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

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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 ###

Time To Breathe, with Gratitude (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. 

[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, September 22nd. 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.]

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

 

Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (3:1-8), KJV

When most Americans – especially most Christian Americans – think of Ecclesiastes (or Ecclesiastes – Or, The Preacher, as it is called in the King James Version), they think of the beginning of the third Chapter. It is no accident that this passage about the different seasons in our lives, like the whole book, sounds a lot like the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”), which is often recited or chanted during Rosh Hashanah services. In fact, this whole book of the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament) focuses on how one could spend their time. So, it is not surprising that people within the Jewish community (and those who observe the commanded holidays) spend some time in the fall reviewing this book of the Torah. What may be surprising to some is that a community review of Kohelet – Ecclesiastes doesn’t happen during the High Holidays. It happens after.

Yes, after spending (at least) ten days reflecting, remembering, repenting, and planning for a New Year, people within the Jewish community then spend a little time celebrating what’s to come with the observation of Sukkot. Remember, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is a time to give thanks for blessings that will be given and during this time people read the twelve short chapters featuring the philosophy of a teacher (or a preacher) who is identified at the beginning and only speaks directly at the beginning and the end. Some people, even some religious scholars, consider the wisdom within these pages to be rhetorical questions and musings only intended to get people to think about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of life. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a pessimistic meditation with a shot a fatalism. Others, even some religious scholars, view these passages as words by which we all should live: giving, allowing, and embracing each season of our lives as full as possible. For these scholars, Ecclesiastes is a life affirming meditation on the power of the gift that has been given: this present moment.

“Breath of breath, said the Teacher; [like the shadow of mist that passes], all is breath.*

What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it yearns and rises there.

It goes to the south and goes to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits.”

 

(*NOTE: The Hebrew word “hevel” (variations of which occur 3 times in K-E 3.1) is often translated into English as “vanity,” “futility” or “meaningless,” but is literally translated as “breath.)

 

 – Kohelet – Ecclesiastes (1:2-6)

As the sun rises and sets, as “it goes to the south and goes to north,” people around the world mark the changing seasons with a variety of rituals and traditions. This year, the second day of Sukkot (September 22nd) was also the Autumnal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (which is the Vernal or Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. So, while some people spent their twelve or so hours of daylight practicing a 108 Sun Salutations or finishing up mooncakes left over from Mid-Autumn Festival (a Harvest Moon festival in China that actually fell on September 21st this year), some people spent the twelve or so hours of daylight (and nighttime) eating, sleeping, reading Kohelet – Ecclesiastes, and giving thanks outdoors in their sukkah.

I keep saying, “twelve or so hours” because everybody everywhere doesn’t get exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime on the equinox.

Giving thanks – that’s one way we can spend our time. One way we can spend our breath. Some even say it is one of the most powerful ways to spend our time, because it is a way to cultivate happiness. In fact, appreciating what is (in any given moment) is one aspect of santosha, the second niyamā (internal “observation) in the yoga philosophy.

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

Patanjali used variations of the Sanskrit word “sukha” throughout his treatise on the practice. For example, he used it in his explanation of the third limb of the philosophy, āsana, where it (sukham) is often translated into English as “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” (YS 2.46) Prior to that, in offering different ways to clear the mind, he suggested offering “the essence of friendship” or “friendliness” to those who are sukha and “a joyful condition of the mind” or “happiness” (muditā) when dealing with people who are virtuous (puņya). Furthermore, in our physical practice of yoga, we have Sukhāsana. A pose kids know as “criss-cross, apple sauce,” but it is often translated into English as “Easy Pose” – even though it can be quite challenging if your hips are tight and/or you have knee issues. Literally speaking, though, it could just as easily be called “Happy Seat.”

This year it really struck me that the Hebrew word for “booth” or “tabernacle,” the same word applied to an ancient farmer’s temporary shelter, sounds (and looks) like the Sanskrit word for “easy,” “comfortable,” or “joyful.” We could get into the etymology and shared roots of ancient languages, but for the moment I want to focus on context. In ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts, there are two different ways in which one can experience happiness, pleasure, and/or bliss. There’s the conditional and transitional experience that you might have after, say, eating your favorite meal or dessert. It is short term, not lasting, when you’re patting your full belly and not thinking about anyone but yourself. That is preya.  On the flip side, there is an experience that is more intrinsic and more lasting, one that is associated with something that is “good” in that it serves a purpose.

Consider, for example, the feeling experienced by a farmer who, after bringing in the harvest that will feed their family and friends, has a moment in the temporary shade where they look out over all of their land and experience satisfaction that is tied to the land, tied to the work of their hands, and also tied to the future. Yes, that single moment of deep satisfaction may only happen for a single moment (then it’s time to get back to work) and it can absolutely be something that is connected to one’s ego. (Again, making it preya.) However, here I’m talking about a sensation born from living a life of purpose and living a life that requires complete commitment to the purpose. The person who cooks during and after the harvest may look around the table and recognize how their efforts are connected to the overall effort and also experience a bone deep satisfaction that comes from complete commitment.

By complete commitment, I mean mind-body-spirit aligned with thoughts, words, and deeds. When that commitment is experienced along with an awareness of how everything (and everyone) is connected and with a true understanding of how everyone (and everything) works together in order for there to be past (and future) harvests, then we are entering into the “sukha” realm. The farmer recognizes that they can’t work without the efforts of the cook; the cook recognizes that they can’t work without the farmer; both recognize that they cannot do what they do without the land, the seasons, and – especially in this context – without God (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Descriptions of this lasting type of “happiness” are found in the Upanishads as well as in Buddhist texts like the Anaņa Sutta. In the latter, the Buddha describes “four kinds of bliss that can be attained in the proper season, on the proper occasions….” (Sound familiar?) Descriptions of the first two kinds of joy – the bliss of having and the bliss of [making use of] wealth – emphasize the work (or effort) of a person and the righteousness of that work (meaning it is wise or skillful work, in the Buddhist sense). Descriptions for the latter two kinds of joy are shorter in that they simply describe how one is debtless (because they are without debt) and blameless (because they are without kamma/karma). Even though the last two have shorter descriptions, it is clear that to move through the world without owing and/or harming anyone is a skill that requires practice.

So, the question remains: How will you spend your time?

“So the whole point of that is not, sort of, to make, like, a circus thing of showing exceptional beings who can jump, or whatever. It’s more to say that mind training matters. That this is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

 

– quoted from a Ted2004 talk entitled “The Habits of Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard

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

Here’s another one of my 2020 Sukkot posts about practicing gratitude in order to cultivate happiness.

“Misconception #2: ‘If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I’ll lose my motivation to achieve more.’

Happiness doesn’t drain your energy. It adds more!

Ask a happy person: ‘I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?’
He’ll say: ‘Great! Let’s go!’

Now ask someone who is depressed: ‘C’mon, let’s go fishing!’
He says, ‘I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain…’

Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There’s never enough time to do everything they want to do.”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

### Breathe In, Breathe Out: Give Thanks ###

The Book That “Holds” The Teacher says, “Trust what you hear / When you listen (deeply)” – (the music & a special offering) September 1, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Japa, Karma, Music, Mysticism.
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This is an excerpt from a previous post (on a different date).

“By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
The Truth
Of your Inner
Consciousness
Will saturate your psyche
With wisdom
And deep understanding.

By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
You shall dwell
In all mansions
Of learning.”

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

Japji Sahib, known in English as The Song of the Soul, is an ancient Sikh text composed by Guru Nanak, the 15th Century founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The text was originally published in 1604 – as part of the Guru Granth Sahib (or Adi Granth) – and placed in the Golden Temple. As indicated by the name, it is intended to be chanted. Remember, when we do the 108 Sun Salutations I refer to it as japa-ajapa, which is “repeat and repeat” or “repeat and remember.” Jap also means “understand.” This is a form of meditation which is also recommended in the Yoga Sūtra (1:27 – 1:28) and it allows the mind to use the repetition as a path and gateway into stillness.

I say “a path and gateway” because there are steps. One doesn’t just mumble a few words a few times and find themselves instantly still and quiet. You first have to get through the place where your mind is trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are repeating the same thing, over and over. It has to sift through the object that is the word, the meaning of the word, and the fact that you are focused on the object and the meaning of the word. Then, you start to internalize the word and let go of some of the outside distractions. Finally, you reach a state of pure cognition where, possibly, you and the word are absorbed into each other – in other words, you are the word. A dedicated, uninterrupted practice (also recommended by Patanjali) is helpful in this practice; however, the most important element is trusting and listening.

“If you
Trust what you hear
When you listen,
Then you will know
What you see,
How to understand
And act.”

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10132020 Knowing & Unknowing, prequel”]

NOTE: The playlist is inspired by the teachings found in Japji Sahib (“respected meditation of the soul”), which is found in the Guru Granth Sahib; however, it does not include any devotional music (kirtan) from the text(s). I encourage you to listen, just listen (deeply) to this offering below.

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

### 🎶 ###

The Roots of Your Story (the Wednesday post) August 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice. We can sit all night with our friend while he talks about the end of his marriage, and what we finally get is a collection of stories about passion, tenderness, misunderstanding, sorrow, money….”

 

– quoted from the essay “Marketing” in Part III of Broken Vessels: Essays by Andre Dubus

Maty Ezraty once said, “A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).” Life is a little different in that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously progress forward and back (as we learn about each other’s back stories). However, regardless of the order in which we receive the information, take a moment to consider that our minds, bodies, and spirits are always telling us stories. The practice just happens to be a great way to process our stories. What remains to be seen, however, is if we paying attention.

Are we paying attention to our own stories? Are we paying attention to the stories of others? What happens when we “listen” to the sensation, which is the information that relates the story? What happens when, no matter how “woo-woo” it may seem, we trust our intuition and what comes up for us during the practice?

What happens when we dig down deep into the roots of the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other?

“There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me”

 

– quoted from the song “Telling Stories” by Tracy Chapman

 

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.”

 

– Alex Haley

At the beginning of the practice, as we are getting into the first pose – no matter what pose it is – we spend a little time establishing the roots, the foundation, the seat, the āsana. Then we repeat that process, again and again, as we move through the practice. Sometimes, we establish a foundation that works for a whole sequence, which gives us a different understanding of the root system and how everything stacks up from the base, the seat, the āsana (which is the pose). Sometimes, when we come back to a pose, we may pause for a moment and consider what’s changed, what’s shifted, and whether the original foundation still serves us. Sometimes we may find that, like roots, we need to spread out a little. If we spread out a little, add a prop, and/or bring another part of our body to the floor or a prop, then we are adding to our āsana, our seat, our foundation, our roots.

Adding to our roots, sometimes allows us to go deeper into our stories. The deeper we go, the more stories we find. The more stories we find, the more stories we can share.

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

We may not always realize, but we are actually telling a multitude of stories any given time. There is the physical story of who we are and what we’re doing in this moment; which is also the story of what we’ve done in past moments and may tell a little bit about our future moments. Then consider the mental story – which is inextricably tied to the physical story – and the emotional story, which is also tied to the mind-body story. There’s also, sometimes, a symbolic story based on the stories and attributes associated with the poses. Finally, there is an energetic story.

Actually, I could say that there are energetic stories; because different cultures and sciences have different energetic mapping systems. Yoga and Āyurveda, as they come to us from India, include an energetic mapping system composed of nādis (energy “channels” or “rivers”), marma points or marmāni (“vital” or “vulnerable” points), and chakras (energy “wheels”). The chakras, which are the points where the three primary nādis overlap around the center of the body, correspond with certain parts of the body and certain parts of our lives. In other words, they correspond with certain parts of our stories.

It is not an accident that the parts of our bodies that serve as our primary support (feet, legs, pelvic floor area) are referred to in yoga as our “root chakra” and that it is associated with our foundation in life: our first family, our tribe, our community of birth. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we – literally, metaphorically, and energetically – move through the world. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we build our lives, how we support ourselves, and (even) how we support our relationships and dreams.

“When you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.”

 

Roots is not just a saga of my family. It is the symbolic saga of a people.”

 

– Alex Haley

I often point out that just as we can be genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Just as someone who is adopted can find it beneficial (but challenging) to discover their birth families medical history, many of us can find that it is beneficial – but challenging – to discover the history of our ancestors: where they came from, what languages they spoke, what food they ate, what experiences informed their society. When we are able to uncover those stories, we gain insight into our own lives.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone and their mother can take a DNA test and discover some information about their family history, their roots. Of course, there will still be some unknowns and, if there’s no paper trail, there may be a lot of unknowns. Go back fifty or sixty years, before such tests were readily available to the public, and most African Americans in the United States had little to no hope of knowing their families back stories. Sure, there were family legends and bits and pieces of folklore that had been verbally passed down, but one never really knew how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even if, as is the case in my family, people lived long lives and there were family cemeteries, the legacy of slavery created a multigenerational novel with several chapters ripped out.

Born in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921, Alex Haley wanted to recover the ripped out chapters of his family’s story. His father, Simon Alexander Haley, was a professor of agriculture at several southern universities whose parents had been born into slavery (after being fathered by their mother’s slave owners). His mother, Bertha George Haley (née Palmer), was also the descendant of slaves and often told him stories about their ancestors. As was expected by his family, young Alex started college, but then dropped out and joined the United States Coast Guard. It was during his 20 years in the Coast Guard, that Alex Haley started his career as a writer.

Alex Haley is remembered for works like the 1965 Autobiography of Malcolm X and his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as well as Queen: The Story of an American Family (which was completed by David Stevens after Mr. Haley’s death), but he started off by writing love letters on behalf of his fellow sailors. Eventually he wrote short stories and articles for American magazines and, after World War II, he transferred into journalism where he was designated petty officer first-class (in 1949). He earned at least a dozen awards and decorations and the position of Chief Journalist was reportedly created for him. It was a position he held (along with the designation of chief petty officer) until he retired (in 1959).

After he retired, Alex Haley continued to make a name for himself by conducting interviews for Playboy. He was known for interviewing the best and the brightest in the African American community. In addition to his interviews with Malcolm X (which became his first book), he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., football legend Jim Brown, and even Quincy Jones – who would compose the music for the movies made out of Alex Haley’s books. He also interviewed famous people (who were not Black)  like Johnny Carson and notorious people (who were not Black) like the Neo-Nazi politician George Lincoln Rockwell and Malvin Belli, the attorney who defended Jack Ruby.

When he started tracing his own family roots, Alex Haley interviewed family members and even traveled to Gambia (in West Africa) to interview tribal historians. Of course, there were still holes in the story and whole (cough, cough) passages missing. So, Mr. Haley decided to braid together what he could verify and what he was told with what he could imagine. Since his life experience was so vastly different from that of his ancestors, he decided to book passage on a ship traveling from the West African coast of Liberia to America – and, in order to more fully experience “middle passage,” he slept in the hold of the ship wearing only his underwear. During the 10 years that it took him to complete the novel that he initially called Before This Anger, Alex Haley supported himself as a public speaker at universities, libraries, and historical societies.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, Mr. Haley’s finished product Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a bestselling novel that has been translated into almost 40 languages, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was adapted into a 12-hour television miniseries that was one of the most watched television events in history. The book ignited an interest in genealogy (particularly for African Americans) and spawned a second mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations, as well as a second book, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen, about Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother – who was a mixed child born into slavery – was also made into a much anticipated mini-series. The 1993 series was so anticipated that while I barely remembered that Halle Berry starred as “Queen,” I distinctly remember driving on I-45 between Dallas and Houston on a Sunday night and stopping at a motel to because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the series. I didn’t want to miss any part of the story that could have just as easily been my family’s story.

“Racism is taught in our society, it is not automatic. It is learned behavior toward persons with dissimilar physical characteristics.”

 

– Alex Haley

In some yoga practices, when we are on our backs with legs crossed, I might call the position “Eagle Legs” or “Garudāsana Legs.” However, in some styles and traditions, like in Yin Yoga, the same position would be called “Twisted Roots.” All of us, especially in America, have twisted roots – ways in which we may not realize we are connected, ways in which we may not realize our stories overlap. In the pose, the position of the legs engages the hips – what I often refer to as “the energetic centers of our relationships.” Our hips are energetically and symbolically associated with our second chakra, also known as our “sacral” (and “sacred”) chakra, and the relationships we make outside of our first family, tribe and community of birth. It is here that we, quite literally in Sanskrit, find our “[self] being established.” Again, it is no coincidence that the twisted roots in our lives engage – and bring awareness to – our connections to those we perceive as being different from us.

This is where we start to notice how our stories overlap.

On the surface, it might appear that Alex Haley and Andre Jules Dubus II have very little in common outside of a birthday, a nationality, and a profession. Mr. Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 11, 1936. While Alex Haley was the oldest child and traced his heritage to African Cherokee, Scottish, and Scottish-Irish ancestors, Andre Dubus II was the youngest born into a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. Literature and writing were emphasized throughout his school and it was only after he graduated from college – with a degree in journalism and English – that, like Mr. Haley, Mr. Dubus enlisted in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, earned the designation of captain, and eventually earned an MFA in creative writing.

“Wanting to know absolutely what a story is about, and to be able to say it in a few sentences, is dangerous: it can lead to us wanting to possess a story as we possess a cup. We know the function of a cup, and we drink from it, wash it, put it on a shelf, and it remains a thing we own and can control, unless it slips from our hands into the control of gravity; or unless someone else breaks it, or uses it to give us poisoned tea. A story can always break into pieces while it sits inside a book on a shelf; and, decades after we have read it even twenty times, it can open us up, by cut or caress, to a new truth.”

 
― quoted from the essay “A Hemingway Story” in Meditations from a Movable Chair: Essays by Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus II spent most of his adult life teaching literature and creative writing, but also earned recognition for his short stories and novellas, as well as at least one novel. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as several PEN Awards. His works include the 1979 short story “Killings,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards (with Sissy Spacek winning for “Best Actress – Drama”) and the novellas We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Adultery, which were combined and adapted into the movie We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He also wrote Broken Vessels: Essays; Dancing After Hour: Storiess; and Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays. Like Alex Haley, some of Mr. Dubus’s work appeared in Playboy. Additionally, both men were married three times (although Andre Dubus II had twice as many children*). While the works of both men include love and hope overcoming tragedy, challenges, and horrific hardships, the source of their tragedy, challenges, and hardships were very different.

Well, ok, this first part is similar: Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II was affected by the rape of a relative. In the latter case, it was one of his own daughters and his daughter’s experience left him traumatized. (Years later, he would hear and retell the story of his sister Kathryn’s rape.) He was plagued with fear and paranoia surrounding the safety of his loved ones. His anxiety was so acute that he carried guns with him so that he was prepared to defend his family and friends against any (perceived) threats. His decision to carry multiple guns wherever he went – combined with his fear and paranoia – almost resulted in a second tragedy when he nearly shot a drunk man who was arguing with his son.

(This next part is symbolically similar to an earlier story, because it involves places the writer had never been and tragedy that occurred when strangers were thrown together.)

Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II wanted to go to the places about which he was going to write. He wanted to put himself in the shoes and on the path of his characters. So, he drove to Boston to check out some bars. Driving home that night, Wednesday, July 23, 1986, along I-93  between Boston and his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Mr. Dubus saw a couple of stranded motorists: a brother and a sister, Luis and Luz Santiago. None of them knew it at the time, but a motorcyclist had suffered a personal heartbreak, gotten drunk, crashed his bike, and then abandoned it in the middle of the road. Despite his anxiety, paranoia, and fear of strangers, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Dubus hesitated to help the Puerto Rican siblings in need. Neither does it appear that he hesitated (later) to help the drunk motorcyclist.

Tragically, after he stopped to help them move their car off of the highway, someone hit Andre Dubus II and the siblings. Luis Santiago died at the age of 23. Luz Santiago survived – because Andre Dubus II pushed her out of the way.  As for Mr. Dubus, his legs were crushed in a way that initially resulted in his left leg being amputated above the knee and eventually led to the him being unable to use his right leg.**

He attempted to use prosthetics, but infections regulated him to a wheelchair. His medical and physical therapy bills stacked up – as did his anxiety, which was now compounded by clinical depression. His community of fellow writers stepped in to help him financially, and even emotionally. A literary benefit sponsored by Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Yates yielded $86,00. But, there was more heartbreak: his third wife left him, taking his youngest two daughters.

Still, he kept writing.

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

 

– Andre Dubus II

Broken Vessels: Essays, which was Pulitzer Prize finalist, contains five sections; however, in a September 1991 review in The Baltimore Sun, Garret Condon indicates that the essays can be divided into two sections: before the accident and after. A similar division can be seen in the whole body of his work as he moved from short stories based on the struggles and victories of the characters he found around him to essays about his own struggles and victories. As Alex Haley did, Mr. Dubus found himself attempting to bridge the gap between what he knew, what he was told, and what he could imagine. Lights of the Long Night braids together the story the 1986 accident as Andre Dubus II remembered it with the memories of the doctor who saved his life and those of Luz Santiago (whose life Mr. Dubus saved). Dancing After Hours: Stories is a collection of short stories full of characters whose lives are marked by a tragic before-and-after. Then there is Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays which depicts Andre Dubus’s personal journey through the trauma, loss, disability, and healing.
 

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.”

 

– quoted from the short story entitled “A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus

“What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or – and he wished this – did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it?”

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love of stories and storytelling as well as how Maty Ezraty’s perspective shapes my practice. Matthew Sanford is another teacher whose perspective on stories, storytelling, and the practice inspires the way I process through the practice. His story, like Andre Dubus’s story, overlaps life before and after a car accident that left him without mobility in his legs. In the introduction to his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions defined “healing stories” as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco, to help people get in touch with the stories they hold in their mind-bodies.

When I think about our “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves and each other – I think about how those stories serve us, how they help us live and love more fully. When I come across someone whose story is different from mine, I question what they take away from their story – and then I question what I take away from mine… especially when our stories overlap. I consider what either one of us knows (and can verify) and how those facts and/or recollections are braided together with what we have been told and what our brains have imagined to fill in the missing gaps. When I question in this way, I sometimes I walk away from a conversation or a meditation and think “That story should be a bestseller.” Other times… Other times I think, “That’s a first draft. It needs more information and a rewrite.”

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

 

– Alex Haley

ERRATA: *To avoid confusion, I specifically did not mention the names of Andre Dubus II’s parents. However, despite my best efforts to not confuse the writer/father (Andre Jules Dubus II) with the writer/son (Andre Jules Dubus III), I misspoke during the 4:30 PM practice and attributed House of Sand and Fog to the wrong author. The novel was written by the son, Andre Jules Dubus III, and while author and book were awarded and nominated for several prestigious prizes, it was not listed for the Man Booker Prize, which was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction when the novel was published. ** Also (and this is strike three), after reviewing some pictures of Andre Dubus II, I realized that I mixed up his injuries. As indicated above, his left leg was the amputated leg. Please forgive the errors.
 

NOTE: The motorcyclist who got drunk and abandoned his motorcycle on the freeway in 1986 was not (physically) involved or injured in the subsequent accident. He was charged for leaving the scene of the accident and served at least a year. In interviews, Andre Dubus indicated that the man took responsibility for his action and that he (Dubus) spoke on his behalf during the sentencing. The man had gotten drunk after his wife abandoned him and their children – a story that overlaps Mr. Dubus’s own stories of marriage, infidelity, and bad coping mechanisms. While he was able to forgive the motorcyclist, because he took responsibility for his actions, Andre Dubus II was not so forgiving of the person driving the car that hit them. The driver was sober, but (according to Mr. Dubus) never made any attempt to contact him or (as far as he knew) Luz Santiago.

 
 

### Tell me your story… ###

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

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

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

It’s A Kiss My Asana “Flashback Friday” April 3, 2020

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“You want it bad you want it oh so much
There are some things that you should know
Some things that someone like you just cannot touch

 

You weep and dwell on our loss
Stand denied by the nails in the cross
And I for one you for two
Knows no one’s gonna do it for you
No one’s gonna do it for you”

– “No One’s Gonna Do It For You” by The Hellacopters

A lot of people, most people I would surmise, have a moment when they wish all the hard stuff was over – that they could just go to sleep and wake up with their problems solved. Can you imagine what that would be like right now? Can you imagine what it would be like if you fell asleep tonight and, when you woke up, all of this was over? No more pandemic, no more social distancing, no more self-quarantines.

Now, can you imagine what it would feel like if you actually slept through all of this…and woke up to find the world changed? Everyone else has lived their way into a new normal and you are just discovering that the old normal is…history.

Yes, this would make a great story – but it’s not a new story; it’s actually a very old story. It’s a story that predates all the specific details of this present moment, but a story that endures because it touches on some very basic and universal truths:

  1. Suffering happens (This is the first of the 4 Noble Truths from Buddhism.)
  2. Change happens (Or, as Heraclitus put it over 400 years BCE, “You could not step twice into the same river” – which implies that we want things to stay the same.)
  3. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell as quoted in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion by Diane K. Osbon)
  4. As much as we want it to be otherwise, “no one’s gonna do it for you.” (The hard part of adulting, and lyrics from a song by The Hellacopters.)

Just to clarify, the four (4) items above are NOT the 4 Noble Truths, but it’s no accident that they mirror them or that I’ve pulled statements from what appears to be vastly different sources. And yet, and yet…. The reason why these elements can be found in philosophy, religions, comparative mythology, and rock music (even literature and mathematics) is that they are elements of the human experience. We find them everywhere; we find them inside of ourselves.

“You must unlearn what you have learned… No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

 

– Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (and a quote I used during a 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class)

Kiss My Asana is an annual yogathon, to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals.

This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

We’re doing this, right?

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Since it’s “Flashback Friday,” check out one of my previous offerings dated April 3rd (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 3rd)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 3rd)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 3rd Practice

My next virtual practice is on Saturday. Use the same Meeting ID as last week’s class or, if you were unable to attend last week, check out the “Class Schedules” tab. You’ll find access details in the calendar description for Saturday, April 4th. I’ll post the playlists by Saturday morning.

Also, if you are interested in YIN Yoga, plan to join me and a special guest on Wednesday (April 8th) for a special webinar/mini-practice at 3 PM. Details to be announced.

“No One’s Gonna Do It For You”

 

### KAALI DURGE NAMOH NAMAH ###

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

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“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###

CH-CH-CHANGES, LIKE A RIVER: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

πάντα ρε “  (“panta rhei “ everything flows or everything to the stream)

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (c. 535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

 

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

 – excerpt from funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer

 

Shift happens…all the time. Or, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once put it, “Everything changes and nothing remains still…you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Recognizing the temporal nature of everything, including ourselves and our experiences, can be very helpful.  However, it seems to be human nature to resist change and, in doing so, deny that change is happening – which, as the Buddha pointed out, creates suffering.

(Thus) have I heard that Prince Siddhartha Guatama of India was born into a family of great wealth and great privilege.  As pointed out at the beginning of this series, Siddartha means “one who has accomplished his goal” or “one who has achieved his aim” and – as far as his family was concerned his dharma (or goal) was to one day take over as ruler of his father’s lands. (The title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One,” would come later in his life.)

Siddhartha knew nothing of pain and nothing of suffering, having been shielded from the existence of sickness and death, until the age of 29. Upon seeing the suffering of others, his life trajectory changed and he renounced the life he knew in order to find a path that would alleviate suffering. At the age of 35, tradition tells us, he articulated The Four Noble Truths:

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

In some traditions of Buddhism, understanding and accepting these four noble truths is the key to waking up and there are a number of practices specifically designed to bring awareness to change happening every time you inhale, every time you exhale. In fact, the very act of sitting and watching the breath can illuminate the Four Noble Truths and the temporal nature of our existence.

The history of Japan and Japanese culture is full of change. Depending on where you look you may find an acute juxtaposition between accepting change, keeping a tradition (without change), and actually celebrating change. For example, most of the Buddhist world celebrates the Buddha’s birthday on May 8th or a day determined by a lunar calendar. Many temples in Japan, however, started celebrating on April 8th every year, when the country switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.  During the Flower Festival, which is the birthday celebration, people will pour a sweet tea made from fermented hydrangea leaves over where small statues of the Buddha.

For an example of people celebrating change, look no further than the sakura (cherry blossom) season that is beginning. The Cherry Blossom Festivals that are currently kicking off (or ending, depending on the region) is completely separate from the Flower Festival associated with the Buddha’s birthday.

Sakura usually begin blossoming in the southern part of Japan and, over a matter of weeks, eventually blossom across the whole island. However, by the time the blossoms peak in the North they are already out of season in the South. The delicate flowers literally blow away like dust in the wind. For the heart and mind to hold the beauty of the moment when the flowers peak, with the awareness (and sadness) that the moment is already passing, is known as mono no aware (literally, “the pathos of things”). Mono no aware may be translated as “empathy towards things,” but there’s really no set words in English to express the feeling of wonder (“the ahhness”) inextricably tied to the longing and deep sadness that accompanies loss. This is what is – and yet, without some kind of mindfulness practice it is easy to separate the two sensations or to be so overwhelmed by the twin emotions that we focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other. Focusing on what feels good and appealing, while avoiding what doesn’t feel good results in more suffering. It also creates suffering when our longing for what has passed causes us to miss what is. (Not to mention, it causes us to continuously confront the illusion that we can go back to a moment in time, in the same way we think we can cross the same river twice.)

If you look at the history of sitting in Japan, you will also find lots of change – and sometimes a resistance to change. What is now commonly considered the proper way to sit in Zen Buddhism, as well as in day-to-day life, is seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”). Seiza is kneeling so that the big toes overlap (right over left) and then sitting on the heels. Women are taught to sit with the knees together, while men may be taught to spread the knees a little. In the modern times, this type of sitting is ubiquitous and considered respectful; however, prior to the mid 14th century and up to the late 16th century it was consider proper and respectful to either sit with legs to the side or cross-legged. Cross-legged was, in fact, the preference for many warriors as it was believed that a cross-legged position would not hinder a samurai if they needed to draw their sword.

“The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (DK22A1)

 

In the physical practice of yoga, the “proper way to sit” is in way that is stable and comfortable enough for you to focus on your breath. Notice that in Yoga Sutra II.46 (broken down in yesterday’s post) Patanjali uses the words sukham asanam which can be translated as “dwelling in a good space.” The flip side of a good space is dukha “a bad space” – or, more acutely, “a space of suffering.” As you move into this next pose, make sure you are not dwelling in a space of suffering.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 8th: Auspicious or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana)

Auspicious Pose or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana) appears in classical texts like Gheranda Samhita (c. 17th century) as a pose similar to seiza. In more modern texts it is depicted as a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana). Either variation can be in the beginning, middle, and/or the end of a practice. In fact, if you are doing a variety of poses today, you can return to your Auspicious pose the way your return to Downward Facing Dog, or Equal Standing, and notice was changed or shifted.

For the classical variation, be mindful of the knees and hips as you come to your hands and knees and bring the tips of the big toes to touch. Spread the knees as wide as you are able and then sit back on your heels. If there is a lot of pressure on the knees, sit on a block or blanket. You may also need a blanket or towel under the feet for this variation.

For the second variation, bring your feet together, like a prayer, in front of your hips (rather than behind). This variation is easier on the knees and feet. You may still need to sit up on a blanket or block. Especially if the hips are tight, you slump into the low back, and/or the knees are up higher than the hips. In this variation you can also adjust the feet (bring them closer in or further out) to bring more ease to the knees.

You can sit up tall with the hands resting on the thighs. Another option, which is very nice for the shoulders, is to lift your heart up (into the beginning of a backbend) and cross the hands behind the back so that you can grab the toes, the heels, or (if your feet are in front) the opposite hip. Make sure you are not leaning back, but instead are arching your chest up. Be mindful that you are not straining or compressing the low back.

If you have unregulated blood pressure issues, let your breath flow naturally in and ebb naturally out. If you find you are holding your breath or panting, ease out of the pose. If you are in overall good health, and they are in your practice, you can add your bandhas.

Dwell in this good space (sukha asama) until you have to move out of it (because it has become the “bad space” ( dukkha asanam). Be mindful that you ease out of the pose with the same awareness you used to get into it. Find some gentle, micro-movements to release the joints.

 

(Click here if you do not see the video.)

### NAMASTE ###