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Time To Breathe, with Gratitude (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. 

[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 22nd. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

 

Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1-8), KJV

When most Americans – especially most Christian Americans – think of Ecclesiastes (or Ecclesiastes – Or, The Preacher, as it is called in the King James Version), they think of the beginning of the third Chapter. It is no accident that this passage about the different seasons in our lives, like the whole book, sounds a lot like the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”), which is often recited or chanted during Rosh Hashanah services. In fact, this whole book of the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament) focuses on how one could spend their time. So, it is not surprising that people within the Jewish community (and those who observe the commanded holidays) spend some time in the fall reviewing this book of the Torah. What may be surprising to some is that a community review of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes doesn’t happen during the High Holidays. It happens after.

Yes, after spending (at least) ten days reflecting, remembering, repenting, and planning for a New Year, people within the Jewish community then spend a little time celebrating what’s to come with the observation of Sukkot. Remember, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is a time to give thanks for blessings that will be given and during this time people read the twelve short chapters featuring the philosophy of a teacher (or a preacher) who is identified at the beginning and only speaks directly at the beginning and the end. Some people, even some religious scholars, consider the wisdom within these pages to be rhetorical questions and musings only intended to get people to think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a pessimistic meditation with a shot a fatalism. Others, even some religious scholars, view these passages as words by which we all should live: giving, allowing, and embracing each season of our lives as full as possible. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a life affirming meditation on the power of the gift that has been given: this present moment.

“Breath of breath, said the Teacher; [like the shadow of mist that passes], all is breath.*

What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it yearns and rises there.

It goes to the south and goes to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits.”

 

(*NOTE: The Hebrew word “hevel” (variations of which occur 3 times in K-E 3.1) is often translated into English as “vanity,” “futility” or “meaningless,” but is literally translated as “breath.)

 

 – Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (1:2-6)

As the sun rises and sets, as “it goes to the south and goes to north,” people around the world mark the changing seasons with a variety of rituals and traditions. This year, the second day of Sukkot (September 22nd) was also the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (which is the Vernal or Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. So, while some people spent their twelve or so hours of daylight practicing a 108 Sun Salutations or finishing up mooncakes left over from Mid-Autumn Festival (a Harvest Moon festival in China that actually fell on September 21st this year), some people spent the twelve or so hours of daylight (and nighttime) eating, sleeping, reading Kohelet – Ecclesiastes, and giving thanks outdoors in their sukkah.

I keep saying, “twelve or so hours” because everybody everywhere doesn’t get exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime on the equinox.

Giving thanks – that’s one way we can spend our time. One way we can spend our breath. Some even say it is one of the most powerful ways to spend our time, because it is a way to cultivate happiness. In fact, appreciating what is (in any given moment) is one aspect of santosha, the second niyamā (internal “observation) in the yoga philosophy.

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

Patanjali used variations of the Sanskrit word “sukha” throughout his treatise on the practice. For example, he used it in his explanation of the third limb of the philosophy, āsana, where it (sukham) is often translated into English as “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” (YS 2.46) Prior to that, in offering different ways to clear the mind, he suggested offering “the essence of friendship” or “friendliness” to those who are sukha and “a joyful condition of the mind” or “happiness” (muditā) when dealing with people who are virtuous (puņya). Furthermore, in our physical practice of yoga, we have Sukhāsana. A pose kids know as “criss-cross, apple sauce,” but it is often translated into English as “Easy Pose” – even though it can be quite challenging if your hips are tight and/or you have knee issues. Literally speaking, though, it could just as easily be called “Happy Seat.”

This year it really struck me that the Hebrew word for “booth” or “tabernacle,” the same word applied to an ancient farmer’s temporary shelter, sounds (and looks) like the Sanskrit word for “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” We could get into the etymology and shared roots of ancient languages, but for the moment I want to focus on context. In ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts, there are two different ways in which one can experience happiness, pleasure, and/or bliss. There’s the conditional and transitional experience that you might have after, say, eating your favorite meal or dessert. It is short term, not lasting, when you’re patting your full belly and not thinking about anyone but yourself. That is preya.  On the flip side, there is an experience that is more intrinsic and more lasting, one that is associated with something that is “good” in that it serves a purpose.

Consider, for example, the feeling experienced by a farmer who, after bringing in the harvest that will feed their family and friends, has a moment in the temporary shade where they look out over all of their land and experience satisfaction that is tied to the land, tied to the work of their hands, and also tied to the future. Yes, that single moment of deep satisfaction may only happen for a single moment (then it’s time to get back to work) and it can absolutely be something that is connected to one’s ego. (Again, making it preya.) However, here I’m talking about a sensation born from living a life of purpose and living a life that requires complete commitment to the purpose. The person who cooks during and after the harvest may look around the table and recognize how their efforts are connected to the overall effort and also experience a bone deep satisfaction that comes from complete commitment.

By complete commitment, I mean mind-body-spirit aligned with thoughts, words, and deeds. When that commitment is experienced along with an awareness of how everything (and everyone) is connected and with a true understanding of how everyone (and everything) works together in order for there to be past (and future) harvests, then we are entering into the “sukha” realm. The farmer recognizes that they can’t work without the efforts of the cook; the cook recognizes that they can’t work without the farmer; both recognize that they cannot do what they do without the land, the seasons, and – especially in this context – without God (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Descriptions of this lasting type of “happiness” are found in the Upanishads as well as in Buddhist texts like the Anaņa Sutta. In the latter, the Buddha describes “four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions….” (Sound familiar?) Descriptions of the first two kinds of joy – the bliss of having and the bliss of [making use of] wealth – emphasize the work (or effort) of a person and the righteousness of that work (meaning it is wise or skillful work, in the Buddhist sense). Descriptions for the latter two kinds of joy are shorter in that they simply describe how one is debtless (because they are without debt) and blameless (because they are without kamma/karma). Even though the last two have shorter descriptions, it is clear that to move through the world without owing and/or harming anyone is a skill that requires practice.

So, the question remains: How will you spend your time?

“So the whole point of that is not, sort of, to make, like, a circus thing of showing exceptional beings who can jump, or whatever. It’s more to say that mind training matters. That this is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

 

– quoted from a Ted2004 talk entitled “The Habits of Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 3”]

Here’s another one of my 2020 Sukkot posts about practicing gratitude in order to cultivate happiness.

“Misconception #2: ‘If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I’ll lose my motivation to achieve more.’

Happiness doesn’t drain your energy. It adds more!

Ask a happy person: ‘I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?’
He’ll say: ‘Great! Let’s go!’

Now ask someone who is depressed: ‘C’mon, let’s go fishing!’
He says, ‘I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain…’

Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There’s never enough time to do everything they want to do.”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

### Breathe In, Breathe Out: Give Thanks ###

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) ###

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” ###

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). 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.]

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short, the ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary, however, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real) if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“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, prāṇāyāma, 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.)

  1. 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.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. 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?
  1. 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.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

 

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

 
 

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###

Just a note… August 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Poetry, Wisdom, Yoga.
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As previously announced, I cancelled today’s class and will “re-zoom” the regular schedule tomorrow. If you are on my Sunday mailing list I sent you a previously recorded practice. If you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing!

“We count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o’er their silent sister’s breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:—
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!”

— quoted from the poem “The Voiceless” by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (b. 08/29/1809)

A couple of days ago, a friend was laughing as they told me about the scene playing out in front of them: people in a boat enjoying the feeling of having the wind at their back, without any thought to the effort their return trip would require (when they would be heading into the wind). A year ago today, I posted a bit of philosophy related to being caught in an eddy and I am struck by the synchronicity: It seems we are always in the middle of something and, since we can’t go back (not really, not truly), we must find a way to move forward. Of course, progress requires effort.

There are a lot of people, myself included sometimes, who get so caught up in the pros and cons (not to mention the worst case scenarios and hypotheticals) that we don’t ever leave the dock. We become like “the voiceless” in the poem, who go to our graves “with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.” I think that group also includes those who spend a lot of time thinking about what they woulda-coulda-shoulda done if they knew what they knew now. Then there are those who rush heedlessly and needlessly into dangerous waters without giving a care to the safety and well-being of themselves or the rest of their crew. They consider that really living!

There’s a possibility that Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. thought his son (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.) fell into this latter category when he left his senior year at Harvard University in order to enlist in the Union Army – and maybe he was. Personal politics and bad science aside, however, the story of father and son (as well as the weird, complicated story of their political, religious, and scientific beliefs) points to a third possibility: There are sailors who diligently gauge the conditions; dip a toe in the water; and make sure they are always prepared for what’s to come. To be like those sailors, we must prepare to win, even when the odds (and conditions) are stacked against us. 

“Wendell,” as some called Junior, survived the Civil War (despite seeing his cousin fall on the Confederate side and despite several near fatal experiences); possibly saved a sitting president; and went on to become Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a much lauded Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Despite his personal politics and bad science, he is one of the most-cited legal scholars and one can argue that our society is better off today because of his efforts. The fact that I (and possibly you) find some of his views absolutely abhorrent doesn’t change the fact that lawyers will continue to build on his precedents in order to establish a more perfect – and progressive – union. And, I’m not convinced he would have been bothered by that.

Bottom line: We don’t have to agree with anything he did and/or thought, but what we cannot argue is that he showed up when he could, prepared to do what he thought he could, and then he did it. That’s the lesson of the third category.

“Viewing life as a race or a contest – an occasion for functioning and nothing more – was a basic Holmesian theme. When Yale awarded Homes an honorary degree in 1886, he responded: ‘I never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation for a fierce half-hour that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? [Is there anyone who would not go through all it costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph – or even for the glory of having nobly lost?] . . . Is life less than a boat race?'”

“For Holmes, life was a horse race, a boat race, a trek to the North pole, a plunge over Niagara Falls, a duel with swords, and a neck-risking game of polo. It might even be a game of cards. ‘Why do I desire to win my game of solitaire? A foolish question, to which the only answer is that you are up against it. Accept the inevitable and do your damnedest.'”

– quoted from “Chapter Two, A Power-Focused Philosophy: A Noble Nihilism” (pages 21 and 23) of Law Without Values: The Life, Work and Legacy of Justice Holmes by Albert W. Alschuler

This is the second year in a row that I have needed to cancel class today, August the 15th – although for very different reasons. As stated above, if you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing! See what happens. If you are on my Sunday mailing list, I sent you a previously recorded practice that you can use during the time you have set aside – or during another convenient time. Feel free to email me or comment below if you want the recording and/or to be added to the Sunday list.

Sunday’s playlist (for the substitute practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04252020 Ella’s Shy & Fearless Day”]

Previous blog posts related to today’s practice are linked above.

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.)

### Om Lila Aum ###

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… ###

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

More Than 46664 (the “missing” Sunday post, with a reference to Monday’s practice) July 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Eid al-Adha Mubarak!” “Blessed Eid!” to those who are observing. May your faith and love bring peace.

[This is a “missing” post related to Sunday, July 18th – with a reference to the practice on Monday, July 19th. 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.]

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

– Pema Chödrön

Last week, as I started talking about Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings on shenpa, I started thinking about vibration. Remember that shenpa can be translated as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. It is simultaneously a feeling, a thought, and the impetus to do something. It is vedanā – and this is why I’ve been thinking about vibration.

Vedanā is a Sanskrit word that has many different English translations. Without any subtext or cultural context (which is actually quite interesting), it can be translated as “sensation” or “feeling.” However, in Buddhist traditions it is also translated as “pain.” One ancient text even points out that we are sensational beings in that “Feeling accompanies every citta [mind-stuff], there is no moment without feeling.” When the word appears in ancient yoga texts, it has been translated into English as “divine [or transcendental] touch,” “supernatural touch,” and “sensation springing from contact of the six senses of the world.” When I first learned of the word, it was translated as “sensation,” “feeling,” or “vibration.”

I know, I know; that’s a lot of different meanings. While we may have different feelings or understandings of the English words, the common thread between the different translations is that they all refer to embodied experiences that simultaneously arise with thoughts (and thoughts that simultaneously arise with embodied experiences). When we get down to the nitty-gritty, they also all refer to things that create a reaction in the mind-body. In other words, vedanā is a physiological, mental, and emotional reaction to something – or, more specifically, to everything.

In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collect information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

Keep in mind that our thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. Therefore, our perception and/or feelings about something can be magnified by our thoughts and our thoughts can be magnified by our perceptions and/or feelings.

I know, I know; it can get a little chicken-or-the-egg and. To be honest, though, the practice isn’t really about identifying the ultimate source of a particular sensation or vibration – because we already know the (ultimate) source. The real practice begins by recognizing sensation, thoughts/feelings, and vibrations as they arise and then bringing awareness to how we react to what’s arising. As we move through our practice – on or off the mat or cushion – we also have the opportunity to notice that because our mind-body reacts and responds to vibration, we can change our mood, demeanor, and even our thoughts by changing the vibrations or sensations within us and around us.

“Our emotional energy converts into biological matter through a very highly complex process.  Just as radio stations operate according to specific energy wavelengths, each organ in the body is calibrated to absorb and process specific emotional and psychological energies.  That is, each area of the body transmits energy on a specific, detailed frequency and when we are healthy, all are ‘in tune.’ An area of the body that is not transmitting at its normal frequency indicates the location of a problem. A change in intensity of the frequency indicates a change in the nature and seriousness of the illness and reveals the stress pattern that has contributed to the development of the illness.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1 – Energy Medicine and Intuition: Reading the Field” in Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss, Ph.D.

We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we move our bodies and “get our juices flowing.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we decide we don’t want to be around someone’s “negative energy” or we do want to be around someone because “they’re so positive.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we find a quiet spot to be still – maybe to meditate, maybe to pray. We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we play music, “sweet music.”

There have been lots of studies around the vibrational effects of sound and the benefits of music therapy. There are even on-going debates about frequencies and which ones are best for optimal health versus which ones are best to incite a riot. There’s even Nada Yoga – union achieved through sound – which is a practice that predates Western research. Mantra, kirtan, and spiritual chanting from a variety of cultures and religious communities all utilize sound as a way to connect to a higher power – and, in doing so, change the physical-mental experience of the person engaged in the practice. Even if we do not engage in the aforementioned spiritual and/or religious, we have experienced the power of music. So, recently, when thinking about things that get us hooked and unhooked, I started thinking about music.

“Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice. Such is the value of music.”

 

– Nelson Mandela speaking to musicians at a Freedom Day concert in London

As I mentioned last year, Nelson Mandela (born July 18, 1918) lived more than four lives in one lifetime. While his overall fortitude was inspirational, it is interesting to note that one of the things that inspired him and kept him going, especially in prison, was music. Apparently, he was such a fan of music that people spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out his favorite songs and his favorite musicians. While the award-winning South African journalist Charl Blignaut reported, in 2013, that “Mandela didn’t want to show favouritism[,]” Madiba clearly had eclectic taste ranging from classical music to rock and jazz music, to fusion music and “the traditional Xhosa songs he heard as he was growing up.”

In 1984, the British 2 Tone and ska band The Specials (also known as “The Special AKA”) released the song “Free Nelson Mandela,” which peaked at number 9 on UK Singles chart, number 1 on the New Zealand chart, and became a popular anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The song was re-recorded in 1988 and immediately made its way back on the charts – as it did again in 2013. Similar to Stevie Wonder’s 1980 gold-certified “Happy Birthday” – which got people rallied around the idea that there should be a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Free Nelson Mandela” was a catchy, highly danceable tune that felt more like a celebration than a protest. Both songs raised awareness and created movement that energized and heightened the power of preexisting movements.

Even though a holiday had been proposed in the U. S. soon after King’s death in 1968, and even though it came up again and again over the years, within two years of the song’s release (and a petition driven by the song) President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law that created a federal holiday. While it took longer than a couple of years for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison and more than a couple of years before apartheid ended in South Africa, it only took a few weeks for it to be a regular part of dance parties at Oxford and rallies in places like Germany.

The success of “Free Nelson Mandela” inspired the creation of other songs. In 1987, Hugh Masekela released “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), another up tempo song. That same year, the racially integrated (and multi-culturally inspired) band Savuka released Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga (Mandela)” – which was a bit of an elegy that honored several anti-apartheid activists. Both songs were taken up as rallying cries by activists, but Mr. Masekela’s song – with its imagery of Nelson Mandela “walking down the streets of South Africa” without a walk zone or a war zone – was banned by the South African government until the end of apartheid.

While he was in prison, the future president of South Africa often smuggled out messages of appreciation to people like Hugh Masekela. Once he was released, Nelson Mandela had the opportunity to publicly dance to the songs that had inspired him and the world. Think, for a moment, how that must have felt for him – and for the musicians, not mention all the people witnessing that exchange of sensation.

I can’t help but wonder if Nelson Mandela imagined those moments – conjured up the sensations of those moments – before he was freed. I wonder if he sat in prison and imagined himself drinking a little something associated with celebrations, and rites of passages (like a young man’s home-coming) while he listened to one of his favorite musicians sing about that “magic beer.” Can you imagine what that would feel like?

Can you imagine how such feelings could keep a person going in the middle of hardship?

“During apartheid, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela once summoned Yvonne Chaka Chaka to her Soweto home to deliver a note and a message from her husband in prison on Robben Island.

‘It was just a note to say “your music keeps us, your fathers, alive in jail”,’ the Princess of Africa told me earlier this year. I asked her if Madiba ever told her what song of hers he enjoyed most.

‘Umqombothi,’ she replied. It remains her most popular track.”

– quoted from the 12 Dec 2013 City Press article, “Who was Mandela’s favourite singer?” by Charl Blignaut

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

– quoted from the January 13, 1898 L’Aurore essay, “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola (who fled France on July 19, 1898)

You can read more about Nelson Mandela, from a philosophical perspective, in last year’s post. You could also check out the post from July 19, 2020 and consider what music would keep you centered, grounded, and focused if you were accused of something quite horrible.

### WHAT ARE YOU FEELING – & HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL? ###

Curious About… You (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Q: What’s the perfect gift to give a Tibetan Buddhist nun on her birthday?

A: Nothing.

I have more “punny” Buddhist jokes where that came from; however, since some people appreciate seriousness in their practice, I will move it along.

Wednesday was the 85th birthday of the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. About eight years ago, Ani Pema Chödrön, who was born in New York City on July 14, 1936, asked that people observe her birthday by practicing peace. Of course, even if we were to practice in a vacuum, peace requires some compassion and loving-kindness. The practice also requires going a little deeper into our sore spots, our tender spots, our tight and raw spots. You know the spots I mean: those spots people poke and push to get us “hooked.”

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

We begin each practice with what some might call a prayer, a wish, or a plea for peace. We also begin with a personal intention. Sometimes we breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Every once in a while I remind you to remember your personal intention. Sometimes we even end with a reminder that peace begins within. However, it can be hard to find peace when someone is continuously doing something (to us or around us) that doesn’t feel very peaceful – or loving and kind. Perhaps we can cultivate some softness, some compassion even, when we recognize that the other person is doing their best. But, even then, there are times when we just feel ourselves getting hot under the collar and losing our awareness. That’s what happens when our buttons get pushed: we lose awareness of who we are and what we’re all about. To borrow a metaphor from Anushka Fernandopulle, we get on the “Peace” Train and suddenly find ourselves headed towards, “OMG, I’m So Pissed”ville.

In the process of that journey, we forget our original intention and we forget all about that “peace within us” (let alone that “peace all around us”).

For almost ten years now, I have spent the month of July sharing Pema Chödrön’s teachings around shenpa and the four R’s: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve. I like to also add a fifth R: Remember. This is not the only time I share these teachings; however, it is nice to have a dedicated period of time to really focus-concentrate-mediate on the ways we can get “unhooked.” It also coincides nicely with the Dalai Lama’s birthday and, since it’s midway through the year, it’s also a nice time to remind people that what we do on the mat, can translate into practices off the mat.

A lot of times I use examples similar to the very obvious ones in the quote above. However, since we are usually hooked by our ego – and since I recently mentioned the power of familiarity – this week I pointed out that sometimes the really pretty, shiny lure that hides the sharp hook of suffering is actually our habit of doing things a certain way.

Yes, big surprise (and another Buddhist joke in the making) – we get hooked by our attachments.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

– Ernő Rubik

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy have practices around attachment that involve our belief (sometimes our mistaken belief) that we know something. Maybe we know something is right; maybe we know something is wrong. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we have the belief, we’re attached to the belief, and (therefore) the belief can cause suffering.

Both philosophies encourage us to not only question what we believe, but also to be curious about what we believe, why we believe it, and what’s on the other side of our beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) is the practice of approaching a subject as if for the first time. In Yoga, the second niyamā (internal “observation”) is santoşa which is “contentment.” Both practices require the openness and eagerness to learn that we observe in small children. Both practices cultivate an open-heartedness that, when applied in our relationships, can allow us to be more generous with the attributes of our hearts and less generous with our judgement. Both practices require us to show-up and be present with what is – and both practices give us insight into ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to a new yoga class with a new teacher. You’ve been practicing for a while, maybe you even teach or have been through a teacher training – either way, you “know your stuff.” The practice starts in a pose that you would normally practice after you’ve warmed up a bit and the teacher offers no other options. So, depending on the day you’re having, maybe you just go into a modification you know; maybe you struggle to get into the pose the way would if you were warmed up; maybe you ignore the suggestion and go into something else; or maybe you are already so fed up that you leave and that’s the end of that.

But, let’s say you stay. You breathe in. You breathe out. Your body is starting to warm up; your mind is starting to focus and – BOOM, they do it again! They cue something different from what you were expecting (and had already started doing) or something that you and the people around you clearly aren’t safely in a position to practice. And, again, they offer no other options. What do you do?

This could continue through a whole practice. And, to be clear, maybe it’s not the sequence that’s the problem. Maybe they just say things in a way that really grates on your nerves. Maybe they consistently call Downward Facing Dog a resting pose (but it’s a pose you recognize is really challenging). Maybe it’s the fact that they never offer alternative options even though most of the people in the practice are not doing what they are suggesting. Maybe there’s too much philosophy for you, maybe there’s not enough. Maybe their voice reminds you of the person with whom you just had an argument. Ultimately, the nature of the issue doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do when you’re getting annoyed.

Do you RECOGNIZE that something was happening that didn’t meet your expectations? In other words, do you Recognize that you are getting hooked? If so, do you pause for a moment and – instead of doing the thing you would normally do – REFRAIN from doing anything? Do you just take a breath and RELAX? If so, do you RESOLVE to continue with that relaxation, with that mindfulness, and with that intentionality? Do you REMEMBER why you decided to attend the practice in the first place?

Or do you leave the space, completely annoyed, frustrated, angry, and not at all peaceful?

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Years ago, I think it was on my 45th birthday, I had plans for a whole day of “wise women.” Even though it wasn’t part of my original plan, it turned out that I was going to be the first “wise woman” in my day, because I agreed to be a guest teacher at a university class on mindfulness. Then I had plans to attend a yoga practice led by one of my favorite teachers, a teacher whose practice inspires me to this day. Finally, I was going to have dinner with a group of some of the wisest women I knew at the time. The university class turned out to be an awesome way to start the day. Then I headed across town for some yoga and encountered a problem; my favorite yoga teacher was nowhere in sight. I figured she just wasn’t at the front desk; so I signed in and got settled, trying not to be too annoyed at the music that was clearly not what my favorite teacher would be playing. I was having one of my best birthdays ever… until the class started and it was being led by someone I wasn’t expecting.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I was “hooked” from the minute the sub said their hello. If you’ve heard me tell this story before you also know that instead of settling in during the integration, I was getting riled up. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a reason this teacher was at the front of the room. They had to have something to offer. And, if I could let go of my expectations, maybe I would learn something.

Ultimately, the day goes down as one of my favorite days with some of my favorite memories and the birthday rates as one of my favorite celebrations. While I never took from that (substitute) teacher again – and part of me wants to rate it as one of my least favorite classes in almost twenty years of yoga – I definitely got something out of the practice… and it’s something that continues to serve me.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

Every culture and tradition around the world places a certain level of value on the virtues of the heart. In yoga, we find instructions to meditate on the various attributes of the heart. We can also view at least three of the “powers unique to being human” as heart practices. I even think of the physical practice of yoga as a way to prepare the mind-body for those heart practices. In Buddhism, four of the “heart” practices are referred to as the “Divine Abodes” (Brahmavihārās): loving-kindness (maitrī or “mettā), compassion (karuņā), sympathetic or empathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekşā or upekkhā). Again, you find these virtues all over the world; however, what you find in contemplative traditions are the practices to cultivate these innately human powers.

Pema Chödrön’s teachings around the concept of shenpa are just one set of many practices found in Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, kōans are statements or stories (sometimes considered riddles or puzzles in a Western mind) used as a form of contemplation (although not always of meditation). Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, people use lojong or “mind training” techniques which can be held in the heart and mind during contemplation. To “sit” or even live with a phrase does not require a great deal of “thinking,” but it does require a certain amount of patience and openness. One of the goals, in practicing with such statements, is to let the teaching unfold in the same way the heart opens… in the same way a fist unclenches or a flower unfurls. In the process of these practices, one also discovers more and more about themselves, as well as about the world.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable….

 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”

 

– quoted from “1. Loving-Kindness” in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07142020 Compassion & Peace for Pema”]
 

“Prince Guatama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

Check out last year’s post on this date (and follow the dates for more on the practice)!

 

### WHY ARE YOU HERE, AGAIN? ###

To Whom Are You/We Listening? (a “missing” post) June 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[Pardon me while I catch up! This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 29th. You can request an audio recording of the related practice(s) 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.]

“And He said: ‘Go out and stand in the mountain before the Lord, Behold! the Lord passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake-not in the earthquake was the Lord. After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a still small sound.’”

Melachim I / 1 Kings (19:11-12)

Like Patanjali, Saint John of the Cross recognized that the mind-body is constantly bombarded with information via sensations. Patanjali refers to cittavŗitti nirodhah (“ceasing the fluctuations of the mind”). Saint John of the Cross recommended “it is best to learn to silence the faculties and cause them to be still, so that God may speak.” In both cases, the ultimate aim is not to hear the noise of the “wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders,” nor is it to hear the sound of the earthquake or the fire; the ultimate goal is to hear the still quiet voice of the Divine, whatever that means to you at this moment. People have different beliefs about the source(s) of the quiet, and how you can know the good voices from the evil. But, I’m not going to get into all that today. I’m just going to ask some “simple” questions.

Are you listening to the obvious noise or are you listening to a small sound/whisper? To what little, still quiet voice inside of yourself do you listen? Just as importantly, to what little voices outside of yourself do you listen? By that I mean: To whom are you/we listening? And why are you listening to those the voices? Are they simply the ones that that get heard?

“We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them”

– quoted from the “A New Vision” – 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Acceptance Address by Ted Sorenson (written for The Washington Monthly as “the speech of his dreams”)

I get asked some weird, bizarre, and wonderfully insightful questions – on and off the mat. Sometimes these questions are hyper-intrusive. Other times they are questions asked out of general curiosity and asked in ways that make me really curious, get me thinking. One of those really insightful questions, asked out of general curiosity, came from a dear friend who was a friend before really taking my classes. After taking a class one day, this friend approached me and essentially asked if I ever played female musicians. I do and I did. However, with a few exceptions (like on International Women’s Day), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly male and, with a few exceptions (like on Cinco de Mayo), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly white. I can break this down even more, but you get the point: I’m an “American” girl, living in an “American” world.

Even before I literally did the math, which surprised me, I told my friend that it would be naïve of me to say, “This is what I like and this is why I like it,” without pointing out that part of why I like what I like is because it’s what I hear – and what I hear is based on an industry standard that is based on a societal standard determined by a ruling class. Being an “American” girl, living in an “American” world means that I am subject to a white, male, heterosexual gaze (and ear) – and on a certain level, I’m comfortable with that. However, the main reason I’m comfortable with that is because that’s been my primary culture for most of my life. (Please keep in mind, that I put “American” in quotes, not because American culture is monolithic, but because the stereotype of what is American is pretty monochromatic.)

Now, here’s where things get a little twisted; because if the statements above resonate with you, you may not think twice about it (just as I didn’t think twice until questioned about it). If you resemble the statements above, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with my early (and even some current) playlists, because it’s also the music to which you are accustomed to hearing – especially if you are around my same age or slightly older. Even more to the point, you may not have ever questioned why I didn’t play more African-American, Latin, and/or more female musicians. You might have even accepted the fact that I’m from Texas as the reason why I play so much country.

But, the question wasn’t really about the “why.” I mean, it’s informative and can raise awareness, but we can’t go back and change history. I can’t go back and change the vinyl I listened to as a child and/or the first cassette tapes I received as a Christmas present. Ultimately, the question from my friend wasn’t about the past. Ultimately, the question for me was: How do you react/respond now that the question has come up?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT), under “The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1 (NLT)

I could have been offended and even felt threatened by the question and the resulting self-inquiry. Instead, I did the math…. And, not gonna lie, I was a little shocked. Then I did a little more soul searching and decided I could do a little more “soul” searching when it came to the music I used to tell the stories I tell on and off the mat. I could do my part, in more little corner of the world, to ensure a few more voices are heard.

Ironically, the playlist for this particular practice is mostly instrumental. It may not be obvious when the composer is not male and it may not be obvious when a composer is not white. In fact, one of the female composers sometimes shows up on playlists as “Various Artists” – which, I guess, is akin to “Anonymous” in the literary world. Then too, there’s the whole issue of the orchestra’s demographics.

There was a time, not that long ago, when orchestras in the Western world were predominantly white and predominantly male. There was a definite bias in hiring and I can say that with a good degree of certainty because once orchestras started using blind auditions as part of their hiring process, the number of women in symphonies astronomically increased. Granted, sometimes this process to eliminate bias required musicians to not only play behind a screen, but to also to take off their shoes.

The exponential increase in female musicians started in the 1980’s, but has not been completely replicated when it comes to race. While women represented 5-6% of some major American orchestras in 1970, they now make up 30%, even 50%, of some orchestras. This is a statistical change that is not explained away by a change in orchestration. On the flip side, Black and Latino musicians are still not represented in American orchestras in a way that reflects the community around them. In fact, when it comes to race, some of the orchestra pits in American look pretty much the way they did in 1969.

For example, 52 years ago, when 2 Black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic of racial discrimination, the orchestra had only one Black musician, the first one they had ever hired: 30-year old Sanford Allen, a violinist who had started studying at the Julliard School of Music at age 10. This time last year, the Philharmonic still only had one Black musician: Anthony McGill, an internationally renowned clarinetist, who had performed as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal clarinetist for 10 years BEFORE he was hired as the Philharmonic’s first Black principal. Notably, Mr. McGill’s older brother, Demarre McGill, is also a professional musician. In fact, the elder (by 4 years) Mr. McGill is the principal flautist with the Seattle Symphony – a position he previously held with BOTH the Dallas Symphony and the San Diego Symphony.

The McGill brothers were exposed to orchestral music at a young age and started playing at a young age. Additionally, they had talent, perseverance, the resources to audition, and access to private conservatories and summer programs. All of which put them in an industry “pipeline” designed to land in an orchestra pit. Some people have argued that there are other talented non-white musicians out there – but that they don’t have access to the pipeline or the resources to audition. Others argue that the talent is coming – slowly, but surely – into the pipeline. If the latter is correct, and it’s only a matter of time, then the question becomes when will they be heard? When will they have the resources to be heard?

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

– “By this same [practice] the suspension or disappearance of one’s own [spoken] words and other senses can be explained.”

I have heard that Yoga Sūtra 3.22 is a “thread” that doesn’t often get heard. That’s a little pun based on the fact that the sūtra in question is a continuation of the previous aphorism and asserts that the same practice that allows one to make themselves invisible can also be use to make one undetectable by the other senses – specifically, one becomes unheard. Ironically, this particular line is not included in all translations. Sometimes it is left out completely. In other cases, it is wrapped up in one of the other lines.

I’ll be honest, I mentioned it in the previous practice (on not being seen), because I really considered just bundling it all together with 3.21. In the end, however, I decided to let this power be heard for a few big reasons: (a) it is a siddhi that is based on shabda (“word”), which is itself a “power unique to being human;” (b) I was kind of amused by the irony of it getting left out (i.e., not heard); (c) I am consistently frustrated (even angered) by the voices that go unheard; and (d) I am consistently inspired when marginalized voices are heard.

Regarding those last two points, Saturday, May 29th was almost exactly a week before a “First Friday Night Special” when I was going to focus on the throat chakra, which is related to personal will/determination as it relates to universal will/determination. It is also related to expression – one’s ability to speak and be heard; to make one’s needs and desires known to the world. Furthermore, I knew that it was just a few days before the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre that decimated Black Wall Street. The anniversary (and events leading up to the anniversary) highlighted how voices (and stories) that had been silenced for years were finally being heard. What I didn’t foresee was that during that same week, at least three other events would bring awareness to moments when people are heard versus what happens when people are silenced.

First, the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was the largest Indian “boarding” school in British Columbia Canada. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969 and by the Canadian government from 1969 until 1978, when it was closed. Although many people in the United States are unfamiliar with these schools – as they are not discussed in polite company (i.e., in most public and private school systems) – there were over 350 such schools in the United States and 130 such schools in Canada from the end of the 19th century all the way through the end of the 20th century. In Canada alone, over 150,000 First Nation children were placed in these schools – which were established with the specific intent of eradicating Indian culture and, in doing so, decimating the Indian populace as strong people, families, and communities.

Between me initially writing this post and actually posting it, remains of at least 751 more people have been discovered in unmarked mass graves at the location of a different school in Canada.

A friend who was helping an organization tell the stories of some of the children forcibly enrolled in these schools mentioned them a few years back and we talked about how little awareness there was around the schools and their mission. Like my friend, I was as appalled by the existence of these schools as I was by the fact that some of them were still in operation in 1996. According to an Indian Country Today article by Mary Annette Pember, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission estimated “that up to 6,000 children died at the schools from disease, abuse, starvation, and other ills.” Read those Canadian numbers again and consider the ramifications when it comes to similar unheard stories in the United States (which had over 2.5 times as many schools).

“U.S. boarding schools were often woefully underfunded. Conditions at the schools — poor food, clothing, housing as well as close sleeping quarters — contributed to the spread of disease and sometimes death.

According to researchers, many schools failed to keep accurate records of student deaths. Parents of those who died were often notified after the child’s burial, if they were notified at all; few could afford travel expenses to pick up their children’s remains.

Additionally, school superintendents were urged to avoid incurring expenses related to returning children’s remains home to their families.”

– quoted from the June 6, 2021 Indian Country Today article entitled, “‘We won’t forget about the children’ – Additional unmarked graves likely at US Indian boarding schools” by Mary Annette Pember

Around the same time the news was filled with stories about the deaths of First Nations children, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School (in Dallas, Texas) was getting ready for her graduation ceremony. For a variety of reasons, the school’s protocol was that graduation speeches had to be approved and so, as was required, Paxton Smith sent her speech about TV and the media through the proper channels and it was included in the “podium book.” However, her graduation happened less than two weeks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new restriction into law that bans abortions “as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected,” which is at about six weeks. As Ms. Smith noted in the unapproved speech she ended up delivering, the law takes away a person’s choice before they may even realize they are pregnant – and this is true even if the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or incest. By her own admission, Ms. Smith expected her microphone to be cut – but it wasn’t. She was allowed to complete her short speech and express her concern about her future and the future of her peers.

On the flip side, the last thing retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter expected was that his microphone would be cut during a Memorial Day observation in Hudson, Ohio. Just like Paxton Smith, the veteran who served in the United States Army for 30 years (including during the Persian Gulf War) submitted his speech to the appropriate channels. Even though the chair of the Memorial Day Parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary asked him to remove a portion of his speech, the Lieutenant Colonel thought it was important for people to hear about the history of Memorial Day; the whole history, including how it got started. For a variety of reason, he expected his keynote speech to be heard in its entirety. Instead, when he reached the point in his speech where he talked about the first Memorial Day observation, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s speech was cut. In a single moment, he was denied his First Amendment Right. More to the point, he was denied one of the very rights he fought and served to protect. He was also denied the respect that some would say should come hand-in-hand with serving in the military. Why wasn’t he heard (clearly)? Because someone wanted the unheard story of freed Blacks having a parade after giving a proper burial to Union troops to stay unheard.

“The throat chakra has been referred to as the Holy Grail of the chakras because it holds information from all the chakras…. Within the sacred container of the throat chakra, all of this energy and information is ‘metabolized’ – broken down and put back together into a form that becomes your unique expression in the world.”

– quoted from “chapter 5: The Chakras – Your Body’s Energy Stations” in Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body’s Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality by Donna Eden with David Feinstein, Ph.D.

More often than not, when we talk about the neck and throat in our physical practice of yoga, we end up focusing on the heart and heart openers. Which means that a lot of time we access the throat chakra by accessing the heart chakra – and they are inextricably connected, physically and energetically. On the physical side, when we do back bends / heart openers, we are extending the spine. This extension includes the cervical spine, which can sometimes present a problem. Since the neck is usually the most flexible part of the spin it can get hyper-extended, over flexed, over extended, and over rotated. On the energetic side, it can get blocked.

Ideally, if the cervical spine is simply continuing the extension of the rest of your spine, then fully bending backwards (through your whole spine) would bring the top (or back) of your head to your feet and there would still be a hand’s-breadth worth of space at the back of your neck. Consider, however, how often you do a backbend and find your head collapsing back against the tops of your shoulders – essentially compressing the base of the cervical spine instead of extending it. It’s good, every now and again, to check in with your neck to see if it is in line with the rest of your spine or if it is doing its own things.

Checking the alignment of our neck is a good idea even when we don’t completely recognize that we are in spinal extension. Our head, on average, weighs about 12 lbs., but when we drop the head forward (or back) we compound the pressure on our neck. Drop your chin down and the weight/force on the cervical spine increases about 10 lbs. for every inch. In other words, look down so your head drops an inch and now there’s ~22 lbs. of weight on your neck. Look down another inch and now you’ve increased the load to ~32 lbs. – and so it goes. The angle may not seem like much; but, consider what happens when you spend hours looking down at a computer or a book – especially if you are also hunched over or slouching as you look down. For that matter, consider how much extra weight you’re adding to your upper body when you look down during a push up or plank!

Thinking about all that added pressure may remind you to take more breaks to roll out your neck and shrug your shoulders throughout your day – which is great – but don’t forget that all that looking down is also shortening some of your neck muscles and weakening some of your neck muscles. The result of that imbalance in the front and back of your neck may mean your muscles are straining when you’re in a neutral position, because they are not in the habit of holding your head up properly. This can result in neck and shoulder pain, which may in turn cause (stress) headaches. All that looking down and hunching over also means that we are, essentially, hiding our hearts.

“This is a vulnerable place, because the throat chakra is where the inside comes out.”

– quoted from “Chakra Five: Sound – The Communication Chakra” by Anodea Judith, PhD

In learning about the energetic connections between the mind-body-spirit, as outlined by Yoga and Āyurveda as the come to us from India, I was taught that when addressing a particular area make sure you address the areas directly above and directly below. In other words, if you are focusing on the 5th chakra (throat), you would also address the 4th (heart) and 6th (third eye). Inevitably this brings awareness to the whole mind-body – especially when your focus is something like the 5th chakra, which pretty much requires you to address the whole body. And I mean that symbolically as well as energetically, physically, and mentally.

Remember, each part of the (physical) mind-body is metaphorically and energetically connected to one of 7 major energy wheels (chakras)*, which in turn are metaphorically and energetically connected to part of our lived experience. The 1st chakra is related to our lower body, our roots – metaphorically and energetically associated with our first family, tribe, and community of birth. Just as we can be biologically 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. Hence, an adoptee may deal with genetic and energetic situations related to people that don’t “recognize” as family.

The 2nd chakra, the sacral chakra (lower abdominal and pelvic regions), is the associated with our sacred relationships – in particular, the relationships we make outside of our tribe and community of birth; people we might think of as our “chosen family.” (NOTE: All relationships are sacred; awareness of this simply highlights connections we may overlook. It can also include relationships we make with our first family grouping once we are an adult.) Moving into our upper abdominal cavity, we encounter the 3rd chakra (solar plexus) – metaphorically and energetically associated with our personality, our sense of self, and our self-esteem (ego). These are all tangible and describable parts of our lived experience and, for the most part, fall into the category of being “specific” in nature/manifestation.

The 4th chakra, the heart chakra, is related to our ability to embrace others, ourselves, a moment, and the world. This area is also related to the way we give and receive love, as well as the way we offer our gifts to the world… or not. When we start moving into manifestations of the heart, we start moving into emotional experiences that may or may not be tangible. In fact, we start moving into a category of things that are “unspecific” in nature and towards a category of things that manifest in a way that is “barely describable” – or, only indicated by signs.

Remember, we may not be able to touch a parent’s love for their child, but we can see it and we can experience the feeling of it. Because of this, we often marry these emotional experiences to the outward expressions of what is felt on the inside – which brings us to the 5th chakra, the throat chakra. When we start going deeper into the energetic dynamics of the throat, we find that we are not exploring how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination in a vacuum. No, the throat chakra is connected to how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination as we engage, interact, and/or surrender to (or balance) the needs, desires, and will/determination of others.

The third eye center, or 6th chakra, is the “seat of intuition” and related to one’s ability to perceive the Truth. The crown chakra, or 7th chakra, is related to the present moment. Both of which are “real,” but not tangible (as in touchable) or perceivable through the senses. When it comes to the throat chakra, we want to be able to perceive the Truth, in this present moment, so that we can speak the Truth, right here and right now.

In summary, I often point out that where we come from or start in life plays are part in how we make friends and with whom we make friends (even when it comes down to geography and logistics); where we come from and the friends we make along the way plays a part in how we see and understand ourselves and our place in the world; how we see ourselves and the support we get (or don’t get) from our family and friends plays a part in how we embrace the world and whether or not we offer our gifts and unique expressions/viewpoints to the world – as well as how well we compromise or “play” with others – and all of that plays a part in our understanding of the Truth when we encounter it as well as our ability/willingness to stay in the present moment versus having a penchant for being stuck in the past or constantly daydreaming (without any effort to manifest those dreams).

So, let’s say you (or a person you know) have a strong foundation in life. As a child you had what you needed and, sometimes, you even got what you wanted. If someone told you “no,” there was an explanation that your 5-year old brain may not have completely understood, but trusted and accepted. You may have taken some things for granted, but you mostly appreciate what you had (and have). You have great, supportive relationships, and a solid sense of self that comes with self awareness. You know you have love, joy, and kindness to offer the world and so you offer it to the best of your ability. You may have some self doubt – that’s natural and human – however, for the most part, you are determined to do certain things in life. Now, consider how you (or this person you know) speak up for yourself and others. Think about how the person above “says something” when they “see something” and something needs to be said.

[*NOTE: Some systems describe a several layers of chakras beyond those physically connected to the mind-body, but still connected to our lived experiences. The first of these (purely) metaphysical wheels is the 8th chakra, which is sometimes associated with a sense of wholeness – as in, being fully connected with the Divine. Consider how not feeling you have a stable foundation in life, not feeling connected to others and/or yourself, and not pursuing your dreams (or speaking up for yourself) can make you gullible (i.e., easily fooled or tricked); more inclined to focus on the past or an unrealistic future; and/or consistently seek out ways in which you can feel more connected and more powerful.]

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

During this practice, I asked if not being heard is like Langston Hughes’s “a dream deferred.” Do those who go unheard eventually explode, as the poem concludes? My answer is yes; because, as uncomfortable as it might make us – and as much as we might not like to hear it or admit it – we can’t deny that there are a lot of voices we are just now starting to hear. We are just now starting to hear some voices from the hills and from the mountains, and we are just now starting to hear some voices from the cities. We are just now starting to hear these loud (explosive) voices, because we weren’t paying attention when they were quiet (or being silenced).

There may be some voices we wish we had heard sooner. We may appreciate what they have to say; we may feel enriched by their perspectives; and we might think they would be less angry if they had been heard sooner. And then there are those equally angry voices that we wish would shut up, because we don’t appreciate their perspectives; we don’t believe we will be enriched by what they have to say; and we may not understand why they are so angry.

My dharma-buddy Stacy was recently featured on a podcast (see below) where she talked about how uncomfortable it is to talk to someone who has recently, and/or over the years, expressed opinions you find abhorrent. Maybe it’s a racist uncle. Maybe it’s a misogynistic friend or a classist neighbor. Maybe it’s your radically-left leaning, militant aunt. Either way, we’ve all been there and we’ve all had that moment where we decide not to speak up, because we don’t want things to become more twisted and uncomfortable.

Then, because we (or someone) didn’t speak up, the situation gets worse and more people get hurt. People start asking why we (or someone) didn’t speak up; why we (or someone) let the pain and suffering continue to happen – maybe even causing direct harm to more people. We may even find ourselves in situations where the finger pointing becomes victim blaming and shaming and not only are we not addressing the original issue, we’re not even addressing the situation that manifested as people not feeling comfortable speaking up and speaking out. Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the world have indicated that it is our responsibility to speak up. If we accept that as gospel truth then we also have to acknowledge the responsibility of listening and making sure voices (including our own) are being heard.

“There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose course is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. Such persons are in Montgomery today. These persons are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity, and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these white brothers to gird their courage, to speak out, to offer the leadership that is needed. Here in Montgomery we are seeking to improve the whole community, and we call upon the whites to help us….  If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

– quoted from the December 3, 1959 Address at the Fourth Annual Institute on the Nonviolence and Social Change of Bethel Church, Montgomery Alabama by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

What does it take to be heard? Well, first you have to speak. What does it take to speak? You have to have fortitude; which can come from that strong foundation, strong support, and that strong sense of self. You have to recognize that you’re not going to change every heart and every mind. Simultaneously, you have to know your heart and mind so that, even if what you say makes people uncomfortable, it is said from the heart, with love and kindness. Part of that practice of speaking from the heart – expressing your heart – is recognizing that everyone won’t agree with you or even understand you. And, that’s ok. As one of my sister-in-laws has said, repeatedly, “Sometimes it’s not for you to understand.”

You have to be aware that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. Maybe your basic premise is flawed or maybe you have the right idea, but express it in a way that’s not wise, skillful, or wholesome. You have to recognize that other people’s needs and desires are based on their lived experiences – which are different from your lived experiences. But, with all that, you have to be determined to be heard. Finally, you need someone who is willing (determined even) to listen – and maybe even to give you their platform.

“SM: …I just talk with her about how, I imagine how difficult that will be; given that she has not been able to make her voice heard with someone that she is close to, with someone that she knows. And that that is a great place to start.  It’s like metta practice: Don’t doubt the power of such a seemingly small interaction – that the impact ripples out. So, talk to your friends and family, who articulate a perspective or viewpoint that is different than yours; without trying to convince them that their way is wrong, without trying to change their mind. Again, genuinely engaging with interest: How did you come to have that perspective? How do you imagine that impacts these people? Like, genuinely, with interest to understand.

DH: So courage doesn’t necessarily mean flipping tables or, you know, throwing cutlery. It can just be inquiring with real interest, as opposed to just an outright confrontation.

SM: Absolutely. And it may have that same intensity for that friend as it would for me, say, in my workplace proposing a whole anti-racist curriculum.”

– quoted from the Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris episode “#350: How to Be Courageous” – featuring Stacy McClendon

Ultimately, there are lots of things – physically, emotionally, and energetically speaking – that keep us from…well, speaking. Sometimes there’s too much energy, too much engagement, and at other times there is not enough. Sometimes when we want to talk about a certain subject or be heard on a certain issue, we find we have a scratchy throat or that we’re losing our voice. Other times, we just can’t seem to find the right words… or we can’t get the words out and we stutter. Sometimes another person’s will/determination to be heard is stronger than ours – sometimes because they believe they should be (and/or have the right) to be heard.

Going back to the Patanjali’s sūtra, the “ability” to not be heard can feel like a loss of power, but what if it enables a transfer of power? What if enables more to be heard? What if it enables more understanding?

May 29th is the anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in 1917, President Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery during his tenure as a United States Senator. He even won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, despite the fact that the book was not included in a list of finalists. The short book features profiles of eight United States Senators who spoke up for what they believed to be right, even though their actions, words, and deeds were not necessarily popular with their constituents and/or party. They spoke for what they believed to be right even when they found themselves under attack and without a position. Heart openers and the idea behind the book are usually my focus on President Kennedy’s birthday, and might even seem to be a good point of entry for Yoga Sūtra 3.22 – except for that really inconvenient part of the story people don’t often mention.

At the beginning of 1953, Ted Sorenson became the chief legislative aide to the then-freshman Senator John F. Kennedy. Eventually, he would become President Kennedy’s special counselor, adviser, and primary speechwriter. Along with Georgetown University professor Jules Davids, he was initially (and publicly) recognized as someone who aided the Senator in writing Profiles in Courage. He even received some remuneration for his “research” and assistance. These days, however, many historians acknowledge that while the idea was Kennedy, the final product was almost all Sorenson. Likewise, a poem featured in the miniseries 11.22.63 is almost always credited to Stephen King, who wrote the book of the same name – even though the poem does not appear in the book. The original poem was, in fact, written by Bridget Carpenter and then edited by Stephen King as he reviewed her script.

It is nice to get credit where credit is due, but these examples are also a good reminder that we all have a voice – even if we are using sign language, even if we are using a computer – we have a way to be “heard,” to share the power of our words. So remember, you have been invited in and honor what you have to say, and honor what those around you are saying.

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

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

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

On having the heart to have a heart-to-heart (the aforementioned podcast)

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