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Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.

“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’”

*

– from “The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

*

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

*

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

*

– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

*

### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###

A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

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

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

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) 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. [Look for “10202021 To the Bone”]

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.)

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

A Simple Truth (the “missing” Monday post) January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post related to the Monday, January 10th practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

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

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

Born January 10, 1928 in Detroit, Michigan, poet Philip Levine was the second of three sons (and the first identical twin) born to Jewish immigrants just as the Nazi party was getting a foothold in Germany. He had the unfortunate experience of watching anti-Semitism rise in is own (proverbial) backyard and to also witness how racism (and other -isms) created a schism between the different people who made up the working class. Following in the tradition of Walt Whitman, he started giving voice to America’s voiceless and – even after he left the “mitten state” – he wrote poems about the plight of regular people in his hometown.

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

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

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

*

– quoted from the poem “A Simple Truth” by Philip Levine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Did you see yesterday’s surprise? It’s the first step in a journey (that we’ve already begun)!

*

### Get Into The Habit ###

First Friday Night Special #15: “A Reflective Moment” (a post practice post) January 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Love, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy 2022, Everyone!

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #15 from January 7th. This practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians (but with a little more back bending than the last two Yin Yoga practices.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.]

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Yoga practice (on or off the mat) is an opportunity to grow and to learn about one’s self and the world around us.  It’s a safe time and place to turn inward and observe how our mind-bodies respond and react to ourselves and the world around us. It’s a great time to is a place to explore, experiment, learn, and play. For this reason, I sometimes liken the practice (on the mat) to time in a laboratory or classroom, or even on a playground. And I think it’s appropriate to show up with a sense of curiosity, wonder, possibilities, and faith – prepared to see what happens.

Curiosity, wonder, possibilities, faith, and preparation are concepts that I have repeatedly highlighted during this week’s practices, because they are concepts shared by explorers, (physical) scientists, philosophers, and the (religious and/or spiritually) faithful. When we show up on the mat, we have the opportunity to be all of the above and also  to embody all of those attributes. We have the opportunity, as Dr. Beau Lotto has said (in defining science), to “play with purpose.” We can look at that “purpose” as finding out more about ourselves; however, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali makes it very clear that by going deeper into ourselves, we go deeper in to the world. We are, after all, microcosms of the world… which is a microcosm of the solar system… which is a microcosm of the galaxy… which is a microcosm of the universe. Which is kind of a long way to say that by observing our self, we can learn about the cosmos.

Just because we can, theoretically, learn about the cosmos by going deeper into ourselves, does not mean that we are the center of the universe. Some ancient philosophers perpetuated a geocentric model of the Universe, whereby everything revolved around Earth. In 1543, one of the last things Nicolaus Copernicus did was present a mathematical “theory” – based on observation – indicating that the Sun was actually the center of everything. This heliocentric model created a paradigm shift for almost everyone in the Western world, with the exception of the Catholic Church… and it’s scientists. In fact, as the Scientific Revolution ushered in more advanced technology and better observations, scientists like Tycho Brahe used their more accurate data to develop a geoheliocentric model, whereby the Sun still revolved around the Earth, but everything else revolved around the Sun.

Other scientists, in other countries, had developed similar models based on their own observations, but the Tychonic model was more than a collection of data points. In some ways, it was a desperate attempt to stay in the Church’s favor and to hold on to the old status quo. However, when Tycho unexpectedly died in October of 1601 (from an issue related to his urinary bladder and kidneys, see the practice), his assistant Johannes Kepler took over his work. Kepler and Tycho had a decent working relationship, but Kepler was convinced Tycho was coming to the wrong conclusions and proceeded accordingly as the imperial mathematician. Galileo Galilei, also a believer in Copernicus’s ideas, would further expand the ideas of Kepler. He did so, through more observations and the realization of what he was seeing.

But now, Most Serene Prince, we are able to augur truer and more felicitous things for Your Highness, for scarcely have the immortal graces of your soul begun to shine forth on earth than bright stars offer themselves in the heavens which, like tongues, will speak of and celebrate your most excellent virtues for all time. Behold therefore, four stars reserved for your illustrious name, and not of the common sort and multitude of the less notable fixed stars, but of the illustrious order of wandering stars, which, indeed, make their journeys and orbits with a marvelous speed around the star of Jupiter, the most noble of them all, with mutually different motions, like children of the same family, while meanwhile all together, in mutual harmony, complete their great revolutions every twelve years about the center of the world, that is, about the Sun itself. Indeed, it appears that the Maker of the Stars himself, by clear arguments, admonished me to call these new planets by the illustrious name of Your Highness before all others. For as these stars, like the offspring worthy of Jupiter, never depart from his side except for the smallest distance, so who does not know the clemency, the gentleness of spirit, the agreeableness of manners, the splendor of the royal blood, the majesty in actions, and the breadth of authority and rule over others, all of which qualities find a domicile and exaltation for themselves in Your Highness? Who, I say, does not know that all these emanate from the most benign star of Jupiter, after God the source of all good?

 

– quoted from Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo Galilei

Despite (or because of) the fact that he was in the middle of a long lineage of notable astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, Galileo Galilei is the one remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense when you consider that “insight” is “seeing things in a special way.” Thanks to advancements in telescope technology, Galileo was able to see things others had not seen. Similar to the Magi, he looked up instead of down (as others did) and sometime between December of 1609 and the beginning of January of 1610, he noticed three bright, shiny objects near Jupiter. At first he thought he was seeing stars (or new planets), invisible to the naked eye, but clear when using a telescope that magnified up to 20x. Over time, however, he chronicled the movement of these “stars” and realized there were four, not three, and that they weren’t giving off their own light, they were reflecting light. They weren’t stars/suns; they were moons orbiting Jupiter.

And, as it turns out, there were more than four – but that’s another story, for a different day.

Galileo first mentioned the celestial orbs in a letter dated January 7, 1610. He tracked and documented the movement of the spheres from January 8th until March 2nd. After seeking the counsel of an advisor to Cosimo II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609-1621), Galileo named the objects the “Medicean Stars” and published his findings on March 13, 1610. In order to secure the Medici’s as patrons, he had a copy of his work, and the telescope he used the see the heavens, delivered to the Grand Duke a few days later. In 1632, he would dedicate his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to Cosimo’s oldest son, Ferdinando II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1621-1670). This “dialogue” exploring the scientific merits of the Copernican view of things (heliocentric) versus the Ptolemaic view of things (geocentric) eventually landed Galileo Galilei in hot water with the Catholic Church.

A German astronomer, Simon Marius, made similar observations in December of 1609 and started documenting his observations on December 29th (according to the Julian calendar). Even though he was exonerated, because his documentation started on January 8th (according to the Gregorian calendar), Simon Marius’s reputation was tainted by accusations of plagiarism and an ongoing dispute with Galileo. If you have ever been confused by the names of Jupiter’s moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (names suggested to Marius by Johannes Kepler) vs I, II, III, IV (as Galileo noted them in his notebooks and discussion) – you can blame it on the calendars… or the scientists’ egos.

“There was no doubt in Galileo’s mind of the authenticity and importance of the discoveries he announced, and since he wished to have them reach astronomers and philosophers all over Europe as quickly as possible he addressed his book to them and wrote it in Latin. He called it the Sidereus Nuncius, which was generally taken to mean ‘the messenger of the stars,’ not only by Galileo’s contemporaries but by the translators in succeeding generations. Several booklets appeared in reply with titles referring to this ‘messenger,’ and there were allusions to this idea in many poems and literary works. Galileo did not correct these authors, but he may not have meant the title to be so interpreted. Several years later a Jesuit critic assailed him for having presented himself as the ambassador of heaven; in the margin of his copy of this attach Galileo noted that the word nuncius means ‘message’ as well as ‘messenger,’ and asserted that he had intended only the humbler meaning. On the basis of this and other evidence, modern scholars have suggested that the word in question has always been mistranslated in this title.

 

– quoted from “Introduction: First Part” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stillman Drake

It may seem like a “stretch” to connect Galileo Galilei (and the moons of Jupiter) with one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance; however, in many ways, Zora Neale Hurston was first and foremost an observational researcher. Born January 7, 1891, her science was people and her “message” was for the people. She was an anthropologist, as well as an author of fiction, plays, short stories, and essays. Like Galileo, she changed the way people saw the world. In her case, she changed the way African-Americans and Caribbeans were portrayed in literature. Also like Galileo, she based her work on real time observations.

Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, Black people in America were mostly portrayed as stereotypes and caricatures, often without any redeeming independent qualities or motivations. Ms. Hurston’s own lived experiences didn’t fit into those commonly circulated boxes. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama and moved to Eatonville, Florida – one of the first all-Black incorporated towns in the United States – when she was three. Her father was a man of certain means, who became the town’s mayor and the Baptist minister of the town’s largest church. When her mother died (when Zora Neale Hurston was thirteen), and her father married soon after, the future writer was shipped off to boarding schools and relatives in in Jacksonville, Florida.

The stark difference between her two environments and the class differences between her primary family and her extended family was notable. Furthermore, those differences left an impact on a young woman who’s curiosity was being fueled by her education. After graduating from the high school division of a prominent HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), she started her undergraduate degree at Howard University, another prominent HBCU, and started establishing herself as an influential part of the literati. She was one of the early members of Zeta Phi Beta, the third African-American sorority; co-founded the university’s student newspaper, The Hilltop (which was the first, and is still the only, HBCU daily paper); and was invited to join Dr. Alan Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.

“’Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.’”

 – Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching Gog by Zora Neale Hurston

She left Howard without her bachelor’s degree, but was eventually offered a scholarship to Columbia University’s Bernard College. She was the only black student at the all women’s college. Once again, she was in a unique position to observe the differences between people and cultures; but, what really interested her were the similarities. She studied ethnography and conducted research with Dr. Franz Boas, known as the “Father of American Anthropology” and Dr. Ruth Benedict, and was a student during the time that Dr. Margaret Mead was finishing up her graduate studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1928 and spent an additional two years pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia.

It was while she was conducting research with “Papa Franz” that Zora Neale Hurston discovered her scholastic approach to research wouldn’t get her very far in the field(s). It was also during this time that she received the patronage of Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white socialite and philanthropist who also supported other Harlem Renaissance artists, like Langston Hughes. Like Galileo, Ms. Hurston found that the support of the wealthy was a double-edged sword; because the “Godmother” of the Harlem Renaissance wanted control over the artists and their work – even scholastic research around music, folklore, hoodoo (also known as “Lowcountry Voodoo”), and other aspects of Southern culture. Trying to balance the academic requirements of her advisor, along with the demands of her patron – not to mention her newly formed friendships within the Black arts community and her own burgeoning career as an author – proved to be too much, especially since she was also a newlywed.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

I was extremely proud that Papa Franz felt like sending me on that folklore search. As is well known, Dr. Franz Boas of the Department of Anthropology of Columbia University, is the greatest anthropologist alive, for two reasons. The first is his insatiable hunger for knowledge and then more knowledge; and the second is his genius for pure objectivity. He has no pet wishes to prove. His instructions are to go out and find what is there. He outlines his theory, but if the facts do not agree with it, he would not wrap a jot or dot of the findings to save his theory. So knowing all this, I was proud that he trusted me….

My first six months were disappointing. I found out later that it was not because I had no talents for research, but because I did not have the right approach.”

 – quoted from the autobiographical essay “Research” in Dust Tracks On A Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Ultimately, however, she didn’t need the degree so much as she needed the experience and the material. Her work includes the semi-autobiographical novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published in 1934, and Mules and Men, an autoethnographical collection of African-American folklore, in 1935. She received support from the Guggenheim Foundation in order to conduct research about voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, which resulted in Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (published in 1938). Her published views on race relations and, in particular, how race relations in the United States affected women of color led her to cover the trial of Ruby McCollum for the Pittsburgh Courier (Fall – Winter, 1953). In 1937, she published Their Eyes Were Watching God, her best known (and arguably) most influential novel, and followed that up, two years later, with Moses, Man of the Mountain, a re-telling and re-centering of The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus (from the Bible) based on an African-American perspective – which, given the timing, has also been viewed as an overall criticism of fascism and the Nazi regime.

Throughout her career, Zora Neale Hurston received criticism for using dialects, for her conservative political views, and for [not doing enough for the Black race]. Even though the she was influential during the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston spent her final days in a welfare home and was buried in an unmarked grave. Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, and Hurston-scholar Charlotte D. Hunt commissioned a grave marker for the woman who had inspired them and were responsible for helping new generations discover short stories like “Spunk” (1925) and the folklore in Every Tongue Got To Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States (collected in the 1920’s and published posthumously in 2001).

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. ”

 – quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“And when [Nanny] gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”

– quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“’I love myself when I am laughing.

And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’”

– “Zora Neale Hurston, in a letter to Carl Van Vechten, December 10, 1934, referring to a series of photographers he had taken of her” as quoted in I Love Myself when I Am Laughing.. and Then Again when I Am Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader Edited by Alice Walker (Introduction by Mary Helen Washington)

### Love No Matter What ###

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….) ###

For Those Who Missed It: Sailing Into New Beginnings (the Monday post) January 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Movies, New Year, Peace, Religion, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to everyone.

The following was originally posted in January 2021. 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. 

You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]

 

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”

 

– quoted from “Chapter LVIII. Brit” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

On more than one occasion, I have compared breathing to our “own personal ocean.” I even once honored one of my teachers by sharing that at the end of her classes people felt like there were floating on a surfboard after a spending a whole day riding the waves; muscles completely relaxed, the mind-body completely one with the rising and falling of the waves as they ebb and flow. Those are just my words to express very common experiences. And, before you ask; no, I don’t actually surf. I have, however, spent all day, for several days, learning how to sail and much of my young life playing and swimming in the ocean water of the Gulf. I also read a lot. And, the way the brain works, it’s not uncommon for me to make the visceral connection between something I’ve done and something I’ve read.

It happens with the very best of books: we find ourselves in the middle of a grand adventure, full of pirates, mutineers, and cannibals, or elves, dwarfs, and hobbits. There may be dragons to slay, train, or befriend; there may be fire on the mountaintop; there may be rings of temptation or friendship; there may be wagers in the middle of battles and so much merriment we can barely contain the laughter that pops out loudly enough that we find ourselves, suddenly, back in the our ordinary lives.

“Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?’ He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.’”

 

– Frodo reminiscing with Sam and Pippin in “Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

The thing we sometimes forget is that our ordinary lives can not only lead us to great adventures, they can themselves be great adventures. We may not, as a young Herman Melville did when he set sail for the South Seas today in 1841, find ourselves actually taking part in a mutiny; landing in a Tahitian jail; escaping from that same jail; and then wandering around the island for two years before serendipitously befriending another great literary mind. We may not, as J. R. R. Tolkien was today in 1892, be born into a family of clock, watch, and piano makers; have an Aunt Jane who lived on a farm called Bag End (with no reference to us); and have cousins named Mary and Marjorie who made up a language called “Animalic” (inspiring us to make up our own languages); nor might we spend our adulthood in close friendships with some of the greatest literary minds of our time; and neither might we share those friendships with our son. Still, just as Melville and Tolkien did, we could write about our own lives and life experiences in a way that (sometimes) entertained and amused others. I say “sometimes,” because both authors produced work that has had mixed reviews.

While Melville’s first two sea-based novels met with quite a bit of success, his third book was so poorly received he said that he wrote the fourth and fifth just for the money. His sixth novel, Moby Dick, or The Whale, was first published in London in three installments and is now easily considered his most famous novel, but it was a critical flop when first published. On the flip side, Tolkien was surprised that his first book of fiction, The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, turned out to be such a hit… with children – and was later surprised that he and his work inspired a very passionate, loyal, and scholastic fan base. Even though his books were heavily influenced by his Catholic upbringing, his experiences at war, and his fascination with all things mythical and mystical, he was not always a fan of other work in the “fantasy adventure” genre and thought people read way too much into his books.  

“Call me Ishmael”

 

– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

“‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,’ said Pippin….

 

‘I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.’”

 

– Pippin and Merry meeting “Treebeard” in “Book 4, Chapter 4: Treebeard” in The Two Towers (Volume 2 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

Remember that, in the yoga tradition, our ability to combine meaning with sound, remember and share the combination, and create and share a visual representation of the combination of sound and meaning all fall into one of the “powers unique to humans;” and, as I mentioned yesterday, the brain likes naming things. So, there is great power in a name. J. R. R. Tolkien was very clear about this on more than one occasion in his books and the idea of words being powerful is further emphasized by the fact that he made up languages to solidify the cultures of the different characters he created. Herman Melville, on the other hand, started off his most well-known novel with the introduction and naming of a character that plays a major role in the telling of the story, but a minor one in the action.

The opening line to Moby Dick, or The Whale is easily in the top 5 most well-known (and quoted) opening lines of fiction. It is extra interesting when we consider the name (Ishmael) as it is connected to the Abrahamic religions. First, the name is often associated with people of little means and few (blood) relational ties – and Melville’s narrator explains that he was both, at the time of the story, “having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore[.]” Second, the name itself can be translated into English as “God has hearkened” – meaning “God (has) listened.” Which begs the question, how can we (mere mortals) not listen?  

“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

 

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given, us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.’”

 

– quoted from “Book 1, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

“I try all things; I achieve what I can.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter LXXIX. The Prairie” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

In a normal year (depending on which study you read and the time period studied), only about 20% – 40% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their desired goals. I know that’s a big gap, but either way you look at it over half of people who make resolutions don’t follow through. There are all kinds of explanations for this, and all kinds of “life hacks” to improve your odds, but ultimately it all comes down to little things. Little things and baby steps can make a big difference. They keep us focused on our intentions and they keep us progressing on the right track – even when there’s a detour. Little things and baby steps even help us appreciate the detour that is actually the scenic route. As we leave a year that was hard for just about everyone – and figure out a way to look forward to what’s to come – I wouldn’t be surprised if the odds are stacked against us.

Daunting thought I know. But, as Tolkien reminds us (in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again), “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” So, think for a moment about the fact that something as small and powerful as a word, or a name, can change the odds in your favor. Now ask yourself: What name would you choose for yourself to indicate how you want to move through this New Year? What’s you symbol, what’s your sign, for this new beginning? What will be your own personal reminder throughout the year and thus, at the end of the year, part of your story?

 

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter XXXIX. First Night-Watch: Fore-Top (Stubb solus, and mending a brace)” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

 

“‘No!” said Thorin. ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!’”

 

– quoted from “Chapter XVIII: The Return” in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Even though many, maybe most, are still struggling with all those we’ve lost and everything we experienced, this last year reinforced the value of friendship, fellowship, kinship and a good laugh shared at the expense of no one. It also made people reevaluate their values – although, again, this is one with which some are still struggling. But, no matter where you are in your journey, I encourage you to never underestimate the power of being nice, smiling, and eating a second dinner (and then dancing or walking it off, you know, Hobbit style).

Keeping that in mind, I just want to say, for the record, that I have not forgotten about those of y’all who are counting the “Days of Christmas.” To catch up, today is the 9th or 10th 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; and “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments.

Note, again, that there are different versions of the list and the last four or five days worth of gifts deviate the most (in type of gift and order) from one version to another – which might be the cause of the effect of people getting all mixed up. In fact, The Journal of American Folk-lore, Volume XXX, No. CXVII (published July-September 1917, edited by Franz Boas), features an article on “Ballads and Songs” (edited by G. L. Kittredge) specifically listing a wide variety of versions that include (but are not limited to): “some part of a juniper tree;” “a-bleating lambs;” “a-bleating rams;” “fiddlers fiddling;” “bulls a-roaring;” “stags a-leaping;” “silver florins;” “golden pippins;” “hounds a-howling” – and a 78-year old singer from Massachusetts who, according to assistant editor Kittredge, forgot the eighth day gift on December 30, 1877.   

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

 

  – The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (2:22 – 5:23, NIV)

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2021 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

 

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

 

– quoted from a letter dated “Midyear’s Day, Shire Year 1418” from Gandalf to Frodo, delivered by Strider/Aragon/Elessar in “Book 1, Chapter 10: Strider” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

### Grace (Enuf) ###

 

Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

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‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

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! ###