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First Friday Night Special #15: “A Reflective Moment” (a post practice post) January 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Love, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy 2022, Everyone!

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #15 from January 7th. This practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians (but with a little more back bending than the last two Yin Yoga practices.

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.]

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Yoga practice (on or off the mat) is an opportunity to grow and to learn about one’s self and the world around us.  It’s a safe time and place to turn inward and observe how our mind-bodies respond and react to ourselves and the world around us. It’s a great time to is a place to explore, experiment, learn, and play. For this reason, I sometimes liken the practice (on the mat) to time in a laboratory or classroom, or even on a playground. And I think it’s appropriate to show up with a sense of curiosity, wonder, possibilities, and faith – prepared to see what happens.

Curiosity, wonder, possibilities, faith, and preparation are concepts that I have repeatedly highlighted during this week’s practices, because they are concepts shared by explorers, (physical) scientists, philosophers, and the (religious and/or spiritually) faithful. When we show up on the mat, we have the opportunity to be all of the above and also  to embody all of those attributes. We have the opportunity, as Dr. Beau Lotto has said (in defining science), to “play with purpose.” We can look at that “purpose” as finding out more about ourselves; however, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali makes it very clear that by going deeper into ourselves, we go deeper in to the world. We are, after all, microcosms of the world… which is a microcosm of the solar system… which is a microcosm of the galaxy… which is a microcosm of the universe. Which is kind of a long way to say that by observing our self, we can learn about the cosmos.

Just because we can, theoretically, learn about the cosmos by going deeper into ourselves, does not mean that we are the center of the universe. Some ancient philosophers perpetuated a geocentric model of the Universe, whereby everything revolved around Earth. In 1543, one of the last things Nicolaus Copernicus did was present a mathematical “theory” – based on observation – indicating that the Sun was actually the center of everything. This heliocentric model created a paradigm shift for almost everyone in the Western world, with the exception of the Catholic Church… and it’s scientists. In fact, as the Scientific Revolution ushered in more advanced technology and better observations, scientists like Tycho Brahe used their more accurate data to develop a geoheliocentric model, whereby the Sun still revolved around the Earth, but everything else revolved around the Sun.

Other scientists, in other countries, had developed similar models based on their own observations, but the Tychonic model was more than a collection of data points. In some ways, it was a desperate attempt to stay in the Church’s favor and to hold on to the old status quo. However, when Tycho unexpectedly died in October of 1601 (from an issue related to his urinary bladder and kidneys, see the practice), his assistant Johannes Kepler took over his work. Kepler and Tycho had a decent working relationship, but Kepler was convinced Tycho was coming to the wrong conclusions and proceeded accordingly as the imperial mathematician. Galileo Galilei, also a believer in Copernicus’s ideas, would further expand the ideas of Kepler. He did so, through more observations and the realization of what he was seeing.

But now, Most Serene Prince, we are able to augur truer and more felicitous things for Your Highness, for scarcely have the immortal graces of your soul begun to shine forth on earth than bright stars offer themselves in the heavens which, like tongues, will speak of and celebrate your most excellent virtues for all time. Behold therefore, four stars reserved for your illustrious name, and not of the common sort and multitude of the less notable fixed stars, but of the illustrious order of wandering stars, which, indeed, make their journeys and orbits with a marvelous speed around the star of Jupiter, the most noble of them all, with mutually different motions, like children of the same family, while meanwhile all together, in mutual harmony, complete their great revolutions every twelve years about the center of the world, that is, about the Sun itself. Indeed, it appears that the Maker of the Stars himself, by clear arguments, admonished me to call these new planets by the illustrious name of Your Highness before all others. For as these stars, like the offspring worthy of Jupiter, never depart from his side except for the smallest distance, so who does not know the clemency, the gentleness of spirit, the agreeableness of manners, the splendor of the royal blood, the majesty in actions, and the breadth of authority and rule over others, all of which qualities find a domicile and exaltation for themselves in Your Highness? Who, I say, does not know that all these emanate from the most benign star of Jupiter, after God the source of all good?

 

– quoted from Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo Galilei

Despite (or because of) the fact that he was in the middle of a long lineage of notable astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, Galileo Galilei is the one remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense when you consider that “insight” is “seeing things in a special way.” Thanks to advancements in telescope technology, Galileo was able to see things others had not seen. Similar to the Magi, he looked up instead of down (as others did) and sometime between December of 1609 and the beginning of January of 1610, he noticed three bright, shiny objects near Jupiter. At first he thought he was seeing stars (or new planets), invisible to the naked eye, but clear when using a telescope that magnified up to 20x. Over time, however, he chronicled the movement of these “stars” and realized there were four, not three, and that they weren’t giving off their own light, they were reflecting light. They weren’t stars/suns; they were moons orbiting Jupiter.

And, as it turns out, there were more than four – but that’s another story, for a different day.

Galileo first mentioned the celestial orbs in a letter dated January 7, 1610. He tracked and documented the movement of the spheres from January 8th until March 2nd. After seeking the counsel of an advisor to Cosimo II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609-1621), Galileo named the objects the “Medicean Stars” and published his findings on March 13, 1610. In order to secure the Medici’s as patrons, he had a copy of his work, and the telescope he used the see the heavens, delivered to the Grand Duke a few days later. In 1632, he would dedicate his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to Cosimo’s oldest son, Ferdinando II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1621-1670). This “dialogue” exploring the scientific merits of the Copernican view of things (heliocentric) versus the Ptolemaic view of things (geocentric) eventually landed Galileo Galilei in hot water with the Catholic Church.

A German astronomer, Simon Marius, made similar observations in December of 1609 and started documenting his observations on December 29th (according to the Julian calendar). Even though he was exonerated, because his documentation started on January 8th (according to the Gregorian calendar), Simon Marius’s reputation was tainted by accusations of plagiarism and an ongoing dispute with Galileo. If you have ever been confused by the names of Jupiter’s moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (names suggested to Marius by Johannes Kepler) vs I, II, III, IV (as Galileo noted them in his notebooks and discussion) – you can blame it on the calendars… or the scientists’ egos.

“There was no doubt in Galileo’s mind of the authenticity and importance of the discoveries he announced, and since he wished to have them reach astronomers and philosophers all over Europe as quickly as possible he addressed his book to them and wrote it in Latin. He called it the Sidereus Nuncius, which was generally taken to mean ‘the messenger of the stars,’ not only by Galileo’s contemporaries but by the translators in succeeding generations. Several booklets appeared in reply with titles referring to this ‘messenger,’ and there were allusions to this idea in many poems and literary works. Galileo did not correct these authors, but he may not have meant the title to be so interpreted. Several years later a Jesuit critic assailed him for having presented himself as the ambassador of heaven; in the margin of his copy of this attach Galileo noted that the word nuncius means ‘message’ as well as ‘messenger,’ and asserted that he had intended only the humbler meaning. On the basis of this and other evidence, modern scholars have suggested that the word in question has always been mistranslated in this title.

 

– quoted from “Introduction: First Part” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stillman Drake

It may seem like a “stretch” to connect Galileo Galilei (and the moons of Jupiter) with one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance; however, in many ways, Zora Neale Hurston was first and foremost an observational researcher. Born January 7, 1891, her science was people and her “message” was for the people. She was an anthropologist, as well as an author of fiction, plays, short stories, and essays. Like Galileo, she changed the way people saw the world. In her case, she changed the way African-Americans and Caribbeans were portrayed in literature. Also like Galileo, she based her work on real time observations.

Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, Black people in America were mostly portrayed as stereotypes and caricatures, often without any redeeming independent qualities or motivations. Ms. Hurston’s own lived experiences didn’t fit into those commonly circulated boxes. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama and moved to Eatonville, Florida – one of the first all-Black incorporated towns in the United States – when she was three. Her father was a man of certain means, who became the town’s mayor and the Baptist minister of the town’s largest church. When her mother died (when Zora Neale Hurston was thirteen), and her father married soon after, the future writer was shipped off to boarding schools and relatives in in Jacksonville, Florida.

The stark difference between her two environments and the class differences between her primary family and her extended family was notable. Furthermore, those differences left an impact on a young woman who’s curiosity was being fueled by her education. After graduating from the high school division of a prominent HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), she started her undergraduate degree at Howard University, another prominent HBCU, and started establishing herself as an influential part of the literati. She was one of the early members of Zeta Phi Beta, the third African-American sorority; co-founded the university’s student newspaper, The Hilltop (which was the first, and is still the only, HBCU daily paper); and was invited to join Dr. Alan Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.

“’Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.’”

 – Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching Gog by Zora Neale Hurston

She left Howard without her bachelor’s degree, but was eventually offered a scholarship to Columbia University’s Bernard College. She was the only black student at the all women’s college. Once again, she was in a unique position to observe the differences between people and cultures; but, what really interested her were the similarities. She studied ethnography and conducted research with Dr. Franz Boas, known as the “Father of American Anthropology” and Dr. Ruth Benedict, and was a student during the time that Dr. Margaret Mead was finishing up her graduate studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1928 and spent an additional two years pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia.

It was while she was conducting research with “Papa Franz” that Zora Neale Hurston discovered her scholastic approach to research wouldn’t get her very far in the field(s). It was also during this time that she received the patronage of Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white socialite and philanthropist who also supported other Harlem Renaissance artists, like Langston Hughes. Like Galileo, Ms. Hurston found that the support of the wealthy was a double-edged sword; because the “Godmother” of the Harlem Renaissance wanted control over the artists and their work – even scholastic research around music, folklore, hoodoo (also known as “Lowcountry Voodoo”), and other aspects of Southern culture. Trying to balance the academic requirements of her advisor, along with the demands of her patron – not to mention her newly formed friendships within the Black arts community and her own burgeoning career as an author – proved to be too much, especially since she was also a newlywed.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

I was extremely proud that Papa Franz felt like sending me on that folklore search. As is well known, Dr. Franz Boas of the Department of Anthropology of Columbia University, is the greatest anthropologist alive, for two reasons. The first is his insatiable hunger for knowledge and then more knowledge; and the second is his genius for pure objectivity. He has no pet wishes to prove. His instructions are to go out and find what is there. He outlines his theory, but if the facts do not agree with it, he would not wrap a jot or dot of the findings to save his theory. So knowing all this, I was proud that he trusted me….

My first six months were disappointing. I found out later that it was not because I had no talents for research, but because I did not have the right approach.”

 – quoted from the autobiographical essay “Research” in Dust Tracks On A Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Ultimately, however, she didn’t need the degree so much as she needed the experience and the material. Her work includes the semi-autobiographical novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published in 1934, and Mules and Men, an autoethnographical collection of African-American folklore, in 1935. She received support from the Guggenheim Foundation in order to conduct research about voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, which resulted in Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (published in 1938). Her published views on race relations and, in particular, how race relations in the United States affected women of color led her to cover the trial of Ruby McCollum for the Pittsburgh Courier (Fall – Winter, 1953). In 1937, she published Their Eyes Were Watching God, her best known (and arguably) most influential novel, and followed that up, two years later, with Moses, Man of the Mountain, a re-telling and re-centering of The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus (from the Bible) based on an African-American perspective – which, given the timing, has also been viewed as an overall criticism of fascism and the Nazi regime.

Throughout her career, Zora Neale Hurston received criticism for using dialects, for her conservative political views, and for [not doing enough for the Black race]. Even though the she was influential during the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston spent her final days in a welfare home and was buried in an unmarked grave. Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, and Hurston-scholar Charlotte D. Hunt commissioned a grave marker for the woman who had inspired them and were responsible for helping new generations discover short stories like “Spunk” (1925) and the folklore in Every Tongue Got To Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States (collected in the 1920’s and published posthumously in 2001).

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. ”

 – quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“And when [Nanny] gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”

– quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“’I love myself when I am laughing.

And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’”

– “Zora Neale Hurston, in a letter to Carl Van Vechten, December 10, 1934, referring to a series of photographers he had taken of her” as quoted in I Love Myself when I Am Laughing.. and Then Again when I Am Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader Edited by Alice Walker (Introduction by Mary Helen Washington)

### Love No Matter What ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

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)

 

*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! Purpose Driven (a Thursday post, that’s also for Saturday!) December 30, 2021

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 today, Thursday, in 2021) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request last year’s audio recording of 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!

Wednesday’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 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 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 the last seven (going on eight) years, 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.)

 

Here are some of the many ways to mindfully start the New Year. Please note that this list includes a variety of practices, styles, and traditions (and it is only a sample of what’s available). Also note that some events are on Zoom and some are In-person, but I have noted all the distinctions here since some may change.

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration (Please register here.)

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Common Ground Meditation Center Mindfulness, Recovery, and Twelve Steps meeting (Details are available here.)

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

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

 

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

10:30 PM – 12:00 PM Dharma Practice Reflections (meditation) with Ramesh Sairam (see Common Ground calendar for ZOOM info)

 

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM “Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat 2022 Vision Board & Sankalpa Cultivation” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

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

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM “New Year Mala Making and Charging ‘In Person’” with Kathleen “Kat” Sprole (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM “Our Sacred Garden Kickoff” with Amanda Brink (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “New Year’s Retreat Yin, Restorative, & Yoga Nidra to Welcome 2022” with Tara Cindy Sherman (see Yoga Center Retreat for links and details*)

 

3:00 PM – 5:00 PM “Facing the New Year” with Tracy Vacura (see Yoga Sanctuary for details*)

 

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: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

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!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“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 publically 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 – like today – 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.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

 

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.)

 

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 ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: “Bah Humbug!” & Other SAD Sayings December 19, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Movies, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted for the practice on December 19, 2020. Class details have been updated. 

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah

 

– “The fourth [prāņāyāma] goes beyond, or transcends, the internal and external objects.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

Patanjali spends a good portion of the Yoga Sūtras extolling the benefits of focusing on the breath and breathing in a way that balances (and calms) the mind-body. The benefits mentioned include physical vitality and clarity of mind. Another, connected, benefit is accessing the part of our mind-body that is “free of sorrow and [always] full of light.” Ultimately, he also points to the powers (siddhis) experienced by those who achieve clarity and luminosity. One such power is the ability to clear see (and understand) past, present, and future.

The ability to see (and understand) past, present, and future is the power of cause-and-effect. It is a power we all have; however it is a power often shrouded under the veil of avidyā (“ignorance”) and illusion. Such ignorance and illusion is part of our lived experience and is further enhanced by experiences that reinforce the ignorance and illusion. Patanjali very clearly indicates that everything in the perceivable world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom” (YS 2.18), but that we can only see (and understand) what our mind is ready to see and understand (YS 2.20).

It seems like a circle of confusion (or ignorance) out of which we cannot escape. Yet, if we take a breath, things can become a little clearer. We start to see how we are tied – shackled or fettered – to what we know, based on what was previously known.

“‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A year or two ago, if someone had said that people all over the world would be rushing around less and spending more time at home with their family (and occasionally mingling with a small bubble of close friends), most of us would have (unequivocally) thought it was a good thing. If someone had said people would be as focused – if not more focused – on how they could celebrate the holidays and observe traditions as opposed to working, I might have even applauded. After all, I have spent a lot of winters talking about the benefits of slowing down (like everything else in nature) instead of speeding up and have spent many a holiday emphasizing the importance of ritual and tradition.

Those hypothetical conversations, however, would have occurred in another time and place…. a time and place “before.” They would have occurred without the circumstances we face today – circumstances that actually make it easier to be a bit of a Scrooge and/or experience a little SADness. I say “and/or,” but I’m really not sure, when you think about it that there’s always a difference. After all, as much as we see Ebenezer Scrooge as a curmudgeonly miser, who is to say he didn’t have SAD?

“‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew.

‘Nephew!’ returned the uncle sternly, ‘keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’

‘Keep it!’ repeated Scrooge’s nephew. ‘But you don’t keep it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that affects over 3 million people in the United States each year. About 5% of adults with SAD experience it for 40% of the year and people with bipolar disorder may notice huge mood shifts based on the change in season. Symptoms can include lack of energy, moodiness, changes in eating habits, weight fluctuation, changes in sleeping habits, loss of interest in social engagement or work, difficulty concentrating, and thought of self harm. Most people associate SAD with the “winter blues” or the “winter blahs” – and it is definitely linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain that is related to shorter days and a lack of sunlight in the Fall/Winter. However, people can also experience SAD (sometimes referred to, in layman’s terms, as “Reverse SAD”) in the Spring/Summer.

An old friend of mine who lives with “Reverse SAD” (we’ll call her “Christmas Past”) said that one of the hardest parts for her is the lack of awareness – and that fact that people think you can “just get over it.” That last part is an all too common misconception based on the following facts:

(a) Everyone experiences a shift in their biological clock (or circadian rhythms) as the seasons change, and that shift affects our brains;

(b) A lot of people struggle during the holidays;

(c) For most, symptoms will change as the seasons change; and

(d) When we are experience general sadness we can still feel some level of joy or happiness, but depression can mute people’s overall experience of life.

Furthermore, while symptoms can pass, in the base case, the longer the brain spirals down – and is left chemically out of balance – the harder it is for the mind-body to shift back into balance. When you add in the fact that depression is often accompanied by thoughts of self harming, there is sometimes not enough time for “time” to be the healer.

Unless, of course, “time” is a metaphor.

“‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. ‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, the novella by Charles Dickens, features a grouchy old business man who is visited by ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come (often referred to in theatrical productions as “Christmas Future”). First published today in 1843, it was the fourth Christmas story the author had written and, like his others, it was influenced by what people were experience at the time and Dickens’s own experiences. First, as a child, Dickens had experienced a change of fortune and ended up, as an adult, having to work his way up from poverty. However, just before writing A Christmas Carol he had visited one of the Raggedy Schools (for destitute children) and was appalled at the conditions. He felt that people who were in the position to do something – not only to improve the children’s living and working conditions, but also their future prospects – should be encouraged to do what they could and that the holiday season was a good time for that encouragement. Finally, people were changing their engagement with the holiday. There were new additions to the celebrations (like the Christmas tree) and people were fluctuating between emphasizing the religious aspects of Christmas and the more secular traditions.

Dickens definitely portrays Scrooge as a bad guy who is redeemable; he just needs a push in the right direction. Various people, including Scrooge’s nephew try to push him into the holiday spirit, but he doesn’t feel it and doesn’t see the value in it. He needs more than a “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” to counteract his “Bah Humbug.” He needs something to change his engagement of spirit. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come facilitate this change by talking to him and showing him different perspectives of his own life.

“‘Let me leave it alone, then,’ said Scrooge. ‘Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!’

‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

One perspective is that, left to his own devices, Scrooge would have kept spiraling down. In the process of spiraling down (all the while thinking about the ways he could spiral his bank account up), Scrooge would have continued to make himself and the people around him miserable. Then there is the possibility that he could make the world around him a better place – and that, ultimately, it wouldn’t really cost him much. But, first, he had to be able to see the possibility.

Some people view A Christmas Carol as a secular holiday tale; others see it as Christian allegory. I see both sides of that coin, but also consider that there is a mental health message within the text. Even if Scrooge is a “scrooge,” he also exhibits all the characteristics of someone who is unhappy because his mind-body is out of balance. (When you think about it, it’s not surprising given how much he works, and how little work-life balance Dickens gives him!) All that said, anyone of us can be scrooge. So, it’s important to note that there is a lot we can do to help our mind-bodies find balance. It is equally important to know when we need some external intercession. SAD treatment can include light therapy, talk therapy, changes in diet and exercise, antidepressants, and/or a combination of the above.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12192020 SAD Carol”]

 

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

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

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

“‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

### “‘…as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’” ###

Separating the Baby from the Dirty Bathwater (mostly the music w/a link) December 14, 2021

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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“Throw the baby out with the bathwater (or more accurately das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten) is a German proverb that dates to 1512. It was first recorded by Thomas Murner in his satire Narrenbbeschwörung (Appeal to Fools), in which he uses it as a chapter title. Murner uses the phrase several times in his chapter and the original manuscript even has a woodcut of a woman tossing a baby out with the wastewater.”

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– quoted from Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends by David Wilton

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 14th) 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: These are double playlists.

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.)

Here’s a post related to this practice and this date. It also involves a popular word myth. 

 

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

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Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

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

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

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

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

This Date We Remember (mostly the music w/2 links) December 7, 2021

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 (Tuesday, December 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.)

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

 

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First Friday Night Special #14: “What’s at the Edge of Your Light?” (a “missing” post practice post) December 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” for those who are celebrating. May everyone’s light shine long after the holiday.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #14 from December 3rd. This Chanukah-inspired practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians.

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.]

“We have arranged and furnished the different spaces in our Cove to reflect the brain’s movement between the two poles of creativity and efficiency, as well as the fact that spaces strongly affect our perceptions while we are occupying them. For instance, dimmer light increases creativity, whereas brighter light improves analytical thinking. Ceiling height improves abstract and relational thinking, and lower ceilings do the opposite. A view of generative landscapes improves generativity, whereas mild exertion temporarily improves memory and attention.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

An asana (“seat”) practice involves moving the body around, positioning the body in different ways to generate different effects – in much the same way one might shift around their living/working space. Of course, people have different needs and different understandings of the needs. Not to mention the fact that different configurations can produce similar effects.  So, it’s no wonder that there are a lot of different ways to physically practice yoga.

The different styles and traditions of the physical practice of yoga range in intensity and quantity of movement. There are very active, solar, yang-like practices on one end of the spectrum. These are practices like Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and other forms of vinyasa (as well as Hot Yoga) that tap into the sympathetic nervous system and involve a lot of doing. Then there are very passive, lunar, yin-like practices on the other end of the spectrum. These practices stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and are all about resting, digesting, and creating. These practices can feel the most like seated meditation and, therefore, are great for contemplation.

For the most part, these physical practices of yoga – along with their sister science, Ayurveda (as they come to us from India) – are based on the energetic mapping system consisting of nadis, marmani, and chakras. YIN Yoga, on the other hand, is based on the energetic system found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which consists of meridians (and points along those meridians). According to each system, the vitality of the mind-body (and the mind-body’s organs) can be accessed in very specific ways. On the outside, YIN Yoga can look like Restorative Yoga; however, the intention and execution of the practices is very different. Ultimately, the effects of the practices are also very different. 

Urinary bladder and kidney meridians are associated with water, the emotion of fear (which, in Eastern philosophies, is often considered the opposite of wisdom), and winter. The pair are also associated with the month of December and 12 AM, which are considered the most YIN time(s) of the year/day. From the perspective of Nature, these are times of stillness… and darkness. These are times to turn inward.

“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”

 
 

– Anna Freud, psychoanalyst and teacher

Many people might think of Anna Freud (born December 3, 1895) as living in her father’s shadow. Really, as the youngest of six, some might think that she lived in her whole family’s shadow. It’s possible that being in everyone’s shadow gave her the perspective needed to see possibilities for other children. Either way, she didn’t stay in the shadows for long. She made a name for herself – first as a primary (or elementary) school teacher and then as a psychoanalyst. Her work as a psychoanalyst was slightly different from that of her illustrious father. She focused on the functions and benefits of a healthy ego and was able to parlay her experience in as an educator to become one of the pioneers of child psychology.

In her late twenties, Anna Freud presented a paper to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society and then became a member. Within a year of joining the society, she was serving as its chairperson and had established her own practice (for children). In 1925, she started teaching her techniques and approach at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. In 1927, she published her system. She spent nine years as the Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute and then, ten years after she started teaching, she became the institute’s director. A year later, in 1936, she published her groundbreaking study, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, which postulated the ways by which humans protect themselves. Her ideas around these methods – including repression (which she said develop naturally and unconsciously in children); projection (of one’s own feelings onto another); directing aggressive behavior towards one’s self; identification with an overpowering aggressor; and divorcing ideas from feelings – became one of the cornerstones of adolescent psychology.

After the Nazi’s annexed Austria in March of 1938, Anna Freud was interrogated by the Gestapo. Being a Jewish woman and an intellectual, she had good reason to fear the worst and was prepared to protect herself using one of the same methods she had described in her work. She was eventually allowed to return home and, when her father was offered a way out of Vienna, she organized the Freud family’s immigration to London. In England, she not only continued her work, she broadened it. First she focused on the effects of war on children and their development. Later, after she had spent some time traveling and lecturing in the United States, she broadened her horizons and began studying the effects of being emotionally and/or social deprived and/or disadvantaged. She also did some work around how crime affected children’s development and published her collaborations with regard to laws and policies that could help children thrive.

“When she was eighty-five, a depressed young man sent her a lament about the chaotic state of the world, and she sent him a succinct statement of her credo: ‘I agree with you wholeheartedly that things are not as we would like them to be. However, my feeling is that there is only one way to deal with it, namely to try and be all right oneself, and to create around one at least a small circle where matters are arranged as one wants them to be.’

 

– quoted from “Preface to the First Edition” of Anna Freud: A Biography (second edition) by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

This week’s practices were inspired by Chanukah, the Jewish festival of light, and a series of light-related question:

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

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

With the exception of question number 2 (on Tuesday), I provided some information related to the questions, but no real answers – because (spoiler alert) the questions are not for me to answer. What I mean is that they are not for me to answer on your behalf. The questions (even Tuesday’s) are for you to contemplate, meditate, live and breathe. They are a form of practice.

Just to be clear, all of these light-related questions are connected to each of our “fields of possibilities” and are an opportunity to consider how you might arrange that “small circle” that Anna Freud referenced. 

Friday’s question, like Monday’s question, can be taken in more than one way. It could be asking you to consider what you can see sitting right on the edge of your light, just before there is darkness. In other words, what is an obvious possibility for you? What aren’t you doing right in this moment, but you could be doing in the next few (metaphorical) moments?

If, on the other hand, you think of the edge of light as twilight (like dusk or dawn), then the question becomes about those little whispers of possibility in the back of your mind or heart, that you’re not necessarily working towards… but in a direction that you could start working. Of course, in this case, you could also start working in a different direction.

Or, the question could be asking you to consider what you can’t (yet) see, because it is sitting on the dark, just beyond the light. This might be something that someone else might be able to see you doing –  because they have a different picture of you – but you have to move (i.e., change your perspective) and/or “shine a little brighter” in order for that possibility to come into the light. 

Finally, it could be asking all of the above. 

“Darkness. Few things frighten us more. The fear it creates is a constant in our existence: The living darkness of our bedrooms after our parents turn out the lights. The pregnant darkness beyond the glow of the bonfire as we listen to ‘spooky’ stories. The ancient darkness of the forest as we walk past deep shadows between trees. The shivering darkness of our own home when we step inside wondering if we’re alone.

Darkness is a fundamental, existential fear because it contains all the fears that we carry with us in our brains – fears both real and imagined, engendered from living life and from the life lived in stories, from culture, from fairytales.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

Of course, as you consider your light – and what it symbolizes – you must also consider the dark. After all, we don’t really appreciate the light, until we contrast it with the dark. During Friday’s class I shared a little fear I experienced driving my old truck in the city (where there were so many bright lights that I couldn’t see my own headlights) and how that fear was, ironically, alleviated, when I was driving in the country where there were less cars and street lights. It’s a weird scenario, I know; but in the latter case I had a better understanding of my reference points, a better (and more consistent) understanding of where the light ended and the darkness began. You can think of it as a better understanding of the safety of what is known/seen versus the danger of what is unknown/unseen.

This holds true with all the different paradigms: good and evil, life and death, love and hate, knowledge and ignorance, kindness and anger/frustration, hope and despair, wisdom and fear; etc. We appreciate what we have more when there is the possibility of not having it. However, we can’t truly appreciate what we don’t have (or can’t see ourselves having).

Another way to look at this idea is vis-à-vis proprioception. Remember, when the “brain finds the body in space” and realizes it has more room, it stretches out. When the mind-body bumps into an obstacle, it pulls back. In was very similar to the defense mechanisms described by Anna Freud, when we faced with the danger that we perceive as failure (or other people’s judgements), we pull back.

The Chanukah story (and the miracles within the story) highlight how all of the things that can be symbolized by darkness are overcome by the things that are symbolized by light. The story is very different if people – specifically Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that follow them – don’t let their lights shine (metaphorically speaking). If we think of fate as history and destiny as their future, the story is really different if they don’t know (and believe) the stories of their ancestors. The story is very different if they cannot see beyond the darkness. 

“‘Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of inextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.'”

 

– the character Charles Marlow speaking of Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychiv, Russian Empire (in what is now Ukraine, but was originally part of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland) in 1857, Joseph Conrad was known as “Konrad” by his Polish family. If you look at his family history, you might think that he was fated (or destined) to be a writer. Given the cultural interactions and socio-political clashes that he experienced growing up, perhaps he was even destined to write the dark plots and twisted characters that are found in his novellas. Dark plots and twisted characters that are often the subject of criticism and debate and sometimes analyzed through a (Sigmund) Freudian lens. Personally, I wonder what Anna Freud might have said about how his experiences informed his topics; but she was only three when the Heart of Darkness was serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine (February, March, and April of 1899) and only five when the last portion of Lord Jim appeared in the same magazine. 

When Anna Freud said, “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training,she could have easily been talking about the “Prince of Darkness,” John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne. Born in November 3, 1948, the lead singer of Black Sabbath has a reading disorder, was abused as a child, dropped out of school at 15, spent some prison (as a young man), and discovered late in life that he was suffering from an undiagnosed central nervous system disorder. He worked at a variety of trades, but was inspired to be a singer at a very young age. Despite (or maybe because of) his childhood trauma, he persevered. But, there was a cost and a toll and a lot of darkness that played out in the music and on the stage. That cost, toll, and darkness have included years of substance abuse, mixed in with periods of sobriety, and criticism about how his music and behavior have (negatively) impacted young people. That criticism has included him being banned from certain cities and several lawsuits surround death and violence that people have attributed to his music.

“People look to me and say
Is the end near, when is the final day?
What’s the future of mankind?
How do I know, I got left behind

Everyone goes through changes
Looking to find the truth
Don’t look at me for answers
Don’t ask me, I don’t know”

– quoted from the song “I Don’t Know” by Ozzy Osbourne

For some, there is only one answer to all the mysteries, coincidence, and miracles that occur within the Chanukah story: that answer is God. For others, however, the answer is like the that song and lyric by Ozzy Osbourne: “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” is also one of the the reason I don’t answer all the questions I ask in class. Or, at least, one of the reasons I don’t answer them for you. At the end of the day, each of us to focus on our own inner light; figure out how we show up shine in the world; notice the situations that enable us to shine our brightest; and also notices “what’s at the edge of [our] light.” There’s a few more questions in this rubric, but consider how the answers start pointing you in certain directions. Notice how the questions and their answers can start opening up your field of possibilities.

Sometimes it may seem like you are wearing a head lamp (or heart lamp) and you’re moving in a way that changes your field of awareness. And that’s fine, that happens – it’s part of life and part of the practice. But, sometimes, we experience a brightening and a widening of our field. Sometimes we find that what we couldn’t imagine was actually just outside our field of vision: It was always there, waiting for us.

Yes, eventually, what is waiting for us all is Death. But, prior to that, there is an opportunity, “one tiny moment in time / For life to shine to shine / Burn away the darkness /”

“An old woman living in a nightmare, an old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won. Now she’s faced with a grim decision—whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

“There was an old woman who lived in a room. And, like all of us, was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us in, or out of, the Twilight Zone.”

– “Opening” and “Closing” narration, quoted from “Episode 81 (3.16) – ‘Nothing in the Dark'” of The Twilight Zone (premiered January 5, 1962)

Friday’s music is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Eve/Day 6) for 12032021”]

Note: The YouTube and Spotify playlists are slightly different. Track 12 on YouTube is Track 1 on Spotify (and can be used interchangeably).

“‘Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“‘” The horror! The horror!’

“I blew the candle out and left the cabin….”

 

– the character Charles Marlow describing Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

### “…take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. Outside the dividing curtain of the testimony in the Tent of Meeting, Aaron shall set it up before the Lord from evening to morning continually. [This shall be] an eternal statute for your generations.” (V-L 24:2-3)

How Do You Shine? (Stories For the Living, redux) December 1, 2021

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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

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– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

So far this week I have centered classes around a series of interrelated, light-related questions: 1. When do you shine the brightest? 2. Why so much focus on light? Of course, these questions are inspired by the fact that it is Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights. When I tell the story of Chanukah, I endeavor to highlight the different “miracles” within the story, the little things that turn into big things, and to also show that each and every one of us, is the light. People – and the way they shine – are every day miracles. I consider the Maccabees the shamash of the story; the way they show up, keep their faith, and inspire others when faced with oppression is one example of how people can shine in the world. That people still observe Chanukah is another example of people shining in the world.

Additionally, as I said mentioned to a friend yesterday, there are plenty of other stories in the world about people who show up and shine despite tragedy and oppression. There are several stories associated with today that feature people who are, in their own rights, the attendants, caretakers,  and light workers of the world. People who helped make the world better, because they showed up and shined. As you read or hear today’s stories (or even take another look at the Chanukah story) consider how each person was in a unique position to make a difference, to shine. Then, consider your unique position and how you can shine.

Most of the following was originally posted on December 1, 2020. Dates and playlists have been updated. Some supplemental information has been added.

“If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, [we] may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

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“‘Mine was the first cry for justice, and a loud one. I made it so that our own adult leaders couldn’t just be nice anymore. Back then, as a teenager, I kept thinking, Why don’t the adults around here just say something?’”

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– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

Today I have two stories for you. Both are fables, in that they are stories with a moral. Both are also true – in that they actually happened. Finally, both stories are open ended… in that we are still living with the ramifications of the stories and their lessons. There are some other overlaps; however, ultimately, one of the stories is a dark and twisted fairy tale, while the other is a bit of a horror story. You can decide which is which.

In the first story, a 15-year old student, coming home from school, was told she was in a place where she didn’t belong. For the record, she was in a place specifically designated for “her kind,” but that was neither here nor there when someone designated as her “better” was going to be in the area. This student, let’s call her Claudette (because that is her name) and an older pregnant woman (let’s call her Ruth) decide they were going to stay put. Of course (I say with a lot of sarcasm), the police were called. Ruth moved. Claudette did not. Eventually she was (re)moved, by the police and arrested. On the way to the police station, she was sexually harassed by the officers and she feared that one would take the harassment farther. A minister bailed her out of jail; she was convicted (in juvenile court) of three charges; and two of the charges were eventually dropped on appeal. Ironically, the charge that stuck – assaulting an officer – might not have even happened.

The events described above happened in the Montgomery, Alabama in the Spring of 1955. Claudette Colvin was not the first Black person to refuse to make room for a white person on a bus, or anywhere else, and she would not be the last. But, her story is one that many people forgot or didn’t know; because, nine months later – today in 1955 – Rosa Parks sat in the “white section” of a bus and didn’t get up.

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

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– Rosa Parks, as quoted in Fight Like A Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World by Laura Barcella

Some people referred to Mrs. Parks as a tired seamstress, a 42-year old “Colored” woman; but, more importantly to the story, she was an activist who had worked as a secretary for the NAACP and she made for good optics. Unlike, Claudette Colvin, who was a pretty, dark skinned teenager who was pregnant and unmarried, Rosa Parks was a pretty, fair skinned, established married woman – who also practiced yoga and was trained in civil disobedience.

There are lots of different lessons and morals to that story. Some of the big ones (to paraphrase Claudette Colvin) are the importance of knowing your rights, taking a stand, and saying when something isn’t right. Another big lesson: optics and messaging matter. Which leads me to the next story that is relevant to today.

Once upon a time some people got sick and, because of their illness, some children were born prematurely. Doctors thought the illness was a form of pneumonia. While there were some studies around the illness, it didn’t affect enough people in the right places to become a priority on any one’s radar. After all, optics and messaging matter – and it was believed that the adults who got sick did so because of their behavior. Fast forward 69 years and an African-American teenager in Saint Louis, Missouri (let’s call him Robert R) died of this pneumonia with weird symptoms. 7 years later a Norwegian sailor (with ties to Africa) died, 4 months after the death of his daughter and 8 months before the death of his wife. The next year a Danish doctor, also with ties to Africa, also died – as did several other people of various ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and (in the case of the adults) occupations.

By the late 70’s, children were being born with this pneumonia that some doctors then thought was a form of cancer. By the 1980’s, researchers and major American news outlets were publishing news about a “gay cancer” – which it is not – and people without any medical knowledge were guessing at how the disease is spread. And it was spreading, globally.

“If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

It took a playwright and activist – that some people called “the angriest man in the world” and others considered to be a man “with a golden heart” – to really sound the alarm and lead the charge. Lawrence “Larry” Kramer started consolidating information, resources, and people. He started organizing. Mr. Kramer held a meeting in New York City with over 80 gay men and a doctor. In addition to gaining critical information from the doctor, the group raised over $6k towards research and efforts to raise awareness about the growing pandemic. That first meeting was the impetus for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (now known as GMHC Health Services), whose mission is to “end the AIDS epidemic and uplift the lives of all affected.” Mr. Kramer, who died in May of 2020, was also one of the co-founders of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Because yes, we’re talking about AIDS which, along with HIV, currently affects over 38 million people (including over 1 million children) worldwide. Yes, we’re talking about AIDS, because today is World AIDS Day. Designated by the World Health Organization (WHO), today is simultaneously an international day of mourning and remembrance as well as a day to raise awareness. As is the case with other epidemics and pandemics, fact-based awareness and testing are essential to prevention, treatment, and support. About 81% of people with HIV (worldwide) have been tested and know their status. Unfortunately, that means 19% (approximately 7.1 million people) have not been tested, do not know their status, and therefore risk infecting others. (In the United States that statistic translates to 1 in 7 people.) Additionally, HIV and AIDS still disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, people designated as “male” at birth, and gay and bisexual men.

One critical thing to remember about HIV and AIDS is that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. There are now life-saving treatments which make it possible for people to live a long and healthy life. It is also possible to go about your life without a high risk of sexually transmitting HIV to others.

The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day was “Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic: Resilience and Impact.” The 2021 theme for World AIDS Day was “End Inequalities, End AIDS” (in the US, the National Institutes of Health used “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voices”). This year’s theme(s), in particular, highlight(s) the fact that there is still a social stigma associated with AIDS and HIV – a stigma that magnifies the toll of the disease and makes it harder to combat the spread of the disease. That stigma can result in people not getting the support they need, not getting the treatment they need, and (in some cases) facing additional trauma. Here again, there’s something about the optics.

World AIDS Day was marked with virtual displays of memorial quilts (in places that are still actively battling the COVID-19 pandemic), symposiums, access to rapid self testing kits, and information about how the disease is transmitted and how it is treated. That last part is a key element of the story and it’s moral, because when we look at the timeline of COVID-19 in other countries, we find that countries that learned from their response to previous epidemics – like AIDS and Ebola – have had better success rates of containing COVID-19. You may wonder why everyone in the world isn’t publicizing those facts…. Sadly, again, it may have something to do with optics.

“I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough?”

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– quoted from “1,112 and Counting” by Larry Kramer, printed in the New York Native (Issue 59, March 14 – 27, 1983)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 1st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Day 3-4) & World AIDS Day 2021”]

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

A beautiful version of the “23rd Psalm,” which Claudette Colvin prayed in her head during her arrest.

“‘I know that segregation isn’t dead – just look at schools and neighborhoods and workplaces, and you can see that it’s still all over America. And yes, we are still at the very beginning economically. But at least those degrading signs, “White” and “Colored,” are gone. We destroyed them. There are laws now that make segregation illegal. We forced white people to take a different view. They had to change their attitudes toward blacks. The civil rights movement cleared the way legally so we could progress.’”

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– quoted from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice  by Phillip Hoose

For anyone interested, last year’s World AIDS Day is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

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### DO YOU REMEMBER? ###

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