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Salt of the Earth (a special Black History note for Monday) February 7, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Food, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Lorraine Hansberry, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for Monday, February 6thYou can request a recording of the Monday practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

WARNING: A portion of this post refers to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but there is an opportunity to skip that section.

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. Donations are tax deductible.

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“Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life. It is the only condiment of the poor. Cattle cannot live without salt. Salt is a necessary article in many manufactures. it is also a rich manure.

There is no article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the State can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. The salt tax constitutes the most inhuman poll tax that the ingenuity of man can devise.”

– quoted from a letter by M. K. Gandhi, printed in Young India, Vol. XII, Ahmedabad: February 27, 1930

Some people laughed when Mohandas Karamchanda Gandhi decided salt would be the focus of a direct action, non-violent mass protest. People who are world leaders today scoffed, because they didn’t get it and they didn’t have his insight and vision. However, Gandhi wasn’t the first radical leader to emphasize the importance of salt. Jesus did it, in the Gospel According to Matthew (5:13 – 14), when he referred to his disciples as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” In both cases, the teacher whose name would become synonymous with a worldwide religious movement indicated that there was a purpose, a usefulness, to the disciples and their roles (as salt and as light). I think it’s important to remember that Jesus was speaking to fishermen, farmers, and shepherds – people who were intimately familiar with the importance of salt (and light). They knew that (different kinds of) salt can be used for flavoring, preservation, fertilization, cleansing, and destroying, and that it could be offered as a sacrifice. They knew, as Gandhi would later point out, that people in hot, tropical climates needed salt for almost everything – including healing.

Gandhi’s “audience” was different. He was living in a time of industrialization and the beginnings of these modern times in which we find ourselves. He knew that people laughed and scoffed, because they didn’t completely understand the usefulness and vitalness of salt. He understood that some people took salt for granted and, even within the pages,, he debated with experts about the benefits and risks of salt consumption. He also knew that some people – inside and outside of British-ruled India – just didn’t get the inhumanity of charging people a tax for something that they could obtain (literally) outside their front door; something that was part of the very fiber of their being.

Remember, the human body is 60 – 75% water… and most of that water is saturated with salt.

“Such a universal force [Satyagraha] necessarily makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe. The force to be so applied can never be physical. There is in it no room for violence. The only force of universal application can, therefore, be that of ahimsa or love. In other words it is soul force.

Love does not burn others, it burns itself.”

– quoted from “Some Rules of Satyagraha” by M. K. Gandhi, printed in Young India, Vol. XII, Ahmedabad: February 27, 1930 

(NOTE: The general explanation and rules were followed by a section of rules of conduct for various situations, including for “an Individual” and for “a Prisoner.”)

As I mentioned last week, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established the “Season for Nonviolence” (January 30th through April 4th) in 1998. The Mahatma Gandhi Canadian Foundation for World Peace offers daily practices based on principles of nonviolence advocated by Mahatma Gandhi (who was assassinated on January 30, 1948) and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who was assassinated on April 4, 1968). We could think of these principles as little bits of salt, sprinkled throughout the days, but the thing to remember is that these principles are not unique to one culture, one philosophy, or one religion. Neither did these two great leaders/teachers invent these ideas. Ahiṃsā (non-violence or “non-harming”) is the very first yama (external “restraint” or universal commandment) in the Yoga Philosophy and one of the Ten Commandments according the Abrahamic religions. It is also one of the Buddhist precepts. Courage, smiling, appreciation, caring, believing, simplicity, education – the principles of the first week of the “Season for Nonviolence” – all predate Gandhi and MLK; they also predate Jesus. So, too, does today’s principle: Healing.

Healing is also the focus of people who are wrapping up World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), which was first proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2010. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted Resolution 65/5 on October 10, 2010, and designated the first week of February as a time to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence “between all religions, faiths, and beliefs.” This year’s theme is “Harmony in a World in Crisis: Working together to achieve peace, gender equality, mental health and wellbeing, and environmental preservation” and it stresses the fact that we are all better equipped to deal with future pandemics and natural catastrophes when we come together and work together.

Of course, future pandemics and natural catastrophes are not the only things that plague the world. We also have human-made disasters and catastrophic events. We’re still dealing with some of the same things Gandhi and MLK – even Jesus – fought: people who who would take away another person’s ability to be a healthy, thriving, human being. Again, we could look back at salt… or basic civil rights… or we could look at what it (sometimes) means to be like August Wilson’s Risa, “a woman in the world.”

While I do not go into explicit details, you may skip to the next big banner quote if needed.

In addition to being the penultimate day of World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), February 6th is also International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Designated by the UN in 2012, this annual day of events aims to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of the practice of FGM, which is defined by the UN as “all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women.” People who endure FGM face short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as long-term consequences for their sexual and reproductive health and mental health. According to the UN, 4.32 million girls around the world who are at risk of undergoing FGM and approximately 1 in 4, or 52 million worldwide, experience FGM at the hands of a medical professional.

This is not a new practice. In fact, when I was in college (about 30 years ago) I had an argument with a male student who insisted there was no such thing as FGM. He was white, from America, and (to my knowledge) had not experienced much outside of his lived experience. He only knew what it was like to be him. If I could go back, and have that discussion again, I might dig a little deeper into why he was in such denial about something that (to date) has been experienced by at least 200 million living people. NOTE: That statistic only refers to survivors.

While the UN acknowledges that cultures are different and that all are in “constant flux,” the General Assembly also recognizes that, in order for cultures to survive, the people within a society must be able to thrive, enjoy basic human rights, and have the physical and mental wellness to reach their potential. Any one of us can think of this as someone else’s problem, but the truth is that (on some level) this is everyone’s problem to solve. In fact, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called, “on men and boys everywhere to join me in speaking out and stepping forward to end female genital mutilation, for the benefit of all.”

The good news is that FGM has declined, globally, over the last 25 years and a girl is one-third less likely to experience FGM than 30 years ago. All the good news category: more awareness means that healthcare professionals are in a better position to help FGM survivors heal from the physical, mental, and/or emotional trauma.

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

Healing begins with people. I’ve seen this up close and personal all of my life, because I grew up around healers. My father taught in medical schools and ran research labs. My mother was a hospital administrator. Her mother went to nursing school with at least one of her sister-in-laws and a couple of her future neighbors. For the most part, they all went to HBCUs (Historically Black Universities and Colleges) in the South, because the times – and the laws at the time – didn’t give them a whole lot of other options. In some ways, my grandmother and her peers would have had very similar experiences as Black nursing students before and after them. In some ways, however, their experiences would have been very different – again, because of the opportunities that were available (or not available to them) based on the color of their skin. For instance, the nurses in my family definitely had to overcome obstacles, but (maybe) not the same walls that Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes had scale in order to become a nurse.

Born February 6, 1919, in Seattle, Washington, Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes was the second of three girls born to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter. Mr. Pitter was born in Jamaica (like Bob Marley, who was born 2/6/1945) and came to the United States in as a captain’s steward during the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. After leaving his position on the passenger ship, he became a King County Clerk and then a book editor and publisher. He also worked with the Democratic Party (the Colored Democratic Association of Washington). Mrs. Pitter was a direct descendent of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and she knew how to protect her family against the hostilities they encountered. Their daughters (Constance, Maxine, and Marjorie) grew up in the tightknit household that emphasized elegance and education.

“Marjorie Pitter King remembered, ‘Politics opened doors for us and was very helpful. During the Christmas vacations, we were able to work at the post office and earn money to help with our schooling. It also helped my father obtain his job because he had been working on WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects. Then he went from there to deputy sheriff.’ (Horn)”

– quoted from “King, Marjorie Edwina Pitter (1921-1996)” by Mary T. Henry, posted on historylink.org (Juana Racquel Royster Horn cited)

All three of the Pitter girls graduated from high school and made their way to the University of Washington. Like a lot of students, especially during the Great Depression, the sisters had financial struggles. To alleviate their economic problems, the youngest of the three (Marjorie) proposed that they go into business together doing things they had learned how to do at home: typing, printing, and writing speeches. They called their business “Tres Hermanas” or “Three Sisters” – and it would have been nice if all of their troubles could have been resolved through hard work. Unfortunately, -isms and -phobias don’t work that way.

All three of the sisters had to deal with racism that manifested as name-calling and teachers ignoring them. Then, they each had their individual crosses to bear. Constance Allen Pitter Thomas, the oldest of the sisters, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and became a student teacher in the Seattle School District, but was not offered a permanent position for many years. When she was finally offered a regular position by the school district, it was as a speech therapist. She worked with students with special needs for 18 years.

Marjorie Edwina Pitter King, the youngest of the three sisters, struggled academically and then struggled because there weren’t very many women in accounting – let alone Black women. She ended up transferring to Howard University in 1942, for her senior year; but then dropped out of school and went to work for the Pentagon (during World War II). Eventually, she got married, started a family and moved back to Seattle, where she started a successful tax company. M and M Tax and Consultant Services worked with clients all along the continental coast and Mrs. Pitter King’s support extended to language translation and letter writing. She also became the first African American to be appointed to the Washington State Legislature (in 1965); served as Chair of the 37th District Democratic Party; Vice President of the King County Democratic Party; and Treasurer of the Washington State Federation of Democratic Women, Inc. While attending the 1972 Democratic National Convention, she helped draft the National Democratic Party Platform.

Then there was Maxine… the darkest-skinned of the three sisters… who wanted to be a nurse.

“It was 1939 in Seattle, and although the city had none of the formal ‘Jim Crow’ segregation laws common in the South, the result was often the same.

Being black and finding a job often meant menial work and a lower standard of living. For some black people, discrimination crushed any hope of working at all.”

– quoted from the article in The Seattle Times entitled “Seattle In The Old Days: No ‘Jim Crow’ Laws, But Blacks Were Held Back Just The Same” by Daryl Strickland (dated Jun 27, 1994)

Like her sisters, Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes enrolled at the University of Washington. She enrolled as a pre-nursing student, but then she was rejected by the the Nursing School, because the degree required nursing students to be housed in Harborview Hall – and the Dean of Nursing would not allow an African American student to live with the white students. The future Mrs. Pitter Haynes had no choice, but to change her major during her junior year. She ended up graduating from the University of Washington, in 1941, with a degree in sociology. Then, she moved to New York City and enrolled at Lincoln School of Nursing where she earned the first of two degrees in nursing. She earned her second degree, a masters in nursing, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and worked in the city of angels before moving back to Seattle.

Maxine Pitter Haynes become the first African American nurse at Providence Hospital (now Swedish Medical Center/Providence Campus). She also served as education director for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and taught at Seattle Pacific University, from 1976, until she retired in 1981 as professor emeritus.

But, in the middle of all of that, in 1971, she went back to the University of Washington… as an assistant professor at the same nursing school that had turned her away because of her skin color.

We can look at that as progress and/or we can flip the coin and look at that as healing.

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ”

– Rachel Naomi Remen (b. 2/8/1938) as quoted in At Your Service: Living the Lessons of Servant Leadership by Charles E. Wheaton

PRACTICE NOTES: I decided to focus this practice on the ways the body naturally heals: with a little yin and a little yang; a little action/resistance and passive/resting. There was some dynamic motion (to engage the sympathetic nervous system) and also moments of resting and relaxing (to engage the parasympathetic nervous system). In a practice like this, I also highlighted ahimsa (as I did above) and different techniques for relaxing and getting “unhooked,” including the practice of cultivating the opposites.

I have several playlists related to Gandhi, MLK, and ahiṃsā. However, if I were going to put together a playlist specifically for today, I would throw in a little Bob Marley (see reference above) plus some Schumann played by Claudio Arrau (b. 2/6/1903), something by Natalie Cole (b. 2/6/1950), and – if I had the time – I’d look for something appropriate from the soundtracks of one of Robert Townsend’s movies (b. 2/6/1957). Also, cause I’m silly (and I could make it work), I might throw in the Guns N’ Roses cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (cause, Axl Rose, b. 2/6/1962); however, I might toss it into the before/after music along with this little ditty on YouTube, by an artist born 2/6/1966.

### “Unforgettable / That’s what you are” ~ Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole  ###

The Black Cyclone (a special Black History note) February 4, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Baseball, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Spring Festival! Happy Carnival! Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for Friday, February 3nd, which is also known as “The Day the Music Died. In 2023, it was also the 13th day of the Spring Festival, which is one of the days when people eat “clean” (more on that in the Friday post). In addition to all of that (and more) it is the anniversary of the birth of a man who (partially) inspired a big, barrier breaking, change in history – a change many people celebrate without ever knowing this particular man’s name.

“Rule 303: If you have the means at hand, you have the responsibility to act.”

“Do what you can, when you can, as much as you can, for as long as you can.”

– the t-shirt and (a paraphrased version of) common refrains on the YouTube channel “Beau of the Fifth Column” 

Normally, on Day 13 of the Lunar New Year, I focus on what it means to be clean and practice some kind of “detox” sequence that highlights how the body naturally eliminates waste and how it is just as important for us to let go of things we don’t need physically as it is for us to let go of things that no longer serve us mentally, emotionally, energetically, and/or spiritually. This is also a day when some people celebrate the birthday of the “God of War” – who is associated with empathy and “brotherhood” – and so it can be a good day to reflect on how letting something go can actually bring us closer together.

Sometimes, however, we are not ready to let go. Sometimes, circumstances force us to figure out how to deal with the loss of a friend, a family member, a “brother” or “sister” – even someone we have never (physically) met and will never meet. Just as their is an inhale, a literal “inspiration,” there is an exhale – a literal “expiration” – and part of being alive is dealing with death. The big difference is that when we consciously bring our awareness to our breath, we can consciously and peaceful engage the concept of beginnings and endings.

Unfortunately, everyone isn’t promised peaceful beginnings and endings. Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t get to live long lives and pass peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by people who love them and who treated them well. Like so many recent years, this is one of those years when Lunar New Year celebrations here in the United States have been marred by horrible tragedies and losses that are beyond comprehension. Yet, people continue to come together to figure out how to move forward as a community. People keep connecting in order to honor rituals and traditions despite (or sometimes because of) the fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, grief, and dismay that arises.

People continue to live… and laugh and love… and play music – even though, as I mentioned before, today is the day the music died.

“For years, [Dr. Mike Miller], a research cardiologist, has been studying the effects of happiness — or things that make people happy — on our hearts. He began his research with laughter, and found watching funny movies and laughing at them could actually open up blood vessels, allowing blood to circulate more freely.

Miller thought, if laughter can do that, why not music? So, he tested the effects of music on the cardiovascular system. ‘Turns out music may be one of the best de-stressors — either by playing or even listening to music,’ said Miller.”

– quoted from a 2009 CNN Health segment entitled, “The power of music: It’s a real heart opener” by Val Willingham, CNN Medical Producer

Normally, on this date on the Gregorian calendar, I tell the story of the disastrous “Winter Dance Party” tour and how a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa, today in 1959. The tragic loss of the the three stars and the pilot, Roger Peterson, as they were traveling to Moorhead, MN, is compounded by the fact that they were all so young, that they were all really started to live their lives as husbands and fathers, and that the three musicians were right on the precipice of making sure their names would never be forgotten simply because of their music. Over the years, as I have recounted this story, I have encountered people who were directly connected to the events of 1959, people who remembered when it happened, people who only know the story because of the music the events inspired, and people who realized they only knew the music of the three legends because a popular musician had covered one of their hit singles.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it is not uncommon for people to hear one of these stories and realize they knew the big picture, but not all of the details. What happens, however, when you realize that for all the details that you know, there’s a missing piece of history that no one ever mentioned?

“‘Follis was a natural hitter and he had an ease about him and a confident smile that always seemed to worry opposing pitchers,’ one report said. ‘As a football player and as a baseball player he gained the respect of his associates and opponents as well by his clean tactics and his gameness,’ said another.”

– quoted from “Charles Follis” by Milt Roberts (originally in Black Sports, Nov. 1975), reproduced in THE COFFIN CORNER: Vol. 2, No. 1 (1980)

Charles W. Follis was born February 3, 1879, in Cloverdale, Virginia. One of nine children born to Catherine Matilda Anderson Follis and James Henry Follis, who worked on a farm, Charles had fours sisters and four brothers (one of whom died from an football-related injury when he was about 19 years old). In 1885, the family moved to Wooster, Ohio, and the eldest Follis son started attending Wooster High School, where he helped establish a football team (on which his brothers would also eventually play). With Charles Follis as it’s captain and lead player, the mostly-white Wooster High School football team was unbeatable and, for the first year of it’s existence, no one could even score against them.

When he graduated from high school, in 1901, Charles Follis enrolled at the University of Wooster (now known as the College of Wooster), a private liberal arts college founded by the Presbyterian Church. While he ended up playing baseball for his university team, he decided to play football with the Wooster Athletic Association. It was while playing football that Charles Follis earned the nickname “The Black Cyclone.” He also earned a reputation an amazingly formidable competitor. He was so good, in fact, that after he played against the all-white Shelby Blues (part of the “Ohio League” that competed for the Ohio Independent Championship (OIC) and would evolve into the National Football League (NFL)), the manager of the Shelby Blues convinced Charles Follis to sign a contract – making Charles “The Black Cyclone” Follis the first African American to play professional football on an integrated team. Frank C. Schiffer, the manager of the Shelby Blues, also got Mr. Follis a job at a hardware store that would accommodate his practice and playing schedule.

About a year after the Shelby Blues signed Charles Follis as a halfback, a young student from Ohio Wesleyan University started playing for pay. That student has a name that will forever be enshrined in sports history and even in the minds of lay sports historians: Branch Rickey.

“Rickey later said: ‘I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.’”

– quoted from the “Sports Heroes Who Served: WWI Soldier Helped Desegregate Baseball” by David Vergun, DOD News (dated July 7, 2020, U. S. Department of Defense website)

Charles Follis and Branch Rickey not only played football together as Shelby Blues, they also play against each other when Mr. Rickey coached the Ohio Wesleyan University football team. So, Branch Rickey had a front row seat to witness the athletic ability of Charles Follis as well as the way “The Black Cyclone” handled the adversity of dealing with racism on and off the field. That racism not only caused Mr. Follis to be isolated and separated from team functions – even in his hometown of Wooster – it also lead to insults and (actually, physical) injuries during the games. One of those injuries, or the culmination of those injuries, ended Charles Follis’s football career.

However, Charles Follis wasn’t finished with sports and football wasn’t the only place where ran into Branch Rickey. The two athletes also found themselves in direct competition when they started playing as catchers for Ohio college baseball teams. Even though they were rivals, they seemed to share mutual respect and friendship with each other. Charles Follis became the first African American catcher to move from the college leagues to the Negro League. Meanwhile, Branch Rickey coached college baseball at Ohio Wesleyan – where he coached another African American catcher, Charles Thomas – and then signed a contract with the Terre Haute Hottentots of the Class B Central League, making his professional Major League Baseball (MLB) debut on June 20, 1903.

“In a 1975 Akron Beacon Journal story, the late John M. Smith of Shelby was interviewed a year before his death. As a teenager, Smith watched Follis star for the Shelby Blues.

‘Could he run?’ Smith asked incredulously, ‘Lord almighty! The man was the best I’ve ever seen. Could he run!’”

– quoted from the Akron Beacon Journal clip posted on the Charles Follis Foundation website 

In 1905, Charles Follis was fast becoming the superstar of the Cuban Giants, the first fully salaried African American professional baseball team. He was an all-around all star who stole bases, made double and triple plays, and was known as a power hitter as well as one of the most popular and well-liked players on the team. He made headlines during every game and forced other teams to pull out all the stops in an effort to best him. A rival team from Elyria, Ohio, thought they could beat biggest “giant” by bringing in a ringer: Herbert “Buttons” Briggs, a former Chicago Cubs pitcher. On May 16, 1906, the MLB pitcher faced the “cyclone”… and lost, big time. As the first batter, in the first inning, against the first pitch, Charles Follis hit a home run. He literally hit it out of the park and would end the game four-for-six against the pitcher who had previously won 20 games in one MLB season.

Within a few years of that 1906 season opener, three of the biggest names on the field that day had all passed away at young ages: John Bright, the Cuban Giants pitcher died in 1909 or 1908; Herbert Theodore “Buttons” Briggs caught pneumonia in 1910 and died of tuberculosis in 1911; Charles Follis caught pneumonia during a game in 1910 and died April 5, 1910.

“The [old-timers] in Wooster, Shelby, and Cleveland still talk about him today… but historians forget him… young sports fans probably never heard of him before. In Wooster [Cemetery], a thin, weathered headstone, slightly tilted by the winds and snow of more than 65 years, marks his final resting place. Today it is viewed as a local historical site.”

– quoted from “Charles Follis” by Milt Roberts (originally in Black Sports, Nov. 1975), reproduced in THE COFFIN CORNER: Vol. 2, No. 1 (1980)

Around the same time Charles Follis was besting MLB players, his college teammate and rival was moving up to the majors. The only problem was that Branch Rickey’s stats were lacking. Two years into his contract, the St. Louis Browns (formerly the Wisconsin Brewers) became the New York Highlanders (later the New York Yankees). On June 28, 1907, Mr. Rickey, the backup catcher, was forced to play a game while injured. It was a disaster.  He couldn’t throw, he struck out three times, and the opposing team (the Washington Senators) stole a whopping 13 bases. Not surprisingly, that was his one and only season with the Highlanders.

Branch Rickey would go back to coaching college football, make another go as a baseball player (1914) and as a baseball manager with the reconstructed St. Louis Browns (1913–1915, 1919). Then, after serving in the United States Army during World War I and spending that final year in the front office of the St. Louis Browns, he became General Manager of the St. Louis Cardinals (which had been the St. Louis Browns née St. Louis Brown Stockings, before the Brewers used the name). The MLB catcher some described as lackluster, excelled as a manager. He was an innovator, especially when dealing with conflict and controversy. He became General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 and immediately started laying groundwork for some groundbreaking.

In 1945, Branch Rickey and Gus Greenlee, founder and president of the second National Negro League, created the United States League. Mr. Rickey interviewed Jackie Robinson and then signed him to a minor league contract. A good number of people in the United States – even if they don’t know much about baseball – know that Jackie Robinson, #42, broke the color line in major league baseball on April 15, 1947. What people may not know is why Branch Rickey was so determined to make that change. Why he so determined to do what he could – in theory, for people who were perceived as being so different from him.

Even though he would later talk about his experiences as a coach of a Black player and as a member of the military (before the U. S. military integrated), what many people may not know is that, before that, he had a rival, a teammate, a peer, a friend – someone he admired: a man named Charles W. Follis, a man who just happened to be Black.

“On October 17, 1903, Rickey felt the ‘Black Cyclone’s’ full power when he ran their ends dizzy for 20, 25, 35 and 70 yard gains, the last being a touchdown. After that game Rickey praised Follis, calling him ‘a wonder.’ It was the power of his example, his character, and his grace that convinced Rickey, that color could not belie his greatness. The rest is history….”

– quoted from the “Background” section of the Charles Follis Foundation website

PRACTICE NOTES: I actually have several baseball-related sequences and themes in my notebooks. They range from (sort of) silly to (very) serious, from meditative Restorative and Yin Yoga to “slow flow” and vigorous vinyasas. Philosophically, what the all have in common is a focus on teamwork, on doing one’s best and then letting go, and on an awareness of what happens when we become part of something bigger than our individual selves. Physically, what they all have in common is asymmetrically, unilateral poses with special awareness of the feet, hips, core/midsection, and shoulder girdle.

Of course, we can’t have a practice about baseball without a seventh-inning stretch and the wave.

### “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” ~ Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer ###

Coming Clean on Day 13 (the “missing” invitation) February 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Health, Life, Music, New Year, Taoism, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy Spring Festival! Happy Carnival! Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

My apologies for not posting this before tonight’s “First Friday Night Special.” You can request an audio recording of tonight’s Yin Yoga 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.

“If the cause of disease is understood as imbalance, then the goal of treatment is to recover balance. Problems are resolved through methods of complementarity.”

– quoted from “Problems in Search of a Solution: Treatment” in “Chapter Three – Philosopher in the East: The Doctor as Gardener” of Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinefield L.A.c. and Efrem Korngold L.A.c., O.M.D.

Many Eastern philosophies are tied to medical practices: e.g., Yoga and Ayurveda from India, Taoism and (Traditional) Chinese Medicine from China. In each pair of sciences, it is understood that too much or too little of something can create imbalance that leads to discomfort, dis-ease, and inefficiency. When the mind-body does not work optimally, these philosophies and medical sciences offer cleansing practices (and/or rituals) intended to improve overall health – physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically/spiritually. These practices are ultimately about letting go of what no longer serves us and making room for what will serve us… or, for what we will be served.

People spend a lot of time eating and celebrating during the Lunar New Year, in a way that can be excessive and, therefore, can lead to imbalance. By Day 13, people are ready to give their bodies a break from all the rich and heavy food – especially if they are celebrating the Spring Festival. While there may not be ritual cleansing, people who celebrate the 15-day Spring Festival traditionally eat “clean” on Day 13. A lighter, often vegetarian, meal that can help the body cleanse itself after the heavy feasting of the previous two weeks also prepares the mind-body for one more round of feasting and celebrating during the Lantern Festival (on Day 15).

Click here to read more about cleansing rituals and traditions in different traditions and why some people celebrate brotherhood on this day.

A First Friday Night Special playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 13 Clean 2023”]

NOTE: The playlists on different, because some tracks (including the track for the practice) were not available on Spotify. However, the practice track on both playlists is related to the Earth and grounding.

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all.

Prop wise, this can be a kitchen sink practice. You can practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.

You may want extra layers (as your body may cool down during this practice). Having a wall, chair, sofa, or coffee table may be handy for this practice.

Updated links will be provided for the events related to February 3rd.

### OM ###

Addressing the State of the “Union” (mostly the music) January 8, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Health, Music, One Hoop, Yoga.
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“My expectations were reduced to zero at twenty-one. Everything since then has been a bonus.

Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.

– Dr. Stephen Hawking (CH CBE FRS FRSA), born 01/08/1942

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, January 8th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

### 🎶 ###

HAPPY New Year 2023! January 1, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[“Happy New Year!” and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!]

"Observe"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

Celebrate the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM CST!

 

AND/OR

 

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

 

The New Year is a beginning and an ending… and it is also a middle. On New Year’s Day we honor and celebrate transition with 108 Sun Salutations in the morning (10 AM – 1 PM, CST) and/or a Yin Yoga plus Meditation practice in the evening (5 – 7 PM, CST). We also put things in perspective. These practices are open and accessible to all, regardless of experience.

Please wear loose, comfortable clothing and make sure you are well hydrated before the practice. It is best to practice on an empty stomach (especially for the 108 ajapa-japa mala), but if you must eat less than 1 hour before the practice, make sure to keep it light. Make sure to have a towel (at the very least) for the 108 practice. For Yin Yoga, a pillow/cushion or two, blocks or (hardcover) books, and a blanket or towel will be useful. I always recommend having something handy (pen and paper) that you can use to note any reflections.

Use the link above for login information (or click here for more details about these practices and other practice opportunities related to the New Year).

The 108 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “New Year’s Day 108 Ajapa-Japa Mala.”]  NOTE: This playlist has been revised for 2022, but should still sync up with the 2021 recordings.

The Yin+Meditation playlist is part of the “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” available on YouTube and Spotify.

Both practices are online and donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admittance if you get dumped from the call.)

"Reflect"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)

 

 

20220416_172620

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)

 

*Anthony Shumate’s “Monumental Moments” sculptures are located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths in Houston, Texas. They are unexpected reminders to “Explore,” “Pause,” “Reflect,” “Listen,” “Emerge,” and “Observe” – all things we do in our practice!

 

### NAMASTE ###

Updated & Revised! Purpose Driven (a Friday post, that’s also for Saturday and Sunday!) December 31, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The commentary below was originally posted for the fifth day of Kwanzaa 2020 (which was Friday in 2022) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request the audio recording, from 2020, via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. The New Year’s information has been updated!

The playlist for the fifth day of Kwanzaa is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12302020 Purpose Driven”]

NOTE: A track may not play due to artists’ protests.

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 or donations for New Year’s Day are not necessarily deductible.]

“There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it.”

 

 

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

For those of you keeping count, Wednesday and Thursday make up we’ve reached the 5th,  6th, and/or 7th “Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; and “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination).

Given the Oliver Sacks quote above, you might wonder if that musical “stimulus and reward” are the only reason I keep repeating aspects of this myth (that even advocates accept is not historically true). The truth is that while there is something truly appealing, on a musical level, to the whole idea, the main reason I keep referring back to myth is because it serves a purpose. And, if we’re going to talk about faith, we have to talk about purpose.

There was a time when everything people did had purpose, had meaning. Rituals were the way people made sense of the world and the way people stayed connected to each other and to what they valued. This is another reason why I like the “12 Days of Christmas” catechism idea. Over time, however, some rituals lost their meaning – or people became separated from the meaning. Rituals separated from their meaning became traditions; behavior people did because their elders taught them the ways of their ancestors… but without the deeper connection. In some cases, people lost so much of the meaning, became so separated from the meaning, that they were just things people said. I could be wrong about this, but I partially blame the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason for some of that lost / disconnected meaning.

The 18th Century Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason, which was preceded by the emergence of the modern sciences, was a time when people started feeling confident in their ability to find the reason behind all the mysteries in the world. Don’t get me wrong; there were, and are, still great unknowns / mysteries in the world. But, as the Western world (in particular) started moving out of the Middle Ages, there was a steadfast belief that the answers to everything were available to the human mind. As more and more people focused on “finding the truth,” some moved away from mysticism – and, when as there was less acceptance of mystery and less acceptance of the unknown, there was less “need” for ritual. Or so it would seem. The truth, however, is that even as we gained knowledge and lost mystery, humans craved ritual. In fact, some would say that our brains are wired for ritual.

“And I actually think one of the great things about getting older, about being in my 50s, they say that when we’re younger our brains are tuned to novelty, to be animated by novelty. But as you get older, you’re less tuned to novelty and I would say more naturally attuned to kind of take pleasure in what is ordinary and habitual. And I think that’s a great gift.”

 

 

– Krista Tippett, being interviewed by Pico Iyer, about her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, on “The Mystery & Art if Living” episode of On Being (with Krista Tippett (July 10, 2016)  

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the social pendulum swung back and people started seeking ritual, returning to mystery and mysticism as well as the comfort that can be found in repeated behavior. We see this in the resurgence of the physical practice of yoga in India and to the way the practice eventually spread into the Western world. We also see this in the emergence of mega churches and the wave of young women considering the convent. We even see this in the fact that some atheists have “church.” The only problem with this swing back to ritual was that sometimes people overlooked what was gained during the Age of Enlightenment / Age of Reason and focused on the outer (superficial) aspects of rituals rather than the inward (meaning-filled) experience. Moving into the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, this trend led people to spend copious amounts of money trying to recreate ancient rituals that were previously free – all to get that deeper feeling of connection. The problem was the lasting connection people were seeking doesn’t come from the outside. Yes, we can see it on the outside. Absolutely! But, deep, lasting, sustainable connection starts with an internal purpose.

A key aspect to ritual is the purpose behind what is done, how it is done, and when (i.e., the order in which it is done). Again, everything has a purpose and that purpose reinforces the repeated behavior which, in turn, reinforces the connection to others observing the ritual. In fact, that reinforcement of connection is another purpose found in ritual. A perfect example of this is the repetition of prayer or chanting, especially when there is an embodied component. The embodied component could be someone praying with a rosary, chanting with mala beads, whirling (in the Sufi tradition), or practicing 108 Sun Salutations; either way, there are very specific ways that the words are uttered or thought and very specific ways the body moves – even when it is just the fingers and the hands moving.

In Sanskrit, such a ritual is referred to as ajapa-japa, “without (mental effort) effort repeat-repeat” or “repeat and remember”. Over time, the practice reinforces itself in such a way that it turns into itself and, in doing so, turns the practitioner inward. Over time, the meaning of the words and/or movement is completely embodied so that there is seamlessness between the doer and the doing. The practice becomes ingrained. It becomes like breathing, which can be another form of ajapa-japa.

I could go into all kinds of scientific detail about how this happens and why it works. But, just for a moment, be open to the mystery… and just focus on the purpose.

“You can perform japa, repetition of a mantra or Sacred Word, in the midst of your day-to-day work. Then, when it becomes a habit, even when you are working intensely a portion of the mind will keep repeating the mantra always. That means you have locked one end of your chain to a holy place, while the rest of the chain remains still in the outside world.”

 

 

– a note written by Swami Satchidananda, quoted in Sri Swami Satchidananda: Apostle of Peace by Sita (Joan Weiner) Bordow

Feast / Holy Days are celebrations of sacred mysteries and significant events. Note that even when the focus is tied to a specific person (martyr or saint, including Jesus and the Virgin Mary), there is a connection to miracles, which are beyond science – in other words, more mystery). In addition to serving the purpose of commemoration / remembrance, feast days stimulate excitement around spirituality and help people embody the stories and history of their faith. In Christianity, particularly in the Catholic tradition, the order of the feast / holy days (throughout the year) is its own ritual storytelling. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a history of calendar reforms that have served the purpose of reinforcing the liturgical aspects of their rituals, thereby bringing faith into the foreground of people’s lives. Keep in mind, however, that this tradition did not start with the Christianity. The Hebrew Bible is full of commands from God about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“The philosopher Abraham Kaplan calculated that over 60 percent of Judaism’s 613 commandments involve physical ritual: lighting candles, ritual baths, etc. These deeds are a kind of language, a way of expressing things that are too deep for words.”

 

 

– quoted from a New York Times letter to the editor entitled, “There Should Be More Rituals” by David Brooks (dated April 22, 2019)

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday of light, incorporates rituals and traditions from several different faiths and several different cultures. As is often the case, these rituals are centered around symbolic objects: a mkeka (“mat”); kinara (“candelabra”); Mishumaa Saba (“seven candles,” one black, three red, and three green which symbolize the Black community, the historical struggles faced by the community, and the future possibilities of the community); mazao (“crops”); Muhindi (decorative as well as edible “corn”); a Kikombe a cha Umoja (“unity cup”); and Zawadi (ceremonial “gifts”). People often incorporate kente cloth and other Afrocentric decorations, such as black, red, and green Pan-African flag.

During Kwanzaa celebrations, people take a moment to pause and reflect, focus, concentrate, meditate, and contemplate one of the Nguzo Saba (“seven essential pillars”). On December 30th, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, people focus on the principle of Nia (“purpose”): To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. In other words, there is a reminder, in the middle of the week, that this is a purpose driven festival and that the future of the community depends on people being purpose driven in a way that brings about individual and collective healing.

When I started thinking about the posts and classes for this week, and in particular about how to address the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, I wanted to offer little bits of purpose about everything we were doing in the physical practice and also bits of purpose about various celebrations happening around the world. In considering all the different celebrations that fit under the rubric of ritual, and all the purposes behind the ways people are currently celebrating their holidays, it occurred to me that all these rituals share two common purposes: they bring people together (in peace) and they bring people closer to something bigger than themselves, something Universal, something Divine (whatever that means to you at this moment).

“My research over the last decade has helped understand why rituals in particular (and not any other behaviors like habits, for instance) are effective at battling negative emotions. Be it anxiety, stress, fear, doubt, sadness, grief – you name it. Rituals are there to save the day. The dread we feel after experiencing a loss happens because it feels like the situation is outside our control (and it usually is). Rituals reinstate that control.

 

Consider, for instance, in moments of grief, rituals help ease our pain and suffering. But, again I ask, how do they do this, and why rituals in particular? As my collaborators Mike Norton and Francesca Gino have shown, rituals alleviate feeling of grief and loss by increasing a feelings of control.”

 

 

– quoted from “The emerging science of ritual – a new look on an ancient behavior: And how you can use it to live life to the fullest” by Dr. Nick Hobson (contributing to the ThriveGlobal.com, Dec. 7, 2017)

For over a decade, I have started the New Year by leading at least one 3-hour japa-ajapa mala of 108 Sun Salutations. For the last several years, I have wrapped up New Year’s Day with a 2-hour Yin+Meditation practice. The practices are very, very different. Although we do mix it up and break it down a little (so that it is accessible to everyone), the 108 mala is very vigorous and repeats 12 poses in a very specific sequence. (You can see some of the reasons for that number here and here.) The Yin+Mediation combines the meditative aspects of deep seated mediation with specific poses held 3 – 5 minutes in order to address the deep tissue, joints, and connective tissue. Props are useful for both practices, but are definitive part of the Yin Yoga practice – and you can use some household items as props.

 So, the practices are very different and yet they both help us to move through this liminal or “threshold” time between the old and the new years. Also, they each incorporate key elements of ritual and allow us to tap into the power of intention as well as community.

This year is different, obviously. Because of the pandemic we are on Zoom for both events (which means that there is no limit to the number of participants). It will feel different as we won’t be so close together and, unless you have your heat turned up, the 108 might not steam up the windows or get your walls all slimy.

However, for all that is different, there are some things that stay the same. I will still keep count and guide you through the experience. We will still set intentions and dedications for each round and plant some karmic seeds. We will still have the opportunity to “burn some karma” in the 108 and release some tension (in both practices). We will still have moments of reflection and insight – and, whatever comes, we will still begin and end and move through it all together.

Both practices are donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admitted if you get dumped from the call.)

Sunday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Yin+Meditation with Myra (see “Class Schedules” calendar for ZOOM info)

 

Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. 

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 – The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

Coming Soon: A Season of Grace 

 

### OM AUM ###

FTWMI: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 27, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020 and reposted in 2021 with class updates.

You can request an audio recording of the practice (from 2020 – 2022) 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.)

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

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

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publicaly and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

 

A relevant playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

We Remember This Date (mostly the music w/2 links) December 7, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“I was beginning to see then what I have learned now. It’s not forgetting that heals. It’s remembering.”

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– quoted from Bloodroot by Amy Greene

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12/7 and Healing 2021”]

 

Here are two (2) posts related to December 7th. The first one is personal. The second one is the one to be expected.

 

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

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### 🎶 ###

 

Keep Mou’-ving! (mostly the music) November 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Food, Health, Men, Music.
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“‘People who eat too much or too little or who sleep too much or too little will not succeed in meditation. Eat only food that does not heat up the body or excite the mind. When you balance and regulate your habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing, then meditation dissolves sorrow and destroys mental pain.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.16 – 6.17) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (Wednesday, Movember 16th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for Movember 3rd 2020”]

Click here for all my Movember posts. (There will be some duplicates.)

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

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

 

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How Mou You, With All That’s Going On? (a note with links and music) November 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Men, One Hoop, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“What’s happening now is impacting us all in different ways. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do, where to start or what to say. As we push through this together, we hope we can empower people to connect with others who are struggling and find the help they need now.”

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– Brendan Maher, Global Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Movember

A couple of years ago, there seemed to be some heightened awareness around how to ask someone how they were doing. In particular, given some of the things that happened in 2020, there was heightened awareness around how people asked when they were asking someone who might be perceived as being different from them. That perceived difference might be related to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, weight, ability/disability, sexuality, gender… political affiliation. (Just saying.)

Well, today seems like as good a day as any to check back in about how we check in and why it’s so important to check in. Click here to read my 2020 post.

Please join me today (Tuesday, Movember 8th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for Movember 3rd 2020”]

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

### But, No, How Mou You, Really? ###