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Mystical Journeys Around the Sun (Monday’s post-practice post, that’s mostly about the links) January 31, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Meditation, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Philosophy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy (Lunar) New Year’s Eve!

This post-practice post for Monday, January 31st. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“We’re all on a journey. We’re all going somewhere.”

*

“Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth, and there find ourselves in the stranger who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage. This is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the Divine presence is not enough for our time. We have to come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet there is no other than ourselves.”

*

– quoted from the Emergence Magazine documentary On The Road With Thomas Merton, by Jeremy Seifert and Fred Bahnson, based on Woods, Shore, Desert: A Notebook, May 1968, by Thomas Merton

*

Click here for last year’s post inspired by Thomas Merton.

There is no music for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

*

This YouTube link will take you to the short documentary referenced above.

### How Do You “See” Things After You Sit & Breathe?” ###

Sitting, Breathing… in a Room [the “missing” Tuesday post] January 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Warning: This post references to mental health and a person who experienced severe emotional distress.

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, January 25th. Links in the 4th paragraph of the “Coda” will connect you to other websites. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Coda:

Do you ever think about what yoga and Virginia Woolf have in common? No? Just me? Ok, that’s fine; it’s not the first time – and will not be the last time that I make what, on the surface, appears to be a really random connection. It’s not even the first (and probably won’t be the last) time this week. However, in circling back to this practice and this theme, I found myself thinking a little more about mental health and the implications of having space, time, and the other resources to focus, concentrate, contemplate, and meditate. 

Last year, this practice fell on Monday, 12521 (making it a palindrome practice). While I waited until the following day to reference Carl Jung’s thoughts on yoga and mental health, those thoughts are always hovering in the back of my mind. And yes, that is the second time this week I’ve mentioned the psychiatrist and psychoanalysis on the blog. However, he and his work have come up at least three times this week. Starting with a conversation I had with my brother.

As some of you know, my youngest brother is one of the coolest people I know. He is cool on a lot of different levels, including being pretty Zen in temperament. But, he doesn’t have a regular practice yoga or meditation practice and he doesn’t really talk about those things with people who do (except me). Over the weekend, he asked me about something he read regarding yoga, meditation, and people who have experienced trauma. Our conversations, as they often do, oscillated between the experiences of real people and the experiences of a certain Marvel comic book character. We talked a little about the emotional ramifications of sitting and breathing… and the things that come up when one is essentially alone with their thoughts. It’s a double-edged sword, as Dr. Jung pointed out – as Patanjali, Vyasa, and other early yoga scribes pointed out. So, we talked about the importance of practicing with care and awareness.

Today there is trauma-sensitive yoga, trauma-informed yoga, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), HeartMath®, and people who just practice yoga with an awareness that stuff comes up. I mean; we’ve all been through something and when you’ve been through something, stuff comes up. The more intense the trauma-related experience was, the more intense it can be when stuff comes up. Every practice doesn’t work for every person (even Patanjali pointed this out at the beginning of the fourth section of the Yoga Sūtras); but every person needs some way to process what they have experienced – whether they consider it traumatic or not.

Journaling is helpful. Talking to someone is helpful. Connecting with nature is helpful. Sitting and breathing is helpful. You may not need (or want) a “trauma-” label associated with your method of processing, but if you find yourself being overwhelmed by emotion, do something: Ask for help! Maybe a teacher engaged in mindfulness-based practices can help you. Maybe you have a spiritual and/or religious guide who can help you. Maybe you need a mental health professional. Either way, remember that sensation is information; it’s the way the mind-body tells our stories.

Matthew Sanford, the founder of Mind Body Solutions, talks about “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves (and each other) to explain our experiences. Those stories are one of the ways we process our stuff. Dr. Toya Webb reminds us that we are “always listening [to the story we tell ourselves] – whether it is destructive or productive.” Maty Ezraty, a master yoga teacher, said that every practice is like a good story.

Consider all of this as you read the following revised version of last year’s post entitled, “Who’s Afraid of Breathing?”

“surājye dhārmike deśe subhikṣhe nirupadrave |
dhanuḥ pramāṇa-paryantaṃ śilāghni-jala-varjite |
ekānte maṭhikā-madhye sthātavyaṃ haṭha-yoghinā || 12 ||

The Yogī should practise [sic] Haṭha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“… a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

In October 1928, Virginia Woolf gave two speeches to two different student societies at Newnham College and Girton College, which at the time were two of the all-women colleges at the University of Cambridge. (NOTE: Newnham is still an all-women’s college. Girton started accepting men in 1971 and started allowing men to be “Mistress,” or head of the college, in 1976.) The speeches were about women and fiction – and specifically detailed why there were so few women writers who had earned acclaimed (and, to certain degree, why those that did often did so anonymously or with “male” names). She also highlighted the absurd trichotomy between the two wildly archetypical way women are portrayed in literature and the reality of the very different types of women in the room, let alone in the world.

Born Virginia Stephen in Kensington, England, Janaury 25, 1882, Ms. Woolf speculated about the works that might have come from a woman (say, in Shakespeare’s time) who had a helpmate to take care of the cooking, cleaning, children, and other household business. She also talked about the social constraints that not only prevented a woman from devoting copious time to the practical application of her craft, writing, but also the social constraints and inequalities that could result in what would amount to writer’s block. All this, she detailed, even before she addressed the issue of a market place predisposed to highlight male writers – and she introduced her ideas by establishing two (really three) of the things a woman would need to overcome the obstacles of society: (time), space, and money.

When I first started going deeper into my physical practice of yoga, I looked into some of the classic texts within the tradition. One of those texts was the Haţha Yoga Pradipika (Light on the Physical Practice of Yoga), a 15th Century text that focuses on āsanas (“seats” or poses), prāņāyāma (breath awareness and control), mudrās (“seals” or “gestures”), and Samādhi (that ultimate form of “meditation” that is absorption). Throughout the text, and in particular in the chapter on mudrās, there is a breakdown of how energy, power, or vitality moves through the body and the benefits of harnessing that power.

I would eventually appreciate how the text is almost a summary of the earlier Yoga Sūtras, but (as an English lit major), what struck me first was how similar these early instructions – related to a practice that can be used to cultivate clarity and harness the power of the mind – were to Virginia Woolf’s advice to women writers.

“athāsane dṝdhe yoghī vaśī hita-mitāśanaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa prāṇāyāmānsamabhyaset || 1 ||

Posture becoming established, a Yogî, master of himself, eating salutary and moderate food, should practise [sic] Prâṇâyâma, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“I feel a thousand capacities spring up in me. I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by turns. I am rooted, but I flow.”

 

– quoted from “Susan” in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Just as Virginia Woolf addressed misconceptions about women in her essays and fiction, the translator Pancham Sinh addressed some misconceptions about people who practice yoga and the practice of prāņāyāma in an introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika. Part of the introduction is an admonishment to people who would study the practice, but do not practice it, stating, “People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practicing [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

Siddhis are the powers or “accomplishments” achieved from continuous practice. They range from being able to extend peace out into the world and understanding all languages; to being able to levitate and know the inner workings of another’s heart and mind; to the six “powers unique to being human.” Bandhas are “locks” and refer to internal engagements used to seal sections of the body in order to control the flow of prāņā. The three major bandhas referred to in the text are the same engagements I encourage when I tell people to “zip up” and engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominal cavity (mūla bandha), the mid and upper abdominal cavity (uḍḍīyana bandha), and the throat (jālandhara bandha). I typically refer to a fourth – pada bandha – which is a seal for the feet; however, in classical texts the fourth bandha is the engagement of the three major bandhas (root, abdominal, and throat) at the same time.

Before anyone gets it twisted, let’s be clear that this introduction is not advice to grab a book and follow instructions without the guidance of a teacher. In fact, Pancham Sinh specifically advised people to find a teacher who practiced and indicated that while one could follow the directions from a (sacred) book, there are some things that cannot be expressed in words. There are some things that can only be felt.

This is consistent with Patanjali’s explanation that the elements and senses that make up the “objective world” can be “divided into four categories: specific, unspecific, barely describable, and absolutely indescribable.” (YS 2.19) That is to say, there are some things that have specific sense-related reference points; some things that can be referred back to the senses, but only on a personal level; some things that have no reference points, but can be understood through “a sign” or comprehension of sacred text; and some things which cannot be described, because there is no tangible reference point and/or “sign” – there is only essence.

One of the things we can feel, but not touch, is emotion. Emotions can come with visceral experiences and, in that way, can fall into the “unspecific” category. More often than not, however, what we feel is “barely describable” (or even indescribable) – and yet, writers are always trying to describe or capture the essence of what is felt. As the author of nine novels (including one published shortly after her death), five short story collections (most of which were published after her death), a hybrid novel (part fiction, part non-fiction), three book-length essays, a biography, and hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays, Virginia Woolf constantly endeavored to describe what she felt and what she felt she saw others feeling. Even more salient, she often focused on the disconnection between what her characters felt and what they could describe about what they felt.

The author’s efforts were hindered, or aided (depending on one’s viewpoint), by the fact that she experienced so much trauma and heartbreak; much of which led to emotional despair. She was possibly (probably) abused by one of her half-brothers from an early age. Then she suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 13, after her mother died. Then she had to deal with the death of her half-sister and a maternal role model just two years later. When her father he died, in 1904, she had another breakdown, the severity of which landed her in the country for a period of convalescence. It was during this period that she began to write in earnest (even though the doctors had recommended that she only write letters) and that she would meet Leonard Woolf, the author whom she would marry in 1912. The writing helped, in that she seemed to find some mental and emotional stability for about 15 years. But, she would experience another breakdown after correcting the proofs of her first novel, The Voyage Out. The novel was published by her half-brother’s publishing company (yes, that aforementioned half-brother) and introduced the world to “Clarissa Dalloway,” the protagonist of her fourth novel.

“evaṃ vidhe maṭhe sthitvā sarva-chintā-vivarjitaḥ |
ghurūpadiṣhṭa-mārgheṇa yoghameva samabhyaset || 14 ||

Having seated in such a room and free from all anxieties, he should practise [sic] Yoga, as instructed by his guru.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

– quoted from The Hours: a novel by Michael Cunningham

It is interesting to me that while the instruction for the Haţha Yoga Pradipika instructed a person to practice when they were “free from…disturbances of all kinds” (HYP 1.12); “free from dirt, filth and insects” (HYP 1.13); and “free from all anxieties” (HYP 1.14), the vast majority of people practicing in the modern world do so in order to free themselves from the various maladies that plague them. Additionally, I find it interesting that historians, teachers of literature, and even psychiatrists spend a lot of time (theoretically) diagnosing a young woman (Virginia Woolf) who may have been experiencing (and working through) the most natural of emotions; natural, given her circumstances.

Were her emotions extreme and potentially dangerous? Yes, by all accounts – including her own words and her death – her emotions were extreme and dangerous; as were her circumstances. Initially, she was able to work through her distress because she had the support of those to whom she was connected. In the end, however, she was left alone and feeling disconnected.

The Air I Breathe, one of my favorite movies, was released in the United States Janaury 25, 2008. Inspired by the idea that emotions are like fingers on a hand, the main characters are known to the audience as Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers – and their stories are interconnected, even though they don’t necessarily realize it. In fact, some of the most desperate actions in the movie are motivated by fear and a sense of isolation. Promotional materials for the movie proclaimed, “We are all strangers / We are all living in fear / We are all ready to change” and in the movie Happiness asks, So where does change come from? And how do we recognize it when it happens?” Happiness also says, “I always wondered, when a butterfly leaves the safety of its cocoon, does it realize how beautiful it has become? or does it still just see itself as a caterpillar? I think both the statement and the questions could be applied to so many, if not all, of Virginia Woolf’s characters. They could also be applied to all of us in the world right now.

“‘For,’ the outsider will say, ‘in fact as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ And if, when reason has had its say, still some obstinate emotion remains, some love of England dropped into a child’s ears… this drop of pure, if irrational, emotion she will make serve her to give to England first what she desires of peace and freedom for the whole world.”

– quoted from the novel-essay “Three Guineas,” as it appears in The Selected Works of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf

As I have mentioned before, I consider the 8-Limbed Yoga Philosophy to have very real-time, practical applications and I normally think of the physical practice as an opportunity to practice, explore, and play with the various elements of the philosophy. I will even sometimes use aspects of alignment as a metaphor for situations in our lives off the mat. Given this last year the last few years, however, I have really started to consider how āsana instructions from classic texts like The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali and the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, can be more practically applied to the most basic aspects of everyday life.

  • For instance, if we spend our time on the mat cultivating a “steady/stable, comfortable/easy/joyful” foundation in order to breathe easier and more deeply, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time cultivating the same type of foundation in our lives?
  • Going out a little more, if we do not have the luxury or privilege of practicing “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully,” doesn’t it behoove us to create that land?
  • Finally, what happens if we (to paraphrase yoga sūtras 2.46-47) establish a baseline for stability and then loosen up a little bit and focus on the infinite? Patanjali and the authors of the other sacred texts told us we would become more of who we are: leaner in body, healthier, brighter, more joyful, “clearer, stronger, and more intuitive.” In other words: peaceful and blissful.

“lōkāḥ samastāḥ sukhinōbhavantu”

– A mettā (loving-kindness) chant that translates to “May all-beings, everywhere, be happy and be free.”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“vapuḥ kṝśatvaṃ vadane prasannatā
nāda-sphuṭatvaṃ nayane sunirmale |
aroghatā bindu-jayo|aghni-dīpanaṃ
nāḍī-viśuddhirhaṭha-siddhi-lakṣhaṇam || 78 ||

When the body becomes lean, the face glows with delight, Anâhatanâda manifests, and eyes are clear, body is healthy, bindu under control, and appetite increases, then one should know that the Nâdîs are purified and success in Haṭha Yoga is approaching.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1. On Āsanas” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

“The human frame being what it is, heart, body and brain all mixed together, and not contained in separate compartments as they will be no doubt in another million years, a good dinner is of great importance to good talk. One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

– quoted from the essay “A Room of One’s Own,” as it appears in A Room of One’s Own And, Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf

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

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

“Realize that there is freedom in telling your story and that there is power in your words.”

*

– quoted from the November 2018 TedxDelthorneWomen talk entitled, “Change Your Perspective and Change Your Story” by Dr. Toya Webb 

*

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTHI OM ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[“Happy New Year!” and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!]

"Observe"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

Celebrate the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM CST!

AND/OR

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

The New Year is a beginning and an ending… and it is also a middle. On New Year’s Day we honor and celebrate transition with 108 Sun Salutations in the morning (10 AM – 1 PM, CST) and/or a Yin Yoga plus Meditation practice in the evening (5 – 7 PM, CST). We also put things in perspective. These practices are open and accessible to all, regardless of experience.

Please wear loose, comfortable clothing and make sure you are well hydrated before the practice. It is best to practice on an empty stomach (especially for the 108 ajapa-japa mala), but if you must eat less than 1 hour before the practice, make sure to keep it light. Make sure to have a towel (at the very least) for the 108 practice. For Yin Yoga, a pillow/cushion or two, blocks or (hardcover) books, and a blanket or towel will be useful. I always recommend having something handy (pen and paper) that you can use to note any reflections.

Use the link above for login information (or click here for more details about these practices and other practice opportunities related to the New Year).

The 108 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “New Year’s Day 108 Ajapa-Japa Mala.”]  NOTE: This playlist has been revised for 2022, but should still sync up with the 2021 recordings.

The Yin+Meditation playlist is part of the “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

"Reflect"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)

 

*Anthony Shumate’s “Monumental Moments” sculptures are located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths in Houston, Texas. They are unexpected reminders to “Explore,” “Pause,” “Reflect,” “Listen,” “Emerge,” and “Observe” – all things we do in our practice!

### NAMASTE ###

Lagniappe (the Sunday post) November 22, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Food, Gratitude, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, November 21st. 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.)

“277. The heart has its reasons, which reason doesn’t know;
we know this in a thousand things. I say that the heart—if
it works at it—naturally loves the universal being, and also
naturally loves itself; and it hardens itself against one or the
other as it chooses”

.

–  quoted from “Section 4: The routes to belief” in Pensées (Thoughts) by Blaise Pascal*

There’s a moment we probably all experienced at least once or twice as a child  – possibly even as an adult. It’s that moment when we lose something we thought or felt we had been promised. I think of it as the “fallen ice cream” moment. You know, that moment when you’re enjoying something – like your favorite ice cream cone on a hot day – and then a good majority of the ice cream falls and goes splat on the ground. Maybe it’s in the middle of an intersection or may there’s a dog that very “helpfully” starts cleaning it up.

Either way, that ice cream is gone.

Sometimes it’s even worse if the bottom falls out and it’s the last bit that you lose. Still, either way, for a moment, you forget all about the ice cream you had and/or have left. For a moment, all you’re thinking about is the loss. What’s even worse is if you were told it would fall if you didn’t stop licking on the one side; or if you were told you had to be careful of the bottom; or if you and your siblings had been told to stop horsing around. It’s worse, because that warning means that someone (usually you) are responsible for the inevitable consequences. So, then there’s some anger, blame, shame, and guilt, mixed in with the grief.

Sure, we can say it’s a kid’s grief over something inconsequential and sure we can say we’re going to get over it – and we do. However, for a moment, we’re only focused on the loss. And even after we finish the ice cream we still had left, we can feel like we missed out on something. There’s a hollowness; that too is grief.

Ever have that experience? Ever consider that that experience – an experience that can ruin your whole day – was all in your head? It’s true. I’m not saying that the thing didn’t happen. Whatever happened absolutely happened. The loss was real. The grief was real. Even the way you physically embodied that experience, the hollowness, was real. But the whole experience was based on the fact that you lost something you valued. In other words, the whole experience was based on the fact that you lost something you appreciated and something to which you had an attachment.

Consider how extreme that feeling can be. Not only that feeling you had as a child; consider that there is something (or someone) you have lost as an adult that left you with that same “if I just had more…” feeling. Wanting, desire, passion – which comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer” – are part of life. Loss and the physical and emotional sensations associated with it are part of life. Philosophically, part of the Yoga practice is about opposites. So, as you think about that extreme reaction to unexpectedly losing something or someone, consider the opposite.

How do you feel when you unexpectedly receive something you value and appreciate?

“We picked up one excellent word—a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word—’lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish—so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know—he finishes the operation by saying—’Give me something for lagniappe.’

*

The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor—I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely.

*

When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans—and you say, ‘What, again?—no, I’ve had enough;’ the other party says, ‘But just this one time more—this is for lagniappe.’”

.

–  quoted from “Chapter XLIV. City Sights” in Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

I grew up in and around the Gulf Coast, where you are just as likely to hear someone refer to “lagniappe” as you are to hear them refer to “baker’s dozen.” Lagniappe is a Louisiana French word for that little something extra a customer receives for free when they make a purchase. Think of a free beignet with your café au lait or hot chocolate; a little cookie beside your gelato; or a bundle of peppers from a roadside vegetable stand. Like so much of Louisiana’s culture, the word is a mixture of Spanish, French, and Quechua – an indigenous language found in Peru and parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. It’s a word, and practice, that you will find in other areas of the world that have been exposed to a similar mixture of cultures.

While lagniappe is often associated with hospitality, “a baker’s dozen” is whole-heartedly connected to commerce. In a modern context we think of it as 13, but at least one source marks it as 14. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (2015) and other sources, the practice of adding an extra loaf (or two), to an order of a dozen dates back at least to the thirteenth century England. Some attribute the practice to the Assize of Bread and Ale, which regulated the price, weight, and quality of bread and beer. Some say that because homemade bread and rolls varied in size and weight, bakers would add a little extra in order to guarantee they were not selling below the standard. When John Camden Hotten published his 1864 edition of A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words, he indicated that the bakers were incentivized to add that little extra because the penalties for underselling goods included fines, destruction of the baker’s oven, and being placed in the stocks (or pillory) and subjected to public humiliation.

However, in The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, Darra Goldstein notes that the original practice of adding a loaf (or two) to an order of a dozen, may actually be connected to “hucksters.” If you only know the word in a modern context, especially in the United States, then you may associate the word with someone who is out to trick you. However, the etymology of the word can be traced to medieval words meaning “to haggle” and vendors who either sold things door-to-door or from roadside stands. Hucksters of old not only haggle with their customers, they would also be quite loud and showy as they hawked their wares. (Yes, “hawker” is another term that is sometimes applied to this type of peddler.)

Some of these peddlers would water down ale or in other ways deflated the value, which  (combined with their showiness) is why the term became a pejorative. However, the original meaning of “huckster” was just someone who was trying to make a living by selling things – a job made harder by stall taxes and  things like the the Assize of Bread and Ale, which required hucksters to sell goods for the same price at which they purchased them. The law meant that they only way the hucksters, who were often woman, could make any money was if they had a little extra to sell. The bakers knew that they could sell more of their baked goods with the help of the hucksters and so they would throw in a loaf (or two) to give the hucksters a little advantage. Hence the reason why the extra was sometimes called “in-bread” or the “vantage loaf.” All in all, a mutually beneficial practice that kept the economy flowing.

Speaking of flowing…

For many years, I didn’t teach for about ten days each November because I was in Texas stage managing a production of the ballet The Nutcracker. I would typically have subs while I was gone and most of the people who came to the studio classes were regular attendees who had purchased packages. If you purchased a package of six, ten, or twelve you received a price break – meaning that if you based your calculations on the drop-in rate, you received an extra class or two (depending on the size of the package). So, one could think of the class with the sub as lagniappe. I often think of subs treating people to a little something extra because people get to experience different ways of sequencing; the opportunity to practice something I don’t often cue; and/or a different perspective on some aspect of the practice. All of those are, to me, like an extra donut hole – a sweet nothing!  

For the last two or three years, I’ve had these extra days to share the practice with the people with whom I love to share the practice! And, so, the question becomes: What will be the little something extra?

Or, more importantly, what will people appreciate?

Feel free to check out this post related to last year’s practice, if you want a little mo’ about the practice.

I mostly teach vinyāsa practices, which means there’s movement and an inclined series that often involves some variation of a push-up. But, I also teach with a lot alignment and breath cues, not to mention the theme. If you’re someone who is familiar with a “flowing” practice that is not taught with an alignment focus, the alignment cues can be a little something extra. If you are use to an Iyengar Yoga practice, where you may not encounter an inclined series very often, the vinyāsa can be like extra green chilis thrown in your bag. Of course, a lot of people don’t cue the breath unless they notice everyone is out of breath – so that can be the lagniappe. Then too, if you typically practice a seated meditation like vipassanā, where there is heightened focus on the breath and how it feels to breath, all the movement and poses are lagniappe.

Finally, there are my themes, which some people would say are just… extra.

“I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way.”

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–  attributed to Voltaire*

November 21st is the considered the anniversary of the birth of the writer, philosopher, and historian Voltaire (whose nom de plume or “pen name” could be a class all unto its self). Born François-Marie Arouet, in 1694, this prominent figure from the Age of Enlightenment wrote in pretty much every form and about pretty much everything related to life – including science, religion, freedom of speech, love, social standings, and the hardships of life. While he wrote about tolerating others and their beliefs, his views were often couched in racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Just to be clear, he was an equal opportunist when it came to his opinions about how others were wrong and could (and did) use his witty to eloquently slam people who were perceived like him just as easily as people who were perceived as different.

His words (as evidenced by the ones I used here and in class) are often thought provoking, which can be a good place to start when putting together a class – if, you know, we leave out all his horrible views and actions and just focus on his words out of context. (But, to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.) Voltaire had notoriously bad health and an autopsy revealed that had an enlarged prostate – which means he could be the entrée for a Movember theme. (To bad all the images of him are extremely clean shaven.)

In the end, I went back to that feeling of unexpected loss and how so much of what we feel – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically – is in our heads. One aspect of the Yoga Philosophy is how our thoughts disempower us and how we can use our minds (and the practice) to overcome the obstacles and ailments that arise with the obstacles. Similarly, Buddhism focuses on how we can end our suffering. Ultimately, it all comes down to perspective and how we think about what we are experiencing.

As we head into this week where so many will be giving thanks, take a moment to consider how you experience and express appreciation (sometimes without saying a word). Then consider how often your appreciation, and expression, show up as attachment or aversion – which Patanjali classifies as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to suffering. Finally, take a moment to contemplate how much of your experience is controlled by your thoughts.

“A witty saying proves nothing.”

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–  quoted from Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (The Dinner at Count Boulainvillier’s) by Voltaire (pub. 1728)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07072021 Bread & Chocolate”]

*Errata: During Sunday’s practice, I misattributed the first quote (see above) and it’s entirely possible that one of the other quotes attributed to Voltaire is actually someone else’s statement. My apologies. Hopefully you didn’t quote me.

*

### “If a picture paints a thousand words, /
Then why can’t I paint you?” ~B&C ###

The Sum of the Whole Is Our Behavior (a Monday post) November 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Monday, November 15th. 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.]

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly. But if we are afraid of them or if we show our disliking to them, they behave in the same manner. These are simple truths which the world has known for ages. But even so, the world forgets the people of one country who hate and fear the people of another country because they are afraid, they are sometimes foolish enough to fight each other.

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Children should be wiser. At any rate, I hope the children who read this will be more sensible.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed “Yours lovingly, Chacha Nehru

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and blog post, we’ve all been children and, as children, we were given a world/society and taught different ways to understand that world/society. We were given culture (or cultures) and raised to understand our culture(s) and other people’s culture(s) in certain ways. On a certain level, we could say, that we begin life as “passive recipients.” However, children are curious and children play, experiment, and explore in order to learn and grow. With ourselves, our peers, and our toys, we begin to accept and/or reject the world and culture(s) that were given to us and the understanding that was taught to us. That’s part of being a child: questioning our environment; even pushing back at what we are taught about our environment; and creatively considering other possibilities. In other words, part of being a child is figuring out how we fit into the world.

Do we continue to exist as a “passive recipient” or do we become a “co-creator” of our culture and environment?

I don’t remember ever hearing the terms “passive recipient” and “co-creator,” as related to culture, until I met Merrick Rosenberg. He is a consultant, keynote speaker, and personality expert who often works with companies undergoing change. He is the co-founder of Team Builders Plus and Take Flight Learning; the co-author of the parable Take Flight! (Master the DISC Styles to Transform Your Career, your Relationships… Your Life) and Personality Wins: Who Will Take the White House and How We Know; and the author of the parable The Chameleon: Life Changing Wisdom For Anyone Who Has A Personality Or Knows Someone Who Does and the children’s book Which Bird Are You? (recommended for ages 8 – 12). He is also a black belt who practices yoga – which is how we met and how I ended up reading and recommending his first book.

I was already interested in change management; had already looked into Virginia Satir’s Change Process Model and was fascinated by what it takes to shift culture – on an individual, corporate, and global scale. But Take Flight! (which I highly recommend) and my conversation with Merrick Rosenberg about his work caused me to dig a little deeper into the roles we play when it comes to change and the beliefs we hold that, inevitably, shape those roles. As evidence by his books, Merrick likes a good parable and, so, it’s not surprising that when I searched his work, I found more stories.

Just as I shared one of those stories towards the end of Monday’s practice, I’ll share that story towards the end of this post. But first, a little back story. It’s actually several stories, that converge around behavior, belief, culture, and personality.

There seems to be a single starting point for psychology, exactly as for all the other sciences: the world as we find it, naïvely and uncritically. The naïveté may be lost as we proceed.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

Wolfgang Köhler, PhD, born January 21, 1887, was a German psychologist whose field of expertise included phenomenology, the study of subjective experience. Along with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka, he was one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, which focused on the human mind and behavior as a whole, rather than on individual elements. (Since November 15th is National Tree Planting Day in Sri Lanka, think of a Gestalt psychologist as someone who would focus on the whole forest rather than a single tree, or on how the whole world is affected by planting trees in a forest.) Dr. Köhler is remembered because of his research with chimpanzees, which provided insight into human behavior, as well as his lived experience as it related to human behavior during Nazi Germany.

After completing his PhD at the University of Berlin and working with Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka at the Psychological Institute in Frankfurt, Wolfgang Köhler moved to the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, and became the director of the anthropoid research station at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. There, from 1913 – 1919, his research included the problem solving skills of chimpanzees, which he choose to study specifically because their brains were structurally similar to humans. In 1917, he published The Mentality of Apes, which described chimpanzees using “insight learning” to access some fruit that was out of reach, rather than trial-and-error.

Remember, when we think of insight from the perspective of Buddhist or Yoga Philosophy, we think of it as wisdom that comes from “[seeing] in a special way” and this is exactly what Dr. Köhler observed. When the chimpanzees realized their food source was out of reach, they paused for a moment and (according to Dr. Köhler’s research) came up with a solution that relied upon an understanding of cause-and-effect. The chimpanzees in the experiments realized that they needed tools to reach the fruit that was too far away or too high and either connected sticks or stacked boxes to make up the difference.

In 1920, Wolfgang Köhler returned to Germany and (eventually) succeeded one of his mentors (Carl Stumpf) as the director of the Psychological Institute at the University of Berlin. He was there as the Nazis came into power in 1933 and while one of his mentors (the physicists Max Planck) criticized the effect Nazi Germany’s policies were having on the field of science, Dr. Köhler was publicly silent for many months. Towards the end of April 1933, however, he wrote an article criticizing the Nazi Party and the practice of dismissing Jewish professors. Then he attempted to organize a resistance movement within the scientific community – but his colleagues erroneously believed the fascist regime would largely leave the universities to their own devices. On November 3, 1933, the Nazi government announced that professors were required to start their lectures with the Nazi salute.

Dr. Köhler refused to passively accept the culture that was being handed to forced on him. Within a month of publicly explaining his refusal to follow the edict, his class was raided and student’s leaving his lecture were forced to show their identification. By May of 1934, he had concluded that there was nothing more he could do and announced plans to retire. By that summer, his interactions with students and other faculty and staff was under investigation. Unable to effectively teach or conduct research, Wolfgang Köhler immigrated to the United States in 1935, where he taught and conducted research at Swarthmore College and (in 1956) at Dartmouth College. He would also eventually serve as President of the American Psychological Association and as a guest lecturer and faculty advisor at the Free University of Berlin.

I know, I know, that’s already a lot of information. So, here are the highlights: Dr. Wolfgang Köhler believed (a) that subjective experience matters; (b) that the human mind and behavior have to be considered as a whole (and that whole includes subjective experience); (c) that, like chimpanzees, humans are capable of problem solving through insight learning; and (d) that people could – and one can argue should – stand up for what they believe to be right and, in doing so, actively co-create the world in which the live.

Problems may be found which were at first completely hidden from our eyes. For their solution it may be necessary to devise concepts which seem to have little contact with direct primary experience.

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–  quoted from Chapter I: A Discussion of Behaviorism” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

Fast forward to the 1960’s, and we find generations of researchers standing on shoulders of scientific giants like Dr. Wolfgang Köhler. One of those researchers was Dr. Gordon R. Stephenson (at the University of Wisconsin, Madison) who, in 1967, published a paper entitled “Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkey.” The paper detailed research that involved 4 male and 4 female “lab-reared rhesus monkeys… about 3 years of age,” a variety of plastic kitchen utensils, a test cage, and air that was blasted on the monkeys under certain circumstances. (NOTE: I’m just highlighting here. Dr. Stephenson’s paper and experiment are more detailed than my summary and include the fact that the monkeys “had much play experience with each other;” were considered “socially normal;”  and had no conditioning prior to the experiment.) 

According to the paper, the monkeys were assigned unisex partners and then one of the pair would be placed in the test cage with one of the plastic objects. Observations included “passive contact,” whereby contact between the monkey and the object was not intentional, and active engagement that ranged from intentionally moving the object to playing with it and/or mouthing or chewing it. For the most part, the interactions were consistent between each group based on the different objects and all subjects tended to manipulate the novel objects more than the familiar. Higher and lower manipulation trends were experienced by all the monkeys during the same periods of time throughout the multi-week experiment. Although, there were some statistically differences in manipulation rates between males and females when they were alone (in general the male rate was twice as high in the first block); between males and females when they were with a partner; and between objects (regardless of sex).

In the first part of the experiment, an individual monkey that intentionally manipulated an object, was “punished” with an air blast. In general, the monkeys stopped manipulating the objects after two or three blasts. Later, when the conditioned monkeys came back to the test cage for the second stage, they avoided the objects without any air blasts. In the third part of the experiment, the (now) conditioned monkey was brought into the cage with its naïve partner. and the plastic object. In the fourth part, the naïve partner was brought into the cage with the plastic object. 

Dr. Stephenson wanted to see if (and how) the conditioned learning would be transferred. He observed the following:

(a) many of the naïve monkeys were cautious about the plastic object when they observed the behavior of their conditioned partners;

(b) most of the conditioned male monkeys (in various ways) intervened when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects and this sometimes altered subsequent (fourth stage) behavior*;

(c) most of the conditioned female monkeys did not interfere when their naïve partners approached the plastic objects; and 

(d) some of the conditioned female monkeys approached the plastic objects when their naïve partners were not blasted with air (indicating that they learned through observation that the “punishment” was not being applied).

Later experiments, conducted with different monkeys and under slightly different – including some that used food, showed a higher (baseline) manipulation rate with the female monkeys, but similar results in the interaction between conditioned and naïve pairs (i.e., male monkeys were more likely to interfere when their partners tried to manipulate the objects). Some of these later experiments found that female monkeys with infants were more likely to pull their offspring away from an object than a naïve peer.

*NOTE: Later experiments also found that the level of interference, with regard to male monkeys, may make a difference in the naïve partners interaction with the test object in the fourth stage. 

I regard culture as the constellation of behaviors characteristic of a single social group, behaviors which are transgenerational and socially learned by individuals as members of the group. The present report describes an attempt to apply controlled laboratory methods to a social learning situation suggested by the above field and laboratory observations. My particular interest was whether the learned avoidance behavior of a conditioned monkey toward a conditioning object could induce a lasting effect on the behavior of a second toward that same object.

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–  quoted from A. Introduction” in Cultural Acquisition of a Specific Learned Response Among Rhesus Monkeyby Gordon R. Stephenson, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Fast forward again, to 2011, when an article entitled “What Monkeys Can Teach us About Human Behavior” appeared as a Psychology Today post. The post was written by creativity expert and author Michael Michalko, who served as an officer in the United States Army and worked with “NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods” and then applied those methods to problem solve. He has since extended that knowledge about problem solving into the corporate and public sphere. In his 2011 post, he described the now infamous “5 Monkeys” experiment, which is the story I came across some years ago after meeting Merrick Rosenberg. And, maybe, it’s a story you’ve heard.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment goes like this: Researchers placed 5 monkeys in a cage with a set of steps placed underneath bananas tied to the top of the cage. Whenever the monkeys started using the steps to get to the bananas, the researchers sprayed them with ice cold water until they stopped. Once the monkeys were conditioned to not go for the bananas, the researchers replaced one of the conditioned monkeys with a naïve monkey and observed the four conditioned monkeys intervening, sometimes violently, whenever the naïve monkey headed for the steps. Once the new monkey was conditioned, the researchers replaced another conditioned monkey with a naïve monkey and repeated the steps until the cage contained the steps, the bananas, and 5 monkeys that had never been sprayed with water – but had been conditioned by their peers to not go after the bananas!

It’s a great story. It’s a really great story, especially if you want an easy-to-follow, scientifically-supported business lesson about culture and conditioned behavior. It’s a really great and inspiring story if, as one CPA and Controller stated in 2019, you’re “not a big fan of fiction.”

There’s just one problem.

The “5 Monkeys” experiment, by all indications, is fiction.

In a comment on Michalko’s blog post, primatologist Frans De Waal expressed some skepticism about the experiment and asked Michalko if he had a scientific reference for this study. In response to the comment from another reader, Michalko posted the following:

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‘FIVE MONKEYS. This story originated with the research of G.R. Stephenson. (Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.)’ ….

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… His research inspired the story of five monkeys. Some believe the story is true, while others believed it’s an exaggerated account of his research. True story or not, his published research with rhesus monkeys, in my opinion, makes the point.’

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–  quoted from the Psychology Today blog post What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Human Behavior: From Facts to Fiction – When creativity crosses the line.by Dario Maestripieri Ph.D. (Reviewed by Ekua Hagan), posted March 20, 2012

By his own words, Michael Michalko knew the published details of Dr. Gordon Stephenson’s experiment  and knew that that experiment did not use food, a ladder, water, or more than two monkeys in a cage at a time. Neither did it include a naïve/community-conditioned monkey that “took part in the punishment with enthusiasm!” as he described. Although, that description kind of parallels Dr. Wolfgang Köhler’s observation that once his chimpanzees came up with a solution, they executed their plan with “unwavering purpose.” Given the similarities and his work in the Army (and specifically in Germany), I think it’s safe to assume that Michael Michalko was familiar with Dr. Köhler work – and most (if not all) of the significant research in the same area. It’s also possible that he knew a little bit about Dr. Köhler’s experience with the Nazis. At the very least, he knew German history and (I imagine) he knew about the papers of Drs. Köhler and Stephenson and the experiments they cited in their work. Regarding those citations, it’s important to note that Dr. Stephenson’s introduction specifically references experiments and field observations that theoretically imply that the conclusions of the hypothetical “5 Monkeys” experiment could exist in a real life scenario. (In fact, those implications were part of Dr. Stephenson’s inspiration. You know, they established a hypothesis.) Finally, we know, based on Michael Michalko’s work in the public and private sectors, that he knows how to communicate and teach ideas.

So, it makes sense, that he would tell the story that he told. It’s a great story and we can easily see the truth of our lived experience with regard to violent conditioning in our own society. The thing is, while some people might focus on that lived truth – and others might focus on the fact that there’s no evidence the experiment ever happened – my focus today is a little different. I’m looking at how and why the story came to be; how it’s become part of some people’s culture; and how the belief that the story is verifiably true plays a part in our actions.

Remember, what we believe bridges the gap between what we conceive and what we achieve. This is true on an individual level and on a community/cultural level.

Some people tell the “5 Monkeys” story as a cautionary tale. Some people use it to underscore the importance of examining why they – individually and collectively – do the things they do. But a lot of people tell the story because they think it’s true. And, given the truth, I find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story highlights perceived male monkey behavior, but not the wisdom of observation exhibited by the female monkeys in Gordon R. Stephenson, et al, experiments. I also find it interesting that the “5 Monkeys” story doesn’t highlight the insight exhibited by the chimpanzees in Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments.

In the real life experiments, the chimpanzees and monkeys recognized that things change, from day to day and moment to moment. In the real life experiments, the primates were curious about their environment and their culture. They weren’t ever (really) passive, even when they weren’t directly engaging. Which brings me back to where we started: with childhood and the fact that we’ve all been children who inherited culture(s) and cultural understanding about our individual and collective communities.

Whether we like it our not, our lives are a reflection of our beliefs. Not, I might add, a reflection of what we say we believe or what we want to believe, but what we actually believe. And our beliefs are built around the stories we’ve been told and the stories we tell ourselves.

Stories… that sometimes aren’t actually true.

If we wish to imitate the physical sciences, we must not imitate them in their highly developed contemporary form. Rather, we must imitate them in their historical youth, when their state of development was comparable to our own at the present time. Otherwise we should behave like boys who try to copy the imposing manners of full-grown men without understanding their raison d’être, also without seeing that intermediate phase of development cannot be skipped.

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–  quoted from Chapter II: Psychology as a Young Science” in Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology by Dr. Wolfgang Köhler

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” ~ Rosa Parks ###

 

Another Appointment (*REVISED*) October 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Hope, Music, Pain, Suffering, Tragedy, Vipassana.
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“And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body dead…, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: ‘Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it.’

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Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

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– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 27th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s 4:30 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Wednesday’s 7:15 playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272021 Another Appointment EVE”]

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

Click here for last year’s post related to this practice.

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For Those Who Missed It: Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Fitness, Health, Life, Loss, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted on October 26, 2020. Class details and links (including the video link) have been updated for today.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

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

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

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

The practice begins ~5 minutes in….

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

Lesson 1.34 October 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Philosophy, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me today (Monday, October 25th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

The author Anne Tyler turned 80 today! Here’s last year’s post inspired by our lives and her writing.

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### Breathe In (Know That You Are Breathing In); Breathe Out (Know That You Are Breathing Out) ###

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.
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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.
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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 ###