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It’s the Little Things, again (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing the Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 14th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.”

– quoted from “Preparing for Rosh Hashana: The secret to an inspiring new year” by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Just as you can’t jump up off the coach and run a marathon, without some training, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon once pointed out that the desire for a deep spiritual connection requires some preparation. The means he mentioned included introspection, meditation, and prayer – all methods also mentioned in other traditions, including in Indian philosophies like yoga. A lot of people, however, aren’t familiar with all 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy; they just know about the two limbs that form the postural practice: āsana and prāņāyāma. But, just practicing those two little things can take you deeper into the overall practice and help cultivate big connections.

In many ways, hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is all about little things and about bringing awareness to the little things. The way we sit or stand determines how we breathe; the way we breathe in different positions determines how we feel. When we bring our awareness to how we feel we can go deeper into the pose as well as into ourselves. It all starts with little things. Little things, like how we place our hands or engage our core, can make the difference between going deeper into a pose and deeper into ourselves versus getting injured. Although, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from getting injured; but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday’s story was all about how using the practice to notice little things, can give us insight into why we think the way we think and do (and say) the things we do (and say) – on and off the mat. For instance, next time you’re on the mat, give yourself the opportunity to notice these “little things” – one at a time and then all together:

  1. Make sure your legs are in a position that’s comfortable for low back and arms in a position that’s comfortable for neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out.
  3. Notice the “L” of your hands, especially when you have weight in your hands and arms. (In grade school you might have learned that one “L” on your forehead means loser, but if you put two “L”s together you have a shot at a goal; if you tip the ends out, you have a “W” – which means winner.)
  4. For a vinyāsa practice, match the movement to the breath. For all practices, notice the natural internal movement that happens as you breathe.
  5. Press your shoulders down and squeeze the tips of your shoulder blades together. Notice how the engagement in the back body affects the front of the body.
  6. Engage the inside (starting at your feet and engage your core by squeezing into your midline).
  7. Focus on something that’s not moving so that your mind-body stays present. Remember, where your eyes go, your mind goes; where your mind goes, your body goes – especially in a balancing pose.
  8. SMILE!
  9. Notice what happens when you put it all together.
  10. Change your perspective and look at things in a slightly different way. (If you are working on a peak and/or advanced pose, practice a pose that looks and feels similar and, therefore, may require similar engagement.)
  11. Don’t panic! Be present and trust your practice in this moment.

Tuesday’s practice also featured this personal story from Rabbi Yaakov Salomon. It’s a story about little things and is a great reminder that while we may not always notice the little things until they become the big things, the little things matter. In fact, every little thing we feel, think, say, and do is the possibility of a big thing we’re in the habit of feeling, thinking, saying, or doing.

The following was originally posted on September 14, 2020. The playlist links have been added.

“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. Such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered samskaras in the yoga philosophy. While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know, is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including those deeply embedded habits known as samskaras.

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###

It’s The Little Things, again (mostly the music) September 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

” Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.”

 

– Dr. Ivan Pavlov (originally born September 14, 1849)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 14th) 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.)

 

### HOW DO YOU RESPOND? ###

Repeating The Echo: The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This was originally posted as “The Cagey Truth About Nothing” on September 5, 2020. Today’s class details have been updated.

“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians – who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

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

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 5th) 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. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

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.)

Pure Cage

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

 

John Cage

 

### UNCAGED ###

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### 🎶 ###

More Than 46664 (the “missing” Sunday post, with a reference to Monday’s practice) July 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Eid al-Adha Mubarak!” “Blessed Eid!” to those who are observing. May your faith and love bring peace.

[This is a “missing” post related to Sunday, July 18th – with a reference to the practice on Monday, July 19th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

– Pema Chödrön

Last week, as I started talking about Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings on shenpa, I started thinking about vibration. Remember that shenpa can be translated as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. It is simultaneously a feeling, a thought, and the impetus to do something. It is vedanā – and this is why I’ve been thinking about vibration.

Vedanā is a Sanskrit word that has many different English translations. Without any subtext or cultural context (which is actually quite interesting), it can be translated as “sensation” or “feeling.” However, in Buddhist traditions it is also translated as “pain.” One ancient text even points out that we are sensational beings in that “Feeling accompanies every citta [mind-stuff], there is no moment without feeling.” When the word appears in ancient yoga texts, it has been translated into English as “divine [or transcendental] touch,” “supernatural touch,” and “sensation springing from contact of the six senses of the world.” When I first learned of the word, it was translated as “sensation,” “feeling,” or “vibration.”

I know, I know; that’s a lot of different meanings. While we may have different feelings or understandings of the English words, the common thread between the different translations is that they all refer to embodied experiences that simultaneously arise with thoughts (and thoughts that simultaneously arise with embodied experiences). When we get down to the nitty-gritty, they also all refer to things that create a reaction in the mind-body. In other words, vedanā is a physiological, mental, and emotional reaction to something – or, more specifically, to everything.

In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collect information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

Keep in mind that our thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. Therefore, our perception and/or feelings about something can be magnified by our thoughts and our thoughts can be magnified by our perceptions and/or feelings.

I know, I know; it can get a little chicken-or-the-egg and. To be honest, though, the practice isn’t really about identifying the ultimate source of a particular sensation or vibration – because we already know the (ultimate) source. The real practice begins by recognizing sensation, thoughts/feelings, and vibrations as they arise and then bringing awareness to how we react to what’s arising. As we move through our practice – on or off the mat or cushion – we also have the opportunity to notice that because our mind-body reacts and responds to vibration, we can change our mood, demeanor, and even our thoughts by changing the vibrations or sensations within us and around us.

“Our emotional energy converts into biological matter through a very highly complex process.  Just as radio stations operate according to specific energy wavelengths, each organ in the body is calibrated to absorb and process specific emotional and psychological energies.  That is, each area of the body transmits energy on a specific, detailed frequency and when we are healthy, all are ‘in tune.’ An area of the body that is not transmitting at its normal frequency indicates the location of a problem. A change in intensity of the frequency indicates a change in the nature and seriousness of the illness and reveals the stress pattern that has contributed to the development of the illness.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1 – Energy Medicine and Intuition: Reading the Field” in Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss, Ph.D.

We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we move our bodies and “get our juices flowing.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we decide we don’t want to be around someone’s “negative energy” or we do want to be around someone because “they’re so positive.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we find a quiet spot to be still – maybe to meditate, maybe to pray. We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we play music, “sweet music.”

There have been lots of studies around the vibrational effects of sound and the benefits of music therapy. There are even on-going debates about frequencies and which ones are best for optimal health versus which ones are best to incite a riot. There’s even Nada Yoga – union achieved through sound – which is a practice that predates Western research. Mantra, kirtan, and spiritual chanting from a variety of cultures and religious communities all utilize sound as a way to connect to a higher power – and, in doing so, change the physical-mental experience of the person engaged in the practice. Even if we do not engage in the aforementioned spiritual and/or religious, we have experienced the power of music. So, recently, when thinking about things that get us hooked and unhooked, I started thinking about music.

“Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice. Such is the value of music.”

 

– Nelson Mandela speaking to musicians at a Freedom Day concert in London

As I mentioned last year, Nelson Mandela (born July 18, 1918) lived more than four lives in one lifetime. While his overall fortitude was inspirational, it is interesting to note that one of the things that inspired him and kept him going, especially in prison, was music. Apparently, he was such a fan of music that people spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out his favorite songs and his favorite musicians. While the award-winning South African journalist Charl Blignaut reported, in 2013, that “Mandela didn’t want to show favouritism[,]” Madiba clearly had eclectic taste ranging from classical music to rock and jazz music, to fusion music and “the traditional Xhosa songs he heard as he was growing up.”

In 1984, the British 2 Tone and ska band The Specials (also known as “The Special AKA”) released the song “Free Nelson Mandela,” which peaked at number 9 on UK Singles chart, number 1 on the New Zealand chart, and became a popular anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The song was re-recorded in 1988 and immediately made its way back on the charts – as it did again in 2013. Similar to Stevie Wonder’s 1980 gold-certified “Happy Birthday” – which got people rallied around the idea that there should be a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Free Nelson Mandela” was a catchy, highly danceable tune that felt more like a celebration than a protest. Both songs raised awareness and created movement that energized and heightened the power of preexisting movements.

Even though a holiday had been proposed in the U. S. soon after King’s death in 1968, and even though it came up again and again over the years, within two years of the song’s release (and a petition driven by the song) President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law that created a federal holiday. While it took longer than a couple of years for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison and more than a couple of years before apartheid ended in South Africa, it only took a few weeks for it to be a regular part of dance parties at Oxford and rallies in places like Germany.

The success of “Free Nelson Mandela” inspired the creation of other songs. In 1987, Hugh Masekela released “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), another up tempo song. That same year, the racially integrated (and multi-culturally inspired) band Savuka released Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga (Mandela)” – which was a bit of an elegy that honored several anti-apartheid activists. Both songs were taken up as rallying cries by activists, but Mr. Masekela’s song – with its imagery of Nelson Mandela “walking down the streets of South Africa” without a walk zone or a war zone – was banned by the South African government until the end of apartheid.

While he was in prison, the future president of South Africa often smuggled out messages of appreciation to people like Hugh Masekela. Once he was released, Nelson Mandela had the opportunity to publicly dance to the songs that had inspired him and the world. Think, for a moment, how that must have felt for him – and for the musicians, not mention all the people witnessing that exchange of sensation.

I can’t help but wonder if Nelson Mandela imagined those moments – conjured up the sensations of those moments – before he was freed. I wonder if he sat in prison and imagined himself drinking a little something associated with celebrations, and rites of passages (like a young man’s home-coming) while he listened to one of his favorite musicians sing about that “magic beer.” Can you imagine what that would feel like?

Can you imagine how such feelings could keep a person going in the middle of hardship?

“During apartheid, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela once summoned Yvonne Chaka Chaka to her Soweto home to deliver a note and a message from her husband in prison on Robben Island.

‘It was just a note to say “your music keeps us, your fathers, alive in jail”,’ the Princess of Africa told me earlier this year. I asked her if Madiba ever told her what song of hers he enjoyed most.

‘Umqombothi,’ she replied. It remains her most popular track.”

– quoted from the 12 Dec 2013 City Press article, “Who was Mandela’s favourite singer?” by Charl Blignaut

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

– quoted from the January 13, 1898 L’Aurore essay, “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola (who fled France on July 19, 1898)

You can read more about Nelson Mandela, from a philosophical perspective, in last year’s post. You could also check out the post from July 19, 2020 and consider what music would keep you centered, grounded, and focused if you were accused of something quite horrible.

### WHAT ARE YOU FEELING – & HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL? ###

How Do You Respond? September 14, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. Such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered samskaras in the yoga philosophy. While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know, is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including those deeply embedded habits known as samskaras.

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

For months now, we have been developing habits we may or may not have intended to cultivate. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 14th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice, where we will consider the process of forming (and changing) habits.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###

The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians – who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

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

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

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.

Pure Cage

 

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

 

John Cage

 

### UNCAGED ###

.

So Much Suffering, on a Monday the 13th April 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

 

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

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

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”) was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man was being beaten; he was 80 when G-d in the form of the burning bush commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people; and, subsequently, when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people. He was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

 

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He goes on to describe how to afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he describes exactly what he means by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gives examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggests (YS 1.33) is to offer loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali offers physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation; this is the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, which outlines the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It also may help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.'”

 

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / Job 1.20-21)

 

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. The Book of Job takes place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Price Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. It is the story of a man who endures great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there is a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering is alleviated and the way in which he endures the suffering is rewarded.

Job clings to his faith, believes that G-d is always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ Timshel (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translates G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – illustrates this same principle.

Yesterday, I finished class by quoting Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily. Even though this week marks the end of Passover and takes us into Vaisakhi (in the Sikh tradition) and Ridvan (in the Hindu tradition), this is also the Holy Week or Passion Week in the Orthodox Christian traditions and so I’m going to end with that same bit of the Easter vigil homily.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality.  They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

 

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

 

If you are interested and available, please join me for the virtual Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 13th), 5:30 PM – 6:45 PM. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules”calendar if you run into any problems. There is no music for this practice.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can offer yourself “small gestures of care, affection and prayer,” please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now (viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is definitely a small gesture of care, affection, and prayer!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 13th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 13th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 13th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 13th Practice

 

### AMEN, SELAH ###

 

 

 

The Virtue of Patience April 11, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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PATI [Latin, “suffer” > Late Latin, passio > Old French …> Middle English, PASSION]

PATI [Latin, “suffer”> Latin, patientia, “suffering”> Old French…> Middle English, PATIENCE]

– Etymology (the origin and meaning history) of the words “passion” and “patience”

Ask almost anyone, their family, and their friends if the original person is patient and you will often receive very divergent answers. There are people who cultivate patience, people who practice patience, and people who seem naturally patient. Then there’s everyone else. Or so it seems. The truth, when it comes to patience can be a little more nuanced than a single answer. It turns out we have different definitions / understandings of patience. Furthermore, our ability to be patient has as much (maybe more) to do with our situation (not to mention our neurobiology and perspective) than with our personality or habits.

Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in the brain that sustains healthy brain and nerve function. Although it is a neurotransmitter, which helps relay signals in the brain, 90% of a person’s serotonin supply is found in the digestive track and in blood platelets. Too much or too little can affect our brain function (especially memory and learning), our overall mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and (on a certain level) engagement with the world. Too much or too little serotonin can adversely affect our cardiovascular system, muscles, endocrine system, and digestive system.

Studies indicate that next time you’re “hangry,” instead of blaming the person (or situation) pushing your buttons, you could blame your serotonin levels. You could also, however, consider your expectations.

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Christopher Bergland described McDonald’s struggling with the “patience effect” when drive-thru customers didn’t realize their longer wait time was resulting in a higher quality burger. He also pointed out how Heinz struggled with people being irritated by how long it took ketchup to come out of an old-fashioned glass bottle back in the 70’s. Neither company changed their process. Instead, both companies overcame their issues with ad campaigns that changed customers’ expectations and, in the process, customers’ patience.

“Mice in a lab aren’t much different than humans waiting at the drive-thru or for ketchup to dispense from an old glass bottle. In a recent experiment, researchers pinpointed the role that serotonin plays in “the patience effect” depending on the confidence a mouse has that it’s worth waiting a few extra seconds for a delayed food reward…. the researchers found that stimulating serotonin production made the mice willing to wait for a food reward if they knew there was at least a 75% chance of being fed after waiting a maximum of 10 seconds. When the odds of receiving the food reward slipped below this threshold, serotonin failed to increase patience. ‘The patience effect only works when the mouse thinks there is a high probability of reward,’ [ Dr. Katsuhiko] Miyazaki said in a statement.

The main takeaway from this research is that the link between serotonin levels and subsequent behavior appears to be highly dependent on a mouse’s subjective confidence in an expected outcome.”

– Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist

 

Much of what’s happening in the world right now results in experiences that feel like our serotonin levels are out of whack. And that’s not a coincidence – especially when you consider the role emotional and social support play in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. To add insult to injury, unlike the people in the drive-thru, the people with the old-fashioned ketchup bottle, or the mice, we have no real expectations of when our patience will be rewarded. So, frustration – and suffering – increases.

Once again, we are caught in a feedback loop; because, studies show negative thought patterns, hostility, and irritability result in decreased health (including serotonin levels), which in turn causes us to experience an increase in negative thoughts, hostility, and irritability. There is hope, however.

Dr. Simon N Young, in 2007 Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article reviewing neuroscience research, pointed out “alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism” and hypothesized that it could also increase serotonin levels, He also highlighted the fact that exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) and bright lights can increase serotonin levels. Finally, he pointed to a third and fourth “strategy” for increasing serotonin levels: exercise and diet.

Four ways, right here, that you can do today!

  1. cultivate positive thoughts (maybe through meditation, hint, hint);
  2. step into the bright lights, baby;
  3. exercise (yoga, anyone?);
  4. and be mindful of what you eat.

If you’re available, please join me today (Saturday, April 11th), Noon – 1:30 PM for a live yoga practice on Zoom. The “04112020 LSPW” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. My only request is that you let go of some expectations.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, regular loving-kindness meditation can improve your mood (hint, hint below). This type of Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute prior to the pandemic. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana – and a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 11th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 11th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 11th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 11th Practice

### BE WELL ###

Something Good…On Friday April 10, 2020

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“You ain’t got no kind of feeling inside
I got something that will sho’ ’nuff set your stuff on fire
You refuse to put anything before your pride
What I got will knock all your pride aside”

 

– “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

 

For the first time in 11 years, I am not teaching on Good Friday. For the first time in 11 years, I am teaching on Easter. It’s a little surreal and bittersweet. Because, while I know some people appreciate a yoga practice that essentially mirrors the Via Dolorosa and walks through the Stations of the Cross; I also know it’s a little much for some folks. Every year, someone asks me if I’m going to do the Good Friday theme and, every year, someone thanks me and says that it’s meaningful, which is good.

Most people think of the word “good” in the modern context, as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome. Non-Christians have a hard time understanding why the day associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus would be considered good. It becomes more obvious when you go a little deeper.

In the Old Testament time, the time in which Jesus lived, saying something was “good” meant that something was meaningful, it had a purpose. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is recognized as the Messiah, the Christ, the one who heralds and ushers in an era of peace and salvation. He serves his purpose, because he lives, suffers, is crucified, dies, is buried, and rises – in order for sins to be forgiven. There is no passion, no crucifixion, no death, no burial, nor resurrection, however, without the betrayal. Implying that the betrayal and Judas, by extension, are good, because they are meaningful (and have a purpose) is one of the things that gets me into trouble.

“And God saw that it was good.”

 

– Words that appear 7 times in the Creation Story found in Bereish’t /Genesis

 

Every year, with the exception of last year, someone complains to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It doesn’t matter that the complaint often comes up in a class where I’ve also told the Passover story. It doesn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It’s always Passion Week that causes someone to say that what I teach and the why I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, people will sometimes tell me that I made them uncomfortable (or even touched them) because of something that was personal only to them. Yoga can be very healing, but in the process it can bring up a lot of trauma. Religion, specifically religious fanaticism, has caused a lot of harm in the history of the world; so it is not surprising that some folks would be upset to hear me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice – especially if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes through management and it always involves Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“That they all may be one. (John 17:21)”

 

 – YMCA motto adopted, along with the “Paris Basis,” by international delegates at the First World Conference of the YMCA, 1855

 

I would like to think that I’ve become a little wiser and a little more conscious as a teacher. I definitely appreciate feedback and take it into consideration. That said, I still teach the themes I teach. I still teach with the understanding that everyone doesn’t believe what I believe. I still teach with the understanding that even when I teach from a historical, philosophical, and conceptual perspective, some people will think I am of a certain faith and have a religious agenda.

I hate breaking it to y’all, but I’m neither Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Daoist, Hindu, Wiccan, Pagan, nor any number of things you might have considered. But, I do have an agenda.

“Yoga” means union. Throughout the 8-Limb philosophy there is a recognition of and belief in something Divine – G-d. Whatever that means to you at this moment, it is simultaneously that and not that (neti, neti). The end goal of the philosophy is sometimes referred to as “union with the Divine.” That, however, does not mean – or does not only mean – union with an anthropomorphic being. It does, however, mean a state of awareness and existence that understands how everything and everyone is connected. Being connected, working together, that is yoga. Being intentional about our thoughts, words, and deeds, because what we think, say, and do affects everything and everyone around us, that is part of the practice. As a yogi, that’s my agenda: yoga.

“We talk of becoming one with God and many seekers are looking to reach higher spiritual levels, but first we must unify the different parts of ourselves. To see that we are complex beings, often with apparent internal contradictions, but this too is also a form of oneness. Understanding the Divine begins by first understanding ourselves.”

 

– from the introduction to The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment, by Marcus J. Freed

While I am not teaching on Good Friday this year, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in the Orthodox Christian traditions and this Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions and Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Christian traditions). I’m not sure how things will work on Sunday. I haven’t even decided how I will hold space for the practice. But, I would love for you to join me on Zoom, Saturday (12:00 PM – 1:30 PM) and/or Sunday (2:30 PM – 3:35 PM). Playlists will be available on YouTube and Spotify.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, I offer you a little taste of my personal practice (see meditation below) and a little peek at what’s to come (see Kiss My Asana “flashbacks” below). Stay tuned for a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

METTA MEDITATION (with relationships):

Prior to the quarantine, Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

 

KISS MY ASANA YOGATHON:

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

I know you wanna Kiss My Asana!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 10th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 10th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 10th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 10th Practice

 

### STAY WELL ###