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Are You Sleeping, Again? July 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Men, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This was originally posted on July 27, 2020. The class and playlist details have been updated.

“Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormezvous? Dormezvous? Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines! Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.”

 

– French nursery rhyme about a sleeping monk (“Brother John”)

 

“The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.”

 

– quoted from “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to go to sleep and wake up to find that all my work has been done. I especially feel that way when I am facing a massive amount of work, or a massive amount of mess. Yes, yes, sometimes I am ready to dig in, get to work, and do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes, I look forward to that feeling of accomplishment that comes with being able to check something off my list and see the direct results of my actions. But, sometimes, I want instant gratification. Sometimes, I don’t know where to begin; I just want it done.

The problem with that attitude, is that even when we are faced with a giant mess, there is something we a can (and must) do. We all have a role, a purpose, in cleaning up the giant mess. The only problem is that we may be overwhelmed by the mess. We may also be overwhelmed by the pressure to do something someone else has been charged to do. So, sometimes it is good to pause, breathe, and consider the one thing we can do? Even if it seems like a little inconsequential thing, once we identify it, we can consider how long we can do that thing and start doing it. We do “what we can, as much as we can, for as long as we can” – and we start to see change.

Or, we can go back to being a sleepyhead. Pretending that there’s not a mess or that it’s someone else’s responsibility to clean it up. The thing is things are still going to change. They just may or may not change in a way that is beneficial to us and our neighbors.

“And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance.”

 

 – Sūrah Al-Kahf (18:18)

Being “sleepy” or being a sleepyhead gets a bad rap in the United States. It has been used a derogatory nickname and it makes us think of someone who is lazy and unproductive, someone who won’t get the job done. We think of Brother John, from the nursery rhyme, who overslept when he was supposed to ring the bell for people to pray. We think of Rip Van Winkle or “Sleepy” from the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” We may even think about H. G. Wells’s The Sleeper Awakens. What we don’t think about is that when people in Naantali, Finland pick a “sleepyhead” today they usually pick someone whose work has benefited the city.

Today (July 27th) is National Sleepy Head Day in Finland. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages and includes the belief that the person who sleeps the latest on this day will be lazy and unproductive throughout the year. At one time, the last person asleep would be awakened by someone throwing water on them or by throwing them into the lake or sea. Now, in Naantali, the person honored as the official “sleepyhead” gets carried on a gurney during an early morning parade and (very ceremoniously) dumped in the sea. People then spend the whole day and evening with music, food, and boats on the water. The next year, they will be at the head of the parade as someone else is dumped in the water. (As Finland has been able to reopen most businesses and has reopened to leisure travelers from certain areas, festivities are just winding down as I post and people will (eventually) be heading to bed for a good night sleep.)

Even though National Sleep Head Day is a public celebration, it has its roots in a religious story, the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

“Until today, we still read about the story of these young men. These young men weren’t prophets of Allah. They weren’t messengers of Allah. They didn’t receive revelation. No angels came to them with an army. These were a group of young men, simply by the strength of their [faith in the six articles of faith] and [God-consciousness] Allah [glorified and exalted be He] gave them an amazing miracle.”

 

 – commentary on Sūrah Al-Kahf (19:9 – 26) quoted from “The People of the Cave”

God only knows how many sleepers there were or how long they slept – the Qur’an literally states that we can argue about the numbers, but only God knows – however, the basic story that is found in over 200 manuscripts, written in at least 9 medieval languages, dating between the 9th and 13 centuries is the same. Around 25 CE, a group of men, strangers bound only by their Christian faith, are faced with religious persecution or forced conversion under the rule of the Roman emperor Decius. They are given the opportunity to recant their faith and bow down to the Roman idols. Most versions of the story agree that even though they were wealthy and educated men, who would have retained some public power had they converted, the men decided they would rather give up all their worldly possessions and live in a cave than live under a pagan ruler. When the emperor realized that living in the cave wasn’t a deterrent, he ordered the cave sealed up.

The emperor died in 251 CE and things changed. Centuries passed, and more things changed. All the while, the sleepers slept. Oh, sure, people thought they were dead and they were the stuff of legends, but one day the cave was opened, the sun shone in, and they were awakened. The sleepers thought they had slept a day or half a day, but most version of the stories state that they had slept for 309 years. So much had changed that when one stepped out of the cave (to buy food for the group) he found that instead of living in a pagan land they were now living in a Christian land.

“I’m just here for Savasana.”

 

– t-shirts, hats, mugs, posters, etc.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 27th) at 12:00 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 

### No Zzzzzs ###

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

Using the “hook” to get unhooked (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is a “missing” post for Tuesday, July 20th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“You’re the only one knows me
And who doesn’t ignore
That my soul is weeping

 

I know I know I know
Part of me says let it go
Everything must have it seasons
Round and round it goes
And every day’s a one before
But this time this time

 

I’m gonna try anything that just feels better”

 

– quoted from the song “Just Feel Better” by Santana, featuring Steven Tyler

In my last “missing” post, I rifted on vedanā (“feeling,” “sensation,” “vibration”) – especially as it relates to music – for a variety of different reasons. First, “there’s a message in the music” and music is a great way to tell a story. Looking at South African President Nelson Mandela’s story through a musical lens, gives additional insight into the person who inspired so many people around the world. It gives insight into how a man burdened with so much found a way to “just feel better” than his circumstances and to keep moving/pushing forward. Additionally, putting ourselves in his shoes (or the shoes of someone like Emile Zola or Captain Alfred Dreyfus) is an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”).

The second reason is that I’ve always loved music and, even before I started practicing yoga and meditation, I had some understanding of the power of music on a physical-mental-emotional level. I have used music to get myself motivated, to shake myself out of funk, to stay focused, and even to settle into (and even savor) a particular kind of mood. So, I’ve always been fascinated by research into the benefits of music. Finally, I love a good “hook” and have found (as a teacher), that music can be a good tool to getting unhooked.

In musical terminology, a “hook” is a musical phrase that grabs the audience on every level – mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes it’s the lyrics (like “Free Nelson Mandela”); other times it’s an instrumental riff that may change the rhythm and/or the intensity of the chords. Phil Collins’s drum solo in the middle of “In the Air Tonight” is a classic example of an instrumental hook. The hook in Coldplay’s “Fix You” combines an instrumental hook (when the music swells and the electric guitar kicks in with an escalating riff) with a lyrical hook that the audience has been primed to sing-a-long.

Take a moment to notice something. Notice that if you know any of the three songs I just mentioned, it doesn’t matter how long ago you last heard them, your mind immediately conjured up the hook(s) and you quite possibly felt a sensation that you associate with the song(s). Maybe, you even felt transported to an experience you had in the past related to the song. All of that is the power of the “hook” – which harnesses the power of the mind – and all of that is vedanā.

“Tears stream down your face
When you lose something, you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face and I
Tears stream down your face
I promise you, I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face and I

 

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

 

– quoted from the song “Fix You” by Coldplay

 

Born in Autlán, Jaslisco, Mexico today in 1947, Carlos Santana is definitely someone who understands the power of music. You could even call him “hook” royalty, because he most definitely understands the power of how a single moment in a song can keep people coming back again and again. He started busking in his teens and, along with other buskers, formed Carlos Santana’s Blues Band around 1966. The band, which originally included Santana plus David Brown (on bass guitar), Bob Livingston (on drums), Marcus Malone (on percussion), and Gregg Rolie (as lead vocalist and electric organist), was signed by Columbia Records after a few years on the San Francisco club circuit. By the time their first album was released in 1969, the band’s name had been shortened to “Santana;” there had been some personnel changes (Bob Livingston for artistic reasons and Marcus “the Magnificent” Malone* for legal reasons were out, replaced by Mike Shrieve and Michael Carabello, respectively); and the instrumentation had expanded (with the addition of Nicaraguan percussionist José Chepito Areas, guitarist and vocalist Neal Schon).

While the lineup has changed multiple times over the years, Santana and his band are known for psychedelic musical fusion that combines rock and jazz with blues and African and Latin orchestration. He has been listed as number 20 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists of all times and has received 10 Grammy awards, three Latin American Grammy awards, and have had 43.5 million certified albums sold in the United States and an estimated 100 million sold worldwide. He and the original band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 – right around the time a whole new generation was discovering the “black magic” that is Santana.

Released in 1999, Santana’s eighteenth studio album, Supernatural, is a chart-topping, record-breaking album of collaborations. The album reached number 1 in eleven countries (including multiple weeks on the United States – where it is a certified multi-platinum album); produced several hit singles; and won eight Grammy Awards – including Album of the Year and Best Rock Album; and three Latin American Grammy Awards (including Record of the Year). In fact, the album won so much in one night that when Sheryl Crow won for Best Female Rock Vocalist, she thanked Santana “for not being in this category.” The album has sold an estimated 30 million copies worldwide and features some incredible musical hooks – hooks that reinforce why vedanā is sometimes translated as “supernatural touch.”

“‘Some songs are just like tattoos for your brain…  you hear them and they’re affixed to you.’

 

The image of the tattoo is telling…. But looking beyond the literal change in the ubiquity of tattoos across generations, the metaphor Carlos chose, songs equaling ‘tattoos for your brain’ is telling. It reinforces the status of Carlos as a master of formulaic and “hooky” pop songs with highly memorable melodies.”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 9: Carlos Speaks: Interpretations and Rebounding Questions” in Carlos Santana: A Biography by Norman Weinstein

Like so many other people in the 60’s and 70’s, Carlos Santana practiced meditation under the guidance of a guru. He became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy in 1973, and received the name “Devadip” – which means “the lamp, light and eye of God.” That same year, Santana and the band collaborated with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra to produce an album of devotional (jazz fusion) music called Love, Devotion, Surrender. The album not only honored the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, it was also a tribute to John Coltrane. Later, Carlos Santana collaborated with Coltrane’s widow, the Alice Coltrane, who was herself a practitioner of yoga and meditation. Their album, Illuminations, mixed classic jazz with “free jazz” (an experimental type of improvisation) and East Indian music. By the early 1980’s Carlos Santana and his wife Deborah had ended their formal relationship with Sri Chinmoy, but the band’s music still reflects a focus on spirituality. Additionally, when he accepted his Grammy Awards in 2000, he spoke about using his platform to promote joy and said, “For me, that’s the most important thing, is to utilize music to bring harmony, equality, justice, beauty and grace upon this planet.” He also said, “The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”

“Live your life and just be yourself cause you’re somebody special cause somebody loves ya
Your life so just be yourself cause you’re somebody special cause somebody loves ya
Someone loves your life, life, hey hey I can see you shining shining I can see you shining With light light hey hey I can see you shining shining I can see you shining bright”

 

– quoted from the song “I Am Somebody” by Santana, featuring WILL.I.AM

There was a time (not too long ago) and a place (pretty much every place in the world) when people who did not fit certain standards were considered “less than.” Sometimes such people hidden away from society; sometimes they were subjected to medical experiments; and sometimes they were ostracized and institutionalized. And, if we’re being completely honest, there are places in the world, including countries in the “First World,” where those kinds of things still happen. The people who have historically been in danger of such foul treatment fall into a lot of different categories. However, the bottom line is that in mistreating them – even by just ignoring them and pretending like they were a “problem” that would go away – society negated their humanity and the fact that they were somebody, somebody special.

When we (as individuals and/or as a society) negate someone’s humanity – for any reason –, we not only forget that that someone is somebody, we forget that they are “somebody special cause someone loves [their] life.” We also forget that they have the ability to shine and to make the world a better place.

I mentioned that a lot of different people have been subjected to such foul behavior over the years. However, today my focus often turns to a very specific group, a special group of athletes, and the member of American “royalty” who had had “enough” – and who made it her personal mission to change the way certain members of our community were treated. Today, July 20th, is the anniversary of the Special Olympic Games. First held in 1968, in Soldiers Field in Chicago, Illinois, the Special Olympics organization sprang from the initiative of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who’s older sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability.

“But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”

 

– quoted from “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley ©1987

 

Normally, I reference both Santana and the history and mission of Special Olympics on July 20th. I also typically share a piece written by Emily Perl Kinglsey that some people appreciate, but that pushes some people’s buttons. I share Kingsley’s essay-poem, called “Welcome to Holland,” because I think it eloquently illustrates a person getting hooked and then getting unhooked. Furthermore, I think it brilliantly underscores the fact that when we get unhooked we can be more present, more fully present with ourselves and those we love.

 Since this class date fell on a Monday last year (and there was no playlist), I didn’t mention Santana – nor did I mention that the eldest Kennedy daughter was born during a pandemic or any of the other really tragic elements of her story. Neither did I mention that other Kennedy family members created laws, policies, and organizations that support the humanity and dignity of people with disabilities. I did mention, however, that Rosemary Kennedy’s favorite things included music and dancing. I don’t know who her favorite musicians were or what kind of dance she liked, but we can guess – based on the time period and the fact her older brothers often “waltzed her around the ballrooms.” That said, I can’t help but think that a girl who loved music and who loved to dance would have gotten “hooked” by the music of Santana.

“First of all, the music that people call Latin or Spanish is really African. So Black people need to get the credit for that.”

 

– Carlos Santana

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Click here (or above) for the 2020 blog post about Special Olympics.

 

As mentioned above, Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone was replaced just as Santana and the band were beginning to experience extreme success. Malone was convicted of manslaughter, served time in San Quentin State Prison and then ended up homeless. During the summer of 2016, he was involved in a bizarre accident that has left him in a care facility. In some ways, his life has been tragic. In other ways, he has experienced some immense beauty and magic. Twice in his life, those moments of immense beauty and magic involved Carlos Santana.

Reunited

### “Let there be light / Let there be joy / Let there be love /And understanding / Let there be peace / Throughout the land // Let’s work together” ~ Santana ###

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Pema Chödrön

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Nothing.

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

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

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

 

– Pema Chödrön

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Ernő Rubik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

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

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

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

 

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

The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

First Friday Night Special #9: “The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself from…” (a post practice post) July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #8 from July 2nd. This was a restorative practice with opportunities with a lot of stillness and silence.

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

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

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

“On June 7, [Medgar] Evers spoke at a rally in Jackson. The speech Evers gave was one of the most emotional of his career:

‘Freedom is never free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them….’

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2 – A Short but Heroic Life: The Jackson Movement” of The Assassination of Medgar Evers by Myra Ribeiro

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, this is the time of year when I my mind keeps thinking about Freedom, Liberation, and Independence. Since I was born in Texas, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life. And, even though I don’t always mention it around this time, I often think about what it must have been like for Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) and the other enslaved Mende, West Africans who revolted on the Amistad around July 1, 1839 – and how John Quincy Adams (then a 73-year old former president and, at the time an active member of the House of Representatives) helped them secure their freedom through the U. S. Courts system. I think about how Caeser Rodney, a Delaware delegate of the American Continental Congress and Brigadier General of Delaware Militia (just to name a few of his roles), rode two days in – across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams; enduring extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms; all while suffering from suffering from asthma and wearing a face mask to cover his cancer-ravage jaw – just to represent his constituents and “vote for independence” today in 1776. And, I know, he wasn’t specifically riding for me (or people like me), but that’s not the point.

My point in bringing him up every year is the same reason I think about (and want others to think about) why John Adams (who would go on to become president) thought people would be celebrating today, July 2nd, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” (according to a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776). It’s also why I talk about a descendant of slaves who was born today in 1908, given the name Thoroughgood Marshall, and grew up to become chief counsel for the NAACP and a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Finally, it’s why I’ve been known to reference Medgar Wiley Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was born today in 1952, worked as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP, and served in the United States Army during World War II – before he was assassinated because people objected to his efforts to overturn segregation and enforce voting rights for African Americans.

Within that last sentence is my ultimate point: Freedom, Liberation, and Independence require effort – effort that should be celebrated rather than taken for granted and/or forgotten. While I highlight the efforts that take place on a national, constitutional, and legal front, let us not forget that freed, liberation, and independence also have to be achieved on a personal front. And that too requires effort: physical, mental, emotional, and energetic effort.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In Yoga Sūtra 2.18, Patanjali breaks down the composition of the “objective world” – that which we can sense – and explains that “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. He goes on, in the subsequent sūtra, to further breakdown the range of the inherent forces that make up the world, thereby giving some explanation as to how one might understand (and even attempt to explain) the nature of things. However, in Yoga Sūtra 2.20 he throws a bit of a curveball – one he had already warned was coming: We can only see what our mind shows us.

In other words, we can only understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised when we are ready to understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised. Furthermore, as long as we are stuck between freedom and bondage, we will interact with others through that same paradigm. We will do things that create suffering and, therefore, create bondage. Here I am talking about physical and legal bondage as well as mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bondage. There are, after all, multiple ways to hold someone back or hold someone down. And, on a certain level, it doesn’t matter if that “someone” is our self or someone else. Ultimately, our belief in bondage goes hand-in-hand with our attachment to the things that cause suffering. Just as effort is required to break physical and legal shackles, effort is required to break mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual shackles.

Just a few years before I did my first yoga teacher training, I was in a situation where most of my yoga practice was through an online practice group and via Steve Ross’s Inhale. Yes, it’s had for even me to imagine myself getting up for a yoga class that was broadcast (on the Oxygen Network) at 5 or 6 AM, but that’s what I did off and on for about 6 months out of a year. I loved the practice so much that at one point I looked up his book. Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About is where I first heard two of my favorite elephant stories – although one is really, really horrible.’

According to the horrible story, circuses train elephants by shackling them when they are very young. The metal shackle is first attached to chain (maybe about 12 feet long) that is driven into the ground with a metal stake. You can imagine what happens if the young elephant manages to pull the stake up and make a run for it. After some years, the metal stake is replaced with a wooden stake. Then, the stake is removed but the chain remains. Eventually, the chain is removed and then, finally, the shackle may be removed. Despite no longer being physically tethered, the adult elephant has been conditioned to stay within a 12-foot radius – and so it does.

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

– quoted from The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7 and 1.11) by Thomas Byrom

What is true about the elephant is also true about human beings (and the nature of human beings): effort is required to shackle someone and effort is required to be free of the shackles. The effort and the shackles can be physical. They can, simultaneously and independently, also be mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. As an example, consider something that has been in the news pretty much since the tignon laws were passed in New Orleans in 1786: Black people’s hair.

Tignon Laws required women of color to wear head coverings in public so that, no matter how fair (in complexion), how “elegantly” dressed, and/or how (legal) free the woman might be she could be identified as someone who could – under the “right” circumstances – be bought and sold at will (just not her will), and thus could be treated accordingly. A similar law, established in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1776, prohibited women of color from wearing shoes – again, with the intention of subjugating the women. In both cases, the women the laws were intended to shackle turned the restrictions into fashion statements that extended beyond the statutes. They kept their spirits up and took back some of their power… but they were still marginalized.

As integration moved into the workplace, some American corporations created employee manuals which included acceptable and unacceptable hairstyles and/or blocked the advancement of certain people based on their hairstyles. While many were (and are) quick to say that the hairstyles in question were “unprofessional,” the hairstyles were (and are) consistently traditional ways to manage and style Black hair. By traditional, I mean that you would see these hairstyles in pre-colonial Africa. Equally important, these are hairstyles that could/can be achieved without harsh chemicals. In other words, they are natural….yet, they were deemed unnatural by people with different hair textures and types.

On July 21, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, upheld an earlier ruling in favor of Beverly Jenkins (in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance Inc.) – although they had previously restricted how far the ruling could be applied. Ms. Jenkins had sued her former employer (in Indianapolis) on the grounds that she had been denied “promotions and better assignments” and was ultimately terminated “‘because of her race, sex, black styles of hair and dress,’ in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C, 2000E et seq. and 42 U.S.C, 1981.” The basis of her lawsuit? She wore her hair in an afro.

Despite the aforementioned 1976 ruling, a New York court ruled against a woman who sued American Airlines in 1981, because (the court) decided that “an all-braided hairstyle is a different matter” than an afro, because it was an “artifice.” Strictly speaking in terms of word meanings, “artifice” is defined as “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.” Keep that definition in mind when you consider that the same New York woman who was told that she could not braid her natural hair and keep her job “even if [the hairstyle was] socioculturally associated with a particular race or nationality,” could use lye to straighten her hair (so it appeared a different texture) and then curl it (or even dye it) and still keep her job. She could do all of that even though it would result in a hairstyle “associated with a particular race or nationality”… it just happened to have been the politically acceptable race.

There are similar cases over the last forty years, including situations with school children and even student athletes who have been allowed to wear their natural hairstyles one week and then told they had to cut their hair – or not compete – another week. On July 3, 2019, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.

“Back in 1964, a hotel manager named James Brock dumped hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool that Black protesters had dived into as a form of protest against segregation, leaving the swimmers with chemical burns. In 2018, a white man demanded that a Black woman show her ID to swim at a private community pool in North Carolina, despite there being no official rules at the time stating that she needed to show any form of identification to enter the area. When she rightfully refused, he called the police.”

– quoted from the July 30, 2020 InStyle article entitled, “Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel on Her Haircare Routine and Why More Black Women Should Get in the Pool” by Kayla Greaves

Recently, as in today/Friday, it was announced that swimming caps designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics. This was decided by FINA (Fédération Internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation), the Switzerland-based governing body, who said (a) that the caps – designed in conjunction with an Olympic athlete – “[did not follow] the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Now, if you don’t see a problem with this situation, I don’t blame you; however, I would encourage you to consider – visualize even – the makeup of the people making the decision and the makeup of the people being affected by the decision. Consider, also, the governing body’s “best knowledge” doesn’t really include a lot of Black bodies. Alice Dearing, the Olympian who worked with Soul Cap, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event. Ever.

Two-time Olympian Enith Brigitha, born on Curacao, swam for the Netherlands in the 1970’s and became the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games). She also set five short course records and won a silver medal and two additional bronze medals at the World Championships (and some say she would have won an Olympic gold were it not for circumstances beyond her control). She was swimming during a time when, in America at least, de-segregated pools was still a new concept, and not one that was evenly enforced. She was also competing at a time when no one else looked her in the pools where she was competing. In pictures, her hair is cut short. If you look at a picture of her with her peers, all fresh from the pool, some of the other young ladies also have short hair; however, like today, the majority swam with ponytails or pigtails.

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith became the first African-American woman to score in a NCAA final and the first to be a first-team Division I All-American. In 1999, Alison Terry became the first Black woman to make a U.S. National Team when she qualified for the Pan American Games. In 2004, Puerto Rican-born Maritza Correla became the first African-American to represent the United States at the Olympics – she won a silver medal as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. That same year, a French swimmer named Malia Metella won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle – which was the highest individual Olympic placing for a Black female swimmer. Ten years later, at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, a Jamaican swimmer named Alia Atkinson became the first Black woman to win a swimming world title. Just a few months later, at the beginning of 2015, there was the first all African-American podium an NCAA swimming championship, when Division I athletes Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds placed first, second, and third (respectively) in the 100-yard freestyle. Simone Manuel would go on to become the first Black woman to win Olympic gold as a swimmer (2016), setting an Olympic and an American time record in the process. Since 2016, she has won three additional individual world championship titles and is planning to compete defend her title in Tokyo.

“‘It is kind of emotional as well… Being a swimmer in a predominantly white sport just exacerbates it in my mind so I am just hyper aware of everything. I am the only Black swimmer on the deck every day. That is something I have always noticed, but now it affects me. All those feelings you suppress as a kid.’

[Natalie] Hinds said there are situations that she sees all the time from people comparing he hai to a poodle, to specific comments about her race.”

– quoted from the September 1, 2020, Swimming World article entitled, “Natalie Hinds Discusses ‘Fighting to be Equal,’ Using Her Platform in Fireside Chat With Elizabeth Beisel” by Dan D’Addona, Swimming World Managing Editor

Natural hair, regardless of race or ethnicity, is classified by curl type – typically ranging from “straight” which would theoretically fall in a 0 or 1 category to 3 graduating types of 2, 3, and 4. So, there are 6 types that are visually recognizable as “wavy,” “curly,” and/or “kinky.” As mentioned above, Enith Brigitha wore her hair short. In 1988, Sybil Smith’s hair was relaxed (i.e., chemically straightened) and in most pictures it appears relatively short. That same is true of Malia Metella. Alison Terry’s hair appears to be 2 (B or C, but maybe 3A) and Maritza Correla’s hair appears to be type 3; meaning they could both (theoretically) pull their dry hair into a ponytail and when their hair is wet it would still hang around their shoulders. This same seems to be true for Alia Atkinson and Lia Neal.

Natalie Hinds appears to wear her hair natural, sometimes with braids, (and possibly has a 4A curl); but, in most of her public facing pictures she’s wearing her swim cap – and her hair is clearly pushing the limits of the cap. Simone Manuel sometimes wears her hair long, and has been featured in articles about natural hair care where she said (in 2020), “…I’m someone who genuinely feels that if you want to be successful in something, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And for me, part of that is my hair.” No shade to my hometown-sister – and I get that chlorine is harsh on hair – but I can’t helping wondering when one of her peers had to “sacrifice” their hair for their ambitions. I also can’t help but think of a dear, dear friend of mine, who is slightly older than me, and who once said that when she was growing up (here in the States) she didn’t realize having natural (unprocessed) hair was an option.

Even if we disregard all of the stereotypes about Black people and swimming that have been perpetuated over the years, the bottom line is that this is the bulk of FINA’s “knowledge” related to Black hair and Olympic swimmers. Take a moment to really notice that even as I have grouped the ladies and their hair, I’ve left out some significant facts pertaining to why their hair is so different – even within those groupings. Even more to the point, I’m willing to bet money that most of the nine athletes mentioned above use completely different hair products than the other aforementioned athletes.

“Intelligence is connected with the brain, but behind intelligence even stands the Purusha, the unit, where all different sensations and perceptions join and become one. The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Letting go of what binds us and restricts us requires effort. It often requires external as well as internal effort – although, more often than not, those two go hand-in-hand. However, we can’t begin the process without acknowledging our tethers: our shackles, our chains, and our metal or wooden stake. We have to recognize what is being done to us, what we are doing to ourselves, and what we are doing to others.

This can sound all theoretical and metaphorical, but one way to think about it is to just acknowledge where you are holding tension in your mind-body. What is limiting you physically? What mental and/or emotional limitations are in balance? Even if you don’t completely understand (or believe) the energetic and spiritual ramifications of those physical-mental-emotional blocks, take a moment to consider what freedom, liberation, and independence mean to you – and then go to your “Freedom Place” and feel those embodied qualities.

Just like people have “Happy Places” that we can visualize (or sometimes, remember), I think it’s a good idea to have a “Freedom Place.” Your Freedom Place might be your Happy Place. It might be a real place and/or a real memory. Of course, it could just be a feeling, a combination of sensations. No matter how you come to understand it, know that in your Freedom Place you can take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day, because you are:

  • Free of fear, doubt, anxiety, grief and anything else that shackles us (and others).
  • Liberated from the bondage of judgement and strong emotions or passions – which, remember, comes to us from the Latin by way of Old French and Middle English, from a word that means “suffer.”
  • Independent of responsibilities and burdens.

In your Freedom Place, you are carefree, but not careless. In your Freedom Place, there is no tension in your body or your mind and you recognize your possibilities. Of course, to feel this free we have change the condition of our hearts and minds – so that we change our understanding. To liberate ourselves from judgement (including self-recrimination), we must develop some insight into the attachments (shackles) that lead to suffering. Finally, being independent of our burdens requires us to lay our burdens down. When we lay our burdens down, we can either walk away from what no longer serves us – and maybe never served us – or we can choose to pick up our opportunities. Just so you know; opportunities are lighter than burdens. Furthermore, when we have a lighter load, we can share someone else’s load without feeling like it’s an imposition. When our load is light, we gratefully and joyful, can help others.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Even when we can’t name everything that holds us down and holds us back, even when we don’t find it particularly helpful to name things, we can come to the mat and start the process of releasing, relaxing, and breathing. Remember, breath is our ultimate (“pranic”) tool. We can use it to bring awareness to different areas in the body and then to release tension in those areas. We can use it to create space and then, also, to engage space. It can set our pace in a moving practice and allow us to stay centered and grounded in every practice. The way we breathe can affect our mood (and overall emotional state) in positive way or in a detrimental way. And, while the goal in yoga is always to take the deepest breaths you’ve taken all day, some practices cultivate a deeper breath right off the bat. One such practice is a Restorative Yoga practice.

You can think of Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga as 1st cousins – in that they resemble each other on outside, but the internal experience is different. There are a lot of times in a Yin Yoga practice when people can’t wait to get out of a pose (and there may be a lot of groaning and moaning as they come out). With Restorative Yoga, however, sometimes people want to stay in a pose a little longer – even when the pose is held for twice as long as you would hold a Yin Yoga pose. There also tend to be more sighs than groans (and less cursing of my name). Both practices can be really prop-heavy, but it is (in some ways) easier to practice restorative without the props. The practice we did for the July “First Friday Night Special” featured three of the most common Restorative Yoga poses, a very soft twist, and a super sweet variation I recently learned from Aprille Walker, of Yoga Ranger Studio. (Because, like you, I’ve been practicing online.) There’s also a lot of silence and stillness!

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “030521 Give Up, Let Go, Trustful Surrender” PLEASE NOTE: I recommend doing this practice in silence or using one of the first two tracks on the playlists. The first tracks are similar, but only YouTube has my original choice for the 2nd track.]

### “FREE YOUR MIND / AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW” ~ En Vogue ###

Needing to Move, a little or a lot (the Tuesday post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Some days or weeks when you are practicing, the mind will be calm and easily concentrated, and you will find yourself progressing fast. All of a sudden the progress will stop one day, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. Persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.30 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It happens to all of us, at one time or another: We hit a wall, an obstacle. In Yoga Sūtra 1.30, Patanjali names nine obstacles to the practice – which are really nine obstacles to anything: disease, mental inertia (or laziness), doubt, lack of enthusiasm (sometimes translated as carelessness, lethargy or sloth, clinging to sense cravings, false understanding, an inability to reach the goal of concentration, and an inability to maintain the goal. These nine obstacles coincide with four physical-mental experiences. Naming these obstacles (and the arising experiences), when we experience them, can be helpful in helping us (as Marcus Aurelius instructed himself) find the way forward.

However, there is a tendency, for some of us, to really dig into WHY we hit the wall. We want to know the “why” so that we can avoid it in the future – and there is merit in that. Such inquiry can benefit us, can directly and indirectly benefit those around us, and can also benefit people we have never met and will never meet. However, sometimes, all that digging into what was can itself become an obstacle. Sometimes, all that inquiry can keep us from moving forward.

Before I move forward with this line of thinking, let me point out that we can sometimes get stuck because of our perceptions about moving forward. Moving forward looks different to different people and/or in different circumstances. For example, I just heard about a junior Olympian who, for a variety of reasons, had to take a break from training. Moving forward for her looks like getting back to training. On the flip side, if you (or someone you know) were stuck in a toxic, maybe even physical and/or mentally abusive relationship, moving forward looks like staying out of that relationship. It also means staying away from similarly toxic relationships – because, otherwise, you’re stuck in the same pattern and not moving forward at all. Even if the people in these scenarios are getting unstuck at the same time, the way they move forward is going to look different.

So, clearly, to move forward we have to move. Right? Well…. Yes, and no.

Even before we get to the no; let’s talk about the yes. The human mind-body is designed to “flow” or move. Not only is the basic construction of the mind-body conducive to moving, one of its primary systems, the lymphatic system, functions through movement. The lymphatic system is part of the cardiovascular (or circulatory) and immune systems, and is also connected to the digestive system. It plays a crucial part in our overall health and requires muscular movement (contraction and release) in order to function.

Movement serves as the pump that moves lymphatic fluid through the lymph nodes strategically located throughout the body. The lymphatic fluid brings in the cells that kill abnormal cells and foreign substances (which cause disease); can re-circulate protein cells; washes away dead cells and debris; and carries that (liquid) waste to the kidneys so that it can be flushed out of the body. The lymphatic system also helps the body to absorb (nutritional) fat and removes excess liquid from the body, in order to prevent inflammation that can lead to disease. The very act of breathing facilitates the movement of the lymph. But, it moves it in a limited fashion; which means that, when someone is unable to move their muscles on their own, having externally provided manipulation/stimulation can be helpful (and that can occur in a lot of different ways).

So, yes, the human mind-body needs to move. The question is, on any given day, how much movement do you need? And how do you know what kind of movement you need? My friend and fellow yoga teacher Sandra Razieli once said that sometimes she starts moving and if she feels better she keeps going. On the flip side, if the movement she’s doing doesn’t make her feel better, even a little bit, she changes what she’s doing. (I identify Sandra as a “fellow yoga teacher,” but honestly she’s a movement facilitator and has a knowledge base of kinesiology and neurophysiology that exceeds a basic knowledge of āsana.) Sandra’s guideline is consistent with a similar one from Wade Imre Morissette, a Canadian yoga teacher and musician, who once said that if you finish your yoga practice and you don’t feel a little better than something went wrong.

“The nine obstacles described in the previous sutra rob the body of vitality, strength, stamina, and agility, and the mind of clarity and peace. The absence of these obstacles is the ground for joy. Their presence is the ground for pain, which in turn leads to four other debilitating conditions: mental agitation, unsteadiness in the limbs, disturbed inhalation, and disturbed exhalation.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

It makes sense that people who are, for the most part, in “the business of movement” would tell people to move. And, sometimes, you might come to a practice and be amazed that the teacher “magically” knows the kind of movement you needed to feel better. You might even be amazed when, a day or so later, you attend class with another instructor and they are “magically” leading a practice with similar elements. Of course, part of your amazement comes from (1) not considering that we all have mind-bodies that are subjected to similar external factors; (2) while there are a lot of different ways to access certain parts of the body, people in a similar region (who were trained in a similar style/tradition) are going to be most familiar with the same methods; and (3) certain things are needed in order to safe and mindfully access certain parts of the mind-body. People “in the business of movement” are also going to tell you that it’s important to be still, to not move – that’s why we have Śavāsana!

If you look at anything in nature, including your own mind-body, you will find evidence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is how nature finds balance, by moving between extreme states of imbalance. Things ebb and flow; we inhale and exhale; muscles contract (eccentrically and concentrically) and then release. Just like a motorized vehicle, we have an accelerator and a brake in the form of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight/flight/freeze response, is related to action. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with our ability to rest/digest/create, is the opposite reaction. They go hand-in-hand. We need one in order to have the other. And, sometimes, we find that we are not fully engaging in one because we are not fully engaging in the other. We are out of balance. We are stuck.

Again, when we are stuck, we have to figure out what is going to move us. Maybe it’s a really vigorous vinyasa practice or a ViniYoga practice (where there’s movement, but it’s not inherently “super sweaty. ”Maybe it’s a more static “Power Yoga” vinyasa practice. That said, what we need might be a Yin Yoga practice, a Restorative Yoga practice, or something in between those aforementioned practices (like an Iyengar Yoga practice). Or maybe what we need is to dance or walk, play catch with the kids, and/or do some somersaults – and it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. We may not always know what we need, but we know when we need something to move us forward.

“That man [my father], sitting on his plastic mat in 1970, was lonely. His search had brought him to a place he didn’t quite grasp, one that lacked the reassurance of a clearly traveled path in front of him. I have my own version of that loneliness. I, too, am searching for something transformative. While I do have a yoga teacher, we have never lived in the same city. While I do practice where yoga is more widely accepted, I do so from within a paralyzed body. I do not know where the work is going, or even what is possible. But, while the work may be solitary, the impetus comes from loving the world, from wanting to join it. I wonder if he knew this, too.”

 

– quoted from “Part Three: Yoga, Bodies, and Baby Boys – 12. Taking My Legs Wide” of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Which, brings me back to yoga – or, really, any group activity (even on Zoom) – where you can tap into the collective momentum of the community. Taking a class on Zoom, YouTube, or any other virtual platform is not the same as taking a class in person. However, it can have similar advantages: there’s (still) a sense of community; someone else keeping track of time; someone keeping you accountable; and someone offering suggestions and (sometimes) “magically” knowing what you need. What happens, however, when you show up and the movement being suggested isn’t what you need?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that “This is your practice.” is not just something that we say. We say it because it’s true. Second, there are a lot of different ways to get into (and out of a pose); different ways to practice a pose/sequence; and most importantly, there’s more than one way to access a certain part of your mind-body. If your instructor/teacher doesn’t offer you options, ask for them! Finally, one of the advantages to a virtual practice, is that if you find that the movement isn’t exactly what you need in that moment, you can turn off your camera (if you’re live) and just take advantage of the other benefits to practicing in a community – and you can do so without the stigma or confusion that can sometimes occur when you do your own thing in a public setting.

“Self-nurturance is a key to taking care of the body. Resting when we need to rest, eating well, exercising, and giving the body pleasure all help to keep the first chakra happy. Massages, hot baths, good food, and pleasant exercise are all ways of nurturing ourselves and healing the mind/body split that results from the mind over matter paradigm. We cannot be integrated and whole if the two polarities are pitted against each other. Instead, through the body, we can have an experience of mind within matter.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2, Chakra One: Earth – The Body” of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 29th) at 12:00 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. 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.

 

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

 

Last year’s post on this date came at the practice from a slightly different perspective!

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

 

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

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

 

 
 

### You’ve Got To Move It, Move It! ###

 

Stonewall Was Not Televised (a “missing” post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, June 29th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. This post includes statistics that may be triggering for some.

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

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

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

– quoted from an originally unpublished introduction to Animal Farm by George Orwell

The Civil Rights Movement started long before the events of Sunday, March 7, 1965 and the continued long after the other two “Selma to Montgomery” marches that followed. Some would even say that it continues to this day. Similarly, the movement to uphold the civil rights of the LGBTQIA+ community didn’t start (or end) with an unannounced raid in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, June 28, 1969.

Unlike what happened in Selma, Alabama on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the events that took place in and around New York City’s Stonewall Inn 52 years ago today were not televised around the world. People did not see the brutality and, initially, they did not see the indomitable human spirit rising above the brutality. Bottom line, people did not see the humanity that some were trying to systematically erase and/or ignore. Therefore, it took a while for people to get it…. Although, some would say, there are still people who don’t get it. What people sometimes don’t get, is that regardless of which marginalized (or even non-marginalized) group you discuss, civil rights are human rights – and, last time I checked, we’re all human.

There are a lot of problems we could get into when it comes to how any one of us understands “humanity.” Like, what does the word even mean? I’m fond of Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language – because it’s so intentionally “American” and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – because it tends to be so comprehensive when it comes to the English language. That being said, Webster’s 1828 definition of “humanity” has religious overtones that could turn this into a very different conversation. It agrees with the OED, however, in the understanding that “humanity” relates to the human race and to “human beings collectively.” The OED (and other dictionaries) also point to “The fact or condition of being human; human nature.”

Think about that last bit for a moment. What are the conditions of being human? Are the conditions that you find acceptable for your existence being met for those around you? Who is around you?

According to the Williams Institute, a think tank at University of California, Los Angeles – Law, about 4.5% of American adults identified themselves as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. 29% of those within the general community are raising children. While the percentage of people who identify as white (58%) is lower than the percentage of white Americans in general, other racial demographics are pretty much a mirror of the general population stats (21% Latino/a and 12% Black). While people under the alphabet umbrella reside all over the United States, Black LGBTQIA+ are less likely to live in the South than the general Black populace.

When it comes to education, the statistics for LGBTQIA+ people are fairly close to those outside of the community. However, when it comes to people who have obtained a Bachelor’s degree or a post-graduate degree, the statistics flip and indicate a higher rate for people outside of the community. Prior to the pandemic, the percentages related to people who were unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, or earning an income below the poverty line were higher within the LGBTQIA+ community. This was especially true for Black and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) adults.

1.2M Black LGBTIA+ adults live in the United States, with 26% of them raising children and 56% having a low income household (which is, coincidentally, the same percentage of people who annually get tested for HIV). 26% of the Black LGBTQIA+ community has been diagnosed with depression; 79% reported experiencing verbal insults or abuse; and 60% reported being threatened with violence.

Additional studies conducted prior to the pandemic showed that people within the LGBTQIA+ community had as high or higher experiences of violence (in particular, intimate partner and/or sexual violence) than the general population. However, the “higher” statistics were related to women and People of Color – and, in most cases, people indicated that they did not always report the violence and/or assault. A higher percentage of transgender people (versus cis gender people, whose gender identity matches how they were assigned at birth) indicated they had experienced intimate partner and/or sexual violence. That last statistic goes up again when specifically related to Black transgender women, who have an average life expectancy of 35.

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for the previous 10 years, but the 2nd leading cause of death for youth – and GLBTQIA+ youth were ten times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. In fact, The Trevor Project (and this same report) indicated that almost half of the transgender population had attempted suicide, “many before age 25.”

Recent polls indicate that nearly 90% of Americans say they personally know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. However, GLADD, an American non-governmental media advocacy organization for the LGBTQIA+ community, published an online survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2015, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults (18 years and older) and pointed to a very different experience regarding transgender people. According to that survey, the number of people who said they knew (and/or worked with) someone who was transgender had doubled from 8% (in 2008) to 16%. More recent polls show that the numbers have gone up again – to 20%. What that means, however, is that the majority of Americans (polled), 80% only know about people who are trans because of something they see in the media. Additionally, what they see in the media (up until recently) was created by people who were not trans and who, given the statistics, may not have known anyone that was transgender when they started telling their story.

“The ways in which trans people have been represented have suggested that we’re mentally ill, that we’re that we won’t exist. And yet here we are. And we’ve always been here.”

– Laverne Cox, quoted in the trailer for her 2020 Netflix documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

I’ve said it before (from a Black and female perspective) and I’ll say it again (here, as an LGBTQIA+ ally): If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. But, who knows how they will tell it or what they will tell. For a long time, People of Color (especially Black and Indigenous men), women, and people of living with disability have had their stories told and controlled by people who were not them. Furthermore, those stories were told to/for an audience that was not them. Thankfully, that is changing. But just as we can’t unsee what we’ve already seen, we can’t automatically stop thinking what we’ve been taught to think. We have to see what is right in front of our eyes. That’s why representation matters – and that’s why it still matters when a prominent figure, in the sports world or anywhere else, comes out.

“Living a full, vibrant and healthy life is a priority for [Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council Andrea] Jenkins, especially since some authorities estimate that the average life expectancy for a transgender woman of color is 35, primarily because of violence.

Her most recent volume of poetry is titled The T is Not Silent as a way to signify that the T (transgender) of LGBT can no longer be overlooked.

 ‘The only way we can change that horrifying statistic is through understanding. I have been able to live my life out, but not all transgender people have that opportunity,’ she said. ‘I realize that my age is a blessing, and I’m thrilled and grateful for my relative longevity. I try to advocate and lift up the narrative of my community every opportunity I get.’”

– quoted from the November 2, 2018 Minnesota Good Age article “Zen master – Andrea Jenkins talks poetry and politics – and shares why she never loses hope.” By Julie Kendrick

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (but there is a Stonewall PRIDE playlist, which we used on Sunday and I have updated it so the “forbidden” music should now play).

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

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

### LOVE TO THOSE WHO ARE OUT & LOUD (and to those who are not so out and/or not so loud) ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

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

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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