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FTWMI: “This is why you were brought [here]” November 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted November 29, 2020. Class details and links have been updated.

“Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? —”

– quoted from the poem, “Surprised by Joy – Impatient As The Wind” by William Wordsworth (written in memory of his daughter)

If you’re anything like me, when you think of C. S. Lewis, born today in 1898, you think of Narnia and Aslan, and Christian allegories sometimes disguised as fantasy and children’s books. Like me, you might express a little confusion over why Mr. Lewis himself said the Chronicles of Narnia were not “allegories” and you might absolutely love The Screwtape Letters even though (or maybe because) it is super dark and written so well that it almost always feels as if no one will win and “The Patient” – as well as the demons – will be condemned to everlasting turmoil. Regardless of how he defined his work, you might recognize Mr. Lewis and his writing as falling under the heading of Christian apologetics. However, if – like me – you’ve read more C. S. Lewis than you’ve studied, you might be surprised by the author’s multi-layered relationship with “Joy.”

Christian apologetics is a category of study and theology focused on the defense of Christianity. It has its foundations in Torah study and Greek philosophical discourse, but there is a long list of New Testament Biblical references to the need for “a verbal defense” of belief. One of the best examples comes from The First Epistle General of Peter.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

1 Epistle General of Peter (3:14 – 15, NIV)

Unlike the epistles, or letters, attributed to Saint Paul and titled to reference specific Church communities (e.g. in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, etc.), the letters attributed to Saint Peter are more generically addressed to “strangers” in a variety of areas (in 1st Peter) and “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (in 2nd Peter, KJV). The meaning of “strangers” is debatable, but what is consistent in the letters, and in modern understanding of the letters, is that the letter are addressed to people who were subject to persecution (because of their faith), people who might have been tempted to give up their faith because of the persecution, and who – despite the persecution – experienced a faith-related longing. This longing, which Saint Peter described as “hope,” C. S. Lewis defined as “Joy.”

“The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central theme of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

 – quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was the Belfast-born youngest son of Albert James Lewis (a solicitor) and Florence “Flora” Augusta Lewis, who could be considered Irish royalty. Flora’s father was an Anglican priest; one of her great-grandfathers was Bishop Hugh Hamilton; and another of her great-grandfathers was the Right Honourable John Staples, who served as an Irish Member of Parliament for 37 years and was a descendant of titled persons in Northern Ireland. Naturally, C. S. – later known as “Jacksie” and then “Jack” – was baptized in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which is the second-largest church in Ireland (after the Roman Catholic Church) and identifies itself as both Catholic and Reformed. All that is to say that, he and his older brother Warren “Warnie” Hamilton Lewis were raised in a very structured, family-embedded tradition of faith.

Somewhere along the way, for a variety of reasons – and based on a variety of experiences – both brothers fell away from the Church and away from their family’s traditional beliefs.

While “Warnie,” the elder brother, finished his schooling and went on to serve 18 years in the military, the younger Lewis brother was drafted, sent to the front line on his 19th birthday, was wounded and traumatized by the death of his friends, and was sent home within a year. Once he physically recovered, “Jack” (whose nickname came from a beloved pet) went back to England to finish his studies.

Previously, at around age 15, “Jack” became interested in the occult and began to actively and publicly define himself as an atheist. As such, he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about God, explaining why God didn’t exist, and surrounding himself with like-minded people and things. The problem was that when he returned to Oxford and started paying attention to his experiences (and the way he felt as he read, wrote, and interacted with people), he found he was being (spiritually and emotionally) sustained and nurtured by things and people who were theistic as opposed to atheistic. And the more he delved into his embodied experience, rather than just his analytical experience, the more he realized… there was something more.

“But soon (I cannot say how soon) nature ceased to be a mere reminder of the books, became herself the medium of the real joy. I do not say she ceased to be a reminder. All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’. But Nature and the books now became equal reminders, joint reminders, of – well, of whatever it is. I came no nearer to what some would regard as the only genuine love of nature, the studious love which will make a man a botanist or an ornithologist. It was the mood of a scene that mattered to me; and in tasting that mood my skin and nose were as busy as my eyes”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

At around the same time, 1931, both brothers reclaimed their Christian roots and deepened their brotherly bond. They had been living together in Oxford for about a year, went on walking tours together, and participated in the weekly Thursday night “Inkling” meetings – which featured works-in-progress of the various members who were and would become literary giants in the English language. The “Inklings” – who were all white, Christian men of Oxford – included in their number the Lewis brothers, their close friend J. R. R. Tolkien (and his son Christopher, who were both raised Catholic), Charles Williams (a devout member of the [Anglican] Church of England), Henry Victor “Hugo” Dyson Dyson (a lecturer and literary collector known as H. V. D. Dyson, who was instrumental in C. S. Lewis’s return to Christianity), and Arthur Owen Barfield (“the first and last Inkling,” whose anthroposophical beliefs in a spiritual world accessed through human experience heavily influenced all the other Inklings).

C. S. Lewis’s spiritual memoir, Surprised by Joy, concludes in 1931, but wasn’t published until 1955. In the interim (around 1950), he started corresponding with a Jewish American poet (in the United States) who was estranged from her abusive husband. This woman – a child prodigy, an atheist, and former Communist, whose husband (also an author) may have introduced her to C. S. Lewis’s work – started the transatlantic correspondence because she had faith-related questions. Intrigued, and ultimately attracted, to each other’s intellect, the correspondence became more personal than theological. She frequently referenced him to others and once wrote, “Just got a letter from Lewis in the mail. I think I told you I’d raised an argument or two on some points? Lord, he knocked my props out from under me unerringly; one shot to a pigeon. I haven’t a scrap of my case left. And, what’s more, I’ve seldom enjoyed anything more. Being disposed of so neatly by a master of debate, all fair and square – it seems to be one of the great pleasures of life, though I’d never have suspected it in my arrogant youth. I suppose it’s unfair tricks of argument that leave wounds. But after the sort of thing that Lewis does, what I feel is a craftsman’s joy at the sight of a superior performance.”

The poet officially divorced her husband, converted to Christianity, and moved with her two school-aged sons to England to be with “Jack.” In April of 1956, several years after her arrival (in 1953), the couple entered into a “civil marriage” so that she and her children could stay in England. It was described as a marriage of friendship and convenience. However, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer (in October of 1956), C. S. Lewis realized he not only admired her, he loved her. He was 58 years old and surprised by Joy* – as his beloved wife was Helen Joy Davidman.

(*NOTE: C. S. Lewis was teased by his friends, but said that the title and intention of the book Surprised by Joy had nothing to do with his wife being Joy. So, you can take the overlap as serendipity… or God winking.)

“Total surrender is the first step towards the fruition of either. Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all. (And notice how the true training for anything whatever that is good always prefigures and, if submitted to, will always help us in the true training for the Christian life. That is a school where they can always use your previous work whatever the subject it was on.)”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes from a special process of devotion and letting go into Ishvara [the Divine], the creative source from which we emerged.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

“‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success or failure. This mental evenness is what is mean by yoga…. Indeed, equanimity is yoga!’” (2.48)

“‘Those who see Me in everything and everything in Me, know the staggering truth that the Self in the individual is the Self in all. As they live in constant spiritual awareness, I am never out of their sight or lost to them – nor are they every out of My sight or lost to Me. ’” (6.30)

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 29th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment belowor (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11292020 Jack’s Surprising Joy”]

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.)

“Your remarks about music would seem to lead back to my old idea about a face being always a true index of character… not of course exactly, but its general tone. What type of person is this girl of whom Debussy has been talking to you? As to your other suggestions about old composers like Schubert or Beethoven, I imagine that, while modern music expresses both feeling, thought and imagination, they expressed pure feeling. And you know all day sitting at work, eating, walking, etc., you have hundreds of feelings that can’t (as you say) be put into words or even into thought, but which could naturally come out in music. And that is why I think that in a sense music is the highest of the arts, because it really begins where the others leave off.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves (who he called “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend”), written by C. S. “Jack” Lewis, dated 20 June 1916

The connection between home and Joy….

“It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. As a last resource, as a pis aller, I was driven to write stories instead. You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table.”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis


### TASTE JOY (But don’t get it twisted and confuse “lower” pleasure with the “higher”)! ###

FTWMI: This Room, This Music, This Light, This Darkness: This Dance November 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Hope, Life, Loss, Peace, Philosophy, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted on November 22, 2020 (and reposted in 2021). Class details and links have been updated.

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.”

– quoted from 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Life changes in a moment…in a heartbeat, in a breath. Sometimes we don’t even notice the change until it is coupled with a bunch of other changes. Every once in a while, however, something makes us pause, stop in our tracks, breathe, reflect. Sometimes we pause because of something breathtakingly beautiful. Other times, our breath is taken by something heartbreakingly tragic.

Today in 1963 was a Friday, and a little girl missed her first sleepover. Had she been any other 5-year old girl, nobody would have cared or even noticed, but the reason this little girl missed her first sleepover is the same reason high school, college, and professional football games were cancelled or postponed. It was the same reason people all over the world were glued to the radios and televisions. Today in 1963, a wife lost her husband; three children (that five-year old girl, her almost three-year old brother, and her yet to be born brother) lost their father; and the whole world paused, stopped, as a Nation lost – and then gained – a leader meant to usher in a new era of civil rights and environmental conservation.

Today in 1963, at 12:30 PM (Central Standard Time), President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove down Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Governor of Texas John Connally – who was riding in the motorcade with his wife Nellie, President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and two members of the United States Secret Service – was seriously wounded. A bystander was also injured by a ricochet.

“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 Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

President Kennedy was not a perfect man, but he remains a key figure in American history and, for many, a symbol of democracy and “American” ideals. He was the first Catholic president; the youngest person to be elected president; and the sixteenth U. S. Senator to serve as president – one of three people who moved directly from the Senate floor to the Oval Office. He was also the fourth sitting United States President to be assassinated (by gunshot, although one could argue that Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley could have survived with better medical attention). Many people saw President Kennedy’s assassination as a moment when Americans lost their (collective) innocence and many felt his death as a personal loss, as if they had lost a member of their family or a dear friend.

Whichever way you see it (or him), President Kennedy’s death was the middle and the beginning of a cascade of events that, arguably, changed history. It also started the domino effect on conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Many people have wondered what would have happened if he had not been assassinated.  As he was beginning to campaign for a second term, people have theorized what the country would have been like if he had run and won – or even had an opportunity to deliver either of the speeches he had written for events scheduled on November 22, 1963.

“For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future – and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver to the Texas Democratic State Committee in Austin, Texas, in the evening, on November 22, 1963

Historians and political scientists have likewise contemplated what would have happened to the country if his brother Bobby, who served as Attorney General and as a U. S. Senator, and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been assassinated. After considerably research, Stephen King wrote a novel about a man who goes back in time with the intention of preventing JFK’s assassination. Of course, as is always the case when dealing with chaos theory, things are not as simple as changing one thing and moving forward.

There is always an inner ripple and an outer ripple; there is always a sticky domino; there is always a butterfly – and, in the case of 11/22/63 (which was turned into the television miniseries 11.22.63), history pushes back. We may not like how life unfolds, collapses, and converges, but we must sometimes consider the words of Namagiriamma Krishnamacharya, who said, “Maybe this situation has happened for a reason. A reason that will unfold later.”

“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions – it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations – it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas, Texas, in the afternoon, on November 22, 1963

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 22nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11/22/63”]

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.)

“Dear Mr. President

Thank you for walking yesterday – behind Jack. You did not have to do that – I am sure many people forbid you take such a risk – but you did it anyway.

Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later – you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now….

But you were Jack’s right arm – I always thought the greatest act of a gentlemen that I had seen on this earth – was how you – the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you….

But of course [Jack’s ship pictures] are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it – I pictured some gleaming longhorns – I hope you put them somewhere –

It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office – to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay – I promise – they will soon be gone –

Thank you Mr. President

Respectfully

Jackie”

­

– excerpts from a short letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, written by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, dated “November 26 Tuesday” (the day after JFK’s funeral)

“All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.

The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. Today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. He lives on in the mind and memories of mankind. He lives on in the hearts of his countrymen. No words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began….

We will carry on the fight against poverty, and misery, and disease, and ignorance, in other lands and in our own. We will serve all the nation, not one section or one sector, or one group, but all Americans.

These are the United States: A united people with a united purpose.”

– quoted from the “Let Us Continue” speech delivered to Congress and the public by President Lyndon B. Johnson, November 27, 1963  

NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on November 23rd – 27th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

### “Life turns on a dime” again and again (11/22/63, SK) ###

FTWMI: More Hope, More History… November 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted on November 9, 2020 and reposted in 2021. Class details and links have been updated, as have some date notations. *Granted, things don’t always turn out the way we expect.

“Fate is what you are given. Destiny is what you make of it.”

– original source unknown

Let’s talk about the difference between fate and destiny. Often, especially in (American) English, we use the words interchangeably, and without distinction. We sometimes do this even if we know “destiny” shares etymological roots with “destination” and “fate” is rooted in the mythology of the three goddess, sisters, or witches (depending on the depiction) who weave (or stir) together the circumstances of one’s life. Either way you look at it, both are related to cause and effect – something we pay attention to in the Eastern philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism.

The concept of will, or determination, is one of the challenges that comes up when discussing fate and destiny; because, our understanding of the concepts may involve a level of predestination. One way to distinguish the two concepts, and the role predestination plays, is to think of fate as the present moment – which has been determined by all the previous moments – and destiny as a possible future moment – which will be determined by fate (i.e., this present moment and all the previous moments). If we look at it this way, we can’t change our fate, but we can change our destiny.

Yes, yes, it might be possible to present and argue the reverse, but I think that way gets really muddled. I’d rather go back to the “seat” of the words. Fate comes to the English from Latin, by way of Italian and Middle English, from a phrase that means “that which has been spoken.” Destiny comes through Old French and Middle English, from the Latin meaning “make firm, establish.” So, again, fate is what has happened and destiny is what we make happen. As an example, step back [a couple of days] with me and let’s revisit Philoctetes from The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes.

“Human beings suffer.
They torture one another
They get hurt and they get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

– The Greek Chorus in The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney

Remember that Philoctetes was a great archer who had a magical bow. According to Sophocles accounting of events, the bow was a thank you gift from Heracles, the divine protector of mankind and patron of gymnasiums, whose funeral pyre could only be lit by the great archer. So, by using his skills to light the pyre, Philoctetes has the means to (eventually) assist Odysseus in winning the Trojan War by mortally wounding Paris with a poisoned arrow. Those circumstances, along with the fact that he is bitten by a poisonous snake, make up Philoctetes’ fate. His destiny could be to die of his wounds on the island where his colleagues abandoned him – because they couldn’t stand the sound of his belly aching – or he could go to Troy, win the war, and have his snake wound healed.

Now, keep in mind that like all the other characters, the fate and destiny of Philoctetes are tied up with the fate and destiny of Paris who, once wounded, could have been healed if he hadn’t pissed off and abandoned his first wife. (Alas, poor, pitiful Paris, thought his destiny was power, rather than the love of a “good woman,” and let that thirst for power be his dharma or guiding principle.)

“Fate is your karma. Destiny is your dharma.”

– Livnam Kaur

Some people think the power of fate and destiny can reside not only in our actions, but also in a date. Take today, for instance: November 9th. In Germany it is known as Schicksalstag – “Destiny Day” or “Fateful Day” – because of all the historical events that happened today and shaped the history of Germany. It’s kind of wild, when you think about it. But, also, when you start to go deeper into the events, you start to realize that some (but not all) of the events were planned because people believed in the power of the day.

In talking about the events of today throughout German history, most people start with 1848 and the execution of the democratic politician, poet, and publisher Robert Blum. One of the leaders of the National Assembly of 1848 and a prominent figure during the Vienna revolts, Blum was arrested after the Vienna revolts and argued in vain that his role as a deputy from the German Diet should protect him from execution. Instead, his death was used as an example and a method for crushing the subsequent revolution in Germany in the spring of 1849.

Fast forward 70 years, to 1918, and Emperor Wilhelm II was dethroned by his chancellor, Max von Baden, and socialist and social democratic politicians proclaimed the beginning of the “Free” German Republic. As a side note, Albert Einstein was named winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics today in 1922.

In 1923, the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” marked the initial emergence and downfall of the Nazi Party. Even though the march officially failed it was the beginning of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and during the Nazi regime it was considered a national holiday honoring the Nazis who died today in 1923. As a side note, German Crown Prince Wilhelm (son of the ousted Emperor) chose this day to return out of exile.

Another example of people using previous events to infuse their actions with the power of the day’s history tragically, and horrifically, happened today in 1938: Kristallnacht (“Night of Glass”). The Nazis symbolically chose this night to begin destroying synagogues and Jewish properties. More than 400 Jewish people died and, after this demonstration of far-reaching anti-Semitism, the Nazi’s arrested approximately 30,000 people on November 10th, many of whom would ultimately die in concentration camps.

“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis romanus sum’ [‘I am a Roman citizen’]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner!… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner!

– U. S. President John Kennedy, speaking to the public in West Berlin, June 26, 1963

“Every stone bears witness to the moral bankruptcy of the society it encloses.”

– English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as quoted in the New York Times article “Mrs. Thatcher Visits the Berlin Wall” by John Tagliabue (published Oct. 30, 1982)  

One of the outcomes of the World War II was the division of Germany and, ultimately, the construction of the Berlin Wall. However, today in 1989 marked the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of German separation. In many ways, this event can be seen as an accident. I mean, it wasn’t like anyone planned it to happen today.

Yes, people, including Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, had called for the end of the Wall. Furthermore, musicians like David Bowie (1987), Bruce Springsteen (1988), and David Hasselhoff (1989) boldly played songs about freedom in concerts near the Wall – and, in Hasselhoff’s case, over the Wall! There was also the announced intention (by the East German government) to change policy. But the changes were intended for a different day.

“We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer Paul Lincke understood something about American presidents. You see, like so many presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin. [I still have a suitcase in Berlin…..]”

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!”

– U. S. President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the public at Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987

When the policy changes were announced by Günter Schabowski, an official of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), during a press conference on November 9th, he hadn’t actually been briefed about the details. Based on the wording of the announcement he had been given, when asked when the policy changes would go into effect, he said, “As far as I know… effective immediately, without delay.” That wasn’t actually true, but, the metaphorical wrecking ball was swinging. In answering follow up questions, and in subsequent interviews that day, Schabowski “confirmed” that the decrease in travel restrictions applied to every part of the Wall and to travel in every direction – including into West Berlin. Naturally, people started showing up at the Wall demanding to be let through and, by 11:30 PM, at least two gates were open.

On the flip side, I would not be surprised if the German drug company BioNtech intentionally chose this date to announce that their COVID-19 vaccine, developed with Pfizer, is 90% effective. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone thought drawing on the power of the day would give people more hope than a basic announcement on any other day. After all, the announcement [a year ago] today, *means the end of the world’s suffering isn’t just fate, it’s destiny.

“Call miracle self-healing,
The utter self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
And lightening and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

– The Greek Chorus in The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney

Please join me today (Wednesday, November 9th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify.

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

(And, if you want some Bruce….)

“I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down”

– Bruce Springsteen, speaking German in East Berlin, before playing “Chimes of Freedom” with the E Street Band, during the “Rocking the Wall” concert, July 19, 1988

### dóchas / dúchas // història /  esperança // histoire / espoir // historio / espero ###

On the Road Again… & It’s Lit!!! October 21, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Dharma, Faith, Hope, Meditation, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Just a reminder: The classes I am guest teaching at Bend Hot Yoga (this weekend) will be available live via ZOOM. Check my “Class Schedules” calendar for access details. (NOTE: Meeting codes are the same as they normally would be for each day, but the times are different. Times listed below are PDT.)

Screenshot_20221021-091452_Gmail

### Put Your Lights On ###

FTWMI: Pace Yourself (abridged) September 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 2021. This is an abridged version with updated class details.  ]

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

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

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

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

Speaking of marathons…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

phidippides

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

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

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

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

 

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

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. Now matter who you are or what you do, it’s also nice to have some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

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

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

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 12th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

NOTE: The 2021 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. It includes a track related to the High Holidays.

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

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

FTWMI: Practice Responsibly July 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This post from 2020 – and the one you can find here, related to yesterday’s “anger/kindness” theme – have come back to haunt me. Yet, they have also come back to bring me some comfort. I hope you, too, find some comfort and good practice reminders in the following. In addition to some format edits, class details and links have been updated for today.

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to a beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to a British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like those referenced above, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are using and Apple device and having problems viewing the “Class Schedules,” you may need to update your browser.

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

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.)

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

In Times of Darkness / Just Reach Out July 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Let’s work together
In harmony
Let’s build a better world
No suffering

And in times of darkness
Just reach out
‘Cause there is a promise
It won’t be denied

Let there be light
Let there be joy
Let there be love
And understanding
Let there be peace
Throughout the land.”

– quoted from the song “Let There Be Light” by Carlos Santana (b. 1947)

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice, some (off the mat) invitations to practice and to turn inward, are stressful, awkward, and horrible. I specifically referenced moments when we (or anyone) is being called out for being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist. So, some might argue that such invitations are always stressful, awkward, and horrible. This is especially true, as I mentioned, when we don’t even recognize that we are blowing the proverbial dog-whistle we inherited from our ancestors.

Yet, as I also mentioned, accepting such invitations creates the opportunity to make real change. The thing I did not explicitly say is that the idea of making “real change” is a euphemism and is itself a kind of dog-whistle. Because, when we talk about making “real change” in a societal sense, we are assuming that everyone understands that we mean “positive” change and that everyone has the same understanding of what “positive” means. Such assumptions, however, are part of our avidyā (“ignorance”), which is an afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that leads to suffering.

Because we don’t all see the world – or each other – the same way, we do not recognize the same problems and/or the same solutions to such problems. A perfect example of that is the current issue around choice and abortion – which, let’s be clear, is really an issue about privacy and reproductive rights. Even if you consider yourself “pro-life,” your ideas on this issue are based upon your beliefs about what is private vs public and where that line is drawn when it comes to reproduction.

I am very aware, that just reading such statements pushed some people’s buttons and gotten people hooked. I am also aware that my next statement will push some more buttons and start reeling people in. Because, when you wade into the debate about privacy and reproduction, you also wade into the debate about life outside of the womb. And, more and more, we are seeing that we don’t all see this issue the same way. More and more, the conversations coming up today are the same conversations that Pearl S. Buck started having in 1949 and that the Kennedy family started having in the early 1900’s. When we really look back at those earlier conversations, we start to recognize the dog-whistles, we start to recognize the changes that take us backwards, and we can start considering how we move forward in a way that is more functional (and that makes for a more functional society).

Since Carlos Santana was born today in 1947, and the first Special Olympics Games were held today in 1968, today’s practice is about raising awareness around one of the “-isms” many overlook and about using the hook to get “unhooked.”

Click here to read the 2020 post about Rosemary Kennedy, her younger sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and the origins of the Special Olympics.

Click here to read the 2021 post about Carlos Santana and how his music fits into this practice. 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 20th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07202021 Using the Hook”]

“Like diabetes, deafness, polio or any other misfortune, [intellectual disabilities] can happen in any family. It has happened in the families of the poor and the rich, of governors, senators, Nobel prizewinners, doctors, lawyers, writers, men of genius, presidents of corporations – the President of the United States.”

– quoted from a September 22, 1962 article by Eunice Kennedy Shriver printed in The Saturday Evening Post

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

### Is This The Plank In Your Eye? (Cause It’s Definitely The Sawdust In Mine!) ###

Reflecting Light On Those Who Teach Us To Remove Darkness or Ignorance July 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Mala, One Hoop, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Guru Purnima!

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (focus for Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

I have had a lot of teachers over the years – teachers who have taught me some amazing things about myself and about the world. When I am able, as much as I am able, I give credit where credit is due. But, sometimes, as I internalize a lesson and make it my own, I may forget the source. Or, I may just forget to mention the source. Hopefully, that does not in any way dimension the teaching.

Shiva Rea’s outline for the Global Mala Project (a world-wide practice of 108 Sun Salutations) might be the first time I came across the term “precious jewels” as a way to describe people with whom “you have unresolved conflict”. Unfortunately, I do not recollect when I first heard “master teacher” as shorthand for someone who gives you a master class on yourself. But, it is an idea that is very much backed up by some of the sūtras, suttas, and lojang statement and I often pair these two terms together – especially when we set our personal intentions and dedications – because they underscore some very important aspects of the practice and some very fundamental elements of mindfulness-based practices like Yoga and Buddhism:

  • All relationships are sacred;
  • You can learn something from everyone and everything;
  • Every encounter is opportunity to practice;
  • Every opportunity to practice is an opportunity to turn inward, to take a look at yourself, and to contemplate the gap between how you show up in the world and how you want to (or think) you show up in the world.

Purnima means “full moon.” This full moon day (and night) – which is the first full moon after the Summer Solstice – is extra special for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is a celebration of those who teach us to remove darkness. Even though it is, formally, a celebration of specific “Big G” Teachers and, in some cultures, can also be a celebration of non-religious “little g” teachers, it can also be an opportunity to take note of those who shine light on the darkness. You know, all those people who push your buttons, get you hooked, and make you hot (under the collar)?

We may wish we didn’t have to deal with them, but they are a reminder that we can not remove the darkness we can not see.

Click here for more information about Guru Purnima, some of my teachers, and the super moon that occurs this time of year.

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Guru Purnima 2020”]

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.)

### Hello, Teacher! ###

The Origins of Litigation (the “missing” post) July 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 10thYou can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.)

“1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

2. If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

3. If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.

4. If he satisfy the elders to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.

5. If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.”

*

– quoted from the Code of Hammurabi (translated by L. W. King, as posted on the Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library website for The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy)

Before we go any further, let me clarify something important. The title of this blog post can be – and is intended to be – taken in different ways. This is not, however, a treatise on the beginning of how people started taking legal action against one another. Although, to that end, I will say that carved and chiseled tablets from as far back as 2350 BCE provide very clear evidence of Near East, Middle East, and African societies with codified expectations, processes, and precedents. Here in the West, the most well-known of these ancient legal texts is probably the Code of Hammurabi (circa 18th century BCE), which is recognized as the laws of Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. Preserved on a stone slab over 7 feet (i.e., over 2 meters) tall, the text contains an image of King Hammurabi and Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice, followed by several thousands of lines of cuneiform text.

The Code of Hammurabi includes 282 rules and guidelines, which establish what happens “if” someone does something – or is accused of doing something – and what happens “[w]hen” they are proven guilty or “if” they are proven innocent “then” what happens to the accuser. The latter are particularly interesting to me, because there is no double standard: falsely accusing someone could carry the same penalty as having done the deed. It is also interesting to note that (per the fifth code, as quoted above) judges were not above the penalty of law – a rule that underscores the responsibility that comes with judicial power.

In many cases, the penalty for grievances were severe (and final). While some parts of our modern Western society have done away with the death penalty and most have eliminated “trial by river,” we can very clearly trace many of our laws, litigation processes, and penalties through the history of the Abrahamic religions and into the here-and-now – at least, from a purely historical perspective. In fact, the Code of Hammurabi is so historical significant to our modern society that Hammurabi’s image is included in the relief portraits of lawgivers located over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the United States Capital – right next to Moses and across from two gentleman from Virginia: George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

*

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

So, again, this post is not about the history of law. Instead, this post is about a trial that started today in 1925. It is not, as any good law professor or lawyer will tell you, the first (or the first significant) trial in the United States of America. Therefore, it is not the beginning of this great nation’s (sometimes way too “great”) litigation system. However, when I think about litigation that set a precedent for the way laws and legal proceedings affect society – and are affected by society – I think of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial,” which took place in Dayton Tennessee (July 10-21, 1925).

At the center of the trial, legally speaking, was John Thomas Scopes, a high school biology substitute teacher who was accused of violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act” by teaching evolution during a high school biology class. Tennessee teachers were required, by law, to not teach evolution or deny Intelligent Design (ID) – even though the required text book had a chapter on evolution. By most accounts, Scopes skipped the chapter, but he still provided an opportunity to challenge what some considered an unconstitutional Act. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that the trial became a carnival-like spectacle. There were vendors selling Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. Despite the summer heat, the crowd size eventually increased to the point that the whole thing had to be moved outside. Those who couldn’t make it to Tennessee and/or the court “room” could listen to the trial on the radio. And, everyone had an opinion. Of course, the legal opinions that mattered came from the lawyers.

“Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals…. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world.”

*

– quoted from William Jennings Bryan’s written summation to The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (as distributed to the press), July 1925

*

“My statement that there was there was no need to try this case further, and for the court to instruct that the defendant is guilty under the law was not made as a plea of guilty or an admission of guilt. We claim that the defendant is not guilty, but as the court has excluded any testimony, except as to the one issue as to whether he taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, and we cannot contradict that testimony, there is no logical thing to come except that the jury find a verdict that we may carry to the higher court, purely as a matter of proper procedure. We do not think it is fair to the court or counsel on the other side to waste a lot of time when we know this is the inevitable result and probably the best result for the case. I think that is all right?”

*

– quoted from Clarence Darrow’s “bench statement” just before the jury’s verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

William Jennings Bryan – who was known as “The Great Commoner” and “The Boy Orator” – represented the state of Tennessee and, therefore, the idea that man was created by (the Abrahamic) God and had no relation to “other” primates. By 1925, when the trial occurred, Mr. Bryan had severed the country as a litigator; a member of the  U.S. House of Representatives (from Nebraska’s 1st district); and as the 41st U. S. Secretary of State (serving under President Woodrow Wilson). He had also, unsuccessfully, run for president on three different occasions. He was adored by some, abhorred by some, and was nothing short of polarizing. [As a side note, William Jennings Bryan died five days after the verdict came in of the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”]

Then there was Clarence Darrow, for the defense.

Clarence Darrow was prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and had just (the previous year) wrapped up the very public “Leopold and Loeb murder” trial. He was considered a witty, sophisticated country lawyer, who even had the audacity to put the state’s attorney (William Jennings Bryan) on the witness stand. In 1925, Clarence Darrow was already establishing his reputation as a brilliant criminal defense lawyer who fought for the underdog. Just as was the case when he represented Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, his motivation for representing John Scopes wasn’t about whether or not his client broke the law. It wasn’t even, as he pointed out in his summation, whether or not the court would find his client guilty. No, Clarence Darrow’s focus was ultimately about whether or not laws and punishments made sense. As he would illustrate in his later defense of the brothers Ossian Sweet and Henry Sweet (1926), as well as of Thomas Massie (1931), he was about the rule of law and “the law of love.”

“I do not believe in the law of hate. I may not be true to my ideals always, but I believe in the law of love, and I believe you can do nothing with hatred. I would like to see a time when man loves his fellow man, and forgets his color or his creed. We will never be civilized until that time comes.”

*

– quoted from the end of Clarence Darrow’s 7-hour closing argument in The People of Michigan v. Henry Sweet (the second of the “Sweet Trials, involving a defendant from the racially charged The People of Michigan v. Ossian Sweet et al.), May 11, 1926

Clarence Darrow’s “law of love” is the same “moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene” that William Jennings Bryan cited and, ironically, it speaks directly to the origin of Charles Darwin’s treatise on evolution. That is to say, it is related to how we are all connected and how our survival is based on “dependence of one being on another.” However, those early teachings – which actually predate Jesus – are not always practiced as they are preached. Similarly, evolution as it was debated in Tennessee in 1925 and at Oxford University in 1860, was not exactly what Darwin presented in 1859. In fact, the scientist never even used the word “evolution” in his first text. But, it didn’t take long for his argument to, ummm, evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective). The way Darwin approached the subject was partially responsible for why it changed and why it can still be such a hot topic.

Portions of the following, related to Charles Darwin, were originally posted on November 24, 2020.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

*

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin

The idea of evolution didn’t start with Charles Darwin. No, even the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) referenced earlier ideas (that predated his life) and contemplated an internal purpose (related to survival). Aristotle believed that this “internal purposiveness” existed in all living beings and could be passed down through generations. So, if the idea existed before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) was published on November 24,1859, why did Darwin’s work create such an uproar?

To get to the origins of Origins – or at least the controversy, chaos, and uproar around it, let’s go back to 1852, when Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist used the German term entwicklungsgeschichte” (“development history”), which had previously been used in relation to embryos and single cell organisms, to explain cosmic and biological changes in societies. Spencer would later write an essay coining the phrase “theory of evolution” – in relation to Darwin’s work. However, in the same year (1852) that Spencer wrote about cultures having “development history,” he also wrote an essay called “The Philosophy of Style” in which he promoted writing “to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort.” In other words, Spencer advocated writing to make the meaning plain and accessible.

I can’t say for sure how much Darwin himself was influenced by Spencer, but it is very clear that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species for non-specialists. In other words, he wrote it for the masses. And, as it was easily understood (and written by a then esteemed scientist), it became wildly discussed – in the parlors and in the public. The first big public debate occurred on June 30, 1860 during the British Science Association’s annual meeting at Oxford UniversityThe next big public debate started today, July 10, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee (USA). In both cases, what people remember is the way two very articulate men squared off around matters of faith and reason, and the moral and ethical implications of believing one origin story over the other.

As predicted by his lawyer, John Scopes was found guilty by the jury. The judge fined him $100 (the equivalent of about $1,670.26, as I post this today). As planned, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee (in 1926). All five of the defense’s constitutional points of appeal were rejected by the higher court. However, the verdict was overturned on a technicality: the $100 penalty required by the legislation was higher than what the state constitution said a judge could apply. Had the jury assigned the fine, it is possible that the case could have continued to the Supreme Court of the United States.

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

*

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

The fact that “The Scopes Monkey Trial” is related to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is tangentially related to why I think of it as a litigation “origin” story. More importantly, as the first United States trial to be nationally televised broadcasted on the radio, The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes set a precedent on how trials are covered by the press and how the public pays attention to such trials. The press was right there, in the court “room” and, therefore, it put the whole country in the jury box; hearing testimony in real time. It was the beginning of a national (even an international) court of public opinion that’s not restricted to the parlors and the streets. Instead, this expanded defacto jury also becomes a judging and legislating body that is quick to convert cases into real world applications (and vice versa). For example, the initial verdict in 1925, led to several state legislations debating anti-evolution legislation – most of which were rejected, but some of which were codified. While Tennessee’s “Butler Act” was rescinded September 1, 1967, there have been similar legal and pedagogical debates in the United States as recently as 2005 and 2007 (hello, Kansas – where evolution is still officially “an unproven theory”). The case also led to changes in science text books (across the country) and changes in the way in which students were taught – and not just about how they were taught biology.

Finally, as a textbook case on how the U. S. legal system could work, “The Scopes Monkey Trial” was/is a primer for how the constitution can be applied to day-to-day life and how that application can be defended… or rejected. It is a tried and true First Amendment case and, to me, is the origin story of how so many Americans view the legality of their constitutional rights, as well as how they understand their rights to challenge how the constitution is applied and the process by which they might exercise those rights. As so many states (including my own home state) codify things that I view as absolutely egregious (and unconstitutional) – and as SCOTUS shockingly overturns precedent – I see lots of opportunities for Scopes-like “tests.”

As soon as Texas created it’s “bounty hunter” abortion law, I said there’s going to be some Scope-like cases testing this. Within a matter of days, cases were filed. Just a couple of weeks ago, mere days after SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, a woman here in Texas was pulled over while driving in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. She was cited for not having at least one passenger. The woman, who is pregnant, cited the aforementioned Texas penal code and the SCOTUS decision as “proof” that she was driving lawfully. She was given a ticket, which means she gets her day in court. I don’t know anything else about this woman and I don’t know anything about her politics, but – whether her motivations are purely economic or whether they are more expansive – her case will put these matters to the test.

And, how ever, those cases are decided, the world will be watching… and discussing.

“Now, we came down here to offer evidence in this case and the court has held under the law that the evidence we had is not admissible, so all we can do is to take an exception and carry it to a higher court to see whether the evidence is admissible or not. As far as this case stands before the jury, the court has told you very plainly that if you think my client taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, you will find him guilty… and there is no dispute about the facts. Scopes did not go on the stand, because he could not deny the statements made by the boys. I do not know how you may feel, I am not especially interested in it, but this case and this law will never be decided until it gets to a higher court, and it cannot get to a higher court probably, very well, unless you bring in a verdict…. We cannot argue to you gentlemen under the instructions given by the court we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it.”

*

– quoted Clarence Darrow’s statement to the jury, just before the verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “Hays Code” playlist dated “March 31” on YouTube and “03302020” on Spotify]

The Law of Love

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (13:8, NIV)

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (5:14-15, KJV)

*

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

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– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

*

“I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

*

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

*

*

### Where Do We [Even] Begin? ###

FTWMI: Doing the Work May 16, 2022

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Victory in every situation

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