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The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

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

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

FTWMI: Practice Responsibly July 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This post from 2020 – and the one you can find here, related to yesterday’s “anger/kindness” theme – have come back to haunt me. Yet, they have also come back to bring me some comfort. I hope you, too, find some comfort and good practice reminders in the following. In addition to some format edits, class details and links have been updated for today.

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

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

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to a beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to a British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like those referenced above, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are using and Apple device and having problems viewing the “Class Schedules,” you may need to update your browser.

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

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.)

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Water Music Peace (mostly the music) July 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Confessions, Music, Peace.
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“I am getting ready to go see Stalin and Churchill…. I have a briefcase filled up with information on past conferences and suggestions on what I’m to do and say. Wish I didn’t have to go, but I do and it can’t be stopped now.”

– quoted from a letter dated July 3, 1945 addressed to his mother (Martha) and sister (Mary) by President Harry S. Truman

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 17th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07172021 Water Music Peace”]

 

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.)

### 🎶 ###

“Being…” – Lessons in Svādyāya (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) May 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Texas, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humbly grateful as we find enduring compassion and balance together. 

This is an expanded and “renewed” post for Tuesday, May 17th. You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

BEING GRATEFUL

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

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– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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

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– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Yesterday, I ended the practice with a philosophical reminder that life is precious and, some would argue, mathematically rare. It’s a simple idea that most people can agree upon (even when we can’t agree on when life begins – or ends). That’s why we have all those pithy statements life “life is a gift,” “this moment is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present (in English),” and – one of my personal favorites – “your presence in this present moment is also a gift.”

Here’s the thing about gifts though: When we receive them, we give thanks. Even when we don’t like or want the gift and even when we would prefer something else, we say thank you. When we really, truly, appreciate the gift, we might go into great detail about how much we appreciate the gift, why it is perfect for us, and/or how it will make our life better. We may even find ourselves giving thanks long after we have received the gift. In fact, every time we use it and/or think of it, we might express a bit of gratitude. And all of that gratitude is inextricably connected to our happiness and well-being.

What happens, however, if we are simultaneously receiving our blessings in one hand and having them taken away from the other hand? What happens if we are struggling to hold on to our blessings? What happens, if something was passed down to us and we not only took it for granted, we never really gave thanks?

I’ll tell you what happens. We struggle. We fear. We despair. We may even feel hopeless. In those moments, we may not think of expressing gratitude. Or, we may think giving thanks is too hard given our present challenges. And, sure, yes, it may be hard. But, it’s not impossible. In fact, I would argue that it is essential. It is essential that we give thanks for the rights and the blessings that have been given to us. It is essential that we express gratitude for the people (adults and children) who fought and struggled to get us where we are today. To do that, however, to really appreciate what was done for us, we have to know our history.

We also have to get/understand our history – something, I’ll admit, was sometimes beyond me. Even though I’m Brown. Considering I didn’t always get it, I shouldn’t be surprised that others (still) don’t get it.

BEING BROWN

The following was originally posted in 2020. You can practice svādyāya (“self-study”) with this post, by putting yourself in my shoes or the shoes of some of the other people mentioned. You can also practice svādyāya by noticing what resonates with you, what parallels your own experience, and what feels odd to you.

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

*

“…we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities…. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

*

– Linda Brown, quoted in a “Black/White and Brown” produced by KTWU Channel 11 (May 3, 2004)

For a long time, most of my life, I didn’t get it. How could I get it, as odd as it is to understand, it was outside of my experience.

I am related to some of the smartest people I know –and I know a lot of really smart people. My father has a PhD and taught doctors, his mother was a school teacher, my maternal great-grandmother and both grandmothers taught Sunday school, and my mother worked with doctors and lawyers – so I didn’t get why they made such a big deal about my grades or my education. I appreciated it when my parents arranged things so I could enroll in special programming (like “Research and Development”), but sometimes I kind of took it for granted. Going to a private school, for instance, was just what my brothers and I did sometimes. Granted, one of my brothers ended up in private school after my parents were informed he would be bused to a “Black school” as part of a desegregation plan in the 80’s (which I thought was beyond silly, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about why the plan existed (in the mid-80’s!!!). I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

My maternal grandfather owned bars in Houston, like the Sportsman, and supper clubs, like The Club Supreme, which was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (venues owned and operated by and for African-American audiences during segregation). I grew up hearing about the great talents he booked and about people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and the Supremes stopping by the house for dinner. Sometimes I would walk into Club Supreme, look down the dark and dusty ballroom to the stage at the back and imagine what it was like in its heyday. When I walked next door to the Sportsman, owners/editors of newspapers, bankers, and business owners seemed to not only know my name, but also my GPA. Sometimes I thought it was weird – especially when they would tell me they were holding a job for me when I graduated from college – but mostly I just thought part of being a grandfather was being proud of your grandchildren; I figured he must talk about me to his customers because that’s what grandfathers did. I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble.”

*

– Linda Brown, age 17, in a 1961 New York Times interview

In May 2004, I finally started to get it. It was the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and as people were celebrating, remembering, and producing documentaries, I was doing the math. In doing the math, I finally really understood that Black people not being able to go to the school of their choice wasn’t part of some distant history lesson. It was part of living history – it was part of my family history. The teachers, administrators, farmers, businessmen and businesswomen, police officers, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, authors, truckers, military personnel, farmers, and preachers in my family successfully did what they did – not because they had the economic and educational advantages that they gave me, but in spite of not having what I took for granted. My parents grew up in the South, in the shadow of Brown v Board, in a state where the Attorney General actively worked to keep school segregation legal despite the U. S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. The people who worked behind the bar and sat on the barstools at my grandfather’s clubs knew me not because my Paw-Paw was some random grandfather proud of his random grandchildren, but because they all understood what I did not: my brothers, cousins, and I were symbols of progress and change. We were proof that the world – or at least our little corner of the world – was getting better, more equitable and more just.

When my grandfather died, people seemed to come out the woodwork. I kind of expected the elders. What I didn’t expect were the people my age, people who wanted to remember and celebrate a businessman in the community who had financially supported the education of young people in the community. They came to celebrate and remember, because they got it.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Linda Brown, the student at the center of Brown v Board, was actually part of three school segregation related lawsuits: the one SCOTUS ruled on today in 1954; Brown II in 1955; and a case filed by the adult Linda Brown in 1978 (Brown III), which was re-opened and appealed through the late 80’s / early 90’s. The first case, officially filed as “Oliver Brown, et al v Board of Education of Topeka, et al,” was a class action lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief counsel, for thirteen parents on behalf of 20 school-aged children. However, the case itself was a test case and symbolic of several cases across the country. The case in Kansas was selected by the NAACP as the pilot case, because it was considered more Midwestern than Southern, the Brown’s neighborhood was desegregated (but the local school was not), and Oliver Brown was selected as the named plaintiff because he was a man. (The idea being that a male plaintiff might be considered more seriously by the courts and the ruling might carry more national weight if inequality could be proven outside of the South.)

While the unanimous 1954 ruling is celebrated as a landmark victory, it was more symbolic than anything else. The Supreme Court first ruled that there was no such thing as “separate, but equal” – at least not as schools existed at that time. Then, in 1955, SCOTUS ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” – but, here again there was no timetable and the interpretation of the very poetic phrase was left not to the NAACP or the plaintiffs, but to the states.

“It’s disheartening that we are still fighting. But we are dealing with human beings. As long as we are, there will always be those who feel the races should be separate.”

*

– Linda Brown, in a 1994 New York Times article (around 40th anniversary)

Look around today and you will see the legacy of Brown v Board. There is some positive, some signs of progress; there is also some negative. Were Linda Brown still alive today, she could easily file another lawsuit…on behalf of her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Part of the legacy of Brown v Board is living in the shadow of the Plessy v Ferguson concept of “separate but equal.” We can say it’s the shadow that makes us appreciate the light; but, at some point we need more light.

“I didn’t understand what was happening then, but it was clear that Brown versus Board of Education was a necessary victory. It might have been a little flame, but it served to set off a mighty flame. To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that, after 1954, were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”

*

– Linda Brown, in a April 29, 2004 speech (marking the 50th anniversary) at Chautauqua Institution

SVāDYāYA I: BEING LINDA 

This year and last year, I started May 17th practice with a visualization exercise inspired by one that Shelly Graf (Associate Director of Common Ground Meditation Center) offered in 2021. As I explained in last year’s post (and in the practice), the exercises we offered are different, except in the fact that they provide an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). My version of the exercise may land different (now that you have the background), but if you have another few moments, please check out last year’s post to read about the visualization and related insights.

*

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05172020 Brown”]

Linda Carol Brown

“When they won, it set a lasting legal precedent. [Linda] Brown was attending an integrated junior high school by then, and she later recalled the initial desegregation of local elementary schools going smoothly. But over the course of her life, she saw the reality of school integration fall short, locally and nationally.”

*

– quoted from the 2018 Chalkbeat article entitled “In her own words: Remembering Linda Brown, who was at the center of America’s school segregation battles” by Sarah Darville (posted May 27, 2018)

*

*

### NAMASTE ###

Winning the Lottery, with some Powerball® thoughts (a series of “missing” posts) March 24, 2022

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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 16th, which was when I talked about Purim, with a little note related to Thursday, March 17th and Saturday, March 19th! (But this is not the story you think it is.) You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

*

– quoted from Journals (IV A 164), 1843 by Søren Kierkegaard

You know how there are some stories, like the Star Wars movies, that begin as one thing and then over time and generations become something else? That question can be answered as it relates to the story, but here I am specifically talking about the sequence.* When the original movie came out in May of 1977, it was just Star Wars. When the next movies came out – in May of 1980 and May of 1983 – they had their own titles. However, if someone referred to them numerically, they would be first, second, and third (or 1, 2, and 3). Fast forward over two decades from the originally released movie and there were prequels, which (while I am loath to admit they exist) changed the order of things. Fast forward another decade (going on two) and there were (pretty amazing) sequels to the originally released movies. The story continues… and I love that.

I love of stories and storytelling. I think it’s fascinating that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously work forwards and back. We don’t always think about it, but the way the Star Wars movies were released is actually how we meet and how most of the stories we read, hear, and watch work too. It’s very rare that we meet characters at the beginning of creation. A story usually begins in the middle or at the end. So, part of what I love about storytelling is how the storyteller (or the story) chooses to unfold the tale. In fact, part of the beauty of the story is watching it unfold.

One of my favorite stories – in part, because the way the story unfolds is part of the story – is the story people tell on Purim. It is the story in and around The Megillah or The Megillat Esther.

In case you are unfamiliar with the holiday and the story, Purim [פּוּרִים] is a Hebrew word meaning “lots” – as in “casting lots” or “lottery.” It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story told in the Megillah (“scroll”) of Esther, which is the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil plot of a man whose actions are good examples of someone who was narcissistic, power hungry, and also anti-Semitic. The “Book of Esther” is not only found in the Hebrew Bible it is also one of the five megillot (“scrolls”) that make up part of the Christian Old Testament. Some people think of it as a great story about the power of a woman – and while it is that, it is also something more; because the story has a lot of “hidden” elements.

The story is quite literally about things that “someone” decided to “hide and hide” [הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר].

“Another approach, found already in rabbinic literature, takes the absence of God as a positive statement made by the author. The Rabbis, and numerous other readers since, understood the literary absence of God to be merely a surface-level fact, and in fact to be a subtle argument for the hiddenness of God, rather than his absence. A Talmudic comment (in B. Hullin 139b) playfully asks, ‘What is the source for Esther in the Torah?’ The answer given is that Esther was foretold in Deuteronomy 31:18: ‘I will indeed hide (haster astir) my face on that day.’ In part this is a pun, linking the name Esther to the Hebrew phrase ‘I will indeed hide’ (haster astir), but in part it is a serious theological claim: where did the Torah foretell a story with no God?”

*

– quoted from “8. Diaspora revisions: rethinking Exodus and rethinking God – Entering the fray: Esther as a political book” in Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

People celebrate Purim by dressing up in costume – hiding one’s true identity – and having a party or feast. People may also have a parade and a pageant. The costuming and the party (even the parades and pageants) are all, symbolically, part of the story. To add yet another symbol from the story, the feasting includes hamantaschen, a yummy triangular shaped pastry that I always think of as Haman’s hat, but which literally means “Haman’s pockets.” In some Jewish communities they are referred to as “Haman’s ears.”

The story is symbolically reinforced in many different ways during the celebration of Purim, because the biggest part of the holiday is the story itself. In fact, listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther, in the evening (since the holiday starts at sunset) and in the morning, is one of four mitzvoh (“commandments”) related to Purim. The other three take place during the day and are sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal.

While I don’t read the actual text** to people during the practice, I do tell the story. And for years, I have used the music to help me tell the story – just like I do with all the other stories. Up until this year, however, my Purim playlist was a little… shall we say, problematic. Because there was something hidden in my playlist – and not in a good way.

“This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
And now she turns
This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing’s as it seems”

*

– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

Some of my playlists have always reflected the culture behind the story or theme of the day. For instance, my Saint Patrick’s Day playlist is full of Irish musicians and musicians with Irish heritage, just like my Cinco de Mayo playlist is full of musicians with Mexican heritage. As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve very deliberately made some playlists multi-cultural to highlight the fact that so many cultures celebrate things like light overcoming darkness. Then, years ago, a friend’s comment really made me consider why my playlists mostly featured men. Despite all that, I never really considered that there was something off about my Purim playlist.

And, that takes us back to why certain songs were popular, while other also very good songs were not as popular.

“It’s so not an accident that most of the kirtan and “yoga music artists” on our playlists are NOT from within the tradition. (It is called erasure and happens to people of color in our own traditions ALL THE TIME.)⁣⁣⁣”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga advocate, a teacher, a public speaker, and the author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. In her book, her articles, and her classes, she encourages students and teachers to (re)connect to yoga’s ancient roots. She strongly recommends that teachers consider why they do the things they do (and say the things they say) when teaching. She also suggests that teachers take a look at how some of the things we say and do are the result of colonization and cultural erasure. However, she does not simply point to how elements of our modern, Western-centric practice are problematic. She also offers tools and solutions. For instance, she specifically points to music and highlights the fact that those of us using kirtan – which is a form of bhakti or devotional yoga – are almost always using non-traditional musicians. Sometimes, even using musicians that mispronounce the Sanskrit words.

To be clear, Ms. Barkataki uses the words “cultural erasure,” but it’s a concept I’ve always known as whitewashing. And, above and beyond anything else, she encourages us all to be mindful about the choices we make. Being mindful meant that when I was getting ready for Purim this year, I realized that in most of the ways that counted, my culturally-specific playlist was specifically the wrong culture.

In my effort to pick songs that told the story, I neglected to pick Jewish musicians. Even worse, given the context of the story, my original playlist included several songs with Arabic lyrics and/or Arabic-related references that had nothing to do with Jewish heritage. To be clear about my own hubris, I knew this… I just leaped over the issue. In some ways, my mental gymnastics included the fact that those songs could be about a Jewish woman like Esther. They could very easily have been songs written by people who didn’t know their beautiful “Persian” queen was born Hadassah. Anything is possible.

However, the reality was that they were just popular songs that were also really good, worked with the practice, and could fit the story. They were songs that I knew, because I had heard them on the radio.

“Erasure is when the originators of a particular tradition are surpassed, replaced or ignored. Why? Because it makes it easier to colonize and exploit our cultural and spiritual wisdom and wealth.”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone, before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage about how you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

Streaming services and social media mean that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding, however, is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play you don’t win, but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released March 19, 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this year – because I thought it would distract from this past Saturday’s sūtra study – but normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album, which only included two original Bob Dylan songs, with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was actually recorded November 20th and 22nd of 1961, and only featured two original Dylan songs. The other eleven tracks were covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk, but they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. However, some reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. Because (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”

*

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

The playlist for Wednesday (March 16th) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

I plan to post the Bob Dylan playlist for Tuesday, May 24th.

*NOTE: Here’s a funny aside. In 2020, just as we started locking down for the pandemic, I blogged and posted a playlist about stories and music. That would have been Part I, except that it was for March 22nd – which means that if I ever get everything posted in sequential order it would be Part III (after the Purim or Saint Patrick’s Day post and the Bob Dylan post).

**NOTE: Since I don’t actually read the Purim text during the practice, I almost always leave out the part where Haman is begging for his life and the King misreads the situation. In some ways, it is an important part of the cause-and-effect of the narrative – and it definitely brings up another aspect of how our perceptions affect our stories – but it’s comes at the end so I often overlook it.

*

Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

### Are You Lucky or Are You Blessed? ###

When You Need A Good Hard Rain (the “missing” Sunday post) February 7, 2022

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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those celebrating the Spring Festival.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, February 6th. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

*

– quoted from “Part Two: Logotherapy in a Nutshell” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

I don’t know about you, but this morning I woke up and I was looking for something. It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking for was someone to give me answers; someone who could make sense of things that just don’t make sense; someone who could offer me a little comfort – reassuring me that every thing is going to be OK – and a little encouragement. I was looking for a little hope.

Do you ever find yourself doing that? Scroll through your browser or your email or pulling books off of your shelf and then putting them back? Do you ever find yourself looking for the music that will fit your mood, but then deciding silence is better… only to discover the silence is a little annoying? I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I do. And, I definitely did this morning.

As soon as I realized what I was doing, I also recognized that what I was looking for was (already) inside of me. I think it’s natural – human, even – to seek answers and solace. We all do it and, more often than not, we look at something we may consider to be an external source. However, all the major religions and philosophies instruct us to turn inward. As we are part of the natural world, even turning to science can involve turning inward.

Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Before we go any further, let me acknowledge the elephant (or cow) in the room: God (or gods). God, is the elephant or cow in the room, because people of certain religions – even some atheists or agnostics – may view the (big-D) Divine as something external. Without getting into a big theological debate or explanation, I’m going to humbly disagree with that perspective. I’m going to disagree, in part, because all of the major religions acknowledge that humans are created with some element of the Divine. We’re also capable of expressing those divine attributes. Additionally, I think the instructions that we find in sacred texts like the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament), as well as the Japji Sahib, support the idea that turning inward is the path outward.

And, while we’re on the subject, I will also admit that while we may differ in our conceptualization of God (whatever that means to you at this moment) I believe that every one believes in something (or someone). You can say that you don’t – but that’s a belief. You can say that you believe in Nature, community, the laws of science, or the laws of karma and I will happily point out that all of these systems have overlapping principles. In a nutshell, one of the big overlaps is the idea that what we put out into the world is what we get back.

“Cast your bread upon the water and it shall return to you.”

*

– My great-grandmother Pam, quoting Ecclesiastes 11:1

“The law of Karma is a universal process, whereby causes lead to effects. This is something that all of us are already familiar with, whether or not we use the word Karma to describe it. Newton’s third law of motion, that every action leads to a reaction, is an application of the law of Karma.”

*

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Today was the sixth day of the Lunar New Year. For many people who have been celebrating, things have gone back to the ordinary. There are, however, some people celebrating the Spring Festival who attribute special significance to this sixth day. Instead of re-opening their businesses (and welcoming the God of Wealth) on the fifth day, some shop owners will wait until the sixth day. Some folks will celebrate the birthday of all horses, based on the creation story whereby different animals were created on each day. Finally, some associate the sixth  day with kicking out the Ghost of Poverty and/or welcoming the Clear-Water Grand Master.*

The Ghost of Poverty is remembered as the son of a wealthy man – possibly Zhuan Xu, one of the Three Emperor and Five Sovereigns. This son was short in stature, poor in health, and eschewed any signs of wealth. Legend has it that he ate plain food and that even when he was offered nice clothing, he would refuse the gift unless it was distressed. In other words, he was shrouded in poverty throughout his life and assigned the name “Ghost of Poverty” after his death. Since people want the exact opposite of what he had (or didn’t have), they take steps to rid themselves of things that remind them of his scarcity. Bottom line, they get rid of the rubbish.

People accumulate a lot of trash during the the initial celebrations to bring in the new year, welcome in the God of Wealth, and then welcome back the Kitchen God. However, throwing out the trash or doing a lot of cleaning before the fifth day (which is also associated with “breaking taboos”), is considered unlucky – or, just misguided, as you might throw out your good fortune. So, on the sixth day, people clean up, take out the trash, and get rid of accumulated waste. The house cleaning may be very simple and straightforward. Or, it may involve some rituals to highlight the symbolism of getting rid of what no longer serves the family (or the business) while making room for more prosperity, health, and well-being.

One such ritual involves candles lighting up the path away from the house or business (so the Ghost of Poverty can see himself out). Another ritual is cleaning the toilet – which ties back to an ancient tradition of cleaning out latrines and manure pits every three to five days. Cleaning the toilet is usually needed after big celebrations with family and friends. Additionally, a clean toilet simultaneously ushers out the Ghost of Poverty and curries favor with the Clear-Water Grand Master.

“Actually Qingshui was not a beginner. He was a monk who had already awakened to his essential nature. He engaged Coashan in a dialogue in order to see if he could refine or expand his insight. When Qingshui said he was solitary and poor, he was referring to the experience of emptiness – the experience of essential nature or ‘no thing.'”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Born Chen Zhaoyin, Qing-Shui Zushi was a Chán Buddhist monk who lived during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). Chán Buddhism is a Chinese form of Mahāyāna Buddhism that is rooted in meditation (or a “meditative state”) and is one of the predecessors of modern day Zen Buddhism. In addition to being called the Clear-Water Grand Master, he is also known as “Dropping Nose Ancestor” and “Black Faced Ancestor.” According to the legends, the monk** lived near Clear-Water Rock Mountain and traveled the countryside praying for rain during draughts. He also taught people to build bridges and plant trees in order to insure clean water in the villages and towns. Additionally, he was reportedly well-versed in herbal medicine and associated with the idea that ensuring the good health of one benefits those around them. When he passed, many miracles were attributed to him and to consecrated water.

Qingshui is particularly revered in Taiwan and in the Hokkien diaspora. In fact, there are temples dedicated to him in Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore. Many people will gather at the temple to pray for what they need in the coming year. At at least one of the temples in Taiwan, the celebrations involve a lot of pageantry, traditional Chinese opera, and even a contest for the largest pig.

Given the fact that the Grand Master of Clear-Water was a vegetarian, it’s kind of odd to me that this contest involves a pig. Then again, I’m on the outside looking in. Also, maybe it’s not so odd when you consider that Qingshui was all about what sustained the people and this contest sustains the people. Furthermore, the contest is a perfect example of how cultures overlap.

“When Caoshan called Qingshui’s name , he drew Qingshui’s attention to emptiness, or essential nature, manifesting in the relative world. It manifests in the unique person of Qingshui and in his every action. Each meal he eats, each glass of water he drinks, and each breath he takes is a cup of the finest wine. He wakes us up and helps us see that when we experience the underlying unity of all creation, our eyes are opened and we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment, person, and thing. The light of essential nature shines forth in myriad ways. When we appreciate our many blessings our life is rich and abundant and we are filled with gratitude.”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Many rains ago, there were people in a valley who were routinely attacked by wild boars. They also had ongoing conflict with the people in the mountains surrounding them. So, every year, they would sacrifice a pig to the God of the Mountain and pray for safety and protection during the new year. Based on this tradition, the sixth day of the Lunar New Year became the Day of the Pig. People gather at the temple to see the pigs entered in the contest and the heaviest (real) pig earns the title “God of Pig.” The pork from the winner can earn the owner over a million Taiwanese dollars (which converts to over $36,000 USD – and is more than the average household income in Taiwan).

While I’m not sure when it became customary to decorate the slaughtered pigs and present their backs as if they were a framed painting, it is a modern tradition for the pigs to be incredibly oversized. Their abnormally large size is one reason animal rights activists have objected to the contest. It is also one of the reasons why some families have switched to big packets of rice constructed into the shape of a pig. Some believe it is also why the number of entries has diminished over the last 15-20 years.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

*

– quoted from “Part One: Experiences in a Concentration Camp” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

At the end of the day, what do a man who chose to be poor and a monk who focused on sustainability (and who could also be described as one who chose to be poor) have in common with a giant pig, a horse, and our physical practice of yoga?

More, actually, than I can cover in this post.

On the simplest level, both men looked inside of themselves to determine what was the best way to live their lives – and then they lived accordingly. Their personal decisions had profound effects on their communities (for generations) and their stories offer us a moment of svādhyāya (“self-study”), a moment to reflect on how our decisions impact ourselves and those around us. We can consider what no longer serves us and what, metaphorically speaking, constitutes getting rid of the rubbish so that we can make room for more health, more wealth, and more prosperity. In the process, we can also consider when we are overblown or too full of ourselves; when we have more than we need; and when we are doing something all for show.

Yes, we can also do all of that in a seated meditation practice. Similarly, we can let things go as we exhale in a deep-seated meditation practice. However, our moving meditation creates an opportunity to move the muscles and, in doing so, move lymph throughout the body. Remember, the lymphatic fluid washes away dead cells and carries nutrients to the healthy cells. Moving the body helps to detoxify the mind-body. Even though we didn’t do any “horse poses,” we did what constitutes as prep for one of the more challenging “Horse Poses.” We also practiced in a way that “reined in” the wild horses of the mind and (potentially) created the mental and emotional clarity to see our way forward. Finally, the physical practice is a way to engage tapas (“heat,” discipline, and “austerity” and the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity).

Some believe that engaging tapas burns away karma (past thoughts, words, and deed). In fact, one of my teachers once said that we can burn away karma even when we don’t believe in such things. Think about it like this: If every thought, word, and deed is a seed being planted; then every seed has the possibility of coming to fruition. We may plant flowers, fruit trees, shade trees, lush greens, vegetables and/or weeds. Sometimes it takes a while for things to come to fruition. And, sometimes we don’t know what we’ve planted until it pushes through the soil or we uncover it. There are things that can be both nutritious and delicious, as well as things that are deadly and toxic.

Either way, there comes a time when we nourish and harvest what we’ve planted and there are times when we dig it up and throw it away. The practice is simply a method of gardening. It’s also that good hard rain that keeps the soil hydrated and washes away what we no longer need.

“Physicist Stephen Hawking has remarked that mysticism is for those who can’t do math. In response to Hawking’s remark, my friend George Cairns retorted, ‘Mystics are people who don’t need to do math. They have direct experience!'”

*

– quoted from “Part I. Finding What Unites Us: Introduction. The Mystic Heart: Our Common Heritage – The Parliament of the World’s Religions” in The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale (b. 01/16/1945)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 6 2022”]

*ERRATA: During the practice I misidentified both the Ghost of Poverty and the Clear-Water Grand Master as “God of….” While some people do worship the latter, many simply honor them as examples of how we can live our lives.

**NOTE: Qīng shuǐ means “fresh water, drinking water, [or] clear water.” The Clear-Water Grand Master should not be confused with Jiang Shichao, who was born poor and made his wealth by building a dam along the Qingshui River.  Some said he “mastered” the water and turned it into silver, metaphorically speaking.

*

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

*

### Keep Breathing, Being Hope ###

Nom de Destiné, Part “Deux” (mostly a surprise) January 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 9-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Japa-Ajapa, Life, New Year, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This video is actually related to the last two Sunday practices and is, in it’s own right, the beginning of a separate practice. I hope you will join me for the experience!

You can request an audio recording of either of the regular Sunday practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

### Be You Now ###

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

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

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

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

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

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

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

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

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

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 28th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

### You’ve Got the Power! ###

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

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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

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

 

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

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