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

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

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. ]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

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

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

[This is a “missing” post related to Sunday, July 18th – with a reference to the practice on Monday, July 19th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

– Pema Chödrön

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Nothing.

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

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

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

 

– Pema Chödrön

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Ernő Rubik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

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

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

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

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, each part of the (physical) mind-body is metaphorically and energetically connected to one of 7 major energy wheels (chakras)*, which in turn are metaphorically and energetically connected to part of our lived experience. The 1st chakra is related to our lower body, our roots – metaphorically and energetically associated with our first family, tribe, and community of birth. Just as we can be biologically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Hence, an adoptee may deal with genetic and energetic situations related to people that don’t “recognize” as family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### LISTEN SILENCE LISTEN ###

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

 

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

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

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

 

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

 

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

 

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Price Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

 

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

 

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

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.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

 

### AMEN, SELAH ###

 

 

 

The Virtue of Patience April 11, 2020

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PATI [Latin, “suffer” > Late Latin, passio > Old French …> Middle English, PASSION]

PATI [Latin, “suffer”> Latin, patientia, “suffering”> Old French…> Middle English, PATIENCE]

– Etymology (the origin and meaning history) of the words “passion” and “patience”

Ask almost anyone, their family, and their friends if the original person is patient and you will often receive very divergent answers. There are people who cultivate patience, people who practice patience, and people who seem naturally patient. Then there’s everyone else. Or so it seems. The truth, when it comes to patience can be a little more nuanced than a single answer. It turns out we have different definitions / understandings of patience. Furthermore, our ability to be patient has as much (maybe more) to do with our situation (not to mention our neurobiology and perspective) than with our personality or habits.

Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in the brain that sustains healthy brain and nerve function. Although it is a neurotransmitter, which helps relay signals in the brain, 90% of a person’s serotonin supply is found in the digestive track and in blood platelets. Too much or too little can affect our brain function (especially memory and learning), our overall mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and (on a certain level) engagement with the world. Too much or too little serotonin can adversely affect our cardiovascular system, muscles, endocrine system, and digestive system.

Studies indicate that next time you’re “hangry,” instead of blaming the person (or situation) pushing your buttons, you could blame your serotonin levels. You could also, however, consider your expectations.

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Christopher Bergland described McDonald’s struggling with the “patience effect” when drive-thru customers didn’t realize their longer wait time was resulting in a higher quality burger. He also pointed out how Heinz struggled with people being irritated by how long it took ketchup to come out of an old-fashioned glass bottle back in the 70’s. Neither company changed their process. Instead, both companies overcame their issues with ad campaigns that changed customers’ expectations and, in the process, customers’ patience.

“Mice in a lab aren’t much different than humans waiting at the drive-thru or for ketchup to dispense from an old glass bottle. In a recent experiment, researchers pinpointed the role that serotonin plays in “the patience effect” depending on the confidence a mouse has that it’s worth waiting a few extra seconds for a delayed food reward…. the researchers found that stimulating serotonin production made the mice willing to wait for a food reward if they knew there was at least a 75% chance of being fed after waiting a maximum of 10 seconds. When the odds of receiving the food reward slipped below this threshold, serotonin failed to increase patience. ‘The patience effect only works when the mouse thinks there is a high probability of reward,’ [ Dr. Katsuhiko] Miyazaki said in a statement.

The main takeaway from this research is that the link between serotonin levels and subsequent behavior appears to be highly dependent on a mouse’s subjective confidence in an expected outcome.”

– Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist

 

Much of what’s happening in the world right now results in experiences that feel like our serotonin levels are out of whack. And that’s not a coincidence – especially when you consider the role emotional and social support play in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. To add insult to injury, unlike the people in the drive-thru, the people with the old-fashioned ketchup bottle, or the mice, we have no real expectations of when our patience will be rewarded. So, frustration – and suffering – increases.

Once again, we are caught in a feedback loop; because, studies show negative thought patterns, hostility, and irritability result in decreased health (including serotonin levels), which in turn causes us to experience an increase in negative thoughts, hostility, and irritability. There is hope, however.

Dr. Simon N Young, in 2007 Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article reviewing neuroscience research, pointed out “alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism” and hypothesized that it could also increase serotonin levels, He also highlighted the fact that exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) and bright lights can increase serotonin levels. Finally, he pointed to a third and fourth “strategy” for increasing serotonin levels: exercise and diet.

Four ways, right here, that you can do today!

  1. cultivate positive thoughts (maybe through meditation, hint, hint);
  2. step into the bright lights, baby;
  3. exercise (yoga, anyone?);
  4. and be mindful of what you eat.

If you’re available, please join me today (Saturday, April 11th), Noon – 1:30 PM for a live yoga practice on Zoom. The “04112020 LSPW” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. My only request is that you let go of some expectations.

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, regular loving-kindness meditation can improve your mood (hint, hint below). This type of Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute prior to the pandemic. 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.

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana – and a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 11th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 11th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 11th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 11th Practice

### BE WELL ###

Something Good…On Friday April 10, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“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”

 

– “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

 

For the first time in 11 years, I am not teaching on Good Friday. For the first time in 11 years, I am teaching on Easter. It’s a little surreal and bittersweet. Because, 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.

Most people think of the word “good” in the modern context, as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome. Non-Christians have a hard time understanding why the day associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus would be considered good. It becomes more obvious when you go a little deeper.

In the Old Testament time, the time in which Jesus lived, saying something was “good” meant that something was meaningful, it had a purpose. In the Christian tradition, 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.

“And God saw that it was good.”

 

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

 

Every year, with the exception of last year, someone complains to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It doesn’t matter that the complaint often comes up in a class where I’ve also told the Passover story. It doesn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It’s always Passion Week that causes someone to say that what I teach and the why I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, people will sometimes 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 some folks would be upset to hear me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice – especially if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes through management and it always involves Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association.

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

 

 – 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 a yogi, 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.”

 

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

While I am not teaching on Good Friday this year, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Christian traditions and this Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions and Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Christian traditions). I’m not sure how things will work on Sunday. I haven’t even decided how I will hold space for the practice. But, I would love for you to join me on Zoom, Saturday (12:00 PM – 1:30 PM) and/or Sunday (2:30 PM – 3:35 PM). Playlists will be available on YouTube and Spotify.

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) and a little peek at what’s to come (see Kiss My Asana “flashbacks” below). Stay tuned for a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

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.

 

KISS MY ASANA YOGATHON:

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

I know you wanna Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 10th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 10th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 10th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 10th Practice

 

### STAY WELL ###

 

 

 

Old and New Commandments April 9, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Oh, the gospel train is coming
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheels rumbling
And rolling thro’ the land”

– “The Gospel Train (Get On Board),” a traditional Negro Spiritual sung by Marian Anderson on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939*

Thursday, April 9, 2020, marks the first full day of Passover in the Jewish tradition and, for Roman Catholics and Western Christians, it marks Maudy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday). Judaism and Christianity are tied together, historically, as they are both Abrahamic religions. They are also connected, historically, because Jesus was a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, who spent the last week of his life observing Passover and preparing for what only he knew was coming: the Crucifixion and Resurrection. What people believe and how they practice their faiths can seem so different that it’s easy to forget they are connected. Pay attention to the details, however, and you will notice there’s a whole lot of hand washing and feet washing during today’s observations.

During a Passover Seder, when Jewish people commemorate their ancestors’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, they wash their hands before and after the story of exodus is told through the lens of four questions. The first time, hands are washed without a blessing; the second time, hands are washed with a blessing. Like everything else in the Seder, even the name and the questions, the hand washing is crucial and symbolic.

The Hebrew word “Seder” means “order, procedure.” Just like in our yoga practice, everything happens in a very specific order that tells the story of the people, of their faith, and of their exodus. Symbols are used to engage not only the numerically young children at the table, but also those who are spiritually young and may not have studied the Torah. For example, the elements of the four questions (leavened vs. unleavened bread; all vegetables vs. bitter herbs; dipping the herbs in brine or vinegar and also in a sweet paste; eating in a variety of positions vs. eating in a reclining position) are symbolic of how quickly people fled when given the chance to escape Egypt; the bitterness of slavery; the sweat and tears of the enslaved people, as well as the bricks-and-mortar the enslaved were forced to build; and the luxury and privilege implied in eating in a reclining position – as if one has not a care in the world.  The symbolic nature of the different aspects of the observation means that the ritual is both a mental experience and a visceral experience. Still, it’s easy to overlook the hand washing, even though it’s in the Bible.

“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.”

– 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 the 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 – 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.

You may recall that one of the events of Spy Wednesday, the day before Maundy Thursday, is Mary of Bethany washing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil (and even before that, a woman offering hospitality by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair). The occasion with Mary, theoretically, causes Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. In John, Judas leaves (after what will be Jesus last meal) and Jesus prepares to wash the feet of the remaining disciples. When Simon Peter objects, Jesus tells him three particularly noteworthy things:

“If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” (John 13:8, KJV )

“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.” (John 13:12 15, KJV )

 

“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.” (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” and 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,” which John reiterates in 15:12 and 15:17. It is a sentiment echoed by one of the last things Jesus says on the cross, when he connects his own mother with one of his disciples as if they are mother and son.

Sunset on Thursday night marks the beginning of the Counting of the Omer in Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism). The Counting of the Omer is a 49-day observation which reflects the days the freed Jews were in the desert and segues into the commemoration of the people receiving the Torah. When people observe the Counting of the Omer there is an extra element of prayer, of offering, and also contemplation on two connected elements of the Divine (from the Tree of Life). The first night the connect elements are Chesed She b’Chesed (Lovingkindness in Lovingkindness).

Even though it is a completely different tradition, my offering to you on this Thursday, April 8th, is a Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation:

May you be safe and protected

May you be peaceful and happy

May you be healthy and strong

May you have ease and well-being, today and always.

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 will upload a guided Metta Meditation on my YouTube channel and post information about how you can offer a little metta to yourself by way of Yin Yoga (April 15th) and mo’ metta to Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs by way of the Kiss My Asana yogathon (beginning April 25th).

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

That’s plenty of time to Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 9th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 9th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 9th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 9th Practice

* NOTE: Despite what is initially said in the introduction, Marian Anderson’s performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939 was made possible by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused the use of Constitution Hall for a concert with an integrated audience.

### MAY ALL BEINGS EVERYWHERE BE HAPPY & BE FREE ###

So Much That Is Holy On April 8th April 8, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Maya Angelou, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see – the answer
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” sung by Joan Baez, lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

Every year, I say that May 1st is one of the hardest working days of the year, because so many people use that day to celebrate so many things. That being said, this year, April 8th may be the most revered day of the year as it coincides with several religious or philosophical observations: Spy Wednesday in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, the beginning of Passover (at sunset) in the Jewish tradition, Hanuman Jayanti in some Hindu traditions, and the Buddha’s birthday in some culturally Buddhist traditions (specifically in parts of Japan). These observations don’t always stack up like this since different traditions and cultures base their holy days on different calendars. This year; however, the super pink moon shines over the world in a way that is uniquely auspicious.

I am always up for a good auspicious story, one that is simultaneously inspiring and enlightening, and a reason to practice the splits. The question is: How do we honor so much in the short amount of time that is a 60-minute class? That’s an especially tricky challenge when some of these are not even remotely connected on paper. The answer, of course, is to find the common denominator.

When considering different people’s experiences with the divine – or even what is best in mankind – we start with what is universal to the human experience: doubt and fear, passion/suffering, faith, and change. Everything changes and, in moments of great suffering – in moments when we doubt and fear ourselves and those around us – it is important to have faith in the fact that things will change. That faith can, sometimes, bring hope – and the power of hope is another common denominator. But, let’s step back for a moment and consider doubt and fear plus passion/suffering.

“It’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ there is the living of the holy life. And it’s not the case that when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is the living of the holy life. When there is the view, ‘The soul & the body are the same,’ and when there is the view, ‘The soul is one thing and the body another,’ there is still the birth, there is the aging, there is the death, there is the sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress whose destruction I make known right in the here & now.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The Buddha (whose birthday is celebrated in May by some traditions) said that he taught only two things: suffering and the end of suffering. In fact, the Four Noble Truths outline exactly that. “I have heard” two parables the Buddha used to differentiate between (physical) pain and (mental) suffering. Both parables also point to the ways in which we can alleviate our own suffering.

In one parable, a man is shot with a poisoned arrow. As the poison enters the man’s bloodstream, he is surrounded by people who can and want to help him, to save his life. The problem is that the man wants to know why he was shot. In fact, before the arrow is removed he wants to know why he was shot, by whom he was shot, and all the minutia about the archer and their life. While the information is being gathered, the poison is moving through the man’s body; the man is dying. In fact, the man will die before he has the answers to all his questions.

In another parable, a man is shot by an arrow (no poison this time) and then, in the very next breath, the man is shot by a second arrow. The Buddha explains that the first arrow is physical pain, and we can’t always escape or avoid that. The second arrow, however, is the mental suffering (or pain) that is caused when “the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught.” How we respond to moments of pain and suffering determines how much more pain and suffering we will endure.

“How many ears must one person have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

 

– “Blowin in the Wind” lyrics by Bob Dylan

 

When we look the observations that are happening around the world today (Wednesday, April 8th) from the perspective of the human experience (instead of looking at them from the perspective of cultural or historical differences), we find they are more alike than different. In these stories there are two recognized teachers of wisdom (Jesus and the Buddha) and two heroes who lack confidence in their own ability to shine and help to save others (Hanuman and Moses). All four experience great suffering. All four have great faith (although, arguable in the Buddha’s case, not in G-d, whatever that means to you at this moment). All four are known for their devoted service to their community. All four are the unlikely heroes in stories about freedom from suffering. All four are sources of great inspiration.

Finally, all four offer very practical lessons related to what we are all experiencing right now. If you’re interested in the stories, the lessons, and a little bit of the splits, join me for one of the following Wednesday yoga practices on Zoom:

4:30 PM – The Nokomis Yoga class is a 60-minute, open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

7:15 PM – The Flourish class is a 60-minute “Slow Flow,” with the same elements found in the open-level vinyasa practice. This class requires registration, but all are welcome.

The playlist for Wednesday is available on YouTube and Spotify.

As Zoom has changed some security protocols, please use the link on the “Class Schedules” calendar if you encounter any access problems. During this quarantine experience, you can make a donation through Common Ground Meditation Center, which operates on dana/generosity, or you can purchase a package on my Squarespace. Either option can be applied to any class. If you are worried about finances, do not add this to your worry list – I got you, just come to the virtual practice.

Speaking of our virtual practice, Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is coming online at the end of this month. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

You can totally do that!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 8th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 8th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 8th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 8th Practice

 

“And what is declared by me? ‘This is stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is declared by me. And why are they declared by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That’s why they are declared by me.

“So, Malunkyaputta, remember what is undeclared by me as undeclared, and what is declared by me as declared.”

 

– from Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions Malunkya (translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

 

Happy, happy birthday, to three amazing women – two of whom I know (and you know who you are) and one of whom is Barbara Kingsolver, today’s featured poet!

 

### LOKAH SAMASTHAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ###

Passion, Talents, & Happy Warriors Shine on a Tuesday April 7, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, William Wordsworth, Wisdom.
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Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “[the part that is] free from sorrow and/or infused with inner light cultivates steadiness [of the mind]”

 

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s 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.”

 

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

 

We all have gifts, talents. Doesn’t matter if you believe you’ve been given them or if you’ve cultivated them, you have them. So, the question becomes: what are you doing with those talents? Right here, right now, it may seem like there is nothing you can do. And yet, and yet, so many in the world are doing what they can do. Sometimes we see people’s efforts on display in a way that seems so bright it is nearly blinding. Other people’s light shines in a way that is more subtle. It’s not dimmer, mind you, it’s just not as obvious. Some people shine in the light.

It’s easy to discount those lights that intermingle, because we don’t always recognize how much dimmer, darker, life would be without them. One example of this is all the people doing their jobs right now, despite how often in the past we’ve taken them for granted. Another example is related to all the celebrities leading fundraising events, donating money, mobilizing resources, and just spending some time literally sharing their talents. While our perceptions of these two (2) groups may be (often is) different, what they are doing for us right now, is the same. They’re keeping their inner lights on and inspiring us to do the same.

Furthermore, watching different celebrities rise to the occasion during this pandemic makes me think of all the “regular people” who give celebrities their status, their fame, and their fortune. This is one of the times celebrities give back. They do not give back alone; however, because for every millions of dollars or hundreds of hours that someone famous gives there is someone we may not every hear about who is also giving.

And the impact is bigger, and the light is brighter.

Except, of course, when we don’t let our light shine. Except, of course, when we bury our talents.

“Not doing the right thing when it is required is worse than doing the wrong thing.”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.33) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Every one of us has a reason why we don’t do something we could be doing right now. Yes, there are people not honoring “stay home” mandates, but that’s not the part I’m thinking about right now. Right now, I’m thinking about the people who have had dreams in their hearts and ideas in their heads, but no time to pursue those dreams or engage those ideas. Right here, right now, I’ve been thinking about all the “Master Classes,” all the books, all the podcasts, and all the research that can be done. Right now, I’m thinking about people who can’t do what they were doing (work-wise) right now, for a variety of reasons, and who may be feeling the weight of the darkness.

If you are feeling the weight of the darkness, now is the time to get up and get ready to shine. Now is the time, to put your lights on. Almost all of the reasons you had (for not doing what is in your heart and in your head) are actually null and void. Life is different now. There is no reason, however, to suffer in the darkness. Be the light.

Even if you’ve hit the wall, consider what you need to get over it (under, or around it). Because I guarantee you that someone you know needs you to shine, because they too have hit that wall (and they need a little light to get over it, under it, or around it).

You have time. You have resources. If you are reading this, or listening to this, or someone tells you about this, you have an engraved invitation to get started. That’s all you need to do right now: take that first step. (Or take that second step you’ve been putting off.)

Prepare yourself for the moments after this worldwide quarantine is done. Life will be different when this is behind us. We may not know for sure what our new normal will be, but we don’t have to passively receive it. We can actively engage our lives and how we want to live it… even in isolation, choose the light.

 

“For the person of steady mind, Arjuna, there is always just one decision, but for the quivering mind pulled in a thousand directions, the decisions that plague it are endless, and they exhaust one’s mental strength. People with an unsteady mind inevitably end up failing; those with an unwavering mind achieve great success.”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.41) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Today (Tuesday the 7th), is Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday in the (Western) Christian and Roman Catholic traditions. It is also the anniversary of the birth of the poet William Wordsworth. If you are interested in hearing a couple of parables and practicing some “happy warriors,” please join me for one of the Nokomis Yoga practices on Zoom, today (Tuesday, April 7th) at 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM or at 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM. The playlist for Tuesday is available on YouTube and Spotify.

As Zoom has changed some security protocols, please use the link (here) or on the “Class Schedules” calendar if you encounter any access problems. During this quarantine experience, you can make a donation through Common Ground Meditation Center, which operates on dana/generosity, or you can purchase a package on my Squarespace. Either option can be applied to any class. If you are worried about finances, do not add this to your worry list – I got you, just come to the virtual practice.

Speaking of our virtual practice, Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is coming online at the end of this month. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

What can you do, share, give?

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 7th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 7th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 7th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 7th Practice OR (A Preview of the 2019 Passion Tuesday Practice)

 

### WE’VE GOT THIS ###