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First Friday Night Special #15: “A Reflective Moment” (a post practice post) January 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Love, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Happy 2022, Everyone!

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #15 from January 7th. This practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians (but with a little more back bending than the last two Yin Yoga practices.

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.]

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”

 

– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Yoga practice (on or off the mat) is an opportunity to grow and to learn about one’s self and the world around us.  It’s a safe time and place to turn inward and observe how our mind-bodies respond and react to ourselves and the world around us. It’s a great time to is a place to explore, experiment, learn, and play. For this reason, I sometimes liken the practice (on the mat) to time in a laboratory or classroom, or even on a playground. And I think it’s appropriate to show up with a sense of curiosity, wonder, possibilities, and faith – prepared to see what happens.

Curiosity, wonder, possibilities, faith, and preparation are concepts that I have repeatedly highlighted during this week’s practices, because they are concepts shared by explorers, (physical) scientists, philosophers, and the (religious and/or spiritually) faithful. When we show up on the mat, we have the opportunity to be all of the above and also  to embody all of those attributes. We have the opportunity, as Dr. Beau Lotto has said (in defining science), to “play with purpose.” We can look at that “purpose” as finding out more about ourselves; however, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali makes it very clear that by going deeper into ourselves, we go deeper in to the world. We are, after all, microcosms of the world… which is a microcosm of the solar system… which is a microcosm of the galaxy… which is a microcosm of the universe. Which is kind of a long way to say that by observing our self, we can learn about the cosmos.

Just because we can, theoretically, learn about the cosmos by going deeper into ourselves, does not mean that we are the center of the universe. Some ancient philosophers perpetuated a geocentric model of the Universe, whereby everything revolved around Earth. In 1543, one of the last things Nicolaus Copernicus did was present a mathematical “theory” – based on observation – indicating that the Sun was actually the center of everything. This heliocentric model created a paradigm shift for almost everyone in the Western world, with the exception of the Catholic Church… and it’s scientists. In fact, as the Scientific Revolution ushered in more advanced technology and better observations, scientists like Tycho Brahe used their more accurate data to develop a geoheliocentric model, whereby the Sun still revolved around the Earth, but everything else revolved around the Sun.

Other scientists, in other countries, had developed similar models based on their own observations, but the Tychonic model was more than a collection of data points. In some ways, it was a desperate attempt to stay in the Church’s favor and to hold on to the old status quo. However, when Tycho unexpectedly died in October of 1601 (from an issue related to his urinary bladder and kidneys, see the practice), his assistant Johannes Kepler took over his work. Kepler and Tycho had a decent working relationship, but Kepler was convinced Tycho was coming to the wrong conclusions and proceeded accordingly as the imperial mathematician. Galileo Galilei, also a believer in Copernicus’s ideas, would further expand the ideas of Kepler. He did so, through more observations and the realization of what he was seeing.

But now, Most Serene Prince, we are able to augur truer and more felicitous things for Your Highness, for scarcely have the immortal graces of your soul begun to shine forth on earth than bright stars offer themselves in the heavens which, like tongues, will speak of and celebrate your most excellent virtues for all time. Behold therefore, four stars reserved for your illustrious name, and not of the common sort and multitude of the less notable fixed stars, but of the illustrious order of wandering stars, which, indeed, make their journeys and orbits with a marvelous speed around the star of Jupiter, the most noble of them all, with mutually different motions, like children of the same family, while meanwhile all together, in mutual harmony, complete their great revolutions every twelve years about the center of the world, that is, about the Sun itself. Indeed, it appears that the Maker of the Stars himself, by clear arguments, admonished me to call these new planets by the illustrious name of Your Highness before all others. For as these stars, like the offspring worthy of Jupiter, never depart from his side except for the smallest distance, so who does not know the clemency, the gentleness of spirit, the agreeableness of manners, the splendor of the royal blood, the majesty in actions, and the breadth of authority and rule over others, all of which qualities find a domicile and exaltation for themselves in Your Highness? Who, I say, does not know that all these emanate from the most benign star of Jupiter, after God the source of all good?

 

– quoted from Sidereus Nuncius by Galileo Galilei

Despite (or because of) the fact that he was in the middle of a long lineage of notable astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, and engineers, Galileo Galilei is the one remembered as the Father of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. The Indigo Girls even called him “the King of Insight,” which makes sense when you consider that “insight” is “seeing things in a special way.” Thanks to advancements in telescope technology, Galileo was able to see things others had not seen. Similar to the Magi, he looked up instead of down (as others did) and sometime between December of 1609 and the beginning of January of 1610, he noticed three bright, shiny objects near Jupiter. At first he thought he was seeing stars (or new planets), invisible to the naked eye, but clear when using a telescope that magnified up to 20x. Over time, however, he chronicled the movement of these “stars” and realized there were four, not three, and that they weren’t giving off their own light, they were reflecting light. They weren’t stars/suns; they were moons orbiting Jupiter.

And, as it turns out, there were more than four – but that’s another story, for a different day.

Galileo first mentioned the celestial orbs in a letter dated January 7, 1610. He tracked and documented the movement of the spheres from January 8th until March 2nd. After seeking the counsel of an advisor to Cosimo II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1609-1621), Galileo named the objects the “Medicean Stars” and published his findings on March 13, 1610. In order to secure the Medici’s as patrons, he had a copy of his work, and the telescope he used the see the heavens, delivered to the Grand Duke a few days later. In 1632, he would dedicate his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems to Cosimo’s oldest son, Ferdinando II de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1621-1670). This “dialogue” exploring the scientific merits of the Copernican view of things (heliocentric) versus the Ptolemaic view of things (geocentric) eventually landed Galileo Galilei in hot water with the Catholic Church.

A German astronomer, Simon Marius, made similar observations in December of 1609 and started documenting his observations on December 29th (according to the Julian calendar). Even though he was exonerated, because his documentation started on January 8th (according to the Gregorian calendar), Simon Marius’s reputation was tainted by accusations of plagiarism and an ongoing dispute with Galileo. If you have ever been confused by the names of Jupiter’s moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (names suggested to Marius by Johannes Kepler) vs I, II, III, IV (as Galileo noted them in his notebooks and discussion) – you can blame it on the calendars… or the scientists’ egos.

“There was no doubt in Galileo’s mind of the authenticity and importance of the discoveries he announced, and since he wished to have them reach astronomers and philosophers all over Europe as quickly as possible he addressed his book to them and wrote it in Latin. He called it the Sidereus Nuncius, which was generally taken to mean ‘the messenger of the stars,’ not only by Galileo’s contemporaries but by the translators in succeeding generations. Several booklets appeared in reply with titles referring to this ‘messenger,’ and there were allusions to this idea in many poems and literary works. Galileo did not correct these authors, but he may not have meant the title to be so interpreted. Several years later a Jesuit critic assailed him for having presented himself as the ambassador of heaven; in the margin of his copy of this attach Galileo noted that the word nuncius means ‘message’ as well as ‘messenger,’ and asserted that he had intended only the humbler meaning. On the basis of this and other evidence, modern scholars have suggested that the word in question has always been mistranslated in this title.

 

– quoted from “Introduction: First Part” in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Stillman Drake

It may seem like a “stretch” to connect Galileo Galilei (and the moons of Jupiter) with one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance; however, in many ways, Zora Neale Hurston was first and foremost an observational researcher. Born January 7, 1891, her science was people and her “message” was for the people. She was an anthropologist, as well as an author of fiction, plays, short stories, and essays. Like Galileo, she changed the way people saw the world. In her case, she changed the way African-Americans and Caribbeans were portrayed in literature. Also like Galileo, she based her work on real time observations.

Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, Black people in America were mostly portrayed as stereotypes and caricatures, often without any redeeming independent qualities or motivations. Ms. Hurston’s own lived experiences didn’t fit into those commonly circulated boxes. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama and moved to Eatonville, Florida – one of the first all-Black incorporated towns in the United States – when she was three. Her father was a man of certain means, who became the town’s mayor and the Baptist minister of the town’s largest church. When her mother died (when Zora Neale Hurston was thirteen), and her father married soon after, the future writer was shipped off to boarding schools and relatives in in Jacksonville, Florida.

The stark difference between her two environments and the class differences between her primary family and her extended family was notable. Furthermore, those differences left an impact on a young woman who’s curiosity was being fueled by her education. After graduating from the high school division of a prominent HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), she started her undergraduate degree at Howard University, another prominent HBCU, and started establishing herself as an influential part of the literati. She was one of the early members of Zeta Phi Beta, the third African-American sorority; co-founded the university’s student newspaper, The Hilltop (which was the first, and is still the only, HBCU daily paper); and was invited to join Dr. Alan Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.

“’Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.’”

 – Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching Gog by Zora Neale Hurston

She left Howard without her bachelor’s degree, but was eventually offered a scholarship to Columbia University’s Bernard College. She was the only black student at the all women’s college. Once again, she was in a unique position to observe the differences between people and cultures; but, what really interested her were the similarities. She studied ethnography and conducted research with Dr. Franz Boas, known as the “Father of American Anthropology” and Dr. Ruth Benedict, and was a student during the time that Dr. Margaret Mead was finishing up her graduate studies. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1928 and spent an additional two years pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia.

It was while she was conducting research with “Papa Franz” that Zora Neale Hurston discovered her scholastic approach to research wouldn’t get her very far in the field(s). It was also during this time that she received the patronage of Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white socialite and philanthropist who also supported other Harlem Renaissance artists, like Langston Hughes. Like Galileo, Ms. Hurston found that the support of the wealthy was a double-edged sword; because the “Godmother” of the Harlem Renaissance wanted control over the artists and their work – even scholastic research around music, folklore, hoodoo (also known as “Lowcountry Voodoo”), and other aspects of Southern culture. Trying to balance the academic requirements of her advisor, along with the demands of her patron – not to mention her newly formed friendships within the Black arts community and her own burgeoning career as an author – proved to be too much, especially since she was also a newlywed.

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

I was extremely proud that Papa Franz felt like sending me on that folklore search. As is well known, Dr. Franz Boas of the Department of Anthropology of Columbia University, is the greatest anthropologist alive, for two reasons. The first is his insatiable hunger for knowledge and then more knowledge; and the second is his genius for pure objectivity. He has no pet wishes to prove. His instructions are to go out and find what is there. He outlines his theory, but if the facts do not agree with it, he would not wrap a jot or dot of the findings to save his theory. So knowing all this, I was proud that he trusted me….

My first six months were disappointing. I found out later that it was not because I had no talents for research, but because I did not have the right approach.”

 – quoted from the autobiographical essay “Research” in Dust Tracks On A Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

Ultimately, however, she didn’t need the degree so much as she needed the experience and the material. Her work includes the semi-autobiographical novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published in 1934, and Mules and Men, an autoethnographical collection of African-American folklore, in 1935. She received support from the Guggenheim Foundation in order to conduct research about voodoo in Jamaica and Haiti, which resulted in Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (published in 1938). Her published views on race relations and, in particular, how race relations in the United States affected women of color led her to cover the trial of Ruby McCollum for the Pittsburgh Courier (Fall – Winter, 1953). In 1937, she published Their Eyes Were Watching God, her best known (and arguably) most influential novel, and followed that up, two years later, with Moses, Man of the Mountain, a re-telling and re-centering of The Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus (from the Bible) based on an African-American perspective – which, given the timing, has also been viewed as an overall criticism of fascism and the Nazi regime.

Throughout her career, Zora Neale Hurston received criticism for using dialects, for her conservative political views, and for [not doing enough for the Black race]. Even though the she was influential during the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston spent her final days in a welfare home and was buried in an unmarked grave. Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, and Hurston-scholar Charlotte D. Hunt commissioned a grave marker for the woman who had inspired them and were responsible for helping new generations discover short stories like “Spunk” (1925) and the folklore in Every Tongue Got To Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States (collected in the 1920’s and published posthumously in 2001).

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. ”

 – quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

“And when [Nanny] gained the privacy of her own little shack she stayed on her knees so long she forgot she was there herself. There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.”

– quoted from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“’I love myself when I am laughing.

And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’”

– “Zora Neale Hurston, in a letter to Carl Van Vechten, December 10, 1934, referring to a series of photographers he had taken of her” as quoted in I Love Myself when I Am Laughing.. and Then Again when I Am Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader Edited by Alice Walker (Introduction by Mary Helen Washington)

### Love No Matter What ###

Your Presence Is Requested… January 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom.
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Happy 2022, to everyone! Blessed Epiphany, to those who are observing or celebrating!

“What I really want to get to today is why the Magi came. What was it that brought them to Bethlehem? What was it that brought them to find Jesus and his family?”

*

– quoted from “The Epiphany Light: Another Reflection” by Reverend Ed Trevors (dated Jan 6, 2022)

 

On the surface, the embedded video below contains a direct message to Christians. However, if you pay attention, you will realize that the overall focus is for all: “Be a light.” Accept this invitation to be a light.

 

Click here if you’re interested in my 2021 post about Epiphany. It may give you some clarity about how you know (or don’t know) what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling…believing.

### OHR ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

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

"Observe"

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


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

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

AND/OR

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Reflect"

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

 

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

### NAMASTE ###

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

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

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

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

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

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

Social Economics (today’s “missing” post) December 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Feast Day of Saint Thomas (Becket).

 

This is a revised and updated version of a post from 2020. You can find the original post here.

 

“In The Black Candle, a 2008 documentary on Kwanzaa, narrated by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, she explains, ‘While the first principle of Umoja brings us closer and harnesses our strength, the last principle, Imani, inspires us and sustains our togetherness. Let us have faith in ourselves, in our creator, in our mothers and fathers, in our grandmothers and grandfathers, in our elders, and in our future – knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters, we are our brothers and sisters.’”

 

– quoted from the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

A funny thing can happen when we practice yoga: the deeper we go into the mind-body and spirit, the more we start to appreciate the mind-body-spirit as a whole. We may also start to appreciate all the different parts of ourselves and – in the process – we may start to appreciate each other a little more. And, by appreciate, I mean value. Just as I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and post, everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have purpose (i.e., power)  and responsibility – which means everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have value. One question for today is, “How do we express that value and appreciation?” Another question for today is, “Why do we value some things (and people) more than other?”

Social Economics (also known as socioeconomics) is defined as the social science that studies the connection between social behavior and economics (which is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services). One area of focus within social economics is how a society/community thrives (or doesn’t) because of economic activity. Another focus is how social behavior affects economics and vice versa. For instance, how the United States of America developed as a nation and how it moves (i.e., continues to move) beyond slavery are areas of study within social economics. Similarly, the impact of slavery on family structures – and how those newly defined families engaged in commerce – are socioeconomic factors.

One of the greatest tragedies of the slave trade and slavery in the Americas was the loss of family and cultural heritage. In order to survive the displacement and the many horrors of slavery people from different tribes, communities, and cultures had to figure out a way to come together as family – despite knowing that, at any moment, even their created family could be torn apart just as their biological family was torn apart. The fact that people did, continuously create family bonds, is a testament to the human spirit and to the power of love, Divine love, that knows no limits (even when we continuously try to create them).

When we contemplate the true meaning of being a father or a mother – regardless of how that comes about – and the ultimate meaning of family, we start delving into how we value those we call family and how we show our appreciation. While we all show our appreciation for others in different ways, there are some ways that are defined by society. Of course, one of those socially-defined ways is really prevalent this time of year: gift giving/receiving – which can be a multi-layered socioeconomic focus.

“Every child has a special way of perceiving love. There are five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. If you have several children in your family, chances are they speak different languages….

 

Whatever love language your child understands best, he needs it expressed in one way – unconditionally. Unconditional love is a guiding light, illuminating the darkness and enabling us as parents to know where we are and what we need to do as we raise our child. Without this kind of love, parenting is bewildering and confusing.

 

We can best define unconditional love by showing what it does. Unconditional love shows love to a child no matter what.”

 

– quoted from The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman (PhD) and Ross Campbell (MD)

 

It is possible that when someone goes way over the top with gift giving that they are trying to compensate for a disconnect that is the result of giving to someone with a different love language. I’m not saying that is always the case. There are definitely times when someone offers a big (and costly) gesture simply because they can, maybe even because they can and they know the gift(s) will be appreciated. But you really have to wonder about someone who would give so many gifts that people lose count.

In addition to being the fourth day of Kwanzaa, which focuses on cooperative economics, it is also the Feast Day of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (also of London). Depending on when you start counting (Christmas Day versus Boxing/Saint Stephen’s Day), today is also the fourth or fifth day of the “12 Days of Christmas.” I often think of the gifts in the song as costing millions of dollars – especially when you consider that the song is cumulative, meaning that at the end of the 12 days the recipient would have received a total of 12 partridges (in 12 pear trees); 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a-laying (and let’s not even get into the eggs they are laying), 42 swans a-swimming (again, not getting into how they are swimming), 40 maids a-milking (which means there are 40 cows or goats or something!!!), 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping (with 12 pipes), and 12 drummers drumming (with 12 drums) for a grand total of 364 items (minus their accompanying items). This is based on the version of the song people might use when thinking about the song as it relates to catechism and important aspects of the Christian faith.

There are actually several different versions of the round, which some say was originally French, including versions where the gift is given by “my mother” instead of “my true love.” The song’s popularity dates back at least as far as 1780, when it was first published in London, England as “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball.” It was published in a children’s book called Mirth without Mischief and, as no music was included, people used different tunes until 1909 when the English composer Frederic Austin set and published it to his arrangement of a traditional folk melody. A lot of variations in the gifts, the descriptions of the gifts, and the order of the gifts happened long before Austin’s version, but he is definitely credited with elongating the “five golden rings;” changing a few phrasings to match the music; and changing the description of the birds on the fourth day from a species or color (as indicated in earlier versions) to “calling birds” – meaning they sing. In 1966, a version was published with the gifts being “given” instead of “sent” and prior to that, in 1892, there was a version where the gifts were “brought.” Note, however, that no versions (as far as I know) mention the gifts being “bought.”

The fact that the gifts are not referenced as being purchased is a good reminder that at certain points in time, the gifts themselves would have been seen as currency. Each item or service could be bartered or traded. But, as so many people today only seem to understand the value of something when there is a price tag attached, let’s consider the actual cost of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

“The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me….”

 

– quoted from “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball” printed in MIRTH WITHOUT MISCHIEF. CONTAINING THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS; THE PLAY OF THE GAPING-WIDE-MOUTHED-WADLING-FROG; LOVE AND HATRED; THE ART OF TALKING WITH THE FINGERS; AND NIMBLE NED’S ALPHABET AND FIGURES. Printed in London by J. Davenport, George’s Court, for C. Sheppard, No. 8, Aylefbury Street, Clerkenwell (1870)

 

According to PNC Financial Services Group’s annual “Christmas Price Index” (which they have issued for 38 years), the total cost for 2019 was $170, 298.03, which was just barely more than the 2018 cost. In 2020, however, the cost was $105, 561.80. This year, 2021, the cost is $179,454.19.

Why the huge decrease and increase, you ask? COVID.

Yes, the index for the last two years paid the “maids a-milking” the US Federal minimum wage, but assumed they are only available because they are practicing social distancing guidelines. Last year’s total did not include the dancing ladies, leaping lords, pipers, or drummers – unless you or your love were in an area where COVID was under control, in which case the price would have gone up. Same thing if you figured out a virtual option. This year all of those artist/laborers are back. However, it is interesting to note that while the dancing ladies do their work at the 2019 price, the lords, pipers, and drummers – which would have all been traditional male roles in Western society – are (respectively) 12.6%, 7.1%, and 7.1% more expensive.

While the swans are, apparently, always the highest priced item on the list, all but one set of bird gifts increased in price over the last two years. In fact, the six geese a-laying increased a whopping 57.1% from last year. (On the flip side, the four calling birds have stayed consistent at $599.96.) The gold rings also increased in price (both years), because… you guessed it, COVID. Now, we’re not quite to my million dollar assumption, but keep in mind that the index does not include transportation, storage, upkeep, and/or any of the accompanying materials referenced in the parenthesis above.

Bottom line, though, it’s a lot of money. Now, consider for a moment that the song is not about the price tag. It’s not about the money. It’s about the love. Attaching a price tag simply brings awareness to the value of expressing love when your “love language” is giving/receiving gifts. It doesn’t take into consideration the value of “quality time,” “physical touch,” “words of affirmation,” or “acts of service” – and it definitely distracts from the fact that love is priceless.

Also priceless is faith and the Divine gifts of love that people receive from their faith. For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); and “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions. I would argue that just as faith is priceless, so too is knowing one’s back story. 

“‘The beauty of Kwanzaa is it doesn’t start Black history from slavery. It actually starts us as inventors of civilizations, people who first broke from the animal world, spoke the first human truths, wrote the first basic texts of human knowledge, and so on. That’s what Kwanzaa does, it gives us a long memory—a long cultural biography.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

The principle for today, the fourth day of Kwanzaa, is Ujamaa (cooperative economics), which is described as “To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.” It is associated with the second red candle, which is the symbol for struggle. Now, superficially, it is easy to look at other minority communities and how they have built and supported minority business almost since the set foot on American soil and wonder why the idea of “cooperative economics” would be associated with struggle. But, to wonder about such a thing is to ignore the history of slavery and American economics. To wonder about such a thing is to ignore how slavery was the original bedrock of economics in the United States and that for much of this country’s history, people of African descent were not only not paid for their labor and goods, they were not allowed to engage in trade or decide how they wanted to participate in the economy. Additionally, when slavery legally ended (and slave owners were paid for their losses), the vast majority of freed people still labored under the same (slave) conditions. Continue through history and there is more than one example of situations where people were (legally) paid less for their work than what they were expected to pay for food and lodging. Then there are the tragic and horrific “examples” that were made of communities that built themselves up.

To add to the struggle, a debate that started in the late 19th century continues to this day. Most people associate the two sides of the debate with W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both were educated and both were leaders in the Black community. To a certain degree, they even had the ear of the establishment. However, they had very different ideas about the best way for former slaves and their descendants to actively participate in and benefit from the US economy.

In a nutshell, Mr. Washington advocated sticking to what people knew (from slavery) and becoming (scholastically) educated in agriculture, crafts, and other trades they had done during slavery. He also encouraged people to purchase property and to be patient when faced with discrimination (even if that discrimination hindered them in pursuing education and the opportunity to purchase property). On the flip side, Mr. Du Bois was considered a radical who believed in an “intellectual” education that would create what he called the “Talented Tenth” – the best and the brightest college educated individuals who could instigate activism in the streets as well as in the courts and in the boardrooms. As I said, this debate continues, in part because the stigma, racism, and prejudice associated with slavery still exists.

“‘Kwanzaa offers a new dialogue on Black culture, about our positive contributions to the world, and not just the negative stigma of race.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 29th) 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 “12292021 Social Economics”]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

 

### CAN YOU SEE CLEARLY NOW? ###

For Those Who Missed It: Appreciate the Power by Using the Power, Wisely December 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Innocents.]

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. Class details have been updated.

 

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al (August 1962)

 

I can’t help it. I’m sorry (not sorry), but I. Just. Can’t. Help. It! When I think of responsibility one of the first things that pops into my head is that famous line from the 1962 introduction of Spiderman. Then I start thinking about Stan Lee…

Born today in 1922 (as Stanley Lieber), Stan Lee did not invent the phrase or the sentiment many associate with Peter Parker and his uncle Ben Parker. He did, however, make it wildly popular and combined it with the awareness that everyone can do something to help alleviate the struggles and suffering of others. After all, for the most part, Lee’s characters in the Marvel Universe were not and are not (initially or typically) perfect alien humanoids without a care in the world. They were not sent to Earth to save humankind. No, they were making their home a better place.

And, Lee’s characters were just like his readers: people with very human fears, flaws and insecurities; people with bad tempers, impatience, fits of melancholy and vanity; people who bickered, worried about paying their bills, worried about impressing a love interest; and people who got bored or even sick. They were people – like the Fantastic Four (1961), Spiderman (1962), X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, the Avengers (1963), and Black Panther (1966) – who had to reconcile their abilities, their sometimes suddenly discovered powers, with all the need in the world… and the fact that people often thought they were freaks … and the fact that they couldn’t always solve every problem. But, neither, could they look away.

We are all able to do something. Sometimes we think what we are able to do is not much – which can be a self defeating attitude. Sometimes that attitude comes from not think about people who are not able (physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or energetically) to do what we can do. Nor do we always think about the importance of doing things the special way we do them. In neglecting to appreciate what we have to offer, we run the risk of missing an opportunity to make the world a better place.

“‘Nevermore shall men make slaves of others! Not in Asgard — not on Earth — not any place where the hammer of Thor can be swung — or where men of good faith hold freedom dear!’”

 

– quoted from the end panel of “Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: Trapped by the Trolls” in Journey Into Mystery Volume I, with the Mighty Thor #108 (1964) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Art Simek, et al (1964)

Ultimately, each Marvel character is charged with doing “what they can, as much as they can, for as long as they can” in order to help the people around them. While that description fits two of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, today I’m mostly going to focus on today’s principle, the third principle; Ujima (collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Ujima is connected to the first green candle on the kinara (special candelabra), which is a symbol of the future and prompts celebrants to consider a future free of some of our current struggles, suffering, and plights.

We may not be able to travel through time and change the future like Dr. Strange, Rina Patel, or Iron Lad, but each of us has the power to consider cause-and-effect. We can take a look at how our past actions are reflected in our current circumstances and how our actions in this moment are the seeds that blossom into “tomorrow’s” circumstances. In fact, in the Yoga tradition such abilities are included in a list of siddhis, supernormal “powers” or abilities.

Some siddhis very much seem like Marvel Universe powers or Jedi Knight Tricks. However, there are six that are described as being “powers unique to being human.” We not only find these specifically human powers (as described in the Sāmkhya Karika) in every Marvel comic book, we find them in every one of ourselves:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., intuitive knowledge);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

In addition to being the Stan Lee’s birthday and the third day of Kwanzaa, today corresponds with the third or fourth day of the “12 Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); and “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Finally, as many Christians (and in particular Catholics) observe these days between  Christmas and Epiphany as “fast free days,” I will mention that one of the feast days associated with today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas or Innocents Day. This is a day devoted to the remembrance of young children killed in Bethlehem when King Herod the Great learned that the Magi, at the suggestion of an angel, had tricked him and would not lead him back to the newborn Jesus. This day (today in Western Christianity, but December 29th in some Eastern traditions) has been observed as a fast day and was even, at one time, associated with practices considered a mockery of the faith and religion. However, today some consider it a day for children to be children… and do the things that children do (especially when they do not fear persecution, oppression, hunger, famine, or disease).

“All six of these stories – nearly half the stories in the book – speak to me of a longing in our human condition, a desire for more life (either here or in the hereafter) or a desire to turn regrets around to something joyous….

 

None of the characters in this collection are more powerful than a locomotive, none are faster than a speeding bullet, but what they are able to do, I believe, reveals something of our desires, something of our humanity – the best and worst in us.”

 

– quoted from the introduction to able to…: a literary look at super powers by…, edited by Neil Ellis Orts

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 28th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

### You’ve Got the Power! ###

For Those Who Missed It: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

 

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Please join me today (Monday, December 27th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

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

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: Living “A (SAD) Wonderful Life” December 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel’s just got his wings.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas, as a religious holiday or otherwise, may have a favorite Christmas story or carol. These stories – which become such perennial favorites they are often turned into plays, ballets, musicals, and all manners of pageants – are full of not only the trappings and traditions of Christmas, but also the spirit. You may think the spirit of which I speak is the hope, the cheer, and the good tidings; but, one consistent element in these stories is grief, desolation, isolation, sadness – and yes, also SAD-ness.

The Greatest Gift was self-published by its author, Philip Van Doren Stern, in 1943 – exactly 100 years after Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol. In fact, Stern (who was half Jewish) was partially inspired by the Dickens-classic. Although the story takes place at Christmastime and was initially sent out as Stern’s 1943 Christmas cards, the author intend the story to be universal. The following year the story was picked up by a two different magazines (including Good Housekeeping, which called it “The Man Who Was Never Born”) and a movie production company. By 1945, the original movie rights for The Greatest Gift had been sold to director and producer Frank Capra, who would change the title and tweak some of the details.

Current fans of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, which premiered today in 1946, might be surprised to learn that the movie was not an instant success. The movie’s general release faced stiff competition from movies like Stairway to Heaven (released as A Matter of Life and Death in the UK) and Miracle on 34th Street – both of which shared elements of fatalism vs. free will, life vs. death, and hope vs. despair, as well as bumbling “angels” (in the former) and adorable children (in the latter). There was also drama behind the scenes and, ultimately, proceeds from the initial release barely covered the production cost. But, like A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life featured a protagonist who could have had SAD and who experienced a major shift because of spiritual intercession. Only, in the case of the movie, the spirit was actually an angel.

“You’ve been given a great gift, George, a chance to see what the world would be like without you.”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

In the movie, Angel 2nd Class Clarence Odbody (portrayed by Henry Travers) must convince 38-year old George Bailey (immortalized by Jimmy Stewart) that his life is “wonderful”… or, at least worth living. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Bailey has spent his life trying to help others, but a mistake – involving his good intentions and his own personal “Scrooge,” Mr. Potter (portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who actually spent 20 years portraying “Scrooge”) – leads to criminal charges and the feeling that nothing he has ever done in his life makes a difference.

The truly ironic, and potentially tragic, part of George Bailey’s life is that he made a significant difference in his community. He saved more than one life and, on more than one occasion, gave up his savings to help others. He absolutely lived a life that was the embodiment of those last three siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human: the capacity to eliminate three-fold sorrow; the cultivation of a good heart (which is the ability to make friends); and generosity (the ability to give). Yet, in a moment of weakness, Bailey neglects to recognize his own power or potential. He has thoughts of self harm – one of the symptoms of SAD.

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

“You see George; you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

– Clarence Odbody (AS2) in It’s A Wonderful Life

Real life is different from a novella by Dickens, a short story by Stern, or a movie by Capra; in part because there’s not a writer or director making sure the intervention happens. Also, not everything gets tied up at the end. However, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms associated with SAD, it is important to take two big lessons from these fictional works: 1. You are not alone. 2. You can get help.

The ghosts in Dickens’s classic and the angel who gets his wings by helping out a good person are (literally) inspired symbols. They are the spirits or real people. (Sometimes they are even “strange” people, like in The Greatest Gift.) In real life, we are each other’s Christmas Past, Present, and Not Yet – just as we are each other’s guardian angels. We can show up for each other – and we must show up for each other. Real life is different in that sometimes the person that needs help has to ask for help (and/or the people around them have to notice what constitutes “a cry for help.”) In real life, happy endings don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.

“Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again.”

– George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life

Please join me today (Monday, December 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

“George Bailey: You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh-huh. Breakfast is served, lunch is served, dinner…
George Bailey: No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.”

– quoted from It’s A Wonderful Life

### “Gotta love it… gotta live it… try to savor every moment” ~Anointed ###

For Those Who Missed It: Music for This Date (“the post that almost wasn’t”) December 8, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This following was originally posted in December of 2020. 

I wasn’t 100% sure if I was even going to post it back then, but…here it is, again, for your pleasure and consideration. Class information has been updated and I did remix the playlist. (The original is still available if you go back to the original post.)

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

– Stuart Chase

Take a moment to notice how you feel – maybe even do that 90-second thing.

I mention all the time that what is happening in this moment, including how we feel, is the culmination of all the moments that have come before and that this moment is the beginning of everything that comes next – including how we feel in the next moment. But, take a moment to consider how what you think and believe about what’s happening (and what you’re feeling) directly impact this moment… and therefore all the other moments. What we think and what we believe impact not only what we are feeling, but also what we are doing and how we do it. So, go a little deeper into what you believe.

There was a time, when people within the Roman Catholic tradition referred to today as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today in 1854, however, Pope Pius IX issued a dogmatic definition of Immaculate Conception – declaring her “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin” – and making today the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today is one of almost 20 Marian feast days on the Roman Catholic Calendar – not to mention the many local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. Eastern Orthodox Christian churches have a different calendar, as well as a different definition of Immaculate Conception, and celebrate tomorrow, December 9th, as the Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy Theotokos or the Feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary.

“…what had been lost in the first Adam would be gloriously restored in the Second Adam. From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so love her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.”

– quoted from Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX (“Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, in the eighth day of December, 1854, in the either year of our pontificate.”)

Pope Pius IX was pope from June of 1846 until February 1878 – and, for most of that time, he was also the (last) Sovereign Ruler of the Papal States, making him simultaneously “King” and “Pope.” Meaning, he was the last pope to serve as both a secular and spiritual ruler and therefore he was officially concerned with both secular and spiritual issues. Sometimes, there were obvious conflicts. At one point during his reign he was seen as liberal enough to appoint an enlightened minister; release religious political prisoners; and nullify the requirement for Jewish people to attend Mass. However, he also upheld the Church’s right to remove a child from their Jewish parents simply because the Church recognized the child as Catholic (it’s a long and sketchy story). Some people’s opinion of him changed after he released a very dogmatic encyclical, today in 1864, condemning what he defined as 80 errors or heresies of the modern age (including liberalism, modernism, and secularization, just to name a few).

If you are Catholic, or even some version of Christian, certain aspects of today’s practice may feel extra connected to the story and symbolism of the Virgin Mary. If you are not Catholic, or even Christian, you may not even notice those elements – except when they feel good to you or not so good to you. This is true of every one of my practices. There is always a physical-mental element, as well as the emotional-energetic elements and psychic-symbolic. Sometimes I break down the meanings and the whys and wherefores of a practice. Every once in a while, however, I just put it out there – and then each element is significant to you based on what you feel, think, and believe. This happens not only with the sequence and the stories I choose to tell, but also with the music. Noticing how you feel about any and all of that (i.e., self-study) is a key element of the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

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

Today’s playlist features a few of the many really amazing musicians who were born on this date (and one really amazing musician who was killed on this date). Notice how your prior connection to the music and/or the musicians changes your experience of the practice. Notice, also, the times when you don’t have a prior experience and yet you are still able to get something out of the moment.

“‘If I don’t work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn’t have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look – which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job.’”

– Phil Collen, quoted about his cardio, lifting, and Muy Thai kickboxing exercise regime and vegan diet in “Work-Life Balance: Get Fit, Lose Weight: What Happened When I Tried Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Fitness Program” by Jeff Haden, published on Inc.com (June 1, 2017)

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 8th) 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.

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.)

“Music for the Date” features Sir James Galway (b. 1939), Sinead O’Connor (b. 1966), Sammy Davis Jr. (b. 1925), Jim Morrison (b. 1943), Gregg Allman (b. 1947), Phil Collen (b. 1957), John Lennon (d. 1980) – with references Nicki Minaj (b. 1982) and Sam Hunt (b. 1984). If I remix The remixed playlist it will also includes part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, which premiered today 1813.

“During the later war years, he had composed the Seventh Symphony in the Bohemian town of Teplitz in 1811 – 1812 and Wellington’s Victory, both of which were premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for wounded soldiers. Beethoven conducted the concert himself and addressed the audience before the presentation, saying, ‘We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.’”

– quoted from Double Emperor: The Life and Times of Francis of Austria by Chip Wagar

### OM AUM ###