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For Those Who Missed It: Living “A (SAD) Wonderful Life” December 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday or otherwise, may have a favorite Christmas story or carol. These stories – which become such perennial favorites they are often turned into plays, ballets, musicals, and all manners of pageants – are full of not only the trappings and traditions of Christmas, but also the spirit. You may think the spirit of which I speak is the hope, the cheer, and the good tidings; but, one consistent element in these stories is grief, desolation, isolation, sadness – and yes, also SAD-ness.

The Greatest Gift was self-published by its author, Philip Van Doren Stern, in 1943 – exactly 100 years after Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. In fact, Stern (who was half Jewish) was partially inspired by the Dickens-classic. Although the story takes place at Christmastime and was initially sent out as Stern’s 1943 Christmas cards, the author intend the story to be universal. The following year the story was picked up by a two different magazines (including Good Housekeeping, which called it “The Man Who Was Never Born”) and a movie production company. By 1945, the original movie rights for The Greatest Gift had been sold to director and producer Frank Capra, who would change the title and tweak some of the details.

Current fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which premiered today in 1946, might be surprised to learn that the movie was not an instant success. The movie’s general release faced stiff competition from movies like Stairway to Heaven (released as A Matter of Life and Death in the UK) and Miracle on 34th Street – both of which shared elements of fatalism vs. free will, life vs. death, and hope vs. despair, as well as bumbling “angels” (in the former) and adorable children (in the latter). There was also drama behind the scenes and, ultimately, proceeds from the initial release barely covered the production cost. But, like A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured a protagonist who could have had SAD and who experienced a major shift because of spiritual intercession. Only, in the case of the movie, the spirit was actually an angel.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

In the movie, Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody (portrayed by Henry Travers) must convince 38-year old George Bailey (immortalized by Jimmy Stewart) that his life is “wonderful”… or, at least worth living. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Bailey has spent his life trying to help others, but a mistake – involving his good intentions and his own personal “Scrooge,” Mr. Potter (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who actually spent 20 years portraying “Scrooge”) – leads to criminal charges and the feeling that nothing he has ever done in his life makes a difference.

The truly ironic, and potentially tragic, part of George Bailey’s life is that he made a significant difference in his community. He saved more than one life and, on more than one occasion, gave up his savings to help others. He absolutely lived a life that was the embodiment of those last three siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human: the capacity to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the cultivation of a good heart (which is the ability to make friends); and generosity (the ability to give). Yet, in a moment of weakness, Bailey neglects to recognize his own power or potential. He has thoughts of self harm – one of the symptoms of SAD.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

“You see George; you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Real life is different from a novella by Dickens, a short story by Stern, or a movie by Capra; in part because there’s not a writer or director making sure the intervention happens. Also, not everything gets tied up at the end. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with SAD, it is important to take two big lessons from these fictional works: 1. You are not alone. 2. You can get help.

The ghosts in Dickens’s classic and the angel who gets his wings by helping out a good person are (literally) inspired symbols. They are the spirits or real people. (Sometimes they are even “strange” people, like in The Greatest Gift.) In real life, we are each other’s Christmas Past, Present, and Not Yet – just as we are each other’s guardian angels. We can show up for each other – and we must show up for each other. Real life is different in that sometimes the person that needs help has to ask for help (and/or the people around them have to notice what constitutes “a cry for help.”) In real life, happy endings don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.

“Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

– George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Please join me today (Monday, December 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner…
George Bailey: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

– quoted from It’s A Wonderful Life

### “Gotta love it… gotta live it… try to savor every moment” ~Anointed ###

Light in the Darkness (a Monday post practice post) December 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baha'i, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. 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.]

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

For many years, when it was time to set our personal intentions during the practice, I would reference something/someone related to the practice and/or something/someone related to current events. It didn’t matter if it was a local tragedy or something unfathomable on the other side of the planet; it made sense to me to offer a little kindness and compassion. Be it a man made or a natural disaster, it made sense to remember that no matter what I or the people around me were experiencing somewhere in there world there was someone who could benefit from our positive energy.

For a moment, we formed a cosmic “prayer circle” and many of you told me that that practice resonated with you. Some of you would even come up to me afterwards and say that you too had been thinking about the plight of someone that normally wouldn’t have crossed your mind. It wasn’t an excuse not to reach out a helping hand when we could. In fact, it was sometimes the opposite. It was a good reminder of hope and charity and, also, that we are all part of something more: a larger community than the one right in front of our noses.

But then the pandemic hit – and it didn’t make sense to offer our energy, condolences, thoughts, and prayers in the same way. It didn’t seem fair for me to highlight one person or one group of people when we were all directly affected. Sure, some people were still more affected than others. But who was I to say “look over here, look over there” when we were all suffering?

So, perhaps over the last 21 months the offering, the dedication, has felt a little more personal. Perhaps it was less of a reminder that we were all in this together, and more of a reminder that, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” Maybe you had to remind yourself to be more intentional about your energy. 

Either way, it was still an opportunity to extend a little bit of our hope, love, kindness, compassion, hope, and joy into the world. It was still a much needed moment… a moment to metaphorically stare into the light. Because Friedrich Nietzsche’s words are no less true when we flip them around. In fact, flipping them around highlights two parts of the yoga practice, as outlined by Patanjali: turning inward to study yourself and to focus on your own light.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

The following is an expanded version of a portion of a post related to the practice on December 13, 2020. Some class details and references have been updated.

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up was Chanukah, which starts at sunset each year on the 25th of Kislev. Last year (in 20210), the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlapped the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – and I noted that we were getting double the light. Of course, that might have implied that this year we would have less light.

But that’s not really how light works – and that’s not really how light celebrations work. If anything, this year’s celebration of Saint Lucy was an opportunity to highlight one person’s contribution during a challenging time, a dark period in history (if you will).

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

 

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

 

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. Prior to calendar reformation, it was celebrated on the shortest day of the year – meaning, the day surrounded by the most darkness.

The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. She is often depicted wearing a white robe or dress with a red sash, both the colors of which are symbols of her purity, piety, and her martyrdom. Being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

While I realize that posting two days in a row about the divine symbolism of numbers may lead to certain conclusions, let me be clear on two points. First, I like numbers and appreciate the science of equations (maybe as much or more than the average person), but I can’t really call myself a mathematician. Likewise, even though I often encounter numerical symbolism when I study religion and philosophy, I can’t say that I know very much about numerology or arithmomancy (also called arithmancy). All that said, when I keep hearing about certain things I perk up and pay attention. So, I’ve started getting curious about the number 9.

I was born on the 9th of a month, as were some of my favorite people; but I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with the number. It’s not 7; which has a lot of personal significance for me, is sometimes considered a symbol of humans, and is related to a lot of aspects of (and stories within) the Abrahamic religions as well as several energetic and/or spiritual systems.

It’s not eight, which is associated with infinity.

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

Sure, it’s the highest single digit natural, or cardinal, number. It also pops up a lot in relation to harshad (“joy bringer”) numbers like 18, 27, and 108. Of course, I remember that the holy month of Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. But I missed (or forgot) the fact that the Baháʼí Faith considers it a symbol of completion – so much so that it is incorporated into the faith’s name and sacred buildings. Similar reverence in relation to completion is found in Hinduism. In fact, four times a year there are periods of nine nights (and 10 days) that are devoted to Durga, the mother goddess, with each night dedicated to various manifestations of God as mother.

Sure, somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that the Buddha had nine virtues; that (in Christianity) there are nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit and nine “Choirs of Angels” (divided into three spheres of three); and that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed system. But I had forgotten, or not given much thought, to how the number nine pops up in prayer.

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that one of the prayers offered during some Jewish services actually comes with extra blessings on Rosh Hashanah – bringing the total blessings to nine. Neither had I contemplated the numerical significance of “the nine days” (Tisha HaYamim) of mourning preceding Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (the eleventh on the Hebrew calendar) and how that date marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 423 BCE and 70 CE, respectively). And, honestly, I didn’t know that other significant historical events and tragedies in Jewish history happened on that date – the ninth day of the eleventh month, which is eerily reflective of the tragedies and historical events associated with Schicksalstag (the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar).

There’s more… a lot more that I didn’t know. However, here’s a little more that I knew, but hadn’t really thought about: A novena is a nine-day (or nine-week) period of prayer within some Christian traditions.

The word “novena” is used to describe the period, the practice, and the prayer(s). It comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” and it is a period meant to parallel the time described in The Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14, NIV) when the twelve Apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” They did this, per Jesus’s instructions (and with a little guidance from some “angels”) in preparation of receiving gifts (or powers) from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as indicated above, the practice of praying (and even fasting) for nine days predates Christianity – some historians even track to the practice back to the Roman Empire (again, as it relates to mourning).

In a modern context, novenas are often used to request a Divine gift or as part of a larger ritual. They are often associated with Marian Feast Days – sometimes being recited in anticipation of a feast day and sometimes starting on the feast day. For example, some people started a novena on November 29th and completed it on December 8th. Others, started praying (a different novena, see below) on December 13th.

Western science has shown that there is power in prayer and meditation. Said power is also magnified when people gather together (even virtually) and/or engage in prayer and meditation at the same time. So, while you could pray a novena at any time (and it is believed that there is power in that practice), there is more power at certain times. That extra power comes from an exponential increase in energy going towards light (instead of darkness) when we all focus, concentrate, meditate together.

Kind of like when set our personal intentions and dedications towards the beginning of our āsana practice.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

 

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

 

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

 

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

 

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

– The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! I will once again offer two New Year’s Day practices on January 1st (2022). You can start the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. There will also be a reflective “First Friday Night Special” on January 7th. All times are Central Standard. Log-in details will be updated on the “Class Schedules” calendar

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

From Where Does Your Light Come? (the “missing” Sunday post) December 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, December 5th. 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.)

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

 

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

During the December “First Friday Night Special,” I mentioned that the light-related questions during this year’s Chanukah classes were prompts to get us thinking about our “field of possibilities” and then, on Saturday and Sunday, I revealed that the questions were partially inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s advice to the young office cadet and poet Franz Xaver Kappus. If you’ve followed along with the questions, it would be natural to expect that one of the questions would be, “Do you believe in miracles?” It’s an obvious connection when the connected to something like the Chanukah – which, according to the story is all about miracles.

There’s just one problem. Your answer, regardless of what it is, begs another question: “Why?” 

Why? Why? Why?

I could be like a three-year old, because all of your answers could lead to another question (albeit the same question), which all comes down to what you believe. The Chanukah story is full of a series of events that could be described or explained as miracles, serendipity, coincidences, and/or really good plot points. For those who believe in Abraham’s God, it doesn’t matter what you call the events, because “with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] For those who do not believe in God, well, anything is possible…but there’s probably a reasonable (and scientific) explanation. Either way, what you believe determines the probability of certain possibilities.

To be clear, this is not just about what you believe about miracles. This is also about what you believe about your light. Or, a better way to put it is that this is all about what you believe about yourself. Me asking you about the source of your light is really me asking about the source of your life. And what you believe matters, because what you believe bridges the gap between what you think about doing, achieving, and experience and what you actually do, achieve, and experience.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

 

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

 

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

 

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

There’s a moment that happens again and again in professional sports and sometimes in the performing arts. Sometimes it even happens when someone is walking across a stage after receiving their diploma. It’s a moment that happens when someone is doing their job – but it’s their dream job, one that many aspire but few achieve – and everybody’s watching. They’ve made mistakes, but they got up, brushed themselves off, and endeavored to win the game and/or take the audience’s breath away. Then they do! they succeed! And when they do, when they score – especially in a phenomenal way – or they receive a standing ovation, we witness a moment of faith. They’ll point a finger to the heavens or make some other gesture that signifies what they believe.

Whether it is a finger to the sky or prayer hands to the sky, it’s a moment that indicates an individual believes that the source of their life (and their light) is God. We may not witness that exact moment in other arenas, like when someone finishes a big project or lands a plum assignment. There may not be witnesses when a student aces a test or a parent gets their toddler to stop climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, but there may be a similar feeling. It’s that same surge of emotion that makes us do the happy dance (even if it’s just on the inside). It’s a combination of success and a feeling of gratitude. 

Of course, part of what I’m describing is a dopamine rush. It’s a feeling of greatness and it’s a heady sensation that we humans crave and chase. Here’s the thing, though: We can get that surge of feel-good brain chemicals without doing something at which we might fail. We can get it without taking any risk at all. In fact, to a certain degree, we can get if from watching other people take risks and win. We can get it from being part of a team… even if we’re the 12th man or 12th player.

So, why do some people take the risk? Why do some people do the things at which they might fail? Why do some people show up and shine (or show up and suck until they shine)? Why do some people give it all they’ve got, while others (just) watch?

It all comes back to what some one believes. Which brings us back to the Chanukah story.

Had some Jewish people not truly believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it’s possible that they would have started assimilating under Alexander the Great. Had Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that followed them not believed it’s probable that they would have become Hellenic Jews under King Antiochus. Had they not studied Torah or believed in the laws and commandments of God, it is possible that Matīṯyāhū would have broken the commandments and sacrificed to the idol – or maybe he would have just allowed the Hellenic Jew to do so in his stead.

Had the Maccabees not believed their history, their fate, and their destiny, perhaps they would have stayed in the wilderness and not taken on the mighty Greek army. Perhaps there would have been no battle cry. Maybe they would have fought and failed. Then, too, there’s always the possibility that they fought and won – despite the odds – and found that single vial of oil, but never considered using it because it wasn’t enough. Then, too, all these centuries later, if people didn’t believe we wouldn’t still be lighting the candles and telling an “impossible” story.

Take a moment, as we did on Sunday, and practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”). Put yourself in the shoes of the Maccabees. Consider how you might have felt and what you might have done given your current beliefs. How might the story be different simply because your beliefs might be different? Now, consider this week’s questions (see below) in that light. Consider how what is in your heart and mind determines your words, actions, and deeds.

“The Maccabees no doubt knew their options, yet decided to light the menorah in the most preferred way. This was done despite the fact that it entailed exhausting their entire supply of pure olive oil on the first day, leaving them with the probability of not being able to maintain the highest standard they so aspired to reach. But they decided to do their maximum with the resources they had, and let the Almighty take care of the rest.

 

There is a deep message here for us today. How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure, is failure by default. We can learn from the Maccabees that when there is a worthwhile goal to achieve, one should let go of immobilizing perfectionism, and instead capitalize on existing assets and do ones utmost under the circumstances.”

 

– quoted from the article “Give It All You’ve Got: The Maccabees taught us that immobilizing perfectionism leaves no room for God.” by Aliza Kramer (posted at Aish.com Dec 12, 2006)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Chanukah (Day 7-8) 2021”]

NOTE: All of the YouTube playlists (for Chanukah) contain extra videos after the practice music.

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

4. Friday: What’s at the edge of your light?

5. Saturday: How do you know brilliance? (this link will be updated)

6. Sunday: From where does your light come?

7. Monday: When do you feel free?

 

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, man, you’re down there.”

– “Tommy” (Kirk Acevedo) to “Vince” (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie Invincible

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th is International Volunteer Day. The 2021 theme was “Volunteer Now For Our Common Future. The Chanukah story is about people showing up and shining in a way that changed the future of their people. Remember: You too can make a difference!

### “Let me see [your] light / Give me something to live by” ~ Maccabeats  ###

 

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (the Tuesday post w/an extra Wednesday link & some Thursday notes) November 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, First Nations, Food, Gratitude, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Give thanks!

This is the post for Tuesday, November 23rd. There is a link at the end for a post related to November 24th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

 *

– Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1), KJV

For many people in the United States, this week is supposed to be about gratitude and if you were educated in (or around) the USA, you know at least one story about how the fourth Thursday of November came to be all about gratitude. There’s just one problem… Well, ok, there’s a lot of problems; however, today I just want to mention the fact that the story most of us were taught about the Pilgrims and the “Indians” was only part of the story: the part about gratitude. But, for a very long time we weren’t taught the part about greed.

Now, I know, I’m about to lose some of you – or maybe I’ve already lost you. But, if you stick with me for a moment, you might actually thank me.

Some wise person once said, “History is written by the victors.” We can spend a lot of time contemplating the many weird ways that manifests when it comes to the history of the USA in general, but it’s pretty clear cut when it comes to Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were the victors and, as many would not have survived 1621 without the aide of the First Nations people, they told a story of peaceful people fleeing religious persecution and then being saved by the kindness of strangers. It’s a “pretty” story –  a story for kids –  so it usually (and understandably) leaves out how very dire the situation was for the Pilgrims. However, that version also leaves out some pertinent facts about the identities of the people involved. Finally, it leaves out the fact that a day of thanksgiving is very common in a lot of cultures – especially religious cultures – and that other English settlers had already established an annual day of Thanksgiving in the “New World” long before the Pilgrims arrived.

Let’s start with that bit about “other English settlers.”

In 1619 – almost a year before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World – thirty-eight settlers sailed on the Margaret to what we now call Virginia. They traveled to an area of eight thousand established as Berkeley Hundred. The Virginia Company of London (also known as the London Company) issued the land grant and directed the settlers to establish a “yearly and perpetually kept” day of Thanksgiving as soon as they arrived. Which they did… a little over two years before the Pilgrims had their Thanksgiving. When the Powhatan people forced the remaining Berkeley Hundred settlers to move to the Jamestown (in March 1622), the settlers continued the tradition of giving thanks in/on a new land.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

 *

– Tehillim – Psalms (100:1-5), KJV

Speaking of “Pilgrims,” let’s get into that bit about identity.

Many of us were taught that the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England and arrived at “Plymouth Rock” on the Mayflower. So far as I know, that’s mostly true. What many of us were not taught, however, is that they wouldn’t have called themselves “Pilgrims” with a capital P. They were puritans, specifically “Brownists” or “Separatist Puritans” (not to be confused with capital P “Puritans”), who initially fled to Holland in the early 1600’s. This is an important note, because the settlers lived in Holland –  and established a relatively stable community in Holland – for over a decade before they decided to travel to the New World. People had different reasons for wanting to leave Holland. In fact, some of those reasons are the same reasons people today decide to immigrate to the USA. When they arrived at Plymouth Rock, however, they were not straight off the boat from England. Curiously, one of their reasons for leaving Holland was that the religious community was aging and the younger generation had started assimilating. In other words, the children of the adults who had fled religious persecution were more Dutch than English. 

One hundred, two people reportedly traveled from Holland to the New World on the Mayflower in the summer of 1620. About half of those people came from Leiden, Holland, but only about 27% of that original number were adult members of the separatist church. Two people died during the 65+ days journey and two people were born – one at sea and one at the shoreline. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two that died were not part of the congregation. Although one, probably both, of the two that were born were part of the congregation, their numbers wouldn’t have been included as “adults.” So, let’s say, against all odds, all 28 members of the Church survived the journey and participated in the thanksgiving prayer when landed was sighted on November 9, 1620. Either way, by the following month almost everyone was sick and good number (about half) would die during the first winter. 

So, think about this for a moment: Heading into the planting season, the less than 50 people remaining were weakened and unprepared for the upcoming winter. Truth be told, they were unprepared from the start. According to one of those on board the Mayflower, they “borrowed” corn and beans from the existing homes they found when they first came on shore. I say “borrowed” because their intention was to pay for the seeds they intended to plant – seeds they would not have had had they not stolen borrowed them. In other words, without those seeds it is unlikely they would have had anything to eat during the winter of 1621. We can say that they were ill and desperate. We can say that they had the best of intentions. But…

The settlers first direct contact with the people from whom the most likely stole was understandably not good – although that’s not usually part of the story. What is part of the story and what is probably true is that despite having some bad encounters, there were some First Nations leaders who were willing to help the settlers.

But then there’s the whole issue of who those First Nations people were. There were hundreds of tribes in the so-called New World when settlers arrived in the 1600’s. These First Nations included a variety of groups associated with the Wampanoa (or Wôpanâak), including the Nauset, Patuxet, and Pauquunaukit (or Pokanoket) – all of whom had encountered English settlers before the Pilgrims arrived and did not necessarily have favorable history with those settlers. Past experiences had taught the First Nations people that encounters with the English would result in loss, either through theft, violence, or illness. In fact, the Pilgrims settled on land that had previously belonged to people (the Patuxet) who died from an epidemic.

In the theory, the lone survivor of the infectious disease that wiped out the Patuxet was Tisquantum, who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Spain; taken to England in the early 1600’s; and then returned to his village in 1619 (after being “anglicized” and possibly baptized) – only to find his village decimated. Probably for a variety of reasons, he helped the Pilgrims survive. However, there is some discrepancy about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Some accounts say that the First Nations people were not initially/officially invited, but were welcomed once they arrived. Other accounts suggest the table was always blended.

Why are there different accounts? Because they were told by different people.

“There were 60 million American Indians in 1491. In the census, in 1910, there were 200,000. And a lot of that population loss is due to diseases: measles, smallpox, and so forth. For the colonizers who were greedy for Indian lands, there were two ways to get it: Either by killing people or by making them ‘non-Indians.’”

*

– P. Jane Hafen (Taos Pueblo), Professor Emirata of English, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a PBS “Unladylike 2020” interview about Zitkála-Šá

Click here for more about the author Zitkála-Šá.

*

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

At the end of Tuesday’s practices, I asked if people would rather be grateful or greedy. It’s a question for those of us living in a material world, but I also think it’s a great question because of the times in which we are living. It is so easy to view things we want as things we need and, in the process, lose sight of the things we have. We might even lose the opportunity to “get what we need,” because we are so focused on the things we want (and remember “we can’t always get what we want”). Sometimes, we’re so busy waiting for something to happen that we forget about what is happening, right here and right now.

During the 2015 Sukkot retreat, some of us started saying, “Don’t be greedy, be grateful.” First, it was a much needed reminder because the food was so amazing! Later, for me, it became a great little mantra when I found myself wanting more of something – whether that was more of my favorite treat, more yoga with a certain teacher, and/or more time with a special person in my life. Moving the focus from desire to appreciation changed my behavior around those specific elements, and also changed the way I interacted with all the other aspects of myself and my life. Turns out, that’s part of the practice. 

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali classifies attachment rooted in pleasure (which we refer to as attachment) and attachment rooted in pain (which we refer to as aversion) as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that are rooted in avidyā (“ignorance”) and lead to suffering. Part of that suffering comes from the fact that things and people change in ways that are not consistent with our desires and expectations. Another part of that suffering comes from the fact that we can spend so much time and energy focused on obtaining and achieving what we want and avoiding what we don’t want that our judgement becomes cloudy. We find ourselves, like the religious colonizers, acting in ways that are in direct opposition of our beliefs. In fact, we can get so greedy – so covetous, if you will – that we forget that laws that govern us. 

Religions (like all of the Abrahamic faiths) and philosophies (like Yoga and Buddhism) have laws, rules, and/or precepts related to stealing. We can look at these as guidelines that keep order within a society, but if we dig deeper we start to notice that they also keep order within an individual. For example, the Yoga Philosophy begins with an ethical component comprised of five yamas (“external restraints” or universal commandments) and five niyamas (internal “observations”). All ten are interconnected, but there is a direct connection between the third yama and the second niyama. The third yama is asteya (“non-stealing”) and the second niyama is santosha (“contentment”). We can easily see how being satisfied, even happy, with what we have curbs the urge to desire what belongs to someone else. It turns out, however, that accepting what we have with a sense of awe, wonder, and gratitude can also lead to happiness.

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

Modern research has shown again, and again, that giving thanks – or even trying to come up with something for which you are grateful – changes your brain chemistry and, over time, can elevate your baseline for happiness. Practicing gratitude is a game changer and an attitude changer. So, while there are certain times in the year that we’ve designated as a day of thanks, the truth is that we can benefit from practicing gratitude every day.

The 16th century rabbi Moshe ben Machir (or Moshe ben Yehudah haMachiri) is the author of Seder haYom, first published in 1598/1599. The title literally means Today’s Order and gives a detailed outline of how an observant Jew should move through the days of their life. The day starts with a prayer, a prayer of thanks. This prayer (“Modeh Ani” / “Modah Ani”) is very interesting on several different levels. First, it is described as the very first thing one does. Can you imagine saying, “Thank you” before doing anything else? Even before washing one’s hands or brushing one’s teeth, even before checking one’s phone (in a modern context).

Think for a moment about that old adage about waking up on the wrong side of the bed. That implies that there is a right or correct side of the bed. It’s all about how you start your day.

Now, imagine what happens if you start your day with gratitude.

Second interesting thing: This is not a generic thank you. It is specifically a thank you, to G-d, for keeping one’s soul safe and then returning it to one’s body. Here’s two more things to keep in mind. First, most Jewish prayers are said after one washes their hands. So this prayer is different in that it doesn’t use the name of G-d. Second, just like with a lot of sacred languages, Hebrew uses the same word(s) for spirit/soul as for breath. Hebrew is different from some other languages, however, in that it has specific words for spirit/soul/breath in the body (inhale) versus outside of the body (exhale). So this prayer is about being grateful for being given this day and this breath. It is an acknowledgement that this day, this present moment, is not promised. It is a gift. It is a gift, in the religious context, of faith – given with the belief that one will do something with the time they have been given.

Outside, of a religious context, starting the day by saying, “Thank you for this day. Thank you for the air I breathe…” is a reminder that this day and this breath are valuable and worthy of appreciation. That specific phrasing is courtesy of Jess, a person in the UK who uploads guided meditations on YouTube. I really appreciate their vocal tone and accent and find that, even after a few weeks of using the recording, the best parts of the practice have taken root. And, just like other things that take root, more gratitude blossoms from there. 

Try it. Even without the recording below. I bet if you say the first two, you’ll start to think of other things – even people – for which you are grateful. I feel pretty comfortable in betting you that if you consistently appreciate the things and people you have in your life, you will gain new appreciation of your life.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

*

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

*

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

Here’s Jess, bringing the gratitude…

 

Just a reminder that there was no class on Wednesday, November 24th, but I sent out substitute recordings related to this date-specific practice. I will also send out substitute recordings for Saturday. Classes will “re-zoom” on Sunday, November 28th.

 

### Thank You (for being you)! ###

Don’t Be Greedy; Be Grateful, redux (mostly the music w/*UPDATED* link) November 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Gratitude, Health, Music, Wisdom.
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“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

.

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 23rd) 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 “02072021 Santosha on the 7th”]

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.)

Click here for the blog post related to this practice (with links and notes related to November 24 and Thanksgiving).

“Logically, there is no reason why contentment should cause happiness. One might – if one had never experience it – reasonably suppose that an absence of desire would merely produce a dull, neutral mood, equally joyless and sorrowless. The fact that this is not so is a striking proof that intense happiness, the joy of Atman [the Soul], is always within us; that it can be released at any time by breaking down the barriers of desire and fear which we have built around it. How, otherwise, could we be so happy without any apparent reason?”

 

 

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (2:42), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

.

### Thank You! ###

Lagniappe (the Sunday post) November 22, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Food, Gratitude, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, November 21st. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.)

“277. The heart has its reasons, which reason doesn’t know;
we know this in a thousand things. I say that the heart—if
it works at it—naturally loves the universal being, and also
naturally loves itself; and it hardens itself against one or the
other as it chooses”

.

–  quoted from “Section 4: The routes to belief” in Pensées (Thoughts) by Blaise Pascal*

There’s a moment we probably all experienced at least once or twice as a child  – possibly even as an adult. It’s that moment when we lose something we thought or felt we had been promised. I think of it as the “fallen ice cream” moment. You know, that moment when you’re enjoying something – like your favorite ice cream cone on a hot day – and then a good majority of the ice cream falls and goes splat on the ground. Maybe it’s in the middle of an intersection or may there’s a dog that very “helpfully” starts cleaning it up.

Either way, that ice cream is gone.

Sometimes it’s even worse if the bottom falls out and it’s the last bit that you lose. Still, either way, for a moment, you forget all about the ice cream you had and/or have left. For a moment, all you’re thinking about is the loss. What’s even worse is if you were told it would fall if you didn’t stop licking on the one side; or if you were told you had to be careful of the bottom; or if you and your siblings had been told to stop horsing around. It’s worse, because that warning means that someone (usually you) are responsible for the inevitable consequences. So, then there’s some anger, blame, shame, and guilt, mixed in with the grief.

Sure, we can say it’s a kid’s grief over something inconsequential and sure we can say we’re going to get over it – and we do. However, for a moment, we’re only focused on the loss. And even after we finish the ice cream we still had left, we can feel like we missed out on something. There’s a hollowness; that too is grief.

Ever have that experience? Ever consider that that experience – an experience that can ruin your whole day – was all in your head? It’s true. I’m not saying that the thing didn’t happen. Whatever happened absolutely happened. The loss was real. The grief was real. Even the way you physically embodied that experience, the hollowness, was real. But the whole experience was based on the fact that you lost something you valued. In other words, the whole experience was based on the fact that you lost something you appreciated and something to which you had an attachment.

Consider how extreme that feeling can be. Not only that feeling you had as a child; consider that there is something (or someone) you have lost as an adult that left you with that same “if I just had more…” feeling. Wanting, desire, passion – which comes from the Latin word meaning “to suffer” – are part of life. Loss and the physical and emotional sensations associated with it are part of life. Philosophically, part of the Yoga practice is about opposites. So, as you think about that extreme reaction to unexpectedly losing something or someone, consider the opposite.

How do you feel when you unexpectedly receive something you value and appreciate?

“We picked up one excellent word—a word worth travelling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word—’lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish—so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know—he finishes the operation by saying—’Give me something for lagniappe.’

*

The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor—I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely.

*

When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans—and you say, ‘What, again?—no, I’ve had enough;’ the other party says, ‘But just this one time more—this is for lagniappe.’”

.

–  quoted from “Chapter XLIV. City Sights” in Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain

I grew up in and around the Gulf Coast, where you are just as likely to hear someone refer to “lagniappe” as you are to hear them refer to “baker’s dozen.” Lagniappe is a Louisiana French word for that little something extra a customer receives for free when they make a purchase. Think of a free beignet with your café au lait or hot chocolate; a little cookie beside your gelato; or a bundle of peppers from a roadside vegetable stand. Like so much of Louisiana’s culture, the word is a mixture of Spanish, French, and Quechua – an indigenous language found in Peru and parts of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. It’s a word, and practice, that you will find in other areas of the world that have been exposed to a similar mixture of cultures.

While lagniappe is often associated with hospitality, “a baker’s dozen” is whole-heartedly connected to commerce. In a modern context we think of it as 13, but at least one source marks it as 14. According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (2015) and other sources, the practice of adding an extra loaf (or two), to an order of a dozen dates back at least to the thirteenth century England. Some attribute the practice to the Assize of Bread and Ale, which regulated the price, weight, and quality of bread and beer. Some say that because homemade bread and rolls varied in size and weight, bakers would add a little extra in order to guarantee they were not selling below the standard. When John Camden Hotten published his 1864 edition of A dictionary of modern slang, cant, and vulgar words, he indicated that the bakers were incentivized to add that little extra because the penalties for underselling goods included fines, destruction of the baker’s oven, and being placed in the stocks (or pillory) and subjected to public humiliation.

However, in The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, Darra Goldstein notes that the original practice of adding a loaf (or two) to an order of a dozen, may actually be connected to “hucksters.” If you only know the word in a modern context, especially in the United States, then you may associate the word with someone who is out to trick you. However, the etymology of the word can be traced to medieval words meaning “to haggle” and vendors who either sold things door-to-door or from roadside stands. Hucksters of old not only haggle with their customers, they would also be quite loud and showy as they hawked their wares. (Yes, “hawker” is another term that is sometimes applied to this type of peddler.)

Some of these peddlers would water down ale or in other ways deflated the value, which  (combined with their showiness) is why the term became a pejorative. However, the original meaning of “huckster” was just someone who was trying to make a living by selling things – a job made harder by stall taxes and  things like the the Assize of Bread and Ale, which required hucksters to sell goods for the same price at which they purchased them. The law meant that they only way the hucksters, who were often woman, could make any money was if they had a little extra to sell. The bakers knew that they could sell more of their baked goods with the help of the hucksters and so they would throw in a loaf (or two) to give the hucksters a little advantage. Hence the reason why the extra was sometimes called “in-bread” or the “vantage loaf.” All in all, a mutually beneficial practice that kept the economy flowing.

Speaking of flowing…

For many years, I didn’t teach for about ten days each November because I was in Texas stage managing a production of the ballet The Nutcracker. I would typically have subs while I was gone and most of the people who came to the studio classes were regular attendees who had purchased packages. If you purchased a package of six, ten, or twelve you received a price break – meaning that if you based your calculations on the drop-in rate, you received an extra class or two (depending on the size of the package). So, one could think of the class with the sub as lagniappe. I often think of subs treating people to a little something extra because people get to experience different ways of sequencing; the opportunity to practice something I don’t often cue; and/or a different perspective on some aspect of the practice. All of those are, to me, like an extra donut hole – a sweet nothing!  

For the last two or three years, I’ve had these extra days to share the practice with the people with whom I love to share the practice! And, so, the question becomes: What will be the little something extra?

Or, more importantly, what will people appreciate?

Feel free to check out this post related to last year’s practice, if you want a little mo’ about the practice.

I mostly teach vinyāsa practices, which means there’s movement and an inclined series that often involves some variation of a push-up. But, I also teach with a lot alignment and breath cues, not to mention the theme. If you’re someone who is familiar with a “flowing” practice that is not taught with an alignment focus, the alignment cues can be a little something extra. If you are use to an Iyengar Yoga practice, where you may not encounter an inclined series very often, the vinyāsa can be like extra green chilis thrown in your bag. Of course, a lot of people don’t cue the breath unless they notice everyone is out of breath – so that can be the lagniappe. Then too, if you typically practice a seated meditation like vipassanā, where there is heightened focus on the breath and how it feels to breath, all the movement and poses are lagniappe.

Finally, there are my themes, which some people would say are just… extra.

“I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way.”

.

–  attributed to Voltaire*

November 21st is the considered the anniversary of the birth of the writer, philosopher, and historian Voltaire (whose nom de plume or “pen name” could be a class all unto its self). Born François-Marie Arouet, in 1694, this prominent figure from the Age of Enlightenment wrote in pretty much every form and about pretty much everything related to life – including science, religion, freedom of speech, love, social standings, and the hardships of life. While he wrote about tolerating others and their beliefs, his views were often couched in racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Just to be clear, he was an equal opportunist when it came to his opinions about how others were wrong and could (and did) use his witty to eloquently slam people who were perceived like him just as easily as people who were perceived as different.

His words (as evidenced by the ones I used here and in class) are often thought provoking, which can be a good place to start when putting together a class – if, you know, we leave out all his horrible views and actions and just focus on his words out of context. (But, to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it.) Voltaire had notoriously bad health and an autopsy revealed that had an enlarged prostate – which means he could be the entrée for a Movember theme. (To bad all the images of him are extremely clean shaven.)

In the end, I went back to that feeling of unexpected loss and how so much of what we feel – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically – is in our heads. One aspect of the Yoga Philosophy is how our thoughts disempower us and how we can use our minds (and the practice) to overcome the obstacles and ailments that arise with the obstacles. Similarly, Buddhism focuses on how we can end our suffering. Ultimately, it all comes down to perspective and how we think about what we are experiencing.

As we head into this week where so many will be giving thanks, take a moment to consider how you experience and express appreciation (sometimes without saying a word). Then consider how often your appreciation, and expression, show up as attachment or aversion – which Patanjali classifies as afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to suffering. Finally, take a moment to contemplate how much of your experience is controlled by your thoughts.

“A witty saying proves nothing.”

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–  quoted from Le dîner du comte de Boulainvilliers (The Dinner at Count Boulainvillier’s) by Voltaire (pub. 1728)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07072021 Bread & Chocolate”]

*Errata: During Sunday’s practice, I misattributed the first quote (see above) and it’s entirely possible that one of the other quotes attributed to Voltaire is actually someone else’s statement. My apologies. Hopefully you didn’t quote me.

*

### “If a picture paints a thousand words, /
Then why can’t I paint you?” ~B&C ###

The Power and Responsibility of Cultivating a Good Heart (the Wednesday post) November 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the post for Wednesday, November 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

“You can read about [other] countries in your books and when you grow up, many of you will visit them. Go there as friends and you will find friends to greet you.”

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“If we meet other people in a friendly way, they also become friendly.”

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– quoted from the November 1958 “Letter to the Children of India” by Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, signed Chacha Nehru

Some of the word’s and sentiments from Sunday’s class have really resonated with me this week. What has stuck the most are Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s lessons on friendship and, in particular, friendship that transcends the trivialities we often cycle as adults. Obviously, being an extrovert and (presumably) a parrot, I’m big on friendships and being in community – all of which I have found especially priceless throughout my lifetime of moving around and during the pandemic – and this is not the first time I’ve focused on friendship. Still, this week’s focus keeps coming back to friendship because Indian philosophies identify it is one of the siddhis (“powers” or “accomplishments”) unique to being human.

As you may recall, the philosophy of yoga is one of six major Indian philosophies or darśana in Sanskrit, which means “point of view” or “ways to see.” One of the other six philosophies is Sankhya (or Sāṁkhya), which is the one most closely related to Yoga. Sankhya is the oldest Indian philosophy and focuses on the way in which one thinks/reasons and understands purusha (“pure consciousness”) and prakriti (unmanifested, primordial “matter”), and how everything and everyone manifests/exists as a result of these two elements combining with the forces of three “energies” (gunas) inherent in matter.

Yoga and Sankhya are so closely related that certain philosophical question arise at all times: (Once you are aware of yourself, doing whatever you are doing) are you practicing yoga or sankhya? And is there a non-subjective way to measure, qualify, or quantify the degree to which you are doing one versus the other? For that matter, is there a non-subjective way to measure the interior movements of the heart and how practicing can shake us to our core?

In an 1881 British translation of Ishvara Krishna’s Sāṁkhya Kārikā, one of the earliest surviving texts from this foundational philosophy, eight “perfections (or means of acquiring perfection)” are translated as  “the proper use of reasoning, word or oral instruction, study or reading, the suppression of the three kinds of pain, acquisition of friends and liberality.” Similar to commentary for Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, it is noted that these achievements can also be “checks” as well as obstructions or hinderances – meaning that the ability to engage these “powers” is a sign of good and balanced vitality, but focusing only on achieving these goals can also become an obstacle to overall enlightenment and/or an end to all suffering. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, of the Himalayan Institute, combines the middle siddhis; refers to them as “the powers and privileges unique to humans;” and explains them as follows:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., “’knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge’”);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

We can debate whether or not humans are the only beings on the planet capable of these abilities, but I think our time is better spent considering the immense power of this siddhis… and the great responsibility that comes with these great powers.

“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and compassion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

As I mention on his birthday, the 14th Dalai Lama was selected as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet at 2 years old;  publicly presented at 4 years old; and assumed his spiritual leadership position at age 5. On November 17, 1950, at the age of 15, he assumed his full political duties. Think about all that power and responsibility… in the hands, head, and heart of a 15 year old! Then add in the fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had invaded Tibet at the end of 1949, just a few months before His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 15th birthday. And, sure, he hadn’t reached his majority – so there was a regent, his guardian Ngawang Sungrab Thutob, acting as the head of the Tibetan Government – but the Dalai Lama still carried the weight of the nation’s future.

Four years later, in November of 1954 the Dalai Lama was several months into a visit to China, during which he engaged in peace talks with Chairman Mao (Zedong) and other Chinese officials. Two years later, in November of 1956, the 21-year old holding the highest spiritual title in Tibetan Buddhism was visiting India in preparation for the Buddha’s 2,500th birthday celebration. He was forced to flee his homeland at the age of 23, but still continued to serve as the leader of his people. He still taught the lessons of the Buddha: that there is suffering and there is a way to end suffering.

As a refugee, the 14th Dalai Lama saw a need an opportunity to speak to the world. After several years traveling and teaching throughout, he made his first visit to the West. From September to November of 1973, he spoke in Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Austria. In those moments abroad, he spoke on things that would become a reoccurring theme in his teachings to the world, reoccurring themes in his gifts to the world: the purpose of life and matters of the heart.

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

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“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. The great changes that are taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”

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– quoted from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (December 10, 1989)

No matter who we are, where we come from, or what we believe (or don’t believe) I think we could all benefit from walking a mile (or more) in someone else’s shoes. Long before modern scientists started researching and recommending various forms of role playing to cultivate empathy and cope with trauma, ancient philosophies like Yoga and religions like Roman Catholicism prescribed self-study and contemplation, respectively. Both svādhyāya, the fourth internal “observation” in Yoga, and contemplation in Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, are practices that involve putting one’s self in the situations of historical and spiritually significant figures. The thing is, these figures were just people in their own times. We can consider them extraordinary people and we can say that they lived in extraordinary times. And they really did. But, also, they and their times were just extra ordinary – no more and no less extraordinary than our times will appear to people decades and eons in the future.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; when we consider their experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds; and when we consider all the things that lead them to think, say, and do the things they think, say, and do, we are doing the same work a method actor (or dancer) does to get into a role. Konstantin Stanislavski developed the physically grounded rehearsal process officially known as “The Method of Physical Action” and most commonly known as “The Method” or Method Acting. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the method and many of those misconceptions stem from disagreements between Lee Strasberg (who was born Israel Lee Strassberg on November 17, 1901) and Stella Adler.  

Mr. Strasberg is remembered as the “father of method acting in America;” Ms. Adler has been called “the mother of modern acting;” and those misconceptions… they’re what happens when people get divorced and think that their former partner is the worst parent on the planet.

For example, some people think the method is all about a performer becoming so indistinguishable from their character that if their character is a jerk then they are a jerk to everyone around them – which is false (and super obnoxious, not to mention abusive). Some people don’t really understand the concept of “affective memory,” which is basically taping into the embodied experience one associates with a memory (that, it is recommended, is 7 or more years in the past) in order to deliver an authentic performance. People that misunderstand (and/or disapprove) of “affective memory” think it is all about trauma – which is false (and is a misunderstanding that can be dangerous).  As David Lee Strasberg has explained, “[The Method is about] behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” It’s about deep-rooted self-awareness and using that self-awareness to harness the embodied power of past experiences. It’s about sensation.

I often say, “sensation, that’s the information,” and emphasize that sensation is the way the mind-body-spirit communicates. In reality, sensation is the ultimate information. And the way we feel actually allows us to communicate with ourselves and with other people – even people who speak languages that are foreign to us. Sensation, the way something makes us feel, is the reason we respond to music, art, and dance. It’s part of the reason we get caught up in sports, as well as movies, plays, and TV shows in languages we don’t speak or read. It’s also why we respond to a smile.

What if all that it took to save our lives
Together was to rise up

What if I had your heart
What if you wore my scars
How would we break down (Break down)
What if I were you

What if I told your lies
What if you cried with my eyes
Could anyone keep us down
What if you were me
What if I were you

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– quoted from the song What If” by Five for Fighting

What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we belong to each other. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we all deserve love and freedom from suffering. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught that we’re all only human. What if – just imagine, if you can, what would happen if we were all taught to do the best we can and that others are going to do the best they can. Can you imagine? 

You may call me a dreamer, but can you imagine if we all showed up like children on their best days? That doesn’t mean that we don’t have bad days or that we don’t disagree or that we won’t be misunderstood. Neither does it mean that we suddenly, magically, all become the same on the outside. What it does mean is that life is better when we come together. What it does mean is that we are at our best when we recognize our (individual and collective) strengths and weakness and use that awareness to create balance and stability. It means we meet each day and we meet each other in a friendly way. We say, “Let’s play, let’s learn, let’s grow – together.”

I didn’t just make those things up. Those are all lessons that are in the world. They are all lessons I have been taught by people like Mother Teresa, the Buddha, Rag’n’Bone Man, my dharma buddy Stacy, John Lennon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nina Simone, Michael Franti, Patanjali, the “Dolly Lama,” and the 14th Dalai Lama (just to name a few).

Can you imagine if we were all taught such things?

“One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there to simply make you more clever, make you more ingenious. Sometimes it even seems as if those who are not highly educated, those who are less sophisticated in terms of their educational training, are more innocent and more honest. Even though our society does not emphasize this, the most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our intelligence and knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama quoted from “Chapter 3 – Training the Mind for Happiness” in The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M. D.

 

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: There’s a message on the YouTube playlist that is not available on Spotify, so I substituted a prayer. You can find the message here.

“So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart – a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others.

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– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Dylan B. Raines left a lovely comment related to the Dalai Lama on the music post for this practice. You can find out what Dylan’s contemplating by clicking here.

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

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“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

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– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

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NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on Wednesday, November 24th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

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### Suhrit-prapti ###

For Those Who Missed It: This is one way you can hear me SINGING BOUT MY STUFF (a slightly expanded repost) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Lorraine Hansberry, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Ntozake Shange, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tantra, Texas, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Over the last few days, my brother and I have engaged in a multi-medium discussion about certain controversial current events. During one part of this discussion, he described the idea that certain agencies / people may use climatic (I mean) climactic events as an amplifier of other events. That thought put a slightly different spin on the following, most of which was previously posted on October 18, 2020. 

“Our minds and all that functions through our minds generate a continual stream of micro and macro activities through the complex of our non-stop brain. Our emotions are always active. We are constantly making choices, consciously and unconsciously. And – think about this – our “choices continue to make choices.” How’s that for a thought? But it’s pure truth. And because it’s truth, we need to find a way to evaluate the micro and macro impact of our thoughts, attitudes, belief patterns – the whole of our energetic personality and nature – as the energetic reflection of the landscape of our physical life.”

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– quoted from “What Can You Heal in Five Minutes” (from the 2014 Online Salon) by Caroline Myss

The way the world communicated (and was entertained) changed dramatically today in 1954 when Texas Instruments and the Regency Division of Industrial Development Engineering Associates (IDEA Inc.) introduced the Regency Model TR-1, the first commercial transistor radio, to markets in New York and Los Angeles. When the device first went on sale (on November 1st) it cost $49.95 – which was a lot of money back in the 1950’s – but almost 100,000 of the pocket radios were sold in the first year and a technology (as well as an entertainment) revolution had begun.

Prior to the “pocket-sized” TR-1, radios were mostly considered a piece of household furniture. They were essentially big dressers or medium sized jewelry boxes that housed circuitry centered around breakable vacuum tubes. The tubes used a lot of energy, took a long time to warm, and were incredibly fragile. There were “portable” tube radios, but they were about the size and weight of a lunchbox; were powered by several heavy, non-rechargeable batteries; and they didn’t even pretend to be shock resistant. So, few people invested in them. Instead, families huddled around the radio, waited for it to warm-up, and paid attention to the energy output (especially during the war).

No one really thought about listening (or even watching) something they whole family wasn’t going to hear (or see). Furthermore, no one (outside of the electronics industry) really thought about walking around with your personal choice of music, news, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment streaming out of our pockets 24/7. That possibility, that is our reality, became reality because of the introduction of transistors.

Like the old-fashioned vacuum tubes, transistors are devices used to amplify and switch (and also convert) electronic signals and electrical power. Unlike the tubes, transistors are made of semiconductor material which means that that they have an electrical conductivity value which falls between a metal conductor and an insulator (like glass). One of the main benefits to using semiconductor material in electronics is that its ability to conduct electrical current increases as it heats up (meaning its resistivity decreases), which is the opposite of metals. Semiconductor devices, like transistors, offer a lot of versatility and flexibility – especially when you want to pass current in more than one direction – and provided the radios with an “instant-on” capability. All of which allows people to conveniently and quickly share their stories.

“Our psyches are governed by archetypal patterns, containers of myths and symbols that continually feed our unconscious. Our health and well-being feeds off of the stories we tell ourselves, stories that are created, generated, and rooted in our myths. Every person I talk to tells me a story in some way about his or her life and that story inevitably contains at least one symbol or hints at one myth. As each of the participants of the Help Desk told me a bit about themselves, I listened for both the details they were sharing as well as any symbols or metaphors in their descriptions through which I could then identify an archetypal pattern. We can’t stop ourselves from revealing our archetypes. All of these systems that combine to make up each human life need to be understood in terms of how they speak to each other, how they participate in acts of creation, how they interact with the creative mechanisms of our psyche and soul, and how their sensitivities influence the development of physical illnesses. And further, how do we interact with this extraordinary system of life that is US when it comes to healing an illness?

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I view the realm of health and healing through this lens now. In fact, it’s more of a parallel reality in that the real power of who we are truly exists in the realm of energy, or our energy field. Our health is regulated by far more than chemicals and nutrition, as we know. But adding on knowledge about the chakras, for instance, is hardly enough to span the spectrum of all that we have come to discover about the depth and width of our interior selves. Speaking about “chakras”, for instance, represents a great deal more than energy dots laid over the physical anatomy. The recognition of our energy anatomy – of energy consciousness itself – represents an entirely different paradigm of how we need to consider the nature of our concept of power.”

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– quoted from “What Can You Heal in Five Minutes” (from the 2014 Online Salon) by Caroline Myss

The physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of style or tradition) is simultaneously physical-mental, emotional-energetic, and psychic-symbolic. In the same way we are not always aware of how are mind-body communicates with itself and ourselves, we are not always aware of how we are communicating with others. The practice, however, gives us the opportunity to start paying attention to not only how we communicate, but also why we communicate. Every part of our being has a story to tell (and a method to tell it); every part of our story is connected to someone else’s story; and they way the stories are told (or not) determines how we think of the story, the storyteller, and the other players.

Consider, for instance, the story of the transistor radio. If you didn’t know the significance of today and someone mentioned transistor radios, your first thought might not be Texas Instruments or IDEA. Instead, your first thought might be SONY. Because not long after Texas Instruments and IDEA went on to new innovations, a Japanese company rebranded itself and (in 1957) introduced the TR-63, a smaller and cheaper transition radio that conveniently preceded with a global “music” mania. And that mania, is not only the stuff of musical legends, it’s the stuff that makes up the story.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Ntozake Shange. Born today in 1948, she was an award winning playwright and novelist who changed her name to the Zulu words meaning “she comes with her own things” and “who walks like a lion.” The beginning of her story predates the transistor radio, but it is a definite element in her stories. The remainder of this post is part of a 2018 Kiss My Asana offering, posted slightly before Ntozake passed. 

“somebody/anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/struggle/hard times”

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– The Lady in Brown with all the other Ladies from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf  by Ntozake Shange

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“somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street

but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff

like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin

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this is mine!

this aint yr stuff

now why don’t you put me back

& let me hang out in my own

Self”

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– The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: The danger in not telling your story isn’t only that it might not be told, it’s also that someone else might tell your story. Someone else might, to quote the choreopoem, run off with all of your stuff. And, if someone else tells your story, they may (at best) leave out your rhythm, your tone, and what is most important to you. At worse, however, someone else telling your story can objectify you or turn you into a caricature, a living breathing stereotype come to life on the page – or on the stage.

Up until recently, certain individuals had a hard time telling their own stories in a way that they could be heard, seen, and validated. They didn’t have the money, the prestige, or the influence. I say this knowing full well that certain marginalized groups (people of color, women – of almost any color, LGBTQI+, people who practice certain faiths, people who have been abused by people with power, the physically disabled, and the mentally disabled…just to name a few) still have a harder time getting their stories told, heard, seen, and validated than people who identify in a way that is not marginalized. Slowly but surely, that is changing. Still, as hard as it is, it would be harder were it not for people like Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange and works like Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Don’t pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts.”

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– from a speech to Readers Digest/United Negro Fund creative writing contest winners (May 1, 1964) by Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by real life events. It was also the first play written by a Black woman (and directed by a Black person) to appear on Broadway (1959). At some point during high school, I read excerpts from Lorraine Hansberry’s play What Use Are Flowers? and her autobiography To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Reading her words, I thought, “I could be that. I could write, I could act, and I could represent the world…as I see it.” I can only imagine where I would be if that idea – of being on stage while putting my work on stage – hadn’t been cemented in my mind. But, there it was, an inspiration not unlike the Langston Hughes poem that inspired the title of Hansberry’s most famous play. And, like a raisin in the sun, my dream kinda got deferred.

I auditioned for The Sunshine Boys during my first semester of college. The directors kept asking me to read with different people who were auditioning, which I took as a good sign. Unbeknownst to me, they weren’t considering me for a role on stage. Instead, the directors asked if I would be their assistant. I said yes and then found myself in the role of their stage manager… and their producer and their publicist. Fast forward 7 years and I was working as a professional stage manager for the writer/director who’s most famous play was the second Broadway play written by a Black woman: Ntozake Shange.

hey man

where are you goin wid alla my stuff?!

this is a woman’s trip & i need my stuff”

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– The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

In 1974, Shange and four other women started performing the choreopoems that would become for colored girls…. Seventeen years after Hansberry’s Broadway premiere, Shange’s work found its way to the Great White Way. (I say, [It] found its way,” but in truth, Ntozake is (to this day)  was a force of creative nature and moving across the country was the least of the things she did to shepherd her work.) Twenty years after she wrote and first started to perform the poems, Shange was in Houston directing a revival.

Ntozake Shange was not the first arts and entertainment legend with whom I worked – and she would not be the last – but holy cow did she leave an indelible impression. I worked with her twice and both times I was struck by her unwavering commitment to her own vision. While it is not unusual for a director to be strong, fierce, and artistically determined, she was one of the first woman (not to mention one of the first women of color) with whom I worked who was unapologetic about who she was and what she wanted. Also notable, she saw the world and, therefore, presented the world in a very different way from the mainstream. She was (and is) defiantly herself, singing her songs, dancing to her own rhythms, and – in doing so – giving us permission to do the same.

Everybody has a rhythm, a cadence, a pace of life and one big part of the physical practice of yoga is to find your rhythm and to move to it. Your breath sets your pace, but even within the pace there is room to (physically) harmonize. Find your pace, find you rhythm, and let the movement tell your story.


“I was missing something
something so important
something promised
a laying on of hands
fingers near my forehead
strong
cool
moving
making me whole
sense pure
all the gods coming into me
laying me open to myself
I was missing something
something promised
something free
a laying on of hands”

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– quoted from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

At the end of the choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the women come together, bringing their lines, the elements of their stories, and then repeating the final words, “I found god in myself / & I loved her  /I loved her fiercely.” Regardless of the production, this powerful moment brings all the women and all their stories – and all the colors of the rainbow – together. When I worked on that anniversary production in 1994, I was (as I think everyone is) on a path to/with God, but I hadn’t started on the yoga path. And, even though I had heard of yoga, I had no idea it was an eight-limb philosophy culminating in Samadhi, which is sometimes translated as “perfect meditation” and sometimes as “union with Divine.” So, I never considered why the rainbow might be enuf. Nor did I previously wonder if each woman’s personality is reflected in the color of her costume as well as in her poems.

Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, you may still have heard or seen the colors of the rainbow associated with seven points along the center of the body. In yoga and Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), the energy of the body flows through energy channels or rivers (nadis) which overlap to create energy wheels (chakras). There are more than seven energetic intersections in the body, but the three primary nadis overlap at seven points and these are associated with the colors of the rainbow, starting with red. The lower chakras are associated with tangible or physical elements of being, while the last three (sometimes four) are associated with the metaphysical.

The term metaphysics was first applied to the work of Aristotle in reference to topics sequentially appearing beyond discussions on the physical or “natural” world. It has come to mean anything beyond the physical or beyond our understanding of the physical. Even if you are only interested in hatha yoga (the physical practice regardless of style or tradition) stepping on the mat is a first step towards transcending the physical. It doesn’t matter if we practicing standing on our feet or sitting in a wheel chair, at some point the practice takes us beyond what is easily explained. At some point we may even stop trying to explain and just be, just breath…and feel what we feel – even when we’ve been told/taught that there’s nothing to feel.

“& this is for colored girls who have considered
suicide / but are movin to the ends of their own
rainbows”

.

– The Lady in Brown from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

Please join me today (Monday, October 18th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

A Good Lady

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

.

### “I found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely” (NS) ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

– from Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Dr. Oliver Sacks

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

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

 

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

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

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

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

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

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

 

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).

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###