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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I’m gonna try anything that just feels better”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– quoted from the song “Fix You” by Coldplay

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– Carlos Santana

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

 

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

Reunited

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

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

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


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


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

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, you got it?

Now, read her statement again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hair Is My Crown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoftim Judges (16:17 – 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

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

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

Needing to Move, a little or a lot (the Tuesday post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Some days or weeks when you are practicing, the mind will be calm and easily concentrated, and you will find yourself progressing fast. All of a sudden the progress will stop one day, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. Persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.30 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It happens to all of us, at one time or another: We hit a wall, an obstacle. In Yoga Sūtra 1.30, Patanjali names nine obstacles to the practice – which are really nine obstacles to anything: disease, mental inertia (or laziness), doubt, lack of enthusiasm (sometimes translated as carelessness, lethargy or sloth, clinging to sense cravings, false understanding, an inability to reach the goal of concentration, and an inability to maintain the goal. These nine obstacles coincide with four physical-mental experiences. Naming these obstacles (and the arising experiences), when we experience them, can be helpful in helping us (as Marcus Aurelius instructed himself) find the way forward.

However, there is a tendency, for some of us, to really dig into WHY we hit the wall. We want to know the “why” so that we can avoid it in the future – and there is merit in that. Such inquiry can benefit us, can directly and indirectly benefit those around us, and can also benefit people we have never met and will never meet. However, sometimes, all that digging into what was can itself become an obstacle. Sometimes, all that inquiry can keep us from moving forward.

Before I move forward with this line of thinking, let me point out that we can sometimes get stuck because of our perceptions about moving forward. Moving forward looks different to different people and/or in different circumstances. For example, I just heard about a junior Olympian who, for a variety of reasons, had to take a break from training. Moving forward for her looks like getting back to training. On the flip side, if you (or someone you know) were stuck in a toxic, maybe even physical and/or mentally abusive relationship, moving forward looks like staying out of that relationship. It also means staying away from similarly toxic relationships – because, otherwise, you’re stuck in the same pattern and not moving forward at all. Even if the people in these scenarios are getting unstuck at the same time, the way they move forward is going to look different.

So, clearly, to move forward we have to move. Right? Well…. Yes, and no.

Even before we get to the no; let’s talk about the yes. The human mind-body is designed to “flow” or move. Not only is the basic construction of the mind-body conducive to moving, one of its primary systems, the lymphatic system, functions through movement. The lymphatic system is part of the cardiovascular (or circulatory) and immune systems, and is also connected to the digestive system. It plays a crucial part in our overall health and requires muscular movement (contraction and release) in order to function.

Movement serves as the pump that moves lymphatic fluid through the lymph nodes strategically located throughout the body. The lymphatic fluid brings in the cells that kill abnormal cells and foreign substances (which cause disease); can re-circulate protein cells; washes away dead cells and debris; and carries that (liquid) waste to the kidneys so that it can be flushed out of the body. The lymphatic system also helps the body to absorb (nutritional) fat and removes excess liquid from the body, in order to prevent inflammation that can lead to disease. The very act of breathing facilitates the movement of the lymph. But, it moves it in a limited fashion; which means that, when someone is unable to move their muscles on their own, having externally provided manipulation/stimulation can be helpful (and that can occur in a lot of different ways).

So, yes, the human mind-body needs to move. The question is, on any given day, how much movement do you need? And how do you know what kind of movement you need? My friend and fellow yoga teacher Sandra Razieli once said that sometimes she starts moving and if she feels better she keeps going. On the flip side, if the movement she’s doing doesn’t make her feel better, even a little bit, she changes what she’s doing. (I identify Sandra as a “fellow yoga teacher,” but honestly she’s a movement facilitator and has a knowledge base of kinesiology and neurophysiology that exceeds a basic knowledge of āsana.) Sandra’s guideline is consistent with a similar one from Wade Imre Morissette, a Canadian yoga teacher and musician, who once said that if you finish your yoga practice and you don’t feel a little better than something went wrong.

“The nine obstacles described in the previous sutra rob the body of vitality, strength, stamina, and agility, and the mind of clarity and peace. The absence of these obstacles is the ground for joy. Their presence is the ground for pain, which in turn leads to four other debilitating conditions: mental agitation, unsteadiness in the limbs, disturbed inhalation, and disturbed exhalation.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

It makes sense that people who are, for the most part, in “the business of movement” would tell people to move. And, sometimes, you might come to a practice and be amazed that the teacher “magically” knows the kind of movement you needed to feel better. You might even be amazed when, a day or so later, you attend class with another instructor and they are “magically” leading a practice with similar elements. Of course, part of your amazement comes from (1) not considering that we all have mind-bodies that are subjected to similar external factors; (2) while there are a lot of different ways to access certain parts of the body, people in a similar region (who were trained in a similar style/tradition) are going to be most familiar with the same methods; and (3) certain things are needed in order to safe and mindfully access certain parts of the mind-body. People “in the business of movement” are also going to tell you that it’s important to be still, to not move – that’s why we have Śavāsana!

If you look at anything in nature, including your own mind-body, you will find evidence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is how nature finds balance, by moving between extreme states of imbalance. Things ebb and flow; we inhale and exhale; muscles contract (eccentrically and concentrically) and then release. Just like a motorized vehicle, we have an accelerator and a brake in the form of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight/flight/freeze response, is related to action. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with our ability to rest/digest/create, is the opposite reaction. They go hand-in-hand. We need one in order to have the other. And, sometimes, we find that we are not fully engaging in one because we are not fully engaging in the other. We are out of balance. We are stuck.

Again, when we are stuck, we have to figure out what is going to move us. Maybe it’s a really vigorous vinyasa practice or a ViniYoga practice (where there’s movement, but it’s not inherently “super sweaty. ”Maybe it’s a more static “Power Yoga” vinyasa practice. That said, what we need might be a Yin Yoga practice, a Restorative Yoga practice, or something in between those aforementioned practices (like an Iyengar Yoga practice). Or maybe what we need is to dance or walk, play catch with the kids, and/or do some somersaults – and it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. We may not always know what we need, but we know when we need something to move us forward.

“That man [my father], sitting on his plastic mat in 1970, was lonely. His search had brought him to a place he didn’t quite grasp, one that lacked the reassurance of a clearly traveled path in front of him. I have my own version of that loneliness. I, too, am searching for something transformative. While I do have a yoga teacher, we have never lived in the same city. While I do practice where yoga is more widely accepted, I do so from within a paralyzed body. I do not know where the work is going, or even what is possible. But, while the work may be solitary, the impetus comes from loving the world, from wanting to join it. I wonder if he knew this, too.”

 

– quoted from “Part Three: Yoga, Bodies, and Baby Boys – 12. Taking My Legs Wide” of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Which, brings me back to yoga – or, really, any group activity (even on Zoom) – where you can tap into the collective momentum of the community. Taking a class on Zoom, YouTube, or any other virtual platform is not the same as taking a class in person. However, it can have similar advantages: there’s (still) a sense of community; someone else keeping track of time; someone keeping you accountable; and someone offering suggestions and (sometimes) “magically” knowing what you need. What happens, however, when you show up and the movement being suggested isn’t what you need?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that “This is your practice.” is not just something that we say. We say it because it’s true. Second, there are a lot of different ways to get into (and out of a pose); different ways to practice a pose/sequence; and most importantly, there’s more than one way to access a certain part of your mind-body. If your instructor/teacher doesn’t offer you options, ask for them! Finally, one of the advantages to a virtual practice, is that if you find that the movement isn’t exactly what you need in that moment, you can turn off your camera (if you’re live) and just take advantage of the other benefits to practicing in a community – and you can do so without the stigma or confusion that can sometimes occur when you do your own thing in a public setting.

“Self-nurturance is a key to taking care of the body. Resting when we need to rest, eating well, exercising, and giving the body pleasure all help to keep the first chakra happy. Massages, hot baths, good food, and pleasant exercise are all ways of nurturing ourselves and healing the mind/body split that results from the mind over matter paradigm. We cannot be integrated and whole if the two polarities are pitted against each other. Instead, through the body, we can have an experience of mind within matter.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2, Chakra One: Earth – The Body” of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 29th) 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 “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

Last year’s post on this date came at the practice from a slightly different perspective!

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.)

 

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

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

 

 
 

### You’ve Got To Move It, Move It! ###

 

To Whom Are You/We Listening? (a “missing” post) June 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[Pardon me while I catch up! This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 29th. You can request an audio recording of the related practice(s) via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“And He said: ‘Go out and stand in the mountain before the Lord, Behold! the Lord passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake-not in the earthquake was the Lord. After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a still small sound.’”

Melachim I / 1 Kings (19:11-12)

Like Patanjali, Saint John of the Cross recognized that the mind-body is constantly bombarded with information via sensations. Patanjali refers to cittavŗitti nirodhah (“ceasing the fluctuations of the mind”). Saint John of the Cross recommended “it is best to learn to silence the faculties and cause them to be still, so that God may speak.” In both cases, the ultimate aim is not to hear the noise of the “wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders,” nor is it to hear the sound of the earthquake or the fire; the ultimate goal is to hear the still quiet voice of the Divine, whatever that means to you at this moment. People have different beliefs about the source(s) of the quiet, and how you can know the good voices from the evil. But, I’m not going to get into all that today. I’m just going to ask some “simple” questions.

Are you listening to the obvious noise or are you listening to a small sound/whisper? To what little, still quiet voice inside of yourself do you listen? Just as importantly, to what little voices outside of yourself do you listen? By that I mean: To whom are you/we listening? And why are you listening to those the voices? Are they simply the ones that that get heard?

“We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them”

– quoted from the “A New Vision” – 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Acceptance Address by Ted Sorenson (written for The Washington Monthly as “the speech of his dreams”)

I get asked some weird, bizarre, and wonderfully insightful questions – on and off the mat. Sometimes these questions are hyper-intrusive. Other times they are questions asked out of general curiosity and asked in ways that make me really curious, get me thinking. One of those really insightful questions, asked out of general curiosity, came from a dear friend who was a friend before really taking my classes. After taking a class one day, this friend approached me and essentially asked if I ever played female musicians. I do and I did. However, with a few exceptions (like on International Women’s Day), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly male and, with a few exceptions (like on Cinco de Mayo), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly white. I can break this down even more, but you get the point: I’m an “American” girl, living in an “American” world.

Even before I literally did the math, which surprised me, I told my friend that it would be naïve of me to say, “This is what I like and this is why I like it,” without pointing out that part of why I like what I like is because it’s what I hear – and what I hear is based on an industry standard that is based on a societal standard determined by a ruling class. Being an “American” girl, living in an “American” world means that I am subject to a white, male, heterosexual gaze (and ear) – and on a certain level, I’m comfortable with that. However, the main reason I’m comfortable with that is because that’s been my primary culture for most of my life. (Please keep in mind, that I put “American” in quotes, not because American culture is monolithic, but because the stereotype of what is American is pretty monochromatic.)

Now, here’s where things get a little twisted; because if the statements above resonate with you, you may not think twice about it (just as I didn’t think twice until questioned about it). If you resemble the statements above, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with my early (and even some current) playlists, because it’s also the music to which you are accustomed to hearing – especially if you are around my same age or slightly older. Even more to the point, you may not have ever questioned why I didn’t play more African-American, Latin, and/or more female musicians. You might have even accepted the fact that I’m from Texas as the reason why I play so much country.

But, the question wasn’t really about the “why.” I mean, it’s informative and can raise awareness, but we can’t go back and change history. I can’t go back and change the vinyl I listened to as a child and/or the first cassette tapes I received as a Christmas present. Ultimately, the question from my friend wasn’t about the past. Ultimately, the question for me was: How do you react/respond now that the question has come up?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT), under “The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1 (NLT)

I could have been offended and even felt threatened by the question and the resulting self-inquiry. Instead, I did the math…. And, not gonna lie, I was a little shocked. Then I did a little more soul searching and decided I could do a little more “soul” searching when it came to the music I used to tell the stories I tell on and off the mat. I could do my part, in more little corner of the world, to ensure a few more voices are heard.

Ironically, the playlist for this particular practice is mostly instrumental. It may not be obvious when the composer is not male and it may not be obvious when a composer is not white. In fact, one of the female composers sometimes shows up on playlists as “Various Artists” – which, I guess, is akin to “Anonymous” in the literary world. Then too, there’s the whole issue of the orchestra’s demographics.

There was a time, not that long ago, when orchestras in the Western world were predominantly white and predominantly male. There was a definite bias in hiring and I can say that with a good degree of certainty because once orchestras started using blind auditions as part of their hiring process, the number of women in symphonies astronomically increased. Granted, sometimes this process to eliminate bias required musicians to not only play behind a screen, but to also to take off their shoes.

The exponential increase in female musicians started in the 1980’s, but has not been completely replicated when it comes to race. While women represented 5-6% of some major American orchestras in 1970, they now make up 30%, even 50%, of some orchestras. This is a statistical change that is not explained away by a change in orchestration. On the flip side, Black and Latino musicians are still not represented in American orchestras in a way that reflects the community around them. In fact, when it comes to race, some of the orchestra pits in American look pretty much the way they did in 1969.

For example, 52 years ago, when 2 Black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic of racial discrimination, the orchestra had only one Black musician, the first one they had ever hired: 30-year old Sanford Allen, a violinist who had started studying at the Julliard School of Music at age 10. This time last year, the Philharmonic still only had one Black musician: Anthony McGill, an internationally renowned clarinetist, who had performed as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal clarinetist for 10 years BEFORE he was hired as the Philharmonic’s first Black principal. Notably, Mr. McGill’s older brother, Demarre McGill, is also a professional musician. In fact, the elder (by 4 years) Mr. McGill is the principal flautist with the Seattle Symphony – a position he previously held with BOTH the Dallas Symphony and the San Diego Symphony.

The McGill brothers were exposed to orchestral music at a young age and started playing at a young age. Additionally, they had talent, perseverance, the resources to audition, and access to private conservatories and summer programs. All of which put them in an industry “pipeline” designed to land in an orchestra pit. Some people have argued that there are other talented non-white musicians out there – but that they don’t have access to the pipeline or the resources to audition. Others argue that the talent is coming – slowly, but surely – into the pipeline. If the latter is correct, and it’s only a matter of time, then the question becomes when will they be heard? When will they have the resources to be heard?

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

– “By this same [practice] the suspension or disappearance of one’s own [spoken] words and other senses can be explained.”

I have heard that Yoga Sūtra 3.22 is a “thread” that doesn’t often get heard. That’s a little pun based on the fact that the sūtra in question is a continuation of the previous aphorism and asserts that the same practice that allows one to make themselves invisible can also be use to make one undetectable by the other senses – specifically, one becomes unheard. Ironically, this particular line is not included in all translations. Sometimes it is left out completely. In other cases, it is wrapped up in one of the other lines.

I’ll be honest, I mentioned it in the previous practice (on not being seen), because I really considered just bundling it all together with 3.21. In the end, however, I decided to let this power be heard for a few big reasons: (a) it is a siddhi that is based on shabda (“word”), which is itself a “power unique to being human;” (b) I was kind of amused by the irony of it getting left out (i.e., not heard); (c) I am consistently frustrated (even angered) by the voices that go unheard; and (d) I am consistently inspired when marginalized voices are heard.

Regarding those last two points, Saturday, May 29th was almost exactly a week before a “First Friday Night Special” when I was going to focus on the throat chakra, which is related to personal will/determination as it relates to universal will/determination. It is also related to expression – one’s ability to speak and be heard; to make one’s needs and desires known to the world. Furthermore, I knew that it was just a few days before the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre that decimated Black Wall Street. The anniversary (and events leading up to the anniversary) highlighted how voices (and stories) that had been silenced for years were finally being heard. What I didn’t foresee was that during that same week, at least three other events would bring awareness to moments when people are heard versus what happens when people are silenced.

First, the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was the largest Indian “boarding” school in British Columbia Canada. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969 and by the Canadian government from 1969 until 1978, when it was closed. Although many people in the United States are unfamiliar with these schools – as they are not discussed in polite company (i.e., in most public and private school systems) – there were over 350 such schools in the United States and 130 such schools in Canada from the end of the 19th century all the way through the end of the 20th century. In Canada alone, over 150,000 First Nation children were placed in these schools – which were established with the specific intent of eradicating Indian culture and, in doing so, decimating the Indian populace as strong people, families, and communities.

Between me initially writing this post and actually posting it, remains of at least 751 more people have been discovered in unmarked mass graves at the location of a different school in Canada.

A friend who was helping an organization tell the stories of some of the children forcibly enrolled in these schools mentioned them a few years back and we talked about how little awareness there was around the schools and their mission. Like my friend, I was as appalled by the existence of these schools as I was by the fact that some of them were still in operation in 1996. According to an Indian Country Today article by Mary Annette Pember, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission estimated “that up to 6,000 children died at the schools from disease, abuse, starvation, and other ills.” Read those Canadian numbers again and consider the ramifications when it comes to similar unheard stories in the United States (which had over 2.5 times as many schools).

“U.S. boarding schools were often woefully underfunded. Conditions at the schools — poor food, clothing, housing as well as close sleeping quarters — contributed to the spread of disease and sometimes death.

According to researchers, many schools failed to keep accurate records of student deaths. Parents of those who died were often notified after the child’s burial, if they were notified at all; few could afford travel expenses to pick up their children’s remains.

Additionally, school superintendents were urged to avoid incurring expenses related to returning children’s remains home to their families.”

– quoted from the June 6, 2021 Indian Country Today article entitled, “‘We won’t forget about the children’ – Additional unmarked graves likely at US Indian boarding schools” by Mary Annette Pember

Around the same time the news was filled with stories about the deaths of First Nations children, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School (in Dallas, Texas) was getting ready for her graduation ceremony. For a variety of reasons, the school’s protocol was that graduation speeches had to be approved and so, as was required, Paxton Smith sent her speech about TV and the media through the proper channels and it was included in the “podium book.” However, her graduation happened less than two weeks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new restriction into law that bans abortions “as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected,” which is at about six weeks. As Ms. Smith noted in the unapproved speech she ended up delivering, the law takes away a person’s choice before they may even realize they are pregnant – and this is true even if the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or incest. By her own admission, Ms. Smith expected her microphone to be cut – but it wasn’t. She was allowed to complete her short speech and express her concern about her future and the future of her peers.

On the flip side, the last thing retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter expected was that his microphone would be cut during a Memorial Day observation in Hudson, Ohio. Just like Paxton Smith, the veteran who served in the United States Army for 30 years (including during the Persian Gulf War) submitted his speech to the appropriate channels. Even though the chair of the Memorial Day Parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary asked him to remove a portion of his speech, the Lieutenant Colonel thought it was important for people to hear about the history of Memorial Day; the whole history, including how it got started. For a variety of reason, he expected his keynote speech to be heard in its entirety. Instead, when he reached the point in his speech where he talked about the first Memorial Day observation, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s speech was cut. In a single moment, he was denied his First Amendment Right. More to the point, he was denied one of the very rights he fought and served to protect. He was also denied the respect that some would say should come hand-in-hand with serving in the military. Why wasn’t he heard (clearly)? Because someone wanted the unheard story of freed Blacks having a parade after giving a proper burial to Union troops to stay unheard.

“The throat chakra has been referred to as the Holy Grail of the chakras because it holds information from all the chakras…. Within the sacred container of the throat chakra, all of this energy and information is ‘metabolized’ – broken down and put back together into a form that becomes your unique expression in the world.”

– quoted from “chapter 5: The Chakras – Your Body’s Energy Stations” in Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body’s Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality by Donna Eden with David Feinstein, Ph.D.

More often than not, when we talk about the neck and throat in our physical practice of yoga, we end up focusing on the heart and heart openers. Which means that a lot of time we access the throat chakra by accessing the heart chakra – and they are inextricably connected, physically and energetically. On the physical side, when we do back bends / heart openers, we are extending the spine. This extension includes the cervical spine, which can sometimes present a problem. Since the neck is usually the most flexible part of the spin it can get hyper-extended, over flexed, over extended, and over rotated. On the energetic side, it can get blocked.

Ideally, if the cervical spine is simply continuing the extension of the rest of your spine, then fully bending backwards (through your whole spine) would bring the top (or back) of your head to your feet and there would still be a hand’s-breadth worth of space at the back of your neck. Consider, however, how often you do a backbend and find your head collapsing back against the tops of your shoulders – essentially compressing the base of the cervical spine instead of extending it. It’s good, every now and again, to check in with your neck to see if it is in line with the rest of your spine or if it is doing its own things.

Checking the alignment of our neck is a good idea even when we don’t completely recognize that we are in spinal extension. Our head, on average, weighs about 12 lbs., but when we drop the head forward (or back) we compound the pressure on our neck. Drop your chin down and the weight/force on the cervical spine increases about 10 lbs. for every inch. In other words, look down so your head drops an inch and now there’s ~22 lbs. of weight on your neck. Look down another inch and now you’ve increased the load to ~32 lbs. – and so it goes. The angle may not seem like much; but, consider what happens when you spend hours looking down at a computer or a book – especially if you are also hunched over or slouching as you look down. For that matter, consider how much extra weight you’re adding to your upper body when you look down during a push up or plank!

Thinking about all that added pressure may remind you to take more breaks to roll out your neck and shrug your shoulders throughout your day – which is great – but don’t forget that all that looking down is also shortening some of your neck muscles and weakening some of your neck muscles. The result of that imbalance in the front and back of your neck may mean your muscles are straining when you’re in a neutral position, because they are not in the habit of holding your head up properly. This can result in neck and shoulder pain, which may in turn cause (stress) headaches. All that looking down and hunching over also means that we are, essentially, hiding our hearts.

“This is a vulnerable place, because the throat chakra is where the inside comes out.”

– quoted from “Chakra Five: Sound – The Communication Chakra” by Anodea Judith, PhD

In learning about the energetic connections between the mind-body-spirit, as outlined by Yoga and Āyurveda as the come to us from India, I was taught that when addressing a particular area make sure you address the areas directly above and directly below. In other words, if you are focusing on the 5th chakra (throat), you would also address the 4th (heart) and 6th (third eye). Inevitably this brings awareness to the whole mind-body – especially when your focus is something like the 5th chakra, which pretty much requires you to address the whole body. And I mean that symbolically as well as energetically, physically, and mentally.

Remember, each part of the (physical) mind-body is metaphorically and energetically connected to one of 7 major energy wheels (chakras)*, which in turn are metaphorically and energetically connected to part of our lived experience. The 1st chakra is related to our lower body, our roots – metaphorically and energetically associated with our first family, tribe, and community of birth. Just as we can be biologically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Hence, an adoptee may deal with genetic and energetic situations related to people that don’t “recognize” as family.

The 2nd chakra, the sacral chakra (lower abdominal and pelvic regions), is the associated with our sacred relationships – in particular, the relationships we make outside of our tribe and community of birth; people we might think of as our “chosen family.” (NOTE: All relationships are sacred; awareness of this simply highlights connections we may overlook. It can also include relationships we make with our first family grouping once we are an adult.) Moving into our upper abdominal cavity, we encounter the 3rd chakra (solar plexus) – metaphorically and energetically associated with our personality, our sense of self, and our self-esteem (ego). These are all tangible and describable parts of our lived experience and, for the most part, fall into the category of being “specific” in nature/manifestation.

The 4th chakra, the heart chakra, is related to our ability to embrace others, ourselves, a moment, and the world. This area is also related to the way we give and receive love, as well as the way we offer our gifts to the world… or not. When we start moving into manifestations of the heart, we start moving into emotional experiences that may or may not be tangible. In fact, we start moving into a category of things that are “unspecific” in nature and towards a category of things that manifest in a way that is “barely describable” – or, only indicated by signs.

Remember, we may not be able to touch a parent’s love for their child, but we can see it and we can experience the feeling of it. Because of this, we often marry these emotional experiences to the outward expressions of what is felt on the inside – which brings us to the 5th chakra, the throat chakra. When we start going deeper into the energetic dynamics of the throat, we find that we are not exploring how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination in a vacuum. No, the throat chakra is connected to how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination as we engage, interact, and/or surrender to (or balance) the needs, desires, and will/determination of others.

The third eye center, or 6th chakra, is the “seat of intuition” and related to one’s ability to perceive the Truth. The crown chakra, or 7th chakra, is related to the present moment. Both of which are “real,” but not tangible (as in touchable) or perceivable through the senses. When it comes to the throat chakra, we want to be able to perceive the Truth, in this present moment, so that we can speak the Truth, right here and right now.

In summary, I often point out that where we come from or start in life plays are part in how we make friends and with whom we make friends (even when it comes down to geography and logistics); where we come from and the friends we make along the way plays a part in how we see and understand ourselves and our place in the world; how we see ourselves and the support we get (or don’t get) from our family and friends plays a part in how we embrace the world and whether or not we offer our gifts and unique expressions/viewpoints to the world – as well as how well we compromise or “play” with others – and all of that plays a part in our understanding of the Truth when we encounter it as well as our ability/willingness to stay in the present moment versus having a penchant for being stuck in the past or constantly daydreaming (without any effort to manifest those dreams).

So, let’s say you (or a person you know) have a strong foundation in life. As a child you had what you needed and, sometimes, you even got what you wanted. If someone told you “no,” there was an explanation that your 5-year old brain may not have completely understood, but trusted and accepted. You may have taken some things for granted, but you mostly appreciate what you had (and have). You have great, supportive relationships, and a solid sense of self that comes with self awareness. You know you have love, joy, and kindness to offer the world and so you offer it to the best of your ability. You may have some self doubt – that’s natural and human – however, for the most part, you are determined to do certain things in life. Now, consider how you (or this person you know) speak up for yourself and others. Think about how the person above “says something” when they “see something” and something needs to be said.

[*NOTE: Some systems describe a several layers of chakras beyond those physically connected to the mind-body, but still connected to our lived experiences. The first of these (purely) metaphysical wheels is the 8th chakra, which is sometimes associated with a sense of wholeness – as in, being fully connected with the Divine. Consider how not feeling you have a stable foundation in life, not feeling connected to others and/or yourself, and not pursuing your dreams (or speaking up for yourself) can make you gullible (i.e., easily fooled or tricked); more inclined to focus on the past or an unrealistic future; and/or consistently seek out ways in which you can feel more connected and more powerful.]

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

During this practice, I asked if not being heard is like Langston Hughes’s “a dream deferred.” Do those who go unheard eventually explode, as the poem concludes? My answer is yes; because, as uncomfortable as it might make us – and as much as we might not like to hear it or admit it – we can’t deny that there are a lot of voices we are just now starting to hear. We are just now starting to hear some voices from the hills and from the mountains, and we are just now starting to hear some voices from the cities. We are just now starting to hear these loud (explosive) voices, because we weren’t paying attention when they were quiet (or being silenced).

There may be some voices we wish we had heard sooner. We may appreciate what they have to say; we may feel enriched by their perspectives; and we might think they would be less angry if they had been heard sooner. And then there are those equally angry voices that we wish would shut up, because we don’t appreciate their perspectives; we don’t believe we will be enriched by what they have to say; and we may not understand why they are so angry.

My dharma-buddy Stacy was recently featured on a podcast (see below) where she talked about how uncomfortable it is to talk to someone who has recently, and/or over the years, expressed opinions you find abhorrent. Maybe it’s a racist uncle. Maybe it’s a misogynistic friend or a classist neighbor. Maybe it’s your radically-left leaning, militant aunt. Either way, we’ve all been there and we’ve all had that moment where we decide not to speak up, because we don’t want things to become more twisted and uncomfortable.

Then, because we (or someone) didn’t speak up, the situation gets worse and more people get hurt. People start asking why we (or someone) didn’t speak up; why we (or someone) let the pain and suffering continue to happen – maybe even causing direct harm to more people. We may even find ourselves in situations where the finger pointing becomes victim blaming and shaming and not only are we not addressing the original issue, we’re not even addressing the situation that manifested as people not feeling comfortable speaking up and speaking out. Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the world have indicated that it is our responsibility to speak up. If we accept that as gospel truth then we also have to acknowledge the responsibility of listening and making sure voices (including our own) are being heard.

“There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose course is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. Such persons are in Montgomery today. These persons are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity, and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these white brothers to gird their courage, to speak out, to offer the leadership that is needed. Here in Montgomery we are seeking to improve the whole community, and we call upon the whites to help us….  If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

– quoted from the December 3, 1959 Address at the Fourth Annual Institute on the Nonviolence and Social Change of Bethel Church, Montgomery Alabama by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

What does it take to be heard? Well, first you have to speak. What does it take to speak? You have to have fortitude; which can come from that strong foundation, strong support, and that strong sense of self. You have to recognize that you’re not going to change every heart and every mind. Simultaneously, you have to know your heart and mind so that, even if what you say makes people uncomfortable, it is said from the heart, with love and kindness. Part of that practice of speaking from the heart – expressing your heart – is recognizing that everyone won’t agree with you or even understand you. And, that’s ok. As one of my sister-in-laws has said, repeatedly, “Sometimes it’s not for you to understand.”

You have to be aware that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. Maybe your basic premise is flawed or maybe you have the right idea, but express it in a way that’s not wise, skillful, or wholesome. You have to recognize that other people’s needs and desires are based on their lived experiences – which are different from your lived experiences. But, with all that, you have to be determined to be heard. Finally, you need someone who is willing (determined even) to listen – and maybe even to give you their platform.

“SM: …I just talk with her about how, I imagine how difficult that will be; given that she has not been able to make her voice heard with someone that she is close to, with someone that she knows. And that that is a great place to start.  It’s like metta practice: Don’t doubt the power of such a seemingly small interaction – that the impact ripples out. So, talk to your friends and family, who articulate a perspective or viewpoint that is different than yours; without trying to convince them that their way is wrong, without trying to change their mind. Again, genuinely engaging with interest: How did you come to have that perspective? How do you imagine that impacts these people? Like, genuinely, with interest to understand.

DH: So courage doesn’t necessarily mean flipping tables or, you know, throwing cutlery. It can just be inquiring with real interest, as opposed to just an outright confrontation.

SM: Absolutely. And it may have that same intensity for that friend as it would for me, say, in my workplace proposing a whole anti-racist curriculum.”

– quoted from the Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris episode “#350: How to Be Courageous” – featuring Stacy McClendon

Ultimately, there are lots of things – physically, emotionally, and energetically speaking – that keep us from…well, speaking. Sometimes there’s too much energy, too much engagement, and at other times there is not enough. Sometimes when we want to talk about a certain subject or be heard on a certain issue, we find we have a scratchy throat or that we’re losing our voice. Other times, we just can’t seem to find the right words… or we can’t get the words out and we stutter. Sometimes another person’s will/determination to be heard is stronger than ours – sometimes because they believe they should be (and/or have the right) to be heard.

Going back to the Patanjali’s sūtra, the “ability” to not be heard can feel like a loss of power, but what if it enables a transfer of power? What if enables more to be heard? What if it enables more understanding?

May 29th is the anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in 1917, President Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery during his tenure as a United States Senator. He even won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, despite the fact that the book was not included in a list of finalists. The short book features profiles of eight United States Senators who spoke up for what they believed to be right, even though their actions, words, and deeds were not necessarily popular with their constituents and/or party. They spoke for what they believed to be right even when they found themselves under attack and without a position. Heart openers and the idea behind the book are usually my focus on President Kennedy’s birthday, and might even seem to be a good point of entry for Yoga Sūtra 3.22 – except for that really inconvenient part of the story people don’t often mention.

At the beginning of 1953, Ted Sorenson became the chief legislative aide to the then-freshman Senator John F. Kennedy. Eventually, he would become President Kennedy’s special counselor, adviser, and primary speechwriter. Along with Georgetown University professor Jules Davids, he was initially (and publicly) recognized as someone who aided the Senator in writing Profiles in Courage. He even received some remuneration for his “research” and assistance. These days, however, many historians acknowledge that while the idea was Kennedy, the final product was almost all Sorenson. Likewise, a poem featured in the miniseries 11.22.63 is almost always credited to Stephen King, who wrote the book of the same name – even though the poem does not appear in the book. The original poem was, in fact, written by Bridget Carpenter and then edited by Stephen King as he reviewed her script.

It is nice to get credit where credit is due, but these examples are also a good reminder that we all have a voice – even if we are using sign language, even if we are using a computer – we have a way to be “heard,” to share the power of our words. So remember, you have been invited in and honor what you have to say, and honor what those around you are saying.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

– a poem by Bridget Carpenter and Stephen King, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

On having the heart to have a heart-to-heart (the aforementioned podcast)

### LISTEN SILENCE LISTEN ###

Thicker Than…? (a”missing” 2-for-1 post, for Monday-Tuesday) June 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Health, Love, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Tuesday, June 15th and includes references to the Monday, June 14th practice. You can request an audio recording of the practices from Monday and/or Tuesday via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“God, give me strength
And keep reminding me
That blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love is
Thicker than blood

And if blood is
Thicker than water
Then what are we fighting for?
We’re all sons and daughters
Of something that
Means so much more”

 

– quoted from the song “Thicker Than Blood” by Garth Brooks

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day, which coincides with the birthday of Dr. Karl Landsteiner (b. 06/14/1868). Coincidentally, the day devoted to celebrating and expressing gratitude for the generosity of millions of donors around the world is exactly one day before the anniversary of the first documented successful xenotransfusion. The term “xenotransfusion” shares a root with “xenophobia” (fear of “strangers” or fear of “foreigners”) and was originally used to describe the transfer of blood from one species to another, usually between a non-human and a human. Eventually it was also used to describe blood transfusions between a variety of non-human animal species, including canine to cat, bovine to caprine (cattle to goat), and caprine to bovine.

Several physicians and surgeons had attempted blood transfusion in animals, but the most significant experiments of this nature were conducted in 1666 – 1667 by Dr. Richard Lower (in England) and by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys (in Paris). On June 15, 1667, Dr. Denys* (with assistance from Dr. Paul Emmerez) transfused about 12 ounces of sheep blood into the elbow of a 15-year old boy who had been experiencing chronic fever – and who was not finding relief from leeches repeatedly administered by a barber-surgeon. Although most people agree that the small amounts of blood being transfused is what enabled them to avoid the fatal allergic reaction that occurs when mixing blood types (which had not yet been discovered since Dr. Landsteiner hadn’t even been born), Drs. Denys and Emmerez went on to conduct several other successful transfusions.

*NOTE: The information above reflects information from multiple sources which I have consulted since I first learned about the human xenotransfusion. I recently came across something that suggested that while the date, patient details, and source animal were confirmed, the identity of the doctor(s) was not and that Dr. Richard Lower may have conducted the first successful transfusion. However, most sources I researched indicated that Dr. Lower’s first documented xenotransfusion was on November 23, 1667, with the assistance of the surgeon and physician Sir Edmond King. Both Drs. Denys and Lower were physicians to members of the royal family in their respective countries and both may have been ousted from their Courtly roles because of politics. In the case of Dr. Denys, there was also the matter of a patient who died and a trial – during which it came out that the patient didn’t die from a xenotransfusion; they had been poisoned by their wife.

A year ago Monday, and to a certain extent this Monday, I spent World Blood Donor Day focusing on “dana” generosity and the idea that “love is thicker than blood.” I even went down the rabbit hole and got into the etymology of phrases like “blood will tell,” “blood will out,” and “blue-blood.” But this year, when I focused a little more on questions and how the questions we ask can cause us to look at things – ourselves and the world – a certain way, I took another look at the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.” Where does the saying come from? And, does it mean what we think it means?

Simple questions, which (as it turns out), are not as simple as they seem.

I often say that the human mind-body is 60-75% water, depending on age, gender, and overall health. Of course, some of that water is (in) the blood and most of that water is saturated with salt, proteins, and other particles. Also, the fluidity of water is partially determined by the temperature of the water. So, the viscosity of water in the body varies. However, if we consider room temperature water (25°C or 77°F) at a pressure of 1 atmosphere then the resistance to flow is 0.00890 poise (or rounded up to 0.009 P or 0.01 P). At 37°C or 98.6°F (an average body temperature), blood plasma viscosity is 0.015 P and whole blood viscosity is 0.04 P.

I know, it’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but those are standard measurement points – and water’s viscosity is about 0.007 P at 37.8°C or 100°F, so I think you get the point. On the flip side, we can’t touch, hold, and measure love; we can only feel it. We can feel it flowing and recognize when there’s a resistance to the flow; but how do we measure that in order to compare it to water or blood? How can we determine if it’s thicker than blood?

Of course, I’m being a little facetious here. The old adage isn’t about physical science at all. It’s about something that is philosophical and metaphysical in nature and, therefore, requires going deeper.

“The first words [Dandie Dinmont, the farmer] said when he had digested the shock, contained a magnanimous declaration, which he probably was not conscious of having uttered aloud – ‘Weel – blude’s thicker than water – she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.’”

 

– quoted from “Volume II, Chapter IX, Die and endow a college or a cat. Pope.” of Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer (pub. 1815) by Sir Walter Scott, Bart

One of the earliest literary references to blood and water can be found in the 12th century narrative poem Reinhart Fuchs, the oldest known German beast epic (which was itself based on a French poem). According to an English translation of a 13th century version of the poem about the trickster fox (Reynard), “I also hear it said that kin-blood [or, clan blood] is not spoiled by water.” Many believe this statement refers to the fact that not even distance or the “tumultuous tides” of the high seas can sever some connections. The idea that one can move away from home, marry into another clan / family, and still have some loyalty to your original family and tribe is an underlying premise in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer – which gets the credit of being one of the first literary references of the actual phrase “blood is thicker than water” (even though the phrase appeared in print as early as 1670).

In Sir Walter Scott’s novel, first published anonymously in 1815, Guy Mannering is a guest of the Laird and Lady of Ellangowan. He offers to determine the horoscope of his hosts’ young son, Harry Bertram; however, when he predicts that the boy will have three periods of bad fortune, he decides that the details of the bad fortune should be concealed until the boy turns 5. The only problem: young Harry’s first period of misfortune is getting kidnapped before the age of 5. As the paths of Guy Mannering and Harry Bertram (under his adopted identity) cross again and again in India, England, and then again in Scotland, the heir of Ellangowan (Harry) is presumed dead by all but the Laird’s sister (who has inherited the ancestral home). When the “last will and testament” of Harry’s aunt is read, one of those in attendance points out that she (the deceased) can do with her earthly goods as she desired. As Sir Walter Scott alludes at the beginning of the chapter, she can extend her generosity to a college or a cat; a deceased heir and a servant; and everything in between.

“With them, any two children nourished at the same breast are called ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘suckling brothers;’ and the tie is very strong. A boy and a girl in this relation cannot marry, even though by birth they had no family relationship….But the Arabs hold that the brothers in the covenant of blood are closer than brothers at a common breast; that those who have tasted each other’s blood are in a surer covenant than those who have tasted the same milk together; that ‘blood-lickers,’ as the blood brothers are sometimes called, are more truly one than ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘sucking brothers’ ; that, indeed, blood is thicker than milk, as well as thicker than water.”

– quoted from “I. THE PRIMITIVE RITE ITESELF. 2. An Ancient Semetic Rite” in The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture by H. Clay Trumbull

Beyond literary references, we can find evidence of people making, reinforcing, and commenting about familial bonds and chosen bonds since the dawn of recorded time. In The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture, the American clergyman and Civil War veteran Henry Clay Trumbull chronicled ancient rituals from around the world that are based on the premise “that the blood is the life ; that the heart , as the blood-fountain, is the very soul of every personality; that blood-transfer is soul transfer; that blood-sharing, human, or divine-human, secures an inter-union of natures; and that a union of the human nature with the divine is the highest ultimate attainment reached out after by the most primitive, as well as by the most enlightened, mind of humanity.” Many of these rituals were described to Trumball by people who had participated in the rituals themselves and/or were first-hand witnesses.

For example, he wrote about Syrian men in Lebanon becoming brother-friends in a public ceremony involving blood-letting, ingesting, and a blood-smeared written contract (in duplicate) that was worn by the men and that formed a sacred and legal bond that was considered stronger than the legal ties of marriage (as it could not be dissolved). He also described similar African rituals – although, in at least one tribe, the bond was established by through contact with incisions made on the hands, stomachs, and right cheeks foreheads and the blood was mixed in “beer” and drunk (as opposed to being licked off a knife). There was also an exchange of gifts to seal the bond. In the aforementioned cases, such bonds required loyalty between the bonded; that each person to defend the other in times of crisis/war; that each person support the other in times of need; and that each be willing to take on the other’s familial responsibilities should the need arise. These bonds could also, in theory, be used to end conflict just as some marriages have been used throughout history. After all, there is power in connection.

“Someone told [Jesus], ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’

Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. Matthew 12:47-50 (NIV)

There are, of course, conversations about covenants (and the power of covenants) throughout the Abrahamic religions – and these conversations are often related to conflict resolution and/or familial responsibility. In addition to the passages (above and below), where Jesus highlights spiritual relationships over (genetic) blood-kin relationships, there is a point in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (specifically Matthew 18) when Jesus instructs his disciples on “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” [little children] and what to do in various situations, like if one of their “sheep” go astray [leave the others to go after it]. In a situation where one brother “trespass[es]” against another and the two in conflict cannot come to an agreement, they are told to gather “one or two others” who can sever as witnesses [18:16]. Part of the explanation for this instruction comes from 18:20, when he tells the disciples that he/his teachings will be among them when “three or more are gathered in my name….” In other words, the will be more powerful and more spiritual grounded/connected.

These Christian contexts is why some scholars state that the “water” in the old “proverb” refers to “the water of the womb” – which twists the whole saying around. If we accept this etymology or origin of the phrase, the original meaning was always “love is thicker than blood.” If that was always the meaning, then it stands to reason that, at some point in history, someone added that last part to the public lexicon so people would stop misunderstanding the message.

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. John 19:25-27 (NIV)

 

There is no playlist for the Monday night Common Ground practice.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “06142020 World Blood Donor Day”]

 

### “Love is, thicker than water” ~ Andy Gibb / Barry Gibb ###

 

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

 

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

 

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

 

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

 

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Price Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

 

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

 

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

 

### AMEN, SELAH ###

 

 

 

Down the Rabbit Hole, on April 12th April 12, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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PLEASE NOTE: This post involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.”

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“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

– from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

 

 

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

– from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

 

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb last night. One was from a friend, sharing the quote above. The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way. On Sunday, April 12th, Western Christians are celebrating Easter, Orthodox Christians are celebrating Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), the Jewish community is observing Passover and there are some people in the world celebrating both Easter (or Palm Sunday) and Passover. When you consider that this observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keep in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

As you remember, Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and therefore Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originates within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus meets the qualifications. According to most Jews, he does not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Sunday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this. The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:6), by Jack Hawley

 

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:12

 

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:14

In the Exodus story, the Jewish people are slaves in Egypt and G-d commands Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand they be released. Moses takes his brother Aaron along and then, when their show of power doesn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone is subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it’s not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffer. The Jews, who are already suffering the hardship of slavery, also have to endure these additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families are told they are to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They are also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happens in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial speaks to Moses and Moses asks for G-d’s identity, Moses is told three times that the One who speaks is the One who will be with Moses and the Jewish people always. Regardless of what they are experiencing, Rashi explains, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:7-8), by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time), and future Christians, are kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he is betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously is not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb is opened and there is some confusion about what has happened, Jesus is essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, are either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 

– John 3:16 (NIV)

 

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9), by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (April 12th) for my first every Easter Sunday service/practice, 2:30 PM – 3:35 PM, on Zoom. Some of the new security protocols are definitely kicking in so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

 

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can practice pragmatism and self-compassion, please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now ((viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is pragmatic and compassionate!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 12th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 12th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 12th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 12th Practice

 

AMEN, SELAH ###