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Breathe As If… (mostly the music and links) December 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Hope, Love, Meditation, Music, Suffering, Vipassana, Yoga.
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She sang as if she was saving the life of every person in the room.”

*

– quoted from Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Imagine singing as if you were saving lives; imagine the breath awareness and control that would take. When they hear the words bel canto, many people outside of classical music think of the novel written by Ann Patchett, who was born today in 1963. The novel is based on the 1996 – 1997 hostage crisis that took place at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru (Dec 17th – April 22nd). It details the interactions of the terrorists and their hostages – including a world renowned opera singer. Opera and music are central themes throughout the novel, which is named for the Italian term for “beautiful singing” or “beautiful song.” The thing is; bel canto, like vinyasā and vipassanā, is a technique that became known as a style – and it requires control (and awareness) of the breath.

Click here to read more of the post from 2020.

Please join me tonight, Friday, December 2nd7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #26: “Breathe As If You’re Singing” on Zoom. 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 by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

*

Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12022022 Breathe As If…”]

This practice will feature gentle movement, pranayama, and meditation. It is accessible and open to all. 

Prop wise, this can be kitchen sink practice. You can practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.

You may want extra layers (as your body may cool down during this practice). Having a wall, chair, sofa, or coffee table may be handy for this practice.

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

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### 🎶 ###

FTWMI: “This is why you were brought [here]” November 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted November 29, 2020. Class details and links have been updated.

“Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? —”

– quoted from the poem, “Surprised by Joy – Impatient As The Wind” by William Wordsworth (written in memory of his daughter)

If you’re anything like me, when you think of C. S. Lewis, born today in 1898, you think of Narnia and Aslan, and Christian allegories sometimes disguised as fantasy and children’s books. Like me, you might express a little confusion over why Mr. Lewis himself said the Chronicles of Narnia were not “allegories” and you might absolutely love The Screwtape Letters even though (or maybe because) it is super dark and written so well that it almost always feels as if no one will win and “The Patient” – as well as the demons – will be condemned to everlasting turmoil. Regardless of how he defined his work, you might recognize Mr. Lewis and his writing as falling under the heading of Christian apologetics. However, if – like me – you’ve read more C. S. Lewis than you’ve studied, you might be surprised by the author’s multi-layered relationship with “Joy.”

Christian apologetics is a category of study and theology focused on the defense of Christianity. It has its foundations in Torah study and Greek philosophical discourse, but there is a long list of New Testament Biblical references to the need for “a verbal defense” of belief. One of the best examples comes from The First Epistle General of Peter.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

1 Epistle General of Peter (3:14 – 15, NIV)

Unlike the epistles, or letters, attributed to Saint Paul and titled to reference specific Church communities (e.g. in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, etc.), the letters attributed to Saint Peter are more generically addressed to “strangers” in a variety of areas (in 1st Peter) and “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (in 2nd Peter, KJV). The meaning of “strangers” is debatable, but what is consistent in the letters, and in modern understanding of the letters, is that the letter are addressed to people who were subject to persecution (because of their faith), people who might have been tempted to give up their faith because of the persecution, and who – despite the persecution – experienced a faith-related longing. This longing, which Saint Peter described as “hope,” C. S. Lewis defined as “Joy.”

“The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central theme of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

 – quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was the Belfast-born youngest son of Albert James Lewis (a solicitor) and Florence “Flora” Augusta Lewis, who could be considered Irish royalty. Flora’s father was an Anglican priest; one of her great-grandfathers was Bishop Hugh Hamilton; and another of her great-grandfathers was the Right Honourable John Staples, who served as an Irish Member of Parliament for 37 years and was a descendant of titled persons in Northern Ireland. Naturally, C. S. – later known as “Jacksie” and then “Jack” – was baptized in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which is the second-largest church in Ireland (after the Roman Catholic Church) and identifies itself as both Catholic and Reformed. All that is to say that, he and his older brother Warren “Warnie” Hamilton Lewis were raised in a very structured, family-embedded tradition of faith.

Somewhere along the way, for a variety of reasons – and based on a variety of experiences – both brothers fell away from the Church and away from their family’s traditional beliefs.

While “Warnie,” the elder brother, finished his schooling and went on to serve 18 years in the military, the younger Lewis brother was drafted, sent to the front line on his 19th birthday, was wounded and traumatized by the death of his friends, and was sent home within a year. Once he physically recovered, “Jack” (whose nickname came from a beloved pet) went back to England to finish his studies.

Previously, at around age 15, “Jack” became interested in the occult and began to actively and publicly define himself as an atheist. As such, he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about God, explaining why God didn’t exist, and surrounding himself with like-minded people and things. The problem was that when he returned to Oxford and started paying attention to his experiences (and the way he felt as he read, wrote, and interacted with people), he found he was being (spiritually and emotionally) sustained and nurtured by things and people who were theistic as opposed to atheistic. And the more he delved into his embodied experience, rather than just his analytical experience, the more he realized… there was something more.

“But soon (I cannot say how soon) nature ceased to be a mere reminder of the books, became herself the medium of the real joy. I do not say she ceased to be a reminder. All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’. But Nature and the books now became equal reminders, joint reminders, of – well, of whatever it is. I came no nearer to what some would regard as the only genuine love of nature, the studious love which will make a man a botanist or an ornithologist. It was the mood of a scene that mattered to me; and in tasting that mood my skin and nose were as busy as my eyes”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

At around the same time, 1931, both brothers reclaimed their Christian roots and deepened their brotherly bond. They had been living together in Oxford for about a year, went on walking tours together, and participated in the weekly Thursday night “Inkling” meetings – which featured works-in-progress of the various members who were and would become literary giants in the English language. The “Inklings” – who were all white, Christian men of Oxford – included in their number the Lewis brothers, their close friend J. R. R. Tolkien (and his son Christopher, who were both raised Catholic), Charles Williams (a devout member of the [Anglican] Church of England), Henry Victor “Hugo” Dyson Dyson (a lecturer and literary collector known as H. V. D. Dyson, who was instrumental in C. S. Lewis’s return to Christianity), and Arthur Owen Barfield (“the first and last Inkling,” whose anthroposophical beliefs in a spiritual world accessed through human experience heavily influenced all the other Inklings).

C. S. Lewis’s spiritual memoir, Surprised by Joy, concludes in 1931, but wasn’t published until 1955. In the interim (around 1950), he started corresponding with a Jewish American poet (in the United States) who was estranged from her abusive husband. This woman – a child prodigy, an atheist, and former Communist, whose husband (also an author) may have introduced her to C. S. Lewis’s work – started the transatlantic correspondence because she had faith-related questions. Intrigued, and ultimately attracted, to each other’s intellect, the correspondence became more personal than theological. She frequently referenced him to others and once wrote, “Just got a letter from Lewis in the mail. I think I told you I’d raised an argument or two on some points? Lord, he knocked my props out from under me unerringly; one shot to a pigeon. I haven’t a scrap of my case left. And, what’s more, I’ve seldom enjoyed anything more. Being disposed of so neatly by a master of debate, all fair and square – it seems to be one of the great pleasures of life, though I’d never have suspected it in my arrogant youth. I suppose it’s unfair tricks of argument that leave wounds. But after the sort of thing that Lewis does, what I feel is a craftsman’s joy at the sight of a superior performance.”

The poet officially divorced her husband, converted to Christianity, and moved with her two school-aged sons to England to be with “Jack.” In April of 1956, several years after her arrival (in 1953), the couple entered into a “civil marriage” so that she and her children could stay in England. It was described as a marriage of friendship and convenience. However, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer (in October of 1956), C. S. Lewis realized he not only admired her, he loved her. He was 58 years old and surprised by Joy* – as his beloved wife was Helen Joy Davidman.

(*NOTE: C. S. Lewis was teased by his friends, but said that the title and intention of the book Surprised by Joy had nothing to do with his wife being Joy. So, you can take the overlap as serendipity… or God winking.)

“Total surrender is the first step towards the fruition of either. Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all. (And notice how the true training for anything whatever that is good always prefigures and, if submitted to, will always help us in the true training for the Christian life. That is a school where they can always use your previous work whatever the subject it was on.)”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes from a special process of devotion and letting go into Ishvara [the Divine], the creative source from which we emerged.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

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

“‘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. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success or failure. This mental evenness is what is mean by yoga…. Indeed, equanimity is yoga!’” (2.48)

“‘Those who see Me in everything and everything in Me, know the staggering truth that the Self in the individual is the Self in all. As they live in constant spiritual awareness, I am never out of their sight or lost to them – nor are they every out of My sight or lost to Me. ’” (6.30)

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 29th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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 belowor (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11292020 Jack’s Surprising Joy”]

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.)

“Your remarks about music would seem to lead back to my old idea about a face being always a true index of character… not of course exactly, but its general tone. What type of person is this girl of whom Debussy has been talking to you? As to your other suggestions about old composers like Schubert or Beethoven, I imagine that, while modern music expresses both feeling, thought and imagination, they expressed pure feeling. And you know all day sitting at work, eating, walking, etc., you have hundreds of feelings that can’t (as you say) be put into words or even into thought, but which could naturally come out in music. And that is why I think that in a sense music is the highest of the arts, because it really begins where the others leave off.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves (who he called “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend”), written by C. S. “Jack” Lewis, dated 20 June 1916

The connection between home and Joy….

“It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. As a last resource, as a pis aller, I was driven to write stories instead. You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table.”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis


### TASTE JOY (But don’t get it twisted and confuse “lower” pleasure with the “higher”)! ###

Cèlèbrer Une Vie & FTWMI: Recuerda Todas Almas November 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Mysticism, One Hoop, Religion, Yoga.
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Many blessings to those observing All Souls y Día de (los) Muertos!

That was what the living did: they died.”

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– quoted from The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

On Sunday (10/30/2022), I was shocked to hear that one of my Minneapolis yoga buddies was terminally ill. Just a few hours later, I was shocked and saddened to hear that he had passed. His family hosted a celebration of life so that he could spend his final hours surrounded by people who loved and respected him. It was hard; but I heard the opportunity gave him and them some comfort.

For years, AB practiced yoga at the old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA. He was partially responsible for me meeting one of my favorite people on the planet and, additionally, his mother once joined us for a class during one of her visits to the Twin Cities. (I have a vague idea that she might have taught yoga at one time; however, since I never read her autobiography, don’t quote me on this point. Either way, she definitely started practicing long before I ever did!)

AB loved the music and especially appreciated my Christmas-story playlist. For many years, he gave me an Amazon gift card so I could purchase more music for class! In addition to swapping music, we swapped a few books – including Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead, which I mention at this time every year. We also shared an occasional meal. For better or for worse, I got to watch his life change.

I also got to see his practice change.  (NOTE: For those who knew whom as an esteemed attorney and French academic editor, here I am talking about his yoga practice.) At one point, while we were still at the old Y, he asked me what would make certain aspects of the practice more accessible to him. Later, he decided he was getting enough cardio and strength from boot camp (and other cardio classes) and that what he needed/wanted from his yoga practice was the meditation and deep tissue work he experienced when he dropped into one of my Yin Yoga classes. Unfortunately, the Yin Yoga classes didn’t always fit into his schedule. So, we talked about how he could add a little Yin to the very yang vinyasa practices that worked for his schedule. Eventually, when the Y moved to it’s fancier digs and more classes overlapped, he made the decision (as so many did) to take classes that were more active than yoga. We still caught up in the lobby and, occasionally, outside of the Y; but…. Time marches on.

As reports and tributes come in from all over the world, I can’t help but notice how “one of those random people who came to yoga and became a friend,” meant so much to so many different people and for so many different reasons. AB’s life and death are a reminder that a person can affect the lives of a lot of different people in a lot of different ways.

Today’s sequence reflects the yin/yang that AB appreciated. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate a life that touched so many. Repose en paix, mon ami. Nous nous souviendrons de toi. Nous nous souviendrons de toi.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted November 2, 2020. Class details and links have also been updated or added.

“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

.

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)“

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– quoted from “[i carry your heart with me(I carry it in)]” by e e cummings

Take a moment to bring your awareness to your hearts. Not just your physical heart, or even just your emotional heart – take a moment to bring your awareness to your energetic heart and all of its connections. You can even think of that energetic heart as a spiritual heart and all of its connections. Either way, when I talk about the various ways we can map out our energy – and especially when I specifically refer to the energy system of nadis (“rivers”) and chakras (“wheels”) as outlined by Yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, I often mention that we can be genetically and energetically (even spiritually) connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Similarly, we are connected, genetically and energetically (even spiritually), to people we will never meet again… people who have passed from the physical world (back) into the energetic and spiritual world.

Throughout history, people from various cultures around the world have had (and continue to have) different ways of honoring these connections – especially the spiritual and energetic connections we have with those who passed on into another realm of existence. Yes, I said, “another realm of existence;” because, while someone ceases to exist in the material and physical sense, they can continue to exist in an emotional, energetic, and spiritual sense – as long as we remember them.

“No two reports were ever the same. And yet always there was the drumlike thumping noise.

Some people insisted that it never went away, that if you concentrated and did not turn your ear from the sound, you could hear it faintly behind everything in the city….”

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– quoted from The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Today, November 2nd, is All Souls’ Day, also known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – the last day of Allhallowtide in the Western Christian tradition and the final Día de (los) Muertos in Mexico and the Mexican diaspora. Like All Saints’ Day (which was yesterday), there was a time when this holy time was celebrated in the Spring – and, in fact, there are still traditions, like the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which remember the dead around Easter. However, the fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, St. Odilon of Cluny, established this Western observation in the 10th century and the practice has endured. Unlike All Saints, today is a day dedicated to all departed souls and, in particular, to those who may or may not have lived a “faithful” life according to the Church.

While it is not a national holiday in Catholic countries, nor is it one of the five days of holy obligation within the Catholic Church, it is a day of prayer (and, for some, quite a few masses). Here, the prayers are not so much as for the living as for the dead, because Christians who have a “fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (Christian triumphant) and the living (the Christian militant)” may also believe that those who die without being baptized and/or living a faithful life (the Church penitent, also known as “the Church suffering” and “the Church expectant”) will languish in Purgatory without God’s grace.

So, today people pray for that grace so their dearly departed loved ones will no longer suffer. In addition to the vibrant Día de (los) Muertos traditions I mentioned yesterday, as well as the traditions of guising, souling, and the exchange of soul cakes (that I mentioned on Halloween), All Souls’ Day is known for bell tolling and candle lighting, which both represent the cleansing of souls and power of light overcoming darkness.

“If he had not believed that the dead would be raised, it would have been foolish and useless to pray for them. In his firm and devout conviction that all of God’s faithful people would receive a wonderful reward, Judas made provision for a sin offering to set free from their sin those who had died. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.”

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2 Maccabees (12:44 – 46)

Please join me today (Wednesday, November 2nd) 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11022021 All Souls / Dia de los”]

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.)

“One particular issue of the L. Sims News & Speculation Sheet—the Sims Sheet, people called it—addressed the matter of this sound. Fewer than twenty per cent of the people Luka interviewed claimed that they could still hear it after the crossing, but almost everyone agreed that it resembled nothing so much as—could be nothing other than—the pounding of a heart. The question, then, was where did it come from? It could not be their own hearts, for their hearts no longer beat. The old man Mahmoud Qassim believed that it was not the actual sound of his heart but the remembered sound, which, because he had both heard and failed to notice it for so long, still resounded in his ears. The woman who sold bracelets by the river thought that it was the heartbeat at the center of the world, that bright, boiling place she had fallen through on her way to the city. ‘As for this reporter,’ the article concluded, ‘I hold with the majority. I have always suspected that the thumping sound we hear is the pulse of those who are still alive. The living carry us inside them like pearls. We survive only so long as they remember us.”’

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– quoted from The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

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### “BA-DUM. BA-DUM. BA-DUM.” ###

& What We Know (the “missing” Saturday post) September 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is a “missing” post for Saturday, September 10th. 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.

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.]

“Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Earlier this year, during a practice for the Lunar New Year’s birthday celebration for all humans, I got to ask some of my dharma/yoga buddies what it means to be human. People had great answers: it means we’re part of a community; it means experiencing the dichotomy of being compassionate but also holding grudges; it means we’re imperfect; it means messiness. That last one tied back into a point someone made at the beginning: we make things up. 

Yes, well….

As someone who makes things up and loves reading and experiencing things that other humans make up, I have to admit that our penchant for making things up also makes things complicated, messy, and it leads to suffering. The world, as it turns out, is really simple. Each of us is a microcosm of the families and groups to which we belong, which are themselves microcosms of the macrocosm that is the world. So, as we learn in the Yoga Sūtras, if we really pay attention to ourselves – focus, concentrate, meditate on different aspects ourselves – we can learn more about ourselves and also more about the world. 

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.” 

 

– Martin Buber 

So we embrace ourselves and, along the way, we learn to embrace to others. Although it is really that simple, I can already hear someone sputtering, “But, but, what about…?” 

Yes, sure, as I’ve already acknowledged, life can be complicated and messy; but we make it that way. And despite all the nuances, which I have mentioned before, all the great religious and philosophical teachings say the same things: Love yourself and love all others. Sure, different religions, philosophies, and cultures have different ways of phrasing that. For instance, we could substitute the word “respect” for “love” and maintain the same intention. 

Likewise, all the philosophies, religions, and cultures have different ways of explaining how the Universe works. Ultimately, however, all those different ways can be summed up with love/respect and the Laws of Motion. So, Robert Fulgum’s idea that “all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten” is not as hyperbolic as some might think. That’s why I sometimes say that there’s a Garth Brooks song for every situation. It’s also why I have said that everything you need to know about this practice (or about life) can be learned from a Mary Oliver poem.

“You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Born today in 1935, Mary Oliver grew up loving the outdoors, reading and writing poetry. She went to college, because that’s what girls from good families in Ohio did in the 50’s, but then she dropped out and made her way to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 800-acre estate in Austerliz, New York. She met Vincent’s sister and husband and decided to stay. Eventually, she fell in love with another woman that came to visit, Molly Malone Cook, and eventually they moved to Massachusetts together.

Mary Oliver wrote and published and wrote and published and did the things one does when they love the woods and all that is natural in the world. In fact, she once said “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.” Then, in 1983, after publishing several collections, she won the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive. Suddenly, everyone wanted more of and from Mary Oliver. She once said she couldn’t remember doing any readings before the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry announcement was made, but then, suddenly, people were calling for her to do readings and book promotions.

“Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a

little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from

one boot to another – why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And too tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists 

of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Black Oaks” by Mary Oliver

Molly Malone Cook, her love and life partner, was also Mary Oliver’s official photographer, literary agent, and the person most editors and miscellaneous strangers would talk to when the called the Oliver-Cook household. Cook would not only answer the phone, she would go to (what I consider) hilarious extremes to convince whomever was on the phone that the next voice they heard was that of Mary Oliver – even though it was still Molly Malone Cook.

Now I’m not suggesting people go around pretending to be people they are not – even when they have permission to do so – but, there is a lesson in that story. Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we all accepted each other as we are; supported the ones we love as they are; allowed others in the world to get what they wanted/needed from us without compromising our own wants/needs, and let go of all the rest. 

Simply stated: Consider how much lovelier and simpler the world would be if we love/respected each other, helped each other out, and let go of all the rest.

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

 

– quoted from the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

I am woefully behind in my Saturday posts and so I apologize to anyone who was following along with our Saturday study of the Yoga Sūtras. Especially considering that I am just jumping back in with this one and, on a certain level, it is missing context and continuity. That said, I have to smirk at myself when I think about how attached I’ve gotten to posting these. Especially since I was not blogging as much when we started this study in January of 2019 and, therefore, I didn’t provide a post for all of those original practices. In other words, there’s already a gap and context and continuity and yet… We keep figuring it out and moving forward.

Not just on Saturdays, but on any other day that I teach, there is the possibility that someone new will enter the practice. Maybe they are new to yoga; maybe they are new to me; or maybe they have been physically practicing for a long time and are just new to the philosophy. Also, as I have to continuously remind myself, life happens and even people who are “Saturday regulars” sometimes miss a practice. Finally, people don’t absorb and remember things the same way. All of which means that I always need to include a little context and continuity. I just don’t always have to repeat everything I’ve ever said and every lesson ever explored chapter and verse. It’s not that complicated. Like everything else, it can be quite simple. It can be quite simple, because you already know everything you need to know.

“One day you finally

Knew what you had to do, and

began”

 

– quoted from the poem “The Journey” by Mary Oliver

Right at the beginning of the sūtras, specifically in Yoga Sūtras 1.3-1.4, Patanjali defined the practice by explaining what comes from the practice. It is a promise, of sorts. As we move through the practice – which is just like the hero’s journey – we find ourselves faced with obstacles (and their accompanying ailments), trials and tribulations, challenges and triumphs. We encounter some people who seem to magically assist us along the way; some people we need to forgive and some who need to forgive us; and we experience great loves and great loss. All along the way, there are temptations and boons – which can sometimes be one and the same. In fact, after detailed explanations about the benefits of the practice and warnings about what happens when we get too attached – even to the rewards and benefits – Patanjali reveals that the biggest boon of all awaits us… if we don’t get distracted. 

That biggest boon is megah samadhih, which is sometimes translated as “a cloud of virtue” or “a cloud of clarity.” Along with that cloud comes the end of ignorance and, therefore, the end of suffering. Additionally, there is infinite knowledge or wisdom. This could all be interpreted as having every bit of knowledge that has ever existed suddenly rushing into you or raining down on you. But, honestly, it’s not that overwhelming or complicated. Simply stated, with clarity comes pure understanding of how everything is connected and how everything works. 

Yoga Sūtra 4.29: prasankhyāne‘pyakusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāterdharmameghah samādhih

 

– “[The one] who remains undistracted even when he is in possession of all the psychic powers, achieves, as the result of perfect discernment, that samadhi which is called the ‘cloud of virtue’.”

[Alternate translation: “When there is no longer any interest even in omniscience, that discernment allows the samadhi, which brings an abundance of virtues like a rain cloud brings rain.”]

 

Yoga Sūtra 4.30: tatah kleśakarmanivŗttih

 

– “Thence comes cessation of ignorance, the cause of suffering, and freedom from the power of karma.”

Yoga Sūtra 4.31: Tadā sarvāranamalāpetasya jñānasyānantyājjñeyamalpam

 

– “Then, by the removal of those veils of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, and the realization that there is almost nothing to be known.”

[Alternate translation: “Then the whole universe, with all its objects of sense-knowledge, becomes as nothing in comparison to that infinite knowledge which is free from all obstructions and impurities.”]

 

It is important to note that this shower of clarity, knowledge, and wisdom is not a case of Dunning-Kruger Effect (i.e., someone thinking they are an expert on something about which they know very little). Instead, one is aware of what they don’t know and there is a true understanding of the Universe (and everything in the Universe) as described in Yoga Sūtras 2.18 – 2.19. This is truly understanding – through direct experience – how everything is “composed of elements and senses and having the inherent properties of illumination, action, and stability” and, furthermore, recognizing that everything has a purpose. It is recognizing the simplicity (and simple beauty) of the Universe.

Having that clarity of mind is not confusing or conflating a drop of water with the whole ocean, but rather recognizing that the drop and the ocean share qualities, traits, and properties. It’s recognizing that these qualities, traits, and properties are consistent whether the item is flowing freely, frozen, or boiling and then evaporating. It is understanding that it’s all water (H2O) and then also understanding that other elements have similar states of manifestation. Finally, it is understanding how that plays out inside of us and all around us. (Especially, in the case of water, when we note that our physical forms are mostly water.)

“To man in his ordinary sense-consciousness, the universe seems full of secrets. There seems so infinitely much to be discovered and known. Every object is an invitation to study. He is overcome by a sense of his own ignorance. But, to the illumined yogi, the universe does not seem at all mysterious. It is said that, if you know clay, you know the nature of everything that is made of clay. So, if you know the Atman, you know the nature of everything in the universe. Then, all the painstaking researches of science seem like efforts of a child to empty the ocean with a spoon.”

 

– commentary quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (4:31), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

 (NOTE: A child gets a lot of delight from that spoon and ocean combination. As we journey through life, we too can take delight at what we have at hand – especially since that spoon can be rinsed off and used for dessert. Stay curious and enjoy the best parts of your life!)

 

Saturday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05252022 Pratyahara II”]

 

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into

my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made my life something

particular, and real.”

 

– quoted from the poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver 

Mary Oliver shared a birth date with one of my favorite people. Click here to read how I remembered my maternal grandmother when death came.

### SO HUM, HAM SA ###

 

FTWMI: The Art of Moving Meditation September 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: A version of the following was originally posted in 2020. Links and class details have been added or updated.

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

– John Cage

Words are amazing! In fact, shabda, our ability to create and use words, is one of our siddhis or “abilities” described in Indian philosophy as “unique to being human.”  And, when you know where they come from, words (and the way we use them) can be really funny. Take the word zen, for instance. The word zen is a Japanese word that comes to us from Sanskrit by way of Chinese, from a word that means “meditation.” So, when we say that someone practices “Zen meditation” what we are really saying is that someone practices “Meditation meditation.”

It’s funny to think of it that way, but it is also true – not only of a Zen practice, but of all meditation practices. When we sit, or even when we practice a moving meditation, the mind focuses on something again and again and again; meaning, it keeps coming back to the object of focus. Similar to japa-ajapa, we repeat and repeat, repeat and remember, repeat and understand – in other words, we gain insight. Not coincidentally, the Sanskrit word dyana (“thought, meditation”), which is the source word for zen, comes from the Greek root meaning “to see, look.” So, when we look at something again, and again, and again – even looking, as Paulo Coehlo suggested, from different perspectives – we see things “in a special way” (which is just another way to say “insight”). Our understanding of the moment (and movement) is a matter of perspective.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

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

It’s like a road trip. The vehicle is moving but we are still inside the vehicle; the scenery is still, but appears to be moving. Everything merges and converges while we are still. Do you see where we’re going?

It’s OK if you don’t. This is kind of like that old joke where someone says, “I’m not lost. I know exactly where we are. We’re in the car.” Now, consider what happens if we could get out of the box or cage we’re in and become part of the scenery. Not walking necessarily, but riding. So that the scenery is simultaneously still and moving… but so are we. And, just like with a moving meditation, there is some part of us that always stays still.

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

– John Cage

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

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

Born today in 1928, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Robert Pirsig was a writer and philosopher whose way above average IQ was identified at an early age. While he ultimately served in the United States Army and  became a professor of creative writing, he is most well-known as the author of a fictionalized autobiography that centers around a road trip Pirsig took with his son Chris. The trip took them from Minneapolis to San Francisco. The book takes the reader along for the ride and also on a philosophical road trip, moving readers through a history of philosophy and an exploration of “quality” (an object of contemplation). While Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values received over one hundred rejection letters and no one expected it to have much of a shelf life, the book initially sold at least 5 million copies worldwide and has consistently appeared on best seller lists.

Pirsig served as vice-President of the Minnesota Zen Mediation Center and spent two additional years on its board of directors. But while he was familiar with motorcycles and Zen Buddhism (as well as electroshock therapy, which is also chronicled in the book), Robert Pirsig said that his seminal book shouldn’t be considered “factual” about either. The same can be said about his follow-up book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, which recounts a sailboat trip down the Hudson River. Lila picks up where the philosophical road trip left off and explores “quality” as Static or Dynamic and divides everything in the universe into four “static values” (inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual). His exploration about morals is also an exploration of perspective, and how perspectives change over time. Even though biographies indicate that a 1974 Guggenheim Fellowship “allowed” him to write the second book and the philosophical discourse into metaphysics is continuous, there is a seventeen-year gap between the books.

In the 17 years between his books, Pirsig divorced his first wife, married his second wife, lost his oldest son (who had been featured in the first book), and had a daughter. His son Christopher was killed in a mugging outside the San Francisco Zen Meditation Center. Pirsig would eventually explain that one of the reasons he and his second wife had their daughter Nell was because they believed she was a continuation of Chris’s “life pattern.” In other words, Nell was part of the same trip (metaphysically speaking, of course.)

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 6th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09062020 The Art of Moving Meditation”]

“The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don’t start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don’t start with psychiatrists. If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.”

– quoted from Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

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

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

### ZOOOOOOM ###

The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

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

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

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

Impossible is nothing.”

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

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

Interior Movements (the “missing” Sunday post, with Monday notes) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Vairagya, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 31st (with notes related to Monday, August 1st). You can request an audio recording of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”

– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield

There are a lot of things that make practicing Yoga special. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary and unique things about the practice is that every time you step into your physical practice space, there is a deliberate and mindful intention to engage/move the mind-body in a way that also very deliberately and very intentionally engages/moves the spirit. Obviously, there are other times and other forms of exercises, even other activities, where we can go deeper inside of ourselves and really pay attention to how what’s moving inside of us (on many different levels) informs how we move through the world. You may even have a go-to activity that engages your mind-body-spirit even if is not recognized as exercise and/or as something spiritual. You may personally have a go-to something that puts you “in the flow” or “in the zone.” Maybe it’s something you deliberately, mindfully, and intentionally do when you need to clear your mind-body and really pay attention to your spirit. There are, after all, many ways that we can do that. However, in many cases that mind-body-spirit benefit is not the originally intention of the exercise; meaning your go-to thing is not a (recognized) spiritual exercise.

I recognize that not everyone recognizes Yoga as a spiritual exercise and, also, that it is not the only practice that could be considered a spiritual exercise. Semazen (Sufi whirling or turning), tanoura (the Egyptian version of Sufi whirling), and all other forms of traditional moving meditations could be considered spiritual exercises. The same could be said of modern practices like journey dancing and Gabrielle Roth’s “5Rhythms.” However, if you mention “the Spiritual Exercises” to a certain group of people in the world, none of the aforementioned come to mind. In fact, what comes to mind are not even physical exercises. Instead, what comes to mind for people within the Catholic community are the collection of prayers, meditations, and contemplations codified by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day falls on July 31st.

“To understand fully the Spiritual Exercises, we should know something of the man who wrote them. In this life of St. Ignatius, told in his own words, we acquire an intimate knowledge of the author of the Exercises. We discern the Saint’s natural disposition, which was the foundation of his spiritual character. We learn of his conversion, his trials, the obstacles in his way, the heroism with which he accomplished his great mission.

This autobiography of St. Ignatius is the groundwork of all the great lives of him that have been written.”

– quoted from the “Editor’s Preface” (dated Easter, 1900) of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

Born Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola on October 23, 1491, the future saint was the youngest of thirteen children born to Spanish nobles in the Basque region of Spain. Not long after he was born, his mother died and he became, on a certain level, an after thought. While his oldest brother died in the Italian Wars (also known as the Habsburg–Valois Wars) and his second oldest brother inherited the family estate, the youngest of the brood was expected to go into the priesthood. Yet, he was raised with most of the same privileges and luxuries as his siblings and grew accustomed to the lifestyle. By the time he was a teenager, he was completely infatuated with all the trappings of romance, fame, fortune, and power that could come from military service.

By all accounts, young Íñigo was a bit of a dandy by the time he joined the military at seventeen. He cut a fine and stylish figure in (and out of) uniform; he loved to gamble, fence, duel, and dance; and he had a reputation as a womanizer with a very fragile ego. He also loved stories that reflected his life; stories of romance, chivalry, and military victories. In fact, some have said that he deliberately emulated the stories he read about people like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (“El Cid”), the Frankish military governor Roland, and the knights of the Round Table. Perhaps he even believed that people would one day tell stories about him the way they told stories about his heroes.

And… they kind of do. Except for two pertinent facts. First, the young noble seemed to embody the very worst aspects of masculinity and “nobility.” Second, the trajectory of his life changed almost exactly two months before he turned 30.

After over a decade of military service in which he was never seriously injured, Íñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola’s was struck by a ricocheting cannonball during the Battle of Pamplona (May 20, 1521). His right leg was crushed and it was feared that, at worse, he would lose the leg and, at best, he would lose his military career and never walk the same again. After several surgeries, during some of which his leg was re-broken and reset, his leg was saved. He returned to the family castle to recover and thought that he would spend his convalescence reading the romance adventures that he so dearly loved. Unfortunately, he was told that such novels were no longer available in the castle. He was given the Bible and the biographies of saints and, having nothing better to do, he devoured them. Just as was his habit while reading adventures of romance and chivalry, he started imagining himself in the positions of the disciples and the saints. This type of imagination is what he would later identify as “contemplation.”

“While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: ‘What if I should do what St. Francis did?’ ‘What if I should act like St. Dominic?’ He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things. He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: ‘St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.’ ‘St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.’ These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed. This succession of thoughts occupied him for a long while, those about God alternating with those about the world. But in these thoughts there was this difference. When he thought of worldly things it gave him great pleasure, but afterward he found himself dry and sad. But when he thought of journeying to Jerusalem, and of living only on herbs, and practising [sic] austerities, he found pleasure not only while thinking of them, but also when he had ceased.” 

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

When Patanjali codified the Yoga Philosophy, he outlined eight parts of the practice. The first two parts were ethical in nature and consisted of five external “restraints” or universal commandments (known as yamas) and five internal “observations” (known as niyamas). According to Yoga Sūtra 2.44, “the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice]” is the the benefit of practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”). Some translations refer to “angels” and still others reference “contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” Either way, the practice is basically what Ignatius was intuitively doing: paying attention to his thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, and/or even historical scenarios.

The more he did this kind of self-study, the more he started noticing something curious. He started noticing that the feelings he felt while reading and imagining the profane romantic adventures didn’t last as long as the feelings he experienced while reading and imagining the lives of the sacred. When he could walk again, the former soldier set off on a religious pilgrimage that eventually led him to a cave in Manresa (Catalonia). It was in that cave, which is now a chapel, that Saint Ignatius started spelling out his Spiritual Exercises, a four “week” practice of ritual examination and introspection.

After years of religious study, a series of visions, and another extended pilgrimage, Ignatius and six of his seminary friends took vows and committed themselves to religious service. In 1539, Saint Ignatius de Loyola and two of those friends – Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Peter Faber – formed the Society of Jesus. Also known as the Jesuits, the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, whereupon its leadership set off on missions to create educational institutions built on the foundation of discipline (specifically a “corpse-like” discipline), devotion (to the Pope and the Church), and trustful surrender. Interesting (to me), those same foundations can be found in the Yoga practices of tapas (“heat,” discipline, and austerity) and īśvarapraṇidhāna (“trustful surrender to the divine source”), which are the third and fifth niyamas.

In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali referred to the last three niyamas (internal “observations”) as kriya yoga, which is literally “union in action.” Some people think of kriya yoga as a prescription or cleansing ritual. As I mention throughout the year, there are a lot of religious and spiritual rituals (from different traditions) which fit within the rubric described by Patanjali. The Spiritual Exercises, published in 1548, contain one such example. It is a short booklet intended to be used by the teacher or guide who leads the spiritual retreat. Although the “Long Retreat” is broken down into four themes, which are traditionally experienced over 28-30 days, Saint Ignatius also included statements that allow people to experience a “retreat in daily life” if they are unable to leave their everyday life behind for a month. Additionally, the experience can be broken up over a couple of years. Whether one is Catholic or some other form of Christian, Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises offers the opportunity for reflection and introspection by way of prayer and meditation in the form of contemplation and discernment.

This difference he did not notice or value, until one day the eyes of his soul were opened and he began to inquire the reason of the difference. He learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. This was his first reasoning on spiritual matters. Afterward, when he began the Spiritual Exercises, he was enlightened, and understood what he afterward taught his children about the discernment of spirits.”

– quoted from “Chapter I: his military life—he is wounded at the siege of Pampeluna—his cure—spiritual reading—the apparition—the gift of chastity—his longing for the journey to Jerusalem and for a holier life” of The Autobiography of St. Ignatius:  The Account of his Life dictated to Father Gonzalez by St. Ignatius (edited by J. F. X. O’Conor, S.J.)

A portion of the following description was previously posted on February 6, 2021.

In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self. In other words, it requires svādhyāya (“self-study”). In the context of The Spiritual Exercises, the discernment is related to the experiences of Jesus and the disciples.

During the first “week” of The Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is instructed to reflect on “our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us.” This reflection focuses on concepts of personal sin, Divine love (which is unconditional) and Divine mercy with the intention of considering free will and how personal behavior can limit one’s ability to experience Divine love and mercy. To be clear, the idea here is not that such things will be taken away if you are bad or engage in bad behavior. Instead, the idea is that our thoughts, words, and deeds (i.e., our karma) may inhibit our ability to perceive the love and mercy being freely given. This period ends with a meditation on following in the (historical) foot steps of the Divine – which is quite literally the meaning of brahmacharya, Patanjali’s fourth yama (external “restraint”).

During the second “week,” retreatants begin to place themselves in the scenarios of the Christian scriptures as they relate to the beginning of Jesus’ life, beginning with his birth and moving through his baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, and his raising Lazarus from the dead. The prayers and meditations center around the idea of how one’s life and life’s work can be a reflection of God and God’s love.

The third and fourth “weeks” continue the contemplation by first contemplating the the Last Supper, the passion (or “suffering”) of the Christ, Jesus’ death, and the significance of Jesus’ last week (during the third “week”) and then contemplating Jesus’ resurrection and his appearances/apparitions to the disciples (during the fourth “week”). The final section of the retreat is also an opportunity to contemplate how one moves forward with renewed faith, commitment, and fire.

Yes, again with the tapas, because Saint Ignatius continuously told the early Jesuits, “go, set the world on fire” – words that echoed Abbot Joseph’s instructions to Abbot Lot:

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

“Lord, teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

– “The Prayer of Generosity,” often attributed to Saint Ignatius of Loyola (d. 07/31/1556)

I habitually think about discernment in terms of the “interior movements of the heart” and, while it is something I regularly do on my mat, the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius is a day when I am reminded of the power of the practice. My awareness of this powerful practice is also enhanced by the fact that I start August by focusing on the lives of “impossible” people – that is to say, people who did things others said was impossible. This year, in particular, I find my heart (and mind) moved to contemplate the will and determination that gets things done, as well as the power of the resistance that keeps certain things from happening. Mixed in with this is the idea that our will and determination is strengthened when we are surrounded (and supported) by people who are focused on the same goals and desires; focused on achieving the same “impossible” goals and desires.

August 1st is the anniversary of the birth of an “impossible” woman and a man who wrote about achieving “impossible” things. It is curious to note that Miss Maria Mitchell (b. 1818) was raised in a household where her interests and endeavors were supported – despite the fact that she was born in a time and place where some believed her sex and gender should dictate/limit her vocation and occupation – and that the greatest works of Mr. Herman Melville (b. 1819) were created and published when he was in close proximity of (and in close communion with) his dear friend, and fellow writer, Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you could put yourselves in their shoes; notice the interior movements of your own heart; and consider how your thoughts, words, and deeds can best reflect your possibilities.

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

Impossible is nothing.”

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

Sunday’s playlist  is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07292020 Breathing, Noting, Here & at the UN”]

NOTE: In hindsight, I realized that the playlist we used last week works really well with today’s practice. It is still available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

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

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

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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.)

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###

The Origins of Litigation (the “missing” post) July 10, 2022

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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 10thYou 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.

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.)

“1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

2. If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

3. If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.

4. If he satisfy the elders to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.

5. If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.”

*

– quoted from the Code of Hammurabi (translated by L. W. King, as posted on the Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library website for The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy)

Before we go any further, let me clarify something important. The title of this blog post can be – and is intended to be – taken in different ways. This is not, however, a treatise on the beginning of how people started taking legal action against one another. Although, to that end, I will say that carved and chiseled tablets from as far back as 2350 BCE provide very clear evidence of Near East, Middle East, and African societies with codified expectations, processes, and precedents. Here in the West, the most well-known of these ancient legal texts is probably the Code of Hammurabi (circa 18th century BCE), which is recognized as the laws of Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. Preserved on a stone slab over 7 feet (i.e., over 2 meters) tall, the text contains an image of King Hammurabi and Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice, followed by several thousands of lines of cuneiform text.

The Code of Hammurabi includes 282 rules and guidelines, which establish what happens “if” someone does something – or is accused of doing something – and what happens “[w]hen” they are proven guilty or “if” they are proven innocent “then” what happens to the accuser. The latter are particularly interesting to me, because there is no double standard: falsely accusing someone could carry the same penalty as having done the deed. It is also interesting to note that (per the fifth code, as quoted above) judges were not above the penalty of law – a rule that underscores the responsibility that comes with judicial power.

In many cases, the penalty for grievances were severe (and final). While some parts of our modern Western society have done away with the death penalty and most have eliminated “trial by river,” we can very clearly trace many of our laws, litigation processes, and penalties through the history of the Abrahamic religions and into the here-and-now – at least, from a purely historical perspective. In fact, the Code of Hammurabi is so historical significant to our modern society that Hammurabi’s image is included in the relief portraits of lawgivers located over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the United States Capital – right next to Moses and across from two gentleman from Virginia: George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.

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

*

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

So, again, this post is not about the history of law. Instead, this post is about a trial that started today in 1925. It is not, as any good law professor or lawyer will tell you, the first (or the first significant) trial in the United States of America. Therefore, it is not the beginning of this great nation’s (sometimes way too “great”) litigation system. However, when I think about litigation that set a precedent for the way laws and legal proceedings affect society – and are affected by society – I think of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial,” which took place in Dayton Tennessee (July 10-21, 1925).

At the center of the trial, legally speaking, was John Thomas Scopes, a high school biology substitute teacher who was accused of violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act” by teaching evolution during a high school biology class. Tennessee teachers were required, by law, to not teach evolution or deny Intelligent Design (ID) – even though the required text book had a chapter on evolution. By most accounts, Scopes skipped the chapter, but he still provided an opportunity to challenge what some considered an unconstitutional Act. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that the trial became a carnival-like spectacle. There were vendors selling Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. Despite the summer heat, the crowd size eventually increased to the point that the whole thing had to be moved outside. Those who couldn’t make it to Tennessee and/or the court “room” could listen to the trial on the radio. And, everyone had an opinion. Of course, the legal opinions that mattered came from the lawyers.

“Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals…. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world.”

*

– quoted from William Jennings Bryan’s written summation to The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (as distributed to the press), July 1925

*

“My statement that there was there was no need to try this case further, and for the court to instruct that the defendant is guilty under the law was not made as a plea of guilty or an admission of guilt. We claim that the defendant is not guilty, but as the court has excluded any testimony, except as to the one issue as to whether he taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, and we cannot contradict that testimony, there is no logical thing to come except that the jury find a verdict that we may carry to the higher court, purely as a matter of proper procedure. We do not think it is fair to the court or counsel on the other side to waste a lot of time when we know this is the inevitable result and probably the best result for the case. I think that is all right?”

*

– quoted from Clarence Darrow’s “bench statement” just before the jury’s verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

William Jennings Bryan – who was known as “The Great Commoner” and “The Boy Orator” – represented the state of Tennessee and, therefore, the idea that man was created by (the Abrahamic) God and had no relation to “other” primates. By 1925, when the trial occurred, Mr. Bryan had severed the country as a litigator; a member of the  U.S. House of Representatives (from Nebraska’s 1st district); and as the 41st U. S. Secretary of State (serving under President Woodrow Wilson). He had also, unsuccessfully, run for president on three different occasions. He was adored by some, abhorred by some, and was nothing short of polarizing. [As a side note, William Jennings Bryan died five days after the verdict came in of the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”]

Then there was Clarence Darrow, for the defense.

Clarence Darrow was prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and had just (the previous year) wrapped up the very public “Leopold and Loeb murder” trial. He was considered a witty, sophisticated country lawyer, who even had the audacity to put the state’s attorney (William Jennings Bryan) on the witness stand. In 1925, Clarence Darrow was already establishing his reputation as a brilliant criminal defense lawyer who fought for the underdog. Just as was the case when he represented Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, his motivation for representing John Scopes wasn’t about whether or not his client broke the law. It wasn’t even, as he pointed out in his summation, whether or not the court would find his client guilty. No, Clarence Darrow’s focus was ultimately about whether or not laws and punishments made sense. As he would illustrate in his later defense of the brothers Ossian Sweet and Henry Sweet (1926), as well as of Thomas Massie (1931), he was about the rule of law and “the law of love.”

“I do not believe in the law of hate. I may not be true to my ideals always, but I believe in the law of love, and I believe you can do nothing with hatred. I would like to see a time when man loves his fellow man, and forgets his color or his creed. We will never be civilized until that time comes.”

*

– quoted from the end of Clarence Darrow’s 7-hour closing argument in The People of Michigan v. Henry Sweet (the second of the “Sweet Trials, involving a defendant from the racially charged The People of Michigan v. Ossian Sweet et al.), May 11, 1926

Clarence Darrow’s “law of love” is the same “moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene” that William Jennings Bryan cited and, ironically, it speaks directly to the origin of Charles Darwin’s treatise on evolution. That is to say, it is related to how we are all connected and how our survival is based on “dependence of one being on another.” However, those early teachings – which actually predate Jesus – are not always practiced as they are preached. Similarly, evolution as it was debated in Tennessee in 1925 and at Oxford University in 1860, was not exactly what Darwin presented in 1859. In fact, the scientist never even used the word “evolution” in his first text. But, it didn’t take long for his argument to, ummm, evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective). The way Darwin approached the subject was partially responsible for why it changed and why it can still be such a hot topic.

Portions of the following, related to Charles Darwin, were originally posted on November 24, 2020.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

*

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

The idea of evolution didn’t start with Charles Darwin. No, even the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) referenced earlier ideas (that predated his life) and contemplated an internal purpose (related to survival). Aristotle believed that this “internal purposiveness” existed in all living beings and could be passed down through generations. So, if the idea existed before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) was published on November 24,1859, why did Darwin’s work create such an uproar?

To get to the origins of Origins – or at least the controversy, chaos, and uproar around it, let’s go back to 1852, when Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist used the German term entwicklungsgeschichte” (“development history”), which had previously been used in relation to embryos and single cell organisms, to explain cosmic and biological changes in societies. Spencer would later write an essay coining the phrase “theory of evolution” – in relation to Darwin’s work. However, in the same year (1852) that Spencer wrote about cultures having “development history,” he also wrote an essay called “The Philosophy of Style” in which he promoted writing “to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort.” In other words, Spencer advocated writing to make the meaning plain and accessible.

I can’t say for sure how much Darwin himself was influenced by Spencer, but it is very clear that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species for non-specialists. In other words, he wrote it for the masses. And, as it was easily understood (and written by a then esteemed scientist), it became wildly discussed – in the parlors and in the public. The first big public debate occurred on June 30, 1860 during the British Science Association’s annual meeting at Oxford UniversityThe next big public debate started today, July 10, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee (USA). In both cases, what people remember is the way two very articulate men squared off around matters of faith and reason, and the moral and ethical implications of believing one origin story over the other.

As predicted by his lawyer, John Scopes was found guilty by the jury. The judge fined him $100 (the equivalent of about $1,670.26, as I post this today). As planned, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee (in 1926). All five of the defense’s constitutional points of appeal were rejected by the higher court. However, the verdict was overturned on a technicality: the $100 penalty required by the legislation was higher than what the state constitution said a judge could apply. Had the jury assigned the fine, it is possible that the case could have continued to the Supreme Court of the United States.

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

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

The fact that “The Scopes Monkey Trial” is related to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is tangentially related to why I think of it as a litigation “origin” story. More importantly, as the first United States trial to be nationally televised broadcasted on the radio, The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes set a precedent on how trials are covered by the press and how the public pays attention to such trials. The press was right there, in the court “room” and, therefore, it put the whole country in the jury box; hearing testimony in real time. It was the beginning of a national (even an international) court of public opinion that’s not restricted to the parlors and the streets. Instead, this expanded defacto jury also becomes a judging and legislating body that is quick to convert cases into real world applications (and vice versa). For example, the initial verdict in 1925, led to several state legislations debating anti-evolution legislation – most of which were rejected, but some of which were codified. While Tennessee’s “Butler Act” was rescinded September 1, 1967, there have been similar legal and pedagogical debates in the United States as recently as 2005 and 2007 (hello, Kansas – where evolution is still officially “an unproven theory”). The case also led to changes in science text books (across the country) and changes in the way in which students were taught – and not just about how they were taught biology.

Finally, as a textbook case on how the U. S. legal system could work, “The Scopes Monkey Trial” was/is a primer for how the constitution can be applied to day-to-day life and how that application can be defended… or rejected. It is a tried and true First Amendment case and, to me, is the origin story of how so many Americans view the legality of their constitutional rights, as well as how they understand their rights to challenge how the constitution is applied and the process by which they might exercise those rights. As so many states (including my own home state) codify things that I view as absolutely egregious (and unconstitutional) – and as SCOTUS shockingly overturns precedent – I see lots of opportunities for Scopes-like “tests.”

As soon as Texas created it’s “bounty hunter” abortion law, I said there’s going to be some Scope-like cases testing this. Within a matter of days, cases were filed. Just a couple of weeks ago, mere days after SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, a woman here in Texas was pulled over while driving in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. She was cited for not having at least one passenger. The woman, who is pregnant, cited the aforementioned Texas penal code and the SCOTUS decision as “proof” that she was driving lawfully. She was given a ticket, which means she gets her day in court. I don’t know anything else about this woman and I don’t know anything about her politics, but – whether her motivations are purely economic or whether they are more expansive – her case will put these matters to the test.

And, how ever, those cases are decided, the world will be watching… and discussing.

“Now, we came down here to offer evidence in this case and the court has held under the law that the evidence we had is not admissible, so all we can do is to take an exception and carry it to a higher court to see whether the evidence is admissible or not. As far as this case stands before the jury, the court has told you very plainly that if you think my client taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, you will find him guilty… and there is no dispute about the facts. Scopes did not go on the stand, because he could not deny the statements made by the boys. I do not know how you may feel, I am not especially interested in it, but this case and this law will never be decided until it gets to a higher court, and it cannot get to a higher court probably, very well, unless you bring in a verdict…. We cannot argue to you gentlemen under the instructions given by the court we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it.”

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– quoted Clarence Darrow’s statement to the jury, just before the verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “Hays Code” playlist dated “March 31” on YouTube and “03302020” on Spotify]

The Law of Love

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (13:8, NIV)

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (5:14-15, KJV)

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

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

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

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

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### Where Do We [Even] Begin? ###

Suhrit-prapti with a Bodhisattva* (mostly the music and links) July 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Life, Love, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“The whole world naturally seeks peace, and peace is rooted in having a good heart.”

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“I believe we can combine our traditional [Tibetan] understanding of the mind and modern science to show how to cultivate love and compassion and achieve peace of mind. We all want to be happy and fundamental to that is having a good heart.”

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– quoted from the speech to the 8th World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet (in Washington, D. C., June 22-23, 2022) by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 6th) 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 “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

NOTE: The YouTube playlist includes the Dalai Lama’s 2021 birthday message. Since it was not available on Spotify, I substituted a prayer.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 87 today! See message link above for his 2021 birthday gift to the world, in which he reaffirmed his commitment to “serving humanity and climate condition.” *Click here to read more about Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who is considered a bodhisattva (enlightened being) and/or click here to see how his thoughts on suhrit-prapti (“the ability to cultivate a good heart; obtain friends”) fit with the Yoga Philosophy (and a little role playing).

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.)

Errata: An unfortunate typo has been corrected.

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### 🎶 ###

FTWMI: In the beginning… June 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted June 28, 2020. Class details and music links have been updated. Two extra quotes and additional 2021 post links (with statistics) have been added.

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.)

“[It was] a perfect event in my life because it let me live the kinds of dreams I had of seeing an equitable society. I was able to live my life, which I would have done anyway, but without Stonewall I would have had more opposition. So it turns out the times were on my side, which left me with a basically happy life.”

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– Martin “Marty” Boyce

It started off like any other regular Friday. People got up, got dressed, went to work (on Wall Street) or to school. Some wrote poetry or songs in a café. Some gathered on a street corner hoping to score their next meal. It was a regular Friday, and people were looking forward to the weekend. They came home or went to a friend’s place. They changed clothes – that was the first spark of something special… but it was still just a regular Friday. People were going to go out, have a good time, sing, dance, gather with friends (maybe do it again on Saturday night), and then spend some time recovering so that, on Monday, they could go back to being regular.

It was a regular Friday… that became an extraordinary Saturday, because at around 1:20 AM on Saturday, June 28, 1969, four policeman dressed in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector from the New York Police Department walked into the Stonewall Inn and announced that they were “taking the place!” It was a raid.

“I was never afraid of the cops on the street, because I was not an obvious person. I was not flaunting my homosexuality to anyone. I wasn’t holding hands. It would never have occurred to me to try and have a confrontation with them [because] you don’t want to be arrested for any stupid reason. I never had any problems with the police. I never had problems with anyone anywhere, until that night…. I never ever gave it a thought of [Stonewall] being a turning point. All I know is enough was enough. You had to fight for your rights. And I’m happy to say whatever happened that night, I was part of it. Because [at a moment like that] you don’t think, you just act.”

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– Raymond Castro

In some ways, there was still nothing special. The Stonewall Inn, located on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan was a Mafia owned “private bottle bar” frequented by members of the GLBTQIA+ community. It was raided on a regular basis, usually at a standard time. Because the bar was Mafia owned, it would normal get a heads up (from someone who knew the raid was coming – wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and just before the raid was scheduled the lights would come up so people could stop holding hands or dancing (both of which were illegal for same sex partners) and any illegal alcohol could be hidden. The police would separate people based on clothing and then a female officer would take anyone wearing a dress into the bathroom in order to check their genitalia. Some people were arrested, but many would go back to the party once the police had taken their leave.

The raid that happened this morning in 1969 was different. There was no warning. No lights came up. No then-illegal activity was hidden. Unbeknownst to the patrons, four undercover officers (two men and two women) had previously been in the bar gathering visual evidence. The police started rounding people up and, also, letting some people go. They were planning to close the bar down. The only problem was…people didn’t leave. The people who were released stayed outside in the street, watching what was happening, and they were eventually joined by hundreds more.

“I changed into a black and white cocktail dress, which I borrowed from my mother’s closet. It was mostly black, empire-waisted, with a white collar. I used to dress with a bunch of older queens and one of them lent me black fishnet stockings and a pair of black velvet pumps…. The cop looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you!’ and I said, ‘Please, it’s my birthday, I’m just about to graduate from high school, I’m only 18,’ and he just let me go! [I was] scared to death that my father would see me on the television news in my mother’s dress.”

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– Yvonne (also known as Maria) Ritter

At times the crowd was eerily quiet. But then, as Mafia members were brought out, they started to cheer. When employees were brought out, someone yelled, “Gay power,” and someone started to sing. An officer shoved a person in a dress and she started hitting him over the head with her purse. The crowd was becoming larger… and more restless. At some point people started throwing beer bottles and pennies (as a reference to the police being bribed by the Mafia.) This was becoming a problem, but an even bigger problem was when the police found out the second van was delayed. They were stuck.

Then, things went from bad to worse when some of the 13 people arrested (including employees and people not wearing what was considered “gender appropriate clothing”) resisted. One of the women, a lesbian of color, managed to struggle and escape multiple times. At some point there were four officers trying to contain her. When a police officer hit her over the head, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And they did.

Police officers barricaded themselves and several people they were arresting (some of whom were just in the neighborhood) inside of the bar for safety. The NYPD’s Tactical Patrol Force was called out to free the officers and detainees trapped inside the Stonewall Inn. One witness said that the police were humiliated…and out for blood. The police’s own escalation, in trying to contain the violence, was met with a Broadway chorus style kick-line… and more violence. The escalation continued. At times, people were chasing the police.

The ensuing protests/riots lasted through the weekend and, to a lesser degree, into the next week. The bar re-opened that next night and thousands lined up to get inside. There was more vandalism and more violence, but on Saturday night (June 28th) there were also public displays of affection: at that time, illegal same-sex public displays of affection. People were out.

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot!”

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– Stormé DeLarverie

The Stonewall Uprising, the riots and the ensuing protests and celebrations were not the first of their kind. Three years earlier, the Mattachine Society had organized “sip-ins” where people met at bars and openly declared themselves as gay. That kind of organized, peaceful civil disobedience was happening all over the country during the 60’s. It was a way to break unjust laws and it temporarily reduced the number of police raids. However, the raids started up again.

Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Zazu Nova, Jackie Hormona, Martin “Marty” Boyce, Sylvia Rivera, Raymond Castro, John O’ Brian, and Yvonne “Maria” / “Butch” Ritter were among the people involved in the Stonewall Uprising. The musician Dave Van Ronk (who famously arranged the version of “House of the Rising Sun” made famous by Bob Dylan) was not gay, but he was arrested. Alan Ginsberg, who was gay, would witness the riots and applaud the people who were taking a stand. Village Voice columnist Howard Smith was a straight man who had never been inside the Stonewall Inn until he grabbed his press credentials and made his way into the center of the uprising. Craig Rodwell (owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) and Fred Sargent (the bookstores manager) started writing and distributing leaflets on behalf of the Mattachine Society. They also drummed up media interest. In addition to Rodwell and Sargent, Dick Leitsch (a member of the Mattachine Society), John O’Brien, and Martha Shelley (a member of the Daughters of Bilitis) would start organizing so that the protest that turned into a riot would come full circle as a protest that created change.

A year later, June 28, 1970, thousands of people returned to Stonewall Inn. They marched from the bar to Central Park in what was then called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” The official chant was, “Say it loud, gay is proud.” And, I’m betting there was at least one kick line.

“But [Gil] Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he [said] in a 1990s interview:

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‘The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, “Oh I’m on the wrong page,” or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country.”’

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If we realize we’re out of sync with what’s really happening, we cannot find out more on television. The information is where the battles are being fought, at street level, and in the mechanisms of the legal process.”

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– quoted from the Open Culture article “Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’” by Josh Jones (posted June 2nd, 2020)

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 28th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06282020 Stonewall PRIDE”]

(NOTE: The YouTube playlist has been updated with the latest link to the “forbidden” music. The Spotify playlist may skip an instrumental track.) 

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

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– quoted from an originally unpublished introduction to Animal Farm by George Orwell

Click here for a short note about Gil Scott-Heron, whose lived experience in 1969 New York City may not have been a specifically LGBTQIA+ experience, but did write words that speak to an intersectionality of experiences that existed 52 years ago today and still exist to this day. As I mentioned last year, “He was speaking from the experience of being part of a marginalized (and sometimes vilified) community in the world (in general) and in New York (specifically). And, therefore, it is not surprising that his words apply.” Click here for some contextualized stats.

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

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

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### SAY IT LOUD ###