jump to navigation

Gazing into Our Self (again) October 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Health, Life, Love, Men, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

NOTE: The following was originally posted on October 24, 2020. Class information has been updated (towards the end of the post).

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

Even in years like this, when I don’t actually teach on the anniversary of the birth of the philosopher of Friedrich Nietzsche, his words creep into my brain. I find myself, on the mat or on the cushion, seeking the form or āsana (“seat”) where power increases and overcomes resistance, so there is happiness. I find myself seeking truth by exploring the realm of “any form of scepticism to which I can reply, ‘Let’s try it!’ But I want to hear nothing more about all the things and questions that don’t admit of experiment.” And, while I definitely consider what makes us stronger, I also consider on what we focus, concentrate, meditate; and how that focus affects us.

Towards the end of the first section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers various ways to meditate – which he later explains (YS 2.11) can destroy the afflicted thought patterns which cause suffering. But towards the end of that list, he seems to throw his hands up and say, “You know what, focus on whatever.” (YS 1.39) Yes, yes, the actual word he uses, abhimata (“well-considered”) is a little more precise than “whatever.” More importantly, however, is that he goes on to tell us “that meditating on different objects leads to different experiences.” (YS 1.41)

And there, again, is our old friend Nietzsche, making us consider into what we gaze!

“[M]y work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Born today in 1632, in Delft, Dutch Republic, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is known as the “Father of Microbiology,” because he gazed long into tiny microscopes and then wrote letters to the Royal Society in London describing what he found. Van Leeuwenhoek was not a scientist, however. Instead, he was a draper who used lenses (as drapers and jewelers do) to see the quality of the material. But he was also a very curious person and so he started playing around with making his magnifying glasses more magnificent. Eventually he developed a (teeny tiny) lens so strong he could see what he called “animalcules.” And those “tiny animals,” which we now know as “microbes,” were everywhere! On his fine linen, on his tables and chairs, on his skin, in his body, on (and in) his family and friends – even in the air he breathed.

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek observed unicellular organisms as well as multicellular organisms (in pond water). He was the first to observe and document muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa, red blood cells, and blood flowing in capillaries. In part because he wasn’t a scientist, and in part because no one else had observed such things, people were a little skeptical. The thing was (and is), his observations could be duplicated. Other people could see what he saw – using his super strong lenses that magnified up to 275 times.

To add a certain level of credibility, van Leeuwenhoek allowed people to believe he spent all day and all night grinding glass and then peering into it. And, in fact, he did make about hundreds of lenses of various intensities and at least 25 different types of single-lens microscopes. It did not, however, take as much time as he led people to believe. He was after all, a businessman who had a shop to run. Sometimes, however, credibility comes down to illusion.

“People who look for the first time through a microscope say now I see this and then I see that and even a skilled observer can be fooled. On these observations I’ve spent more time than many will believe, but I’ve done them with joy, and I’ve taken no notice those who have said why take so much trouble and what good is it?”

– Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Today in 1926, the internationally acclaimed Harry Houdini performed his last show. He was at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan, performing with a 104˚ fever, cold sweats, and acute appendicitis. Additionally, he had fractured his left ankle when a piece of equipment accidentally struck him on October 11th and then, on Oct 22nd, a student at Montreal’s McGill University punched him in the stomach before he could brace himself. (Note: The student wasn’t trying to hurt Houdini, but instead wanted to see for himself if the illusionist could resist hard punches.) After the show in Montreal, Houdini complained of stomach pain; but the show must go on. He collapsed after the show in Michigan and was rushed to Grace Hospital, where he died in Room 401 on Halloween.

People were, and continue to be, fascinated by Harry Houdini’s life and death. To this day, people hold séances on Halloween night in an attempt to contact his spirit. James “The Amazing” Randi, a famous magician and (perhaps the most famous) skeptic, died on October 20th at the age of 92. He broke some of Houdini’s records and was one of the co-founders of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which endeavors to debunk some larger than life myths and promotes (observable) science in classrooms. I’m guessing his husband, Jose, is not of the same mindset as Houdini’s wife, Bess, who set up the first Halloween séance 10 years after Harry Houdini’s death. However, I’m betting someone still tries to contact him, because wouldn’t that be the ultimate coup: winning The Amazing Randi’s $1M prize by successfully contacting his spirit.

“Magical thinking, you know, is a slippery slope. Sometimes it’s harmless enough, but other times it’s quite dangerous. Personally, I’m opposed to that kind of fakery, so I have no kinds of reservations at all about exposing those people and their illusions for what they really are.”

– James “The Amazing” Randi

James Randi, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Friedrich Nietzsche, and even Harry Houdini encouraged us to consider our thinking. Why can we be fooled and why do we sometimes not believe what is right in front of ours. There is also the question of what do we believe and what do we want to believe. All things that can best be answered by gazing long into ourselves – and this, again and again, is what Patanjali recommended.

One of the niyamās (“internal observations”) is svādhyāyā (“self-study”) which is a form of discernment whereby we look at ourselves – our thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, or even historical scenarios. In explaining the benefits of this type of internal observation, Patanjali references “bright being(s),” “angel(s),” or “God” (depending on the translation). It’s not the first, not the last time, Patanjali references something higher than our physical form. Each time, however, he is very deliberate about the word he uses. During the practice, I often say, “God – whatever that means to you at this moment” and, in the case of Yoga Sūtra 2.44 we have an opportunity to really focus, concentrate, meditate on what that means to us, and why it matters.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

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

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 24th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’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.

Check out this post if you’re interested in reading a little more about Harry Houdini’s last month.

### LOOK HERE, LOOK INSIDE HERE! ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

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

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

 

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

 

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

 

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.'”

 

 

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

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

 

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

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

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

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

 

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

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

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

What Does It Mean to You? (a “missing” 2-for-1 post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is a 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, September 26th and for Monday, September 27th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

 

During Sukkot, people are commanded to be happy. But what does happiness even mean? Happiness is, after all, a really personal thing, a really personal experience. I can ask, “What do you need to be happy?” But it would be really ignorant to believe that if I surround myself with the things and people that “make you happy” that I will also be happy. In fact, that’s an example of several different types of avidyā (“ignorance”) and klişţa (dysfunctional/afflicted) tendencies that lead to suffering. Furthermore, if you’ve studied a little philosophy, especially a little Eastern philosophy, you know it’s a trick question; because you know that happiness is a state of mind. So, it is more important to know (a) what you value and appreciate and (b) what happiness means to you (at this moment and in any given moment).

As I’ve mentioned before, Hod, the fifth sefirot  or attribute of the divine on the Tree of Life, translates into English as “humility,” “gratitude,” “splendor,” and “glory.”  Thinking of all of those together gives us some insight into what it means to be thankful – in other words, pleased, relieved, and grateful. To be grateful is to feel and/or show an appreciation for a kindness or courtesy. Gratitude, then, is defined as the “quality of being thankful; [the] readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Finally, appreciation is the defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” Even though anyone can say “thank you,” for the smallest demonstration of kindness – and we absolutely must as it is a way of returning some of that kindness – it can sometimes feel like a throwaway line. A true expression of gratitude, however, includes a little detail to demonstrate “a full understanding” of why something or someone is valued.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

The Talmud says:

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Once we establish what we value and appreciate, we can look at happiness as the embodied expression of our enjoyment and appreciation. Then, too, we must recognize that “happiness” (whatever that means to you at this moment) is not one-size-fits-all. For some people, happiness is an ecstatic kind of joy. For others, it is “just not being miserable.” Then there is every experience in between – plus the fact that the way we experience happiness today may not be the way we experienced happiness yesterday or the way we will experience it tomorrow.

At the Happiness Studies Academy (HAS), where you can get a certificate in “Happiness Studies,” the experience that is happiness falls into the rubric of positive psychology, which is defined as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” In other words, scholars like HAS co-founder Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar are concerned with the interdisciplinary science of living a good life – whatever that means to you at this moment. As I mentioned on Saturday, October 25th, the anniversary of the creation and initial approval of the United States Bill of Rights (in 1789), the founding fathers had definite ideas about what was needed in order for the citizens of their new nation to experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Similarly, the Buddha expressed ideas about what a person needs to be happy and the HAS definition fits the Buddha’s teachings on the happiness of a householder. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, summarizes the overall Buddhist concept of happiness as “not suffering” or being free of suffering. Then there is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (an October baby), whose ultimate meaning is not exactly like Patanjali’s instructions in the Yoga Sūtras; and yet, sounds very similar to YS 2.46 (“sthirasukham āsanam”). In both cases, there is an emphasis on finding balance between effort and relaxation (i.e., power without resistance).

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome.”

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

One thing to remember, when applying Nietzsche’s words to our physical practice (or to society), is that there is resistance in too much power. Think about a power lifter who has very muscular arms and legs. They might have some flexibility in their spine and hips, but their most muscular parts tend to be their least flexible parts. So, while they might be able to move easily in one direction, they might find it really hard to move in a direction that is counter to the way they have trained their body. Furthermore, finding balance between effort and relaxation, finding that state where there is power without resistance, is not just physical; it requires mental and emotional effort as well. Happiness, after all, is a mind-body-spirit experience.

Science has shown that our propensity for happiness is based on a cocktail of genetics, personality, and attitude. That mixture of elements combined with our circumstances creates what was referred to by Drs. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell as a “hedonic treadmill” (or “hedonic adaptation”), whereby as our circumstances change our expectations (and desires) also change – creating a baseline for happiness. Accordingly, research in positive psychology shows that regardless of how extreme an event is (e.g., we win the lottery or experience a debilitating accident) people return to their happiness baseline (or “hedonic set point”) in a relatively short period of time. We just need recover time.

During that recovery time there are things that promote good mental, emotional, and physical health. In fact, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Six Tips for Happiness” encapsulate the best ways we can spend our time if we want to cultivate happiness, including: eating well, sleeping, staying hydrated, exercising, and the practices of acceptance and gratitude. Some of those things we may not always want to do, but we feel better when we do them. We also may or may not (automatically) feel grateful for what has happened to us, but not being grateful for something is definitely detrimental. Furthermore, science has shown that even thinking about something for which we could be grateful is beneficial.

The benefits of thinking, contemplating, and/or meditating on “positive” emotions are some of the reasons why Matthieu Ricard, (10/7/2020) considers happiness a skill. M. Ricard is a French Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as a translator for the 14th Dalai Lama and has been called “the happiest man in the world.” He is also one of the monks whose brain has been observed and studied to learn the clinical benefits of meditation. What researchers have learned about M. Ricard’s brain, however, is about more than just mindfulness. While hooked up to 256 electrodes, the brains of Matthieu Ricard and the other mediators indicated that even adult brains have some neuroplasticity and, therefore, can be changed. The research shows that we can not only change our brains; it shows that in doing so we can change our baseline for happiness.

M. Ricard equates changing one’s baseline for happiness to training for a marathon. It’s about pacing and using the appropriate techniques. In the documentary “A Joyful Mind,” Dr. Richard Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, states that brain scans indicate someone new to meditation can meditate 30 minutes a day over a 2-week period and see a change in brain activity. If you specifically want to change your baseline for happiness, one of the most effective “training techniques” is cultivating benevolent thoughts – like meditating on loving-kindness and compassion (which takes us right back to Tolstoy’s answer of “do that person good”). Another effective method for changing your happiness baseline is giving thanks.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

 

Last year, when World Mental Health Day (Oct 10th) fell during Sukkot, I mentioned that happiness could be considered an aspect of good mental health. I also mentioned that The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” I ultimately concluded that when we look at happiness through this mental health lens, “happy people,” just like people with good mental health, are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues and/or when unhappy. This is consistent with the Yoga Philosophy.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg made the same observation in 48 Ways to Wisdom in “Way #27: Happiness,” when he dispelled certain myths about happiness and contentment by pointing out that a happy person has the energy and inclination to do things like spontaneously go for a boat ride. The unhappy person, however, only seems to have the energy and inclination to stay stuck in a downward spiral. Here, again, it is important to remember that if we don’t have a recovery period – after experiencing something really good or something really tragic – any one of us can get stuck in that downward spiral.

Just as we can raise our baseline for happiness, circumstances can lower our baseline. In either case, there is a change in brain chemistry as well as in behavior. We may welcome the physiological changes that come from being a happier person. However, if our baseline is going down, we may find we need some help – possibly even some professional help – in order to get ourselves and our baseline back to a functioning level. Because, again, the key to happiness fits our mind, body, and spirit.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10102020 World Mental Health Day (also Sukkot 4)”]

 

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

“Give yourself permission to be human.

Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.

Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.

Simplify!

Remember the mind body connection.

Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

 

– quoted from the Harvard University’s Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

 

You can find portions of this post, in slightly different contexts, in the linked posts highlighted above.

 

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

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

### Be Joyful! Whatever that means to you at this moment. ###

Giving Flowers for Now & for Later (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Movies, Music, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. Happy Equinox to all!

 

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 21st. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

 

– quoted from the 2005 University of Maine Commencement Speech by Stephen King

As more and more people pass away at an early age, especially those whose deaths are tragic, we hear the old saying that we should give people their flowers when they are living. Although I can’t find the original source, Anne Frank is often quoted as writing “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.” How scary is that? I mean, to me, the idea that someone could come to the end of their days – or live all of their days – not knowing how much they are loved and appreciated is very scary and unsettling. The human heart can hold a lot of love and a lot of kindness, even a lot of courage, wisdom, and generosity. But, the human heart can also hold its fair share of regret, fear, judgement, hatred, selfishness, self-centeredness and inconsideration.

The aforementioned “negative” sentiments may or may not seem really scary to you, but think about how they are expressed in the world. Then think about how those expressions in the world manifest in books by Stephen King. Born September 21, 1947, Mr. King is an acknowledged expert in horror, suspense, supernatural fiction, who has also written crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels. His (65-and-counting) novels and hundreds of short stories and novellas (like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, from 1982), as well as non-fiction work and have sold hundreds of millions of copies, won hundreds of awards, been adapted into movies and comic books, and creeped the living daylights out of people all over the world. And, it doesn’t matter if you use his first novel, Carrie (1974) or Pet Sematary (1983) or Misery (1987) or (one of my favorites) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), every Stephen King story starts with a “what if” and then proceeds to give us a glimpse into the best and the worst parts of the human heart. And the worst parts can be really scary.

Of course, there is more to Stephen King than scary stories. He is also a musician who has collaborated with artists like Foo Fighters and Bronson Arroyo, as well as John Mellencamp, and played guitar for the Rock Bottom Remainders. He is also a husband, father, grandfather, a Boston Red Sox fan, a philanthropic (and political) activist, and a recovering addict. In addition to inspiring two of his own children to become published authors, he has written books on writing and reportedly “donates [millions every year] to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment,” schools, and arts-related organizations. He and his wife Tabitha King (neé Spruce), who is also an author and activist, support Maine charities and communities through their foundation. They also own a radio station group.

While I haven’t read everything he has ever written, I am a Stephen King fan and I appreciate his work and his life – and I appreciate how both have made me think about my work, my life, and the world-at-large.

“Either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

– quoted from the film the novella “Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption: Hope Springs Eternal” by Stephen King

 

Like Stephen King, Herbert George Wells was born on September 21 (in 1866) and was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction including works of history, satire, biography, and autobiography. While his work also is full of social commentary and glimpses into the human heart, when most people think of H. G. Wells, they think of science fiction like The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), War of the Worlds (1897), and When The Sleeper Wakes (1899). Also like King, Mr. Wells suffered an accident that severely injured one of his legs and left him bedridden for an extended period of time. There are several obvious differences between the two accidents, including the fact that Stephen King’s happened when he was a successful adult writing about writing; while young “Bertie” suffered his accident as an eight year old. But, the very advice Mr. King gives in On Writing – to read as much as possible – is the very experience that led Mr. Wells to write (a hundred years later).

H. G. Wells got people to think. He got people to think, “What if…?” He inspired authors and scientists like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Carl Sagan, Ursula Le Guin, Sinclair Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Margaret Atwood. He predicted a world war, the atomic bomb, and wrote about a “world brain,” which was basically an encyclopedia accessible by the entire world through another of his fantastical ideas (let’s call it an electronic web). He also wrote about aircraft, tanks, space travel, and satellite television that had not yet been invented.

He was also a husband and a father, possibly even a grandfather; however, with all due respect, he seems to have been more of a philanderer than a philanthropist. While some of his actions set women back, he predicted the sexual revolution and, perhaps, even inspired it. Again, I haven’t read all of his books – or indulged in all of the movies, radio plays, and comic book adaptations – but I appreciate the worlds that he built and how they make us think about the world we are building.

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

 

– H. G. Wells

My third bouquet of gratitude flowers goes to Leonard Cohen, also born on September 21 (in 1934), an award winning musician and poet, whose songs are psalms, sacred songs, for the human heart. A Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ), he started out as an author or poetry and prose, who even had some of his drawings published with his written words. His professional music career didn’t start until he was in his early thirties; however, despite what some might consider a late start, he proceeded to create fifteen studio albums in nearly fifty years and wrote songs that would become chartbusters for himself as well as for singers like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (who is the father of Mr. Cohen’s granddaughter), and Jennifer Warnes. He also inspired bands likes Nirvana and U2, collaborated with Phillip Glass, and co-wrote (and/or had music featured) in several films, including the rock musical Night Magic (which he co-wrote with composer Lewis Furey).

Mr. Cohen was a father, who collaborated with his son on an album and his daughter on a musical video and on one of his world tours. While he studied (and practiced) Zen Buddhism as an adult – and was even ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk – Leonard Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family with a rich religious heritage and observed the Sabbath “even while on tour and [performing] for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.” He never seemed to shy away from political and social commentary, in his music or in his life. In fact, some of his efforts to support peace efforts and reconciliation in the Middle East were met with discussions of boycotts and, ultimately, withdrawal of some supporting organizations. Despite those discussions of boycotts, however, his 2009 performance in Tel Aviv, Israel (which occurred towards the end of the High Holidays that year) sold out within 24 hours.

Leonard Cohen had style and grace that was evident in his dress and his demeanor, as well as in the way he performed. For instance, there is a powerful moment in the recording of a live performance of “Anthem” (a moment possibly captured by his daughter Lorca) when Mr. Cohen introduces his band to the audience. This is something that is pretty typical for most Class A musicians when they are on tour, but the way it happens at this performance in London epitomizes what it means to give someone their flowers while they are still living. Watching the footage is also like watching a mutual appreciation society in action. The gratitude is a living breathing thing being exchanged between all the people on the stage.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

 

– Leonard Cohen

 

Living and breathing gratitude is a key element in my practice this time of year, because giving thanks is a critical aspect of happiness. In fact, “expressing gratitude” is recommended by experts like Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in Positive Psychology and the author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom, who use to teach a class at Harvard University called “Happiness 101” (also known as Psychology 1504). In his class and through his research, he offered the following 6 very practical tips for cultivating happiness:

“1. Give yourself permission to be human.

  1. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.
  2. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.
  3. Simplify!”
  4. Remember the mind body connection.
  5. Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

I share these tips this time of year, because Monday at sunset marked the beginning Sukkot, which many people consider the “Season of Happiness,” because they view the instructions in the Bible as a mandate to be happy. Since the instruction is to be joyful, or rejoice, about things that have yet to happen – blessings yet to come – one has to wonder: How can we be “independently happy” and celebrate something that hasn’t happened yet?

That’s a good question, and the tips above are some of the really good answers. Especially, if you allow your gratitude to ride the waves of your consciousness, almost like a traveler in a time machine.

“‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.’”

 

– quoted from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

Portions of the following were previously posted on October 4, 2020 (see “Sukkot” link above).

In the Torah (and the Christian Old Testament), there are a list of commandments and, mixed into that list, are certain dates the faithful are commanded to observe. We think of them, in the modern context, as “holidays” and they are filled with ritual and tradition. Sometimes the mandate is general and left to interpretation (like when it says in Deuteronomy, “‘… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.’” Other times, however, it is very specific about who, what, when, and even where. Sukkot, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is one of the times where the details are specific – even when they appear vague.

For seven days, 8 in the diaspora, people within the Jewish community and people who observe the commanded holidays, eat, sleep, socialize, and sometimes work in a temporary shelter. The shelter, a sukkah, consists of three walls of any material and a roof made of natural fiber. (Natural being something grown from the earth.) I mentioned last year that it is a holiday that seems tailor-made for the times we find ourselves in – when it is still recommended that people gather outdoors in small groups, maintain a little social distance, and wash their hands. I reiterate this, not to make light of the tradition or the circumstances we find ourselves in; but to reinforce the wisdom of the rituals and the traditions – as well as the fact that things can be sacred even when they are not perfect.

“Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

 

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

 

– quoted from Devarim  – Deuteronomy (16:14 – 15)

 

One of the significant things about Sukkot is that it is a time for people to come together regardless of their circumstances, gender, religion, or political affiliation. It is a time for all to remember challenges of the past; while also celebrating better days ahead. Another especially noteworthy thing about Sukkot is the symbolism behind the rituals. For instance, one of the points of being outside in the most basic of shelters, exposed to the elements, is to remind people of the time when their ancestors were living in simple, temporary shelters when they were exiled in the desert for 40 years. It is also a good time to remember how much we have – as well as the fact that we could be happy with less. Sukkot is a reminder that life can be full, even when it is simple and bare-boned. It is a time of appreciation and it is also about accepting the present moment.

That last part – accepting the present moment – is easy to overlook. However, the commandment specifically states that the celebration occurs in a place chosen by God. In other words, we might not be where we want to be or where we thought we would be. (Hello, 2020 & 2021!) This is something I point out every year, but it was especially pointed out to me in 2016, when the creamery, where I held my 2015 Sukkot retreat was no longer available… and again, in 2017, when it was no longer as easy to schedule time in the church where I held the second retreat… and again, in 2019, when the church camp I had planned to use experienced a fire and had to cancel the bulk of their season. And now, here it is 2020 (& 2021) … once again, things are not as we planned – despite the fact that CP graciously offered to help me plan a 2020 retreat. On the face, it might seem that we are “destined” not to observe this time – and yet, we do, every year… just not necessarily in the place that we thought.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

 

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

 

The Talmud says:

 

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 2.5 for 09212021]

NOTE: YouTube has music from the original movie version of The Time Machine.

 

### Thank you for all that you do! Thank you for just being you!! ###

It Is Happening Again… August 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“The dwarves were still passing the cup from hand to hand and talking delightedly of the recovery of their treasure, when suddenly a vast rumbling woke in the mountain underneath as if it was an old volcano that had made up its mind to start eruptions once again. The door behind them was pulled nearly to, and blocked from closing with a stone, but up the long tunnel came the dreadful echoes, from far down in the depths, of a bellowing and a trampling that made the ground beneath them tremble.

 

Then the dwarves forgot their joy and their confident boasts of a moment before and cowered down in fright. Smaug was still to be reckoned with. It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter XII. Inside Information” of The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Most times, when I refer to this passage from The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, I only use the last sentence. It’s one that Dr. Daryl Koehn highlights in Living With the Dragon: Thinking and Acting Ethically in a World of Unintended Consequences, which is all about what happens when we don’t think things through – and, as I mentioned yesterday, I get a little hooked by the times when people (myself included) don’t think things through. However, when I went back to the original text, something else jumped out at me – two things actually: the joy of the dwarves, who are ever present in the moment (or swept up in the joy of the moment) and the anger of the awakening dragon, Smaug.

Of Smaug, who wakes to find dwarves within his den, Tolkien wrote, “His rage passes description – the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted.” This, this emotionally response to the fear of loss/death, was part of the focus last year’s practice on this date.

This year, however, I got to thinking about the fact that it’s not enough to recognize our fears and/or the fact that we may “live near a dragon.” We must also consider what type of person we are. After all, there are people who are so fearful of dragons that, if they can, they avoid living near them. Then there are those people who invite the proverbial dragon to a “tea” party. There are those for whom calculating the effects of living near a dragon are an afterthought. And, also, those who never calculate the effects of living near a dragon. Finally, there are those who are always prepared for the possibility of an enraged dragon waking up in their midst.

It is all too easy, to think that the different types of person/personality are based on experience. However, history teaches us otherwise. We can look at the current public health situation – not (just) the crisis; but the fact that people have had such different reactions and responses to the issues at hand. I could say the same about the issue of guns in America, mental health in America, homelessness in America, racism in America….

I could go on and on, but today – as it has been for the last 16 years, my thoughts make their way to Louisiana, Mississippi, and to the rest of the Gulf Coast. In this case, the dragon(s) is the hurricane(s) that hit today in 2005 (Katrina, Category 5) and 2017 (Harvey, Category 4, on its fifth landfall). Not to mention Hurricane Andrew (Category 5), which dissipated today in 1992. Then there is Hurricane Ida (currently, Category 4, but still moving) which is hitting landfall today… in the same areas that have been decimated not just by the big storm systems I mentioned above, but also by the “dragons” I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If you’re not living near this particular dragon, you can send thoughts and prayers, make donations, volunteer, offer safe haven, and/or generate some good energy. But, keep in mind, for next time: None of us is on a “dragon-free” island in the middle of nowhere.

“‘I’d like to be better prepared. There’s a few things I’m thinking we could have done. But this storm came pretty quick, so you only have the time you have,’ [Nick] Mosca said.”

 

– quoted from the 08/29/2021 Huffington Post article “Hurricane Ida Intensifies To Category 4 As It Barrels Toward Gulf Coast” by Kevin McGill, Jay Reeves

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 29th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08292020 Katrina, Harvey…”]

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.)

### MAY WE ALL BE SAFE & PROTECTED ###

The Roots of Your Story (the Wednesday post) August 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

 

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice. We can sit all night with our friend while he talks about the end of his marriage, and what we finally get is a collection of stories about passion, tenderness, misunderstanding, sorrow, money….”

 

– quoted from the essay “Marketing” in Part III of Broken Vessels: Essays by Andre Dubus

Maty Ezraty once said, “A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).” Life is a little different in that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously progress forward and back (as we learn about each other’s back stories). However, regardless of the order in which we receive the information, take a moment to consider that our minds, bodies, and spirits are always telling us stories. The practice just happens to be a great way to process our stories. What remains to be seen, however, is if we paying attention.

Are we paying attention to our own stories? Are we paying attention to the stories of others? What happens when we “listen” to the sensation, which is the information that relates the story? What happens when, no matter how “woo-woo” it may seem, we trust our intuition and what comes up for us during the practice?

What happens when we dig down deep into the roots of the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other?

“There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me”

 

– quoted from the song “Telling Stories” by Tracy Chapman

 

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.”

 

– Alex Haley

At the beginning of the practice, as we are getting into the first pose – no matter what pose it is – we spend a little time establishing the roots, the foundation, the seat, the āsana. Then we repeat that process, again and again, as we move through the practice. Sometimes, we establish a foundation that works for a whole sequence, which gives us a different understanding of the root system and how everything stacks up from the base, the seat, the āsana (which is the pose). Sometimes, when we come back to a pose, we may pause for a moment and consider what’s changed, what’s shifted, and whether the original foundation still serves us. Sometimes we may find that, like roots, we need to spread out a little. If we spread out a little, add a prop, and/or bring another part of our body to the floor or a prop, then we are adding to our āsana, our seat, our foundation, our roots.

Adding to our roots, sometimes allows us to go deeper into our stories. The deeper we go, the more stories we find. The more stories we find, the more stories we can share.

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

We may not always realize, but we are actually telling a multitude of stories any given time. There is the physical story of who we are and what we’re doing in this moment; which is also the story of what we’ve done in past moments and may tell a little bit about our future moments. Then consider the mental story – which is inextricably tied to the physical story – and the emotional story, which is also tied to the mind-body story. There’s also, sometimes, a symbolic story based on the stories and attributes associated with the poses. Finally, there is an energetic story.

Actually, I could say that there are energetic stories; because different cultures and sciences have different energetic mapping systems. Yoga and Āyurveda, as they come to us from India, include an energetic mapping system composed of nādis (energy “channels” or “rivers”), marma points or marmāni (“vital” or “vulnerable” points), and chakras (energy “wheels”). The chakras, which are the points where the three primary nādis overlap around the center of the body, correspond with certain parts of the body and certain parts of our lives. In other words, they correspond with certain parts of our stories.

It is not an accident that the parts of our bodies that serve as our primary support (feet, legs, pelvic floor area) are referred to in yoga as our “root chakra” and that it is associated with our foundation in life: our first family, our tribe, our community of birth. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we – literally, metaphorically, and energetically – move through the world. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we build our lives, how we support ourselves, and (even) how we support our relationships and dreams.

“When you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.”

 

Roots is not just a saga of my family. It is the symbolic saga of a people.”

 

– Alex Haley

I often point out that just as we can be genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Just as someone who is adopted can find it beneficial (but challenging) to discover their birth families medical history, many of us can find that it is beneficial – but challenging – to discover the history of our ancestors: where they came from, what languages they spoke, what food they ate, what experiences informed their society. When we are able to uncover those stories, we gain insight into our own lives.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone and their mother can take a DNA test and discover some information about their family history, their roots. Of course, there will still be some unknowns and, if there’s no paper trail, there may be a lot of unknowns. Go back fifty or sixty years, before such tests were readily available to the public, and most African Americans in the United States had little to no hope of knowing their families back stories. Sure, there were family legends and bits and pieces of folklore that had been verbally passed down, but one never really knew how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even if, as is the case in my family, people lived long lives and there were family cemeteries, the legacy of slavery created a multigenerational novel with several chapters ripped out.

Born in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921, Alex Haley wanted to recover the ripped out chapters of his family’s story. His father, Simon Alexander Haley, was a professor of agriculture at several southern universities whose parents had been born into slavery (after being fathered by their mother’s slave owners). His mother, Bertha George Haley (née Palmer), was also the descendant of slaves and often told him stories about their ancestors. As was expected by his family, young Alex started college, but then dropped out and joined the United States Coast Guard. It was during his 20 years in the Coast Guard, that Alex Haley started his career as a writer.

Alex Haley is remembered for works like the 1965 Autobiography of Malcolm X and his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as well as Queen: The Story of an American Family (which was completed by David Stevens after Mr. Haley’s death), but he started off by writing love letters on behalf of his fellow sailors. Eventually he wrote short stories and articles for American magazines and, after World War II, he transferred into journalism where he was designated petty officer first-class (in 1949). He earned at least a dozen awards and decorations and the position of Chief Journalist was reportedly created for him. It was a position he held (along with the designation of chief petty officer) until he retired (in 1959).

After he retired, Alex Haley continued to make a name for himself by conducting interviews for Playboy. He was known for interviewing the best and the brightest in the African American community. In addition to his interviews with Malcolm X (which became his first book), he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., football legend Jim Brown, and even Quincy Jones – who would compose the music for the movies made out of Alex Haley’s books. He also interviewed famous people (who were not Black)  like Johnny Carson and notorious people (who were not Black) like the Neo-Nazi politician George Lincoln Rockwell and Malvin Belli, the attorney who defended Jack Ruby.

When he started tracing his own family roots, Alex Haley interviewed family members and even traveled to Gambia (in West Africa) to interview tribal historians. Of course, there were still holes in the story and whole (cough, cough) passages missing. So, Mr. Haley decided to braid together what he could verify and what he was told with what he could imagine. Since his life experience was so vastly different from that of his ancestors, he decided to book passage on a ship traveling from the West African coast of Liberia to America – and, in order to more fully experience “middle passage,” he slept in the hold of the ship wearing only his underwear. During the 10 years that it took him to complete the novel that he initially called Before This Anger, Alex Haley supported himself as a public speaker at universities, libraries, and historical societies.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, Mr. Haley’s finished product Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a bestselling novel that has been translated into almost 40 languages, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was adapted into a 12-hour television miniseries that was one of the most watched television events in history. The book ignited an interest in genealogy (particularly for African Americans) and spawned a second mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations, as well as a second book, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen, about Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother – who was a mixed child born into slavery – was also made into a much anticipated mini-series. The 1993 series was so anticipated that while I barely remembered that Halle Berry starred as “Queen,” I distinctly remember driving on I-45 between Dallas and Houston on a Sunday night and stopping at a motel to because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the series. I didn’t want to miss any part of the story that could have just as easily been my family’s story.

“Racism is taught in our society, it is not automatic. It is learned behavior toward persons with dissimilar physical characteristics.”

 

– Alex Haley

In some yoga practices, when we are on our backs with legs crossed, I might call the position “Eagle Legs” or “Garudāsana Legs.” However, in some styles and traditions, like in Yin Yoga, the same position would be called “Twisted Roots.” All of us, especially in America, have twisted roots – ways in which we may not realize we are connected, ways in which we may not realize our stories overlap. In the pose, the position of the legs engages the hips – what I often refer to as “the energetic centers of our relationships.” Our hips are energetically and symbolically associated with our second chakra, also known as our “sacral” (and “sacred”) chakra, and the relationships we make outside of our first family, tribe and community of birth. It is here that we, quite literally in Sanskrit, find our “[self] being established.” Again, it is no coincidence that the twisted roots in our lives engage – and bring awareness to – our connections to those we perceive as being different from us.

This is where we start to notice how our stories overlap.

On the surface, it might appear that Alex Haley and Andre Jules Dubus II have very little in common outside of a birthday, a nationality, and a profession. Mr. Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 11, 1936. While Alex Haley was the oldest child and traced his heritage to African Cherokee, Scottish, and Scottish-Irish ancestors, Andre Dubus II was the youngest born into a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. Literature and writing were emphasized throughout his school and it was only after he graduated from college – with a degree in journalism and English – that, like Mr. Haley, Mr. Dubus enlisted in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, earned the designation of captain, and eventually earned an MFA in creative writing.

“Wanting to know absolutely what a story is about, and to be able to say it in a few sentences, is dangerous: it can lead to us wanting to possess a story as we possess a cup. We know the function of a cup, and we drink from it, wash it, put it on a shelf, and it remains a thing we own and can control, unless it slips from our hands into the control of gravity; or unless someone else breaks it, or uses it to give us poisoned tea. A story can always break into pieces while it sits inside a book on a shelf; and, decades after we have read it even twenty times, it can open us up, by cut or caress, to a new truth.”

 
― quoted from the essay “A Hemingway Story” in Meditations from a Movable Chair: Essays by Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus II spent most of his adult life teaching literature and creative writing, but also earned recognition for his short stories and novellas, as well as at least one novel. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as several PEN Awards. His works include the 1979 short story “Killings,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards (with Sissy Spacek winning for “Best Actress – Drama”) and the novellas We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Adultery, which were combined and adapted into the movie We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He also wrote Broken Vessels: Essays; Dancing After Hour: Storiess; and Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays. Like Alex Haley, some of Mr. Dubus’s work appeared in Playboy. Additionally, both men were married three times (although Andre Dubus II had twice as many children*). While the works of both men include love and hope overcoming tragedy, challenges, and horrific hardships, the source of their tragedy, challenges, and hardships were very different.

Well, ok, this first part is similar: Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II was affected by the rape of a relative. In the latter case, it was one of his own daughters and his daughter’s experience left him traumatized. (Years later, he would hear and retell the story of his sister Kathryn’s rape.) He was plagued with fear and paranoia surrounding the safety of his loved ones. His anxiety was so acute that he carried guns with him so that he was prepared to defend his family and friends against any (perceived) threats. His decision to carry multiple guns wherever he went – combined with his fear and paranoia – almost resulted in a second tragedy when he nearly shot a drunk man who was arguing with his son.

(This next part is symbolically similar to an earlier story, because it involves places the writer had never been and tragedy that occurred when strangers were thrown together.)

Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II wanted to go to the places about which he was going to write. He wanted to put himself in the shoes and on the path of his characters. So, he drove to Boston to check out some bars. Driving home that night, Wednesday, July 23, 1986, along I-93  between Boston and his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Mr. Dubus saw a couple of stranded motorists: a brother and a sister, Luis and Luz Santiago. None of them knew it at the time, but a motorcyclist had suffered a personal heartbreak, gotten drunk, crashed his bike, and then abandoned it in the middle of the road. Despite his anxiety, paranoia, and fear of strangers, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Dubus hesitated to help the Puerto Rican siblings in need. Neither does it appear that he hesitated (later) to help the drunk motorcyclist.

Tragically, after he stopped to help them move their car off of the highway, someone hit Andre Dubus II and the siblings. Luis Santiago died at the age of 23. Luz Santiago survived – because Andre Dubus II pushed her out of the way.  As for Mr. Dubus, his legs were crushed in a way that initially resulted in his left leg being amputated above the knee and eventually led to the him being unable to use his right leg.**

He attempted to use prosthetics, but infections regulated him to a wheelchair. His medical and physical therapy bills stacked up – as did his anxiety, which was now compounded by clinical depression. His community of fellow writers stepped in to help him financially, and even emotionally. A literary benefit sponsored by Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Yates yielded $86,00. But, there was more heartbreak: his third wife left him, taking his youngest two daughters.

Still, he kept writing.

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

 

– Andre Dubus II

Broken Vessels: Essays, which was Pulitzer Prize finalist, contains five sections; however, in a September 1991 review in The Baltimore Sun, Garret Condon indicates that the essays can be divided into two sections: before the accident and after. A similar division can be seen in the whole body of his work as he moved from short stories based on the struggles and victories of the characters he found around him to essays about his own struggles and victories. As Alex Haley did, Mr. Dubus found himself attempting to bridge the gap between what he knew, what he was told, and what he could imagine. Lights of the Long Night braids together the story the 1986 accident as Andre Dubus II remembered it with the memories of the doctor who saved his life and those of Luz Santiago (whose life Mr. Dubus saved). Dancing After Hours: Stories is a collection of short stories full of characters whose lives are marked by a tragic before-and-after. Then there is Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays which depicts Andre Dubus’s personal journey through the trauma, loss, disability, and healing.
 

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.”

 

– quoted from the short story entitled “A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus

“What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or – and he wished this – did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it?”

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love of stories and storytelling as well as how Maty Ezraty’s perspective shapes my practice. Matthew Sanford is another teacher whose perspective on stories, storytelling, and the practice inspires the way I process through the practice. His story, like Andre Dubus’s story, overlaps life before and after a car accident that left him without mobility in his legs. In the introduction to his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions defined “healing stories” as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco, to help people get in touch with the stories they hold in their mind-bodies.

When I think about our “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves and each other – I think about how those stories serve us, how they help us live and love more fully. When I come across someone whose story is different from mine, I question what they take away from their story – and then I question what I take away from mine… especially when our stories overlap. I consider what either one of us knows (and can verify) and how those facts and/or recollections are braided together with what we have been told and what our brains have imagined to fill in the missing gaps. When I question in this way, I sometimes I walk away from a conversation or a meditation and think “That story should be a bestseller.” Other times… Other times I think, “That’s a first draft. It needs more information and a rewrite.”

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

 

– Alex Haley

ERRATA: *To avoid confusion, I specifically did not mention the names of Andre Dubus II’s parents. However, despite my best efforts to not confuse the writer/father (Andre Jules Dubus II) with the writer/son (Andre Jules Dubus III), I misspoke during the 4:30 PM practice and attributed House of Sand and Fog to the wrong author. The novel was written by the son, Andre Jules Dubus III, and while author and book were awarded and nominated for several prestigious prizes, it was not listed for the Man Booker Prize, which was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction when the novel was published. ** Also (and this is strike three), after reviewing some pictures of Andre Dubus II, I realized that I mixed up his injuries. As indicated above, his left leg was the amputated leg. Please forgive the errors.
 

NOTE: The motorcyclist who got drunk and abandoned his motorcycle on the freeway in 1986 was not (physically) involved or injured in the subsequent accident. He was charged for leaving the scene of the accident and served at least a year. In interviews, Andre Dubus indicated that the man took responsibility for his action and that he (Dubus) spoke on his behalf during the sentencing. The man had gotten drunk after his wife abandoned him and their children – a story that overlaps Mr. Dubus’s own stories of marriage, infidelity, and bad coping mechanisms. While he was able to forgive the motorcyclist, because he took responsibility for his actions, Andre Dubus II was not so forgiving of the person driving the car that hit them. The driver was sober, but (according to Mr. Dubus) never made any attempt to contact him or (as far as he knew) Luz Santiago.

 
 

### Tell me your story… ###

First Friday Night Special #10: “Reflect + Remember” (a post practice post) August 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

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.]

“Your thoughts are happening, just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you’re doing is watching it. 

 

Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation. You allow your breath to run just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And the notice a curious thing about this. You say in the ordinary way, I breathe. Because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So, the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntary and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand I am doing it, and on the other hand, it is happening to me. And that is why breathing is a most important part of meditation, because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening.”

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

Our breath is a symbol of our life, a symbol of our life-force, and a symbol of our spirit. I say something to that affect almost every day. Yet, when that first part is combined with the perspective offered by Alan Watts, it takes on a slightly different (maybe even deeper connotation): Life is happening. Life is happening to us. Life is happening all around us. Life is a happening…whether we are engaged in it or not. But, before we start rushing off to do…life (or anything else); I just want to pause for a moment and consider the three parts of the breath.

Just breathe. Do that 90-second thing. Let your breath naturally flow in and naturally ebb out. Notice where you feel the breath; where it naturally goes – where there is awareness and presence, where it’s happening. Also, notice where there is resistance – where maybe you need to cultivate awareness, where something different is happening.

One thing you may notice, if you practice, is that pretty much every type of “breathing exercise” is an exaggeration of a natural breathing pattern. There are situations when we are breathing deeply, richly. The mind-body is focused and relaxed. Other times, we may find ourselves panting, short of breath. The mind-body may still be focused, but in this second case it is also agitated. There are times when our inhale is longer than our exhale and still other times when our exhale is longer than our inhale. There are moments in life when we find we are holding our breath – retaining the inhale or the exhale – and other times when we sigh a heavy breath out. And every one of these natural breathing patterns occurs because of something that happens in/to the mind-body.

Remember: What happens to the mind happens to the body; what happens to the body happens to the mind; and both affect the breath. In turn, what happens to the breath affects the mind and the body. In our practice, we harness the power of the breath in order to harness the power of the mind and body.

To actively and mindfully harness the power of the mind-body-spirit we have to cultivate awareness. The thing is, when you take a moment to focus, concentrate, meditate – even become completely absorbed by the breath – you may start to notice that just cultivating awareness changes the way you breathe (just as cultivating awareness can change the way you sit or stand, walk or talk). Bringing awareness to how you breathe in certain situations – or even when thinking/remembering certain situations – can give you insight into what’s happening to your mind-body. That insight provides better information for decision-making. So that you can respond in the most skillful way possible, instead of just reacting.

In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is pay attention to our breath – and figure out what we need to do to keep breathing. Because that’s what we do: We breathe.

Remember: As long as we are breathing, we are alive; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to live, learn, grow, love, and really thrive. So, the first question(s) to ask yourself in a stressful and challenging situation is: What’s happening with my breath and what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?

A key element to practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”) is to observe what happens to your mind, your body, and (yes) your spirit/breath when you are in certain situations. You may notice what thoughts and/or emotions come up when you hear passages from sacred text. You may notice how your body reacts to certain music/sounds. You may notice how your breathing changes in certain poses and/or sequences. You may notice how your mind-body-spirit reacts when you imagine yourself (figuratively) walking in the footsteps of a historical or fictional person. You may notice any other combination of the above. You can also practice this important niyama (internal “observation”) by bring awareness to what happens when you remember a moment in (your) history.

Maybe the memory is something that seems to randomly pop up in your mind when you’re practicing or maybe, like with Marcel Proust, when you bite into a biscuit. Or, perhaps, as happened in the August 6th “First Friday Night Special,” it’s a memory that is brought to your awareness specifically so that you can notice your breath, notice your body, and notice your mind. Perhaps, as we do in the practice, you observe what happens when you start watching yourself reacting to the memory. Finally, you ask the last half of the question: “… what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?”

Or, better yet, “What do I need to do, in this moment, to keep taking the deepest breath I’ve taken all day?” Because that’s the practice and that’s what we do.

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

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

Here are the “memories” (and associated contexts) I shared during the “First Friday Night Special” on August 6th. Before we reached this point in the (Zoom and recorded) practice, we spent some time using the senses to get grounded in the moment; did some gentle movement to prepare the mind-body to be still in an upright position (when accessible); and practiced a little 1:1 and then 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base).

For most people, reading through the list will be a different experience than hearing each one in turn. Still, take your time. Also, give yourself time to not only breathe, but to notice the breath in the mind and in the body.

This is not about thinking about these situations or creating/telling the story. It’s about noticing how you feel and how that translates into a breathing pattern. Then, the practice becomes about noticing what changes through observation. Yes, you can engage the breath (by controlling it, even sighing). However, I encourage you to just let the breath naturally flow in and freely ebb out – and just watch what happens as you watch it. Don’t force anything. Go with the flow. If you find yourself holding on (to anything), your breath and awareness are the tools you use to let go before moving on to the next item.

  • A year ago this weekend, my mother passed. Like so many other people who have experienced an unexpected loss of a loved one, the anniversary brings certain feelings, emotions, thoughts…vibrations. There is still sadness and grief – among other things/sensations that are part of life.
    • Take a moment, especially if you have experienced such a loss, to notice what happens when you continue to breath – to live. Consider that grief comes not because we loss someone (or something), but because we loved and were loved. Let all of that wash over you.

  • A year and a few months ago, George Floyd was killed and his murder was a watershed moment in the United States and in the world. Everyone had and continues to have a different experience around what happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 (just as many people had and continues to have different feelings around what happened in Central Park on the same day).
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel, right now, as your remember, the moments between then and now. Is there any tightness? Any resistance? What happens when you notice the tightness and/or resistance? What happens when you don’t notice tightness and/or resistance? Let any judgement wash over you.

  • Nearly a year and a half ago – almost 2 years ago for some people outside of the United States – the world started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel thinking about that? What’s happening with body, your mind, your breath? How does it feel to be where you are in the ever-changing process that is life given this global health crisis (and that fact that we are all in different places/stages related to it)? What do you need to do to keep breathing? Maybe, this is a good time to sigh a breath (or two) out.

  • 56 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The law came about after protests and marches – and so much violent resistance directed at those peacefully resisting. It also came about after private citizens implored President Johnson to take action and after he spoke, passionately, to Congress. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law. Yet, to this day, the Voting Rights Acts are still being challenged and still being defended.
    • What comes up for you when you think about all the efforts that led up to the Act and all that has transpired in the meanwhile? How are you breathing?

  • 76 years ago today, on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM (local time), the United States Army Air Forces’ Enola Gray dropped the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. Buildings and trees were destroyed. Approximately 80,000 people were killed on impact. Another 35,000 died over the next week and an additional 60,000 over the next year. Thousands more suffered for the rest of their lives. Three days later, at 11:01 AM (local time) on August 9th, the United States Army Air Forces’ Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb (designated “Fat Man”) on Nagasaki and thousands more died. You may have learned that the bombs were dropped in response to or retaliation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have learned that the U. S.’s attack on Japan helped to end World War II and the Holocaust, thereby saving thousands of lives. Around the world, these historical events are taught in very different ways. So, you may or may not have learned that some people say the war was already ending. You may or may not have learned that Nagasaki was not initial target for the second atomic bomb and that, in fact, the flight crews on the bomber and its escorts had already started the contingency plans that involved dropping the bomb in the ocean – which would have saved thousands of lives.
    • What happens when you remember what you already knew? What happens when you think of something you didn’t previously know or remember? What do you need to do, in this moment, to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out?

  • 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed Union forces to seize Confederate property during the Civil War. This “property” included slaves and one of the intentions of the act was to free slaves who were in any way attached to the rebellion. Freeing slaves was also part of the intention of the Confiscation Act that Congress passed on July 17, 1862 – which allowed the federal government to free the slaves of any member of the Confederacy (military or civilian) who resided in territory occupied by the Union Army but who had not surrendered within 60 days of the Act passing. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality or the ultimate effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, but he signed them into law anyway; thereby laying a foundation for the legal emancipation of all slaves within the Union.
    • What do you feel and/or think when you consider these Acts of Congress and President Lincoln? Is there any difference in sensation when considering the slaves and/or the Confederacy? Do you experience any tightness and/or resistance around this being mentioned? Is any of the tightness and/or resistance connected to thoughts that arose related to other steps taken to ensure emancipation? What are you feeling with regard to steps taken to deny emancipation?


Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. Spend some time just breathing and observing the breath. You can repeat the 1:1 and 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base), which is a great practice before, during, and after stressful encounters. Finally, take another few minutes to allow the breath to naturally flow in and freely ebb out.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

PLEASE NOTE: The playlists begin with music related to Reiki healing energy and they are in a very specific order. If you are uncomfortable using the first two tracks, you can use the Track #3 for your practice or you can loop Track #6 (to play ~3 times). The Spotify app may add extra music – so be mindful of that. As always, you can choose not to use music during this practice. Finally, there is no personal dedication specifically because I selected the Reiki chants for this practice. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or concerns.

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

The Difference A Day Made I (a “missing” post, that is also very timely) July 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[This is the “seriously missing” post for Memorial Day, May 31st, that is also timely. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

 

“Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs.”

 

– Walt Whitman writing about the new game, baseball, in the Brooklyn Eagle (07/23/1846)

 

Those are the words of Walt Whitman. Born May 31, 1819, the “Bard of Democracy” who is also known as the father of “free verse,” was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson to be the voice of America – and he endeavored to do so, to speak for and about all who crossed this land, your land, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, gender, or  anything else. In the preface to Leaves of Grass he wrote, “… read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book…”

Following Whitman’s advice can be a tricky thing, because no one has the same experience on the same day every year; time forces us to overlap experiences. So, while some consider Memorial Day a time “to get better air in our lungs” and a time for holiday sales; others are remembering, memorializing, veterans who were lost during wars and conflicts here and abroad. But, time is tricky, and the fact that Memorial Day doesn’t happen on the exact same date every year, means that (this year) some people were remembering George Floyd – as well as the protests and riots that erupted after he was killed. Still others were remembering a Memorial Day 100 years (and a day) ago – Memorial Day 1921, when a 19-year old shoe shine boy known as Dick Rowland got on an elevator operated by a girl known as Sarah Page (who was reported as being 17 years old, but may have actually been 21) and what happened next set-off a riot and massacre the ramifications of which people are still experiencing today. As we move through the practice, I will endeavor – as Walt Whitman did – to speak for and of those who no longer speak.

Going back as far as the 1800’s, people in the South had regular communion with the dead. You can read more about how those traditions evolved into our modern day observation of Memorial Day here.

No one knows for sure what happened that day, other than that on a holiday when they were both working, “Diamond Dick Rowland” took his only means of transportation to go to a segregated bathroom and something startled Sara, making her scream and him run – after all, she was white, he was Black and they were in an enclosed area.

No one knows for sure what happened but, by all accounts, there was no assault – sexual or otherwise – committed by Dick (who was Black) and Sara (who was white) never claimed that there was. However, there were rumors and innuendo, and “Diamond Dick” was arrested. A front page story in the Tulsa Tribune stated that he was arrested for sexual assault and – as was a common occurrence at the time, when a Black man or boy was arrested (especially if it was related to the harming of a white woman or girl) – a lynch party gathered at the jail. In this case, the sheriff (Willard McCullough) told the group to go home that their presence was unnecessary. He even moved the young man in order to protect him (and possibly kept him hidden even after the riots).

Another thing that was different was the presence, in segregated Tulsa, of a prominent Black community – a thriving community of businesses and residences that, in some ways, was independent of the white community. Established in 1906 by O. W. Gurley (who relocated during the 1889 Land Rush), the area was called the Greenwood District and it sat in Indian Territory. Today, we remember it is as “Black Wall Street.” Some members of this Black community, including some World War I veterans newly returned from the war, showed up to support and protect one of their own. Of course, conflict arose, a shot was fired, someone died, and in a matter of hours – from May 31st to June 1st – a whole community was destroyed.

Ted Turner’s CNN (Cable News Network) premiered Sunday, June 1, 1980, at 5 PM EST; making it the first 24-hour news channel and the first all-news television in the United States. While other news channels made fun of the new outlet, CNN stayed focused (with the slogan “Go live, stay with it, and make it important.”) and changed the way government made and addressed policy and also the way people interacted with each other and the news. There was no such thing back in 1921, but you can read more about the CNN Effect here.

Martial law was declared. The National Guard came in to squash the violence, but it was too late to save the Greenwood District; too late to save those who had died and too late to save the homes of those who were displaced. The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics and a 2001 Oklahoma state commission both recorded 36 confirmed deaths (26 Black and 10 white) as a result of the Tulsa Massacre. However, historians have offered a wide range of estimated deaths and injuries, estimates that go all the up to 300. The Red Cross repeatedly stated “there was no reliable way of accounting for people that died” and indicated that, because of the ensuing cover-up and mass burials, any recorded numbers were sheer conjecture. However, the Red Cross officially documented and offered estimates of damages: approximately 1,256 houses were burned (some by firebombs dropped by airplanes); 215 others were looted (but not torched); 2 newspapers, a school, and a number of churches, hotels, stores, and black-owned business destroyed or damaged by fire.

Because Tulsa was segregated and the Black Frissell Memorial Hospital (established in 1918) was one of the places that burned down, very few Blacks were actually taken to the hospital. This just added to the confusion. Some people were treated in the basement Morningside Hospital, which had also been established in 1918 (because of the influenza pandemic) and the Red Cross registered 8,624 people (about 2,480 families) as being affected. Of that number, “183 people were hospitalized [see above]; 531 required first aid or surgical treatment;” and 19 people died from their injuries by the end of the year. Additionally, eight miscarriages were attributed to the massacre.

The National Guard helped put out fires, but a lot of their energy was dedicated to rounding up and “capturing” Black Tulsans. By June 2nd, approximately 6,000 Black people were under guard at the fairgrounds and convention hall. An all-white jury blamed the “riot” on “Black mobs” and indicted over 85 individuals, however no one was convicted of anything. Just as happened after public lynchings, photographs of corpses, Black Tulsans being captured, and Black people attempting to recover their belongings from their ravaged homes were turned into postcards.

“When the bullets stopped flying and the fires ceased on June 2, Tulsa Mayor T. D. Evans sent a short communication to the Red Cross Society:

 

‘To the Red Cross Society:

Please establish headquarters for all relief work and bring all organizations who can assist you to your aid. The responsibility is placed in your hands entirely.

T. D. Evans, Mayor’

 

Director of Disaster Relief Maurice Willows arrived in Tulsa with the stated purpose of ‘picking up the fragments – the relief of human suffering – the care of the sick and wounded, and bringing order out of the chaos.”

 

– quoted from the Rediscovering Black History article “‘The Responsibility is Placed in Your Hands Entirely’ – Red Cross Relief after the Tulsa Race Massacre” by Netisha Currie, archives specialist at the National Archives in College Park (which also appeared in The National Council of Social Studies’ Social Education (volume 85, no. 1)

 

The white citizens who actually carried out the destruction were not arrested, as most of them (approximately 400) had been deputized by Police Commissioner J. M. Adkison and Chief of Police John A. Gustafson. Over half of those deputized (at least 250) were also armed by the chief – who would later be investigated for a plethora of corruption violations. The chief of police was ultimately indicted (on five counts) and, on July 30, 1921, found guilty of two counts: failing to stop and conspiracy and fraud/embezzlement in a different situation. He went to jail for the latter count. Since “Diamond Dick” reappears on the jail rosters after John Gustafson’s conviction, some believe the young Black man was kept hidden because of the chief’s corruption (and his part in a previous lynching).

All charges and indictments against “Diamond Dick” were eventually dropped. It is believed that he fled Tulsa after his release at the end of September 1921, possibly with assistance from the Sheriff Willard McCullough and his deputy Barney Cleaver (who had been Tulsa’s first African-American police office – until he was fired by police chief Gustafson). Although no one seemed certain about what happened to “Diamond Dick,” sightings were reported in Kansas City, Missouri; South Omaha, Nebraska; back in Tulsa; and – as late as the 1960’s – in Oregon. Some of the confusion about what happened to the man at the center of the events that lead to the destruction of Black Wall Street may be due to a name change. It has been reported (by several sources, including by Tulsa-based This Land Press in May 2013) that the shoe shining teenager may have actually been named James Jones and that people called him “Jimmie” Jones until he changed his surname to Roland, to honor the adopted grandparents who helped raise him. He appears in the police custody logs as “Dick Rolland” (with an exta “L”), but Dick Roland is the name which appears on his sworn affidavit from September 1921. At some point, he decided he liked Dick more than James or Jimmie – although one classmate said that he also went by “Johnny.” According to This Land Press, the extra “w” in the young man’s name was a mistake made by reporters.

Reports about Sarah Page were just as convoluted – especially after she refused to press charges against “Diamond Dick” (who, again, by all legitimate accounts, didn’t do anything illegal). According to the Tulsa-based Center for Public Secrets, records show a Sarah “Sarie” Elizabeth Beaver born in Arkansas on July 27, 1899, who married and divorced twice – first married to Robert H. Fisk in March 1918 (divorced by January 1920) and then married to Raymond M. Page in Missouri in February 1920. The Pages divorced after a 1-year waiting period, in 1921, and Sarah’s divorce petition was served by Tulsa County Sheriff Willard McCullough (yes, the one and only), who would falsely malign her character. Her second divorce was decreed on June 4, 1921 at which point she returned to Missouri and the name “Sarah Bever.” After testifying as a witness during the grand jury investigation into the Tulsa massacre, returned to Tulsa in September 1921 and eventually married Fred E. Voorhies (who had also testified during the grand jury). The 1940 census shows a couple fitting their stats living in California, and having a daughter named Sue. Additional records indicate that lived out their remaining days together.

“On Thursday morning, June 2, 1921, one of Tulsa’s many problems was that of optics. A large chunk of the city had been obliterated in a matter of hours and an embarrassingly large portion of the city’s population had a hand in the obliterating. How this was going to look to outsiders was far from an irrelevant concern for many Tulsans, especially the city’s elite for whom pride in the city’s accomplishments was keen…. Would businesses go elsewhere? Would other ‘better citizens’ from other places look down their noses?”

 

– quoted from The Center for Public Secrets Journal article entitled, “Mask of Atonement: The Plan to Rebuild the Homes of Greenwood” by Randy Hopkins

Efforts to rebuild Black Wall Street were hampered by trauma, a lack of resources, a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the fact that many of the 35 blocks previously designated as the Greenwood District were co-opted by the city. Some Black survivors fled Tulsa and never returned. Those that stayed lived in tents as they tried to rebuild and, subsequently, were referred to as “destitute.” Meanwhile, national news outlets immediately started running front page headlines stating that Tulsa would rebuild the homes, in a way that served as “an atonement for the harm done,” and that Tulsa would serve as an example for other cities in the country. Public fundraising efforts kicked off immediately, but barely any of the funds made it to the Greenwood residents and, by June 4th, the Associated Press was telling major news outlets not to donate. A committee of seven, which would eventually name itself the Board of Public Welfare, was referred to as the “reparations committee” – knowing good and well there were no reparations, because they were not only telling people not to donate, they were returning some of the donations.

While city officials were publicly applauded for assisting the impoverished, white developers (with the backing of the mayor) attempted to enact city (fire) ordinances and get new zoning in place that would have prevented Blacks from rebuilding in what was considered prime real estate. The Oklahoma Supreme Court deemed the primary ordinance unconstitutional; but, constantly battling restrictions in how and what residents could build created more and more setbacks. It was also demoralizing. Even though they were backed and supported by their “angels of mercy” (as the called the Red Cross), Black residents found themselves up against the interests (and substantial efforts) of the mayor and the all-white reconstructing committee that wanted a larger “industrial” separation between the races.

The committee wanted Black residents to sign over their land to a holding company so that the land could be appraised by a white appraisal committee, which would then pay the Black citizens at the lower industrial-zoned value – even though the property was residentially zoned. Naturally, the Black citizens balked; but, to little avail. By the time the Red Cross pulled out of Tulsa, 700 “semi-permanent buildings and homes” had been constructed, but 49 families were still living in “tent-homes.” Over the next decade, a smaller, less elegant Black Wall Street emerged. The difference in size was partially due to the fact that city officials expanded earlier plans for a small rail hub. They used the destruction of Black Wall Street as an excuse to construct Tulsa Union Depot, a large rail hub connecting three major railroads traveling through Oklahoma and onward to Missouri, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and California.

The construction of Tulsa Union Depot cost $3.5 million dollars, which was paid by a bond passed in 1927. (And trust me when I tell you don’t want me to get into Tulsa’s history with bonds right now.) The Depot was hailed as “the single best [Public Works Administration] symbol of hope for economic recovery during the bleak days of the depression” and opened in 1931 to crowd of at least 60,000 people. It operated as a train station until 1967; was purchased by a private company in 1980; and was renovated (by the same contractor company that built it). In 1983, it re-opened as a privately held office complex. In 2004, the county purchased the building for $2.2 million and used $4 million for renovations. After an internal transfer (between different divisions within the county), the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) signed a 99-year lease with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The Jazz Hall’s lease was for $1, with the stipulation that they would pay (the city) for operating expenses. As of 2020, the space was in the middle of a legal dispute that will ultimately cost millions to resolve.

I don’t know if you’re keeping track, but that last paragraph detailed almost $10 million that was spent on something other than rebuilding the Greenwood District – and it does not account for any revenue earned by the city because of the depot. In many ways, you could say the initiative to build the Depot was the very opposite of Ujamaa (“Cooperative Economics”), the fourth principle of Kwanzaa.

“The extent of aid and relief, as in many aspects of the Red Cross work, stopped short of a supportive hand. Survivors of the massacre were only supplied the lumber to rebuild their homes; for labor they had only themselves to rely on and any other able-bodied friends who could pitch in. Greenwood, once lined with homes ranging from fancy mansions to modest well-kept abodes, resembled a shantytown emerging from a way.”

 

– quoted from the Rediscovering Black History article “‘The Responsibility is Placed in Your Hands Entirely’ – Red Cross Relief after the Tulsa Race Massacre” by Netisha Currie, archives specialist at the National Archives in College Park (which also appeared in The National Council of Social Studies’ Social Education (volume 85, no. 1)

 

Ujamma is in practice when people within a community buy locally, support local businesses and each other – that’s what Black people were doing in the Greenwood District before it was destroyed. That’s what Black people were doing all around the segregated South. Think about it for a moment and it’s easy to see that it’s what’s happening in most ethnic-minority communities around the country. But that local rallying doesn’t happen so much, any more, in African American communities (comprised of the descendants of emancipated Africans) – and the reason why comes back to what happened to Black Wall Street.

But, people’s hesitancy is not just about the devastation that happened in Tulsa in 1921. It’s also about the devastation that happened in Colfax, Louisiana in April of 1873 (when at least 150 Black men were murdered). It’s about the fact that after Black officials were elected in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, white supremacists decided to overthrow the Wilmington government and destroy the press – somewhere between 60 – 300 Black people were killed (Again, exact numbers are hard to ascertain when there’s a cover-up that lasts over 100 years.) It’s also about the Atlanta Massacre in 1906 (when at least 100 people were killed) – as well as what happened in Chicago, Illinois; Knoxville, TN; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; and several dozen cities during the “red summer” of 1919.

The “red summer” included what happened in Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 when Black sharecroppers (who outnumbered their white peers) created a union and white people showed up to riot. One white man was shot and killed at the meeting (at least 4 others were killed as things unfolded); anywhere between 50 to 200+ Black people – including veterans and children were also killed. Many of the Black workers were arrested and tortured until they “confessed” to an insurrection that never happened. The imaginary insurrection that never happened was reported by major news outlets, including the New York Times and Arkansas Gazette. Sixty-seven Black men were convicted by an all-white jury and received sentences from 20 years to life. The trial for twelve additional men lasted about 1 hour; at the conclusion of which, the man had been given the death penalty. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and ensured the exoneration of the “Elaine 12” – exonerations which were partially based on the 14th Amendment.

There was also Rosewood, Florida in 1923 – the history of which sounds a lot like Tulsa, plus 102 years. About 150 Black people were killed, but a grand jury and special prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute any white men that might have been involved in the murders. If you add it up, just using the minimum of the estimates, over 700 people were killed just because they had Black skin and were creating their own little piece of the American dream. Again, that’s the bare minimum and it doesn’t take into account any individuals who were murdered outside of these incidents nor does it include anyone killed during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

– quoted from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

 

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

The Kindest Step (the “missing” Sunday post) July 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Anger is a mental, psychological phenomenon, yet it is closely linked to biological and biochemical elements. Anger makes you tense your muscles, but when you know how to smile, you begin to relax and your anger will decrease. Smiling allows the energy of mindfulness to be born in you, helping you to embrace your anger.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Tools for Cooling the Flames” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I talk to people and/or watch the news these days, I see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and a lot of reasons for people to be angry and frustrated. Even if you don’t feel particularly angry and frustrated right now, you probably are around someone who is feeling one or both of those emotions fairly strongly. So, let’s talk about your anger (and frustration) for a moment. Or, if that feels too personal and raw, let’s talk about my anger and frustration.

I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, all my life, people have told me I have a great smile. But, let’s be real, when I am feeling really anger and frustrated, my smile probably looks kind of feral – almost like I’m going in for the kill, metaphorically speaking. Even with my practices, smiling during a intense moment of conflict can feel like a big, giant leap… which I’ll get into if you don’t mind if we deviate a little (and if you don’t mind the pun). See, before we get into my feelings of anger and frustration – or even why I might not feel comfortable smiling when I am angry – we have to address the two elephants in the room: (1) the idea that I can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because I practice yoga and meditate and (2) the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Let’s start with the latter, because most people in American are familiar with the stereotype of the angry Black woman (ABW). Although I’m not sure exactly when the stereotype came into vogue, it became a standard trope (a literary or entertainment-based pop culture stereotype) during the 1800’s. The popular caricature device of an angry, sassy, rude, and domineering Black woman became even more popular in with the advent of shows like Amos n’ Andy.

First aired on January 12, 1926, as Sam n’ Henry on WGN in Chicago, the radio show featured white actors (Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll) portraying stereotypes of Black people. The series became so popular in the Midwest that the actors wanted to expand it; however, the studio rejected the idea of radio syndication (which didn’t exist at the time). Since WGN owned the rights to the name, Gosden and Correll rebranded their show as Amos n’ Andy, which premiered on March 19, 1928 on WMAQ and became the first radio syndication in the United States. It was eventually carried by approximately 70 stations across the nation.

In 1930, the series spawned toys and a movie, which featured a racially-mixed cast… plus Gosden and Correll in blackface. Then there was a cartoon – still voiced by the original duo. By 1943, the radio show was being produced in front of a live studio audience and featured Black actors and musicians – who were backup performers to the original creators. When the Gosden and Correll started working on a television version of the series, in the late 1940’s, their previous movie and cartoon experience made them decide to move away from blackface (and to also, eventually, reject the idea of lip syncing with Black actors). When the TV show premiered on June 28, 1951, it featured a Black cast – that was directed to retain the characterized voice and speech patterns Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll had carried over from minstrel shows. The TV show also inherited the radio show’s theme music – lifted directly from the score of what some consider the most racist and controversial movie of all times, Birth of a Nation.

While both the radio and the TV show had critics, they also had legions and legions of fans. One of those fans, surprisingly (to me), was Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the 2012 American Heritage essay “Growing Up Colored,” Dr. Gates talked about his childhood in Piedmont, West Virginia and how (around first grade) he first “got to know white people as ‘people’ through their flickering images on television shows. It was the television set that brought us together at night, and the television set that brought in the world outside the valley.” He also said that he “felt as if I were getting a glimpse, at last, of the life the rich white people must be leading in their big mansions on East Hampshire Street.” Everything was so different from his life and his experience. Yet, to a young Dr. Gates, the TV show Amos n’ Andy was what I Love Lucy was to a young white girl of the same generation. And that’s the thing to keep in mind when you read the essay: perspective and awareness. Audiences only viewed comedy characters as exaggerated impressions of life if they actually knew people like the ones being caricatured. The popularity of Amos n’ Andy, however, was built around an audience that did not personally know Black people. 

“Lord knows, we weren’t going to learn how to be colored by watching television. Seeing somebody colored on TV was an event.

 

‘Colored, colored, on Channel Two,’ you’d hear someone shout. Somebody else would run to the phone, while yet another hit the front porch, telling all the neighbors where to see it. And everybody loved Amos ’n Andy—I don’t care what people say today. What was special to us was that their world was all colored, just like ours….Nobody was likely to confuse them with the colored people we knew, no more than we’d confuse ourselves with the entertainers and athletes we saw on TV or in Ebony or Jet, the magazines we devoured to keep up with what was happening with the race.”

 

– quoted from the American Heritage (Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2) essay “Growing Up Colored” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

There’s another key element to keep in mind as it relates to the ABW stereotype in relation to Amos n’ Andy. When Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll started the radio show Sam n’ Henry, they voiced all of the characters. However, there were some reoccurring characters, like George “Kingfish” Stevens wife, who were not initially voiced. Instead of being heard, Sapphire and most of the other Black women reoccurring in the series were only talked about. Ergo, it didn’t matter if they had a legitimate reason to be upset about something done by their husband, boyfriend, or serviceperson – their anger and complaints were presented from the perspective of the person who was the target/cause of the emotion being felt and expressed. In other words, audiences only heard the male side of the conflict… and, to be fair, they only heard the white male perspective.

Now, if you grew up listening and/or watching Amos n’ Andy you might think, “No, no, that’s not how it was. They would say what they did.” To that I would ask three things:

  • First, are you more inclined to support the person who is telling the story who also happens to be your friend (or someone with whom you are familiar) or are you more inclined to support the person you have never met?
  • Second, if I (as your friend or someone with whom you are familiar) says, “I did this little thing – that yeah, was a little inconsiderate – but, dude, I was sooooo tired/hungry/sad/etc. ….” Do you commiserate with me and agree that the other person overreacted or do you point out that that other person (who, again, you’ve never met) has a point?
  • Finally, does you answer to either of the questions above (especially the last one) change if I explain why the other person was upset with me? (The flipside of this, of course, is does it matter if I don’t explain the why?)

Which brings me to my last little bits about the angry Black woman stereotype: It was a really confusing idea to me when I was a little girl. It was confusing because I didn’t know Black women who walked around angry all the time and, just as importantly, when I did see a person who was angry they had a reason to be angry. I will admit that, for most of my formative years, I was sheltered just enough to not understand – or even question – why someone might walk around angry all the time. However, if we go back to the beginnings of the trope – and acknowledge that the stereotype already existed by the 1800’s – then we have to go a little deeper into why Black women might have been angry. And, when we go a little deeper – even just taking a little look at history, regarding the conditions of being a Black woman (or any kind of woman) in the 1800’s – we don’t need to go far before we start finding reasons to be angry.

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Saving Your House” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

All of which brings me back to today’s anger and frustration.

As I said before, you can look at the news and see that people are angry and frustrated. You can look at your family, neighbors, and friends. You can look inside of your own heart and mind.  While we may have some individual, personal situations about which we are angry and frustrated, we also share some anger and frustration about what we have endured over the last year and that some people, even today, continue to experience. Some of that anger and frustration is even tied to the fact that people are consistently pointing fingers at the (alleged) arsonists instead of putting out the flames. Two other issues we have, as a society, are that we don’t understand the concept of a backdraft and we keep putting matches in the hands of arsonists. (Or, maybe, we never took the matches away in the first place.)

A backdraft is fire that seems to come out of nowhere; but is actually the result of fresh oxygen fueling embers that were previously depleted of air. Embers in an enclosed space can smolder and produce heat even as the fire is dying. Sometimes a fire will burn itself out; other times, however, if the embers are not completely out – e.g., saturated in water or sand – they can reignite in an explosion. This can happen when a door or window is opened or when a portion of the side of the building caves in as the infrastructure fails. A social backdraft happens in the same way. For example, imagine an upsetting situation about which people are really angry and frustrated. The situation, as well as the anger and frustration, is fueled by additional elements – which the “firefighters” attempt to address. But maybe, unlike real-life firefighters, these social responders don’t provide a safe way to ventilate (or “air grievances”). So, the embers just keep building heat and no one notices the air getting sucked in through the cracks or how the smoke is changing colors. Now imagine the original situation gets buried so that it’s no longer in the center of attention. The eyes of the world shift to some other priority, some other injustice. Then, suddenly it seems, a “new” situation arises and the fire is raging out of control. Can you imagine?

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Embracing Anger with the Sunshine of Mindfulness” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I think, sometimes, that if we “have a handle on” our anger and frustration, we can convince ourselves (and others) that we are not actually angry or frustrated – that it’s just something in the ether. I think, too, that some people even believe that if they don’t lash out at others or express their anger in a stereotypical way then they aren’t actually angry. But, the truth is that there are different ways to express anger and frustration just as those emotions can manifest in different ways and at different times. Some people are all about lashing out (physically and/or verbally); others express themselves in a mindful way; still others get passive-aggressive. Some people go out of their way to avoid the conflict all together and don’t resolve the situation (which may defuse their anger and frustration or it may heighten it) and still others get super-duper quiet.

Here I’m tying anger and frustration together, even though frustration is just one manifestation of anger. However, anger can also manifest as irritability, defensiveness, and resistance. Since these emotions are inevitably tied to conflict, they are mentally connected to discernment. In other words, the angrier we get, the harder it becomes to make wise, skillful decisions.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was another elephant in the room – the idea that someone can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because they practice yoga and/or meditate. Like the stereotype of the ABW, this has its roots in some superficial truth, but ultimately it is just another stereotype. I say it all the time: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices are not intended to make you numb to emotional and mental experiences. In fact, instead of being numb, you may find that these practices allow you to feel more. They also can help you see more and, therefore, enable you to make better decisions.

One way to understand this is to look at the connection between emotions and the mind-body. Emotional experiences – like anger, frustration, fear, and even joy – have the ability to hijack our central nervous system. When an emotion takes our nervous system for a ride, we either want more of the experience or we want to escape the experience. Like fear, anger and frustration can activate our sympathetic nervous system, thus engaging our fight-flight-freeze response. When this happens, we get tunnel vision and everything narrows down to what is needed for “survival.” We not only see less, we hear and feel less. In certain extreme situations, blood is diverted from our digestive and immune systems into the limbs that we need to fight, flee, or escape through collapse (which is the freeze response). Additionally, anger and frustration are often fueled and driven by fear – creating a feedback loop that leaves us highly sensitized and over-stimulated. If we get into that feedback loop, as many of us have over the last few years (and especially this last year and a half), we can become like a stick of dynamite that has been placed next to a lit match after the fuse was soaked in gasoline.

Of course, there is something really special about the emotional “elephant” that practices yoga, meditation, and/or some other mindfulness-based practice (like centering prayer). Such a person has the tools to deal with their emotions in a way that is wise, loving, and kind. I did not choose those last three randomly. In Eastern philosophies and some medical sciences, every emotion has a flip side: for fear it is wisdom; for anger it is loving-kindness.

We can think of anger and frustration as emotional pain (because that’s what suffering is) and, in this case, they are signs that something needs to change. They can fuel change in a way that is constructive or destructive. But, in order to make the decision to resolve conflict in a way that is constructive, we have to be able to see as clearly as possible. We have to be able to be able to see the possible.

Which takes us back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile – and how, sometimes, that feels like a giant leap to me.

“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

As I said before, I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, if we are to believe the people around me, I have a great smile. But, I have a hard time faking a smile when I’m angry – which is kind of the point. Add to this practice, my self-awareness – or, in this case you could call it self-consciousness – about how I am perceived as a Black woman… especially when I am angry. Something that I do all the time seems like a giant leap; because suddenly smiling, even softly, during a conflict, can come across as menacing.

I know, I know, most of you who know me personally don’t think I’m scary – especially since I am so small. But, trust me when I tell you that there are people who have been scared of “me”… or, at least, their perception of me. And, sometimes, that makes me a little angry.

[Feel free to insert a hands-thrown-up-in-the-air emoji.]

When it comes to dealing with anger and frustration, I definitely use the Eastern philosophy model as a foundation. I get on the mat, the cushion, and/or the walking trail and I consider how Chinese Medicine associates anger and frustration with the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Gallbladder Meridian is yang and runs from the outer corner of the eyes up to the outer ears and top of the head and then DOWN the outer perimeter of the body – with some offshoots – before ending at the fourth toe. Liver Meridian is yin and runs UP from the top of the big toe up the inner leg; through the groin, liver, and gallbladder; into the lungs; and then through the throat into the head, circling the lips and finishing around the eyes. (This is an extremely basic description!) Since YIN Yoga is based on Chinese Medicine, we can hold certain poses that target the hips and side body in order to access the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Other times, we just bring awareness to how we feel in those areas associated with the meridians – knowing that “prāņa (‘life force’) follows awareness” – and perhaps do poses that highlight those areas (superficially) in order to cultivate more awareness. This is what we did on Sunday.

Another thing we did on Sunday was incorporate lojong (“mind training”) techniques from Tibetan Buddhism. These are statements that can be used as a starting point for meditation and/or contemplation. They can also be used, in this context, as affirmations and reminders. For instance, in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh explained one of his personal rituals: “Each morning I offer a stick of incense to the Buddha. I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.” This is like the lojong statement #21 “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” To me, this is not only about cheerfulness; it is also about showing up with a sense of gratitude, wonder, and awe. This activates my practice of shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santosha (“contentment”) – which means I am less likely to think (or say), “[That person] always does this or that.” If I can let go of past insult and injury (about which I can do nothing since it’s in the past), I can focus on the present issue. I will also consider how doing something loving and kind – for myself, for the other person/people in the conflict, and/or for some person not involved in the conflict can change the energy.

You can think of these practices as personal de-escalation techniques. They are the steps you take (and the tools you use) to offer your inner child a little comfort and to start putting out the flames so that they stay out. They can also be the tools you use to make sure there will be no backdraft and no new fires. This weekend, when I randomly stumbled on the Big Think clip quoted above, I added a new perspective to this practice: I started thinking about the “kindest” next step.

“And the idea is that, for the person being creative, all their doing is making a small step to the next most likely possibility – based on their assumptions. But, when someone on the outside sees them doing that, they think, ‘Wow! How did they put those two things that are far apart together?’ And the reason why it seems that way is because for the observer they are far apart. They have a different space of possibility.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience, the founder and director of the Lab of Misfits, as well as the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently and the co-author of Why We See The Way We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision.  One of his missions – in fact, the primary mission of the Lab of Misfits – is to get people to know less, but understand more. I know, I know, that sounds so weird and counterintuitive, but ultimately it is about questioning and delving deeper into what we think we know, in order to gain better understanding of our areas “not knowing.” It is about gaining better understanding of our selves by letting go of our assumptions and being open to possibilities.

The clip I ran across was specifically about creativity and perception, which got me thinking about how we perceive one another during a conflict and how that perception contributes to our ability to construct a viable resolution or, conversely, how our perceptions lead to more destruction and conflict.  How do we de-escalate a situation between people who may perceive the conflict (and each other) in different ways? One obvious answer is Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile. It’s a really good answer… but “my” history and my perception of how I might be perceived – based on history – makes it seem like a giant leap. Even though I am in the habit of smiling all the time, I am not in the habit of being angry or being perceived as an ABW. So, to combine the two requires practice and an awareness of my “space of possibility.”

In considering my space of possibility, I started thinking about what the kindest next step might be in a certain situation. For example, let’s say that I’m getting angry at something someone keeps saying to me during a conversation and/or I am frustrated by how I react to what they are saying. To suddenly compliment the person who is insulting me might come across as disingenuous. That might be a big leap for them to understand – especially if they are insulting me on purpose. But, somehow, we need to reach an understanding between the two of us (or just between me, myself, and I). Reaching that understanding requires bridging a proverbial (and verbal) gap – which we can’t do as look as I keep getting “hooked” by the thing they keep saying and they keep getting “hooked” by the way I am reacting.

So, what’s the next step that is also kind? I could practice the four R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve) and maybe even that fifth R (Remember). I could just take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that I promised to enjoy today. I could do all of that and preface the next thing I say. After all, sometimes naming what you are experiencing – even if you just say it to yourself – can make a big difference. Of course, be mindful about how you preface and name what you are experiencing – otherwise, you might come across as snarky and sarcastic.

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

Commentary: Do not hold on to anything – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

 

“5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

Commentary: There is a resting place, a starting place that you can always return to. You can always bring your mind back home and rest right here, right now, in present, unbiased awareness.”

 

6. In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.”

 

– quoted from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for 04102021 Si se puede & Birds”]

 

“It is a small step that begins the journey of a thousand miles.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 64” of A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###