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Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.

“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’”

*

– from “The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“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*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

*

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

*

– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

*

### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###

A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In American English, “bad” has two meanings, one of which is “even better than good.” The saying “bad to the bone” fits with that positive description and is often associated with someone who is “cool,” rebellious, and radical in a way that bucks the system… in a way, even, that can bring much needed change. There are some people who play with the idea of being “bad to the bones,” but the truth is that that kind of goodness has nothing to do with the clothes one wears so much as it has to do with what’s underneath, what’s at the core and the roots of a person. In other words, what matters is who they are all the way down to their bones.

One of my favorite inspirational reminders is based on the idea that, in Judaism, there are 248 mitzvot aseh (“positive commandments”), which are commands to perform certain activities, and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (“negative commandments”), which are commands to abstain from certain activities; meaning, we should avoid avoid the negative things every day of the year and do the good things with “every bone in our body.”* To me, someone who manages to do that in a very public way is “bad to the bone.”

The following is an abridged version of a post from January of 2021. Click here for the original post.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. He felt, at times, abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) 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 “10202021 To the Bone”]

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.)

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

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

"Observe"

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


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

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

AND/OR

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Reflect"

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

 

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

### NAMASTE ###

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

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

The commentary below was originally posted for the fifth day of Kwanzaa 2020 (which was today, Thursday, in 2021) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request last year’s audio recording of via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. The New Year’s information has been updated!

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

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

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

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

“‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew.

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baha'i, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

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

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

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

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### Keep Shining! ### 

From Where Does Your Light Come? (the “missing” Sunday post) December 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, December 5th. 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.)

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

 

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

During the December “First Friday Night Special,” I mentioned that the light-related questions during this year’s Chanukah classes were prompts to get us thinking about our “field of possibilities” and then, on Saturday and Sunday, I revealed that the questions were partially inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s advice to the young office cadet and poet Franz Xaver Kappus. If you’ve followed along with the questions, it would be natural to expect that one of the questions would be, “Do you believe in miracles?” It’s an obvious connection when the connected to something like the Chanukah – which, according to the story is all about miracles.

There’s just one problem. Your answer, regardless of what it is, begs another question: “Why?” 

Why? Why? Why?

I could be like a three-year old, because all of your answers could lead to another question (albeit the same question), which all comes down to what you believe. The Chanukah story is full of a series of events that could be described or explained as miracles, serendipity, coincidences, and/or really good plot points. For those who believe in Abraham’s God, it doesn’t matter what you call the events, because “with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] For those who do not believe in God, well, anything is possible…but there’s probably a reasonable (and scientific) explanation. Either way, what you believe determines the probability of certain possibilities.

To be clear, this is not just about what you believe about miracles. This is also about what you believe about your light. Or, a better way to put it is that this is all about what you believe about yourself. Me asking you about the source of your light is really me asking about the source of your life. And what you believe matters, because what you believe bridges the gap between what you think about doing, achieving, and experience and what you actually do, achieve, and experience.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

There’s a moment that happens again and again in professional sports and sometimes in the performing arts. Sometimes it even happens when someone is walking across a stage after receiving their diploma. It’s a moment that happens when someone is doing their job – but it’s their dream job, one that many aspire but few achieve – and everybody’s watching. They’ve made mistakes, but they got up, brushed themselves off, and endeavored to win the game and/or take the audience’s breath away. Then they do! they succeed! And when they do, when they score – especially in a phenomenal way – or they receive a standing ovation, we witness a moment of faith. They’ll point a finger to the heavens or make some other gesture that signifies what they believe.

Whether it is a finger to the sky or prayer hands to the sky, it’s a moment that indicates an individual believes that the source of their life (and their light) is God. We may not witness that exact moment in other arenas, like when someone finishes a big project or lands a plum assignment. There may not be witnesses when a student aces a test or a parent gets their toddler to stop climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, but there may be a similar feeling. It’s that same surge of emotion that makes us do the happy dance (even if it’s just on the inside). It’s a combination of success and a feeling of gratitude. 

Of course, part of what I’m describing is a dopamine rush. It’s a feeling of greatness and it’s a heady sensation that we humans crave and chase. Here’s the thing, though: We can get that surge of feel-good brain chemicals without doing something at which we might fail. We can get it without taking any risk at all. In fact, to a certain degree, we can get if from watching other people take risks and win. We can get it from being part of a team… even if we’re the 12th man or 12th player.

So, why do some people take the risk? Why do some people do the things at which they might fail? Why do some people show up and shine (or show up and suck until they shine)? Why do some people give it all they’ve got, while others (just) watch?

It all comes back to what some one believes. Which brings us back to the Chanukah story.

Had some Jewish people not truly believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it’s possible that they would have started assimilating under Alexander the Great. Had Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that followed them not believed it’s probable that they would have become Hellenic Jews under King Antiochus. Had they not studied Torah or believed in the laws and commandments of God, it is possible that Matīṯyāhū would have broken the commandments and sacrificed to the idol – or maybe he would have just allowed the Hellenic Jew to do so in his stead.

Had the Maccabees not believed their history, their fate, and their destiny, perhaps they would have stayed in the wilderness and not taken on the mighty Greek army. Perhaps there would have been no battle cry. Maybe they would have fought and failed. Then, too, there’s always the possibility that they fought and won – despite the odds – and found that single vial of oil, but never considered using it because it wasn’t enough. Then, too, all these centuries later, if people didn’t believe we wouldn’t still be lighting the candles and telling an “impossible” story.

Take a moment, as we did on Sunday, and practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”). Put yourself in the shoes of the Maccabees. Consider how you might have felt and what you might have done given your current beliefs. How might the story be different simply because your beliefs might be different? Now, consider this week’s questions (see below) in that light. Consider how what is in your heart and mind determines your words, actions, and deeds.

“The Maccabees no doubt knew their options, yet decided to light the menorah in the most preferred way. This was done despite the fact that it entailed exhausting their entire supply of pure olive oil on the first day, leaving them with the probability of not being able to maintain the highest standard they so aspired to reach. But they decided to do their maximum with the resources they had, and let the Almighty take care of the rest.

 

There is a deep message here for us today. How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure, is failure by default. We can learn from the Maccabees that when there is a worthwhile goal to achieve, one should let go of immobilizing perfectionism, and instead capitalize on existing assets and do ones utmost under the circumstances.”

 

– quoted from the article “Give It All You’ve Got: The Maccabees taught us that immobilizing perfectionism leaves no room for God.” by Aliza Kramer (posted at Aish.com Dec 12, 2006)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Chanukah (Day 7-8) 2021”]

NOTE: All of the YouTube playlists (for Chanukah) contain extra videos after the practice music.

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

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

4. Friday: What’s at the edge of your light?

5. Saturday: How do you know brilliance? (this link will be updated)

6. Sunday: From where does your light come?

7. Monday: When do you feel free?

 

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, man, you’re down there.”

– “Tommy” (Kirk Acevedo) to “Vince” (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie Invincible

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th is International Volunteer Day. The 2021 theme was “Volunteer Now For Our Common Future. The Chanukah story is about people showing up and shining in a way that changed the future of their people. Remember: You too can make a difference!

### “Let me see [your] light / Give me something to live by” ~ Maccabeats  ###

 

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 

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

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

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). 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.]

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short, the ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary, however, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real) if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāṇāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

 

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 
 

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###

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.

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“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 ###