jump to navigation

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 1st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 3-4) & World AIDS Day 2021”]

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

*

### DO YOU REMEMBER? ###

*

Why So Much Focus On Light? (mostly the music w/a link) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to anyone celebrating! May your lights shine bright!

“To a casual reader, this sutra seems to tell us only that a mind free of worry and grief and infused with inner light automatically flows peacefully inward. But in the Sri Vidya tradition, this sutra is considered the core of the entire text.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.36 from The Secret of the Yoga Sūtra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 30th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 2) 2020”]

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 yesterday’s post related to this practice (with embedded links related to last year’s practices).

“One of the great mysteries of life is life itself.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.36 from The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

.

### “viśokā vā jyotişmatī” (YS 1.36) ###

When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. 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.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

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

*

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

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

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###

Cowboy, I Moustache You To Go… Over Here (the “missing” Sunday post) November 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, Movember 28th. There are mental health references, but nothing graphic. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Anyhow, Mr. Coolidge – I am going to tell you about the people over the radio. You can’t talk over the radio and use the same type of stuff that you do on the stage, because you haven’t got that kind of audience. Everybody listening in over the radio wouldn’t laugh like this. A radio audience – and I’m not saying this to flatter you, but everybody, you all wouldn’t have come in if you hadn’t had a sense of humor. There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in. They don’t have that over the radio. I am sure you all had to have a sense of humor; it is certain that sex appeal drew nobody in here, and I’m positive that nobody come in to whet their intellect. No, you come in here to get just a laugh, but over the radio you have people listening in there with no sense of humor at all. Anybody can tune in on that.

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage, Volume Four, September 1915 –  July 1928  by Will Rogers, edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson 

It may have been on his lecture tour, maybe even on April 16, 1928, that Will Rogers said, “There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in.” I think that statement could be applied to yoga – as can the rest of that discussion about having a sense of humor and about the difference between sharing space live and in-person versus sharing virtual or recorded space. There’s no denying that there’s a difference. And while it is may also true that people are not drawn in by the sex appeal or to “whet their intellect,” it doesn’t change the fact yoga can be sexy and intellectual, as well as funny – just like vaudeville.

Vaudeville, an upscale version of your garden variety variety show, was a 19th century French invention that experienced a great deal of popularity in North America beginning in the 1880’s. A large part of that popularity can be traced to the “Orpheum Circuit,” which was started when the German producer and American immigrant Gustav Walter built the first Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. With financial backing from another German-American, Morris Meyerfeld Jr (born November 17, 1855 as Moses Meyerfeld), the impresario opened a second and third Orpheum in a pre-existing theatres in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively. All three theatres opened to sold out houses and experienced great success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the duo could book entertainers to go from one house to the other and use the publicity in one city to push ticket sales in the other cities.

Their plan was to expand through the Midwest. However, Gustav Walter died unexpectedly (after suffering with appendicitis for four days) on May 9, 1898, just three months after the Kansas City theatre opened). Morris (née Moses) Meyerfeld became the circuit’s president and, in order to carry out the original plan, paired up with Martin Lehman. After opening five more theatres, the pair joined forces with the Western Circuit of Vaudeville Theaters (WCVT); hired Hungarian immigrant Martin Beck as a booking agent (the same booking agent that would give Harry Houdini his big break); and eventually created the Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) with leaders of the Eastern Vaudeville Circuit, like Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II. 

Eventually, the big circuits merged to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit which, after more mergers and acquisitions became Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), which included the movie studio RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (later known as RKO Pictures). But that’s jumping way ahead in the story. Not to mention the fact that by the time RKO Pictures formed in 1928, Will Rogers had already filmed almost 50 silent films produced by a Polish-American immigrant named Samuel Goldwyn (born August 27, 1882 as Szmuel Gelbfisz, and also known as Samuel Goldfish). So, let’s step back a minute…

According to The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, Volume Three, September 1908 – 1915, (by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair) the first Orpheum opened June 20, 1887 and Gustav Walter was booking vaudeville-only bills by 1897. Meaning that when Will Rogers was seven some of the seeds for his success had been planted and by the time he was 18 those seeds had taken root.

After working at his family’s ranch (Dog Iron Ranch), spending some time in Argentina and the Pampas, and working at a ranch in South Africa, “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” started doing his rope tricks in the circus. First he performed in South Africa with Texas Jack Wild West Circus and then he performed in Australia with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He was about twenty-five when he returned to the United States, roping and riding at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, rodeos, and the vaudeville circuits that were just starting to come together. He was twenty-five when his rope “tricks” saved the day at Madison Square Garden and caught the attention of William Hammerstein (see “Will Rogers” link above), who kept him consistently employed, performing on a New York rooftop, for years.

In many ways, however, that rooftop gig was a bit of a fluke and the success that followed was, again, in large part because of the infrastructure that had been established by the vaudeville producers. Those previously mentioned partnerships, collaborations, and organizations connected audiences that previously had been targeted by niche entertainers and created a circuit that relied on entertainers who could appeal to people in urban as well as rural areas. The circuit would eventually guarantee performers anywhere from 20 weeks to several years worth of performances – something that had previously been unheard of for entertainers like the cowboy philosopher or a certain “handcuff king.”

“Will Rogers, billed as the Oklahoma Cowboy, in a rope act is a feature at the Orpheum this week. He does wonders in rope spinning but you get so much interested in his ‘patter’ that you forget to watch the tricks, as he calls them. He is a monolinguist disguised in chaps, and one of the best ever….

*

PD. Printed in Kansas City Post and Journal, ca. 26 October 1914. Scrapbook 1914, CPpR”

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway: Volume Three, September 1908 –  August 1915  by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair

NOTE: The scrapbook cited above, containing a printed copy of the Kansas City Post and Journal, is part of the collection at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Pacific Palisades, California (CPpR).

Will Rogers signed a major Orpheum Circuit contract in December 1908, soon after he married Betty Blake (and only days after she saw him perform for the first time). The newlyweds spent the first four months of 1909 traveling the circuit together – something they would continue off and on throughout their marriage. By 1910, Will Rogers was so popular that he was being booked by all the major vaudeville producers and even mounted his own “Wild West” show. For many years, including in 1913 and 1914, he spent the end of summer through the beginning of winter on the Orpheum Circuit. In fact, in August 1914, he started in San Francisco (performing five days at the very first Orpheum theatre); then performed at six California Orpheum theatres plus a non “Orpheum” theatre in California and eight Orpheum theatres from Salt Lake City, Utah to Minneapolis (November 8-14) and Duluth (November 16-21). From November 22-28, he performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ten years later, on November 28, 1925, he would be performing in Washington, D. C. and visiting with President Calvin Coolidge.

While I normally reference “the Will Rogers phenomenon” (as it relates to prostate health) at the beginning of Movember, I decided to use that last little bit of trivia to bring awareness to the fact that stage migration also occurs in relation to mental health. Remember, “the Will Rogers phenomenon” is a situation where moving something from one category to another increases the average value of both categories. In medical stage migration this can occur when awareness, testing, and/or overall medical understanding changes diagnosis so that previously undetected illness is detected – which can increase the average life expectancy of people who are considered “healthy” as well as those who are considered “unhealthy.”

Note, the “Will Rogers” links above all go to the same post about prostate cancer diagnosis, but this situation also holds true for other health issues where early detection is the key to survival. It holds true for different kinds of cancer, and also applies to heart and lung issues, diabetes, and mental health issues.

We all know that the last few years have been rough – on every one – and the challenges in life include increased physical, mental, and emotional stress. If we consider these akin to the three-fold sorrows, then we (humans) have the power to eliminate this dis-ease. Eliminating our own suffering, however, requires awareness and communication. In the last few years there has been an increase in people reporting mental health issues and while that can be daunting, consider that every year people have mental health crisis that “no one saw coming,” in part because people didn’t share what they were experience and/or seek help. Some of the discrepancies between men and women’s health, including the fact that 4 in 5 people affected by suicide are men, may come down to socialization.  

It sucks that so many people are struggling, but – believe it or not – an increase in reporting is actually good news. The fact that people are sharing their experiences and seeking guidance, even treatment, is actually a good thing. It’s also the smart thing. 

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

*

– Will Rogers

Sunday’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Mov 4th & Will Rogers 2020”]

You don’t have to take my word for all this! Click here for the US Movember website page on mental health, featuring men sharing their own stories. Just click and scroll down.

“I realized, over time, that when I actually began to talk about what I was going through, it actually began to heal me.”

*

– Eric Bigger, quoted on the (US) Movember website

 

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

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

 

### ALEC ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (the Tuesday post w/an extra Wednesday link & some Thursday notes) November 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Food, Gratitude, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Give thanks!

This is the post for Tuesday, November 23rd. There is a link at the end for a post related to November 24th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 *

– Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1), KJV

For many people in the United States, this week is supposed to be about gratitude and if you were educated in (or around) the USA, you know at least one story about how the fourth Thursday of November came to be all about gratitude. There’s just one problem… Well, ok, there’s a lot of problems; however, today I just want to mention the fact that the story most of us were taught about the Pilgrims and the “Indians” was only part of the story: the part about gratitude. But, for a very long time we weren’t taught the part about greed.

Now, I know, I’m about to lose some of you – or maybe I’ve already lost you. But, if you stick with me for a moment, you might actually thank me.

Some wise person once said, “History is written by the victors.” We can spend a lot of time contemplating the many weird ways that manifests when it comes to the history of the USA in general, but it’s pretty clear cut when it comes to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were the victors and, as many would not have survived 1621 without the aide of the First Nations people, they told a story of peaceful people fleeing religious persecution and then being saved by the kindness of strangers. It’s a “pretty” story –  a story for kids –  so it usually (and understandably) leaves out how very dire the situation was for the Pilgrims. However, that version also leaves out some pertinent facts about the identities of the people involved. Finally, it leaves out the fact that a day of thanksgiving is very common in a lot of cultures – especially religious cultures – and that other English settlers had already established an annual day of Thanksgiving in the “New World” long before the Pilgrims arrived.

Let’s start with that bit about “other English settlers.”

In 1619 – almost a year before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World – thirty-eight settlers sailed on the Margaret to what we now call Virginia. They traveled to an area of eight thousand established as Berkeley Hundred. The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) issued the land grant and directed the settlers to establish a “yearly and perpetually kept” day of Thanksgiving as soon as they arrived. Which they did… a little over two years before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving. When the Powhatan people forced the remaining Berkeley Hundred settlers to move to the Jamestown (in March 1622), the settlers continued the tradition of giving thanks in/on a new land.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

 *

– Tehillim – Psalms (100:1-5), KJV

Speaking of “Pilgrims,” let’s get into that bit about identity.

Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and arrived at “Plymouth Rock” on the Mayflower. So far as I know, that’s mostly true. What many of us were not taught, however, is that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pilgrims” with a capital P. They were puritans, specifically “Brownists” or “Separatist Puritans” (not to be confused with capital P “Puritans”), who initially fled to Holland in the early 1600’s. This is an important note, because the settlers lived in Holland –  and established a relatively stable community in Holland – for over a decade before they decided to travel to the New World. People had different reasons for wanting to leave Holland. In fact, some of those reasons are the same reasons people today decide to immigrate to the USA. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, however, they were not straight off the boat from England. Curiously, one of their reasons for leaving Holland was that the religious community was aging and the younger generation had started assimilating. In other words, the children of the adults who had fled religious persecution were more Dutch than English. 

One hundred, two people reportedly traveled from Holland to the New World on the Mayflower in the summer of 1620. About half of those people came from Leiden, Holland, but only about 27% of that original number were adult members of the separatist church. Two people died during the 65+ days journey and two people were born – one at sea and one at the shoreline. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two that died were not part of the congregation. Although one, probably both, of the two that were born were part of the congregation, their numbers wouldn’t have been included as “adults.” So, let’s say, against all odds, all 28 members of the Church survived the journey and participated in the thanksgiving prayer when landed was sighted on November 9, 1620. Either way, by the following month almost everyone was sick and good number (about half) would die during the first winter. 

So, think about this for a moment: Heading into the planting season, the less than 50 people remaining were weakened and unprepared for the upcoming winter. Truth be told, they were unprepared from the start. According to one of those on board the Mayflower, they “borrowed” corn and beans from the existing homes they found when they first came on shore. I say “borrowed” because their intention was to pay for the seeds they intended to plant – seeds they would not have had had they not stolen borrowed them. In other words, without those seeds it is unlikely they would have had anything to eat during the winter of 1621. We can say that they were ill and desperate. We can say that they had the best of intentions. But…

The settlers first direct contact with the people from whom the most likely stole was understandably not good – although that’s not usually part of the story. What is part of the story and what is probably true is that despite having some bad encounters, there were some First Nations leaders who were willing to help the settlers.

But then there’s the whole issue of who those First Nations people were. There were hundreds of tribes in the so-called New World when settlers arrived in the 1600’s. These First Nations included a variety of groups associated with the Wampanoa (or Wôpanâak), including the Nauset, Patuxet, and Pauquunaukit (or Pokanoket) – all of whom had encountered English settlers before the Pilgrims arrived and did not necessarily have favorable history with those settlers. Past experiences had taught the First Nations people that encounters with the English would result in loss, either through theft, violence, or illness. In fact, the Pilgrims settled on land that had previously belonged to people (the Patuxet) who died from an epidemic.

In the theory, the lone survivor of the infectious disease that wiped out the Patuxet was Tisquantum, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain; taken to England in the early 1600’s; and then returned to his village in 1619 (after being “anglicized” and possibly baptized) – only to find his village decimated. Probably for a variety of reasons, he helped the Pilgrims survive. However, there is some discrepancy about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Some accounts say that the First Nations people were not initially/officially invited, but were welcomed once they arrived. Other accounts suggest the table was always blended.

Why are there different accounts? Because they were told by different people.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

*

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Click here for more about the author Zitkála-Šá.

*

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

At the end of Tuesday’s practices, I asked if people would rather be grateful or greedy. It’s a question for those of us living in a material world, but I also think it’s a great question because of the times in which we are living. It is so easy to view things we want as things we need and, in the process, lose sight of the things we have. We might even lose the opportunity to “get what we need,” because we are so focused on the things we want (and remember “we can’t always get what we want”). Sometimes, we’re so busy waiting for something to happen that we forget about what is happening, right here and right now.

During the 2015 Sukkot retreat, some of us started saying, “Don’t be greedy, be grateful.” First, it was a much needed reminder because the food was so amazing! Later, for me, it became a great little mantra when I found myself wanting more of something – whether that was more of my favorite treat, more yoga with a certain teacher, and/or more time with a special person in my life. Moving the focus from desire to appreciation changed my behavior around those specific elements, and also changed the way I interacted with all the other aspects of myself and my life. Turns out, that’s part of the practice. 

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali classifies attachment rooted in pleasure (which we refer to as attachment) and attachment rooted in pain (which we refer to as aversion) as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that are rooted in avidyā (“ignorance”) and lead to suffering. Part of that suffering comes from the fact that things and people change in ways that are not consistent with our desires and expectations. Another part of that suffering comes from the fact that we can spend so much time and energy focused on obtaining and achieving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want that our judgement becomes cloudy. We find ourselves, like the religious colonizers, acting in ways that are in direct opposition of our beliefs. In fact, we can get so greedy – so covetous, if you will – that we forget that laws that govern us. 

Religions (like all of the Abrahamic faiths) and philosophies (like Yoga and Buddhism) have laws, rules, and/or precepts related to stealing. We can look at these as guidelines that keep order within a society, but if we dig deeper we start to notice that they also keep order within an individual. For example, the Yoga Philosophy begins with an ethical component comprised of five yamas (“external restraints” or universal commandments) and five niyamas (internal “observations”). All ten are interconnected, but there is a direct connection between the third yama and the second niyama. The third yama is asteya (“non-stealing”) and the second niyama is santosha (“contentment”). We can easily see how being satisfied, even happy, with what we have curbs the urge to desire what belongs to someone else. It turns out, however, that accepting what we have with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude can also lead to happiness.

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Modern research has shown again, and again, that giving thanks – or even trying to come up with something for which you are grateful – changes your brain chemistry and, over time, can elevate your baseline for happiness. Practicing gratitude is a game changer and an attitude changer. So, while there are certain times in the year that we’ve designated as a day of thanks, the truth is that we can benefit from practicing gratitude every day.

The 16th century rabbi Moshe ben Machir (or Moshe ben Yehudah haMachiri) is the author of Seder haYom, first published in 1598/1599. The title literally means Today’s Order and gives a detailed outline of how an observant Jew should move through the days of their life. The day starts with a prayer, a prayer of thanks. This prayer (“Modeh Ani” / “Modah Ani”) is very interesting on several different levels. First, it is described as the very first thing one does. Can you imagine saying, “Thank you” before doing anything else? Even before washing one’s hands or brushing one’s teeth, even before checking one’s phone (in a modern context).

Think for a moment about that old adage about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. That implies that there is a right or correct side of the bed. It’s all about how you start your day.

Now, imagine what happens if you start your day with gratitude.

Second interesting thing: This is not a generic thank you. It is specifically a thank you, to G-d, for keeping one’s soul safe and then returning it to one’s body. Here’s two more things to keep in mind. First, most Jewish prayers are said after one washes their hands. So this prayer is different in that it doesn’t use the name of G-d. Second, just like with a lot of sacred languages, Hebrew uses the same word(s) for spirit/soul as for breath. Hebrew is different from some other languages, however, in that it has specific words for spirit/soul/breath in the body (inhale) versus outside of the body (exhale). So this prayer is about being grateful for being given this day and this breath. It is an acknowledgement that this day, this present moment, is not promised. It is a gift. It is a gift, in the religious context, of faith – given with the belief that one will do something with the time they have been given.

Outside, of a religious context, starting the day by saying, “Thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe…” is a reminder that this day and this breath are valuable and worthy of appreciation. That specific phrasing is courtesy of Jess, a person in the UK who uploads guided meditations on YouTube. I really appreciate their vocal tone and accent and find that, even after a few weeks of using the recording, the best parts of the practice have taken root. And, just like other things that take root, more gratitude blossoms from there. 

Try it. Even without the recording below. I bet if you say the first two, you’ll start to think of other things – even people – for which you are grateful. I feel pretty comfortable in betting you that if you consistently appreciate the things and people you have in your life, you will gain new appreciation of your life.

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

*

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

*

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

Here’s Jess, bringing the gratitude…

 

Just a reminder that there was no class on Wednesday, November 24th, but I sent out substitute recordings related to this date-specific practice. I will also send out substitute recordings for Saturday. Classes will “re-zoom” on Sunday, November 28th.

 

### Thank You (for being you)! ###

(For Those Who Missed It) This Room, This Music, This Light, This Darkness: This Dance November 22, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Hope, Life, Loss, Peace, Philosophy, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

The following was originally posted on November 22, 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post.

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.”

– quoted from 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Life changes in a moment…in a heartbeat, in a breath. Sometimes we don’t even notice the change until it is coupled with a bunch of other changes. Every once in a while, however, something makes us pause, stop in our tracks, breathe, reflect. Sometimes we pause because of something breathtakingly beautiful. Other times, our breath is taken by something heartbreakingly tragic.

Today in 1963 was a Friday, and a little girl missed her first sleepover. Had she been any other 5-year old girl, nobody would have cared or even noticed, but the reason this little girl missed her first sleepover is the same reason high school, college, and professional football games were cancelled or postponed. It was the same reason people all over the world were glued to the radios and televisions. Today in 1963, a wife lost her husband; three children (that five-year old girl, her almost three-year old brother, and her yet to be born brother) lost their father; and the whole world paused, stopped, as a Nation lost – and then gained – a leader meant to usher in a new era of civil rights and environmental conservation.

Today in 1963, at 12:30 PM (Central Standard Time), President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove down Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Governor of Texas John Connally – who was riding in the motorcade with his wife Nellie, President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and two members of the United States Secret Service – was seriously wounded. A bystander was also injured by a ricochet.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

– a poem by Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

President Kennedy was not a perfect man, but he remains a key figure in American history and, for many, a symbol of democracy and “American” ideals. He was the first Catholic president; the youngest person to be elected president; and the sixteenth U. S. Senator to serve as president – one of three people who moved directly from the Senate floor to the Oval Office. He was also the fourth sitting United States President to be assassinated (by gunshot, although one could argue that Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley could have survived with better medical attention). Many people saw President Kennedy’s assassination as a moment when Americans lost their (collective) innocence and many felt his death as a personal loss, as if they had lost a member of their family or a dear friend.

Whichever way you see it (or him), President Kennedy’s death was the middle and the beginning of a cascade of events that, arguably, changed history. It also started the domino effect on conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Many people have wondered what would have happened if he had not been assassinated.  As he was beginning to campaign for a second term, people have theorized what the country would have been like if he had run and won – or even had an opportunity to deliver either of the speeches he had written for events scheduled on November 22, 1963.

“For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future – and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver to the Texas Democratic State Committee in Austin, Texas, in the evening, on November 22, 1963

Historians and political scientists have likewise contemplated what would have happened to the country if his brother Bobby, who served as Attorney General and as a U. S. Senator, and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been assassinated. After considerably research, Stephen King wrote a novel about a man who goes back in time with the intention of preventing JFK’s assassination. Of course, as is always the case when dealing with chaos theory, things are not as simple as changing one thing and moving forward.

There is always an inner ripple and an outer ripple; there is always a sticky domino; there is always a butterfly – and, in the case of 11/22/63 (which was turned into the television miniseries 11.22.63), history pushes back. We may not like how life unfolds, collapses, and converges, but we must sometimes consider the words of Namagiriamma Krishnamacharya, who said, “Maybe this situation has happened for a reason. A reason that will unfold later.”

“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions – it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations – it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas, Texas, in the afternoon, on November 22, 1963

The 2020 playlist associated with this date is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11/22/63”]

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.)

“Dear Mr. President

Thank you for walking yesterday – behind Jack. You did not have to do that – I am sure many people forbid you take such a risk – but you did it anyway.

Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them letter – you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now….

But you were Jack’s right arm – I always thought the greatest act of a gentlemen that I had seen on this earth – was how you – the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you….

But of course [Jack’s ship pictures] are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it – I pictured some gleaming longhorns – I hope you put them somewhere –

It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office – to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay – I promise – they will soon be gone –

Thank you Mr. President

Respectfully

Jackie”

­

– excerpts from a short letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, written by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, dated “November 26 Tuesday” (the day after JFK’s funeral)

“All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.

The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. Today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. He lives on in the mind and memories of mankind. He lives on in the hearts of his countrymen. No words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began….

We will carry on the fight against poverty, and misery, and disease, and ignorance, in other lands and in our own. We will serve all the nation, not one section or one sector, or one group, but all Americans.

These are the United States: A united people with a united purpose.”

– quoted from the “Let Us Continue” speech delivered to Congress and the public by President Lyndon B. Johnson, November 27, 1963  


### “Life turns on a dime” again and again (11/22/63, SK) ###

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.”

.

–  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.”

.

–  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 Power and Responsibility of Cultivating a Good Heart (the Wednesday post) November 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for Wednesday, November 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.]

“You can read about [other] countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

.

“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly.”

.

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

Some of the word’s and sentiments from Sunday’s class have really resonated with me this week. What has stuck the most are Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s lessons on friendship and, in particular, friendship that transcends the trivialities we often cycle as adults. Obviously, being an extrovert and (presumably) a parrot, I’m big on friendships and being in community – all of which I have found especially priceless throughout my lifetime of moving around and during the pandemic – and this is not the first time I’ve focused on friendship. Still, this week’s focus keeps coming back to friendship because Indian philosophies identify it is one of the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) unique to being human.

As you may recall, the philosophy of yoga is one of six major Indian philosophies or darśana in Sanskrit, which means “point of view” or “ways to see.” One of the other six philosophies is Sankhya (or Sāṁkhya), which is the one most closely related to Yoga. Sankhya is the oldest Indian philosophy and focuses on the way in which one thinks/reasons and understands purusha (“pure consciousness”) and prakriti (unmanifested, primordial “matter”), and how everything and everyone manifests/exists as a result of these two elements combining with the forces of three “energies” (gunas) inherent in matter.

Yoga and Sankhya are so closely related that certain philosophical question arise at all times: (Once you are aware of yourself, doing whatever you are doing) are you practicing yoga or sankhya? And is there a non-subjective way to measure, qualify, or quantify the degree to which you are doing one versus the other? For that matter, is there a non-subjective way to measure the interior movements of the heart and how practicing can shake us to our core?

In an 1881 British translation of Ishvara Krishna’s Sāṁkhya Kārikā, one of the earliest surviving texts from this foundational philosophy, eight “perfections (or means of acquiring perfection)” are translated as  “the proper use of reasoning, word or oral instruction, study or reading, the suppression of the three kinds of pain, acquisition of friends and liberality.” Similar to commentary for Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it is noted that these achievements can also be “checks” as well as obstructions or hinderances – meaning that the ability to engage these “powers” is a sign of good and balanced vitality, but focusing only on achieving these goals can also become an obstacle to overall enlightenment and/or an end to all suffering. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, of the Himalayan Institute, combines the middle siddhis; refers to them as “the powers and privileges unique to humans;” and explains them as follows:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., “’knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge’”);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

We can debate whether or not humans are the only beings on the planet capable of these abilities, but I think our time is better spent considering the immense power of this siddhis… and the great responsibility that comes with these great powers.

“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

.

– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

As I mention on his birthday, the 14th Dalai Lama was selected as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet at 2 years old;  publicly presented at 4 years old; and assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5. On November 17, 1950, at the age of 15, he assumed his full political duties. Think about all that power and responsibility… in the hands, head, and heart of a 15 year old! Then add in the fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had invaded Tibet at the end of 1949, just a few months before His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 15th birthday. And, sure, he hadn’t reached his majority – so there was a regent, his guardian Ngawang Sungrab Thutob, acting as the head of the Tibetan Government – but the Dalai Lama still carried the weight of the nation’s future.

Four years later, in November of 1954 the Dalai Lama was several months into a visit to China, during which he engaged in peace talks with Chairman Mao (Zedong) and other Chinese officials. Two years later, in November of 1956, the 21-year old holding the highest spiritual title in Tibetan Buddhism was visiting India in preparation for the Buddha’s 2,500th birthday celebration. He was forced to flee his homeland at the age of 23, but still continued to serve as the leader of his people. He still taught the lessons of the Buddha: that there is suffering and there is a way to end suffering.

As a refugee, the 14th Dalai Lama saw a need an opportunity to speak to the world. After several years traveling and teaching throughout, he made his first visit to the West. From September to November of 1973, he spoke in Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Austria. In those moments abroad, he spoke on things that would become a reoccurring theme in his teachings to the world, reoccurring themes in his gifts to the world: the purpose of life and matters of the heart.

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

.

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

.

“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. The great changes that are taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”

.

– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we believe (or don’t believe) I think we could all benefit from walking a mile (or more) in someone else’s shoes. Long before modern scientists started researching and recommending various forms of role playing to cultivate empathy and cope with trauma, ancient philosophies like Yoga and religions like Roman Catholicism prescribed self-study and contemplation, respectively. Both svādhyāya, the fourth internal “observation” in Yoga, and contemplation in Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, are practices that involve putting one’s self in the situations of historical and spiritually significant figures. The thing is, these figures were just people in their own times. We can consider them extraordinary people and we can say that they lived in extraordinary times. And they really did. But, also, they and their times were just extra ordinary – no more and no less extraordinary than our times will appear to people decades and eons in the future.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; when we consider their experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds; and when we consider all the things that lead them to think, say, and do the things they think, say, and do, we are doing the same work a method actor (or dancer) does to get into a role. Konstantin Stanislavski developed the physically grounded rehearsal process officially known as “The Method of Physical Action” and most commonly known as “The Method” or Method Acting. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the method and many of those misconceptions stem from disagreements between Lee Strasberg (who was born Israel Lee Strassberg on November 17, 1901) and Stella Adler.  

Mr. Strasberg is remembered as the “father of method acting in America;” Ms. Adler has been called “the mother of modern acting;” and those misconceptions… they’re what happens when people get divorced and think that their former partner is the worst parent on the planet.

For example, some people think the method is all about a performer becoming so indistinguishable from their character that if their character is a jerk then they are a jerk to everyone around them – which is false (and super obnoxious, not to mention abusive). Some people don’t really understand the concept of “affective memory,” which is basically taping into the embodied experience one associates with a memory (that, it is recommended, is 7 or more years in the past) in order to deliver an authentic performance. People that misunderstand (and/or disapprove) of “affective memory” think it is all about trauma – which is false (and is a misunderstanding that can be dangerous).  As David Lee Strasberg has explained, “[The Method is about] behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” It’s about deep-rooted self-awareness and using that self-awareness to harness the embodied power of past experiences. It’s about sensation.

I often say, “sensation, that’s the information,” and emphasize that sensation is the way the mind-body-spirit communicates. In reality, sensation is the ultimate information. And the way we feel actually allows us to communicate with ourselves and with other people – even people who speak languages that are foreign to us. Sensation, the way something makes us feel, is the reason we respond to music, art, and dance. It’s part of the reason we get caught up in sports, as well as movies, plays, and TV shows in languages we don’t speak or read. It’s also why we respond to a smile.

What if all that it took to save our lives
Together was to rise up

What if I had your heart
What if you wore my scars
How would we break down (Break down)
What if I were you

What if I told your lies
What if you cried with my eyes
Could anyone keep us down
What if you were me
What if I were you

.

– quoted from the song What If” by Five for Fighting

What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we belong to each other. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we all deserve love and freedom from suffering. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we’re all only human. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught to do the best we can and that others are going to do the best they can. Can you imagine? 

You may call me a dreamer, but can you imagine if we all showed up like children on their best days? That doesn’t mean that we don’t have bad days or that we don’t disagree or that we won’t be misunderstood. Neither does it mean that we suddenly, magically, all become the same on the outside. What it does mean is that life is better when we come together. What it does mean is that we are at our best when we recognize our (individual and collective) strengths and weakness and use that awareness to create balance and stability. It means we meet each day and we meet each other in a friendly way. We say, “Let’s play, let’s learn, let’s grow – together.”

I didn’t just make those things up. Those are all lessons that are in the world. They are all lessons I have been taught by people like Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Rag’n’Bone Man, my dharma buddy Stacy, John Lennon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nina Simone, Michael Franti, Patanjali, the “Dolly Lama,” and the 14th Dalai Lama (just to name a few).

Can you imagine if we were all taught such things?

“One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there to simply make you more clever, make you more ingenious. Sometimes it even seems as if those who are not highly educated, those who are less sophisticated in terms of their educational training, are more innocent and more honest. Even though our society does not emphasize this, the most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart.

.

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama quoted from “Chapter 3 – Training the Mind for Happiness” in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: There’s a message on the YouTube playlist that is not available on Spotify, so I substituted a prayer. You can find the message here.

“So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart – a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others.

.

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Dylan B. Raines left a lovely comment related to the Dalai Lama on the music post for this practice. You can find out what Dylan’s contemplating by clicking here.

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

.

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

.

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

.

NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on Wednesday, November 24th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

.

### Suhrit-prapti ###

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

.

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

.

– 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.

.

–  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.

.

–  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.

.

–  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:

.

‘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.)’ ….

.

… 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.’

.

–  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.

.

–  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 ###

 

A Day for Children (a Sunday post practice post) November 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the post for Sunday, November 14th. 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.]

“You must have read many fairy tales and stories of long ago. But the world itself is the greatest fairy tale and story of adventure that was ever written. Only, we must have eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind that opens out to the life and beauty of the world.”

.

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

 

How many of the fairy tales, stories of adventure, and lessons from childhood do you remember today? How many of them have you internalized and used as you’ve navigated your way through life? How many have you gone back and re-read, as an adult, only to find you remembered things differently or have a different understanding as an adult? It happens to all of us. We learn so much about the world and so much about ourselves as children, but there’s a lot we don’t fully understand until later in life. Then, just as we are (maybe) starting to figure out the lessons of life, we find ourselves teaching others. The problem with teaching children, however, is that sometimes we’ve forgotten the best parts of being a child. And, sometimes, we are so busy teaching children how to be adults, that we forget to celebrate what it means to be a child.

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy highlight the mindset of a child with practices like shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santōsha (“contentment”), respectively. However, being the adults that we are, we can take these practices so seriously that we lose the wonder. We forget to celebrate childhood… and children. We forget that there is wisdom (and strength) in being a child. And so, sometimes, we need to literally put ourselves in the position of a child.

“So we must also think of their country and of many other countries in the world and remember that everywhere there are children like you going to school and play, sometimes quarrelling but always making friends again. You can read about these countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

.

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

Take a yoga class – almost any yoga class – for about a year, and at some point you’re going to come across a position you naturally found yourself in as a kid: Bālāsana, “Child’s Pose” or (quite literally) the “Child Seat.” The Sanskrit word shares roots with the Sanskrit word for “strength” and the “force [of an army]” as well as a medicinal plant, which is why some traditions call it “Leaf Pose.” In sacred philosophical texts, like some of the Upanishads, bālā is the word used for “boy” or “young child,” and so it is also associated with the power of wisdom. And while I just said, you could take almost any yoga class for about a year and come across “Child’s Pose,” in some styles and traditions it will be the very first pose on the very first day.

To get into the pose, you bring your big toes to touch behind you, sit on your heels, and then fold forward until your forehead and nose touch down and your arms rest by your hips. There are some extended variations where the arms rest on the floor over your head and there are some variations where the knees are spread wide. Some people can do it without props; some people can only do it with props; and some people do it with props even when they can do it without them. However, how ever one does it, it is a pose that we’ve all pretty much been in at some point in our lives. In that sense, it’s like a lot of other yoga poses; in that it occurs naturally in nature.

True and funny story, though: You won’t find the pose in very many texts on the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition – and definitely not in any of the early texts (even though it seems very similar to the seated and supine poses found in classical texts). Even more interesting, to me, is the fact that when you do find the pose it is considered an energetically “neutralizing” pose and assigned a difficulty level of 1 (meaning relatively easy). However, the pose offers a lot of benefits and can be quite difficult for some people.

For example, if you have knee issues; tight hips; tight quads; ankle issues; some digestive issues (particularly stomach issues); and/or issues like claustrophobia, you might find the pose really challenging. Some of these challenges can be overcome by sitting on a prop like a block or using a bolster to support your head, torso, and hips. You could also use a rolled up towel or blanket to support your head and even place a rolled up towel or blanket between the backs of thighs and the calves (i.e., between your hips and your heels). In some cases, you might feel best when siting in a chair with your toes tucked back (if that is accessible to you) and then folding over a table – with or without something to cushion your head. In the absence of props, you could rest your head on your stacked fists, hands, or forearms.

An option I often give, for people who are not pregnant, is to just lie flat (with or without props). Lying flat on your belly can provide the same opportunity (that Child’s Pose does) to physically and mentally rest between challenges. It can also help you get centered at the beginning of the practice and can provide similar release in the low back, the neck, and – depending on the arm placement – the shoulders. Laying flat can also be a similar way to mentally and emotionally decompress and turn inward. However, there are some benefits to practicing Bālāsana (and it’s play-cousin “Puppy Dog”) that you won’t experience when you lie down flat. For instance, Child’s Pose not only helps you release your low back, it also helps to stretch the entire length of the spine. It also helps to stretch out the quadriceps, knees, hips, ankles, and tops of the feet. According to some modern texts on āsana, Child’s Pose and it’s play-cousins (like “Puppy Dog” and “Downward Facing Hero”) relieve breathlessness, dizziness, fatigue, stress, and headaches; reduces high blood pressure; reduces acidity and flatulence; and alleviates menstrual pain and depression associated with menstruation.

I usually say “Child’s Pose is a modification for every pose,” because not only can you hang out / rest in Child’s Pose until you’re ready to re-join the sequence, but also the extension of the torso creates the opportunity to approximate the engagement of other poses. The adaptability of “Child’s Pose” is very much reminiscent of the flexibility and adaptability of an actual child – which we have all been. Funny thing, though: what happens on the mat is a reflection of what happens off the mat. Just like we can progress and mature in our practice in such a way that we forget the beauty and possibilities of a pose, we can progress and mature in life in a way that can cause us to forget the beauty and possibilities of life.

“As I write I think of the vast army of children all over the world, outwardly different in many ways, speaking different languages, wearing different kinds of clothes and yet so very like on another. If you bring them together, they play or quarrel. But even their quarrelling is some kind of play. They do not think of differences amongst themselves.”

.

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

There are several days throughout the year when children are celebrated. November 14th is India’s Children’s Day (Bal Diwas), which is observed every year on the anniversary of the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s First Prime Minister. Prime Minister Nehru was born [on this day] in 1889 and was a prominent figure in India’s independence movement. He was known as “Pandit Nehru,” because of his Kashmiri Pandit heritage, and had such an affinity for the children of his country (and they for him) that Indian kids called him Chacha Nehru (Hindi for “Uncle Nehru”). He advocated for the rights, care, and education of children – who are the light of the world. He specifically supported the idea that a well-rounded education resulted in a better society and considered children the foundation (and strength) of the nation.

Prime Minister Nehru was born into wealth and was able to pass wealth and other resources down to his children. His early childhood included governesses and private tutors, as well as exposure to Indian philosophy and theosophy (which was created in the United States). In fact, his family was friendly with Anne Besant, one of the leaders of the Theosophical Society, and he was initiated into the society at the age of thirteen. He studied natural science at the Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with an honours before moving to London and studying law at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. He was called to the Bar (i.e., qualified to practice law) in 1912 and returned to India where he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, at least as a lawyer. However, his father, Motilal Nehru, would eventually serve two terms as president of the Indian National Congress (1919 and 1928); India was changing; and all of his studies about politics, economics, socialism, and philosophy ended up interesting the young barrister more than the existing laws. He not only became involved in the Congress, supported Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts for social change in South Africa, and campaigned against indentured servitude and other forms of British-enforced discrimination against Indians.

Later, the future prime minister would be jailed for following Gandhi’s example and illegally making salt and he continually fought for India’s independence. As prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru changed laws in order to criminalize caste discrimination; increase the legal rights and freedom of women; and provide more education opportunities for previously disenfranchised populations. He also attempted to redistribute land wealth; maintain a political friendship with Great Britain; and establish India as a secular, global power.

The Nehru family’s involvement in Indian politics did not end with father and son. Jawaharlal Nehru married Kamala Kaul, who became an activist and organizer in her own right. In addition to reading his speeches to the public when he was jailed, she organized women’s groups in boycotting non-Indian vendors and created a dispensary to treat activists, their families, and the surrounding community. She and her popularity in India were, ultimately, recognized as a threat to British rule. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (née Nehru), the oldest of Prime Minister Nehru’s younger sisters, was the first woman appointed as the (6th) Governor of Maharashtra (1962-1964) and the (8th) President of the United Nations General Assembly (1953-1954). In addition to taking over her brother’s seat in Parliament in Lok Sabha (1967-1971), she also served as India’s diplomat to the Soviet Union and the United States (as well as the United Nations.

Krishna Nehru Hutheesing, the youngest of the Nehru siblings, was also an activist; however, she may be most well known as the biographer of her brother and her niece. That niece – Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru’s daughter – Indira Gandhi held several political offices and became India’s 3rd Prime Minister and the only woman (to date) to hold the office. While a BBC poll named her “Woman of the Millennium” in 1999 and a 2020 issue of Time magazine listed her as one of the 100 powerful women of the 20th century because of her leadership, her times in office were marked by strife, calls for revolution, and suspension of civil liberties. She served from 1966-1977 and was re-elected for a third term in January of 1980. She served until her assassination, by her own bodyguards, on October 31, 1984. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was immediately appointed as her successor and served as India’s 6th Prime Minister until December of 1989. He was India’s youngest prime minister and his time in office was also full of controversy, scandal, and civil rights issues; but he continued to hold other political offices until his assassination on May 21, 1991. His widow and their son have also served in Congress, parliament, and other political offices.

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

.

– quoted from “Tryst with Destiny” address to the Constituent Assembly of India in New Dehli, August 14 – 15, 1947, by Jawaharlal Nehru

Thinking back to the practice about fate and destiny, we can look at a family’s legacy and see the lessons that are passed from parent to child and then on to the following generations. Looking at the political legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi (which is only politically connected to Mahatma Gandhi’s family), we can clearly see an emphasis on education and social / political engagement. Additionally, we can look at letters, speeches, and family recollections to find which lessons were direct and deliberate and which lessons were inferred. Either way, it is interesting to notice what sticks.

It is not uncommon, as we have even seen in the United States, for parents to encourage their children to follow in their footsteps. But what happens when the child has different interests? Even more importantly, what happens when a child is encouraged to follow their own interests no matter where they might lead? It is, after all, possible to serve – and even to promote social change – without going into politics. In this day and age it is possible for a child to serve – and even to promote social change – in ways that were not available to their parents…. even in ways that were beyond their parents’ imaginations.

Children, and children’s lives, are full of possibilities. But those possibilities can be limited by our imaginations and our conditioning. Here I am specifically referring to the imaginations and conditioning of adults. We have, after all, learned to see the world in a limited fashion; while children are still learning how to see the world. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget that there are other was to see them and ourselves.  It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to discover what’s beneath the labels, superficial layers, and trivialities that we use to separate ourselves from each other. It’s possible that we do them, and us, a disservice when we forget to keep our minds open with wonder and curiosity. We are, after all, all microcosms, little worlds.

“Our country is a little world in itself, with an infinite variety of places for us to discover. I have travelled a great deal in the country and I have grown in years. I wish I had more time, so that I could visit all the nooks and corners of India. I would like to go there in the company of bright young children whose minds are opening out with wonder and curiosity. I should like to go with them not so much to the great cities of India as to the hills and and the forests and the great rivers and the old monuments, all of which tell us something of India’s story.

.

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“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.”

.

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

 

“This is based on a true story. While hiking in the hills of Rishikesh in India, we encountered a holy man who approached with light in his eyes and love in his heart… just beaming with inspiration. He spoke as if he were channeling the divinity ever present in that wonderful country and spoke these words… “Light of sun in the sky sends the message: Be Fearless and Play!” We were fascinated and inspired by his simple but insightful words.”

 

– quoted from the liner notes for the song “Be Fearless and Play” by Wookiefoot

.

### Be Mindful What You “Teach Your Children Well” ~ with all respect to CSN&Y ###