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FTWMI: The S-word September 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 5781/2020. Class and date-related details have been updated. An extra quote and a recent video have also been embedded within the main text.

“Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”

– quoted from “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin

For years, I avoided saying the words, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t that I never made a mistake or didn’t feel remorse about something I had said or done or even thought. Instead, I very deliberately, very intentionally, practiced expressing my remorse with other words. Because, despite the song and the old saying, “sorry” is a word I think it is far too easy for people to say.

We say we’re sorry when we accidentally bump into someone while walking or when we both reach for the same prop in a yoga class. We say “sorry” when we hit the wrong button on the elevator and the door closes on someone who was trying to catch it or when we don’t hold the door open for someone who has their hands full. We say “sorry” when we didn’t hear or understand something someone says and we say we’re sorry when we don’t want to do something that’s clearly not right for us to do. We use the same word for the little inconsequential stuff as for the really big stuff and we do this despite the fact that we have so many other words; words that in some cases are much more appropriate for a situation. (Say hello, “excuse me” and “pardon me.”)

I apologize. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll do better next time.
Please forgive me. I was wrong. Please give me a second chance.
Pardon me. I regret what I did/said. My bad.
Excuse me. Please accept my regrets. Mea culpa.

Earlier in the New Year (that started this past Sunday at sunset), I mentioned that words are one of our super powers – and by that I mean they are one of the siddhis (or “powers”) unique to being human according to Indian philosophy. In fact, the process of asking and/or offering forgiveness is something that utilizes all six (6) of the powers unique to being human.

First, there is uha (“knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge”). In a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness,” Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield refers to the act of forgiveness as a “a deep process of the heart, which requires a person to process and honor ”the betrayal of yourself or others, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the fear.” I’ll add to that the need to process and honor the love, expectation, and disappointment that are usually involved in the situation. In order to reach the point where we can truly ask and/or offer forgiveness we have to understand the situation and the underlying emotions. The absolute worst “apologies” ever – and I put that in quotes, because they really aren’t apologies – are conditional and redirect action towards those who have been harmed. For instance, when people say something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended, but…” and/or “I apologize to anyone I may have offended,” they aren’t actually apologizing. The act of asking for and/or offering forgiveness is similar to the act of expressing gratitude: the more specific one can be, the more genuine the act – and this requires truly understanding the situation.

The second “power unique to being human” is shabda (“word”) and it is our ability to not only form a sound, but also to assign meaning that sound; depict that sound and meaning visually; to remember the sound, meaning, and visual depiction and to convey that meaning to others. I think it is obvious how this power comes into play when we are talking about forgiveness and repentance. However, for the record, let me reiterate that the words we use matter because of how we use them! (Also, this is one of those powers where one could say that this is a power other beings in the animal kingdom share with being human. And while this is true, humans have the ability to deliberately and intentionally hone this ability. Consider, also, the power of the written word. A handwritten apology is akin to a love letter.)

Adhyayana is the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend” and it is directly tied to the first “power unique to being human.” This analytical ability not only allows us to turn inward and gain an understanding of our own intentions (as well as the intentions of others), it also means we can dig deep inside of ourselves and gain a clear understanding of what we are feeling. We can’t always understand how other people are feeling, but we can take a moment to cultivate empathy by considering how we would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. This third power also gives us the ability to understand why one person’s actions, words, and thoughts can hurt us in a way it is hard to get past, while another person’s actions, words, and thoughts feel inconsequential. Finally, it gives us the ability to predict the cause and effect of our thoughts, words, and deeds – which means we have the capacity to not hurt someone and/or to stop making the same mistake over and over again.

“It’s a deep work of the heart that purifies and releases – and somehow permits us to love and be free.”

– quoted from a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness” by Jack Kornfield

 

The fourth “power unique to being human” is dukha-vighata-traya, which means we are born with the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (“physical-mental-spiritual suffering”) because we have the ability to understand the cause and the cure of what ails us. Forgiveness and repentance are powerful healing agents. They are a balm to the soul. Letting go of what no longer serves us (or only serves in dividing us) can feel like a cool breeze on a summer day. It’s a clean slate and is like hitting the reset button on a relationship.  Remember, as teachers like Jack Kornfield point out, forgiveness is for you: “It’s not for anyone else.”

The final two powers are suhrit-prapti (which is “cultivating a good heart; finding friends”) and dana (“generosity, the ability to give”). I put these two together not because they are less than the others, but because they – along with the fourth – can defy logic. They are, in every tradition, heart practices. The ability to cultivate friendship and emotionally invest in others carries with it the risk of being hurt. There is a reason why the word “passion,” which comes to us from Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English is more closely associated with love (and strong emotions) than with its original meaning “to suffer.” The ability to cultivate a good heart means that we open up to the wisdom that is part of the heart (according to Eastern philosophies) and also that we are capable of thinking beyond our own needs and desires. This last part – the ability to consider the needs and desires of others – is directly tied to our ability to give others what they need, including what is legally ours. We can spend all day considering what material possessions we have that could benefit others, but let us not forget the priceless value of what is in our own hearts. We are the only one who can offer our forgiveness.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

 

– Dr. Maya Angelou

Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance, return, turn,” is a big part of the High Holidays. On Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, there is even an absolution of vows (every vow). But remember, this is not about self flagellation (or even, really, about condemnation). In offering forgiveness to ourselves and others we are not required to forget or condone bad behavior. Neither are we required to stay in a bad situation. The practice does not require us to be perfect. The practice does, however, require us to open our hearts to the possibility of a new beginning.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

 

– quoted from “An Essay on Criticism” (line 525) by Alexander Pope

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 28th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “High Holidays: Sorry”]

The last song / A final word…

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.)

### BE DIVINE (WHEN YOU CAN) ###

Revisiting “The Other Plan B” (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following “missing” post for Tuesday, September 13th contains some information previously posted in two 2020 posts. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.]

“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart….”

 

– quoted from 1 Samuel – The Old Testament (17:32 NIV)

Today, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not the story I used to tell on September 13th, back when we were doing all of this in person. This is a story I started telling in 2020. It’s the story about what you do when things don’t go according to plan – or, you find out things will work just as you planned, but that that’s not the way you want things to work out. Have you had days like that?

Every once in a while it happens. I start off the day, working on a plan, and something in me says, “No, not that today.” So, I go to Plan B – and sometimes I get really into it, get really excited about it, and then something in me will say, “Naw, I don’t think so.” So, I either go back to the drawing board or… I fight it. Yes, it’s true; sometimes I don’t listen to that “still quiet voice.” Sometimes I think the big capital “I” (which is my ego) knows better than whatever is moving around in my heart. Sometimes, I get halfway through the day, or all the way to the end of the day, and think, “Oh, maybe that’s why I should have paid more attention and been more present.”

There are, however, times when I absolutely am open to the Spirit and open to the moment. There are times when I let go of my frustration at things not going the way I planned and I breathe…. That’s it. I take a breath and open to the moment. I still have a plan. In fact, it’s the best of all plans, That Other Plan B: Breathe – keep breathing; be open to the present; believe and be aware of “what it is you have to offer.” 

Today, I offer you a story about David. It’s actually two stories… about the same David – even though it is simultaneously the same story about two different Davids… with a little side note about two additional Davids. (You might especially appreciate that “confusing” statement if you were around for this past Saturday’s practice, but that’s a whole other story.) To clarify today’s offering(s), the first story and the first David is the one from the Bible, specifically the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. You remember that David?

People love the story of that David, because it is the story of the underdog. When faced with the towering figure of Goliath, David used his inner resources. He drew from the experience he had as a shepherd (rather than being preoccupied by the experience he didn’t have as a soldier). He focused on what he could do (not on what he was “trying” to do). His inner strength, courage, and wisdom were what he took into his reign as king. Yes, King David made mistakes – he was human; but his legacy is firmly established by the story of his victory against Goliath, his son Solomon (who is considered the ruler with the wisest heart in the history of the world), and the statue by Michelangelo.

This brings me to the “second” David and the second story: the story of Michelangelo’s David.

You may already be familiar with the basic premise of the story: On September 13, 1501, a 26-year old artist named Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue of the legendary David. That marble statue, unveiled in Florence, Italy on September 8, 1504, continues to captivate people to this very day. At various times throughout history, it has represented the epitome of the male form. It established Michelangelo as an artistic powerhouse, a giant in the art world. People started calling him “Il Divino” (“the divine one”). They praised, and even envied, his terribilitá – his ability to provoke intense emotion through his work. 

But, Michelangelo was not the original sculptor. In fact, when the piece was first commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral (the Operai), it was part of a series of large Old Testament statues intended for the Florence Cathedral. And, at that time, in the early 1400s, Michelangelo wasn’t even on the short list of those being considered. Granted, the main reason he wasn’t on the list was because he hadn’t been born yet, but that’s beside the point. The point being that Michelangelo, like David, wasn’t Plan A or Plan B.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

 

– Michelangelo

In 1408, at the same time that Nanni di Banco was commissioned to carve a marble statue of the prophet Isaiah, Donatello was commissioned to sculpt a marble statue of David. Both statues ended up abandoned in the workshop for about seven years. In 1410, Donatello made a statue of Joshua (an assistant to Moses) and may have been Agostino di Duccio’s mentor when the latter was commissioned, in 1463, to create Hercules. (Hercules is an odd choice for the series, yes, but there he is.) Donatello’s Joshua and Agostino’s Hercules were terracotta – and Donatello would create a statue of Saint John the Evangelist shortly after those terracotta pieces were finished. 

In between all that, around 1416, Donatello was asked to make some changes to his David – perhaps to make it more “generic” – and that altered David was placed at the Palazzo della Signoria, on top of an engraved pedestal. This clothed version of David is not, however, the primary David (statue) of today’s story. (Neither is it Donatello’s most famous depiction of David; the mostly-nude bronze he created in the 1440s, which was initially placed in the Palazzo Medici). 

“Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes Deus praestant victoria”

[Latin for “God provides victory for the country fighting strongly even against the most terrible enemy.”]

 

– Possibly the original (1416) engraving on the pedestal of Donatello’s marble statue of David (which currently reads “Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes dii praestant auxilium”*)

 

In 1464, Agostino accepted the commission for the second marble statue of David. The idea was to create the statue from several blocks of marble. However, in 1465, Agostino found a large block of marble in the Fantiscritti quarry in northern Tuscany and had that transported – by sea and river – to Florence. He didn’t get much done – just blocked out the shape of the legs, feet, torso, and some drapery – before Donatello’s death in December of 1466. At that point, Agostino lost the commission and yet another artist (possibly Antonio Gamberelli, a. k. a. Antonio Rossellino) was commissioned to finish the statue in 1476. However, it doesn’t seem like this second artist got very far. The marble, that may or may not have even had a gap to distinguish the two legs, was left abandoned, exposed to the elements for 26 years.

So much for Plans A and B.

Of course, that hunk of “badly blocked out” marble was expensive (and represented the additional expense and effort of its acquisition). So, in 1501, the Operai started looking for a master artist – someone with experience – to take on what they referred to as “Il Gigante” (“The Giant”). 

Yes, it is kind of ironic that the unfinished statue of the biblical underdog who took  on “the Giant” was referred to by officials of the Church as “The Giant.” Perhaps it is most fitting, then, that while several artistic giants, like Leonardo da Vinci, were considered; they did not receive the final commission. Instead, the commission went to the artistic equivalent of the underdog, a young Michelangelo.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

 

– Michelangelo

Consider what it would be like to be 26-year old Michelangelo, staring at a chunk of marble. To the outside observer, it is nothing. But he sees inside. Seeing inside takes effort and may be harder for some than for others, but the artist who is literate in their craft may not think much about the process: They just do what they do. 

To someone who is not an artist, the artistic process may seem magical and impossible. If a non-artist were to undertake such a task, without knowing what to look for and what steps to take, the process would be frustrating. The final effort might even be embarrassing. That’s not to say that one of us non-artists couldn’t do it, it just means that we would require more steps, maybe more training and more practice.

As neuroscientists Dr. Beau Lotto pointed out in a 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias,” we all have “a space of possibility” that, based on our history and experiences, establishes our logical next steps. Ergo, what the artist does can be very similar to you reading this post (or even me writing this post). Yes, it takes effort and energy; however, if you are a literate adult – who learned how to read as a child and doesn’t have a reading impairment – you don’t think back to the struggle of the learning process every time you read or write. Even though the yoga philosophy defines this exchange of words and meaning as one of the “powers unique to being human,” we don’t always think of our ability to communicate as anything more than a tool. It’s simply part of our landscape… like the rocks on the ground before David picked them up. Or, like the hunk of marble before Michelangelo got to it.  

Post Script: I didn’t love the way I wrapped up the 2022 Noon practice. Serendipitously, just before the evening practice started, some of us had a conversation about the movie Hidden Figures and it made me think of the acceptance speech Taraji P. Henson gave when the cast won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast (or Ensemble) in a Motion Picture. Her opening words (“Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen…”) could be the words anyone says before undertaking a big task. But, what she says about the women at the center of the movie – Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson – the giants on whose shoulders the cast stood, perfectly described the mindset of underdogs like David and Michelangelo:

“They didn’t complain. They focused on the solutions.”

 

– quoted from Taraji P. Henson’s speech during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, January 29, 2017 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

*NOTE: According to some historians, the current pedestal engraving for Donatello’s marble David is not the original and may have been changed for political/religious reasons. Interestingly, the most common English translation – “To those who fight heroically for the fatherland (or motherland) the gods provide help even against the most terrible foes” – may obfuscate an error (in the Latin) made by someone in the 16th century.

 

This past Thursday (September 8th) was the anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo’s David and it was also International Literacy Day. For the approximately 775 million people worldwide who are functionally illiterate and lack the basic reading and writing skills to manage daily living and employment tasks, my blog posts can be like Goliath. (I know, I know: Even when you are literate, these blog posts can be like Goliath – but, if you are literate, you are David and you have what it takes to conquer!) To read more about why International Literacy Day is important, you can click here and scroll to the end of my original “David” post or go directly to the official United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Literacy page.

### DREAM. BREATHE. DREAM. BREATHE. ###

Revisiting “The Other Plan B” (mostly the music) September 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Healing Stories, Life, Philosophy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart….”

 

– quoted from 1 Samuel – The Old Testament (17:32 NIV)

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 13th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

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.)

### 🎶 ###

FTWMI: Pace Yourself (abridged) September 12, 2022

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

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

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

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

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

Speaking of marathons…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

phidippides

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

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

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

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

 

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

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

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

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

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

& What We Know (the “missing” Saturday post) September 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is a “missing” post for Saturday, September 10th. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.]

“Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Earlier this year, during a practice for the Lunar New Year’s birthday celebration for all humans, I got to ask some of my dharma/yoga buddies what it means to be human. People had great answers: it means we’re part of a community; it means experiencing the dichotomy of being compassionate but also holding grudges; it means we’re imperfect; it means messiness. That last one tied back into a point someone made at the beginning: we make things up. 

Yes, well….

As someone who makes things up and loves reading and experiencing things that other humans make up, I have to admit that our penchant for making things up also makes things complicated, messy, and it leads to suffering. The world, as it turns out, is really simple. Each of us is a microcosm of the families and groups to which we belong, which are themselves microcosms of the macrocosm that is the world. So, as we learn in the Yoga Sūtras, if we really pay attention to ourselves – focus, concentrate, meditate on different aspects ourselves – we can learn more about ourselves and also more about the world. 

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.” 

 

– Martin Buber 

So we embrace ourselves and, along the way, we learn to embrace to others. Although it is really that simple, I can already hear someone sputtering, “But, but, what about…?” 

Yes, sure, as I’ve already acknowledged, life can be complicated and messy; but we make it that way. And despite all the nuances, which I have mentioned before, all the great religious and philosophical teachings say the same things: Love yourself and love all others. Sure, different religions, philosophies, and cultures have different ways of phrasing that. For instance, we could substitute the word “respect” for “love” and maintain the same intention. 

Likewise, all the philosophies, religions, and cultures have different ways of explaining how the Universe works. Ultimately, however, all those different ways can be summed up with love/respect and the Laws of Motion. So, Robert Fulgum’s idea that “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is not as hyperbolic as some might think. That’s why I sometimes say that there’s a Garth Brooks song for every situation. It’s also why I have said that everything you need to know about this practice (or about life) can be learned from a Mary Oliver poem.

“You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Born today in 1935, Mary Oliver grew up loving the outdoors, reading and writing poetry. She went to college, because that’s what girls from good families in Ohio did in the 50’s, but then she dropped out and made her way to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 800-acre estate in Austerliz, New York. She met Vincent’s sister and husband and decided to stay. Eventually, she fell in love with another woman that came to visit, Molly Malone Cook, and eventually they moved to Massachusetts together.

Mary Oliver wrote and published and wrote and published and did the things one does when they love the woods and all that is natural in the world. In fact, she once said “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.” Then, in 1983, after publishing several collections, she won the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. Suddenly, everyone wanted more of and from Mary Oliver. She once said she couldn’t remember doing any readings before the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry announcement was made, but then, suddenly, people were calling for her to do readings and book promotions.

“Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a

little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from

one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And too tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists 

of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Black Oaks” by Mary Oliver

Molly Malone Cook, her love and life partner, was also Mary Oliver’s official photographer, literary agent, and the person most editors and miscellaneous strangers would talk to when the called the Oliver-Cook household. Cook would not only answer the phone, she would go to (what I consider) hilarious extremes to convince whomever was on the phone that the next voice they heard was that of Mary Oliver – even though it was still Molly Malone Cook.

Now I’m not suggesting people go around pretending to be people they are not – even when they have permission to do so – but, there is a lesson in that story. Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we all accepted each other as we are; supported the ones we love as they are; allowed others in the world to get what they wanted/needed from us without compromising our own wants/needs, and let go of all the rest. 

Simply stated: Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we love/respected each other, helped each other out, and let go of all the rest.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

I am woefully behind in my Saturday posts and so I apologize to anyone who was following along with our Saturday study of the Yoga Sūtras. Especially considering that I am just jumping back in with this one and, on a certain level, it is missing context and continuity. That said, I have to smirk at myself when I think about how attached I’ve gotten to posting these. Especially since I was not blogging as much when we started this study in January of 2019 and, therefore, I didn’t provide a post for all of those original practices. In other words, there’s already a gap and context and continuity and yet… We keep figuring it out and moving forward.

Not just on Saturdays, but on any other day that I teach, there is the possibility that someone new will enter the practice. Maybe they are new to yoga; maybe they are new to me; or maybe they have been physically practicing for a long time and are just new to the philosophy. Also, as I have to continuously remind myself, life happens and even people who are “Saturday regulars” sometimes miss a practice. Finally, people don’t absorb and remember things the same way. All of which means that I always need to include a little context and continuity. I just don’t always have to repeat everything I’ve ever said and every lesson ever explored chapter and verse. It’s not that complicated. Like everything else, it can be quite simple. It can be quite simple, because you already know everything you need to know.

“One day you finally

Knew what you had to do, and

began”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver

Right at the beginning of the sūtras, specifically in Yoga Sūtras 1.3-1.4, Patanjali defined the practice by explaining what comes from the practice. It is a promise, of sorts. As we move through the practice – which is just like the hero’s journey – we find ourselves faced with obstacles (and their accompanying ailments), trials and tribulations, challenges and triumphs. We encounter some people who seem to magically assist us along the way; some people we need to forgive and some who need to forgive us; and we experience great loves and great loss. All along the way, there are temptations and boons – which can sometimes be one and the same. In fact, after detailed explanations about the benefits of the practice and warnings about what happens when we get too attached – even to the rewards and benefits – Patanjali reveals that the biggest boon of all awaits us… if we don’t get distracted. 

That biggest boon is megah samadhih, which is sometimes translated as “a cloud of virtue” or “a cloud of clarity.” Along with that cloud comes the end of ignorance and, therefore, the end of suffering. Additionally, there is infinite knowledge or wisdom. This could all be interpreted as having every bit of knowledge that has ever existed suddenly rushing into you or raining down on you. But, honestly, it’s not that overwhelming or complicated. Simply stated, with clarity comes pure understanding of how everything is connected and how everything works. 

Yoga Sūtra 4.29: prasankhyāne‘pyakusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāterdharmameghah samādhih

 

– “[The one] who remains undistracted even when he is in possession of all the psychic powers, achieves, as the result of perfect discernment, that samadhi which is called the ‘cloud of virtue’.”

[Alternate translation: “When there is no longer any interest even in omniscience, that discernment allows the samadhi, which brings an abundance of virtues like a rain cloud brings rain.”]

 

Yoga Sūtra 4.30: tatah kleśakarmanivŗttih

 

– “Thence comes cessation of ignorance, the cause of suffering, and freedom from the power of karma.”

Yoga Sūtra 4.31: Tadā sarvāranamalāpetasya jñānasyānantyājjñeyamalpam

 

– “Then, by the removal of those veils of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, and the realization that there is almost nothing to be known.”

[Alternate translation: “Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.”]

 

It is important to note that this shower of clarity, knowledge, and wisdom is not a case of Dunning-Kruger Effect (i.e., someone thinking they are an expert on something about which they know very little). Instead, one is aware of what they don’t know and there is a true understanding of the Universe (and everything in the Universe) as described in Yoga Sūtras 2.18 – 2.19. This is truly understanding – through direct experience – how everything is “composed of elements and senses and having the inherent properties of illumination, action, and stability” and, furthermore, recognizing that everything has a purpose. It is recognizing the simplicity (and simple beauty) of the Universe.

Having that clarity of mind is not confusing or conflating a drop of water with the whole ocean, but rather recognizing that the drop and the ocean share qualities, traits, and properties. It’s recognizing that these qualities, traits, and properties are consistent whether the item is flowing freely, frozen, or boiling and then evaporating. It is understanding that it’s all water (H2O) and then also understanding that other elements have similar states of manifestation. Finally, it is understanding how that plays out inside of us and all around us. (Especially, in the case of water, when we note that our physical forms are mostly water.)

“To man in his ordinary sense-consciousness, the universe seems full of secrets. There seems so infinitely much to be discovered and known. Every object is an invitation to study. He is overcome by a sense of his own ignorance. But, to the illumined yogi, the universe does not seem at all mysterious. It is said that, if you know clay, you know the nature of everything that is made of clay. So, if you know the Atman, you know the nature of everything in the universe. Then, all the painstaking researches of science seem like efforts of a child to empty the ocean with a spoon.”

 

– commentary quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (4:31), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 (NOTE: A child gets a lot of delight from that spoon and ocean combination. As we journey through life, we too can take delight at what we have at hand – especially since that spoon can be rinsed off and used for dessert. Stay curious and enjoy the best parts of your life!)

 

Saturday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05252022 Pratyahara II”]

 

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into

my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made my life something

particular, and real.”

 

– quoted from the poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver 

Mary Oliver shared a birth date with one of my favorite people. Click here to read how I remembered my maternal grandmother when death came.

### SO HUM, HAM SA ###

 

FTWMI: You and Your Heart Are Invited September 7, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Healing Stories, Health, Texas.
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For Those Who Missed It (you’re still invited): The following was originally posted in 2021. Class details and links have been revised.

 

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

 

Lebonese Maronite Christians Shaker Morris and Raheeja Dabaghi fled their home land because of religious persecution. At some point after the made their way to the Gulf Coast, in the United States, they anglicized their last name. Raheeja was mother was a seamstress so she taught her son how to sew, crochet, knit, and tat. She wanted to make sure he knew how to repair his own shirts, but her son was a curious child. A really curious child. So he figured out how to repair a lot of things – including the human heart.

Born today in 1908, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Dr. Michael DeBakey was an internationally renowned heart specialist. He developed a roller pump at the age of 23, while studying medicine at New Orleans’s Tulane University, that became a key part of the heart-lung machine. The machine is officially the Cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) pump – but is sometimes just referred to as “the pump.” Along with Dr. Denton Cooley, he was a pioneer in the development of artificial hearts and he revolutionized heart surgery so much that his own technique, the DeBakey Procedure, was performed on him when he was 97 years old. These are just some highlights and most of this was AFTER he served in the United States Army (and the United States Army Reserve) during World War II and after he helped develop Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units during the Korean War.

Dr. DeBakey practiced medicine until he died at 99. In fact, in his nineties, he was still traveling the world helping to establish hospitals in places like Baku, Azerbaijan. Around 2001 (seven years before he died), it was estimated that Dr. DeBakey had performed 60,000 operations and touched approximately 20,000 hearts. It’s safe to say, this was a man who knew a little something about hearts… a little something about what the heart needs… and a little bit about what the heart wants in the new year.

“The human heart yearns for peace and love and freedom. Peace heals, elevates, and invigorates the spirit. Peace represents the health of humanity. To achieve peace, we must enlist our highest moral instincts. We must pledge, in the deepest recesses of our hearts, to respect others as we wish to be respected and to use good reason, persuasion, and good will, and not resort to a war of words or arms to influence opinions and policies. To achieve peace will require a powerful will, scrupulous character, steadfast courage, dogged discipline, and a passionate devotion to the noblest human principles. But the rewards more than justify our unremitting effort, for peace permits each of us to move forward, unimpeded, to improve humanity’s lot.”

 

– Dr. Michael DeBakey (in 1998)

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09092020 Tolstoy’s Theory”] 

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). Donations to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

 

### Bah Dum – Bah Dum – Bah Dum ###

FTWMI: The Art of Moving Meditation September 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: A version of the following was originally posted in 2020. Links and class details have been added or updated.

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

– John Cage

Words are amazing! In fact, shabda, our ability to create and use words, is one of our siddhis or “abilities” described in Indian philosophy as “unique to being human.”  And, when you know where they come from, words (and the way we use them) can be really funny. Take the word zen, for instance. The word zen is a Japanese word that comes to us from Sanskrit by way of Chinese, from a word that means “meditation.” So, when we say that someone practices “Zen meditation” what we are really saying is that someone practices “Meditation meditation.”

It’s funny to think of it that way, but it is also true – not only of a Zen practice, but of all meditation practices. When we sit, or even when we practice a moving meditation, the mind focuses on something again and again and again; meaning, it keeps coming back to the object of focus. Similar to japa-ajapa, we repeat and repeat, repeat and remember, repeat and understand – in other words, we gain insight. Not coincidentally, the Sanskrit word dyana (“thought, meditation”), which is the source word for zen, comes from the Greek root meaning “to see, look.” So, when we look at something again, and again, and again – even looking, as Paulo Coehlo suggested, from different perspectives – we see things “in a special way” (which is just another way to say “insight”). Our understanding of the moment (and movement) is a matter of perspective.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

It’s like a road trip. The vehicle is moving but we are still inside the vehicle; the scenery is still, but appears to be moving. Everything merges and converges while we are still. Do you see where we’re going?

It’s OK if you don’t. This is kind of like that old joke where someone says, “I’m not lost. I know exactly where we are. We’re in the car.” Now, consider what happens if we could get out of the box or cage we’re in and become part of the scenery. Not walking necessarily, but riding. So that the scenery is simultaneously still and moving… but so are we. And, just like with a moving meditation, there is some part of us that always stays still.

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

– John Cage

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

Born today in 1928, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Robert Pirsig was a writer and philosopher whose way above average IQ was identified at an early age. While he ultimately served in the United States Army and  became a professor of creative writing, he is most well-known as the author of a fictionalized autobiography that centers around a road trip Pirsig took with his son Chris. The trip took them from Minneapolis to San Francisco. The book takes the reader along for the ride and also on a philosophical road trip, moving readers through a history of philosophy and an exploration of “quality” (an object of contemplation). While Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values received over one hundred rejection letters and no one expected it to have much of a shelf life, the book initially sold at least 5 million copies worldwide and has consistently appeared on best seller lists.

Pirsig served as vice-President of the Minnesota Zen Mediation Center and spent two additional years on its board of directors. But while he was familiar with motorcycles and Zen Buddhism (as well as electroshock therapy, which is also chronicled in the book), Robert Pirsig said that his seminal book shouldn’t be considered “factual” about either. The same can be said about his follow-up book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, which recounts a sailboat trip down the Hudson River. Lila picks up where the philosophical road trip left off and explores “quality” as Static or Dynamic and divides everything in the universe into four “static values” (inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual). His exploration about morals is also an exploration of perspective, and how perspectives change over time. Even though biographies indicate that a 1974 Guggenheim Fellowship “allowed” him to write the second book and the philosophical discourse into metaphysics is continuous, there is a seventeen-year gap between the books.

In the 17 years between his books, Pirsig divorced his first wife, married his second wife, lost his oldest son (who had been featured in the first book), and had a daughter. His son Christopher was killed in a mugging outside the San Francisco Zen Meditation Center. Pirsig would eventually explain that one of the reasons he and his second wife had their daughter Nell was because they believed she was a continuation of Chris’s “life pattern.” In other words, Nell was part of the same trip (metaphysically speaking, of course.)

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 6th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09062020 The Art of Moving Meditation”]

“The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don’t start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don’t start with psychiatrists. If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.”

– quoted from Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

### ZOOOOOOM ###

Still Dreaming the Heart’s Wildest Dream August 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Take a moment to consider how you deal with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice. You can consider it from your perspective as an individual and/or as part of a collective, a community… a republic. Either way you look at it, consider that your unique perspective – based on your past experiences – determines what you believe is a reasonable and rational way to deal with differences, imbalance, and/or injustice. Just to be clear: “past experiences” include everything you have felt, thought, said, done, and experienced around you. Past experiences make up your “mental impressions” (samskaras) – which, over time, can become vasanas, the “dwelling places” of our habits.

I was thinking about vasanas the other day when I heard Caroline Myss use the idea of living in a high rise as a metaphor for how we live in the world. The point she was making is that, if we live in the penthouse, we have a different understanding of the world and our circumstances than if we live on the first floor (or in the basement). Additionally, she talked about people not really caring about the problems people were having on other floors and she talked about perspective as it relates to the view outside, the vista. All of this made me think about how our perspectives determine how we resolve conflict.

Consider, if you will, that we “might be” in the habit of dealing with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice in ways that are not alleviating our suffering. I put “might be” in quotes, but let’s be real; if we look at some of the events that happened today in U. S. history (from 1862 to 1963 and beyond), we find a lot of suffering. Like a lot, a lot, of suffering. But, there’s not a whole lot of alleviation. We do, however, find dreams, hopes, promises, and possibilities.

As many of y’all know, I’m a big fan of “dwell[ing] in Possibility.” I sometimes wonder, however, at what point that idea becomes counterproductive. At what point do we have to pack up our baggage and move from unlimited possibilities to unlimited probability? At what point do we realize that moving means getting rid of some old, out-dated stuff that no longer serves us?

At what point do we recognize that the problems in the basement (and on the first floor) contribute to the problems in the penthouse – and vice versa? And, at what point do we recognize that we are all in the same dwelling place?

Better yet, at what point do we recognize that it’s time to move from dreams to reality? 

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

 

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 28th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08282021 The Heart’s Wildest Dream”]

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

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.)

 

### To Have Wild Dreams, We Have to Live Wild Dreams ###

Words That Saved Many (mostly the music) August 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, First Nations, Healing Stories, Music, One Hoop.
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Many blessings on National Navajo Code Talkers Day!

”When the war ended, other combatants were free to discuss their roles in the service and to receive recognition for their actions. But the Marines instructed us, the code talkers, to keep our accomplishments secret. We kept our own counsel, hiding our deeds from family, friends, and acquaintances. Our code was finally declassified in 1968, twenty-three years after the war’s end.

This book may be my story, bit it is written for all of these men.

May they and their loved ones walk in beauty.”

– quoted from the Dedication (“to the 420 World War II Navajo Marine code talkers”) in Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

My apologies for not posting the music before the practice. 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.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Musical Note: This is the remix that includes compositions by Pulitzer Prize winner Raven Chacon. With the exception of the seventeenth track and the final track, all the music on the playlist features musicians and/or groups recognized by the Native American Music Awards (NAMA), which awards “Nammy’s” for styles of music associated with Native Americans and First Nations and to nominees who are Native American or when at least one member in a group or band is from a State for Federally recognized tribe. Most of the songs feature people who have been inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame or have been awarded NAMA Lifetime Achievement Awards. Some songs simply won a Nammy (or two). To my knowledge, I only covered ten (maybe eleven) nations. I wanted to include “One World (We Are One)” – which is the result of a collaboration between Taboo, IllumiNative and Mag 7 – but the song was not available on Spotify.

”’I’m no hero,’ Chester Nez chuckles. ‘I just wanted to serve my country.’ I just wanted to serve my country. to appreciate that remark, you need to know a little modern Native American history. In Chester’s home state of New Mexico, Native Americans were still denied the vote when he volunteered as a Marine in World War II. Nevertheless, the military called upon Chester and fellow Navajos to devise a code that many analysts believe assured the United States’ defeat of Japan in the South Pacific.”

– quoted from the Prologue (by Judith Schiess Avila) to Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

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.)

### 🎶 ###

FTWMI: The Practice of Observing Where You Are (and keeping notes) August 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted August 10, 2020 (and re-posted with revisions in 2021). Class details and links have been updated for today’s practice.

“Every man is a valuable member of society, who by his observations, researches, and experiments, procures knowledge for men.”

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Insight, which can be viewed as “seeing something in a special way,” can be cultivated through observation. If you think about it in this way, then any knowledge and insight you can for yourself can also be useful to others. This is true when we observe anything in the world – including ourselves.

So, pick something. It could be your breath, it could be a certain way you’re feeling, it could be a sensation in or on your body, it could be a thought (or a series of thoughts) playing around your head, but pick one thing and then observe it. Observe it as you do “that 90-second thing.” Observe it as you walk on your way or move through your practice. Notice how things shift and change.

Of course, just the fact that you are bringing awareness to the something changes it and changes the way you move in relation to it. What if, however, you bring your awareness to your center? What if you observe how you move in relation to your center and then after a pose or a sequence of poses, you pause and observe the “something” that you picked at the beginning? This becomes a practice about cause and effect, and also a practice about orientation. The only question is: Where’s your center?

When you consider moving from you center, you have several from which you can choose. You can pick your physical center (top to bottom) which is your solar plexus, or your left to right physical center which is your spinal column. Alternately you could pick one of your energetic centers: heart chakra or the center axis defined in various traditions (which essentially corresponds to the area of your spine). Here we are consciously choosing a navigation point, but consider that even when we don’t consciously choose a center for observation or movement, these centers still serve as guiding points, constant lines of reference. When you pick one as your focus it becomes prime – and, just like a cornerstone, it gives you direction.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

The cornerstone for the Royal Observatory, Greenwich was laid today (August 10th) in 1675. It is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (0:00:00) and the Prime Meridian Line which is the primary constant dividing East and West. King Charles II established the observatory as well as the position of the Astronomer Royal who the king declared was “to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.”

The observatory has been used throughout its history as a basis for the measurement of timekeeping and mapping. At one time, the Prime Meridian was marked by a metal strip (of various materials), but has been marked with a green laser shining north across London since December 16, 1999. The first Astronomer Royal was John Flamsteed, whose observations and calculations where communicated to scientists like Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually used comet observations and calculations of Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (who succeeded Flamsteed as Royal Astronomer) in order to prove certain theories in Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Although we may think of the Prime Meridian as 0⁰ 00’00, it is actually slightly East of center (0⁰ 00’00.417), which requires an adjustment on other lines of navigation in order to provide accurate geographical coordination. Discrepancies aside, even the original line would have been incredibly helpful to Ferdinand Magellan, who set sail today (August 10th) in 1519, with the intention of circumnavigating the globe. Magellan named the Pacific Ocean “peaceful sea” – even though it wasn’t peaceful or a sea – and the Strait of Magellan is named for him, as he used it to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. After three years, a mutiny, a ship wreck, a ship defection, and a change of course for one ship, one of Magellan’s original ships completed the journey around the world. That ship, the Victoria, contained 18 of the original 270 seamen. Magellan, however, was not included in that number who completed the journey.  He was killed in the Philippines (by a poisoned arrow) after involving himself in an indigenous land dispute.

“The profession of astronomy is limited for men, and must necessarily, under the most favourable circumstances, be still more so for women. At the present time there are less than half a dozen women in England who are following astronomy as a profession, and it is improbable that there will ever be employment for more than twenty, either at Greenwich or elsewhere.”

– Isabella Jane Clemes, one of four “Lady Computers” who started working at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890*

As you are navigating through your practice, you have the opportunity to explore your body and mind, as well as keep a catalog of all you encounter. In this way, your body and mind are like the Smithsonian Institution, which houses an observatory, 4 research centers, a publishing house, a national library, 16 museums, and the National Zoo. It is the largest museum, education, and research complex and it was established legislation the United States Congress passed today (August 10th) in 1846.

James Smithson was a British scientist who spent his life traveling and gathering information. He never married and indicated that if his nephew and heir died childless then Smithson’s estate should be used to establish an institution for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

At the Smithsonian, you can find thousands of items related to nautical and astronomical observation, time keeping, and Magellan – including a number of navigation devices named for Magellan. Consider, for a moment, what you will find when you explore your own mind-body. Consider, also, how what you find increases your knowledge about yourself (and maybe the world).

“… it is in knowledge that man has found his greatness and his happiness, the high superiority which he holds over the other animals who inherit the earth with him, and, consequently, no ignorance is probably without loss to him, no error without evil, and that it is therefore preferable to urge unwarranted doubts, which can only occasion additional light to become elicited, then to risk by silence letting a question settle to fest, while any unsupported assumptions are involved in it.”

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Please join me today (Wednesday, August 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”]

NOTE: This is a 2-for-1 playlist. You can start with Track #1 or Track #14.

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.)

 

*NOTE: Isabella Jane Clemes, Alice Everett, Edith Mary Rix, and Harriet Maud Furniss all started working as “Lady Computers” at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890. They were joined by Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) and others in 1891. According to a study published in 2010, 667 women attended  the International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in August 2009 – indicating that worldwide there were well over fifty-five times as many women in astronomy than Clemes ever imagined.

Errata 2022: The original post(s) contained a confusing description of the Prime Meridian Line.

### WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU? ###