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Searching…. (the “missing” Tuesday post w/a little extra) January 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 9-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, January 18th. You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“As soon as Rabbit was out of sight, Pooh remembered that he had forgotten to ask who Small was, and whether he was the sort of friend-and-relation who settled on one’s nose, or the sort who got trodden on by mistake, and as it was Too Late Now, he thought he would begin the Hunt by looking for Piglet, and asking him what they were looking for before he looked for it.”

*

– quoted from “Chapter Three, In Which – A Search is Organdized, and Piglet Nearly Meets the Heffalump Again” in The House at Pooh Corner by Alan Alexander Milne, with decorations by Ernest Howard Shephard

Similar to The House at Pooh Corner (published in 1928), this post begins with an end note; but, let’s not call it that. Let’s call it a Side Note. See, when I’ve used quotes in class in the past, I don’t always cite chapter and verse. That’s not the point of the practice. However, now that I’m blogging more, recording classes, and posting a video or two, I feel that due diligence is required. Ergo, I make an effort to search for precise sources. It takes some time and effort, but the internet makes things easier than when I was doing such research in school and it’s super nice when I actually have hard copies (and/or paperback or electronic copies) of the source material. However, things can get complicated when something takes on a life of it’s own – outside of its original incarnation. This is even more true when that something is beloved… and the Walt Disney Company is involved.

Because sometimes people are quoting Disney productions, but citing the author.

“’It means just going along, listening to all the things that you can’t hear and not bothering.’”

*

– Christopher Robin defining “Doing Nothing” to Winnie the Pooh in “Chapter Ten, In Which – Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There” of The House at Pooh Corner by Alan Alexander Milne, with decorations by Ernest Howard Shephard

Many books begin with a prologue or an introduction, however, as I already mentioned The House at Pooh is different from most books. It begins with a “Contradiction,” which the author explained was the opposite of an “Introduction.” Some of us might think of it as an epilogue, which it was… and also wasn’t, because it was coming at the beginning of the book rather than at the end. But, it was the end of the series – that was never intended to be a series. Of course, the author, A. A. Milne, understood the differences and the nuances of the words; that’s why he picked the one’s he picked.

Born Alan Alexander Milne on January 18, 1882, the famous children’s book author was the youngest of three boys that grew up in a household dedicated to learning. His father, John Vine Milne, ran Henley House School, a private school for boys that famously boasted teachers like H. G. Wells (who taught science there for one year). A. A. Milne reportedly taught himself to read at age two; attended Westminster School in London and Trinity College in Cambridge. It was at the latter that he edited and wrote (with his brother Kenneth) for The Granta, the student magazine now known simply as Granta. It was also at Trinity that he decided to pursue writing as a career even though he was graduating with a degree in mathematics.  He started working for the humor magazine Punch not long after he graduated.

Then World War I broke out and – even though Mr. Milne didn’t believe in war – he served as an officer for at least five years, first as a signaling operator and then (after recuperating from an illness that sent him home) as a writer of military propaganda. He finished his service as a lieutenant and started writing articles and books denouncing war. He also started writing plays and poetry, some which appeared in Punch magazine. He had married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt just before the war and, within a year of his discharge, they had their son, Christopher Robin.

Mr. Milne was in the habit of making up little verses for his son, including one called “Teddy Bear,” which appeared in Punch when Christopher Robin was three years old. About five years after their son was born, the Milnes bought and moved to their country home in East Sussex. The woods around their East Sussex home – as well as Christopher Robin, his toys, and the games they played – became the inspiration for more poems and, ultimately, the stories about Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin, and all their friends. Those stories, however, were little more than divertissements to A. A. Milne and he was a little astounded (and latter appalled) that those little entertainments were earning more accolades than for his plays, articles, and adult novels. Later, he was also concerned by how all the attention affected his still young son – who, it must be said, kind of hated the attention.

“Every child has his Pooh, but one would think it odd if every man still kept his Pooh to remind him of his childhood. But my Pooh is different, you say: he is the Pooh. No, this only makes him different to you. My toys were and are to me no more than yours were and are to you, not different to me. I do not love them more because they are known to children in Australia or Japan. Fame has nothing to do with love.”

*

– quoted from “12. The Toys” in The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne

There are a lot of reasons why people still love the characters created by A. A. Milne, but why are Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Eyeore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, the Heffalump, and (even) Small more beloved than any of his other characters? We can, of course, point to the loveliness of an ideal childhood and those lovely “decorations” by E. H. Shephard. Of course, there is also the fact that the books are all about friendship. Then, too, there is the fact that we all know people like all of the characters. In fact, if we take a moment to turn inward, we may even recognize ourselves as one of the characters. Finally, there is just so much wisdom in the books. Yes, we can say it is wisdom for children; however, the best advice we receive as children, serves us as adults.

The children’s poems and stories by A. A. Milne remind us to slow down, savor our “honey” and our friends, and to soak up the moment. There are stories that remind us to play a little (Pooh Sticks); keep in touch (even when we are physically far apart); that sometimes we need a little help from our friends (in order to get out of tight situations); and that there is something to be said for being in the present moment. In fact, I think of the poem “Halfway Down” as a meditation on the liminal, or “threshold” moment that is this present moment.

“Halfway Down” is the thirty-fifth poem in When We Were Very Young, first published in 1924. It appears just a few pages before the aforementioned “Teddy Bear” and has been turned into a song sung be people as different as Robin the Frog (Kermit’s nephew) and Amy Lee. The children’s book reviewer Zena Sutherland called the poem a “juvenile meditation” – which was a ringing endorsement from an expert on children’s literature who would go on to teach “Children’s Literature” and “Literature for Young Adults” at the University of Chicago Graduate Library School; serve on the committees that award the Newbery and Cadecutt Awards, as well as the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction; and highlight the emotional benefits of books by Maurice Sendak, John Donovan, and Robert Cormier. She was the expert, but in my humble opinion, it is a great meditation for anyone, regardless of age.

“I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Where
I always
Stop.
*
Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:”

*

– quoted (from halfway down) the poem “Halfway Down” by Alan Alexander Milne, with decorations by Ernest Howard Shephard

In some ways, The House at Pooh Corner was like that stair “halfway down the stairs.” It marked a transition. As A. A. Milne explained at the beginning, Christopher Robin and his friends needed no introductions – the readers already knew and loved them. What he also explained was that The House at Pooh Corner was a goodbye – he just didn’t tell his young readers why. And, in the end, maybe the why didn’t matter. Because…

“…they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

*

– quoted from “Chapter Ten, In Which – Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There” of The House at Pooh Corner by Alan Alexander Milne, with decorations by Ernest Howard Shephard

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08212021 An Afternoon of Just Knowing”]

Feel free to check out this 2016 post to discover someone who likes to explore enchanted places.

“Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn’t matter a bit, as it didn’t on such a happy afternoon, and he thought if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything there was to be known, and he would be able to tell Pooh, who wasn’t quite sure of it. But when he got to the bridge and saw all the animals there, then he knew that it wasn’t that kind of afternoon, but the other kind, when you wanted to do something.

*

– quoted from “Chapter Six, In Which – Pooh Invents a New Game and Eeyore Joins In” of The House at Pooh Corner by Alan Alexander Milne, with decorations by Ernest Howard Shephard

Searching for Small and little things? (Part of the Nine Days series)

### “Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. ~ A. A. M. ###

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

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

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202021 To the Bone”]

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

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

Nom de Destiné, Part “Deux” (mostly a surprise) January 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 9-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Japa-Ajapa, Life, New Year, Philosophy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This video is actually related to the last two Sunday practices and is, in it’s own right, the beginning of a separate practice. I hope you will join me for the experience!

You can request an audio recording of either of the regular Sunday 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.

### Be You Now ###

For Those Who Missed It: What You Will See January 5, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Mantra, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone! Happy Twelfth Night, to those who are celebrating!

The following was originally posted in January of 2021. Class details and some language have been updated.

“I’ll do my best” 

 

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act I, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga and/or meditation, there can be days where it is hard to focus. Sometimes the practice is all about bringing your awareness back to your focal point – again and again and again, to the best of your ability…. Actually, that is always the practice; it’s just that sometimes we are more aware that to keep our awareness fixed on something requires a certain amount of conscious effort – until it doesn’t. It requires a certain amount of conscious effort until the mind moves through the layers of words and meaning and effort; and becomes absorbed or merged with the object of our focus. Until that time, we just have to be like Viola.

Sometimes, the object itself is the most helpful anchor for our awareness. In the first part of Yoga Sūtras, the chapter or foundation on concentration, Patanjali offers a list of objects on which one might focus in order to overcome the obstacles to practice and achieve clarity of mind (YS 1:28, 1:32 – 39: repetition of OM/AUM; attitudes of the heart (loving-kindness for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, happiness for the virtuous, and non-judgment for the non-virtuous); the parts of breath; a point on the body and/or a sense organ (and it’s corresponding sensation); the point of inner light and joy; a person who is virtuous and free of desire/suffering (or our own self in such a state); intuitive wisdom (revealed in a “dream” state); or “whatever”… in other words, “what you will”).

Yoga Sūtra 1.39 doesn’t actually instruct us to literally bring our awareness to “whatever” or “what you will.” Patanjali is more specific than that and literally states that “… by meditating on a well-considered object of one’s choice, one attains steadiness of mind.” Whenever we focus-concentrate-meditate, that combined effort (samyama) will lead us somewhere; it will lead us towards the object, possible into absorption or the merging with the object. So, Patanjali cautions the practitioner to choose wisely, to pick something – something “well-considered” – that will lead one towards peace, balance, maybe in joy; something that will lead us, as gently as possible, closer to our goals and closer to the people around us. So, focus-concentrate-meditate on what you will; but with the full awareness that some objects will just create more confusion where there is already a lot of confusion.

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. 
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.”

 

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act II, scene ii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

There is a lot, and I mean, a lot of confusion in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What You Will. There’s confusion around identity, the state of twins, and who loves whom. Don’t get it twisted, people know who they are (inside and out), but people are disguised – and that often involves a little gender bending or reversal of “social norms.” Then, people fall in love with people who are in disguise; other people think they are loved (sometimes by someone in disguise); and still others try to fool someone into thinking someone loves them. I know, this all sounds really convoluted and confusing… because it is; it is intentionally so.

The confusion in Twelfth Night, or What You Will, results in much of the audience’s entertainment. But, let’s be real, sometimes even the audience is just as confused as the players. There’s just so much; kind of like the “Twelve Days of Christmas Song,” which sometimes gets confusing as we get closer to the end – especially if it is being sung in a round.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

 

– Orsino (Duke of Illyria) in Act I, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Depending on when you started counting the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” today is either the eleventh day or the twelfth day. According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles; and “twelve drummers drumming” for the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed.

I personally get “confused” – or, maybe a better word is flummoxed (in the sense of dumbfounded) – that the eleven “faithful” apostles are highlighted, but one of the key elements of the 12 points of doctrine is directly tied to the “unfaithful” servant. But, let me not jump ahead; because that just makes things more confusing. 

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” 

 

– Feste (the Countess Olivia’s servant, a jester) in Act III, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Going by the Western Christian tradition, tonight is either the Twelfth Night, or tomorrow night is the twelfth night. I know, still much confusion. One way to clear things up is to consider that Twelfth Night, or What You Will is often considered twelfth night entertainment for people awaiting a moment of “striking appearance.” Think of Scrooge being shown a twelfth night play by one of the ghosts: It is a way to spend some time, preparing, until it is time to see what one is prepared to see.

Although, for some, it is entertainment for the celebration after they have seen what they are prepared to see.

Still confused? That’s OK; we’re getting closer to clarity.

January 6th is Epiphany. It’s almost always Epiphany, also known as Theophany in some Eastern traditions, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). Also, In the Eastern Christian traditions that use the Julian calendar, January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

Clear as mud, right? Maybe this will help.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as an incarnation of God. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, and so the day is also known as “Three Kings Day.” Other traditions focus on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (during the Wedding at Cana).

“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” 

 

– Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s uncle) to Malvolio (Viola’s steward) in Act II, scene iii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

However one looks at it, Twelfth Night is directly tied to Epiphany. It marks the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Epiphanytide, which for some Christians rolls directly into Carnival or Mardi Gras season… or Shrovetide… or Ordinary Time – all of which leads to the Lenten season and, ultimately, to Holy Week and Easter (and then, for some, Pentecost). There are a lot of different cultural traditions associated with Twelfth Night celebrations, but many in the West center around caroling, feasting, and wassail (a mulled cider). Some people will wait until Twelfth Night to add the “Three Wise Men” (and even the little drummer boy) to their Nativity scene. Some people will share a “Three Kings” or Twelfth Night cake, which will have a coin or a baby figurine inside. The person who receives the “prizes” is considered extra blessed or lucky – and sometimes has to bring the cake the following year.

If you are not Christian, or are unfamiliar with why different Christian traditions have different customs, consider that the liturgical season is a way to tell the story of Jesus – and the story of God’s relationship with people, through a Christian lens. As with any good story – or any history – there are different perspectives and different narrators. Each tradition highlights the aspects of history in a way that helps people understand what is important to the faith.  

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

 

– Fabian (a servant for the Countess Olivia) in Act III, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, January 5th) 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 “01052021 and Twelfth Night” or “01052021 aka Twelfth Night”]

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

 

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

 

– Malvolio (a steward for the shipwrecked twins) in Act II, scene v of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

 

### BE GREAT, BE GRATEFUL, & BE NICE ###

For Those Who Missed It: The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push January 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone!

The following was originally posted in January of 2021. Class details have been updated.

 

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton proved that sometimes we all need a little push. At the age of 43, he published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which included his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and an expansion of Galileo Galilei’s observations and of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which were themselves modifications of the observations and heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus). There are several elements in the Principia that can apply to the physical practice of yoga (and to the practice of the Yoga Philosophy). However, the most direct application comes from the laws of motion, the first of which is also known as “The Law of Inertia.” We can see these principles at work just by observing a tension-free belly rising and falling as the breath enters and leaves the body.

We can go deeper with the mathematics and the science; but, just for a moment (maybe even 90-seconds) stick with the breath. Notice the Inhale, the pause, and the exhale…. Notice that third law kicking in….

Also, notice how the “force” of the breath, which is a symbol of our life and a symbol of our spirit, is an agent of change – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even energetically. Just as lengthening the breath and observation of the breath (which all can be described as prāņāyāma) change things when we are practicing on the mat, they can be an agent of change off the mat. We just have to pay attention and stay focused. But, paying attention, staying focused, and even breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out can be challenging in certain situations… especially situations involving challenging people.

“Thirdly, that I do justly value your excellent disquisitions, and I am extremely well pleased to see those notions promoted and improved which I long since began, but had not time to complete. That I judge you have gone farther in that affair much than I did, and that as I judge you cannot meet with any subject more worthy your contemplation, so believe the subject cannot meet with a fitter and more able person to inquire into it than yourself, who are every way accomplished to compleat [sic], rectify, and reform what were the sentiments of my younger studies, which I designed to have done somewhat at myself…. Your design and mine are, I suppose, at the same thing, which is the discovery of truth, and I suppose we can both endure to hear objections, so as they come not in a manner of open hostility, and have minds equally inclined to yield to the plainest deductions of reason from experiment.”

 

– quoted from a 1675-76 letter from Dr. Robert Hooke to Sir Isaac Newton, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

“I most gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concerns than that for truth; but what passes between friends in private, usually deserves the name of consultation rather than contention; and so I hope it will prove between you and me….

 

But in the mean time, you defer too much to my ability in searching into this subject. What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in considering the colours of thin plates. If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

 

– quoted from a letter marked “Cambridge, February 5, 1675-76” from Sir Isaac Newton to Dr. Robert Hooke, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

One might think when first reading the polite words and oh so charming letters between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton that theirs was a destined to be a friendship like that between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you have never heard of Hooke, that their correspondence was more akin to that of the epistles between Rainer Maria Rilke and the 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, whereby the world becomes overly familiar with the work of one because of their letters – and, in some ways this would be true. Along with Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, as well as John Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (the first two designated Astronomer Royal (whose observations Newton used in the Principia), Dr. Robert Hooke could be considered one of Sir Isaac Newton’s “giants.” But don’t get it twisted; Hooke and Newton were not “besties.” If anything, they could best be described as each other’s master teachers and precious jewels.

I often reference “master teachers and precious jewels” as people who push our buttons and get us hooked; people who give us master classes on ourselves; and/or people who add value to our life experience (even as they drive us crazy). These are the naysayers, the antagonists, the doubters, and our own personal heretics. They are the ones who never believe we can do something; hardly every give us credit when we do it (see Hooke and Newton, above); sometimes claim the credit for their own (also see above); and just seem to make everything harder. We can look at them as obstacles, road blocks, and detours on our journey towards our goals – or we can look at them as teachers. We can borrow a page from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and look at them as “the way.” Or, to paraphrase Stacy Flowers, we can look at them as the coach.

Stacey Flowers is a motivational speaker, mother, and “eternal optimist” who gave a 2016 Tedx Talk about “The 5 People You Need to Be Happy” (cheerleader, mentor, coach, friend, and peer). After last year, we might think of them as the five people who keep us grounded and focused. The way she counted them out, each finger was very intentionally chosen as a symbol for the role each person would play in someone’s life. For the coach, the one whose job is to push us farther than we think we can go and consider possibilities that seem outside of our arena, she uses the middle finger (which in some, but not all, cultures is a major league insult). The correspondence between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton are basically them giving each other the finger – without which some advancement in science might not have been made at the time.

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

Hooke and Newton’s debate about the existence and characteristics of ether and the nature of light started in a very public, and very acrimonious, fashion. There was some shift, between the public and private discourse; however, in that Hooke went from publicly stating that Newton basically stole his ideas to acknowledging how Newton continued his ideas. Meanwhile, Newton went from publicly giving Hooke no credit for the premise of the ideas – and, also, stating that Hooke’s conclusion “seems itself impossible” and was based on “both experiment and demonstration to the contrary” – to privately (in his letter) acknowledging Hooke’s contributions. But, again, this shift only seemed to be in private. In public, the disputes continued even past Hooke’s death. These disputes, along with disputes the good doctor had with other scientists, allowed Newton (and others) to paint a very negative picture of Hooke’s character.

Sir Isaac Newton also, reportedly (and as indicated above), had a contentious character. He is remembered, however, for his work. On the other hand, Robert Hooke is infamous for his plethora disputes with other scientists (in a lot of different disciplines) – and many of those debates seem to be directly tied to Hooke trying to multitask. But, no matter how much some might want to consider him a waste of space, his disputes actually contributed to the advancement of scientific discovery. In part, perhaps because they were all members of The Royal Society of London (and, therefore, dedicated to “improving natural knowledge”), the others never completely disregarded Hooke’s insights and hypothesis. Instead, they continued the inquiry. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but there seems to be little cognitive dissonance on the part of those with whom Hooke quarreled, because everyone was constantly running experiments and make observations in an effort to find proof of the truth – or maybe just to prove Hooke wrong.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

On some level, we all know someone like Dr. Robert Hooke. We might even be someone else’s Dr. Hooke. Either way, consider how you feel when you encounter that person who pushes your buttons and/or is constantly telling you that you are wrong – or, sometimes (even worse), that person who refuses to see that they are wrong. Ani Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, describes a tightening that happens when we get “hooked.” We don’t all feel it in the exact same place and in the exact same way, and the intensity may vary; but we all know that feeling. The question is: Do we always notice that feeling? Second question: Do we notice the beginning of the sensation or only when it is about to go nuclear (meaning our sympathetic nervous system is all systems go to fight, flee, or freeze)? Finally, what do we do when we recognize that feeling?

Ani Chödrön specifically recommends practicing the “4 R’s;” while others might just say, “Stop and breathe for a moment.” Either way, taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening (how we are reacting) and giving ourselves an opportunity to respond rather than react can be the difference between someone’s negativity being an obstacle versus becoming a way for us to continue moving forward. That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between succeeding in our goals (like Sir Isaac Newton) and failing to follow through on all our goals (like Dr. Robert Hooke). That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between making our way through (or around) an obstacle and being stuck.

What I’m saying is that that metaphorical push can be the force we need to make the change we want. This is especially true after last year and the negative energy that has followed us into this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting anyone actually push you around – not even in a metaphorically sense and definitely not in a physical, emotional, and/or energetic sense. But, I do think it is important to acknowledge that we all push and pull each other on a certain level, because we are all forces of nature. While we may welcome, even solicit, a little push from someone we see as a mentor, friend, and/or peer; we may not always appreciate the shove from “the coach” we didn’t ask to coach us. Always remember, though, that there are many ways we can utilize a contentious relationships. Or, more specifically, there are many ways we can benefit from noticing how we react or respond to contentious relationships in our lives and in our practice.

Just consider, for a moment, how you (physically and mentally) react to the following:

When going by the Gregorian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was born today (January 4th) in 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. As a scientist and a man of letters, Newton would have been fully aware of the Gregorian calendar, which Catholic-ruled lands started using in 1582 and Protestant German states in 1699. However, he lived his whole life officially using the Julian calendar (because England and it’s colonies did not switch until 1752, 25 or 26 years after Newton’s death). If you go by the Old Style, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day – a fact that really got some people hot (as in pissed) when it was pointed out on Twitter a few years back.

Speaking of Christmas, today (January 4th) is the 10th or 11th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; and “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 4th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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

 

Who are your five people?

 

### (Don’t even get me started about….) ###

Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

*

‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

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

"Observe"

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


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

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

AND/OR

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Reflect"

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

 

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

### NAMASTE ###

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

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

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve

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

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

 

Saturday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Coming Soon: An Every Day Ritual

 

### OM AUM ###

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

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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah

 

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

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

“‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew.

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

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