fables, in that they are stories with a moral. Both are also true – in that they actually happened. Finally, both stories are open ended… in that we are still living with the ramifications of the stories and their lessons. There are some other overlaps; however, ultimately, one of the stories is a dark and twisted fairy tale, while the other is a bit of a horror story. You can decide which is which.

In the first story, a 15-year old student, coming home from school, was told she was in a place where she didn’t belong. For the record, she was in a place specifically designated for “her kind,” but that was neither here nor there when someone designated as her “better” was going to be in the area. This student, let’s call her Claudette (because that is her name) and an older pregnant woman (let’s call her Ruth) decide they were going to stay put. Of course (I say with a lot of sarcasm), the police were called. Ruth moved. Claudette did not. Eventually she was (re)moved, by the police and arrested. On the way to the police station, she was sexually harassed by the officers and she feared that one would take the harassment farther. A minister bailed her out of jail; she was convicted (in juvenile court) of three charges; and two of the charges were eventually dropped on appeal. Ironically, the charge that stuck – assaulting an officer – might not have even happened.

The events described above happened in the Montgomery, Alabama in the Spring of 1955. Claudette Colvin was not the first Black person to refuse to make room for a white person on a bus, or anywhere else, and she would not be the last. But, her story is one that many people forgot or didn’t know; because, nine months later – today in 1955 – Rosa Parks sat in the “white section” of a bus and didn’t get up.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

*

– Rosa Parks, as quoted in Fight Like A Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella

Some people referred to Mrs. Parks as a tired seamstress, a 42-year old “Colored” woman; but, more importantly to the story, she was an activist who had worked as a secretary for the NAACP and she made for good optics. Unlike, Claudette Colvin, who was a pretty, dark skinned teenager who was pregnant and unmarried, Rosa Parks was a pretty, fair skinned, established married woman – who also practiced yoga and was trained in civil disobedience.

There are lots of different lessons and morals to that story. Some of the big ones (to paraphrase Claudette Colvin) are the importance of knowing your rights, taking a stand, and saying when something isn’t right. Another big lesson: optics and messaging matter. Which leads me to the next story that is relevant to today.

Once upon a time some people got sick and, because of their illness, some children were born prematurely. Doctors thought the illness was a form of pneumonia. While there were some studies around the illness, it didn’t affect enough people in the right places to become a priority on any one’s radar. After all, optics and messaging matter – and it was believed that the adults who got sick did so because of their behavior. Fast forward 69 years and an African-American teenager in Saint Louis, Missouri (let’s call him Robert R) died of this pneumonia with weird symptoms. 7 years later a Norwegian sailor (with ties to Africa) died, 4 months after the death of his daughter and 8 months before the death of his wife. The next year a Danish doctor, also with ties to Africa, also died – as did several other people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and (in the case of the adults) occupations.

By the late 70’s, children were being born with this pneumonia that some doctors then thought was a form of cancer. By the 1980’s, researchers and major American news outlets were publishing news about a “gay cancer” – which it is not – and people without any medical knowledge were guessing at how the disease is spread. And it was spreading, globally.

“If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.”

*

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

It took a playwright and activist – that some people called “the angriest man in the world” and others considered to be a man “with a golden heart” – to really sound the alarm and lead the charge. Lawrence “Larry” Kramer started consolidating information, resources, and people. He started organizing. Mr. Kramer held a meeting in New York City with over 80 gay men and a doctor. In addition to gaining critical information from the doctor, the group raised over $6k towards research and efforts to raise awareness about the growing pandemic. That first meeting was the impetus for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (now known as GMHC Health Services), whose mission is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” Mr. Kramer, who died in May of 2020, was also one of the co-founders of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Because yes, we’re talking about AIDS which, along with HIV, currently affects over 38 million people (including over 1 million children) worldwide. Yes, we’re talking about AIDS, because today is World AIDS Day. Designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), today is simultaneously an international day of mourning and remembrance as well as a day to raise awareness. As is the case with other epidemics and pandemics, fact-based awareness and testing are essential to prevention, treatment, and support. About 81% of people with HIV (worldwide) have been tested and know their status. Unfortunately, that means 19% (approximately 7.1 million people) have not been tested, do not know their status, and therefore risk infecting others. (In the United States that statistic translates to 1 in 7 people.) Additionally, HIV and AIDS still disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people designated as “male” at birth, and gay and bisexual men.

One critical thing to remember about HIV and AIDS is that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are now life-saving treatments which make it possible for people to live a long and healthy life. It is also possible to go about your life without a high risk of sexually transmitting HIV to others.

The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day was “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact.” The 2021 theme for World AIDS Day was “End Inequalities, End AIDS” (in the US, the National Institutes of Health used “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voices”). This year’s theme(s), in particular, highlight(s) the fact that there is still a social stigma associated with AIDS and HIV – a stigma that magnifies the toll of the disease and makes it harder to combat the spread of the disease. That stigma can result in people not getting the support they need, not getting the treatment they need, and (in some cases) facing additional trauma. Here again, there’s something about the optics.

World AIDS Day was marked with virtual displays of memorial quilts (in places that are still actively battling the COVID-19 pandemic), symposiums, access to rapid self testing kits, and information about how the disease is transmitted and how it is treated. That last part is a key element of the story and it’s moral, because when we look at the timeline of COVID-19 in other countries, we find that countries that learned from their response to previous epidemics – like AIDS and Ebola – have had better success rates of containing COVID-19. You may wonder why everyone in the world isn’t publicizing those facts…. Sadly, again, it may have something to do with optics.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?”

*

– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 1st) 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. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 3-4) & World AIDS Day 2021”]

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.)

A beautiful version of the “23rd Psalm,” which Claudette Colvin prayed in her head during her arrest.

“‘I know that segregation isn’t dead – just look at schools and neighborhoods and workplaces, and you can see that it’s still all over America. And yes, we are still at the very beginning economically. But at least those degrading signs, “White” and “Colored,” are gone. We destroyed them. There are laws now that make segregation illegal. We forced white people to take a different view. They had to change their attitudes toward blacks. The civil rights movement cleared the way legally so we could progress.’”

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– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

For anyone interested, last year’s World AIDS Day is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

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### DO YOU REMEMBER? ###

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