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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 ###

Generally Coming Together (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 28th. 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.]

“Another classic definition of yoga is ‘to be one with the divine.’ It does not matter what name we use for the divine – God, Allah, Īśvara, or whatever – anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

 

– quoted from “1 – Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

If you take even the most rudimentary survey course on the Yoga Philosophy, you will learn that the Sanskrit word yoga means “union” (and you will probably learn that it comes from the root word for “to yoke”). Go a little deeper, however, and you will find a lot of different classical (as well as modern) interpretations of the word, including the idea that it is “to come together” or “to unite.” In our physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, there is often an emphasis on bringing the mind, body, and spirit together. The reality, however, is that there is already a mind-body-spirit connection. The practice is simply a way to recognize and reinforce the connection. And, just as we are individually connected in a variety of ways, we are collectively connected – we just need a way to recognize and reinforce those connections.

Dr. David DeSteno has a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group – a psychology lab that focuses on “ways to improve the human condition.” To be clear, the lab is not focused on technological hardware but on social behavior. As his bio states: “At the broadest level, his work examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue. Studying hypocrisy and compassion, pride and punishment, cheating and trust, his work continually reveals that human moral behavior is much more variable than most would predict.”

Recently, I came across a Wired article that was adapted from his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, in which he points out that in many areas of his (20 years worth of) research, psychologists and neuroscientists are simply (re)codifying systems that have existed for thousands of years in religions all over the world. The overlapping points –where east meets west; where ritual and tradition meet science and the scientific method; where faith meets reason – always fascinate me and also make me chuckle. I chuckle at the hubris that Dr. DeSteno identifies within himself (and other scientists), which relegates ritual and tradition to superstition and myth – forgetting that every old wives’ tale or story from the old country was a way for ancient civilizations to understand the university, just as “science” is the way the modern world understands the university. That same element of hubris is also why sometimes modern scientists forget that they don’t know everything.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the connection between faith and reason and by the way we human beings (sometimes) trust certain things when we experience them directly; trust things for which we have no other explanation than that it is; and at other times can only trust something that has been “scientifically proven.” In this case, “scientifically proven” means that it is quantified and also that the cause and effect can be duplicated. Of course, this makes me laugh, sardonically, because thousands of years of “evidence” is often thrown out as “anecdotal” because of who experienced it and how it was originally documented.

“But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Throughout the year I reference a lot of different rituals, customs, and traditions from a variety of different cultures, religions, and philosophies. I do this because I firmly believe that we human beings have more commonalities than differences. Some of those commonalities involve the ways in which we come together as spiritual communities and the power of those get-togethers. As I have mentioned before, there are certain times of year – often around the changing of the seasons – when everyone and their brother seems to be getting together for some communal ritual. These times are powerful in that they are steeped in faith; however, when you look at the Jewish community around this time of year, it becomes obvious that the power is in the faith as well as in the coming together – the yoga, as it were – of the community.

For instance, there are some devout Jews who will begin preparing for the New Year 40 days before Yom Kippur. Then there are people who only come to services during the High Holidays, the “Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement.” This latter group includes people who identify as culturally and/or ethnically Jewish. Then, just a few days later, people celebrate Sukkot – and now the coming together includes, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, people who are not Jewish in any way, shape, or form. Power is increasing, as is knowledge – which is also power.

“The Talmud tells us that one of the things that is in constant need of “bolstering” and improvement is Torah study. Thus, we say “Chazak” to strengthen ourselves in Torah study.

 

It’s crucial to review the Torah we’ve learned so as not to forget it. This is why, after finishing a portion of the Talmud, we say “Hadran alach,” “I will return to you.” Similarly, when we finish a book of Torah, we say “Chazak,” in other words, “We should have the strength to review what we learned.”

 

Likewise, when a person does a mitzvah, we say “Yasher koach” (“More power to you”), meaning, “Just as you did this mitzvah, may it be G‑d’s will that you do many more mitzvahs!”

 

– quoted from “Why Say ‘Chazak’ Afer Finishing a Book of Torah?” by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin (posted on  chabad.org)

When I explain Sukkot to my yoga community, I specifically mention that it takes place over seven days (as explicitly stated in Devarim – Deuteronomy 16:15) and is celebrated over eight days in the diaspora. The extra day is actually “a second day festival” which, when observed, applies to all major holidays. For the Jewish diaspora (i.e., the community residing outside of Israel), a “second festival day” was established about 2,000 years ago to reconcile the fact that a new month started with the sighting of the new moon at the Temple in Jerusalem and then that sighting had to be communicated to the world at large. In addition to building in travel time (since this was before telecommunication and the internet), religious leaders took into account the fact that messengers may not arrive (in an appropriate period of time or at all). People within the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are primarily the only people within the diaspora who still observe this second day, but the timeline can get a little confusing when holidays overlap.

 

While I often reference the extra day when it comes to Sukkot, I haven’t always mentioned that for some (excluding the diaspora) the eighth day is its own separate celebration: Shemini Atzeret, literally “The Eighth [day] of Assembly.” Furthermore, this eighth day has its own rituals, traditions, and prayers – specifically, the prayer for rain and the prayer to remember departed souls. Traditionally, this is NOT a celebration for “[all] who live within your city.” It is immediately followed by Simchat Torah (or, for some, the second day of Shemini Atzeret), which is a celebration of an ending that is also a beginning.

As prescribed by the Talmud, the Torah – which consists of the “Five Books of Moses” – is read publicly over the course of the year and traditionally people are not meant to go more than three days without reading the Torah. The five books are divided up into 54 portions, known as Parshah (or Sidra), which are read weekly and accompanied by special blessings. Each week a special group of people are selected to read the designated portion during services. There are times when two portions are combined. The most notably combination occurs when the end of Devarim – Deuteronomy (33:1 – 34:12), known as V’Zot HaBerachach Parshah, is immediately followed by the reading of the first chapter of Bereishit – Genesis. This double reading occurs on Simchat Torah (or the second day of Shemini Atzeret). Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with/of the Torah” and services are traditionally filled with singing, spontaneous dancing, and more gratitude… which is more power.

“Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous…. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06162020 Abe’s House & Soweto”]

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

 

– Mother Teresa

 

If you are interested in more information about the work of Dr. David DeSteno, click here to check out the Wired article referenced above.

 

### Peace, Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, YOGA ###

 

 

You and Your Heart Are Invited September 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Healing Stories, Health, Rosh Hashanah, Texas.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

 

“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 (Tuesday, September 7th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

Click here to read last year’s Rosh Hashanah post.

 

### Bah Dum – Bah Dum – Bah Dum ###

The Roots of Your Story (the Wednesday post) August 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice. We can sit all night with our friend while he talks about the end of his marriage, and what we finally get is a collection of stories about passion, tenderness, misunderstanding, sorrow, money….”

 

– quoted from the essay “Marketing” in Part III of Broken Vessels: Essays by Andre Dubus

Maty Ezraty once said, “A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).” Life is a little different in that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously progress forward and back (as we learn about each other’s back stories). However, regardless of the order in which we receive the information, take a moment to consider that our minds, bodies, and spirits are always telling us stories. The practice just happens to be a great way to process our stories. What remains to be seen, however, is if we paying attention.

Are we paying attention to our own stories? Are we paying attention to the stories of others? What happens when we “listen” to the sensation, which is the information that relates the story? What happens when, no matter how “woo-woo” it may seem, we trust our intuition and what comes up for us during the practice?

What happens when we dig down deep into the roots of the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other?

“There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me”

 

– quoted from the song “Telling Stories” by Tracy Chapman

 

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.”

 

– Alex Haley

At the beginning of the practice, as we are getting into the first pose – no matter what pose it is – we spend a little time establishing the roots, the foundation, the seat, the āsana. Then we repeat that process, again and again, as we move through the practice. Sometimes, we establish a foundation that works for a whole sequence, which gives us a different understanding of the root system and how everything stacks up from the base, the seat, the āsana (which is the pose). Sometimes, when we come back to a pose, we may pause for a moment and consider what’s changed, what’s shifted, and whether the original foundation still serves us. Sometimes we may find that, like roots, we need to spread out a little. If we spread out a little, add a prop, and/or bring another part of our body to the floor or a prop, then we are adding to our āsana, our seat, our foundation, our roots.

Adding to our roots, sometimes allows us to go deeper into our stories. The deeper we go, the more stories we find. The more stories we find, the more stories we can share.

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

We may not always realize, but we are actually telling a multitude of stories any given time. There is the physical story of who we are and what we’re doing in this moment; which is also the story of what we’ve done in past moments and may tell a little bit about our future moments. Then consider the mental story – which is inextricably tied to the physical story – and the emotional story, which is also tied to the mind-body story. There’s also, sometimes, a symbolic story based on the stories and attributes associated with the poses. Finally, there is an energetic story.

Actually, I could say that there are energetic stories; because different cultures and sciences have different energetic mapping systems. Yoga and Āyurveda, as they come to us from India, include an energetic mapping system composed of nādis (energy “channels” or “rivers”), marma points or marmāni (“vital” or “vulnerable” points), and chakras (energy “wheels”). The chakras, which are the points where the three primary nādis overlap around the center of the body, correspond with certain parts of the body and certain parts of our lives. In other words, they correspond with certain parts of our stories.

It is not an accident that the parts of our bodies that serve as our primary support (feet, legs, pelvic floor area) are referred to in yoga as our “root chakra” and that it is associated with our foundation in life: our first family, our tribe, our community of birth. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we – literally, metaphorically, and energetically – move through the world. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we build our lives, how we support ourselves, and (even) how we support our relationships and dreams.

“When you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.”

 

Roots is not just a saga of my family. It is the symbolic saga of a people.”

 

– Alex Haley

I often point out that just as we can be genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Just as someone who is adopted can find it beneficial (but challenging) to discover their birth families medical history, many of us can find that it is beneficial – but challenging – to discover the history of our ancestors: where they came from, what languages they spoke, what food they ate, what experiences informed their society. When we are able to uncover those stories, we gain insight into our own lives.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone and their mother can take a DNA test and discover some information about their family history, their roots. Of course, there will still be some unknowns and, if there’s no paper trail, there may be a lot of unknowns. Go back fifty or sixty years, before such tests were readily available to the public, and most African Americans in the United States had little to no hope of knowing their families back stories. Sure, there were family legends and bits and pieces of folklore that had been verbally passed down, but one never really knew how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even if, as is the case in my family, people lived long lives and there were family cemeteries, the legacy of slavery created a multigenerational novel with several chapters ripped out.

Born in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921, Alex Haley wanted to recover the ripped out chapters of his family’s story. His father, Simon Alexander Haley, was a professor of agriculture at several southern universities whose parents had been born into slavery (after being fathered by their mother’s slave owners). His mother, Bertha George Haley (née Palmer), was also the descendant of slaves and often told him stories about their ancestors. As was expected by his family, young Alex started college, but then dropped out and joined the United States Coast Guard. It was during his 20 years in the Coast Guard, that Alex Haley started his career as a writer.

Alex Haley is remembered for works like the 1965 Autobiography of Malcolm X and his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as well as Queen: The Story of an American Family (which was completed by David Stevens after Mr. Haley’s death), but he started off by writing love letters on behalf of his fellow sailors. Eventually he wrote short stories and articles for American magazines and, after World War II, he transferred into journalism where he was designated petty officer first-class (in 1949). He earned at least a dozen awards and decorations and the position of Chief Journalist was reportedly created for him. It was a position he held (along with the designation of chief petty officer) until he retired (in 1959).

After he retired, Alex Haley continued to make a name for himself by conducting interviews for Playboy. He was known for interviewing the best and the brightest in the African American community. In addition to his interviews with Malcolm X (which became his first book), he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., football legend Jim Brown, and even Quincy Jones – who would compose the music for the movies made out of Alex Haley’s books. He also interviewed famous people (who were not Black)  like Johnny Carson and notorious people (who were not Black) like the Neo-Nazi politician George Lincoln Rockwell and Malvin Belli, the attorney who defended Jack Ruby.

When he started tracing his own family roots, Alex Haley interviewed family members and even traveled to Gambia (in West Africa) to interview tribal historians. Of course, there were still holes in the story and whole (cough, cough) passages missing. So, Mr. Haley decided to braid together what he could verify and what he was told with what he could imagine. Since his life experience was so vastly different from that of his ancestors, he decided to book passage on a ship traveling from the West African coast of Liberia to America – and, in order to more fully experience “middle passage,” he slept in the hold of the ship wearing only his underwear. During the 10 years that it took him to complete the novel that he initially called Before This Anger, Alex Haley supported himself as a public speaker at universities, libraries, and historical societies.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, Mr. Haley’s finished product Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a bestselling novel that has been translated into almost 40 languages, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was adapted into a 12-hour television miniseries that was one of the most watched television events in history. The book ignited an interest in genealogy (particularly for African Americans) and spawned a second mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations, as well as a second book, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen, about Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother – who was a mixed child born into slavery – was also made into a much anticipated mini-series. The 1993 series was so anticipated that while I barely remembered that Halle Berry starred as “Queen,” I distinctly remember driving on I-45 between Dallas and Houston on a Sunday night and stopping at a motel to because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the series. I didn’t want to miss any part of the story that could have just as easily been my family’s story.

“Racism is taught in our society, it is not automatic. It is learned behavior toward persons with dissimilar physical characteristics.”

 

– Alex Haley

In some yoga practices, when we are on our backs with legs crossed, I might call the position “Eagle Legs” or “Garudāsana Legs.” However, in some styles and traditions, like in Yin Yoga, the same position would be called “Twisted Roots.” All of us, especially in America, have twisted roots – ways in which we may not realize we are connected, ways in which we may not realize our stories overlap. In the pose, the position of the legs engages the hips – what I often refer to as “the energetic centers of our relationships.” Our hips are energetically and symbolically associated with our second chakra, also known as our “sacral” (and “sacred”) chakra, and the relationships we make outside of our first family, tribe and community of birth. It is here that we, quite literally in Sanskrit, find our “[self] being established.” Again, it is no coincidence that the twisted roots in our lives engage – and bring awareness to – our connections to those we perceive as being different from us.

This is where we start to notice how our stories overlap.

On the surface, it might appear that Alex Haley and Andre Jules Dubus II have very little in common outside of a birthday, a nationality, and a profession. Mr. Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 11, 1936. While Alex Haley was the oldest child and traced his heritage to African Cherokee, Scottish, and Scottish-Irish ancestors, Andre Dubus II was the youngest born into a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. Literature and writing were emphasized throughout his school and it was only after he graduated from college – with a degree in journalism and English – that, like Mr. Haley, Mr. Dubus enlisted in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, earned the designation of captain, and eventually earned an MFA in creative writing.

“Wanting to know absolutely what a story is about, and to be able to say it in a few sentences, is dangerous: it can lead to us wanting to possess a story as we possess a cup. We know the function of a cup, and we drink from it, wash it, put it on a shelf, and it remains a thing we own and can control, unless it slips from our hands into the control of gravity; or unless someone else breaks it, or uses it to give us poisoned tea. A story can always break into pieces while it sits inside a book on a shelf; and, decades after we have read it even twenty times, it can open us up, by cut or caress, to a new truth.”

 
― quoted from the essay “A Hemingway Story” in Meditations from a Movable Chair: Essays by Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus II spent most of his adult life teaching literature and creative writing, but also earned recognition for his short stories and novellas, as well as at least one novel. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as several PEN Awards. His works include the 1979 short story “Killings,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards (with Sissy Spacek winning for “Best Actress – Drama”) and the novellas We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Adultery, which were combined and adapted into the movie We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He also wrote Broken Vessels: Essays; Dancing After Hour: Storiess; and Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays. Like Alex Haley, some of Mr. Dubus’s work appeared in Playboy. Additionally, both men were married three times (although Andre Dubus II had twice as many children*). While the works of both men include love and hope overcoming tragedy, challenges, and horrific hardships, the source of their tragedy, challenges, and hardships were very different.

Well, ok, this first part is similar: Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II was affected by the rape of a relative. In the latter case, it was one of his own daughters and his daughter’s experience left him traumatized. (Years later, he would hear and retell the story of his sister Kathryn’s rape.) He was plagued with fear and paranoia surrounding the safety of his loved ones. His anxiety was so acute that he carried guns with him so that he was prepared to defend his family and friends against any (perceived) threats. His decision to carry multiple guns wherever he went – combined with his fear and paranoia – almost resulted in a second tragedy when he nearly shot a drunk man who was arguing with his son.

(This next part is symbolically similar to an earlier story, because it involves places the writer had never been and tragedy that occurred when strangers were thrown together.)

Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II wanted to go to the places about which he was going to write. He wanted to put himself in the shoes and on the path of his characters. So, he drove to Boston to check out some bars. Driving home that night, Wednesday, July 23, 1986, along I-93  between Boston and his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Mr. Dubus saw a couple of stranded motorists: a brother and a sister, Luis and Luz Santiago. None of them knew it at the time, but a motorcyclist had suffered a personal heartbreak, gotten drunk, crashed his bike, and then abandoned it in the middle of the road. Despite his anxiety, paranoia, and fear of strangers, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Dubus hesitated to help the Puerto Rican siblings in need. Neither does it appear that he hesitated (later) to help the drunk motorcyclist.

Tragically, after he stopped to help them move their car off of the highway, someone hit Andre Dubus II and the siblings. Luis Santiago died at the age of 23. Luz Santiago survived – because Andre Dubus II pushed her out of the way.  As for Mr. Dubus, his legs were crushed in a way that initially resulted in his left leg being amputated above the knee and eventually led to the him being unable to use his right leg.**

He attempted to use prosthetics, but infections regulated him to a wheelchair. His medical and physical therapy bills stacked up – as did his anxiety, which was now compounded by clinical depression. His community of fellow writers stepped in to help him financially, and even emotionally. A literary benefit sponsored by Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Yates yielded $86,00. But, there was more heartbreak: his third wife left him, taking his youngest two daughters.

Still, he kept writing.

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

 

– Andre Dubus II

Broken Vessels: Essays, which was Pulitzer Prize finalist, contains five sections; however, in a September 1991 review in The Baltimore Sun, Garret Condon indicates that the essays can be divided into two sections: before the accident and after. A similar division can be seen in the whole body of his work as he moved from short stories based on the struggles and victories of the characters he found around him to essays about his own struggles and victories. As Alex Haley did, Mr. Dubus found himself attempting to bridge the gap between what he knew, what he was told, and what he could imagine. Lights of the Long Night braids together the story the 1986 accident as Andre Dubus II remembered it with the memories of the doctor who saved his life and those of Luz Santiago (whose life Mr. Dubus saved). Dancing After Hours: Stories is a collection of short stories full of characters whose lives are marked by a tragic before-and-after. Then there is Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays which depicts Andre Dubus’s personal journey through the trauma, loss, disability, and healing.
 

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.”

 

– quoted from the short story entitled “A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus

“What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or – and he wished this – did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it?”

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love of stories and storytelling as well as how Maty Ezraty’s perspective shapes my practice. Matthew Sanford is another teacher whose perspective on stories, storytelling, and the practice inspires the way I process through the practice. His story, like Andre Dubus’s story, overlaps life before and after a car accident that left him without mobility in his legs. In the introduction to his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions defined “healing stories” as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco, to help people get in touch with the stories they hold in their mind-bodies.

When I think about our “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves and each other – I think about how those stories serve us, how they help us live and love more fully. When I come across someone whose story is different from mine, I question what they take away from their story – and then I question what I take away from mine… especially when our stories overlap. I consider what either one of us knows (and can verify) and how those facts and/or recollections are braided together with what we have been told and what our brains have imagined to fill in the missing gaps. When I question in this way, I sometimes I walk away from a conversation or a meditation and think “That story should be a bestseller.” Other times… Other times I think, “That’s a first draft. It needs more information and a rewrite.”

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

 

– Alex Haley

ERRATA: *To avoid confusion, I specifically did not mention the names of Andre Dubus II’s parents. However, despite my best efforts to not confuse the writer/father (Andre Jules Dubus II) with the writer/son (Andre Jules Dubus III), I misspoke during the 4:30 PM practice and attributed House of Sand and Fog to the wrong author. The novel was written by the son, Andre Jules Dubus III, and while author and book were awarded and nominated for several prestigious prizes, it was not listed for the Man Booker Prize, which was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction when the novel was published. ** Also (and this is strike three), after reviewing some pictures of Andre Dubus II, I realized that I mixed up his injuries. As indicated above, his left leg was the amputated leg. Please forgive the errors.
 

NOTE: The motorcyclist who got drunk and abandoned his motorcycle on the freeway in 1986 was not (physically) involved or injured in the subsequent accident. He was charged for leaving the scene of the accident and served at least a year. In interviews, Andre Dubus indicated that the man took responsibility for his action and that he (Dubus) spoke on his behalf during the sentencing. The man had gotten drunk after his wife abandoned him and their children – a story that overlaps Mr. Dubus’s own stories of marriage, infidelity, and bad coping mechanisms. While he was able to forgive the motorcyclist, because he took responsibility for his actions, Andre Dubus II was not so forgiving of the person driving the car that hit them. The driver was sober, but (according to Mr. Dubus) never made any attempt to contact him or (as far as he knew) Luz Santiago.

 
 

### Tell me your story… ###

The Practice of Observing Where You Are (and keeping notes) August 10, 2021

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. I’ve added some links and class details have been updated.

“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 running East and West and the globe. 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 (Tuesday, August 10th) 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 “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, 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.)

 

*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.

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I’m gonna try anything that just feels better”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– quoted from the song “Fix You” by Coldplay

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– Carlos Santana

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

 

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

Reunited

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

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

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


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


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

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

Free To Be You (and Me?), a sequel & a prequel July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Depression, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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MKR (All rights reserved)

Back in the day… (also, my reaction to some things happening today)

“No. This is the first time that I’ve known what my hair looks like, when it just grows out of my scalp. [Pause] How is it that I know what my pubes look like more than I know the hair on my head? [Laughing]

When I was younger my mom took really good care of my hair. She learned how to do my hair. Our hair textures are not the same. You know, even my mom tending to my hair – that in itself, that action acknowledges that my hair is beautiful and worthy. And I still was somehow brainwashed into believing otherwise. [Pause] But, that might also have been, because [pause]: my mom’s side of the family is white.

No one on my dad’s side was wearing their hair natural and – it was wigs or weaves – and that’s why when I grew up to take care of my hair, I assumed that’s what I’m supposed to do with this: I’m supposed to tuck it away.”

– Kiersey Clemons when asked if she has always worn her hair natural (as she did during the pandemic), in the February 11, 2021 StyleLikeU video entitled, “Actress Kiersey Clemons Accepts Her Mental Health Diagnosis and Stands Up To Racism in Hollywood”

If you think the Kiersey Clemons’s comment above is out of this world, odds are you’re not a Black woman in the Western world. But, just to make sure you appreciate the intensity of her reality, take a moment to put yourself in her shoes:

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a 27-year old woman who is considered a person to watch in your industry. Imagine that you’ve worked with some heavy hitters in your industry and that you’ve been nominated (and even won) some awards within your industry. Now imagine that your job constantly requires people to look at you and so you spend a good amount of time preparing yourself to be looked at, photographed, and filmed.

Ok, you got it?

Now, read her statement again.

If you attended the most recent First Friday Night Special and read the post-practice post, you might be surprised that very little of what was in the blog was in the practice. In all honesty, even though I started working on the blog before Friday night, I had intended to go in a different direction with the post. But, the practice was about freeing and liberating one’s self and being independent – and, after doing the practice twice, I decided to stop holding on to some things I was saving for a different post.

Not to mention the fact that the post was super timely since today, July 3rd, is the first official “National CROWN Day.” The fact that FINA’s announcement about the Soul Cap (swim cap) came this weekend seems like a weird coincidence, serendipity, an intentional insult, a PR stunt, and/or what afro-rocking Bob Ross might have called “a happy accident.” Because, whichever way you look at it, no one can deny the fact that the timing brought more international awareness to movement around natural (and textured) hair.

“According to [Schwartz, a natural hair company established in 1965], the average American spends approximately $89.95 USD on hair care products in a year. A year! How many black women do you know that have only spent $89.95 in a year on their hair? ‘[Mintel, a global market research and market insight company] values the black hair care industry at more than $2.5 billion, but that statistic doesn’t include products such as hair accessories, wigs or electric styling products. So, the industry is actually worth much more.’”

– quoted from the DGSpeaks blog post entitled, “The Black Hair Industry – A 2.5 Billion Dollar Business Built on Racism and Self-Hate” by Mercedes Diane (dated August 12, 2020)

“[Uncomfortable laugh] I think so…. It’s a pretty big insecurity for me. Like, y’all can see my thighs and my butt all day. But [pause], my hair is a secret.

The idea of what beautiful hair is, is completely, umm, warped – where I was from, like Houston [wipes her eyes]. It be like, you know, [makes voice higher], ‘Oh, I’m mixed.’ ‘I got silky hair.’ I got “good” hair.’ But “good” hair doesn’t exist. You know what I’m saying?”

– Lizzo’s response when asked why she’s taking off her pants before taking off her orange wig, in the October 20, 2014 StyleLikeU video entitled, “Lizzo: The Truth About Self-Acceptance” [the interviewer follows up by saying, “It’s a 90-billion dollar business to make Black women hate their hair.”]

If you are not familiar with StyleLikeU, let me begin by mentioning that it is not a Black organization or an organization specifically related to Black experiences. Instead, it is the creation of the mother-daughter duo Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum. They call their brain-child “a radically honest storytelling platform” and it is a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts organization. The mother-daughter team states that their mission is “to inspire acceptance through revealing what’s underneath personal style” and that they are driven by a vision “to lead the fashion and beauty industries toward self-love, diversity, and inclusion.” Their YouTube content, podcast, and book feature people of different races and ethnicities; different sexes, genders, and sexualities; different ages, heights, and weights; and different abilities.

Some of the people featured are big media celebrities, like Lizzo (whose video was released in 2014) and Mariel Hemingway (whose video was released in 2019). Others are influencers, like Freddie Harrel (whose video was released in 2016) and Claire Raymond (whose video was released June of this year). Still others are professionals and regular ordinary people with whom you may or may not have some intersection, like Aki Hirata Baker (whose video was released in May), Syd Miller and August Black (whose video was released in June); and Leon Ford (whose video was released in February). The people interviewed talk about a lot of different subjects and deal with a lot of different experiences, but what all of these people have in common is a willingness to reveal their whole selves. They reveal themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally in an interview series called, The What’s Underneath Project, which is one of at least six ongoing series being produced and curated by the StyleLikeU team.

The What’s Underneath Project is like everyone’s worst public speaking nightmare. During the very raw and very personal interview, the featured people are asked a series of very intimate questions. As the person opens up – offering bits of their personal history and pieces of revealing information – the person being interviewed takes off bits of clothing. They take off their clothes, layer by layer, until they are left wearing nothing but their underwear and the wireless microphone pack. Even their jewelry comes off! What’s interesting isn’t (just) how uncomfortable some of the subjects are – even those who are use to speaking in public (even without a lot of clothing) – or even how uncomfortable one might feel while watching the video. What’s most interesting to me is when the people being interviewed appear most vulnerable, when they say they feel most vulnerable, and the personal insight that comes up when people allow themselves to be vulnerable.

Since I have watched more than a handful of videos from The What’s Underneath Project series – including the “It’s What’s Underneath” video featuring “Not-So-Identical Twins Nadine and Nola Hanson” – I was not surprised to find a new video show up on YouTube a few hours after I posted my last post. It is the video embedded below and it features clips from various StyleLikeU videos where Black women (from around the world) talk about their hair. The clip was put together in honor of National Crown Day and, if you pay attention, you will notice that the women come in different shapes, different sizes, and different ages. You will also notice that they have different natural hair types. You may also notice that their individual relationships with their hair developed over time. And, more often than not, that journey towards self-acceptance has come as a result of navigating through a world that has not historically recognized that Black hair is natural. Normal. Beautiful.

My Hair Is My Crown

[NOTE: I’ve added this video to the “A Place To Start” playlist.]

“And he told her all his heart, and said to her, ‘A razor has not come upon my head, for I am a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I will be shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any man.’

And Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, and she sent and called to the lords of the Philistines saying, ‘Come up this time, for he has told me all his heart.’ And the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands.

And she put him to sleep upon her knees, and she called to the man, and she shaved off the seven locks of his head. And she began to afflict him, and his strength left him.

And she said, ‘The Philistines (have come) upon you Samson!’ And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times, and I will shake myself,’ but he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.

And the Philistines seized him, and gouged out his eyes. And they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with copper chains, and he did grind in the prison house.”

Shoftim Judges (16:17 – 21)

### Please don’t touch a Black person’s hair (or poke your finger through ANYBODY’s ear gauges] without their consent ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

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

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