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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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

A Little Metta

 

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

 

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

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

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Knowing & Unknowing, a prequel & a reboot October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

– James Baldwin (as quoted from the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck)

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened by Pope John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, the council entailed four working sessions – the first of which started today, October 13th – and spanned a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correcting those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

 

– Dr. Thomas Schelling, economist

 

Portions of the above were previously posted on October 11, 2020. The following was previously posted on October 13, 2020.

“It feels like I should have something momentous to say now that I’ve hit this landmark birthday. There is only this—I feel I’m in the middle of it all. Family, grandkids, work, marriage, good friends, joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing. Hmmm…come to think of it, that is pretty remarkable!”

 

 

– my dear friend DB on turning 60 (in an email dated 10/14/2013)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but in many ways my life has taken turns I never saw coming. Even beyond the events of 2020, things are very different than I imagined. When we look back, when we see cause and effect – and even the now obvious beginnings of “unforeseen consequences” that absolutely could have seen coming if we had taken the time to pay more attention – it’s only human nature to think, “If I’d only known….” But, let’s be honest, coming where you come from, being surrounded by the people who surround you, and being who you are would you really have done things differently if you had known what was unknown?

Before you answer that question, consider that every moment of lives is spent a liminal moment between “knowing and unknowing,” “the seen and unseen.” Are you, in this moment considering the unknown and unseen forces at work around you and within you? Are you, at this moment, even comfortable considering the unknown (let alone the fact that there are things you know that you might need to “un-know”)?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

 

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

When Paul the Apostle and Timothy, who would become the first Christian bishop of Ephesus, wrote the  second letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Saint Paul was focused on the church’s internal struggles, division, and quarrels. He intended to use his own personal experiences with external persecution and internal strife to reassure the congregants that was an authority on Jesus and his teachings and, furthermore, that “all this is for your benefit.” He instructed them to “not lose heart,” because their faith would be rewarded in a way that overwhelmed any current troubles. Similarly, Patanjali indicates (in the Yoga Sūtras) that the end results of our efforts (karma) are stored in affliction/pain “that is experienced in seen and unseen lives” (YS 2.12), but that ultimately everything that happens in the objective/perceived world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom.” (YS 2.18)

Again and again, the instruction is to trust that things are happening for the good if you are following the path. In the latter case, the path is the philosophy of Yoga, as opposed to Christianity; but, similar guidance is found in sacred text around the world. So the question becomes, how do we balance what we believe (our faith, especially in something unseen) with our reason, logic, and what we can clearly see (i.e., perceive with our senses)? Additionally, how do we “keep the faith” when everything seems to be going wrong?

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop considering the needs of others – and that’s the very minute we are divided. The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop learning, adapting, and growing. In other words, it’s the minute we stop truly living (and the minute we stop living a life that serves the greater good). If, however, we can take Joyner’s suggestion and apply it to our daily interactions (even with ourselves) we have the possibility of living in a way that supports the greater good.

Will Joyner’s words from 2006 present us with a challenge, one we can accept on a daily basis. It’s the challenge to turn inward and to move through life with a certain level of humility. Humility is crucial because, as my friend DB so eloquently pointed out, we are not alone in this thing called life. And, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “… either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together….” To learn to live together we have to figure out a way to balance our wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. We need to figure out a way to connect between our areas of “knowing and unknowing.”

I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary. It is also self-sustaining, because the more we practice/live with discernment and the wisdom of the heart, the more we want to listen to the heart. One way to start is to consider the yamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for others and the niyamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for your own self. Such a practice creates a feedback loop that can serve the greater good.

“The practice of contentment begins with a conscious decision not to fixate on the fruit of our actions. It requires a deep conviction that when we perform our actions, the forces governing the law of cause and effect will ensure they bear fruit. When our actions do not appear to best fruit, we remind ourselves that unknown factors are far more powerful than known factors. When our actions bear desirable fruit, we acknowledge the higher reality that arranges unforeseen factors in our favor. When the fruit is undesirable, we accept it while acknowledging the benevolence of divine will. Thus we remain unperturbed by both the desirable and undesirable consequences of our actions.” 

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.42 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 13th) 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 “10132020 Knowing & Unknowing, prequel”]

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

 

Have your voted for the Carry app?

 

### WHAT DO YOU KNOW? ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Smile

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

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

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

 

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

Have your voted for the Carry app?

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

 

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

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

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

Generally Coming Together (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 28th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Another classic definition of yoga is ‘to be one with the divine.’ It does not matter what name we use for the divine – God, Allah, Īśvara, or whatever – anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

 

– quoted from “1 – Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

If you take even the most rudimentary survey course on the Yoga Philosophy, you will learn that the Sanskrit word yoga means “union” (and you will probably learn that it comes from the root word for “to yoke”). Go a little deeper, however, and you will find a lot of different classical (as well as modern) interpretations of the word, including the idea that it is “to come together” or “to unite.” In our physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, there is often an emphasis on bringing the mind, body, and spirit together. The reality, however, is that there is already a mind-body-spirit connection. The practice is simply a way to recognize and reinforce the connection. And, just as we are individually connected in a variety of ways, we are collectively connected – we just need a way to recognize and reinforce those connections.

Dr. David DeSteno has a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group – a psychology lab that focuses on “ways to improve the human condition.” To be clear, the lab is not focused on technological hardware but on social behavior. As his bio states: “At the broadest level, his work examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue. Studying hypocrisy and compassion, pride and punishment, cheating and trust, his work continually reveals that human moral behavior is much more variable than most would predict.”

Recently, I came across a Wired article that was adapted from his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, in which he points out that in many areas of his (20 years worth of) research, psychologists and neuroscientists are simply (re)codifying systems that have existed for thousands of years in religions all over the world. The overlapping points –where east meets west; where ritual and tradition meet science and the scientific method; where faith meets reason – always fascinate me and also make me chuckle. I chuckle at the hubris that Dr. DeSteno identifies within himself (and other scientists), which relegates ritual and tradition to superstition and myth – forgetting that every old wives’ tale or story from the old country was a way for ancient civilizations to understand the university, just as “science” is the way the modern world understands the university. That same element of hubris is also why sometimes modern scientists forget that they don’t know everything.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the connection between faith and reason and by the way we human beings (sometimes) trust certain things when we experience them directly; trust things for which we have no other explanation than that it is; and at other times can only trust something that has been “scientifically proven.” In this case, “scientifically proven” means that it is quantified and also that the cause and effect can be duplicated. Of course, this makes me laugh, sardonically, because thousands of years of “evidence” is often thrown out as “anecdotal” because of who experienced it and how it was originally documented.

“But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Throughout the year I reference a lot of different rituals, customs, and traditions from a variety of different cultures, religions, and philosophies. I do this because I firmly believe that we human beings have more commonalities than differences. Some of those commonalities involve the ways in which we come together as spiritual communities and the power of those get-togethers. As I have mentioned before, there are certain times of year – often around the changing of the seasons – when everyone and their brother seems to be getting together for some communal ritual. These times are powerful in that they are steeped in faith; however, when you look at the Jewish community around this time of year, it becomes obvious that the power is in the faith as well as in the coming together – the yoga, as it were – of the community.

For instance, there are some devout Jews who will begin preparing for the New Year 40 days before Yom Kippur. Then there are people who only come to services during the High Holidays, the “Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement.” This latter group includes people who identify as culturally and/or ethnically Jewish. Then, just a few days later, people celebrate Sukkot – and now the coming together includes, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, people who are not Jewish in any way, shape, or form. Power is increasing, as is knowledge – which is also power.

“The Talmud tells us that one of the things that is in constant need of “bolstering” and improvement is Torah study. Thus, we say “Chazak” to strengthen ourselves in Torah study.

 

It’s crucial to review the Torah we’ve learned so as not to forget it. This is why, after finishing a portion of the Talmud, we say “Hadran alach,” “I will return to you.” Similarly, when we finish a book of Torah, we say “Chazak,” in other words, “We should have the strength to review what we learned.”

 

Likewise, when a person does a mitzvah, we say “Yasher koach” (“More power to you”), meaning, “Just as you did this mitzvah, may it be G‑d’s will that you do many more mitzvahs!”

 

– quoted from “Why Say ‘Chazak’ Afer Finishing a Book of Torah?” by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin (posted on  chabad.org)

When I explain Sukkot to my yoga community, I specifically mention that it takes place over seven days (as explicitly stated in Devarim – Deuteronomy 16:15) and is celebrated over eight days in the diaspora. The extra day is actually “a second day festival” which, when observed, applies to all major holidays. For the Jewish diaspora (i.e., the community residing outside of Israel), a “second festival day” was established about 2,000 years ago to reconcile the fact that a new month started with the sighting of the new moon at the Temple in Jerusalem and then that sighting had to be communicated to the world at large. In addition to building in travel time (since this was before telecommunication and the internet), religious leaders took into account the fact that messengers may not arrive (in an appropriate period of time or at all). People within the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are primarily the only people within the diaspora who still observe this second day, but the timeline can get a little confusing when holidays overlap.

 

While I often reference the extra day when it comes to Sukkot, I haven’t always mentioned that for some (excluding the diaspora) the eighth day is its own separate celebration: Shemini Atzeret, literally “The Eighth [day] of Assembly.” Furthermore, this eighth day has its own rituals, traditions, and prayers – specifically, the prayer for rain and the prayer to remember departed souls. Traditionally, this is NOT a celebration for “[all] who live within your city.” It is immediately followed by Simchat Torah (or, for some, the second day of Shemini Atzeret), which is a celebration of an ending that is also a beginning.

As prescribed by the Talmud, the Torah – which consists of the “Five Books of Moses” – is read publicly over the course of the year and traditionally people are not meant to go more than three days without reading the Torah. The five books are divided up into 54 portions, known as Parshah (or Sidra), which are read weekly and accompanied by special blessings. Each week a special group of people are selected to read the designated portion during services. There are times when two portions are combined. The most notably combination occurs when the end of Devarim – Deuteronomy (33:1 – 34:12), known as V’Zot HaBerachach Parshah, is immediately followed by the reading of the first chapter of Bereishit – Genesis. This double reading occurs on Simchat Torah (or the second day of Shemini Atzeret). Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with/of the Torah” and services are traditionally filled with singing, spontaneous dancing, and more gratitude… which is more power.

“Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous…. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06162020 Abe’s House & Soweto”]

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

 

– Mother Teresa

 

If you are interested in more information about the work of Dr. David DeSteno, click here to check out the Wired article referenced above.

 

### Peace, Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, YOGA ###

 

 

Fly (W)right (a Monday post) September 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing Sukkot. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 20th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 “More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, where foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.”

– quoted from the poem “Optimism” in Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield

“Resilience” is defined as “the power or ability to return to the original form or position; to recover readily from; the ability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after; buoyancy.” It comes from a Latin phrase meaning “to spring” or “leaping back” and, as some of friends can attest, it is one of my favorite subjects. I love the beauty and the power of resiliency. I’m also a big fan of stories, especially true stories, about people who fall down and then pick themselves back up – or even of stories, especially true stories, about people who have been pushed down and somehow, almost miraculously, pick themselves back up. Those stories are inspiring because we have all been there.

We have all tried something that didn’t work out the first or second (or even the thousandth time), but we kept going. Like Thomas Edison. Or, maybe like Alfred Nobel, we’ve spent our time working on things we thought would make the world a better place… only to discover that people thought of us as the epitome of evil – and then we have to go back to the drawing board in order to leave a different legacy. We have all battled our personal obstacles and readied ourselves to put our best foot forward… only to find someone else has found their groove before us. Like Ella Fitzgerald. Or, maybe in battling our personal demons, we just fell down… and had to get back up. Then too, we have all been the underdog (like David and Michelangelo) and we have all had to figure out a way to rise from “a past rooted in pain.” Like Maya Angelou.

I could go on. But the point is we all have to find our wings.

“Be like the bird, who
Pausing in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him
Yet sings
Knowing he has wings.”

 

– “Be like the bird” poem by Victor Hugo

On September 20, 1904, in a cow pasture known as “Huffman Prairie,” just outside Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their 49th flight. They had moved their flights from Kitty Hawk and the Kill Devil Hills of North Caroline, in part because of the windy weather and in part because cutting their (land-based) travel time gave them more opportunities to fly. For the Flyer II, they used white pine instead of spruce and added weight to strengthen the frame. They also added a more powerful engine, shifted the center of gravity forward, and adjusted the plane’s wings configuration to create more pitch stability – all of which made it easier to fly. Finally, because they had less wind than at Kitty Hawk, they devised a catapult to pull the airplane down a wooden track. The catapult dropped a 1,000-pound (544 kilograms) weight from 20 feet (6.1 meters) in order to achieve a greater speed at takeoff.

Wilbur Wright was flying the newsworthy flight, which was remarkable not only because it lasted 1 minute, 36 seconds (covering 4,080 feet), but also because it was the first time they flew in a complete circle. 360 degrees! [In other words, they returned to their original position.] Amos I. Root, a beekeeper, had driven 175 miles (from Medina, Ohio) just to see the Wright Brothers fly. He published his eyewitness account of that first circle in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture.

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was . . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels . . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

 

– quoted from an article dated a January 1, 1905, in the Gleanings in Bee Culture by Amos I. Root

Amos Root’s words painted a vivid picture of a successful moment. He put the reader right smack dab in the middle of the moment. But what of all the crashes; what about all of the missed take offs and landings? Can we picture a moment some might consider a failure? What keeps someone going in those moments – especially when they are in the process of trying doing something that has never been done? What’s the secret to that kind of tenacity and resilience?

Some people believe resilience is all about attitude and perspective; others believe it is physiological (and genetic). Still others believe it is a combination of the two. Either way, there are keys to mental, emotional, energetic, and physical resilience. You could even call them secrets (although we all know them). These keys (or secrets) can be highlighted by inspirational stories. For example, a cursory look at the story of the Wright brothers and their quest to fly includes a little note on sleep; being in good company (which is also having a supportive community); being mindful, especially of what works and what doesn’t work; letting go of what doesn’t work; and getting good momentum. The Wright brothers’ story also pays tribute to what happens when you wake up with a little grace and a little faith.

“We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.”

 

– Wilbur Wright

The idea of flying, testing new modifications and soaring through the sky, energized the Wright brothers. Take a moment to consider what gets you energized, excited and grateful to wake up and greet the new day – especially if the previous day was hard. For some people it is their children, their family, or their friends that get them going. For some people it’s their pets. For some people it is a new adventure, a new possibility. For some people it is the possibility of helping others and/or fulfilling their purpose. It can even be a combination of things. For instance, in Buddhism, the practice and commitment to the practice are supported by the Three Jewels: the Buddha, or teacher; the Dharma, which are the teachings; and the Sangha, which is the community. People take refuge in these, especially when times are challenging.

What inspires you to get up and keep going when you encounter challenges and setbacks?

“‘For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.’”

 

Mishlei – Proverbs (24:16)

It’s easy to say, “Well, I know what used to work. But….” And, yes, it’s true, our lives have changed; our relationships and social situations have changed – even as the world has changed – and will keep changing. However, there are some things that are constant. There are some things that change with us. Then, too, there is something in each of us that responds to a certain type of motivation. Pinpoint your motivator.

Maybe it’s been awhile and maybe you’ve forgotten what it felt like to be excited about the new day. If so, maybe you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Another option is to take a moment – maybe 90 seconds – to remember the feeling, the embodied feeling, of getting up, dusting yourself off, and smiling as you get ready to do what you’re going to do.

And that’s another of my favorite “secret” tips, courtesy of Yoda: Focus on what you’re doing (not on what you’re trying)! Focus on flying – whatever that means to you at this moment.

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.”

 

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.”

 

– Orville Wright

Once we get past the inspiring story, it’s easy to look at the people mentioned above and think that most of us haven’t endured the hardships some of them endured or that we haven’t accomplished the things those noteworthy people accomplished. We may not even desire what they desired. Still, we all have our trials, our tribulations, our challenges, and our obstacles. We also all have some accomplishment or experience that we keep working our way towards despite the frustration of not have achieved our goal or desire the way we expected to achieve it. Or, maybe things didn’t happen according to the timetable we had in our head. Either way, this isn’t about comparing our lot to someone else’s lot.

This is about the fact that something keeps us going.

Years ago I came across a yoga article by Christina Sell about “changing inner dialogue” and it gave me a great appreciation for the power of the word “yet.” Yes, sometimes the word can be part of self-defeating criticism, but it can also be used as a motivator. She suggested that when we’re working on something – on or off the mat – to think about it from the perspective of “I haven’t done this yet, but…. Such a little word; yet it can keep us moving in the direction that brings us closer and closer to our goals.

“A further meaning of the word yoga is ‘to attain what was previously unattainable.’ The starting point for this thought is that there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga….

Another aspect of yoga has to do with our actions. Yoga therefore also means acting in such a way that all our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged.”

– quoted from “1. Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

“‘Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.’”

– quoted from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

[A small portion of the above was previously posted on September 20, 2020. Click here for the original context and a different look at “returning.”]

 

### Be Like The Bird (but not like the Song of Solomon peacock) ###

Wow! You’re Still Holding on to That? (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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NOTE: Randomly, coincidentally, or not, two people named Buckley created pieces entitled “The Things That Keep Us Here.” I’ve never read Carla Buckley’s novel, but I’ve used Scott Buckley’s haunting composition on more than one occasion. It is part of his Monomyth album and includes a description that also seems to fit the synopsis of the novel, “Family. Duty. The things that keep us grounded, what keep us from giving up on our hopes, but what also holds us back from stepping across the precipice into the unknown.”

As the High Holidays come to an end, I always find myself thinking about the things to which I cling even though they are no longer serving me – or never served me. I think about how the very “things that keep us grounded” and keep us from stepping into danger can also be the things that keep us from freely moving into our future.

The following reflection was originally posted on September 27, 2020 and is related to the practice from Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Some links have been added/updated.

“So I draw courage and stand face-to-face with my limitations, without shrinking or running. I allow for honest remorse. Here is my place of Now….

Of course, acceptance does not mean becoming complacent. I still need to honestly evaluate my life and reflect on how I want to act differently this coming year. It also doesn’t preclude trying my best.

But at this very moment my state of ‘now’ is my truth.”

– quoted from an article entitled “Perfectly Imperfect: The Secret of the Shofar” (09/12/2020) by Rabbi Binyomin Weisz

Every year we go on a journey. We spiral up – we fly (w)right – and we spiral down. We have times when we need to say, “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven” – which are really just ways to say, “I love you.” (But, to be fair, we also have times when we are not ready for any of that.)

We have inspirational times, like the High Holidays are in the Jewish tradition, when people are getting ready for “good” (as in meaningful) days, better days. And, when those times come, I often wonder how long it’s going to take for people to really come clean. I wonder why it takes us so long to recognize the power in remembering and reflecting, starting small, and rooting down to grow up. I consider all the different possibilities that can lead us to a new beginning and a “sweet new year.”

Each part of the journey is a story-within-a-story (within-a-story). That’s the way our lives work. We are all, each of us, the hero in our own story as well as the antagonist and/or supporting character and/or “magical guide” and/or benevolent goddess and/or “father” figure in someone else’s story. Paying attention to the stories is another way to pay attention to your life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

– “A person firmly established in the non-possessiveness gains complete understanding of the “why-ness” (or essence of why) of birth.”

Like everyone else, I have my favorite stories for each season; but, I don’t get the chance to tell every story every year. (That’s why some of the highlighted words above are not yet linked to a post.) There is, however, a story I make sure to tell every year, right at the end of the High Holidays. It’s a Charlie Harary story with a timeless message. It’s a message, coincidentally, that would have worked really well with yesterday’s yoga sūtra because it is, absolutely, a story about non-attachment. (And also gold.) But I didn’t tell the story yesterday – I saved it for today.

Some people may believe that I save today’s story for the one of the final days of the high holidays because it is sometimes an intense physical practice. But, in reality, there is a bit of symbolism that plays out in the story and in the timing of the story. You see, even though I don’t talk about the significance of the Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement, and Yom Kippur until people are observing them; many people within the Jewish community start planning and observing (a time of contemplation and preparation) forty days before Yom Kippur. They listen for the call of the shofar; recite Psalm 27 twice a day; and some communities even begin a tradition of communal prayers for forgiveness (Selichot). For others, observation begins with Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance – even though, if they plan to go home and/or attend services, they have to make arrangements beforehand. Finally, there are people who may only fast and attend services on Yom Kippur.

There is merit to each person’s timetable. And I see this kind of timetable in other communities – including in the yoga community. I am especially aware of how it is playing out right now, as some people are transitioning back into studios and gyms, some people are holding steady to their online or individual practices, and still others are waiting….

“Had I not believed in seeing the good of the Lord in the land of the living!

Hope for the Lord, be strong and He will give your heart courage, and hope for the Lord.”

Tehillim – Psalms (27:13-14)

There is merit to each person’s timetable. However, we ultimately come back to the question of what purpose does the practice (or observation) serve and – if it serves a meaningful purpose – why are we waiting? If we want more meaning, more purpose, more insight, and more gratitude/happiness in our lives, we have to get ready for it.

True, life can be like a standardized test – some people don’t seem to need as much preparation as others. But, the ultimate truth (in that) is that some people spend their whole lives preparing, getting ready, for more life. You will find that, as occurs in the stories from yesterday and today, if our focus is on getting that the glittery, shiny stuff, that we think enables us to live the way we want to live and be the people we want to be, we may never achieve our ultimate goal. Sometimes all the preparation keeps us from living our best lives and being our best version of our self – because all of our focus and energy is going towards the means (not the end). Furthermore, we can let the idea of everything being “perfect” hold us back.

On the flip side, some people actually live a life full of meaning, purpose, insight, and gratitude/insight because that is their ultimate purpose. They are not getting ready to get something glittery and shiny with a lot of value; they recognize that they already have it. Our lives and the lives of those around us are of the highest value. (I wonder how long it will it take for us to recognize that.)

“And the real goal of Yom Kippur is to spend one day just being you – but the real you… that soul, that you.”

 – quoted from “Yom Kippur: Time to Come Home” by Charlie Harary

Wednesday’s playlist is available on  YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “High Holidays: Drop Your Bags”]

You can request an audio recording of the Wednesday 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.]

(The YouTube playlist linked above includes the video of Charlie Harary’s “Drop Your Bags.”)

A variation on a theme, a different Charlie Harary story about Yom Kippur and “Coming Home”

### GET HERE NOW / BE HERE NOW ###

Perfecting Your Pace (a Monday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 13th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Stay To change the past, there is no need to travel in a time machine. Everything can be done by remote control.

Here’s how it works: From beyond the continuum of time, its Creator looks at where your spaceship is heading right now. From that point, He creates all its trajectory—through the future and through the past.

Switch the direction your past is sending you. Soon enough, it becomes a different past.”

– quoted from “Maamar Padah B’Shalom 5738” (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

There was a time, years ago, when my class theme on September 13th revolved around a writer who often employed a “time slip,” which is a plot device whereby a character (or a group of characters) time travel without knowing how or why they suddenly end up in a different time. They could go back in time or they could go forward, but when it’s a true time slip, they don’t have the intention of time traveling. It’s just something that happens. And, since they are not intentionally and deliberately going to a particular time in history, a lot of what the characters do, at least initially, is observe what’s happening.

If they go back, they have a moment of remembering how they got where they were. If they go forward, it can be mind blowing to see what’s changed. This is always interesting to me in the context of a new year, because if we were to suddenly and inexplicably found ourselves at this time next year, we might find that our goals and desires have been achieved without us doing any work (or without us experiencing the work that was done).That might sound good sometimes; but, by the same token, we could find that the world has changed, but (because we weren’t around to do the work) it might have changed in a way that is not to our liking. We might even realize, vis-à-vis our knowledge of cause and effect, that we were going in the wrong direction all along.

Granted, we don’t always need hindsight to identify a “wrong” path. We can use foresight, and envision or preview the path and even the obstacles we might find along the way. Remember, previewing (or reviewing) the course before you get started is one of the keys to pacing yourself. Knowing how long the journey will take is another tip related to Sunday’s practice and the idea of pacing yourself. Granted, in life, we don’t always know how long something will take to achieve or experience, but we still have an internal clock and can remind ourselves that we may not do things at the same pace (or timetable) as those around us.

“Before you were formed in the womb, your days were numbered and set in place. They are the chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, the faces of the wisdom this world has to teach you, the gateways to the treasures this lifetime alone can bestow.

A day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never—for no two days of your life will share the same wisdom.”

– quoted from Hayom Yom, 17 Cheshvan; Naso 5837:6 (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

I mention the internal clock because a big aspect of pacing yourself is what’s happening on the inside, beneath the surface. You all know I love to share stories and I especially love to tell stories during the High Holidays. One of my favorite stories I like to tell this time of year is an old story. It’s one you’ve probably heard before. In fact, knowing how popular this story is, I am actually surprised that I was well into my adulthood before I heard it. I’m not surprised, however, that the first time I heard the story it was in the context of Rosh Hashanah. I add a little flourish here and there (because “no two days of your life will share the same wisdom – even when they share the same story), but I basically tell the story like this:

Like so many of us, there’s this person sitting or standing on the edge of a mountain of uncertainty. This year, for obvious reasons, feels different from other years. What feels the same for this person, however, is the frustration and fear that comes from looking back and realizing that they have the same doubts and fears, hopes and dreams that they had this time last year. Rather than feeling like they’ve taken steps forward, closer to their dreams, this person feels like they have stayed in the exact same place – or even that they have taken a few steps back. Everything seems meaningless and pointless and, frankly, they feel they have nothing to show for all the times when they’ve reflected, remembered, repented, and planned.

So, as the head of the year approaches, this person goes to their rabbi and explains that they’re having a hard time. Yes, they understand that everyone is having and hard time – doesn’t make it easier. And, yes, they understand that some folks have it harder – doesn’t make them feel better. Bottom line, they aren’t motivated to make a plan for a new year when they feel they have nothing to show for the old.

The rabbi listens, as rabbis do, and then asks the person: How long does it take for a giant bamboo tree to grow as tall as a building?

Of course, this person doesn’t know (and is a little annoyed that their rabbi chooses this time to ask what appears to be a rhetorical – or liturgical – question). So, the rabbi tells the story of a farmer who decides they want to grow a giant bamboo tree. It’s a good investment, because if the farmer can get a good clump of culms, they can sell the edible shoots and also sell some of the sheath for construction and weaving. The farmer does some research, figures out the best place to plant, obtains some rhizome with their roots intact, and plants the cutting in a hole that is large enough to hold the rhizome and the roots (but not any deeper than the root-ball).

Satisfied with their work, the farmer goes about their business, watering and fertilizing the newly planted areas as needed. They do this for a year…. And then a second year…. By the third year, some of the farmer’s neighbors are starting to crack jokes about the farmer and their empty plot of land. Because no one sees anything happening – except the farmer diligently watering and fertilizing the area for yet another year. Finally, in the fifth year, a new growth appears. Then, within six weeks, that fertile green sprout shoots up as tall as a building.

“So,” the rabbi asks the person in their office, “how long does it take a giant bamboo to grow as tall as a building?”

The person who came seeking advice frustratingly says, “Six weeks.”

“No,” the rabbi patiently explains, “it takes five years….. Growth takes patience and perseverance. Every drop of water makes a difference; every step you take makes an impact. You may not see the change right away, but growth is happening.”

The pace at which the bamboo tree grows may seem painstakingly slow and the famer’s efforts may seem particularly arduous – especially when one’s focus is on the surface where nothing seems to be happening. The thing to remember, however, is that before the tree can shoot up, seemingly overnight, and reach the height of a building, it has to establish the root system that will support that growth. If the tree grows before the root system, there’s nothing to hold the tree up and nothing to nourish the tree. The same is true of each and every one of us. If we were to find ourselves in a time slip, we could wake up on the day after we had achieved our wildest dreams and loftiest desires, but we might not be prepared to enjoy and/or appreciate the experience. We also might not be qualified to handle the experience.

“Imposter syndrome,” the fear that people will discover someone is not qualified to do their job, is a common struggle these days. When you’re not the one with the fear it can seem demented that someone fears being seen as not capable of doing the very job they are doing – or are being promoted to do. But I think it’s very human. In fact, I think it’s similar to the feeling many people have about becoming a parent. The biggest difference, maybe, is that when it comes to parenthood, people are often told (a) that nobody’s really ready until it happens and (b) that, as Dr. Benjamin Spock said, we know more than we think we do. Consider how much less stressful life would be if we kept getting that parenting advice in all other areas of life.

“Krishna continues the dialogue: ‘The person who works in the world without needing or expecting a reward is both a sanyasi (true renunciate) and karma-yogi (action yogi). But the person who merely refrains from acting in the world is neither of these. You cannot just discard worldly duties, but must do them to the utmost extent of your human capacity for excellence.

‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’”

– quoted from 6.1-2 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

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

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.35) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

There are some things we spend our whole lives preparing to do and there are some things we don’t realize we are prepared to do until we are called to do them. In either case, what we are experiencing in the present moment – and our understanding of the moment – is based on all the previous moments (and our understanding of those moments). Life is progressive.

In yoga, vinyāsa krama is “step by step progression towards a goal.” It is sometimes translated as “wise progression.” Each step, each breath, prepares us for the next step, the next breath, and the next experience. Another way to look at it is that everything we do is preparation and practice for the next thing we do. This is why texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita recommend abhyāsa (a consistent, dedicated and devoted practice) and vairāgya (non-attachment).

Even when we don’t see obvious changes on the outside, consistent practice and dedication creates change. Sometimes the change is physical and sometimes the change is mental, emotional, or spiritual. But if there is change on the outside, there’s change on the inside. In fact, more often than not the first change happened on the inside and we were too busy look outward to notice it. Being (too) attached to what’s happening on the outside often prevents us from seeing the changes that make a difference – which can, in turn, become an obstacle in our path. That’s why I always suggest turning inward and going deeper. That’s why I always encourage paying attention to what’s happening underneath the surface.

That’s why I’m all about the little things and how they become the big things.

*Check out last year’s post related to resilience, love, and the giant bamboo (featuring a video of Les Brown’s version of the story).

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### PLANT A “SEED” ###

It Is Happening Again… August 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“The dwarves were still passing the cup from hand to hand and talking delightedly of the recovery of their treasure, when suddenly a vast rumbling woke in the mountain underneath as if it was an old volcano that had made up its mind to start eruptions once again. The door behind them was pulled nearly to, and blocked from closing with a stone, but up the long tunnel came the dreadful echoes, from far down in the depths, of a bellowing and a trampling that made the ground beneath them tremble.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

– Alex Haley

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

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

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

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– Alex Haley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Alex Haley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, he kept writing.

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

 

– Andre Dubus II

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

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

 

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

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

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

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

 

– Alex Haley

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

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

 
 

### Tell me your story… ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###