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Fly (W)right (a Monday post) September 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing Sukkot. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 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.]

 “More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, where foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.”

– quoted from the poem “Optimism” in Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield

“Resilience” is defined as “the power or ability to return to the original form or position; to recover readily from; the ability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after; buoyancy.” It comes from a Latin phrase meaning “to spring” or “leaping back” and, as some of friends can attest, it is one of my favorite subjects. I love the beauty and the power of resiliency. I’m also a big fan of stories, especially true stories, about people who fall down and then pick themselves back up – or even of stories, especially true stories, about people who have been pushed down and somehow, almost miraculously, pick themselves back up. Those stories are inspiring because we have all been there.

We have all tried something that didn’t work out the first or second (or even the thousandth time), but we kept going. Like Thomas Edison. Or, maybe like Alfred Nobel, we’ve spent our time working on things we thought would make the world a better place… only to discover that people thought of us as the epitome of evil – and then we have to go back to the drawing board in order to leave a different legacy. We have all battled our personal obstacles and readied ourselves to put our best foot forward… only to find someone else has found their groove before us. Like Ella Fitzgerald. Or, maybe in battling our personal demons, we just fell down… and had to get back up. Then too, we have all been the underdog (like David and Michelangelo) and we have all had to figure out a way to rise from “a past rooted in pain.” Like Maya Angelou.

I could go on. But the point is we all have to find our wings.

“Be like the bird, who
Pausing in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him
Yet sings
Knowing he has wings.”

 

– “Be like the bird” poem by Victor Hugo

On September 20, 1904, in a cow pasture known as “Huffman Prairie,” just outside Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their 49th flight. They had moved their flights from Kitty Hawk and the Kill Devil Hills of North Caroline, in part because of the windy weather and in part because cutting their (land-based) travel time gave them more opportunities to fly. For the Flyer II, they used white pine instead of spruce and added weight to strengthen the frame. They also added a more powerful engine, shifted the center of gravity forward, and adjusted the plane’s wings configuration to create more pitch stability – all of which made it easier to fly. Finally, because they had less wind than at Kitty Hawk, they devised a catapult to pull the airplane down a wooden track. The catapult dropped a 1,000-pound (544 kilograms) weight from 20 feet (6.1 meters) in order to achieve a greater speed at takeoff.

Wilbur Wright was flying the newsworthy flight, which was remarkable not only because it lasted 1 minute, 36 seconds (covering 4,080 feet), but also because it was the first time they flew in a complete circle. 360 degrees! [In other words, they returned to their original position.] Amos I. Root, a beekeeper, had driven 175 miles (from Medina, Ohio) just to see the Wright Brothers fly. He published his eyewitness account of that first circle in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture.

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was . . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels . . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

 

– quoted from an article dated a January 1, 1905, in the Gleanings in Bee Culture by Amos I. Root

Amos Root’s words painted a vivid picture of a successful moment. He put the reader right smack dab in the middle of the moment. But what of all the crashes; what about all of the missed take offs and landings? Can we picture a moment some might consider a failure? What keeps someone going in those moments – especially when they are in the process of trying doing something that has never been done? What’s the secret to that kind of tenacity and resilience?

Some people believe resilience is all about attitude and perspective; others believe it is physiological (and genetic). Still others believe it is a combination of the two. Either way, there are keys to mental, emotional, energetic, and physical resilience. You could even call them secrets (although we all know them). These keys (or secrets) can be highlighted by inspirational stories. For example, a cursory look at the story of the Wright brothers and their quest to fly includes a little note on sleep; being in good company (which is also having a supportive community); being mindful, especially of what works and what doesn’t work; letting go of what doesn’t work; and getting good momentum. The Wright brothers’ story also pays tribute to what happens when you wake up with a little grace and a little faith.

“We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.”

 

– Wilbur Wright

The idea of flying, testing new modifications and soaring through the sky, energized the Wright brothers. Take a moment to consider what gets you energized, excited and grateful to wake up and greet the new day – especially if the previous day was hard. For some people it is their children, their family, or their friends that get them going. For some people it’s their pets. For some people it is a new adventure, a new possibility. For some people it is the possibility of helping others and/or fulfilling their purpose. It can even be a combination of things. For instance, in Buddhism, the practice and commitment to the practice are supported by the Three Jewels: the Buddha, or teacher; the Dharma, which are the teachings; and the Sangha, which is the community. People take refuge in these, especially when times are challenging.

What inspires you to get up and keep going when you encounter challenges and setbacks?

“‘For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.’”

 

Mishlei – Proverbs (24:16)

It’s easy to say, “Well, I know what used to work. But….” And, yes, it’s true, our lives have changed; our relationships and social situations have changed – even as the world has changed – and will keep changing. However, there are some things that are constant. There are some things that change with us. Then, too, there is something in each of us that responds to a certain type of motivation. Pinpoint your motivator.

Maybe it’s been awhile and maybe you’ve forgotten what it felt like to be excited about the new day. If so, maybe you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Another option is to take a moment – maybe 90 seconds – to remember the feeling, the embodied feeling, of getting up, dusting yourself off, and smiling as you get ready to do what you’re going to do.

And that’s another of my favorite “secret” tips, courtesy of Yoda: Focus on what you’re doing (not on what you’re trying)! Focus on flying – whatever that means to you at this moment.

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.”

 

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.”

 

– Orville Wright

Once we get past the inspiring story, it’s easy to look at the people mentioned above and think that most of us haven’t endured the hardships some of them endured or that we haven’t accomplished the things those noteworthy people accomplished. We may not even desire what they desired. Still, we all have our trials, our tribulations, our challenges, and our obstacles. We also all have some accomplishment or experience that we keep working our way towards despite the frustration of not have achieved our goal or desire the way we expected to achieve it. Or, maybe things didn’t happen according to the timetable we had in our head. Either way, this isn’t about comparing our lot to someone else’s lot.

This is about the fact that something keeps us going.

Years ago I came across a yoga article by Christina Sell about “changing inner dialogue” and it gave me a great appreciation for the power of the word “yet.” Yes, sometimes the word can be part of self-defeating criticism, but it can also be used as a motivator. She suggested that when we’re working on something – on or off the mat – to think about it from the perspective of “I haven’t done this yet, but…. Such a little word; yet it can keep us moving in the direction that brings us closer and closer to our goals.

“A further meaning of the word yoga is ‘to attain what was previously unattainable.’ The starting point for this thought is that there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga….

Another aspect of yoga has to do with our actions. Yoga therefore also means acting in such a way that all our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged.”

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

“‘Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.’”

– quoted from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

[A small portion of the above was previously posted on September 20, 2020. Click here for the original context and a different look at “returning.”]

 

### Be Like The Bird (but not like the Song of Solomon peacock) ###

You and Your Heart Are Invited September 7, 2021

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

– Dr. Michael DeBakey (in 1998)

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

### Bah Dum – Bah Dum – Bah Dum ###

Wonderfully, Hopefully, Fearlessly Impossible (just the music w/ a link) August 4, 2021

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Click here for last year’s blog post related to this practice.

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.)

 

 

### 🎶 ###

Answering the “Impossible” Call (mostly the music w/ a link) August 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Music.
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“Nothing can hold you back—not your childhood, not the history of a lifetime, not even the very last moment before now. In a moment you can abandon your past. And once abandoned, you can redefine it.

 

If the past was a ring of futility, let it become a wheel of yearning that drives you forward. If the past was a brick wall, let it become a dam to unleash your power.

 

The very first step of change is so powerful, the boundaries of time fall aside. In one bittersweet moment, the sting of the past is dissolved and its honey salvaged.”

 

– quoted from the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory; words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman.

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 3rd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

Click here to find out about today’s “impossible” person.

### There Is No Call Waiting ###

Giving It All You’ve Got… & Then Letting Go (mostly the music w/some links) August 1, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Music, Philosophy, Vairagya.
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“When Herman Melville was writing Moby Dick, he wasn’t writing about a man looking for a whale. He was writing about a man trying to find his higher self. He said these words, ‘… for as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all of the horrors of the half-lived life.’

In every moment of your life, as you leave here today, you have this choice, you can either be a host to God, or a hostage to your ego.”

 

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 1st) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 

Click here for a blog post related to Herman Melville and the power of words or click here for a little bit about Maria Mitchell and Herman Melville, both born today – exactly a year apart.

 

 

### Don’t Hook Yourself ###

New Year, New Season (a “missing” post for multiple Saturdays) March 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, New Year, Religion.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere.

[This post is related to three Saturdays, March 6th; March 13th; and March 20th. You can request an audio recording of any of the practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

Today, Saturday, March 20th, was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, the Bahá’i New Year started at sunset on Friday evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali instructs us to pay attention to the transitions.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

When detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali explores the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and refers to them collectively as samyama. Once he explains how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautions against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineates the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible.

Obvious, right? But what happens when we “Get Inside” (as we did on Saturday, March 6th)?

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the artist, was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese (then the Republic of Florence and now Tuscany, Italy). Known for works like David, the Pietá, and some of the most well-known frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was known as Il Divino (“The Divine One”) by his contemporaries, because he had the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and to create terribilitá (a sense of awesomeness or emotional intensity). He said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

In the practice of Yoga, we use the first four limbs of the philosophy the way Michelangelo used his carving and painting tools: to bring what is inside out, to set our inner angel free. Or, as I mentioned on the 6th, we can use it to set our inner GOAT free.

“‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”

 

– quoted from the Ebony Magazine article, “Muhammad Ali: ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ – Despite his medical problems, ‘The Greatest’ says there is plenty of fight left in his body” by Walter Leavy (published March 1985)

 

In 1964, it was announced to the world that the boxer we now know as The Greatest of All Times would no longer go by his birth name or “slave name” – which was also his father’s name. The heavy-weight champion’s grandfather had named his son (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.,) after a 19th-century abolitionist politician in Kentucky (Cassius Marcellus Clay) who, by some accounts, strong-armed President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate Confederate slaves and freed some of his own slaves in 1844, but still kept some slaves on hand. Muhammad Ali wanted to distance himself from that legacy of slavery and forge his own path; so, he chose a name that reflected his faith and his skills: Muhammad Ali.

The name change wasn’t even close to instantaneous. In fact, with the major exception of Howard Cosell, who coincidentally had changed his own last name back to his family’s original Polish surname, most journalists and media outlets continued to refer to the prizefighter as “Cassius Clay” for over a decade. And it wasn’t just a matter of people getting use to the new name. Because he refused to answer to his birth name, journalist would address him as Muhammad Ali in-person, but then write about “Cassius Clay.” By their own account, The New York Times wrote about over 1,000 articles about “Cassius Clay” from 1964 to 1968, but only referenced “Muhammad Ali” in about 150. This practice continued well into the 1970’s! But the practice wasn’t even consistent; the media seemed to have no problem referencing “Malcolm X” – even though, at the time, he was still legally “Malcolm Little.”

Muhammad means “One who is worthy of praise” and Ali means “Most high.” The names, as he clearly stated, were symbolic in nature – as all names are. By changing his name, Muhammad Ali honored his outside (i.e., the color of his skin) while also placing emphasis on the inside (i.e., his talent and his beliefs). He also gave the world tools to focus on the inside and to become more intimate. Sadly, some folks kept themselves stuck on the outside.

Yoga Sūtra 3.7: trayam antarangam pūrvebhyah

 

– “These three practices of concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna), and samādhi are more intimate or internal than the previous five practices.”

Patanjali devotes a series of “threads” to the distinctions between internal/intimate and external in order to illustrate that perspective can make something that feels internal feel “external” simply because there is something more “internal.” One great example of this can be illustrated by comparing different types of physical practices of yoga. For instances: A vinyāsa practice (because it is a moving practice) is more “yang” or active than a YIN Yoga practice (in which part of the practice is not moving for what can feel like an incredibly long amount of time). On the flip side, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga can be significantly more “yang” or active than a “Slow Flow” and a Restorative Yoga practice can be significantly more “yin” than a YIN yoga practice.

By the same token, focusing on the breath and the awareness of the breath  begins to feel more internal than just moving the body without breath awareness, but the former begins to feel more external when you can concentrate without actively thinking about the fact that you are concentrating on your breath (or anything else). In other words, the object of focus is the “seed” – something tangible and understandable, with a reference point. Then, there is a point in the practice when the focus becomes “seedless” – at which point being “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” (which was our thread on Saturday, March 13th).

Yoga Sūtra 3.8: tad api bahir-angam nirbījasya

 

– “These three practices are external, and not intimate compared to nirbija samadhi, which is samadhi that has no object, nor even a seed object on which there is concentration.”

 

In our physical practice, more often than not, we use the breath as our primary “seed.” At first we may simultaneously engage it on multiple levels. After all, we can feel it, we can direct it, and (under the proper conditions) we can see it. Eventually, however, we become absorbed in the experience of breathing and being alive – which is obviously a different experience than actively working with the breath, but it is also a different experience than breathing and living without being aware of the breath. I often think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of someone like Joseph Priestley, just as I think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of those three people who left footprints on the side of a mountain in Italy over 350,000 years ago.

On March 13, 2003, Nature Journal published the work of three paleontologists who had identified fossilized footprints (and handprints) as belonging to three homo-genus individuals fleeing the then-actively erupting Roccamonfino volcano. Through those external impressions (embedded deep in the earth), we get an intimate glimpse into a brief moment of their lives. We know two fled the volcano together, one assisting the other. We know about their pace and trajectory, based on the zigzag patterns and the places where it appears one or more supported themselves with their hands. We can use their steps as tools and then, based on our own experiences, move deeper from there.

Joseph Priestley, born March 13, 1733 (according to the Julian calendar) was an 18th-century English theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, liberal political theorist, and a member of the Lunar Circle (also known as the Lunar Society). He is credited with discovering oxygen in its isolated gaseous state (which he considered “dephlogisticated air”). He also inventing soda water – which, he believed, could cure scurvy and which he called “impregnated water.” He also believed science was integral to theology and, therefore, all of his scientific work was a reflection of his liturgical work, and vice versa.

Even though much of what Joseph Priestley believed, scientifically speaking, has been superseded by advancements in technology and science, his work is one of the steps that brought us closer to the knowledge we have now. Think of his phlogiston theories as “seeds” at the beginning of the process. Now, consider, how – having moved beyond that point of understanding – we start anew… and go deeper. (As we did today, March 20th.)

“Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton and have traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might see nothing very extraordinary in the process.”

 

– Joseph Priestley

 

This week’s “threads” can be a little hard to take in just from the sūtras themselves. However, the point is to experience them and, once we have experienced them (in context) we realize they are easier to understand. There are some really great analogies related to movement and transition – which is the whole point of these threads – but the one that came to mind today takes us back to the boat analogy.

Take a moment to imagine your breath as a wave, with you floating on your back or floating in a boat. It doesn’t matter if you are lazily enjoying some time off or in a rush to go somewhere. Either way, there are times when you will have to make an adjustment – a course correction, if you will. Sometimes, you have to make big adjustments in order to stay focused; other times, little adjustments. Every now and again, however, there is a moment where you don’t need to make any adjustments or modifications. You don’t have to peddle to stay afloat and you don’t have to steer yourself in the right direction. You are one with the waves, going with the flow and “in the zone.” This is the next level of the Yoga experience. 

Yoga Sūtra 3.9: vyutthāna-nirodhah-samskāra abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhah-kşaņa-chitta-anvayah nirodhah-pariņāmah

 

– “When the vision of the lower Samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.10: tasya praśānta-vāhitā samskārāt

 

– “When this suppression of thought waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.”

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 6th (the “Getting Inside or ‘What Is Inside, IV’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 13th (the “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 20th (the “New Year, New Season” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###

New Year, New Wings September 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Faith, Hope, Mantra, New Year, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

“We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.”

– Wilbur Wright

“Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there”

– quoted from “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  

Consider the possibilities of a do over. We all make mistakes; we all choose one path and then (even if it works out) consider what might have been; and we all have moments when we want a do over. And, on a certain level, we get one: every time we inhale, every time we exhale.

Every time you inhale, every time you exhale; something begins and something ends. Every time you exhale, every time you inhale; one year ends and a new one begins. We don’t necessarily think about time and life that way – but it doesn’t make it any less true.

“There’s no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, a state of bliss”

– quoted from “Learning to Fly” from Pink Floyd

Rosh Hashanah, “the the Head of the Year,” began at sunset on Friday night. So, for Jewish people around the world (and for people who observe the commanded holidays outlined in Deuteronomy), today is the second day of the New Year and the second day of the High Holidays; the “Ten Days of Atonement,” also known as the “Ten Days of Awe” which culminate with Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.” It is one of the holiest times of the year and is celebrated by people who might not typical go to services. Unlike a secular new year, it is more than a celebration – it is an observation: a time for reflection, remembrance, and repentance.

That last one, repentance, is really huge. It’s one of the key elements of this time. Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance,” is not about self flagellation; it’s not about beating yourself up. It’s up recognizing when you’ve made a mistake – even the same mistake again and again – and deciding you’re not going to STOP making that mistake. Then you express some REMORSE and, however possible, actually articulate or VERBALIZE that remorse. This is a time when people are very deliberately, very intentionally, asking for and/or offering forgiveness. Then, because there’s a good chance the mistake is a habit – maybe even a deeply ingrained habit that forms a “mental impression” (samskara) – people PLAN how they want to move forward with their lives. They consider not only what they want to turn away from, but also what they are turning away from – or, even better, what they are turning towards.

Turning towards something, returning, is the active ability of coming, going, sending, or putting something back to a place or activity. A return is also one gets from an investment of time or money. And, in Hebrew, teshuvah can also be translated as “return.” Yes, many secular/cultural Jews return to their homes, their families, and the traditions of their birth during the High Holidays. When they return physically and spiritually, they also engage in the possibility of returning to their best version of themselves and the possibility of living their best lives. This is not taken lightly, nor should it be. This is an invitation to the rest of your life!

Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik, in her vlog “Lori, Almost Live,” once talked about how you accept the invitation to the rest of your life the same way you would accept any other invitation: You RSVP. Except, the steps you take to RSVP for your life are slightly different (as you can see in her video and by the words in all caps above). Yes, it’s true, when we get a regular invitation we consider all kinds of things, but today I want you to think about two things. First, when you start to think about a new year, and new possibilities, you ask yourself if you are given to fly. Second, if you are given to fly (even if you ain’t got wings), ask yourself if you are willing to (re)turn.

“And he still gives his love, he just gives it away
The love he receives is the love that is saved”

– quoted from “Given to Fly” by Pearl Jam

Today in 1904, in a cow pasture known as “Huffman Prairie,” just outside Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their 49th flight. They had moved their flights from Kitty Hawk and the Kill Devil Hills of North Caroline, in part because of the windy weather and in part because cutting their (land-based) travel time gave them more opportunities to fly. For the Flyer II, they used white pine instead of spruce and added weight to strengthen the frame. They also added a more powerful engine, shifted the center of gravity forward, and adjusted the plane’s wings configuration to create more pitch stability – all of which made it easier to fly. Finally, because they had less wind than at Kitty Hawk, they devised a catapult to pull the airplane down a wooden track. The catapult dropped a 1,000-pound (544 kilograms) weight from 20 feet (6.1 meters) in order to achieve a greater speed at takeoff.

Wilbur Wright was flying for today’s flight, which was remarkable not only because it lasted 1 minute, 36 seconds (covering 4,080 feet), but also because it was the first time they flew in a complete circle. 360 degrees! Amos I. Root, a beekeeper, had driven 175 miles (from Medina, Ohio) just to see the Wright Brothers fly. He published his eyewitness account of that first circle in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture.

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was. . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels. . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

– quoted from an article dated a January 1, 1905, in the Gleanings in Bee Culture by Amos I. Root

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 13th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.”

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.”

– Orville Wright

### MAY YOUR NAME BE WRITTEN & SEALED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE ###

The Impossible Cornerstones of Liberty August 6, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Poetry, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Wednesday, August 5, 2020.]

 

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

 

Today (August 5th) in 1844, when the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was placed on a rainy Bedloe’s Island, it seemed impossible to complete the project meant to be a testament to freedom, friendship, and the spirit of the people. People in France provided the funds for the statue designed by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (with scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel), while people in the United States were meant to pay for the base and pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The only problem was that the Americans were short…about $100,000 short.

Hunt’s design for the pedestal and base incorporated the eleven-point star foundation of the army fort (Fort Wood) which had been built in 1807 and abandoned during the Civil War. He always intended his design to be simple, so as not to take away from the statue itself, but raising money for his design turned out to be such a challenge that he scrapped twenty-five feet from the height of his original design. He also cut back on materials so that instead of the pedestal and base being constructed entirely out of granite, he had to make do with concrete walls covered with a granite-block face. His cost cutting measures still might not have been enough if a certain newspaper man hadn’t decided to tap into the spirit of the people and, in doing so, overcame what some viewed as an impossible obstacle. That newspaper man was Joseph Pulitzer and on March 16, 1885 he implored people in the United States to give what they could, even if it was a penny, in order to pay for the base and pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with an ad and a series of front page editorials, he was able to crowd fund over $100,000 in about 5 months.

“We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people – by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans – by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.

Take this appeal to yourself personally. It is meant for every reader of The World. Give something, however little. Send it to us. We will receive it and see that it is properly applied.”

 

– quoted from The New York World editorial by Joseph Pulitzer, 1885

Joseph Pulitzer offered people a six inch metal replica of Lady Liberty (described as a “perfect fac-simile”) if they donated a dollar to the “Pedestal Fund” established by Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and a twelve inch replica if they donated $5. While that may not seem like a lot today, keep in mind that this was after the Financial Panic of 1873 (which created a depression in the United States and Europe). Also, interest seemed to be in short supply since the United States was still trying to recover from the Civil War – which left many Americans desiring heroic public art rather than allegorical public art. But, Joseph Pulitzer had a way with words and there were a group of people – immigrants – who were inspired to donate specifically because of the symbolism of the statue. Ultimately, over 125,000 people donated – most donating a dollar or less. They not only donated to receive the replicas, they donated via auctions, lotteries, and boxing matches.  They donated by depriving themselves of things they needed or things they wanted. Some kids donated by pooling their “circus” and candy money. Some adults donated what they would normally spend on drinks. At the end of the fundraising, Joseph Pulitzer printed every donor’s name in the New York World – regardless of how little or how much they donated.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a building or structure. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone; thereby making it the very foundation of the foundation. It determines the overall position of the structure and is often placed with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. It is usually inscribed with the date of its placement and often includes a time capsule, which includes some clues as to what was important to the people who attended the ceremony. Such was the case with Lady Liberty’s pedestal cornerstone, which was placed over a square hole dug for a copper time capsule. The time capsule contained a number of articles, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States – both documents considered to be the cornerstones of the United States and the ultimate law of the land.

Although we don’t always think of it this way, one of the cornerstones of the legal system in a commonwealth is a bar. It might be wooden railing, it might be metal railing; however, historically, this bar separated those within the legal profession (specifically the judge and those who had business with the court) from everyone else. In particular, “everyone else” referred to law students whose aspirations were to “pass the bar” – meaning they would be on the other side of the symbolic railing. This symbolic railing is also used to refer to professional organizations, membership in which is sometimes required in order for an attorney to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Let’s skip “state bars” for a second and just focus on “voluntary” bar associations – which, in the United States are private organizations which serve as social, educational, and lobbying organizations. Legal professionals can not only use these bar associations to network with other professionals and the general public (hence expanding their practice), they can also advocate for law reform. I place “voluntary” in quotes, because I’m not sure how possible it is to practice law in the United States without being a member of a “bar association” (not to be confused with a state bar).

Even if it’s possible to practice without being a member of a bar association – and I trust one of you lawyer yogis will educate me with a comment below – I imagine it would be quite challenging (maybe even impossible) to successfully practice. Especially, back when there was only one major bar association in the United States. And, especially back in the 1920’s when your race and gender prevented you from joining said association. Such was the plight of Gertrude Rush (née Durden), born today (August 5th) in 1880 in Navasota, Texas. Ms. Rush not only became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Iowa (state) bar, for about 32 years she was (sometimes) the ONLY female attorney practicing in the state of Iowa (1918 – 1950). She placed a particular emphasis on women’s (legal) rights in estate cases and had a passion for religion, extensively studying the 240 women whose stories are featured in the Bible. Many within the local court referred to her as the “Sunday school lawyer.” She took over her husband’s law practice and, in 1921 (just a year after women’s right to vote was ratified by the United States Congress) she was elected the president of the Colored Bar Association; however, it was impossible for her to be admitted to the American Bar Association. She tried. So, did several other African-American lawyers. They tried because the ABA had one Black lawyer and was, therefore “integrated.” Eventually, however, they stopped trying to join an organization that didn’t want them and started their own organization.

“…a very worn Bible is almost as prominent as the well-thumbed Iowa code on the desk of Mrs. Gertrude E. Rush.”

 

– quoted from “Iowa’s Only Negro Woman Lawyer Firmly on the Golden Rule” article about Gertrude Rush, located in Iowa Public Library (excerpt printed in Notable Black American Women, Book 2 by Jessie Carney Smith

Gertrude Rush was one of the founding members of the Negro Bar Association, which was incorporated on August 1, 1925 with 120 members (which was about 11 – 12% of the Black lawyers in the US at the time). Eventually renamed, the National Bar Association, the NBA ” addressed issues such as professional ethics, legal education, and uniform state laws, as well as questions concerning the civil rights movement in transportation discrimination, residential segregation, and voting rights.” The NBA supported civil rights groups by providing legal information, filing outside legal briefs (amicus curiae), and blocking federal court nominees who opposed racial equality. As a bar association, however, the NBA did not directly participate in civil rights activities. Instead, NBA members like Gertrude Rush and (eventual) Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall became members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

It was as part of the NAACP’s legal team  that Justice Marshall argued cases like Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Raymond Pace Alexander founded the National Bar Journal (1941), which became a way for Black lawyers to challenge legal principles which conflicted with the interest of African-Americans. The Rev. W. Harold Flowers, a co-founder with Ms. Rush and a former president of the NBA (who would eventually be appointed as an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals), was the attorney whose motions in 1947 resulted in a reconfigured jury after he pointed out that the Arkansas court had not had a Black juror in 50 years. Additionally, the NBA established free legal clinics in 12 states, thereby creating the foundational cornerstone for the poverty law and legal clinics of today.

Gertrude Rush was also one of the organizers of the Charity League, which coordinated the hiring of a Black probation officer for the Des Moines Juvenile Court; created the Protection Home for Negro Girls, a shelter; and served on the boards of a host of other women’s organizations.

Stay tuned for news about when I will resume classes.  If you want to practice with one of the previously recorded classes, I would suggest June 17th (a Lady Liberty class with a lot of arm movement, good for the brain and shoulders – some of you call it a “sobriety test”).  The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The playlist starts with instrumental music. If your Spotify is on shuffle, you will want your music volume low at the beginning of the practice.)

Feel free to email me at Myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com if you would like a copy of the recordings from Wednesday, June 17th.

 

As I running late, this August 5th post is actually being published on August 6th, which the anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law.

Today, August 6th, is also the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Confiscation Act of 1861 and the U. S. bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality and effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, he signed them into law anyway. To this day, people are still debating the effects of the bombings on August 6th and 9th (Nagasaki), both of which clearly broke the Golden Rule (and the not then established Geneva Convention).

As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

 

 

Wonderfully, Fearlessly, Hopefully Impossible August 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Tuesday, August 4, 2020.]

“Nothing in the world is single;

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—

   All things by a law divine

In one spirit meet and mingle.

   Why not I with thine?—”

 

– quoted from “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Everything overlaps. We all share common threads. So, even without the Muhammad Ali quote (from 8/2), you could create a Venn diagram based on the first three “impossible” posts and figure out who I might highlight next as an “impossible person.” A Venn diagram is, of course, a set or logic model that shows the overlapping relations between finite collections. They are used in set theory, probability, logic, statistics, computer science, and other math modalities. These diagrams were developed by John Venn, who was born today (August 4th) in 1834. While he came from a long line of church evangelicals, including his namesake and grandfather, it was not impossible for him to choose a field of study outside of the church. That being said, two years after he obtained his mathematics degree from Gonville and Caius College (the fourth oldest and the wealthiest college at University of Cambridge), Venn became an Angelican priest and actually served in the church. It was after his first church appointment, while working as an intercollegiate lecturer at Cambridge, that Venn developed the diagrams.

If you create sets based on the biographies of Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, you might think that to make my “impossible list” someone would have to be a woman who was the first woman to do something in a profession normally associated with men. You might even think that that someone had to be virtually unknown to the masses. But, then you have to add James Baldwin into the mix. Now, with the third set, you can broaden the definition to include any human who does something outside of society’s expectations – especially, if their achievements make it possible for others to follow in their footsteps and/or do something previously viewed as impossible.

I have heard that it is impossible to make a Venn diagram out of four circles – and I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t do a very good job of explaining (mathematically) why it is considered impossible – but you can use ellipses. So, when you add in the fact that John Venn was a suffragist who also encouraged woman to run for office, you might think he makes my list. But, he doesn’t. Neither does Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born today in 1792. Instead, today’s “impossible people” are a musician, a president, and a duchess.

“Some of you young folks been sayin’ to me, ‘Eh, Pops, what do you mean, what a wonderful world? How ’bout all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how ’bout hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful, either.’ But how ’bout listenin’ to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby – love. That’s the secret. Yeeeaaahhh. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.”

 

– Louis Armstrong (introducing “What a Wonderful World” in a 1970 recording)

The wonderful Louis Armstrong was born today (August 4th) in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Known as “Satchmo,” “Satch,” “Pops,” “Dipper,” and “Louie,” he came by his most famous nickname because people said the way he puffed out his cheeks when he played the trumpet made him look like he had a mouth full of coins. Some biographers even say that, as a child, he played for pennies and would actually use his mouth as his satchel. For five decades he carved a place for himself in the world as a trumpeter, a composer, a singer, and an actor. His career also spanned different genres of jazz and in 2017 he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Some might say that it should have been impossible for him to play the way he played given the way he breathed into his mouth. Others might think that, as a talented African-American entertainer, there was nothing impossible about his success. Yet, when you look at the history of music in America, you find that there was a time (cough, cough) when African-American music often crossed over into the popular culture – but, it did so without the African-American musicians. Louis Armstrong established himself without publicizing (or politicizing) his race and, therefore, his music entered a room before his skin color.

Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for most of his life, in honor of the Jewish family that “adopted” him as a child and bought him his first trumpet. He wrote in his memoir about seeing his “adopted family” experiencing discrimination and said that the way they lived taught him how to live with determination. Yet, his determination to live and be judged by his art rather than his skin color, led him to receive a lot of criticism from other prominent Black entertainers and activist. Part of the criticism stemmed from the fact that he played for segregated audiences and wouldn’t use his social power and echelon to press for civil rights. However, he did criticize President Dwight D. Eisenhower for his lack of response to the Little Rock desegregation crisis – even going so far as to cancel a State Department sponsored tour to the Soviet Union and state that he would not represent a government that mistreated his people.

“While I could say Pennsylvania and Ohio, and continue this proverbial two-step, I instead give them what they’re after: ‘My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.’ To describe something as being black and white means it is clearly defined. Yet when your ethnicity is black and white, the dichotomy is not that clear. In fact, it creates a grey area. Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating. When I was asked by ELLE to share my story, I’ll be honest, I was scared. It’s easy to talk about which make-up I prefer, my favourite scene I’ve filmed, the rigmarole of ‘a day in the life’ and how much green juice I consume before a requisite Pilates class. And while I have dipped my toes into this on thetig.com, sharing small vignettes of my experiences as a biracial woman, today I am choosing to be braver, to go a bit deeper, and to share a much larger picture of that with you.”

 

– quoted from “Meghan Markle: I’m More Than An ‘Other’” by Meghan Markle (published in Elle Magazine, July 2015)

1957 may have been when the FBI started a file on Louis Armstrong. So, you can definitely add that – FBI files – to the Venn diagram of impossible people; because the FBI definitely has files on President Barack Obama (born today in 1961, in Honolulu, Hawai’i) and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle) (born today in 1981, in Los Angeles, California). President Obama served two terms as the 44th President of the United States and was the first African-American president (as well as the first openly biracial president). The Duchess of Sussex is not only a “commoner,” she is a biracial American woman who not only married into the British Royal family, she also did the doubly impossible by stepping away from the royal life. Both President Obama and the Duchess of Sussex worked as philanthropists before and after “holding” their very public offices. They have been known to feed the hungry and inspire people to hope.

“Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

 

– quoted from (then Senator) Barack Obama’s address after the Iowa Caucus speech (January 3, 2008)

Hoping

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Impossible x3 August 3, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Movies, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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6 comments

“Here there is a role reversal of what was related in bSotah – instead of the woman [Queen Salome Alexandra] being “nameless” now she is named and cunningly tries to get around the rabbinic prohibition, while the male character, her son, is unnamed and plays no role in the matter in dispute.”

 

– commentary on bShabbat (16b – 14b) in doctoral thesis entitled “Queen Alexandra: The Anamoly of a Sovereign Jewish Queen in the Second Temple Period” by Etka Liebowitz, PhD

There was a time when being a female (non-nun) member of the clergy would have been considered impossible. But, imagine for a moment, someone who was not only the first woman to be ordained in their religion, but to receive the highest orders during a time when it was hard to even be a male member of your religion. Allow me to introduce you to (or re-acquaint you with) Rabbi Regina Jonas ([‘re-ghee-na yo-nas]). Born today in 1902, Rabbi Jonas was not only the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi; she was ordained in Berlin in 1935. In other words, she became the first woman to be named as a Jewish teacher during the height of Nazi Germany.

Throughout history, you can find plenty of women who fulfilled rabbinical duties. They did not, however, hold the title. These women, like Beruryah (Rebbetzin Meir), Yalta, the Hasmonean queen Salome Alexandra (also known as Alexandra of Jerusalem), and the daughters and granddaughters of the great Talmud scholar Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzachaki), are found in the Talmud and would have been studied by Rabbi Jonas and other women who studied at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, the Jūdisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau, and other theology schools that admitted women. Unlike her female peers, however, Rabbi Jonas didn’t just want the academic teacher’s degree; she wanted the title and the responsibilities. And this desire was something that she felt and expressed from a very young age.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Rabbi Regina Jonas had a passion for Jewish history, the Bible, and the Hebrew language; a passion that was remembered even by her high school friends and supported by Orthodox rabbis like Isidor Bleichrode, Delix Singerman, and Max Weyl (who officiated at the synagogue the Jonas family attended). When she decided to pursue her degree and also the title, Rabbi Jonas wrote and submitted a final theses, which was a requirement for ordination. Her final theses topic, which was based on Biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, was near and dear to her heart: “May a woman hold rabbinic office?”

While halakhic literature did not specifically with ordination, she combined halakhic theory related to women’s issues with a modern attitude about women’s roles. She did not, however, use a Reform movement argument. Instead, Rabbi Jonas wanted to establish gender equality within the (and as a) continuity of tradition – and, in doing so, established herself as independent of both the reform movement and Orthodoxy. She also included in her argument very specific gender qualities and expectations centered around Zeni’ut (“Modesty”), which she viewed as being essential to someone’s role as a rabbi. Interestingly, some of her thesis is very much consistent with the ideas Hannah Crocker expressed in 1818.

Rabbi Jonas concluded that yes, a woman could be a rabbi according to halachic sources. She went even further by saying that female rabbis were a “cultural necessity, in part because of so-called female qualities like compassion, interpersonal skills, and psychological intuition. Her final thesis, which was supervised by Eduard Baneth, renowned professor of Talmud at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, was submitted in June 1930. Unfortunately, Rabbi Baneth died soon after her submission and his successor was not willing to ordain women. Ironically, a leader in the Reform movement, Rabbi Leo Baeck, also rejected her submission.

“Almost nothing halakhically but prejudice and lack of familiarity stand against women holding rabbinic office.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Despite the fact that her professors were not willing to ordain her, she received a “good” grade for her thesis and graduated as a religious teacher. She then began teaching religion at several girls’ schools in Berlin. At this same time, however, anti-Semitism created an increased need for Jewish teachers and religious education. Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of Liberaler Rabbinerveband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to ordain Rabbi Jonas on behalf of the conference and, within two years, she began to serve the official community as “pastoral-rabbinic counselor.” She particularly ministered to those in the Jewish Hospital, those who were considering emigrating, and people economically affected by “Kristallnacht.” As more and more rabbis were imprisoned by the Nazis or fled the persecution, she began to lecture to various groups, preach in liberal synagogues and lead some Havdalah (“weekday”) services in the Neue Synagogue, the flagship of German Jewry. At one point, during the winter of 1940 – 1941, the Germany Jewry organization established by the Nazis actually sent her to cities that no longer had rabbis. Even when she was forced to work in a factory, she continued her ministry.

On November 2, 1942, Rabbi Jonas was compelled to fill out a declaration form where she listed her property, including all of her books. Two days later, all of her property was confiscated by the Nazis. The next day, she and her mother were arrested. They were deported November 6th, to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she continued to preach and counsel. The psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl asked her to help him with crisis intervention, including meeting and assessing new arrivals and helping to prevent suicide attempts. On October 12, 1944, at the age of 42, Rabbi Jonas and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed.

“Since I saw that her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law, I herewith certify that she is qualified to answer questions of religious law and entitled to hold the rabbinic office. And may God protect her and guide her on all her ways.”

– quoted from the Diploma of Ordination for Rabbi Regina Jonas (approved by Rabbi Max Dienemann)

None of the male religious leaders who survived the Holocaust spoke of Rabbi Regina Jonas. However, a copy of her thesis, her teaching certificate, her rabbinical diploma, personal documents, and two photos have been preserved at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin. Included in those personal documents were letters of gratitude from refugees she had counseled (and whose families she continued to counsel in Germany). There is also a list of 24 sermons and lectures she delivered, along with notes for at least one full sermon. In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas is a documentary about her life and legacy, which features rabbis like Gesa Ederberg, who celebrated the 75th anniversary of Rabbi Jonas’s ordination with a Havdalah service – the very type of weekday service Rabbi Jonas led in Berlin.

“God has placed abilities and callings in our hearts without regard to gender. If you look at things this way, one takes woman and man for what they are: human beings.”

– quoted from a 1938 news article by Rabbi Regina Jonas

I am cancelling classes on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but will post as I am able. Thank you to everyone who is keeping my family in your hearts and minds.

 

### SHALOM  שָׁלוֹם ###