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The Stories Behind the Music (or The Vibration Behind the Vibration) July 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“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)”

– Maty Ezraty

Every practice tells a series of concentric – and sometimes overlapping – stories. There is the obvious physical-mental story, which is the story of where your mind-body has been, where you are, and where you could go. This story overlaps with the related story of vedanā, based on your sensations, feelings, and/or vibrations in the past, present, and future. We can call this an emotional story, but it is also an energetic story. Then there is also the story of symbols, stereotypes, and archetypes – which is how our mind-body often frames these other stories in order to better understand them. Finally, when I lead a practice, there is the story (or stories) I tell to frame the other stories.

The stories – or themes – that I share during the practice can be purely philosophical; religious; rooted in math and/or science; fictional; historical; and/or biographical. In fact, sometimes there are elements of all of the above. And while I use the āsanas (“seats” or poses) and the sequences to tell these framing stories – and, of course, I use my words – a lot of the story gets told with the music.

Ah, yes, music, “sweet music” – which spirals in a whole other set of concentric (and sometimes overlapping) stories. One of those spirals (i.e., one of those stories told by the music I select to tell the other stories) is the story of where I come from and the timing of when I came and developed in the world. Yes, I sometimes do a little research and may adjust some of my old playlists to be more inclusive – I’ve even been known to include a song or two that don’t particularly resonate with me. Ultimately, however, I am who I am and (like every other storyteller that’s ever existed) I tell the story based on what I know.

Which means: The stories I tell (and even how I tell them) would be very different if I were a white American-born man of a certain generation or if I were a Nigerian-born British woman of a certain generation.

[The the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for today’s classes, was originally posted on July 21, 2020. If you want a little musical challenge, read this “Tale of Two Writers” and then create your own playlist based on their lives. You can even share it or link it in the comments below.]

“… she has, over time, changed her politics about race and gender differences. This Emersonian political shift — ‘Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again’ (McQuade 1 : 1148 ) – is one measure Morrison ‘ s developing sensibility as a woman and as an artist. Two examples immediately come to mind. In 1974, Morrison cautiously spoke of what she considered to be ‘a male consciousness’ and ‘a female consciousness’ as totally separate spheres. She then stated, ‘Black men – and this may be way off the wall because I haven’t had time to fully reflect about this – frequently are reacting to a lot more external pressures than Black women are. For one thing they have an enormous responsibility to be men.’ Morrison went on to reinforce her conviction: ‘All I am saying is that the root of a man’s sensibilities [is] different from a woman’s’ (Taylor-Guthrie 7). Morrison slightly modified this view when she spoke of her construction of Sula as a rebel, as a masculinized figure, and an equal partner in sexual relations in the 1920’s and 1930’s. She stated that Sula did not depict ‘as typical black woman at all’ (Septo, “Intimate Things” 219).”

– quoted from Toni Morrison: Playing with Difference by Lucille P. Fultz

This is a tale of two writers. Both born today – one in 1899, the other in 1944 – one was male, the other was female. One was White, the other was Black. We can get into nationalities later, but…. One won a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and a Nobel Prize in Literature, while the other was designated OBE. Both have foundations named after them. One you have studied, probably in high school, maybe in college (even if you weren’t a literature major) and one you may have never read (let alone studied – even if you studied literature). She was born on his 45th birthday, when he was in Germany (curiously attached to an infantry regiment and doing things that would eventually bring up charges against him by the Geneva Convention). Both are recognized as successful authors and both wrote from their own experiences. However, so far as I can tell, only one of them has (as of today) ever been featured as a Google Doodle. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not the one you’ll be thinking when their identities are revealed.)

Let’s start with the man – one, because he was born first and second, because he is considered to be the model of a man’s man. In fact, he made his living as an author writing about characters who are considered to be the epitome of masculinity (even when, as it sometimes was, very obviously toxic masculinity). He went to a public high school, in a major U. S. city, but did not attend college. He was married four times, traveled the world, fathered three children (all boys), and spent his 26th birthday starting his first novel – which would also be one of his most famous works. (I think) he smoked and he (definitely) drank for most of his life; however, his drinking became excessively excessive after a couple of plane crashes in Africa. He was devastated when his first wife lost a suitcase full of manuscripts and (towards the end of his life) super paranoid that the American government was keeping tabs on him. They were; the FBI had a file on him – in part because of his ties to Cuba. He received electroshock treatments/therapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and committed suicide, just like his father, sister, and brother (as well as one of his father-in-laws). He was 61. It’s possible that his paranoia and suicide were (in part) caused by the same thing that caused his father’s paranoia and suicide; they bother suffered from hereditary hemochromatosis, which causes the body to absorb too much iron and leads to physical as well as mental deterioration. He is often quoted as saying that in a man must do four things in his life (in order to be a man): plant a tree, fight a bull, write a novel, and father a son (although some have said “raise a son”).

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because this first author is Ernest “Papa” Hemingway. (He has not been featured as a Google Doodle – but he has been quoted in reference to Google Doodles for Josephine Baker and René Maran.) Hemingway started off as a journalist, who served in World War I (as a Red Cross ambulance driver, because the U. S. Army diagnosed him with bad eyesight), and somehow (see “curiously” note above) attached himself to a U. S. army infantry regiment during World War II. His work includes novels, novellas, short stories, non-fiction, articles, and published letters. He referred to his minimalist style of writing as “the iceberg theory” or “the theory of omission.”

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

– quoted from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

As I mentioned before, the woman also wrote about what she knew – of course, what she knew was very different. She wrote, for example, that “you are simply not allowed to commit suicide in peace, because everyone is responsible for the other person.” Her gender initially meant that she would be kept at home; however, she convinced her parents that there was a benefit to her going to school. She attended private primary school, earned a scholarship to a private secondary school, and eventually attended the University of London. However, she was also engaged by age 11, married and pregnant at 16 years old, and separated and pregnant with her fifth child by the age of 22. By all accounts, she not only gave birth, she also raised her children and managed to earn a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Sociology by age 28 and a PhD by the time she was 47 years old. She received a second, honorary, doctorate from a second University a year later. Her marriage was unhappy, violent, and punctuated by her husband’s paranoia about her writing. He burned her first manuscript. She rewrote it, but five years passed in the interim. She worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London, as a youth worker and sociologist, and as a community worker – all while writing, publishing, and raising her children. Her writing eventually enabled her to travel around the world (including to the U. S.) as a guest professor and visiting lecturer. In addition to working a variety of cultural and literary organizations, she and one of her sons ran a publishing company (that printed some of her own work under her own imprint). She was made an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2005. She suffered a stroke in 2010 and died 7 years later. She was 72. She once said, “I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not a feminist. I’m just a woman. My books are about survival, just like my own life.”

If none of this sounds familiar, you might be surprised that Buchi Emecheta was celebrated with a Google Doodle a year ago today (on what would have been her 75th birthday). She reportedly started writing as a way to deal with the troubles in her marriage and went on to write novels, children/YA books, plays, articles, and an autobiography. Her son Sylvester, who established a publishing company to ensure his mother’s work stays in print, said that Emecheta was the descendant of storytellers who passed down to him and his siblings the “Moonlight tales” that she learned from her aunts and father.

“Living entirely off writing is a precarious existence and money is always short, but with careful management and planning I found I could keep my head and those of my family, through God’s grace, above water.”

Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta

Ultimately, we are taught what someone has decided it is important for us to learn. We may not have any reason to question why we are taught one thing and not another, one author and not another. And, if we are not big readers, we are unlikely to read outside of our primary society’s canon. Maybe, as we get older, we turn to mass market fiction (or non-fiction) as a form of escapism. Maybe we turn to award winning literature – but we don’t really question why one author gets published but not the other, why one book makes the short list but not the other. Since many of us have grown up in society where we were encouraged to learn/do/teach (or see/do/teach) this means that we teach what we were taught – even if we are not teachers. Furthermore, as has happened recently, when we start to question and explore… we start with what (and who) we know – even if the authors we know are not experts in our latest field of study.

This paradox reminds me of Newton’s Laws of Motion (particularly, the law of inertia: an object in motion remains in motion, an object at rest remains at rest – unless something disrupts its condition). It also reminds me of college.

I studied English Literature at a major U. S. university. There had previously been some pretty prestigious guest professors over the years; however, when I started, in the late 1980’s, there were no African, African-American, Black British, or Black anything modules in literature. You might read a writer here or there in a 20th Century survey class, but you couldn’t (as I did with Russian literature) sit in what was essentially an oversized closet with a professor and three or four other students and learn about literature written from the perspective of the African diaspora. (Honestly, in college, I probably didn’t even know how to write a sentence like that – that’s how far African-American literature was outside of my wheelhouse!)

Dr. Lucille P. Fultz joined the faculty my senior year and, with some new awareness, I decided to take one of her classes. She had graduated from Spellman College (a historically black university for women) and completed her graduate degrees at the University of Iowa (which is known for its writers) and Emory University (which is just known). I remember her as my own personal stereotype of a Spellman woman: mature, petite, dark-skinned, natural, knowledgeable (in a seriously erudite way), well-spoken (but also soft-spoken), and dressed to the nines. In my head, she wore white gloves – but honestly, I think I made that up. I may also have made up the idea that she did not original study literature with the intention of teaching African-American literature. I say “I may have made up the idea” because she is now recognized as an authority on Toni Morrison (whose history as a writer/mom/publisher in some ways mirrors Emecheta’s history as a writer/mom/publisher) and she got me to read The Bluest Eye, which was quite possibly the only Toni Morrison book I had not read on my own.

My alma mater now has a history department with “a strong team dedicated to the history of Africa, the African diaspora, and African-American Studies” and a newly established Center for African and African American Studies. Curiously (and going back to the idea that we learn what we are taught and teach what we learn), two of the six members of that dedicated team are easily recognizable as people of color – and they are the only ones on the team who graduated (as undergrads) from the school where they now teach; one graduated just before me, the other attended after Dr. Fultz was firmly established at the university.

“Everyone’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

– Ernest Hemingway

“[I write] stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.”

– Buchi Emecheta

Hemingway wrote about war, sex, love, loyalty, fishing, bullfighting, and the feeling of being lost in the middle of an adventure. Emecheta wrote about sexual discrimination, racial prejudice, sex, love, changing nappies, being a single parent, and religion. They both wrote about culture clashes, their experiences in Africa, as well as about the roles and relationships between men and women, but much of what they wrote looks and feels very different – even when, occasionally, the wrote about the same situations. Take Africa, for instance. To Hemingway, the continent of Africa was an exotic land of (physical) danger and adventure. To Emecheta, Africa (and specifically Nigeria) was home and a land (socially and physically) dangerous in the way it marginalized women.

As I mentioned above, they had different ideas on suicide (even different ideas about why one might consider suicide) and they had very different ideas about education. In her autobiography, Emecheta wrote, “An uneducated person has little chance of happiness. He cannot enjoy reading, he cannot understand any complicated music, he does not know what to do with himself if he has no job. How many times have I heard my friends say, ‘ I want to leave my boring job because I want to write, because I want to catch up with goings on in the theatre, because I want to travel and because I want to be with my family.’ The uneducated man has no such choices. Once he has lost his boring job, he feels he’s lost his life. That is unfair.” On the flip side, Hemingway had significantly less (formal) education than Emecheta, struggled with depression, and stated that when he started writing his first novel, “Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph.”

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

“She, who only a few months previously would have accepted nothing but the best, had by now been conditioned to expect inferior things. She was now learning to suspect anything beautiful and pure. Those things were for the whites, not the blacks.”

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 21st) 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 “07212020 A Tale of Two Writers”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

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

“If every one said orders were impossible to carry out when they were received where would you be? Where would we all be if you just said, ‘Impossible,’ when orders came?”

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

“Just keep trying and trying. If you have the determination and commitment, you will succeed.”

– Buchi Emecheta

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).

### Everybody: PLANT A TREE ###

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I’m gonna try anything that just feels better”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– quoted from the song “Fix You” by Coldplay

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

– Carlos Santana

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

 

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

Reunited

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

 

Curious About… You (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

Q: What’s the perfect gift to give a Tibetan Buddhist nun on her birthday?

A: Nothing.

I have more “punny” Buddhist jokes where that came from; however, since some people appreciate seriousness in their practice, I will move it along.

Wednesday was the 85th birthday of the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. About eight years ago, Ani Pema Chödrön, who was born in New York City on July 14, 1936, asked that people observe her birthday by practicing peace. Of course, even if we were to practice in a vacuum, peace requires some compassion and loving-kindness. The practice also requires going a little deeper into our sore spots, our tender spots, our tight and raw spots. You know the spots I mean: those spots people poke and push to get us “hooked.”

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

We begin each practice with what some might call a prayer, a wish, or a plea for peace. We also begin with a personal intention. Sometimes we breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Every once in a while I remind you to remember your personal intention. Sometimes we even end with a reminder that peace begins within. However, it can be hard to find peace when someone is continuously doing something (to us or around us) that doesn’t feel very peaceful – or loving and kind. Perhaps we can cultivate some softness, some compassion even, when we recognize that the other person is doing their best. But, even then, there are times when we just feel ourselves getting hot under the collar and losing our awareness. That’s what happens when our buttons get pushed: we lose awareness of who we are and what we’re all about. To borrow a metaphor from Anushka Fernandopulle, we get on the “Peace” Train and suddenly find ourselves headed towards, “OMG, I’m So Pissed”ville.

In the process of that journey, we forget our original intention and we forget all about that “peace within us” (let alone that “peace all around us”).

For almost ten years now, I have spent the month of July sharing Pema Chödrön’s teachings around shenpa and the four R’s: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve. I like to also add a fifth R: Remember. This is not the only time I share these teachings; however, it is nice to have a dedicated period of time to really focus-concentrate-mediate on the ways we can get “unhooked.” It also coincides nicely with the Dalai Lama’s birthday and, since it’s midway through the year, it’s also a nice time to remind people that what we do on the mat, can translate into practices off the mat.

A lot of times I use examples similar to the very obvious ones in the quote above. However, since we are usually hooked by our ego – and since I recently mentioned the power of familiarity – this week I pointed out that sometimes the really pretty, shiny lure that hides the sharp hook of suffering is actually our habit of doing things a certain way.

Yes, big surprise (and another Buddhist joke in the making) – we get hooked by our attachments.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

– Ernő Rubik

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy have practices around attachment that involve our belief (sometimes our mistaken belief) that we know something. Maybe we know something is right; maybe we know something is wrong. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we have the belief, we’re attached to the belief, and (therefore) the belief can cause suffering.

Both philosophies encourage us to not only question what we believe, but also to be curious about what we believe, why we believe it, and what’s on the other side of our beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) is the practice of approaching a subject as if for the first time. In Yoga, the second niyamā (internal “observation”) is santoşa which is “contentment.” Both practices require the openness and eagerness to learn that we observe in small children. Both practices cultivate an open-heartedness that, when applied in our relationships, can allow us to be more generous with the attributes of our hearts and less generous with our judgement. Both practices require us to show-up and be present with what is – and both practices give us insight into ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to a new yoga class with a new teacher. You’ve been practicing for a while, maybe you even teach or have been through a teacher training – either way, you “know your stuff.” The practice starts in a pose that you would normally practice after you’ve warmed up a bit and the teacher offers no other options. So, depending on the day you’re having, maybe you just go into a modification you know; maybe you struggle to get into the pose the way would if you were warmed up; maybe you ignore the suggestion and go into something else; or maybe you are already so fed up that you leave and that’s the end of that.

But, let’s say you stay. You breathe in. You breathe out. Your body is starting to warm up; your mind is starting to focus and – BOOM, they do it again! They cue something different from what you were expecting (and had already started doing) or something that you and the people around you clearly aren’t safely in a position to practice. And, again, they offer no other options. What do you do?

This could continue through a whole practice. And, to be clear, maybe it’s not the sequence that’s the problem. Maybe they just say things in a way that really grates on your nerves. Maybe they consistently call Downward Facing Dog a resting pose (but it’s a pose you recognize is really challenging). Maybe it’s the fact that they never offer alternative options even though most of the people in the practice are not doing what they are suggesting. Maybe there’s too much philosophy for you, maybe there’s not enough. Maybe their voice reminds you of the person with whom you just had an argument. Ultimately, the nature of the issue doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do when you’re getting annoyed.

Do you RECOGNIZE that something was happening that didn’t meet your expectations? In other words, do you Recognize that you are getting hooked? If so, do you pause for a moment and – instead of doing the thing you would normally do – REFRAIN from doing anything? Do you just take a breath and RELAX? If so, do you RESOLVE to continue with that relaxation, with that mindfulness, and with that intentionality? Do you REMEMBER why you decided to attend the practice in the first place?

Or do you leave the space, completely annoyed, frustrated, angry, and not at all peaceful?

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Years ago, I think it was on my 45th birthday, I had plans for a whole day of “wise women.” Even though it wasn’t part of my original plan, it turned out that I was going to be the first “wise woman” in my day, because I agreed to be a guest teacher at a university class on mindfulness. Then I had plans to attend a yoga practice led by one of my favorite teachers, a teacher whose practice inspires me to this day. Finally, I was going to have dinner with a group of some of the wisest women I knew at the time. The university class turned out to be an awesome way to start the day. Then I headed across town for some yoga and encountered a problem; my favorite yoga teacher was nowhere in sight. I figured she just wasn’t at the front desk; so I signed in and got settled, trying not to be too annoyed at the music that was clearly not what my favorite teacher would be playing. I was having one of my best birthdays ever… until the class started and it was being led by someone I wasn’t expecting.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I was “hooked” from the minute the sub said their hello. If you’ve heard me tell this story before you also know that instead of settling in during the integration, I was getting riled up. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a reason this teacher was at the front of the room. They had to have something to offer. And, if I could let go of my expectations, maybe I would learn something.

Ultimately, the day goes down as one of my favorite days with some of my favorite memories and the birthday rates as one of my favorite celebrations. While I never took from that (substitute) teacher again – and part of me wants to rate it as one of my least favorite classes in almost twenty years of yoga – I definitely got something out of the practice… and it’s something that continues to serve me.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

Every culture and tradition around the world places a certain level of value on the virtues of the heart. In yoga, we find instructions to meditate on the various attributes of the heart. We can also view at least three of the “powers unique to being human” as heart practices. I even think of the physical practice of yoga as a way to prepare the mind-body for those heart practices. In Buddhism, four of the “heart” practices are referred to as the “Divine Abodes” (Brahmavihārās): loving-kindness (maitrī or “mettā), compassion (karuņā), sympathetic or empathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekşā or upekkhā). Again, you find these virtues all over the world; however, what you find in contemplative traditions are the practices to cultivate these innately human powers.

Pema Chödrön’s teachings around the concept of shenpa are just one set of many practices found in Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, kōans are statements or stories (sometimes considered riddles or puzzles in a Western mind) used as a form of contemplation (although not always of meditation). Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, people use lojong or “mind training” techniques which can be held in the heart and mind during contemplation. To “sit” or even live with a phrase does not require a great deal of “thinking,” but it does require a certain amount of patience and openness. One of the goals, in practicing with such statements, is to let the teaching unfold in the same way the heart opens… in the same way a fist unclenches or a flower unfurls. In the process of these practices, one also discovers more and more about themselves, as well as about the world.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable….

 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”

 

– quoted from “1. Loving-Kindness” in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07142020 Compassion & Peace for Pema”]
 

“Prince Guatama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

Check out last year’s post on this date (and follow the dates for more on the practice)!

 

### WHY ARE YOU HERE, AGAIN? ###

The Center of the Puzzle (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Kundalini, Life, Mathematics, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, July 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“How is life like a puzzle? Or not like a puzzle?”

 

 

– quoted from the beginning of the practices on May 19th and July 13th

 

If we really think about it, it is not just our lives that are like puzzles. Our practice, our mind-body, even our relationships are like puzzles. There are all these different shaped pieces that sometimes fit together and sometimes don’t fit together. There are all these pieces that look like they could fit together, but don’t actually fit. Then there are all those little clues – like hard edges and different color schemes or patterns – that indicate what fits and what doesn’t fit.

When you are solving a puzzle (especially if it has a lot of pieces and/or it has an intricate design), it’s always helpful to have a picture of the finished product. It’s also nice to know that you have all the pieces (or, at the very least, that you know what pieces you have and which pieces are missing). In this way, our physical bodies – and, therefore, our physical practice of yoga are very much like a puzzle. We know the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone; the shin bone is connected to the knee bone; the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the hip bone is connected to the back bone; and that this construction is duplicated in the upper body. We also know that the muscles, nerves, tendons, and other connecting tissues fit together (and work together) in certain ways.

For instance, we know that the hamstrings and quadriceps work together to extend and flex the knee when we walk. We also know that if one leg is shorter (or stronger) than the other that that difference will affect the way we walk and will affect other parts of our bodies – even parts we don’t automatically recognize as being connected. The same is true if we are missing all or part of one leg or if all or part of one leg isn’t mobile. Even if you consider yourself “able-bodied,” you have probably had an injury that affected your mobility – or maybe you went hiking and messed up your shoe in a way that affected your gait. Or, maybe, you just got a rock in your shoe. Either way, take a moment to think back and consider how the change in one area affected all your other areas as you moved.

“The Cube is an imitation of life itself – or even an improvement on life.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

When it comes to our physical practice of yoga, our sequencing considers how the mind-body is mentally and physically connected and we also consider the energetic aspects of how we are connected. By building each āsana (“seat” or pose) from the ground up, we are able to ensure maximum amount of stability so that we can stretch and/or strengthen with intention and integrity. Similarly, we build the sequence from the ground up so that the mind-body is prepared to do each subsequent set of āsanas. This awareness of how things are connected is particularly important when we are practicing vinyāsa and/or implementing vinyāsa karma in order to achieve a “peak pose.”

While vinyāsa is often translated into English as “flow,” it literally means “to place in a special way.” Classically speaking, the poses are placed so that we exaggerate the body’s natural tendencies and, therefore, engage natural movement (even when moving in a way we might not normally move off the mat). When we forget the intention behind the movement we may find ourselves moving in a way that is counterintuitive and contraindicated by our basic anatomy and the fundamentals of kinesiology. Moving “in a way that is counterintuitive” can be subjective and is not always a bad thing. We definitely learn and grow when we play around with different types of movement. Also, while doing the same practice over and over again can be a great way to gauge progress and master a certain skill, getting “outside of the box” can also highlight bad habits that we’ve been “practicing.” Ultimately, one should always listen to the teacher within and consider if they are really ready to do certain things – especially since, not being mentally ready to do something can be just as dangerous as not being physically ready to do something.

On the flip side, movement that is contraindicated may not always be obvious – especially if we move fast enough and use momentum, rather than alignment and breath, to “muscle” into a pose. However, moving too much and too fast often results in injury. This can be a problem with some “flow” (or even “vinyasa”) practices that are not alignment and breath-based. Remember, just because we can do something (if we do it fast enough and with enough muscular force), doesn’t mean we it’s a good idea. Ideally, a practice works its way towards a “peak.” Maybe that peak is Śavāsana and a deep-seated meditation or maybe it’s a “peak pose” – i.e., something that a random person couldn’t walk into a room and do without being warmed up. Either way, this is where vinyāsa karma comes in handy. Vinyāsa karma literally means “to place the step in a special way.” In other words, it is a step by step progression towards a goal and it is a practice that can be utilized even in sequences where there is no “flow.”

Naturally, we can come at the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) from a purely physical viewpoint and sequence accordingly. However, the system of yoga includes a mental and subtle body awareness which can also be accessed and harnessed through the poses and movement. Kundalini, Tantra, and Svaroopa are some of the yoga systems that specifically engage the energetic and subtle body through the practice of āsana; however, there can be tantric elements in any yoga practice that considers the way the mind-body-spirit is “woven” together. For instance, when I mention how the energy of our “first family, tribe, and community of birth” contributes to how we cultivate friendships with people we may perceive as “Other,” that is an element of tantra. When we warm up the core in order to have more stability in balancing poses, that is an element of tantra. When we open up the body in order to loosen up areas that may be holding stagnant energy, that also is an element of tantra. Notice, (especially as it relates to the last example) that any of these examples can happen outside of a “vinyasa” practice. Notice, also, that there is no reference to balancing the different types of energy associated the difference sides of the body… although, that too is tantra.

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.”

 

– Ernö Rubik

So, you can see how our mind-bodies and, therefore our practice, are like puzzles – like a giant Rubik’s Cubes. On a certain level, however, our lives – and relationships – are different from a physical puzzle; because we don’t start with a picture of the finished product and we don’t know if we have all the pieces. Let’s be honest, we don’t even know if all the pieces we have are for a single puzzle. Despite these differences, we can take a page from the life of the creator of one of the most popular toys of the 80’s: we can visualize the picture we want; see what fits and what doesn’t fit; be open to the possibilities that are around us and inside of us; and use the tools at hand.

Born in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary on July 13, 1944, Ernö Rubik started off as an architect and architect professor. He studied at the Secondary School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (where he joined the architecture faculty), and the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design, also known as the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (where was a member of the Faculty of Interior Architecture and Design). As a professor, he wanted to build a three dimensional model he could use to help his architecture students develop spatial awareness and solve design problems. He started off with 27 wooden blocks, which would have worked great if he just wanted a static three dimensional model. But, Rubik wanted something he could easily move into a variety of shapes. That was his vision.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that this particular creator didn’t just have a background in architecture (with an emphasis on sculpture). He was also the son of two parents who were themselves creators: his father being a world-renowned engineer of gliders and his mother being a poet. Although, Rubik is quick to credit his father as one of his inspirations, it’s best not to ignore the fact that he grew up watching both of his parents creating things that delighted others.

So, he had a vision and he had pieces to his “puzzle.” He even knew how everything fit together. He just didn’t know how everything would move together. Then one day, while walking on a cobblestone bridge in Budapest, he looked down and realized if the core of his model resembled the cobblestones he could twist and turn the pieces accordingly. Violá!

Ernö Rubik had the vision (a “picture” of the final product); the pieces and how they fit together; and he was open to different possibilities so that when (metaphorically speaking) he stumbled on the cobblestone, he recognized the opportunity. Finally, because of his father’s experience as an inventor, he knew how to apply for a patent and what was needed to take something to market. Even though he ran into a few problems along the way – after all, he was doing all of this under a communist regime – he eventually licensed his invention, the “Magic Cube” to the U. S. based Ideal Toys. Invented on May 19, 1974 and renamed “Rubik’s Cube” in 1979, the toy was introduced to the world in 1980. The toy was so popular that it led Ernö Rubik to create more three dimensional puzzles, including Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Snake, and Rubik’s 360.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

Even though all of Ernö Rubik’s puzzles can be viewed through a geometric and mathematical lens – and even though they mostly rely on the engagement of a central core – there are some differences between the puzzles. Rubik’s 360 requires a certain amount of manual dexterity that is not required to manipulate the other toys and Rubik’s Snake can be a bit like origami, in that the toy can be made into different shapes. But, perhaps the most puzzling of all is the original Rubik’s Magic.

The original Rubik’s Magic has eight interwoven black tiles with rainbow rings painted on the front and the back. In its “unsolved” (flat, rectangular) state, the front of the tiles show three rings side-by-side and the back of the tiles show pieces of three rings that will be interlocking when the puzzle is solved. The puzzle can be manipulated to make a ton of different shapes, like a star, a box, a bench, and even a toy chest. In fact, in the “solved” position, the rectangle becomes heart-shaped. The tiles fold and unfold horizontally and vertically, in tandem and individually – which means they flip into each other, over each other, twist, and can be rolled like a wheel. Later iterations of the puzzle featured images (like the Simpsons going to the beach, Harry Potter playing quidditch, and dinosaurs) that create a bit of a story.  

Take a moment to consider what happens if your life is like the images on a Rubik’s Magic. Yes, you might see your life as disconnected circles or you might see yourself as separate from the other people around you. Consider, however, what twists and turns, flips and rolls, get you connected. Or, more accurately, get you to recognize that you are already connected. If you see one side of you Magic as the image of how your life is at this moment, consider that the other side is the image of some goal, desire, or experience you’d like to achieve. The pieces are there, again, you just have to flip, twist, turn, and roll things so that you’re relaxing on the beach or grabbing the golden snitch.

Again, the pieces are already there; it’s all just a matter of “placing things in a special way.” When we look at our lives – or even other people’s lives (if you check out the link above) – through the energetic system of our practice, we start to develop more awareness about the puzzle. We even might start to realize that we are the center of the puzzle.

 

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”

                                                                                          

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

Tuesday’s  playlist available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel” playlist.] 

 

 

 

“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

 

### Only A Little Puzzling ###

 

 

A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

Introducing….You (the “missing” Sunday post) July 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 11thYou can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

[English translation: Wisdom often is under a filthy cloak.]”

– Latin proverb (associated with Socrates, Diogenes, and Cicero)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are meeting someone for the first time. It is also the very first time you’ve seen them – and maybe you are meeting them in a cold place during winter or a rainy place during the rainy season. Either way, you are both wearing overcoats. You’re also both of a certain age, whatever that means to you at this moment. So, you’re meeting not at the beginning of your stories but in the middle, maybe even at the end.

We may not think about it, but this is how we most often meet – in the middle of our stories and without being able to see what’s inside.

We exchange names and, if we know someone else with said name, we start seeing this new person through the layers and layers of previously formed ideas, impressions, and opinions. That’s just the way the mind-body works. If, however, we are each the first person either of us has met with said names, we start forming ideas, impressions, and opinions about a person with said name. That’s just the way the mind-body works.

We may not even be consciously aware of it, but there it is. Our first sense of someone is based on an overcoat, samskaras (mental impressions), whatever is happening in the middle of the story, and a name – that may or may not be their given name (or, under certain circumstances, may or may not be the name by which most people know them). The overcoat in this case is, literally, an article of clothing – and also all the external factors like the samskaras, the name, and anything else we may know or assume based on the situation (like occupation, vocation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age range).

Over time, the overcoat comes off, literally and figuratively. We make more mental impressions, maybe we learn another name, and as we move through the rest of the story we also learn (in a backwards sense) about the beginning of a person’s story: why they are the way they are; think and do the things they think and do. Over time, we go deeper.

“Pleased to meet you
But I’m quick to judge
I hope you drop the grudge
I know I’m not what you want from me”

– quoted from the song “Pleased to Meet You” by Rynx (featuring Minke)

Every practice is an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) you to yourself. Every pose, every sequence, allows you to remove the layers and layers of overcoats until you reach the heart and core of who you are. That’s svādhyāya, “self-study.”

Sometimes, I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to different philosophical aspects of the practice – as I did this time last year and/or to various rituals and traditions. I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to some of my favorite people. People like two writers who share a birthday and, obviously, an occupation. Both of these writers just happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners; have ties to The New Yorker magazine; and are mostly recognized by (first) names that are not on their passports and birth certificates.

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

Elwyn Brooks White was born July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri was born July 11, 1967, in London, England. While very different in some ways, their books prove that anyone can be the hero (or heroine) of a great story; that situations we’ve never personally encountered can be highly relatable when related by a good storyteller; and that fiction (like yoga) can be a great way to process difficult emotions.

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Place yourself in the background; do not explain too much; prefer the standard to the offbeat.”

– quoted from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Even though most readers know him by his initials, E. B. White was known to friends and professional colleagues as “Andy.” Ostensibly, the nickname came about because of a tradition at Cornell University whereby students with the last name “White” are renamed after the university’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s birth name is not known to many of her readers – and for a similar reason: her name was also “changed” at school. However, in her case, the change came because her name was unfamiliar (rather than so familiar). Dr. Lahiri’s parents migrated from West Bengal, India to the United Kingdom. When the author was three, the family migrated to Kingston, Rhode Island – where at least one teacher was unfamiliar Bengali names and unwilling to learn how to pronounce them. According to an August 19, 2003, USA Today article by Bob Minzesheimer, “[A kindergarten teacher] said something like ‘That’s kind of a long name’ and decided it was easier to pronounce ‘Jhumpa’” – her nickname.

Remember, names are part of our overcoats. What we call each other makes a difference in how we see and understand each other.

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

– quoted from the messages in the web in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (illustrated by Garth Williams)

When Charlotte (the spider) comes up with her plan to save Wilbur, she says, “Why, how perfectly simple.” She then goes on to use her experience (as a master weaver) to introduce (and reintroduce) her friend (the pig) in a way that makes him more valuable alive, rather than dead. Her plan is, in fact, perfectly simple: write what you know… and change the overcoat. Even through their details are different, the stories written by both E. B. White and Jhumpa Lahiri are about their own personal experiences… and what happens when we get underneath the outer layers.

E. B. White is remembered as the author of beloved (and sometimes banned) children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but he started off as a journalist. He also worked for an advertising agency (and in some non-literary jobs) before submitting manuscripts for the then newly-founded The New Yorker. He eventually became a writer and contributing editor for the magazine. It was during his tenure at The New Yorker that he got a blast from his (Cornell University) past when he was asked to update work by one of his former professors.

The Elements of Style (sometimes called White & Strunk’s Elements of Style) was originally composed and self-published by William Strunk Jr. for his English students at Cornell University. It contained what Dr. Strunk Jr. considered the fundamentals: “Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused [and/or misspelled]….” When it was published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1920, it included eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” In the late 1950’s, Macmillan Publishers commissioned Mr. White to expand and modernize “the little book” (partially based on a 1935 edition by William Strunk Jr. and Edward A. Tenney). Since its 1959 publication, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style has been reprinted three times, illustrated, and served as the inspiration for an opera and a comprehensive history.

Mr. White won a Newberry Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, a Presidential Freedom Award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a National Medal for Literature, and a L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for Letters, an award that actually recognized all of his work. In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) even established an award in his honor for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by [his work].” You might think all of those accolades meant that Mr. White always followed his own advice. But, let’s be real: talking farm animals, airplane-flying mice, and Public Relations specialists who just happen to be spiders wasn’t very standard in 1945 and 1952.

“No, I have never encountered any story plot like Charlotte’s Web. I do not believe that any other writer has ever told about a spider writing words in its web. Perhaps I should ask some of the children’s book ladies who go back even further in time than I do, but I am sure nothing even remotely like this has been written.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to “Andy” (E. B. White), from Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief, Department of Books for Boys and Girls (dated April 2, 1952, as it appears in Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom)  

“It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

 

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago…. Spiders are skilful [sic], amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

 

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.

– quoted from a letter addressed to Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief (Department of Books for Boys and Girls), from  E. B. White (dated September 29, 1952)

The January 1948 issue of The Atlantic contained an essay by E. B. White entitled, “Death of a Pig,” which described the short life and “premature expiration of a pig” – as well as the burial and how the whole community mourned the occasion. In the essay, Mr. White said, “I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs.“ While there is no mention of a spider in the essay – and he doesn’t specifically mention a pig dying in his September 29, 1952 letter to Ursula Nordstrom, his publisher / editor – many believed that the essay wasn’t enough and that he felt the need to write more in order to express his sorrow and regret, to process his feelings about his experiences. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a letter to an editor (or a fan) to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has also used fiction to process personal experiences.

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called, by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Despite having conflicted feelings associated with her name and schooling, Jhumpa Lahiri went on to earn a B. A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University and four degrees from Boston University. A few years after completing her doctorial thesis, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies became the seventh collection of short stories (in 82 years) to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. (There have now been only nine collections to win the award in over 100 years.) Several years after her award-winning debut, The New Yorker published her short story entitled, “The Namesake.” It was the story of a Bengali boy living in a strange land with a strange name.

The story became a book and then a movie and, in the process, “Jhumpa Lahiri” became a household name.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades include a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Frank O’Connor International Story, and the National Humanities Award. She has also been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at number one on The New York Times best seller list – an achievement one book editor associated with her “newfound commercial clout,” but an achievement (I would humbly suggests) actually rests on the beauty and clarity of her storytelling. As one critic put it, “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Unaccustomed Earth was also named number one by the editors of The New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2008.” Perhaps, even more telling is the fact that when the collection won the Frank O’Connor International Story award that same year, there was no shortlist because, as reported by The Guardian on July 4, 2008, “The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner….” The Frank O’Connor award was one of the world’s richest awards for short story collections and normally had a longlist of approximately 60 books and a short list of three or four.

“In so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another…They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a polyglot who speaks Bengali, English, and Italian. She, undoubtedly, also understands a little bit of Spanish (and maybe Greek). Not only has she written and translated work in (and out) of all three of the languages she speaks, in 2015 she wrote an essay for The New Yorker stating that she was now only writing in Italian. Since 2015, she has published two books in Italian and edited and translated at least two collections of work by Italian writers.

Dr. Lahiri’s love of language is obvious not only in the languages she speaks and writes, but also in the connections that she makes through her writing. Both The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth have ties to two of her literary predecessors: Nikolai Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some people might be confused by her success with the “masses,” because she is so clearly erudite. However, above and beyond anything else, what a reader finds in Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are regular, everyday people navigating the spaces between two worlds and two identities – just like she does. (Just like E. B. White’s characters do.)

“Writing was also an escape [for Jhumpa Lahiri]. Growing up brown and ‘foreign’ in a town where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly reporting to their Indian friends that they’d moved into an all-white neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents — her mother would often retort to these friends, ‘What do you think you are?’ — she said, ‘I was never into any sort of denial.’”

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled, “The Writer Who Began with a Hyphen” by Teresa Wiltz (dated October 8, 2003) 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

”His family name was Bashmachkin. It is evident from the name, that it originated in bashmak (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not known. His father and grandfather, and even his brother-in-law, and all the Bashmachkins, always wore boots, and only had new heels two or three times a year. His name was Akakii Akakievich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but he may feel assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give him any other name; and this was how it came about.”

– quoted from “The Overcoat” (as it appears in The Overcoat & Other Short Stories, Dover Thrift Editions) by Nikolai Gogol (story translation by Isabel F. Hapgood)

[Last year’s post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

### “Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;” WS ###

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

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

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


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


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

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, you got it?

Now, read her statement again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hair Is My Crown

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoftim Judges (16:17 – 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

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

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

Speaking of Things that Were Not Televised… June 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Life, Men, Philosophy, Science, TV, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

Let’s start with a plea and a digression.

Please, please, please don’t miss understand me. When I say that I’m not a Cardi B fan, I’m not saying that I dislike her (or her music) – I’m just saying that I don’t really listen to rap music. (Although, I really, really, really do get a kick out of those “If Cardi B Did the Sound Effects for Star Wars” videos.) That being said, you would have to have been living under a rock to not have heard Cardi B’s name in the last few years.

Maybe you heard of her because someone loves her music: Her accolades include being the only woman to win the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as a solo artist and the first female rap artist to have a RIAA Diamond-certified song, which means it sold (and/or streamed) over 10 million units – and in the United States that applies to less than 60 songs. Maybe you heard about her because someone hates her music and/or finds it offensive: Yes, WAP, I’m looking at you and all the records you broke – including making Cardi B the first (and so far, only) female rapper to achieve Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles in two decades and the first (and so far, only) female rap artist to top the Global Spotify chart on multiple occasions. Maybe you heard of her because of her relationship with her husband; her relationship with other rappers; and/or allegations (and indictments) for violent and otherwise illegal behavior. Or maybe, you heard about the fact that she recognizes that her songs are not all appropriate for children (and, ergo, won’t let her toddler listen to them).

Maybe you know nothing about her except that she is not shy about her speaking her mind when it comes to politics. (Again, I’m not a fan and I’m not here to condone or debate some/any of her statements. I’ll just say that I can appreciate that she publicly “stans” Eleanor Roosevelt.) You also might have heard about Cardi B recently, because people have been talking about how she announced the fact that she is pregnant with her second child.

In listening to a group of moms talk about Cardi B’s announcement (on social media and at the BET Awards), I was struck by the part where these women – from different generations, but all older than the aforementioned 28-year old – talked about how they didn’t document their pregnancies and/or their children’s lives the way some people do today. The same was true for their mothers and themselves as children. Part of the mom-discussion was about body image and body positivity – which is another point of pride for some and contention for others when it comes to Cardi B. However, some of the conversation was related to technology and the changing awareness around how the most mundane and/or “long and boring” things can also be the most important.

Even when they are not televised.

What happens if we could go back to the begin; go back to our origins? What if we could go back to our origins as a person, our origins as a member of a specific group we decided to join (like a political or social organization) and/or a member of a group (like race, gender, ethnicity, sex, and/or generation) into which we were born? What if we could go back to the origins of our country, our species, or our planet – and watch things unfold in real time?

What if we could see exactly how things developed… or evolved, purely from the stand point of an observer? Would the opportunity to witness the truth or reality of something change our engagement with that something, ourselves, other people and/or the world?

And what if, in going back, we were able to witness how our ideas around such things developed… and evolved?

[The first quote above and the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for current classes, were originally posted on June 30, 2020.]

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

 “I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 30th) 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 “March 31 Hays Code 2020”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

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

(NOTE: I’ve re-set the settings for making comments. And yes, that’s two weeks, out of 3, that I’ve mentioned the Scopes Monkey Trial.)

DON’T FORGET! There’s a “First Friday Night Special” on Friday, July 2nd, 7:15 – 8:20 PM (CST) & the focus will be on “the effort to free/liberate yourself from….” Additional details are available on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###