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FTWMI: Doing the Work May 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humble, strong, and balanced. 

While yesterday’s practice served up “phun” with a side of suffering, how we deal with suffering is the main course during tonight’s practice. The following was originally posted in 2021. I have updated the date-related practice information. Even though there is no music for the Monday night practice, I have retained the links from last year’s practice.

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.)

 

“‘Bhikkhus, I could tell you in many ways about the animal kingdom, so much so that it is hard to find a simile for the suffering in the animal kingdom. Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus [monks]? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?’

Bhikkhus: ‘He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.’

 

‘Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dhamma there, no practicing of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.’”

 

– quoted from “The Animal Kingdom” in Majjhima Nikāya 129, Balapandita Sutta: Fools and Wise Men

Don’t ask me why, because I can give you a hundred reasons, but I always seem to “mis-remember” a certain Buddhist story. I mix up the details of the story – I have heard that other teachers (greater teachers than me) do the same. In my case, the blind turtle becomes a dolphin who likes to play; another teacher makes the piece of driftwood a golden ring, heavy enough to sink down to the bottom of the sea (only to get churned back up again). Additionally, I have heard others say that the convergence of the ring and the sea creature happens every hundred years, every thousand years, every five billion years, or a kalpa (based on Hindu and/or some Buddhist texts). But, be all that as it may, the purpose of the story doesn’t change: it highlights the odds of being born (or reborn) into a human existence and the preciousness of human life. And, just as the purpose of the story doesn’t change, neither does the driving compulsion to tell the story – even when one mixes up the details.

While we are on the subject of details, take a moment to consider the details of your life. Consider your unique experiences, thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Back in 2016, Dr. B. B. Cael, who was then a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), calculated that the probability of a blind sea turtle randomly rising up so that it’s head poked through a hole in a piece of drift wood was 7.2 x 10^-16 and the probability of a human being (who is going to be reincarnated) coming back as another human was 6.5 x 10^-16. Now, all of that is just random – without any consideration to specific details like in which body of water the creature rise or what month or what year. Imagine if you will, the probability of you… or me…or anyone we know actually existing as we do. It is miraculous and magnificent!

When I consider how magnificent and miraculous it all is, it reinforces my belief that we are all here for a purpose: a divine purpose. Or, at the very least, that our lives should have a purpose; that we should live a purpose-driven life.

“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

 

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

 

Mona Miller was the teacher of one of my teachers, Seane Corn. Like me, like Seane, like pretty much every teacher who regularly guides a  group of people, Mona had things she was known for saying. Her students called those sayings, Monaisms, and the one above reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ stoic belief that the obstacle is the way. It is also a perfect recipe for being driven and staying driven. After all, we all have struggles, strife, challenges, discomfort, suffering, and disease – and we all want (and deserve) relief from that which ails us. If we take a moment, just a moment, to reflect on what ails us we start to realize four very salient facts:

  1. We are not the only person suffering.
  2. Someone else has, is, and will suffer as we are suffering.
  3. How we deal with our suffering can alleviate suffering or cause more suffering (in ourselves and others).
  4. How we deal with our suffering can inspire others as they deal with their suffering.

If we lay these facts over the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” and some of Patanjali’s aphorisms on afflicted/dysfunctional thought-patterns and the nature of suffering, we find that even our smallest goals and desires – the things we think are the most personal to us and our circumstances, in fact, directly and indirectly affect others and their suffering. Everything, as Patanjali points out in Yoga Sūtra 2.18, can bring fulfillment and freedom (from suffering).

 “Sanklapa goes beyond just intention. Sankalpa truly cares for the impact.”

 

Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Practice by Susanna Barkataki

 

Our ritual of setting an intention and “dedicating” our practice is similar to the Buddhist tradition of “dedicating of the merit” and is rooted in the fifth niyama (“internal observation”), Īśvarapraņidhāna, which is offering our efforts back to the source. The underlying idea in these practices is the very definition of karma yoga as outlined in The Bhagavad Gita (2.31 – 2.51): that we should do our best and work without desire, because the work we do is our “personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma).”

On Saturday, we go a little deeper by practicing with a sankalpa. The Sanskrit word can be translated into English as “will,” “determination,” and “(the highest) vow.” However, as Susanna Barkataki points out, there is no English word that encompasses the complete and true meaning. Part of the problem with the English translations is that we don’t have one word for something that simultaneously compels us, fuels us, and motivates us. We don’t have an English word for something that consciously embed so deeply into our fiber that it unconsciously starts determining how we live, think, speak, and act. Even “purpose” has to be “driven.”

Of course, these practices require a certain level of trust, a certain level of faith, or – at the very least – a certain level of hopeful desire that what benefits us will also benefit others. One way I frame this is to think of each of us is being like every hero in every culture’s hero’s journey. Accordingly, our work in the world will result in a boon that benefits the world. This is true whether we look at our life (and life purpose) through the lens of our occupation, vocation, and/or avocation. This is true whether we have all the advantages or all the disadvantages. This is true whether people expect us to succeed or whether we are viewed as the underdog. Either way, how we show up in the world matters, because we matter.

 

“That grain of salt
You talk about
Gets bigger and bigger each day
It’s making a pearl
Inside my heart
With layer and layers of tears
I’d give you this pearl
To save our hearts”

 

– quoted from the song “Grain of Salt” by John Doe

 

I have a lot of favorite metaphors about how we can deal with hardship and challenges. One of my favorites is what happens when an oyster, clam, or other shelled mollusks gets a bit of salt, sand, or debris inside of its shell. Since the mollusk doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs it can use to root around and remove the irritating object, it begins to lave the object with its natural secretion. Over and over again, the shell creature coats the object until it is smooth (and iridescent) and no longer irritating. The end result is something we humans often find valuable.

Of course, I’m going to discourage anyone from getting an actual pearl to remind them of this metaphor, because it is (in a practical sense) an imperfect metaphor. While the mollusk finds a non-violent way to end its suffering, the harvesting of the pearl (especially in a commercial sense) usually requires killing the shelled creature. In the case of cultured pearls, someone intentionally places the irritating object in the shell (hence causing suffering) and then kills the mollusk or, if it can be “irritated” again, places it back in the water to go through more suffering. Hence why, when I use the metaphor, I focus more on what the mollusk has to teach us than what we teach ourselves.

It is, however, important to remember that we are teaching ourselves. In other words, we are teaching each other. The way we think, speak, act, and live our lives is a lesson to others – and especially to the children around us. I know there are a lot of celebrities who consistently proclaim that they are not role models. Yet, each of us is a living example; each of us is modeling behavior – and the children around us are watching and learning. They are learning from their parents, grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their neighbors, their world leaders, and the siblings of all of the above. They are also learning from each other. And what is more important than the words someone tells them is the lived example that they observe.

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

Kar har maidaan fateh o bandeya
[Win every battlefield, overcome all your limitations/restrictions”]

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh

The 2018 film Sanju is based on the real life story of a Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt (portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor). Called “Sanju” by his mother, the actor experienced a series of personal crises intertwined with political crises and a downward spiral that resulted in him dealing with his losses, challenges, and conflicts in the some of the most dysfunctional/afflicted ways possible. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and became addicted – which, of course, led to more suffering. In a song that is featured in the movie, and in the associated video, Manisha Koirala appears as a vision of Nargis, Sanju’s mother, encouraging him to live a better life.

In keeping with the language found in many sacred texts from Asia, the song, “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” refers to one’s struggles, challenges, and suffering as “shackles” or “chains.” The song instructs one to turn the very things that could defeat us into something that can help us overcome our struggles and win our personal battles. It speaks of the power of determination so strong that it overcomes bad luck; climbing onto “clouds of adversity” and grabbing “the collar of the difficult tough times – all in order to become special and “separate from the ordinary crowd.” The song specifically refers to “swords” (and even what can be accomplished with a “broken sword”), but consider other tools that one can use to overcome adversity.

Remember, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said,The pen is mightier than the sword.” Remember the power of a sharp mind and what happens when you make your mind up to do something. Remember, too, that once a lesson is learned it continues to serve.

“If all the world is a classroom and every day of life is a lesson, then certainly your profession and workplace are included.

 

After all, He has unlimited ways to provide your livelihood, but He chose to direct you to this way of life.

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

(*lit. “From Day to Day”); an anthology of aphorisms and customs, arranged according to the days of the year, assembled from the talks and letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitch Rebbe; compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. “Iyar” is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the Jewish religious year, based on the Hebrew calendar.

 

Please join me today (Monday, May 16th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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

The playlist for Sunday (05/16/2021) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.”

[“I am I and my circumstance, and if I don’t save it I don’t save myself.”]

 

 

— quoted from Meditaciones del Quijote [Don Quixote Mediations] by José Ortega y Gasset

 

Thank you to everyone who supported the 9th annual Kiss My Asana yogathon. Both Mind Body Solutions and I surpassed our goals (Woohooo!!!) thanks to everyone’s generosity. As always, I am grateful for everyone that did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others.

“Dikhla de zinda hai tu
[Show to everyone that you are still alive]

Baaqi hai tujhme hausla
[and there is courage left in you…]”

 

“Tooti shamsheerein toh kya
[So what if your sword is broken]

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

Kar har maidan fateh
[Win all the battlefields…]”

 

“Teri koshishein hee kaamyaab hongi
[your attempts, efforts will be successful]

Jab teri ye zidd aag hogi
[when your insistence, attempts would turn into a burning desire]

Phoonk de na-umeediyan, na-umeediyan
[Burn down all the hopeless, negativeness…]”

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh (with English translations)

 

Victory in every situation

### ¡Jai Jai Guru Dev! Victory to the Big Mind! ###

 

 

 

Still (Not) Clowning Around (mostly the music and links) May 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Dharma, Donate, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Music, One Hoop, Volunteer.
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Be humble, loving, kind, and groovy.

“We’re kind of a family – a huge, expanded family. And we can do any number of things, because each one of us is going to do a different thing. But mostly we’re just going to try and be groovy, and (uh) spread that grooviness to everybody.”

*

– Wavy Gravy being interviewed at the John F. Kennedy airport in August 1969 (about Hog Farm’s participation at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 15th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for ”05152022 Still (Not) Clowning Around”]

NOTE: Due to artist protests, one song may not play on Spotify. As I support artists in their efforts to bring about change, I am not re-mixing affected playlists because of the protests. This particular remix was due to additional content.

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Click here to read last year’s post.

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.)

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### 🎶 ###

42 April 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baseball, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, One Hoop, Passover.
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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Saturday, Lazarus Saturday, and/or Hanuman Jayanti! 

“Jackie‘s body was a temple of God, an instrument of peace.”

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–  quoted from Reverend Jesse Jackson’s eulogy of Jackie Robinson (October 1972)

What are the odds that 42 people would view this blog on the day (yesterday) that Jackie Robinson – number 42, for the uninitiated – broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball? I actually don’t know the odds, but it happened. Even though I had my reasons for not linking previous April 15th posts to yesterday’s entry, my stats made me think about the fact that maybe someone would appreciate that amazing story. So…

Here’s a little excerpt from my 2019, when this April 15th coincided with Passion Week: “In 2017, just a few months before my grandmother died, I watched a little bit of the World Series with her and my mom (her daughter). It was the Houston Astros versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and at one point my mother said, ‘I wonder which team your grandfather and great-grandfather would have been rooting for.’ Not thinking about the history of baseball in that moment, I questioned her question – after all, they were Texas men! But then my mother reminded me that the L. A. Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers and that there was a time when “every Black man in America was a Dodgers fan.” Click here to read the rest of the post.

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Here’s a little excerpt from my 2020, when April 15th coincided with Passover: “Can you imagine being the first to taste freedom?

I mean, it’s easy to think that there would be such overwhelming relief, gratitude, and joy. And maybe there was. But, there would also be trepidation. There might also be hesitation. There might be a little doubt that you know what to do or how to act. There might be some concern about the others who would follow you.

Can you imagine the first who knows the fear of having that freedom taken away? Can you imagine the attitude of the person who is first?” Click here to read the rest of the post.

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###“’One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma.'” ~Krishna (BG 2.31) ###

The Power of a Good Story April 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week, Great Lent, or Passover! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This chapter-length post, related to the last few days of Holy Week or Passion Week and the beginning of Passover, is a combination of several revised posts from previous years, with some additional context. In addition to the quotes, there are additional section headings (in color) you can use to break up your reading time. You can request an audio recording of any of the pre-recorded practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Remember, there is no class this Sunday.

“And God saw that it was good.”

*

– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t – Genesis

Tov is a Hebrew word that means “good.” At the beginning of the Torah (also the Christian Old Testament), God defines something as “good” when it is useful and serving its purpose. In our physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, we want every pose to be “good” in this way. However, in a modern context – when we think of the word “good” as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome – we can find ourselves in a bit of a quandary, when we don’t know what we’re doing. On the mat, that quandary may mean we’re doing poses without understanding how they serve or benefit us – and then doing them in a way that means we’re not getting all the benefits. It could also mean doing poses and sequences for the wrong reasons. Off the mat, that quandary can result in us doing things that have lost their meaning.

I often point to the fact that there was a time when everything people did had meaning. Over time, as people got further away from the meaning, rituals became traditions – things people did just because their ancestors did them. When those traditions lose meaning, they just become things people say. There are some rituals and traditions that have their meanings baked into the practice; however, even then, people sometimes don’t really understand the meaning. Then, too, things can get even more confusing when cultures overlap and suddenly people are witnessing practices they don’t understand – because they don’t know the meaning.

These kinds of perplexing situations happen a lot in the Spring, when all the major religions and philosophies have significant observations and celebrations that overlap. This can get ever more confusing when, for instance, people outside of Judaism wonder why there’s a celebration associated with a time of so much suffering and non-Christians have a hard time understanding how the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week can be simultaneously associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and also good. It’s a bit of a conundrum… until you go a little deeper.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

PLEASE NOTE: This next portion, revised from April 2020, involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

*

– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb (on April 11, 2020). One was from a friend, sharing the Sarah Kendzior quote (above). The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way.

On Friday 15, 2022, people all over the the world will be beginning the third week of the holy month of Ramadān; celebrating Good Friday (in the Western Christian traditions); getting ready for Holy Saturday (on April 16th, in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions); and, at sunset, beginning Passover. Then, there’s Easter Sunday (in the Western Christian traditions), which this year is also Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. It is also the time, in the Jewish traditions, that people begin Counting the Omer. Oh, and then there are people who will celebrate Easter and Passover, and maybe even start Counting the Omer. Plus, outside of the Abrahamic religions, there are millions more who will celebrate Hanuman Jayanti, also on the 16th. When you consider that these observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keeping in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

If we just stick with the Abrahamic religions for a moment, remember that Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and, therefore, Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four gospels indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originated within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus met the qualifications. According to most Jews, he did not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

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– quoted from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this: The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

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“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

In the Exodus story, while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the Jews be released. Moses had an interesting backstory and was, in some ways, the perfect person to be the (human) hero of the story. However, he was humble to the point of lacking confidence and ended up asking his brother Aaron to come along on the mission. When their show of power didn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone was subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffered. The Jews, who were already suffering the hardship of slavery, also had to endure the additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families were told to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They were also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happened in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial spoke to Moses and Moses asked for G-d’s identity, Moses was told three times that the One who spoke was the One who would always be with Moses and the Jewish people. Regardless of what they experience, Rashi explained, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.7 – 8) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time) was, and future Christians are, kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he was betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously was not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb was opened and there was some confusion about what had happened, Jesus was essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, were either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

IT’S ALL TOV

Portions of the following were originally posted in April 2021.

The rituals related to the aforementioned observations emphasize a specific order of events and how a story is told through the order of events. In the case of Passover, the story of Exodus is told through the symbolic elements of the Passover Seder. The Seder (which means “order” or “arrangement”) moves through 15 steps, including “The Four Questions” that lead to the telling of the story. It’s a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a dinner party wrapped in a children’s bedtime story disguised as a tradition.

For Good Friday, many Christians move through the Stations of the Cross, a visual pilgrimage of Jesus’ last moments. The earliest “Way of the Cross” or “Way of Sorrows” artwork and the Scriptural Way of the Cross (introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, and approved by Pope Benedict in 2007) depict 14 scenes or “steps,” ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. The Resurrection is often considered to be the 15th Station of the Cross. (NOTE: The Resurrection is the 14th Station according to the “New Way of the Cross” in the Philippines; however, this version is different from the previous mentioned versions.) The art is meant to mirror Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Sorrow/Pain”) in Jerusalem, the actual path Jesus would have taken to Mount Calvary. So, when people “move through the Stations of the Cross” it is a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a walking tour wrapped in a children’s picture book disguised as traditional art.

Within the Jewish community, the sacred ritual of Counting the Omer begins on the second day of Passover. This is a period of 49 days, a total of 7 weeks, leading up to Shavuot (also known as the “Festival of Weeks”) – which itself is a commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Commonly associated with Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), the practice of Counting the Omer involves 7 of the 10 attributes of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life. Each day is associated with a different attribute, as is each week – which means that for 49 days people are focusing-concentrating-meditating on the interrelation of two attributes. Since each attribute is associated with a different part of the body, and some people combine a physical component, it’s a ritual exercise wrapped in a mystical meditation  disguised as a 49-day perspective changing challenge.

Coincidentally – or, perhaps, divinely intentionally – this year’s celebrations of Easter (in Western Christianity) and Palm Sunday (in Eastern Orthodox Christianity) – which, again, are all about the power of G-d’s love – overlap the second night and day of Passover, which is also the beginning of Counting the Omer, when people focus on “Love/Lovingkindness in Love/Lovingkindness.”

All of the religious rituals above traditionally involve prayers, which I do not include in the practices. However, if you are religious and observing there’s always an opportunity to pray as you feel is appropriate. If you are not religious and/or are not familiar with the stories, you can think of what I offer as a history lesson wrapped in a little svādhyāya (“self-study) disguised as a physical yoga practice… or you could ignore what comes up for you and just decide I’m stepping out of my lane.

SOMETHING GOOD… ON FRIDAY

Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020.

“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

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– quoted from the song “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

2020 was the first time in 11 years that I did not teaching on Good Friday. It was also the first time in 11 years, that I taught on Easter. It was (and still is) a little surreal and bittersweet. While I know some people appreciate a yoga practice that essentially mirrors the Via Dolorosa and walks through the Stations of the Cross; I also know it’s a little much for some folks. Every year, someone asks me if I’m going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanks me and says that it’s meaningful, which is good.

Getting back to that idea of the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week being good, remember that in Christian traditions Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He serves his purpose, because he lives, suffers, is crucified, dies, is buried, and rises – in order for sins to be forgiven. There is no passion, no crucifixion, no death, no burial, nor resurrection, however, without the betrayal. Implying that the betrayal and Judas, by extension, are good, because they are meaningful (and have a purpose) is one of the things that gets me into trouble.

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.9) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9) by Jack Hawley

Every year that I taught at the YMCA, with the exception of 2019, someone complained to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It didn’t matter that the complaint often came up in a class where I also told the Passover story. It didn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It was always Passion Week that caused someone to say that what I teach and the way I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, it’s still very common for people to tell me that I made them uncomfortable (or even touched them) because of something that was personal only to them. Yoga can be very healing, but in the process it can bring up a lot of trauma. Religion, specifically religious fanaticism, has caused a lot of harm in the history of the world; so, it is not surprising that hearing me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice is upsetting to some. It’s especially not surprising or unexpected if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes went through management and it always involved Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association. (As a side note, outside of the YMCA, I have had someone complain that Judaism came up a lot throughout the year.)

“That they all may be one. (John 17:21)”

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 – YMCA motto adopted, along with the “Paris Basis,” by international delegates at the First World Conference of the YMCA, 1855

I would like to think that I’ve become a little wiser and a little more conscious as a teacher. I definitely appreciate feedback and take it into consideration. That said, I still teach the themes I teach. I still teach with the understanding that everyone doesn’t believe what I believe. I still teach with the understanding that even when I teach from a historical, philosophical, and conceptual perspective, some people will think I am of a certain faith and have a religious agenda.

I hate breaking it to y’all, but I’m neither Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Daoist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, nor any number of things you might have considered. But, I do have an agenda.

“Yoga” means union. Throughout the 8-Limb philosophy there is a recognition of and belief in something Divine – G-d. Whatever that means to you at this moment, it is simultaneously that and not that (neti, neti). The end goal of the philosophy is sometimes referred to as “union with the Divine.” That, however, does not mean – or does not only mean – union with an anthropomorphic being. It does, however, mean a state of awareness and existence that understands how everything and everyone is connected. Being connected, working together, that is yoga. Being intentional about our thoughts, words, and deeds, because what we think, say, and do affects everything and everyone around us, that is part of the practice. As someone who practices the philosophy, that’s my agenda: yoga.

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

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– quoted from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

This year, 2022, I am not teaching on Good Friday or Easter Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, Palm Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions, and Hanuman Jayanti). However, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I will also send out pre-recorded practices to anyone on the Friday or Sunday lists.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, I offer you a little taste of my personal practice (see meditation below) followed by Meghan G’s Good Friday message, which was part of my 202 Kiss My Asana offering. Yes, yes, the annual yogathon where we “do yoga, share yoga, and help others” is coming next week.

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

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ONCE MORE MORE WITH FEELING

This excerpt was part of a 2020 Kiss My Asana offering.

In my Good Friday post, I alluded to some people who would miss my Good Friday class. One of those people that immediately came to mind was Meghan G (who some of you will remember as Yogi #12: The Fixer during Kiss My Asana 2016). When I requested stories for Kiss My Asana 2020, Meghan G sent me the following Good Friday story:

“My story has happened quite recently. On Good Friday, just last week, I was feeling so disconnected from my faith community of Saint Joan of Arc, my yoga community Downtown YMCA Friday night yogis and really the whole human community.  Every tradition or ritual that I/we have grounds me in the meaning of Holy Week was uprooted.  Holy Week, and Good Friday contemporary stations of the cross in particular, is one of the most sacred times of the year.  It almost felt to me that day as though it was being ignored.

In an effort to stop the downward spiral of disconnectedness, I sought out Saint Joan of Arc’s Good Friday celebration on video, posted on the website.  I had tried to worship this way on Holy Thursday, but found myself distracted, multi-tasking and unfulfilled by the experience.  So this Friday I decided to stop the swirling in my mind I would lead myself through a series of poses to calm and focus my mind.  Myra had prepared me well for this.  As I listened to the Stations of the Cross and the familiar music and stories from my faith community I progressed through a series of poses that were also as familiar and soothing as the service.  I was able to connect Jesus’s suffering on the cross with the greater suffering in our world right now (and always) and feel again a part of the human community.

Thank you, Myra, for teaching me over the years to do yoga as you do life…with intention and love. Happy Easter, Meghan”

Thanks, again, Meghan!

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“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.6) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

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[NOTE: As much as I am able, I like to highlight the quotes with a good color, i.e., a meaningful color. Today that color is black, for those who know.]

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### “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt” (John 1:5) ###

How You Use Your Power Matters (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Men, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Passover, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, April 13th, which focuses on the Wednesday of Holy Week or Passion Week and highlights elements of Maundy Thursday. You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“When the audience and the performers become one, it is almost nearly divine, where this oneness can actually meet in some, not physical place, but in some spiritual place, in the middle, not the performers performing, not the audience receiving, but all of a sudden that contact is made and it becomes wonderful.”

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– Bill Conti (b. 04/13/1942)

Throughout the year, I tell people stories. The stories are an opportunity to do a little svādhyāya (“self-study”) and there are certain stories that I tell every year. They’re all great stories, divine and sublime stories. They’re overlapping stories that weave concentric circles which also overlap our lives and they’ve been told generation after generation. Some are easily recognizable as true stories and some are only believed by a few (million people). So, if you join a practice, on any given day, you may hear a story with which you are very familiar. Or, you may hear a story for the first time. You may also, on any given day, hear a familiar story told in a new way.

The thing to remember is that in any good story – and definitely any great story – there’s going to be conflict and drama. There’s going to be challenges and suffering (or passion). Since I’m very Chekhovian in my literary inclinations, everything and every one has a purpose – which means there’s always going to be a villain. The proverbial “bad guy” may not always be a guy. It may not even be a person. There is some element, however, that you could point to and vilify.

The thing I want you to remember, when you hear (or read) today’s story, is that just as there is no story without the hero, there is also no story without the villain. It is not my intention to glorify the “bad guy” or bad behavior. Neither is it my intention to put the “villain” on the same level as the “hero”… except in one area. It’s an important area… and it’s the area that almost always gets me in a little hot water.

A small portion of the following was excerpted from a related 2020 post.

“For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: Whenever they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting a food offering to the LORD, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”

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– Shemot – Exodus 30:19 – 30:21 (NIV)

In the Eastern philosophies (like yoga) and religions (like Judaism) arms and hands are recognized as extensions of the heart. They are how we reach out to others, embrace others, embrace ourselves, and even embrace a moment. We use our hands and arms to build the world around us. We also use our hands and arms to love one another, or not, and to defend or support what we love (or not). Two of the aspects of the Divine (found on the Tree of Life) are love (chesed) and strength (gevurah). Furthermore, Jewish mysticism identifies these elements of the Divine as being embodied by the right and left arms, respectively. It is no accident then, nor is it only an element of good hygiene, that hands are washed before handling sacred food. In fact, in the Hasidic tradition, “Water represents the healing power of wisdom. Water flows downward, carrying its essential simplicity to each thing. It brings them together as a single living, growing whole. We pour water over our hands as an expression of wisdom pouring downward passing through our heart and from there to our interaction with the world around us.”

Of the 613 commandments within the Jewish tradition, at least 21 – 27 are directly related to the observation of Passover, the Seder, the Counting of the Omer (which begins on the second night of Passover), and Shavuot (which begins at the end of the Counting of the Omer). The Last Supper (or suppers, depending on who you ask) is acknowledged as Jesus’ last meal and the source of the Eucharist or Holy Communion in Christian faiths. While the one of the four Canonical Gospels (John) places Passover after Jesus’s death, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) present The Last Supper as a Passover Seder. Therefore, it would make sense that Jesus – recognized as a rabbi, a teacher, long before he was considered by some to be the Messiah – would make sure everyone washed their hands, twice during the Seder. It’s part of the Law, part of the Commandments. What is interesting is that before the Seder, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. This is one of the events commemorated by some Christians on Maundy Thursday.

But, before we get to Thursday, we have to get over the hump that is Wednesday.

“[[Jesus]] answered and said to them, ‘I’m not laughing at you. You’re not doing this because you want to, but because through this your God [will be] praised.’”

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– quoted from The Gospel of Judas, translated by Mark M. Mattison

The Wednesday of Holy Week, Passion Week, or Great Week is also known as Spy Wednesday. A spy is a person inside a group, organization, or country who collects information so that others can attack, ambush, or otherwise ensnare the group, organization, country and/or the leaders therein. In the Passion story, Judas Iscariot is the spy and the event that led him to betray his rabbi and friend is related in all four canonical gospels.

In the Gospel According to Luke (7:36 – 50), Jesus was having what might be described as a luxurious dinner (because he was “reclining”) when a woman who had a sinful past washed his feet with her tears and hair. Then, she poured expensive oil from an expensive alabaster jar onto his feet. This incident took place in the home of a Pharisee named Simon and the woman is not identified by name. In the Gospel According to Matthew (26:6 – 13) and the Gospel According to Mark (14:3 – 9) the incident – or a similar incident – took place in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper and the oil is poured over his head (but there there is no mention of tears and hair). Here, again, the woman is not identified; however, all three synoptic gospels indicate that the woman “came,” which could be interpreted as meaning that she did not live in the home.

The indicated timelines, as well as the different locations, also lead some to believe that these may be different events. Some traditions identify the woman (or women) as Mary Magdalene – and that misrepresentation never ends well – but the Gospel According to John (12:1 – 8) is the only account that identifies the woman as someone named Mary. According to John, “Mary” poured the oil on Jesus’ feet and then wiped his feet with her hair. The account does not, however, indicate that she “came” to the home, leading many to believe that she was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

Either way you look at it, the woman’s actions really pushed the buttons of some of the disciples. Judas, in particular, was particularly incensed by the money. He was the one who held the purse strings – sometimes, too tightly and too personally – and felt that the cost of the oil and the jar could have gone to the poor (or, into his own pockets). He was so upset that he decided to betray Jesus. [Insert villain music here.]

“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.”

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– The Gospel According to Matthew (26:14 – 15, NIV)

When it comes to Judas’ betrayal there are also different accounts. Most people are familiar with the idea that Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver. In the Gospel According to Mark (14:11), the chief priests promised to pay Judas and this is often referenced as a few pieces of silver. In two accounts, however, Satan possessed Judas. Yes, that’s right, in the Gospel According to Luke (22:4) and the Gospel According to John (13:27), the devil made him do it. Or, you could look at the devil as a euphemism for his own anger, jealousy, and hubris. It’s also important, I think, to note that in a few places – including at least one gnostic gospel, Judas betrayed Jesus because Jesus told him (Judas) to do so. Which, if you look at it that way, means God gave both men a purpose.

Regardless of why he did it, Judas’ betrayal means that for generation after generation his name is mud. His reputation is smeared. One action made him the ultimate villain, the devil incarnate, and… one of the reasons we have the story. Remember, there is no Easter without the Resurrection. There’s is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion and the Passion. There is no Crucifixion and Passion (or Suffering) without the betrayal. And there is no betrayal without Judas of Iscariot. Again, I’m not saying that he is equal to Jesus. What I am pointing out is that they are both an important part of the story and they are both “sacrificed” because – according to the teachings – “God so loved the world….”

Very few people talk about what happened to Judas and the money after the betrayal, even though the Gospel According to Matthew (27:1 – 10) and The Acts of the Apostles (1:16 – 18) give explicit, albeit slightly different, details. Additionally, there is some difference in notation about when Judas left the last supper or if he even attended. Either way, it was at the Last Supper – which some accounts depict as the Passover Seder – that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. When Simon Peter objected, Jesus told him three particularly noteworthy things; things that remind us that none of this is about the money.

“’Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.’”

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– The Gospel According to John (13:12 – 15, KJV)

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“’If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’”

– The Gospel According to John (13:8, KJV)

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“’A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’”

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– The Gospel According to John (13:34 – 35, KJV)

The word “Maundy” comes to us, by way of Middle English and Old French, from a Latin word that means “command, order.” While it may be associated with the ritual of washing the feet of a saint, showing hospitality, or preparing a body for burial, the command or order associated with this Thursday before Easter is that “new command.” It is a command repeatedly reiterated in the Gospel According to John (15:12 and 15:17). It is also a sentiment that is echoed in one of the last things Jesus said on the cross, when he connected his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son. It is a lesson Jesus taught again and again. Yet, it is a lesson all too often forgotten; even though it is the whole point of the story.

“‘A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”‘”

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– The Gospel According to Matthew (22:39, NLT)

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Spy Wednesday 2022”]

Yes, Bill Conti turned 80 this Wednesday and if you are a fan, like me, you can absolutely consider it sacrilegious that there’s no Bill Conti on the Spy Wednesday playlist. If you’re interested in the composer, click here to check out a 2019 post or click here for the 2021 post, which (hint, hint) includes a Bill Conti playlist you can use for the practice.

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### “Forget about the price tag” ~ Jessie J ###

The Power That Fuels Your Purpose (the expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) April 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Super Heroes, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

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As promised, here is the expanded and “renewed” post for Tuesday, April 12th, which focuses on Holy Tuesday or Passion Tuesday. You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (24:3, NIV)

Some of you have heard me mention that I’ve started listening to podcasts when I’m tooling around in my truck. I have my favorite production companies, of course, and I tend to stick with podcasts from those companies; however, I also take recommendations from friends, family, and the omnipresent algorithm. That last one is how I came across a podcast called “Was I In A Cult?” The episodes are way funnier than one might expect, given the subject matter, but not in a way that’s inappropriate. Also, fair warning: It gets real dark real quick. The darkness is one of the reasons I have skipped multiple episodes after reading the summary. There are some things I just don’t need to hear about ever, but especially when I’m sitting in traffic, about to go in the grocery store; and/or about to walk in the woods. I mention all of this particular podcast today, because the hosts (Tyler Measom and Liz Iacuzzi) often point out that there are some reoccurring themes associated with cults. These are concepts and ideas that are everywhere in the world, but cults use these things against humanity. One of these things is the concept of “end times” or the end of time.

Now, don’t get it twisted; I’m not saying that if you believe in the “end times” or the end of time, then you are in a cult. That’s a false equivalency. It also would mean that every one who believes in climate change is in a cult – which would be a ludicrous statement. Also, every major religion and philosophy, has teachings and sacred text related to eschatology, “the study or science of the last” – or, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it, “the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.” The teachings and texts can be related to the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, as well as to the end of our individual selves and/or a change in the nature of our mind-body systems. So, technically speaking, every poem about a chrysalis or literature about a phoenix is a form of eschatology.

This isn’t a new conversation to me. It’s a fascination that seems to be part of what makes us human. No, what made me pause wasn’t the conversation itself. What stopped me in my metaphorical tracks was how the hosts and one of the guests pointed out that cults can be so busy focusing on preparation for what (and when) they think the end of days may be, that they neglect to prepare themselves or their children for the possibility that their wrong. They’re not prepared to live in this world and/or to make this world a better place. Given the fact that we’re still here, despite all the “end” dates that have come and gone, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not just some people’s calculations that are off. Perhaps they are also wrong about what it is they are preparing and how they are meant to prepare.

A portion of the following was excerpted from a 2019 post, when Passion Tuesday coincided with the anniversary of the date U. S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act (also known as the Compensated Emancipation Act). I’ve made some revisions; the dates and links have been updated; and there are some extra bits for 2022. You can click here for the original 2019 post in it’s entirety.

 “’Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,’”

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– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Luke (12:35, NIV)

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“’It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’”

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– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Luke (12:38 – 40, NIV)

After throwing the “thieves” out of the temple and between the authorities, elders, and “spies” questioning him, Jesus taught. Remember, in the historically context – and as far as many would have been concerned at the time – Jesus was simply a renegade Rabbi, a teacher, who was focused on showing his people how to have a closer relationship with G-d. More often than not, he taught in stories or parables. Several of the stories associated with Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday involved people waiting for something amazing and transformative to happen. What is important to note is that each story requires action from the characters.

Each story requires action in the here and now.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention “The Parable of the Faithful Servant,” which is the story of a doorkeeper who is instructed to be at the ready for the arrival of the owner of the home (returning from the “marriage feast”) and/or for the arrival of a thief who might take advantage of the night. Maybe because they had previously, and privately, questioned Jesus about events that he said were forthcoming, Luke specifically mentioned Peter asking if the message was for the disciples or for everyone. The answer may seem vague to some, but it reinforced what an honor it would be to be given the purpose of guarding the door and that a good and faithful servant would be rewarded, while someone who falls down on their job would be punished. Then there’s that part in that modern readers might think of as a Spiderman moment:

“‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.'”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to Luke (12:48, NIV)

The Gospel According to Matthew provides a continuous narrative by placing the faithful servant’s story directly before “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” or “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”). Just like the story of the faithful servant, this second story involves a wedding, light, and being ready. According to the parable, ten women are waiting for the possibility of being attendants (another word for servant) at a wedding, but it gets dark and they fall asleep. When they are awakened by the pronouncement that the bridegroom is coming, they trim and light their lamps. The only problem is that five (5) of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and failed to bring more. When the bridegroom comes, he can’t see the ones whose lamps are not lit and, according to Matthew, Jesus repeats, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13, NIV)

The details that reoccur in each story reinforce the message. First, there is a wedding – a momentous celebration that marks a union, a joining together. Second, the people who are waiting to join the wedding party are somehow in service to the bridegroom. Third, everyone has a purpose – although that purpose is not always explicitly explained. Fourth, everyone has a light and that light must shine in order for someone to be recognized. Fifth, there is no telling when one’s services or presence will be required, so (sixth) everyone must be ready at all times.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

*

– quoted from the “Parable of the Faithful Servant” as it appears in The Gospel According to Matthew (25:14, NIV)

The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke also detail a parable about a landowner (or master) who leaves his servants in charge of some goods. Luke associated the story with a different narrative, but Matthew placed “The Parable of The Talents” directly after the one about the virgins and uses the segue (above) to indicate that while the details of the story are different, the message is the same. This time there are three (3) servants and, instead of light, they are given talents, a form of currency: one servant receives five (5) talents, another two (2) talents, and another one (1) talent – “’each according to his ability.’” (Matthew 25:15)

Now, who knows where the landowner is going – perhaps to the aforementioned wedding. What is known is that the first and second servant put their talents to work and increases the wealth, while the third servant buries his talent. (There is also a non-canonical gospel that says one of the servants squanders his talents.) When the landowner/master returns he praises and rewards the servant(s) who increased the wealth, but chastises the one who literally buried his talent for safe-keeping. In Matthew 25:27 the landowner/master points out that if the talent had been put in the bank for safe-keeping, it would have earned interest – thereby increasing the wealth.

Again, the message is clear: it is not enough to sit on one’s laurels and wait for salvation – one must exert effort in some way in order to be prepared. It’s not enough to repeat a mantra, a chant, or a prayer like it’s a magical spell. One has to engage what they have been give – all that they have been given: experiences, perspectives, skills, and all the other resources that could count as blessings and/or talents. We have to let our light shine… which can be really challenging when things seem so dark and also when we may not feel that our skills are as valued as, say, oil.

“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

*

– quoted from the poem “How Things Work” by Gary Soto (b. 04/12/1952)

Another motif in the parables, and one that plays out in the last days of Jesus’ life, is the importance of oil and currency. Some commentary indicates that while Jesus was considered an agitator and a renegade, what pushed the elite to get rid of him (rather than to just tolerate him) was when he threw the money lenders out of the temple (see Passion Monday). Eventually, Judas decided to betray Jesus, not only because he was promised “a few pieces of silver” as payment, but also because of he was angered when expensive oil was used to wash Jesus’ feet (see Passion Wednesday). And here, in between the historical events, are the parables about oil and money – which might seem coincidental until you remember that Jesus knew how things worked; he knew what was coming.

According to Arland J. Hultgren – a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – a talent was a unit of weight and, when used as a unit of money, it would be valued as that specific weight in silver. A talent would be worth about 6,000 denarii, or six thousand times a day’s wages. I’ve seen estimates that translate this into U. S. dollars and indicate that one servant received $300,000 USD, one servant received $600,000 USD, and one servant received $1.5 million USD.

Can you imagine, literally, burying $300,000 USD. If you didn’t bury it, how would you put it to work? How would you put $1.5 million USD to work? Keep in mind: it’s not your money. Would you change what you do with the money if you knew you could “earn” $300,000?

Now, flip it around, and consider that you’ve been given a talent…or five: How are you using your talents? How are you using your resources? How are you letting your little light shine? How does your wealth increase because you invest in your talents? What happens when you don’t use your talents?

It is interesting to notice what one values, how one attributes value, and how one uses what they value. Not just on a personal level, it’s also interesting to notice it on a national and/or global level. As a modern society, we have a history of undervaluing the most essential and fundamental services – and the people that provide those services. When it comes to this, the pandemic has shown us at our best and at our worst. The thing is, we can fix that last part. We can be better. But it’s tricky, because to be better we have to value and appreciate each other – and our natural resources – more than we value a piece of paper or, in the cases of people like me, an actual piece of sheepskin. We have to understand that whenever and however our individual and collective ends come, it’s highly unlikely that we will be remembered (or rewarded) for the talents we buried – on behalf of ourselves or others.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna makes it very clear that we will be remembered by how (and/or if) we fulfill our purpose. Of course, before we can fulfill our purpose, we have to see our purpose and truly see ourselves. In order to see ourselves and our purpose, we need a little light. Patanjali says that light is inside of us. So, the next obvious question is, what fuels the light? It turns out that that power is also inside of us, just waiting for us get charged up.

“Contrary to what many think or feel, Lent is a time of joy. It is a time when we come back to life. It is a time when we shake off what is bad and dead in us in order to become able to live, to live with all the vastness, all the depth, and all the intensity to which we are called. Unless we understand this quality of joy in Lent, we will make of it a monstrous caricature, a time when in God’s own name we make our life a misery.

*

This notion of joy connected with effort, with ascetical endeavour, with strenuous effort may indeed seem strange, and yet it runs through the whole of our spiritual life, through the life of the Church and the life of the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is something to be conquered. It is not simply given to those who leisurely, lazily wait for it to come. To those who wait for it in that spirit, it will come indeed: it will come at midnight; it will come like the Judgement of God, like the thief who enters when he is not expected, like the bridegroom, who arrives while the foolish virgins are asleep.”

*

– quoted from “An Introduction to Lent” (dated February 17, 1968) by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Tuesday’s playlist is available on on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Passion Tuesday April 7, 2020” or “04072020 Passion Tuesday.”]

“How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind – white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started”

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 – quoted from the poem “Looking Around, Believing” by Gary Soto (born 04/12/1952)

If you’re interested in Gary Soto and his insightful poetry, you can click on the year for posts (and poses) from 2018, 2019, and 2021.

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### “Where do we go? Nobody knows / Don’t ever say you’re on your way down / God gave you style and gave you grace / And put a smile upon your face” ~Coldplay ###

The Power of Being Ready to Fulfill Your Purpose (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) April 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Lent, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent!

This post-practice post for Monday, April 11th. Some of the following appeared in posts from 2019 and 2020, but there are quite a few new bits for some fresh context. 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.

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma. This ultrahigh level of duty carries with it the requirement that one never does anything that is contrary to this True Self Within. And even if you consider your sva-dharma more narrowly from the standpoint of being true to your profession, you should not hesitate to fight. For a warrior, war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty.”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.31) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sacred texts from a variety of different cultures, tell us that everyone has a purpose. However, even if you don’t believe the old adage, science has shown that people who live a purpose driven life have better physical and mental health and stronger resilience than their peers. It’s a bit of a cycle: we need our mind-body-spirit to fulfill a purpose and fulfilling the purpose strengthens our mind-body-spirit so that we are better equipped to fulfill the purpose.

Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. Sometimes other people’s opinions about what we’re doing (or not doing) can also be like those things we do – or don’t do – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs; not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though; at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.

“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside”

*

– quoted from the song “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant (or Adam and the Ants)

Some of y’all may be thinking, “Aren’t you like the embodiment of that Adam Ant song?” Well, sometimes I do feel like that. And, yes, I do a lot of yoga and meditation with an emphasis on letting things go that no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean, however, that other people’s opinions never affect me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever internalize external judgement or spend way too much time and energy justifying my existence and/or presence in certain spaces.

Neither does it mean that I don’t have my vices. I have a bit of a sweet tooth (cue the laughter from my friends) and while I endeavor to stick to really good quality chocolate, or pastries without a lot of preservatives, I have been known – not often, but occasionally – to grab what’s handy. And then, the suffering ensues. Because, as much as I love it, processed sugar is not our friend and when you mix it with a bunch of additives it might as well be one of the deadlier vices.

Years ago, on one of my busiest days, I was feeling lethargic, hungry, and a little spacey, but I still had one more class to teach. Rather than choose wisely and do something I knew would be helpful, but would take a bit of time, I went for the quick fix: chocolate, but not the good kind. One of the lifeguards at the Blaisdell Y saw me pull my poor choice out of the vending machine and asked if my students knew I ate stuff like that. I shrugged and said I was only going to eat half. Needless to say, I ate it all. While I felt “better” in the short term, the next morning I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I had thieves in my personal temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” 

*

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” 

*

 – quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:12 – 13, KJV)

This week is Passion Week or Holy Week in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions. Some say the significant stuff begins with Saturday, although I’ll save the story for another day; others consider Palm Sunday as the beginning of one of the holiest weeks in the Western Christian tradition. Either way, Passion Monday, or Holy Monday, is the last Monday of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer within the aforementioned traditions. Part of the Passion Week or Holy Week observation is remembering the stories and parables associated with the last week of Jesus’ life. The story I most closely associate with this day is the story of Jesus throwing the thieves out of the temple and then having his authority questioned.

According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus was very clear about his purpose as he entered the last week of his life. He understood that there would be suffering (hence, the passion), trials, tribulation, and betrayal, and joy. He knew he would be tested and tempted (yet another passion/suffering). It is unclear if he knew how quickly the suffering will begin, but suffice it to say, it was immediate. When he returned to Jerusalem for Passover, he found the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a defacto market place. All four (4) canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus ran the livestock and the merchants out, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers. He then began to heal the sick and to teach, thus restoring the temple to its original purpose.

“‘People who eat too much or too little or who sleep too much or too little will not succeed in meditation. Eat only food that does not heat up the body or excite the mind. When you balance and regulate your habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing, then meditation dissolves sorrow and destroys mental pain.’

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.16 – 6.17) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

When we don’t treat our mind-bodies as respected temples, we suffer and are sometimes not able to do the things we need and want to do. Even if you’re getting some exercise, resting, and drinking a lot of water, the very nature of the last two years – extra sitting around, lack of routine, poor eating choices, stress, and isolation – means that all (or most) of us are out of balance. When we get out of balance, we need more of something to get back into balance. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes more water, sometimes more movement. Sometimes we need someone, like that Blaisdell lifeguard, to gently and kindly remind us what we’re doing – or not doing – is going to throw us out of balance. Other times, we just need them to quietly be present and we sort ourselves out. (Just for the record, that lifeguard did that for me too – and on the very next day no less!)

I will often refer to the fact that our bodies are mostly water as a reason why movement feels good. We are meant to flow and slosh all that salty water around a little. It’s a great visual, and it’s true on a certain level. However, there are even more scientific reasons why it’s good to stay active. One of those reasons is our lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system.

Our lymphatic system helps keep us healthy by providing proteins and other nutrients to healthy cells, while simultaneously brushing away dead, damaged, and infected cells. It also maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, as well as aiding in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Unlike the cardiovascular system, however, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. If we want lymph to bring nutrients to healthy cells and also brush/rinse away dead or damaged cells, we have to move our bodies. Any kind of movement is helpful, especially if it engages the whole body. Most physical practices of yoga engage and move your whole body in a very systematic way. So, you could say that the physical practice of yoga almost always has an element of detoxification. There are, however, certain poses and sequences that are considered detoxifying in nature.

Holy Monday, or Passion Monday, is one of the days when I suggest a “detox flow” that involves good amount of muscle engagement – to get the lymph flowing – and a fair amount of twists. In some ancient medicines and philosophies, discomfort and disease is associated with blocked or stagnate energy and so the movement is also a way to unblock the energy. The twists, like many of the other poses in the sequence, have the additional benefit of creating space by helping us loosen up tension we may not even realize we are holding and also offering a gentle massage to the abdominal cavity and low back. But, there’s another twist to the twists. Energetically speaking, with regard to yoga, the twists engage our third chakra (or “wheel’), which is related to our sense of self, our self-esteem, our personality, and how we see ourselves in the world. This is the exact area you want strengthened (or opened) when someone is questioning your authority to do what you do.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.”

*

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” 

*

“And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

*

– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:24 – 26, KJV)

According to the gospels, children praised Jesus and this, along with everything else, riled up the establishment. In three (3) of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) several groups of the establishment questioned Jesus’ authority and his views on taxes. First he was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” To which, Jesus asked his own question (see above) regarding the authority of the then wildly popular John the Baptist. Of course, this was a tricky question for the elders; because, if they said that John the Baptist’s authority came from God, well then so did Jesus’s and therefore he was unquestionable. If, however, they said that Jesus’s cousin was empowered only by the people, well, the people might revolt. In that moment, they could not answer.

Later, in another attempt to trap Jesus, the elders asked him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. He asked them to show him a coin suitable for payment and, when they presented a coin with a Roman face on the front – specifically, Caesar’s face – Jesus said, “’Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’.” (Matthew 22:21)

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

*

– a person who thought I worked at a garden story because “you’re wearing a fanny pack,” even though none of the employees (wearing branded clothing) wore a fanny pack

In his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, the neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out that “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” This idea is very much in keeping with what Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sūtras and is why someone in a garden shop thought I worked there. It’s also why so many people in Minnesota were surprised when they walked in a studio (or a rooftop) and discovered the yoga teacher of the day looked like me. Sometimes such reactions were funny to me, but they were also exhausting. Even more ironic, exhausting, and heartbreaking, when you know the historical roots of yoga, was when people would question the authority of a brown-skinned man who was teaching yoga. After all, yoga – like Buddhism – started in a time and place where all (official) teachers were male and brown-skinned.

Of course, the world changes. It’s constantly changing. The lived reality of these ancient practices is not, necessarily, the modern experience. So, we are in the habit – in this country, at least – of questioning anything we perceive as different from the status quo. This questioning, however, extends beyond expectations around gender roles and how we understand someone’s role based on race; it also bumps us up against are own biases (unconscious or otherwise) about weight, height, class, age, and ability.

All of the aforementioned biases (and even those I did not mention) are why practices like meditation, self-study, and discernment are so instrumental to our individual and collective progression and evolution. They are also part of the reason I offer biographic stories as well as religious stories as a focal point for self-study – even to people who may not know about or believe in a particular system. By learning about the world, we learn about ourselves. By turning inward, we confront our biases and open up to the possibility of seeing things differently. We start to think differently. Changing our perceptions and our understanding of our past means that we open up to the possibility of seeing a different future – maybe, even, a more inclusive reality.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet it sees only what the mind/intellect shows it.”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Here is something I played on that never-to-be-forgotten Holy Monday after I ate that aforementioned giant chocolate bar.

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Lent and Great Lent are based on Easter, which is a moveable feast in all Christian traditions and, therefore, occurs on different dates on the Gregorian calendar. I did not really incorporate the birthdays (or poetry) of Misuzo Kaneko (b. 04/11/1903) and Mark Strand (b. 04/11/1934) into this years practice. You can click here for the 2018 post and here for the 2019 post, if you are interested in their lives and poetry.

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“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

*

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

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### Get Your Mind Clean, And The Rest Will Follow (to paraphrase En Vogue) ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Purim, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is weird to me.

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

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

Breath and Steps (mostly the music) March 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Dharma, Music, Religion.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and/or Great Lent!

*

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 13th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

*

### 🎶 ###

Effort and Effect (a “missing” post from a week ago) February 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Lent, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“‘Life Is’ is a simple thing, with piano, strings & synth, and is the result of my ruminations on recent events in my life. In many ways it’s a microcosm of my life. Repetitive, in a warm, familiar kind of way, with sprinklings of sadness, and joy… always slightly improvised, but never too much drama. ;)”

*

– quoted from the description of the song “Life Is” by Scott Buckley

*

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to consider what it means to be human. In the process of considering what it means to be human, we have to also address what it means to live life as humans. Here, we can use the words of either Scott – because life is “a simple thing” and “life is difficult.” Then we need to add in the fact that life is a beautiful thing, a hard thing, a challenging thing. Life can also be messed up, twisted, upside down, and backwards – and not always in a fun way. Life is full of dichotomy and full of contradictions. It can be, and often is, out of balance. What’s more, the way we live our lives can also be all of these things – at the same time… which can make life really hard.

It can also make it hard to do the right thing.

We would like to think that when we do the right thing everything will just fall into place. We would like to think that life will be easier if we make the right decision, at the exact right time, and do the right things. I mean, that’s what we’re taught, right? That’s the secret, right?

Sure, yes. I stand behind the idea of being in the flow. Here’s the thing though: In order for things to fall into place, they have to be set up in a certain way – which requires work, effort. That’s the part of the lesson we always seem to skip over. But, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful opportunities fall into your lap, you still have to use the opportunities. You still have to do the work.

“The literal meaning kriya is “verb.” Every verb is representative of a distinct process or function and no process of function reaches fruition without a doer.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated into English as “work” or “effort,” and which both apply to our thoughts, words, and deeds/actions. The first word is kriyā and the second word is karma. Most English speakers are familiar with the word karma (or kamma in Pali). Even if they are not 100% certain about the meaning, they understand the general concept of cause-and-effect. What they may miss is that karma is the effect or consequence, while kriyā is the cause. Kriyā is an ongoing process and also the steps within the process; it is active. You could also think of karma as fate and kriyā as destiny; where the former is unchangeable and the latter as the journey to your destination.

Some traditions specifically use kriyā in relation to internal action or work and speak of karma when referring to external work. In some ways, this dovetails with Yoga Sūtra 2.1, which defines kriyā yoga (“union in action”) as a combination of the final three niyamas (internal “observations”): discipline/austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self). In this context, kriyā yoga is a purification ritual and, as I mention throughout the year, there are several religious and philosophical observations that would fit within this rubric (including Lent, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and the holy month of Ramaḍān).

Additionally, in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, “kriyā” is the term applied to sequences with specific energetic intentions.

This is where it gets (even more) convoluted, because karma can also be the intention. Classically, when we talk about karma, we talk about planting seeds and things coming into fruition. So, one way to think of it is that we plant seeds that already have within them the image of the final product and kriyā is what we do to nurture and harvest what’s been planted – and/or what we do when we need to uproot the poisonous weeds.

“There comes a time when we should be together
United in our fight to make things better.
Our world is here,
But will not be forever,
Depending on our will to change [the] matter.”
*
“This is a song of hope.”
*

– quoted the song “Song of Hope” by Avishai Cohen

The practice on February 20th was partially inspired by current events and people who feel called to do hard things for the right reasons. These same people have even called on others to help do the work that is required to bring more balance into the world. In thinking about these people in the modern world, I found myself thinking back to people who did hard things in ancient worlds. One such person was Arjuna in the events of The Bhagavad Gita, and, even though it wasn’t the right time of year – per se – I decided to focus on the wisdom of another such ancient person: Syncletica of Alexandria, one of the Desert Mothers.

The Bhagavad Gita is set during a lull in battle during a great civil war. Arjuna is a prince and military leader on one side of the battle. As others magically look on, he stands in the middle of the battlefield and has a crisis of faith. He looks at his family and friends on both sides of the battlefield and he “loses his resolve.” He questions why he fighting and what will be resolved. He shares with his best friend and charioteer that he is filled with an amalgamation of emotions, including the possibility of shame and unhappiness if he were to kill his own friends and family.

As he is sharing his deepest worries and fears, his friend (Krishna) reveals himself as an avatar of God and emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right even when it (and everything else) seems wrong. He outlines several different methods by which one can live a “truth-based life” and experience ultimate fulfilment (which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the spoils of battle). Krishna is very clear that there are different methods or paths for different people and (sometimes) for different situations, but that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine and to self-realization. In this context, “Karma Yoga” is defined as “the path of action for the busy, action-oriented person.”(BG 3.3) However, and this is also emphasized throughout the text, the goal is to work without desire and without expectation. Krishna indicates that “both the action and the fruits of the action” are to be offered up to the Divine so that the action is nonbinding and selfless and, therefore, will not lead to reincarnation. (BG 3.9) Remember, offering your efforts back to the Source is the same instruction Patanjali gives in outlining kriyā yoga.

Ever skeptical, Arjuna thinks it is impossible for him to work without desire. Krishna explains to him, again and again, that it is not impossible. It does require however, that one has the right mindset. It also requires (hard) work and sacrifice. (BG 3.10-3.16, 6.33-36)

“‘Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.47) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

One of the big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is that everyone has a role to play in society. As Krishna explains in Chapter 18 people’s different personalities play a part in determining their different roles and duties. In very general (but explicit) terms, he describes “Seers, Leaders, Providers, and Servers.” He also emphasizes that “No particular group of people is superior to any other, but like limbs of the body, each has a respective role to play.” (BG 18.41) The descriptions are clear enough that we can easily identify ourselves and also recognize that there are times when we are called to serve more than one role.

For example, a professional teacher could be described as a seer and/or a leader. But, even if we are not professional teachers, the way we live our lives sets an example. The way we live our lives teaches others – especially younger generations – how to love, how to care for each other, how to stand up for what’s right, and how to do the right thing… even when it is hard. In this way, we are all leaders.

“‘Consider them one by one. Society’s Seers are the holy ones (in some societies referred to as Brahmins). Seers are expected to establish the character and spiritual underpinnings of society. Their duties are generally of pure, unmixed sattva and are therefore congenial to a person of sattvic nature. This is what is meant by the term “born of their own nature.” Providing spiritual and moral leadership is generally “natural” to Seers.

*

‘Seers must have spiritual knowledge and wisdom – knowledge of God-realization obtained through devout study – and wisdom beyond knowledge, acquired through direct experience of the Atma. Seers must have purity of heart, mind, and body; and allow no perversity or corruption to creep in. They must possess serenity, calmness, forbearance, forgiveness, and patience – and hold to an unwavering faith in the divinity of all life. The primary purpose of the Seers is to help transform society’s exemplary human beings into godly beings.

*

‘The primary objective of society’s Leaders is to help transform ordinary human beings into exemplary human beings. The Leaders (referred to as Kshatriyas) are expected to guard the welfare and prosperity of society by serving the people. They are charged with bringing moral stamina and adherence to duty through courage, fearlessness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of changing conditions. They must be examples of law, justice, and generosity. They must lead by inspiring the populace through good example and yet be ready to enforce their authority.

*

‘Both groups are strong in their own ways. The strength of the Leaders lies in their courage; the strength of the Seers lies in their spiritual glow.'”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.42 – 18.43) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Saint Syncletica is a perfect example of a seer. Also known as Amma Syncletica, she was a 4th century Christian mystic who was reportedly born into a wealthy Macedonian family in Alexandria, Egypt. By all accounts, she was a beautiful woman who could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege. Yet, from an early age, she felt a calling to serve God. From a very early age, she committed herself to God.

When her parents passed away, Syncletica donated her inheritance to the poor. Then, she cut her hair and, much to the chagrin of her many suitors, she and her younger blind sister moved to something akin to catacombs. One abbot reported that she just kept going deeper and deeper into the desert – which might have been a metaphor. Eventually, her lived example drew other women into the ascetic lifestyle that was focused on salvation, self-realization and union with God – the same end goal outlined in the Yoga Sūtras, described in The Bhagavad Gita, and highlighted in sacred texts from a variety of different traditions (including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).

It is believed that Amma Syncletica died around 350 AD, when she was eighty or eighty-four years old. The Vita S. Syncleticæ is one of the primary sources of her life and stories related to her life. The Greek biography is attributed to Athanasius I of Alexandria – although it appears to have been written after his death (and around a hundred years after hers). Thirty to fifty years after the appearance of the Vita, she is one of three women whose stories and words are included in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Saint Syncletica was venerated by the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. In some Greek traditions she is honored on January 4th (on the Julian calendar). In most traditions, her feast day is January 5th – although, she is no longer included on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the Episcopal Church (in the United States) she is celebrated along with two other Desert Ammas, Sarah and Theodora.

“Amma Syncletica said, ‘In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [Heb 12:24]): so we must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

*

– based on The Life of the Blessed & Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie 

Coda: A couple of weeks ago, I really felt the need for this message. What I mean is that I needed to hear the encouragement of this message. Given the fact that I knew some other people were facing tough decisions, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one that needed the reminder that even something that reduces us to tears, can lead us to “unspeakable joy.” I thought maybe we all needed to hear how important it is to keep doing the work even when you don’t feel supported by others – and, also, to keep doing the work even when you’re being supported by people with whom you have no other common ground.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was only thinking about metaphorical battles and metaphorical battlegrounds.

Yes, there were real wars and battles happening a couple of weeks ago, but they were (in many ways), out of sight and out of mind. Today, those battles and battlefields are front and center again. As we watch war play out in real time, we can clearly see the Seers, the Leaders, the Providers, and the Servers. We can see how hard it is to do the right thing – and even the high cost of doing the right thing. We can also see that the final words of the Gita are still true:

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.'”

– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to “the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*Dr. Peck noted that he was essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

### You Gotta Do The Work & Honor The Work You’re Doing ###