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Celebrating(,) Being Humans (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) February 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Spring Festival!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Monday, February 7th and Tuesday, February 8th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Over the years I have developed a picture of what human beings living humanly are like. They are people who understand, value, and develop their bodies, finding them beautiful and useful. They are real and honest to and about themselves and others; they are loving and kind to themselves and others. People living humanly are willing to take risks, to be creative, to manifest competence, and to change when the situation calls for it. They find ways to accommodate what is new and different, keeping that part of the old that is still useful and discarding what is not.

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When you add all this up, you have physically healthy, mentally alert, feeling, loving, playful, authentic, creative, productive, responsible human beings. These are people who can stand on their own two feet, love deeply, and fight fairly and effectively. They can be on equally god terms with both their tenderness and their toughness, and can know the difference between them.”

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– quoted from”1. Introduction” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

What does it mean to be human? That’s not exactly how I phrased the question on Monday night, but my meaning was the same. What makes our individual and collective experiences distinctly human – as opposed to something else? Great minds throughout history have given a lot of thought to such answers and come up with some of the same answers that people offered on Monday night:

  • Part of being human is being in a community.
  • Being human means we make up stuff, tell stories.
  • Compassion is part of being human, but…
  • Holding grudges is also human.
  • Being human is complicated. (Shout out to Sheeren Marisol Meraji.)
  • Humans are imperfect; we make mistakes.
  • Messiness is part of being human.

We can add to this list all of the brahmavihārās or divine abodes in Buddhism (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) and all of the siddhis (“powers”) that are described as “unique to being human.” But here’s the thing; I often question if any of these things – on their own – are distinctly and uniquely human. Perhaps, what truly makes us human is all of these things combined into a sensational package. And, by “sensational package,” I mean a container full of sensations or feelings. Additionally, we can’t deny that all of these things are combined with the ability to do things that are not in our best interests.

There is another aspect of being human – one that circles back to that second bullet point (that came courtesy of my yoga buddy Dave). Part of being human is asking those existential questions (like “Who am I?” and Why am I?”) and questions about the nature of the Universe. I’m not sure that other animals on the planet do that. Even if they do, I’m not sure their suffering is connected to such pondering. And, even if I am wrong, there is no denying that those questions and our quest for answers is one aspect of being human.

So, too, is our propensity to believe the stuff / stories we “make up” to answer the questions.

“I see communication as a huge umbrella that covers and affects all that goes on between human beings. Once a human being has arrived on this earth, communication is the largest single factor determining what kinds of relationships she or he makes with others and what happens to each in the world. How we manage survival, how we develop intimacy, how productive we are, how we make sense, how we connect with our own divinity——all depend largely on our communication skills.”

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– quoted from”6. Communication: Talking and listening” in The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir (b. 06/26/1916)

Matthew Sanford calls them “healing stories.” Virginia Satir included storytelling (and role playing) in her work around “Becoming More Fully Human.” How ever you see them, we find stories that explain things all over the world, going back to the beginning of recorded history. One common element among cultures is a story (or multiple stories) about how the world came to be and how we came to be in the world. There are even stories about how we relate to each other and the world. To be sure, the stories are not the same; however, the existence of these stories is a common thread. Another common element – and, therefore, another part of being human – is how we take those stories and use them to justify our very best and very worst behavior.

Let me insert a quick clarification here. First, I am not an anthropologist. Second, in this situation, I am using words like “story,” “legend,” and “myth” as direct synonyms – meaning I am not defending or denying the validity or veracity of any story. From an anthropological stand point it is not important whether or not a culturally specific idea can be supported via the scientific method; what is important is whether or not people within the specific culture believe the idea. Ergo, for the purpose of this contemplation, I’m not making a distinction between the truth of the Biblically-based creation story (as found in the Abrahamic religions); the truth of an even more ancient creation myth; and/or the truth of the Big Bang theory (which, need I remind you, is a theory – in part, because none of us were there and can confirm the truth of it).

“In Middle Sinitic and Old Sinitic , the wa of Nüwa and the wa meaning “frog” were near homonyms. Most telling of all is the fact that many Neolithic and Early Bronze Age representations of birthing, fertile women (goddesses) in East Asia depict them as froglike, often with fins, and sometimes even with tails.”

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– quoted from “Chapter 6: Erotic and Ferocious Female Figures of South and East Asia – The Frog Woman” in Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Figuresof Eurasia by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Victor H. Mair

In China, as well as in other parts of Asia, there are creations stories that center around a mother goddess named 女媧 (Nüwa, sometimes written as “Nü Wa,” “Nü Gua,” or “Nü Kua”). The first part of her name (女) designates her as a young female (sometimes translated as “girl”). The second part of her name (媧) can be translated as “lovely” or “frog.” In addition to the different her name can be translated, it is interesting that (according to Wikipedia) the second part of her name uses a traditional Chinese character that is unique to her name. That unique character provides a root for words like whirlpool; a depression, pond, or puddle; a water-worn hole; a hiding place; and snail. In fact, several novels (and even some ancient texts) refer to her as the “snail-maid.” In one novel she is even mistaken for an actual snail! That root also points to something with a spiral or a helix and/or something that spins, rotates, or spirals. (Interesting, to me, is how often the concept of spiraling or spinning is related to creation stories that may not be culturally related.)

In most versions of the stories about Nüwa, her upper body is that of a woman and her lower body is that of a snake or dragon. In art where her lower body is a dragon, the tail end is the dragon’s head. More often than not, however, she is depicted with a snake’s tail. Notice, again, the coil relation and how the idea of a snake as something divine – some times as a divine woman and other times as something with negative connotations – comes up again and again in various cultures. In art where she is paired with a male counterpart, their snake tails intertwine like a double helix – the very picture of DNA.

There are a lot of stories about Nüwa. There are stories about how she saved the world from a great flood (by fixing damage to the sky) and stories about her relationships to others. There are stories about leaders being powerful because she gave them some of her power and stories about her relationships to others. Many of the stories where she is the sole creator of humans date back to at least the early Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE/AD). While her association with a male counterpart is apparent in the later part of the Han Dynasty (~206 CE./AD.) and throughout the Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E./A.D.), the connotation and emphasis of their relationship to humans changed over time. Some of this evolution (from a creation focus to a death focus) may have been political and as a response to the change in culture. Regardless of why the stories and rituals changed, one thing that has survived is the tradition of celebrating specific birthdays on each day during the first week the Spring Festival. This tradition is directly tied to stories that depict Nüwa as the first creative deity.

I say “stories,” because there are different versions. In the variations with which I am most familiar, the heavens and the earth already exist. There was also a variety of flora and fauna on land and in the waters. Somewhere in the heavens, there were also other divine entities, but, Nüwa was lonely and possibly bored. So, one day she decided to create something.

According to this variation of the story, Nüwa gathered some clay or mud from the side of the river and molded what we think of a chickens. Still lonely, she made what we think of as dogs the next day. Each subsequent day she made a different animal: boars or pigs on the third day; sheep on the fourth day; cows on the fifth day; and horses on the sixth day. Then, on the seventh day, she molded beings in her own image. It seems she got excited as she molded the last of her creations. These human beings were entertaining. They could sing and dance… and tell stories. So she made more and more. At some point during the day, she realized that it would take her all of eternity to create as many as she wanted. So, she dipped some rope in the mud and started twirling around, flicking clumps of mud everywhere.

“Nüwa could not stand seeing the decimation of the humans and other creatures she had created. She was determined to rescue them. Facing such a large-scale calamity, Nüwa did not panic. Instead, she prioritized what she was going to do. She decided that the damage to the sky was the cause of everything, so she took to the task of mending it. She collected a great number of mulitcolored stones from a riverbed, built a furnace in the Zhonghuang Mountain, and, after forty-nine days, melted the stones and created a huge piece of colorful slate. Embedding the slate in the hole, Nüwa managed to fix the leaking sky. Her action produced an unexpected side effect: the shining colors of the slate added to the sky a moon, a rainbow, and numerous stars.”

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– quoted from “The Origin of Human Beings in The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese by Haiwang Yuan (with Forward by Michael Ann Williams)

As I mentioned before, we humans have a propensity to use stories to explain how and why things are the way the are and work the way they work. For example, some people have used this creation story to explain people are born into different socioeconomic conditions. According to this idea, the rich and/or beautiful are descendants of the first humans created by hand; while the poor and/or those perceived as not beautiful are descendants of those humans created from the mud-dripping rope. In some variations of this story there is even a distinction made between the “clay” she used for her sculptures and the “mud” in which she dipped the rope.

Nüwa and her relationship with her male counterpart have also played into people’s understanding of marriage. In some of the mythology she and her spouse use a fan made out of grass to preserve their privacy when they are intimate. In some variations, she marries her brother and uses the fan because “she is ashamed” of the incest. Again, we can sometimes trace changes in a story to changes in social mores. We can also see how these stories are directly connected to the tradition of a wedding fan.

Similarly, during the first week of the Spring Festival, people celebrate the birthdays of each animal created by Nüwa. Granted, people don’t seem to make as big of a deal about these daily birthdays as they do about some of the other daily celebration); but, there is an acknowledgement of the seventh day as the birthday of all humans. People will make human-shaped paper cut-outs; compose poems; and go for hikes (as Nüwa herself might have been doing when she decided to start making stuff).

In some regions of South China, people will eat a seven-vegetable soup full of vegetables and herbs meant to ward off illness and evil. In Malaysia and Singapore, people may eat a vegetable dish or a raw fish salad. Either way, it’s the day when everyone gets one year older. It’s a great day to express gratitude for our collective existence.

It’s also a day that makes me think about what it means to be human.

The following is abridged version a 2021 post. Links have been updated, as needed, and an extra video appears at the end.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

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– Martin Buber

Martin Buber, born in Vienna on February 8, 1878, did not consider himself a philosopher or a theologian (because, he said, he “was not interested in ideas, only personal experience, and could not discuss God, but only relationships with God”). Yet, he is remembered as one of the greatest existentialist in the modern era. He was, specifically, a Jewish existentialist and professor of Chasidic mysticism who grew up speaking Yiddish and German at home and would partially earn a reputation as a translator (even translating the Hebrew Bible into German) and for his thoughts on religious consciousness, modernity, the concept of evil, ethics, education, and Biblical hermeneutics.

Known for his philosophy of dialogue, he was concerned with all the questions of existential philosophy – Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning / purpose of my life? – but, he came at the questions from a distinctly theist point of view. To Buber we could exist in a purely transactional manner, without any real connection – or we could live, really live, which required another…a “du.”

In his seminal work, Ich und Du, Buber describes a state of being that relies on relationship to have meaning and purpose. However, said relationship must be based on an equal meeting; one that requires authenticity and acceptance rather than projection and conditions. The relationship must be real and perceivable, as opposed to being something created in the mind. The classic examples of this type of encounter are two lovers, an observer and a cat, the author and a tree, or two strangers on a train. For the sake of the New Year, we can even consider a person and their in-laws or a rich person and a beggar.

In all of the aforementioned cases, there is the possibility of engaging with other individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality in a purely transactional manner that relies on mental projection and representation – which Buber would describe as “Ich und Es” (I-and-It). However, there is also the possibility of true dialogue, encounter, or meeting whereby the two entities connect and merge – which Buber describes as “Ich und Du.” The difference between the two experiences or states, however, is not always obvious on the surface.

Martin Buber’s concept of “Ich und Du” is a particularly tricky for an English reader because there is no single English word that carries all the connotations found in the German “Du.” Translators can, as Ronald Gregor Smith does, use “Thou” to represent the kind of reverence one would have towards God. Or, translators can, as Walter Kaufmann does, use “You;” because it is personal, colloquial, and intimate. The translation by Ronald Gregor Smith is the one that was completed during Buber’s lifetime (and under his supervision) – and it would have been the one on the mind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a he wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and at least one of his sermons. However, either translation is still tricky for English readers; because the “Du” Martin Buber intends is simultaneously personal, colloquial, intimate, and reverent.

“Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung.”

“All real life is meeting.”

“All actual life is encounter.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translations by Ronald Gregor Smith and Walter Kaufmann, respectively)

Consider that we can clearly see how falling in love with a stranger on a train – one to who we have never actually spoken – is not the same as falling in love with someone we have known all our lives. Yet, it is possible to grow up with someone and not actually know them. It is possible to live next door to someone for years and be surprised by their actions. So, it is clearly possible to marry someone and know as much about them (or as little about them) as the person who sits silently across from you during a meditation retreat – in that, we know some of their preferences and values, but we layer our impressions on top of that without knowing the inner workings of their heart and mind. Similarly, someone can marry into our family (or we can marry into theirs) and there is always an invisible barrier which prevents them from truly being family – or, we can love and accept them (be loved and accepted by them) in much the same way we love and accept someone to whom we are related by blood.

Another example would be how a parent feels about a child they adopt versus a child born from their body versus a child born to their spouse. Sure, there are less than ideal situations where there is always separation and distinction. Ideally, however, the difference a parent feels is based on personality not legality – and even then, ideally, there is love and acceptance.

Keep in mind that my examples are oversimplified, because there is more to truly knowing another than time and space. We could still objectify someone and be objectified by them, no matter the time or proximity. According to Buber, moving from an “Ich und Es” relationship (to “Ich und Du”) cannot be forced. According to Buber, the change in relationship requires grace and a willingness to open to the possibility of a seamless merging, an absorption, of sorts.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

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Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Samādhi, the eighth limb of the Yoga Philosophy, is sometimes translated into English as “meditation” or “perfect meditation.” However, many traditions refer to the previous limb (dhyāna) as “mediation.” Additionally, throughout the sūtras, Patanjali distinguishes between different levels of consciousness, which he also refers to as (lower) samādhi. To distinguish the different experiences in English, some teachers will describe (higher) Samādhi as “Spiritual Absorption” or “Union with Dvine.”

No matter how it is translated, the final limb is not something that can be forced. It comes from a steady and consistent progression through the other limbs and especially through the preceding five – in that mastery of āsana (“seat” or pose) prepares one to practice prāņāyāma (awareness and control of the breath) which, over time, leads to pratyāhāra (“pulling the mind-senses from every direction to a single point”) which becomes dhāranā (“focus” or “concentration”) which, over time, becomes dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”) which ultimately can become Samādhi: a seamless merging of the seer and the seen.

This union between the seer and seen, is the similar to – if not exactly the same as – Martin Buber’s “Ich und Du” experience. According to Buber, life is holy and to really know one’s Self requires really knowing another and, in that knowing, one can know God / the Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

More often than not, to better understand the “Ich und Du” relationship, I think of Nara and Narayana, identical twins in Hindu mythology. Nara and Narayana are almost always depicted together and they are identical, but one is in a physical body and one is in a spiritual body. Nara-Narayana is referred to as “the spirit that lives on the water” or “the resting place of all living beings;” it is the ultimate goal. However, until the twins become Nara-Narayana, it is Nara (in the physical body) who does the earthly work that allows for the spiritual connection. Once that connection is made, the soul is liberated and no longer burdened by the ignorance (avidyā) that leads to suffering.

“The basic word I-Thou can only be spoken with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I require a You/Thou to become; becoming I, I say you.”

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– quoted from Ich und Du by Martin Buber (English translation by Walter Kaufmann)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (from Monday, February 7th).

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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Here’s another example, straight from current events, that illustrates one of the many reasons why we need to stop objectifying each other!

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“We find, in studying history, one fact held in common by all the great teachers of religion the world ever had. They all claim to have got their truths from beyond, only many of them did not know where they got them from. For instance, one would say that an angel came down in the form of a human being, with wings, and said to him, ‘Hear, O man, this is the message.’ Another says that a Deva, a bright being, appeared to him. A third says he dreamed that his ancestor came and told him certain things. He did not know anything beyond that. But this is common that all claim that this knowledge has come to them from beyond, not through their reasoning power. What does the science of Yoga teach? It teaches that they were right in claiming that all this knowledge came to them from beyond reasoning, but that it came from within themselves.

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The Yogi teaches that the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state, and when the mind gets to that higher state, then this knowledge, beyond reasoning, comes to man. Metaphysical and transcendental knowledge comes to that man.”

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– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

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– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

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### As they say in Zulu, “Sawubona!” [“I see you!”] and “Yebo, sawubona!” [“I see you seeing me.”] ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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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.”

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– 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.

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– 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.”

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– 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.”

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– 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.'”

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– 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 ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

A Second or So to Dream (mostly the music w/date and theme post links) June 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Life, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, TV, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“They say a dream takes only a second or so, and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die, and who’s to say which is the greater reality: the one we know or the one in dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth

 

– quoted from the closing narration of The Twilight Zone, episode “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont (episode directed by Robert Florey, aired November 27, 1959)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 23rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06232020 MidSummer’s Night Eve”]

 

You can read more about tonight’s “dream” in last year’s post from this date, as well as how it’s all connected to tomorrow.

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). (Donations to Common Ground and Mind Body Solutions are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

 

### 🎶 ###

 

What It Means To Be Clean on Day 13 (the “missing” Wednesday post, with a nod to Sunday) February 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[My apologies for this very late Wednesday (the 24th) post (which is also a preview for Sunday the 28th). You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. *** DON’T FORGET THERE’S A “FIRST FRIDAY NIGHT SPECIAL ON MARCH 5th! ***]

 

“But, before we enter on the subject, let it be observed, that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this, nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly this is a duty, not a sin. ‘Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.’ Agreeably to this, good Mr. Herbert advises every one that fears God: —

 

Let thy mind’s sweetness have its operation Upon thy person, clothes, and habitation.

 

And surely every one should attend to this, if he would not have the good that is in him evil spoken of.”

 

– quoted from Sermon #88 (“On Dress”) by John Wesley, inspired by The First Epistle General of Peter (3:3,4)

There are hundreds of references to washing and being clean in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian New Testament, and in the Qur’an. In Judaism and Islam, people are commanded (by God) to wash before certain acts and, in particular, before certain prayers – and also to avoid certain elements because they are deemed “unclean.” In Judaism, specifically, ritual washing is divided into hand washing and full body immersion. In Islam, ritual cleansing includes washing specific body parts (i.e., face, arms, head, and feet) and also full body immersion. In the Christian New Testament, there is an emphasis placed on ritual feet washing. Yet, for all these references to being clean, one of the most well-known “Biblical” quotes about “cleanliness” doesn’t actually appear in any sacred text associated with the Abrahamic religions. Instead, the earliest recorded English reference is from a sermon John Wesley gave in the mid-to-late 1780’s.

The sermon, “On Dress,” was inspired by a letter addressed to Churches in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor who were experiencing religious persecution. The letter, attributed to Saint Peter the Apostle, not only recommended appropriate conduct in how one should interact with people from different stations (“Honour all….”); live under non-Christian rulers (“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake”) and deal with false accusations (“… with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;”); it also outlines how one should conduct one’s self when faced with suffering (“… ye take it patiently…”) and how women should or, more specifically, should not dress. However, The Reverend Wesley’s sermon did not just address the dress of women. Instead, the good reverend spoke of all Christians. He outlined how extreme people could go in their interpretations and applications of Saint Peter’s guidance – and also, emphasized the idea that extreme interpretations and applications miss the point. Then he explained that the importance of the Biblical instruction lies not in outward appearance but on the inward experience.

Yoga Sūtra 2.40: śaucāt svāngajugupsā parairasamsargah

 

– “From purity/cleanliness arises sensitivity to the unclean nature of one’s own body and [physical] unmixing.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.41: sattvaśuddhisaumanasyaikāgreyendriyayātmadarśanayogyatvāni ca

 

– “[From purity/cleanliness arises] pure wisdom of the heart, cheerfulness of mind, the power of concentration, victory over the senses, and the ability to directly experience our Self.”

In outlining and explaining the Yoga Philosophy, Patanjali offered ten ethical components: five “external restraints” or universal commandments (yamā) and five “internal observations” (niyama). The very first internal observation is śaucāt, the practice of “cleanliness.” I have a bad habit of just referencing śaucāt as it relates to the physical body (e.g., food, drink, bathing, etc.); but the practice is intended to cover everything that we consume. And, eons before John Wesley shared his observations from the pulpit, Patanjali offered the same conclusion: to quote the good reverend, “Then only when you have cast off your fondness for dress, will the peace of God reign in your hearts.”

It is all too easy to look back, historically speaking, and focus on hygiene. We can even point to specific historical conditions – or to the fact that certain texts specify what kinds of water are permitted and which kinds are not acceptable (according to religious law). What do we do, however, with the fact that some scripture outlines ritual cleansing that does not involve water? Closer examination reveals, however that these ritual practices are about more than physical hygiene and the elimination of contaminants. The practices are about purification; a fact that is reinforced with the practice of the niyamās in yoga.

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

 

There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

The purification of mind and speech can be experienced when practicing the second niyamā, santoşā (“contentment”), which is a foundation for the practice of non-attachment. Patanjali combines the final three niyamāstapa (“austerity or heat”), svādhyāya (“self-study”), and īśvarapraņidhāna (“trustful surrender to [the Divine]”) – and refers to the combination as kriyā yoga or “union in action.” Anyone can practice these elements at any time, but it is interesting to note that these elements – as a combined practice – are found in rituals from around the world. For example, the observations of Lent; Passover; and fasting during the Baha’i 19-Day Fast, the month of Ramadan, and/or for Yom Kippur all full under the rubric of kriyā yoga. Celebrating Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage involving a ritual bath in one of four sacred rivers (determined by a 12-year cycle of rotation) also falls under this same umbrella. (Note that, with the exception of Yom Kippur, all of these rituals are either currently being observed or will be observed between now and the 2nd week in May.)

All that being said, Day 13 of the Lunar New Year does not, in and of itself, involve ritual cleansing. It is, however, a day when people who celebrate the 15-day Spring Festival traditionally eat “clean.” A lighter, often vegetarian, meal on day 13, is a way to help the body clean itself after the heavy feasting over the previous two weeks and to prepare for one more round of feasting during the Lantern Festival (on Day 15).

Day 13 is also the day when some people celebrate the birthday of the “God of War.” There are lots of different stories (and names) associated with the “God of War.” Some of the legends relate to a general who showed great loyalty; other stories relate to an acclaimed general who became a goddess who showed great empathy. While this is not seen as a good day to get married or have a big celebration, it is believed that offering prayers and gifts to the God of War on Day 13 will bring peace to a household and give businesses a winning edge. Regardless of the title that is used, the God of War is viewed as a protector of individuals, homes, and businesses; as well as the patron of “fraternities,” including the police (and other brotherhoods).

“‘We three—Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei—though of different families, swear brotherhood, and promise mutual help to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty; we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the people. We ask not the same day of birth, but we seek to die together. May Heaven, the all-ruling, and Earth, the all-producing, read our hearts. If we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness, may Heaven and Human smite us!’”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 1. The Oath of the Peach Garden” in Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong (English translator unknown)

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

DON’T FORGET! This Friday (March 5th) there’s a “First Friday Night Special” (7:15 PM – 8:20 PM, CST) – at which time, I will encourage you to “give something up” / “let someone go.” Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

### “THUS WILL WE ENTER UPON OUR GREAT TASK.” ~LG ###

 

We Do What We Do September 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hope, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Taoism, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Beauty cannot exist without ugliness.

Virtue cannot exist without vice.

Living, we know death.

Struggling, we know ease.

Rising high, we know the depths.

Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite, therefore we work without conscious effort and teach without agenda.

We enjoy everything and possess nothing.

Our accomplishments do not emerge from our ego, so we do not cling to them.

Thus they benefit all beings.”

– (2) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

A few months back, I posted about chaos theory; and if you watch one of the pendulum models (see below it can seem like so much craziness. However, when faced with so much confusion, I have to remind myself of the following:

  • we’ve seen this pattern before;
  • it makes no sense if you get caught up in the momentum;
  •  all the movement is, in fact, moving towards stillness;
  • and that, from the perspective of natural law, there is a moment when all of the movement is, in fact, “effortless effort.”

As someone with a type-A personality, I sometimes struggle with the idea of “effortless effort.” Don’t get me wrong; I can be still, I can relax. However, there are certain times where “doing nothing” feels like the wrong choice. I’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe this. Many in the Western world have been conditioned and socialized to believe this. But, not doing is still doing and “effortless effort” is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, sometimes, it takes a great deal of effort to let go.

In a 2009 blog post, Meditation Oasis (Mary and Richard Maddux) refers to a the Wikipedia description of “Wu Wei” – which literally means “not-doing doing” – as “’natural action’ giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing.” This makes me think of Alan Watts meditation where he describes breathing as something that happens to us, but also something we can engage – and, once engaged, it is something we do deeply without effort. Meditation is like this. Life is like this too, and Taoist philosophy points to “Wu Wei” as a way to act and/or experience action in daily life. On Meditation Oasis’s blog, they describe meditation as “the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.” This too, is what Patanjali advocates in the Yoga Sūtras, “resting in your own true nature.” (YS 1.3)

 “The most fluid and yielding substance will flow past the most rigid with the speed of a racehorse.

That which does not hold a particular form can enter even that which seems impenetrable.

This is why we practice “effortless effort.”

We act without ado.

We teach without arguments.

This is the way of true happiness, but because people prefer distractions and noise, it is not a popular way.”

– (43) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

In commentary on wu-wei, Dr. Martin says, “This phrase implies pure action in the present moment without any accompanying resistance, second-guessing, or worry. In the practice of wu-wei we just “do what we do.” The more awareness and acceptance we bring to the present moment, the more wu-wei is possible. This can take the form of either energetic activity or relaxed waiting. Like acceptance, wu-wei is not passive….” The sounds great, but I wonder how it works in situations where things are steadily spiraling out of control, where there is deadly chaos and we can’t seem to find the center point. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker and am reminded that we have to bend the arc. But, how do we do that without more harm? How do we do that with ‘effortless effort?”

 “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker

Dr. William Martin wrote a book on the Tao and activism, which I have not read yet. However, Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga are philosophies that encourage experiencing the present moment – which requires stillness. So, today we are going to move into stillness.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Today’s playlist is dated March 29th or 03292020.)

Going with the flow…

### BE THE FLOW ###

FLASHBACK FRIDAY!! March 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Suffering, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine”

– Brett Bailey, Stage Director from South Africa, World Theatre Day Message Author 2014

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Art imitates life, which sometimes imitates art (because art can inform our lives). That overlap between inspiration, those being inspired, and those creating the inspiration is one of the beautiful things about art. It’s what makes art alive.

Today, however, the theatres are dark. The front of house is empty. There are no children, über-fans, or well-heeled patrons waiting in the green room, the wings, or at the stage door. On the big stages, there is only a single “ghost light” in place to make sure no one falls in the pit . . . and yet, social distancing means there is no one in danger of falling in the pit. It’s heartbreaking for so many artists and dedicated audience members, and people like me. For most of my adult life, before I started teaching yoga, my professional life was spent behind the scenes – quite literally keeping track of exits and entrances. I worked on legit theatre, musical theatre, dinner theatre, classical and modern dance, as well as opera and musical revues. I worked in different parts of the world; with artists from all of the world, and Friday night was always a big night.

Even if one company was in rehearsals or in a layoff period on Friday, another theatre was performing. Theatres are usually dark on Monday nights. Not Friday nights. Especially not this particular Friday night, as it happens to be World Theatre Day. Since it was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Day has been celebrated on March 27th by performing artists all over the world. Today, many theatres will not celebrate. Others have moved their celebration online.

Each year, an artist is selected from a different host country to write a message about theatre’s enduring role in the world community. This year’s message was written by Shahid Nadeem, Pakistan’s leading playwright and the head of the renowned Ajoka Theatre, who partially focused on the spiritual and transcendental power of theatre.

“Our planet is plunging deeper and deeper into a climatic and climactic catastrophe and one can hear the hoof-beats of the horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We need to replenish our spiritual strength; we need to fight apathy, lethargy, pessimism, greed and disregard for the world we live in, the Planet we live on. Theatre has a role, a noble role, in energizing and mobilizing humanity to lift itself from its descent into the abyss. It can uplift the stage, the performance space, into something sacred.”

– Shahid Nadeem, Playwright from Pakistan, World Theatre Day Message Author 2020

 

It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think no one in my former role will be asking people to turn off their cellular devices – unless someone jokes about the fact that so many tonight will be watching their “theatre” on their cellular devices. It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think something I have always taken for granted is suddenly not existing as it did.

And yet, if I learned nothing else from doing live theatre, I definitely learned about the temporal nature of things. Everything changes. That’s one of the beautiful – and also one of the most challenging – things about live theatre. It is always changing. You can have the best, most exhilarating performance of your life, followed by one where everything is just a little off. You can have a horrible final dress rehearsal, followed by a standing ovation on opening night. As a professional – onstage and backstage, as well as front of house – part of the job is to stay in the moment.

Staying in the moment requires being fully present with everyone and everything in the moment. We can look back later and work on fixing what went wrong. We can marvel at the unscripted audience reaction we want to figure out how to cultivate again and again. But, right here and right now it is time to turn up the music, turn down the lights, and breathe. The curtain is going up on this day in our lives, and what happens next can be (will be) simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. Like the cherry blossoms (sakura).

Flashback Friday: Today in 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda Iwa, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States, each planted a cherry blossom tree on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. These trees were part of a larger shipment of cherry blossoms meant to replace the ones initially given as a gift of friendship between the two countries. Normally, at this time of year, thousands of people can be found in D. C. celebrating the brilliance of these trees, just as thousands normally celebrate in parts of Japan and China. Normally….But, today the cherry blossoms are in bloom, while most people are inside, watching the beauty on their screens.

In Japan the fact that blossoms peak at one end of the island at the same time the blossom season is ending on another part of the island is a great illustration of mono no aware (literally “the pathos of things” of “sadness of things”). The fact that we can see this beauty even as we are socially distancing might also be considered the “sadness of things.” However, that very literally translation doesn’t quite work in English because it almost precludes appreciation of the beauty. The Japanese phrase is about simultaneously holding/celebrating/appreciating the beauty and the pain of the change that brings loss. Please check out the following links if you are interested in reading my take on mono no aware as it relates to YIN Yoga (April 5, 2017) or the physical practice of yoga and meditation (April 8, 2019). NOTE: While both posts include a bit of practice, only the 2017 includes a complete (YIN Yoga) practice.

Right now, I am appreciating the beauty of being able to share this practice online. I am also very much aware that this too shall change; however, I endeavor to stay in the moment. With that said, I am currently planning to host 7 online classes as follows:

MONDAY 5:30 – 6:45 PM for Common Ground

TUESDAY 12:00 – 1:00 PM & 7:15 – 8:30 PM (both) for Nokomis Yoga

WEDNESDAY 4:30 – 5:30 PM for Nokomis Yoga & 7:15 – 8:15 PM for Flourish

SATURDAY 12:00 – 1:30 PM (Nokomis)

SUNDAY 2:30 – 3:30 PM (Nokomis)

Everyone is welcome to join any class (although you will need to register in advance for the Flourish class). All online classes will currently be on ZOOM and I will post the meeting IDs on my “class schedule” late Friday afternoon. Each class will have a different ID, but that ID will be the same each week.

If you are new to yoga or new to vinyasa, please send me a message (myra at ajoyfulpractice.com) before joining the group. I apologize to my YIN Yoga folks, but at this time I am not streaming any full YIN practices, I will, however, continue to post or link you to the practice.

Those who are able may purchase or renew a package on my online store. Anyone can also make a donation (in lieu of a package) to Common Ground Meditation Center. (Donations are tax deductible.) If you plan to purchase a Nokomis Package please  note that there is a discounted package for students, seniors, Healthcare Providers, and First Responders.

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you.

 

### AS WE SAY IN BALLET, MERDE ###

 

CH-CH-CHANGES, LIKE A RIVER: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

πάντα ρε “  (“panta rhei “ everything flows or everything to the stream)

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (c. 535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

 

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

 – excerpt from funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer

 

Shift happens…all the time. Or, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once put it, “Everything changes and nothing remains still…you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Recognizing the temporal nature of everything, including ourselves and our experiences, can be very helpful.  However, it seems to be human nature to resist change and, in doing so, deny that change is happening – which, as the Buddha pointed out, creates suffering.

(Thus) have I heard that Prince Siddhartha Guatama of India was born into a family of great wealth and great privilege.  As pointed out at the beginning of this series, Siddartha means “one who has accomplished his goal” or “one who has achieved his aim” and – as far as his family was concerned his dharma (or goal) was to one day take over as ruler of his father’s lands. (The title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One,” would come later in his life.)

Siddhartha knew nothing of pain and nothing of suffering, having been shielded from the existence of sickness and death, until the age of 29. Upon seeing the suffering of others, his life trajectory changed and he renounced the life he knew in order to find a path that would alleviate suffering. At the age of 35, tradition tells us, he articulated The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering

In some traditions of Buddhism, understanding and accepting these four noble truths is the key to waking up and there are a number of practices specifically designed to bring awareness to change happening every time you inhale, every time you exhale. In fact, the very act of sitting and watching the breath can illuminate the Four Noble Truths and the temporal nature of our existence.

The history of Japan and Japanese culture is full of change. Depending on where you look you may find an acute juxtaposition between accepting change, keeping a tradition (without change), and actually celebrating change. For example, most of the Buddhist world celebrates the Buddha’s birthday on May 8th or a day determined by a lunar calendar. Many temples in Japan, however, started celebrating on April 8th every year, when the country switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.  During the Flower Festival, which is the birthday celebration, people will pour a sweet tea made from fermented hydrangea leaves over where small statues of the Buddha.

For an example of people celebrating change, look no further than the sakura (cherry blossom) season that is beginning. The Cherry Blossom Festivals that are currently kicking off (or ending, depending on the region) is completely separate from the Flower Festival associated with the Buddha’s birthday.

Sakura usually begin blossoming in the southern part of Japan and, over a matter of weeks, eventually blossom across the whole island. However, by the time the blossoms peak in the North they are already out of season in the South. The delicate flowers literally blow away like dust in the wind. For the heart and mind to hold the beauty of the moment when the flowers peak, with the awareness (and sadness) that the moment is already passing, is known as mono no aware (literally, “the pathos of things”). Mono no aware may be translated as “empathy towards things,” but there’s really no set words in English to express the feeling of wonder (“the ahhness”) inextricably tied to the longing and deep sadness that accompanies loss. This is what is – and yet, without some kind of mindfulness practice it is easy to separate the two sensations or to be so overwhelmed by the twin emotions that we focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other. Focusing on what feels good and appealing, while avoiding what doesn’t feel good results in more suffering. It also creates suffering when our longing for what has passed causes us to miss what is. (Not to mention, it causes us to continuously confront the illusion that we can go back to a moment in time, in the same way we think we can cross the same river twice.)

If you look at the history of sitting in Japan, you will also find lots of change – and sometimes a resistance to change. What is now commonly considered the proper way to sit in Zen Buddhism, as well as in day-to-day life, is seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”). Seiza is kneeling so that the big toes overlap (right over left) and then sitting on the heels. Women are taught to sit with the knees together, while men may be taught to spread the knees a little. In the modern times, this type of sitting is ubiquitous and considered respectful; however, prior to the mid 14th century and up to the late 16th century it was consider proper and respectful to either sit with legs to the side or cross-legged. Cross-legged was, in fact, the preference for many warriors as it was believed that a cross-legged position would not hinder a samurai if they needed to draw their sword.

“The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (DK22A1)

 

In the physical practice of yoga, the “proper way to sit” is in way that is stable and comfortable enough for you to focus on your breath. Notice that in Yoga Sutra II.46 (broken down in yesterday’s post) Patanjali uses the words sukham asanam which can be translated as “dwelling in a good space.” The flip side of a good space is dukha “a bad space” – or, more acutely, “a space of suffering.” As you move into this next pose, make sure you are not dwelling in a space of suffering.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 8th: Auspicious or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana)

Auspicious Pose or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana) appears in classical texts like Gheranda Samhita (c. 17th century) as a pose similar to seiza. In more modern texts it is depicted as a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana). Either variation can be in the beginning, middle, and/or the end of a practice. In fact, if you are doing a variety of poses today, you can return to your Auspicious pose the way your return to Downward Facing Dog, or Equal Standing, and notice was changed or shifted.

For the classical variation, be mindful of the knees and hips as you come to your hands and knees and bring the tips of the big toes to touch. Spread the knees as wide as you are able and then sit back on your heels. If there is a lot of pressure on the knees, sit on a block or blanket. You may also need a blanket or towel under the feet for this variation.

For the second variation, bring your feet together, like a prayer, in front of your hips (rather than behind). This variation is easier on the knees and feet. You may still need to sit up on a blanket or block. Especially if the hips are tight, you slump into the low back, and/or the knees are up higher than the hips. In this variation you can also adjust the feet (bring them closer in or further out) to bring more ease to the knees.

You can sit up tall with the hands resting on the thighs. Another option, which is very nice for the shoulders, is to lift your heart up (into the beginning of a backbend) and cross the hands behind the back so that you can grab the toes, the heels, or (if your feet are in front) the opposite hip. Make sure you are not leaning back, but instead are arching your chest up. Be mindful that you are not straining or compressing the low back.

If you have unregulated blood pressure issues, let your breath flow naturally in and ebb naturally out. If you find you are holding your breath or panting, ease out of the pose. If you are in overall good health, and they are in your practice, you can add your bandhas.

Dwell in this good space (sukha asama) until you have to move out of it (because it has become the “bad space” ( dukkha asanam). Be mindful that you ease out of the pose with the same awareness you used to get into it. Find some gentle, micro-movements to release the joints.

 

(Click here if you do not see the video.)

### NAMASTE ###

RELAX * RELEASE * REST * RENEW * HEAL – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2019 December 18, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Advent, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Football, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Taoism, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Start the New Year with a 2-hour retreat into yourself. Enfold into the wisdom of your heart and let your heart’s desire unfold. Be inspired.

Despite our modern day penchant for fireworks and parties, a new year begins much as it ends: quietly. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we observe the secular New Year when much of nature is hibernating. We hustle and bustle, struggling to start, continue, or end. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, things and beings are waiting.

Waiting…it seems so passive and unyielding.

Waiting…it is easy to forget the importance of resting, relaxing, and being still…letting things germinate and take root.

Waiting…. In many philosophies and religions, including the Abrahamic religions, great emphasis is put on the importance of waiting, specifically because something or someone is coming.

Yet, no one really wants to wait for our dreams to come true. We want it now! And, we want to be actively working towards that goal. Unfortunately, sometimes, we forget about the importance of waiting…resting…reflecting…planning.

As one year ends and another begins, we are given the opportunity to reflect and plan. We can reflect on the events of the previous year – and how we dealt with them. We can plan for a new year of events – and how we want to deal with them. Making a resolution, even informally, seems natural to some and inevitable to others. It can also seem futile when you consider that (according to some statistics) only about 8% of people who make a resolution actually follow through with them.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep?

Resolutions are just like any other goal or dream that has a lot of expectation attached to it. In order for us to succeed we have to be all in – otherwise, we falter at the first obstacle. In order to be all in, we have to understand what it is we really want or need.

Ask yourself, how does this goal or desire serve me?

Every goal, every desire, every resolution has a purpose. Tapping into the power of the purpose, how the goal or desire serves us, allows us to connect to the underlying intention. Intention is compelling. Intention is the driving force that allows us to see an opportunity to succeed where we might otherwise falter.

Consider this sports analogy: Let’s say you’re a football team with a stellar passing game. Everybody knows your team has a stellar passing game; but, when you’re in the zone it doesn’t matter that the other team is trying to sack your quarterback or intercept every pass – there’s always a pocket, there’s always a hole. The problem comes in when you’re not in the zone and/or when you’re playing a team with an exceptional defensive line. A professional team, ideally, has practiced other options. However, even the pros play to their strengths and, sometimes strengths become blind spots. When it feels like everything is on the line – but nothing is going their way – that’s when we hit our blind spots. And, even the pros can end up in a situation where they’re strengths no longer serve them. Even the pros may forget that there are different ways to achieve the goal.

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker outlines a formula for success which he calls the Creation Equation. Simply stated, the sum of the intensity of your desire plus the intensity of your efforts to achieve the goal has to be greater than the intensity of the resistance. Keep in mind, the resistance can come from a lot of different sources – including other people. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the intensity of the resistance increases when your desire gets misplaced or transferred.

In the aforementioned sports analogy, for example, both teams have a strong desire to win. Each team’s desire represents a portion of the other team’s resistance. When practicing, however, the team with the stellar passing game focused their desire on having a stellar passing game. On the other hand, the exceptional defensive line focused on stopping everything. When it’s game time, the latter doesn’t care what you throw at them, they’re intense desire (i.e., their focus and their intention) is on stopping everything – by any means necessary. That intention puts them in the zone.

Every year, at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations, I lead a guided meditation which includes a group sankalpa that I then incorporate into my Saturday classes at the YMCA. The word sankalpa means will, determination, vow or intention. It can also mean resolution. But, the difference between the English and the Sanskrit is that within the Sanskrit word there is the vow and the way to achieve the vow, there is a guiding principle and the dedication to following it. A sankalpa combines the desire with the effort. To connect and to stay connected to that highest vow, it is important to clear the mind and focus/concentration/meditation on the heart’s desire.

When outlining the philosophy of the yoga in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali put particular emphasis on the combined power of the last three (3) limbs of the practice: focus, concentration, and (perfect) meditation (YS 3:4-6). He also mentioned that there are five (5) ways, including tapah (“training the senses” or “austerity”) and samadhi (“meditation”), to reach higher awareness (YS 4:1).

The New Year’s Day japa-ajapa mala if 108 Sun Salutations is a vigorous practice which fits into the category of tapah and can involve samadhi. While not vigorous, a Yin Yoga practice, which involves settling into a special series of poses for long holds, also fits into the categories of tapah and samadhi. Both can clear the mind so that you can bring your full awareness to your heart’s desire.

My 2019 New Year’s Day mala is full, but I will post other practice opportunities. Also, I am excited to offer a Yin Yoga practice with guided mediation (5 – 7 PM). If you are interested in joining me for this special candlelight practice on New Year’s Day, please email me (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com).

WHO: Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: A Yin Yoga practice addresses the deep tissue and connective tissue through a special series of supported poses held for 3 – 5 minutes. Props and awareness of the body creates an opportunity to relax the outer musculature. This candlelight practice also includes guided meditation.

WHERE & WHEN: Nokomis Yoga at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

WHEN: Tuesday, January 1, 2019

COST: This is a donation-based event. Since space is limited, please email Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com to save your spot.

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR! ~

JUST SITTING & BREATHING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #3 April 3, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Mathmatics, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“To breathe! Oh poem we cannot see!
Pure space exchanged continually
For one’s own being. Counterpoise,
In which I come to be, a rhythm.”

– from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 1 by Ranier Maria Rilke

 

“feel how your breathing makes more space around you”

– from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 by Ranier Maria Rilke

Regardless of what you practice or how you practice yoga, breathing is an essential part of the practice. In fact, the physical practice of yoga, Hatha Yoga (regardless of the style or tradition) is a combination of the third and fourth limbs of the philosophy of yoga: asana (“seat”) and pranayama (“awareness” or “extension” of breath). As the body is a container for the breath, the asana is a way to direct the breath, as well as a way to connect the mind and body.

Connecting through the breath is also a way to bring about change in the mind and body. Literally speaking, Hatha Yoga may be translated as “sun-moon union” or “by-force union.” The power of the practice comes from the uniting of opposites. It is by the force of the breath that we bring about change.

Sir Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, in particular Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, and published his laws of motion in 1687. Three hundred and thirty-one years later, these physical laws first published in the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica still hold up: (1) that an object at rest remains at rest and an object in motion remains in motion – unless acted upon by a force; (2) that the rate of change in momentum is directly related to the force applied, and the direction applied; and (3) that there is an equal and opposite reaction to every action.

Every time we breathe, especially if we observe the body’s natural reaction to the breath, we are seeing these laws at work. Take a deeper breath in and that action results in a deeper breath out. As, the breath enters the body the belly rises; as the breath leaves, the belly falls. Simultaneously, the diaphragm rises and falls, enters and leaves – but, in the opposite direction of the belly. Also, on a much deeper level, the spine extends as we inhale and flexes as we exhale. Our physical practice of yoga is simply a way to observe natural phenomena at work.

Our physical practice is also a way to observe natural phenomena from a philosophical standpoint. For example, Daoism views everything in existence as the manifestation of four (4) actions: entering and leaving, rising and falling. As we inhale, things and people come into our lives, things happen around us. As we exhale, things and people leave our lives, things change around us. Notice the thoughts and emotions that arise. Notice how the thoughts and emotions settle.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 – by Ranier Maria Rilke

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Make yourself comfortable and stable enough to focus on the breath. Notice the inhale, the pause, the exhale, the pause. Notice how the body reacts to each part of the breath. Notice how the inhale creates space and the exhale allows you to engage that space.

After a few minutes in Balasana, make your way into Table Top – hands and knees to the mat with shoulders over elbows and wrists, hips over knees – or into a seated position if that is more accessible. Begin to move with the breath in an exaggeration of your body’s natural tendencies: Inhale and extend the spine into a back-bend with the belly dropping down (this is Cow Pose). Exhale and flex the spine so the belly is drawn up into the spine (this is Cat Pose). If you sit hunched over a computer all day, you might try the “un-Cat” instead.

As Ranier Maria Rilke writes, “Move back and forth into the change.” Match the movement to the breath and notice the natural balance of the breath being reflected in the movement. Notice how your mind settles into the rising and falling, the ebbing and flowing. Notice how your mind settles into the present moment – even as it changes.

After a few minutes of Cat/Cow or the “un-Cat” (from the link above), move into Corpse Pose (Savasana). Notice the rising and falling of the belly as the breath enters and leaves the body. Feel the breath in your spine. Notice the breath that leaves the body is entering the world, and vice versa.

Breath is spirit. In fact, in the old languages, people used the same words for breath that they used for spirit: Prana in Sanskrit, Qi in Chinese, Pneuma in Greek, Ruach (in the body) in Hebrew, and Spiritus in Latin. So, feel the force of your spirit in the body and in the world.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at one of my donation-based classes (April 7th and April 28th).

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body.  They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

 # do yoga. share yoga. help others. #