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The Power of a Good Story April 15, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week, Great Lent, or Passover! “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. 

This chapter-length post, related to the last few days of Holy Week or Passion Week and the beginning of Passover, is a combination of several revised posts from previous years, with some additional context. In addition to the quotes, there are additional section headings (in color) you can use to break up your reading time. You can request an audio recording of any of the pre-recorded 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.)

Remember, there is no class this Sunday.

“And God saw that it was good.”

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

Tov is a Hebrew word that means “good.” At the beginning of the Torah (also the Christian Old Testament), God defines something as “good” when it is useful and serving its purpose. In our physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, we want every pose to be “good” in this way. However, in a modern context – when we think of the word “good” as something that as desired, approved, right, pleasing, and welcome – we can find ourselves in a bit of a quandary, when we don’t know what we’re doing. On the mat, that quandary may mean we’re doing poses without understanding how they serve or benefit us – and then doing them in a way that means we’re not getting all the benefits. It could also mean doing poses and sequences for the wrong reasons. Off the mat, that quandary can result in us doing things that have lost their meaning.

I often point to the fact that there was a time when everything people did had meaning. Over time, as people got further away from the meaning, rituals became traditions – things people did just because their ancestors did them. When those traditions lose meaning, they just become things people say. There are some rituals and traditions that have their meanings baked into the practice; however, even then, people sometimes don’t really understand the meaning. Then, too, things can get even more confusing when cultures overlap and suddenly people are witnessing practices they don’t understand – because they don’t know the meaning.

These kinds of perplexing situations happen a lot in the Spring, when all the major religions and philosophies have significant observations and celebrations that overlap. This can get ever more confusing when, for instance, people outside of Judaism wonder why there’s a celebration associated with a time of so much suffering and non-Christians have a hard time understanding how the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week can be simultaneously associated with the trial, persecution, crucifixion, and death of Jesus and also good. It’s a bit of a conundrum… until you go a little deeper.

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE…

PLEASE NOTE: This next portion, revised from April 2020, involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.

“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

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– quoted from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb (on April 11, 2020). One was from a friend, sharing the Sarah Kendzior quote (above). The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way.

On Friday 15, 2022, people all over the the world will be beginning the third week of the holy month of Ramadān; celebrating Good Friday (in the Western Christian traditions); getting ready for Holy Saturday (on April 16th, in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions); and, at sunset, beginning Passover. Then, there’s Easter Sunday (in the Western Christian traditions), which this year is also Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions. It is also the time, in the Jewish traditions, that people begin Counting the Omer. Oh, and then there are people who will celebrate Easter and Passover, and maybe even start Counting the Omer. Plus, outside of the Abrahamic religions, there are millions more who will celebrate Hanuman Jayanti, also on the 16th. When you consider that these observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keeping in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

If we just stick with the Abrahamic religions for a moment, remember that Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and, therefore, Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four gospels indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originated within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus met the qualifications. According to most Jews, he did not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

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– quoted from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this: The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:12)

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“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

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– quoted from Shemot – Exodus (3:14)

In the Exodus story, while the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt, G-d commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the Jews be released. Moses had an interesting backstory and was, in some ways, the perfect person to be the (human) hero of the story. However, he was humble to the point of lacking confidence and ended up asking his brother Aaron to come along on the mission. When their show of power didn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone was subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it was not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffered. The Jews, who were already suffering the hardship of slavery, also had to endure the additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families were told to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They were also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happened in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial spoke to Moses and Moses asked for G-d’s identity, Moses was told three times that the One who spoke was the One who would always be with Moses and the Jewish people. Regardless of what they experience, Rashi explained, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.7 – 8) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time) was, and future Christians are, kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he was betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously was not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb was opened and there was some confusion about what had happened, Jesus was essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, were either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to John (3:16, NIV)

IT’S ALL TOV

Portions of the following were originally posted in April 2021.

The rituals related to the aforementioned observations emphasize a specific order of events and how a story is told through the order of events. In the case of Passover, the story of Exodus is told through the symbolic elements of the Passover Seder. The Seder (which means “order” or “arrangement”) moves through 15 steps, including “The Four Questions” that lead to the telling of the story. It’s a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a dinner party wrapped in a children’s bedtime story disguised as a tradition.

For Good Friday, many Christians move through the Stations of the Cross, a visual pilgrimage of Jesus’ last moments. The earliest “Way of the Cross” or “Way of Sorrows” artwork and the Scriptural Way of the Cross (introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday 1991, and approved by Pope Benedict in 2007) depict 14 scenes or “steps,” ending with Jesus being laid in the tomb. The Resurrection is often considered to be the 15th Station of the Cross. (NOTE: The Resurrection is the 14th Station according to the “New Way of the Cross” in the Philippines; however, this version is different from the previous mentioned versions.) The art is meant to mirror Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Sorrow/Pain”) in Jerusalem, the actual path Jesus would have taken to Mount Calvary. So, when people “move through the Stations of the Cross” it is a ritual pilgrimage wrapped in a walking tour wrapped in a children’s picture book disguised as traditional art.

Within the Jewish community, the sacred ritual of Counting the Omer begins on the second day of Passover. This is a period of 49 days, a total of 7 weeks, leading up to Shavuot (also known as the “Festival of Weeks”) – which itself is a commemoration of the Jewish people receiving the Torah. Commonly associated with Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), the practice of Counting the Omer involves 7 of the 10 attributes of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life. Each day is associated with a different attribute, as is each week – which means that for 49 days people are focusing-concentrating-meditating on the interrelation of two attributes. Since each attribute is associated with a different part of the body, and some people combine a physical component, it’s a ritual exercise wrapped in a mystical meditation  disguised as a 49-day perspective changing challenge.

Coincidentally – or, perhaps, divinely intentionally – this year’s celebrations of Easter (in Western Christianity) and Palm Sunday (in Eastern Orthodox Christianity) – which, again, are all about the power of G-d’s love – overlap the second night and day of Passover, which is also the beginning of Counting the Omer, when people focus on “Love/Lovingkindness in Love/Lovingkindness.”

All of the religious rituals above traditionally involve prayers, which I do not include in the practices. However, if you are religious and observing there’s always an opportunity to pray as you feel is appropriate. If you are not religious and/or are not familiar with the stories, you can think of what I offer as a history lesson wrapped in a little svādhyāya (“self-study) disguised as a physical yoga practice… or you could ignore what comes up for you and just decide I’m stepping out of my lane.

SOMETHING GOOD… ON FRIDAY

Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020.

“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”

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– quoted from the song “Tell Me Something Good” by Chaka Khan and Rufus

2020 was the first time in 11 years that I did not teaching on Good Friday. It was also the first time in 11 years, that I taught on Easter. It was (and still is) a little surreal and bittersweet. 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.

Getting back to that idea of the Friday of Holy Week / Passion Week being good, remember that in Christian traditions 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.

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.9) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9) by Jack Hawley

Every year that I taught at the YMCA, with the exception of 2019, someone complained to the YMCA management about one of my Passion Week classes. It didn’t matter that the complaint often came up in a class where I also told the Passover story. It didn’t matter that throughout the year, I talk about a variety of religions and religious observations. It was always Passion Week that caused someone to say that what I teach and the way I teach are not appropriate.

Keep in mind, it’s still very common for people to 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 hearing me talking about a religious practice during a yoga practice is upsetting to some. It’s especially not surprising or unexpected if they are not familiar with the history and original intention of the philosophy. On the religious front, though, the complaint always goes went through management and it always involved Christianity and Passion Week. The irony is not lost on me that these classes were always at the Young Men’s Christian Association. (As a side note, outside of the YMCA, I have had someone complain that Judaism came up a lot throughout the year.)

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

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 – 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 someone who practices the philosophy, 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.”

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

This year, 2022, I am not teaching on Good Friday or Easter Sunday (which is Easter in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions, Palm Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions, and Hanuman Jayanti). However, I am teaching on what is considered Lazarus Saturday in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I will also send out pre-recorded practices to anyone on the Friday or Sunday lists.

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) followed by Meghan G’s Good Friday message, which was part of my 202 Kiss My Asana offering. Yes, yes, the annual yogathon where we “do yoga, share yoga, and help others” is coming next week.

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.

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ONCE MORE MORE WITH FEELING

This excerpt was part of a 2020 Kiss My Asana offering.

In my Good Friday post, I alluded to some people who would miss my Good Friday class. One of those people that immediately came to mind was Meghan G (who some of you will remember as Yogi #12: The Fixer during Kiss My Asana 2016). When I requested stories for Kiss My Asana 2020, Meghan G sent me the following Good Friday story:

“My story has happened quite recently. On Good Friday, just last week, I was feeling so disconnected from my faith community of Saint Joan of Arc, my yoga community Downtown YMCA Friday night yogis and really the whole human community.  Every tradition or ritual that I/we have grounds me in the meaning of Holy Week was uprooted.  Holy Week, and Good Friday contemporary stations of the cross in particular, is one of the most sacred times of the year.  It almost felt to me that day as though it was being ignored.

In an effort to stop the downward spiral of disconnectedness, I sought out Saint Joan of Arc’s Good Friday celebration on video, posted on the website.  I had tried to worship this way on Holy Thursday, but found myself distracted, multi-tasking and unfulfilled by the experience.  So this Friday I decided to stop the swirling in my mind I would lead myself through a series of poses to calm and focus my mind.  Myra had prepared me well for this.  As I listened to the Stations of the Cross and the familiar music and stories from my faith community I progressed through a series of poses that were also as familiar and soothing as the service.  I was able to connect Jesus’s suffering on the cross with the greater suffering in our world right now (and always) and feel again a part of the human community.

Thank you, Myra, for teaching me over the years to do yoga as you do life…with intention and love. Happy Easter, Meghan”

Thanks, again, Meghan!

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“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.6) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

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[NOTE: As much as I am able, I like to highlight the quotes with a good color, i.e., a meaningful color. Today that color is black, for those who know.]

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### “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt” (John 1:5) ###

The Power of Being Ready to Fulfill Your Purpose (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) April 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Lent, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent!

This post-practice post for Monday, April 11th. Some of the following appeared in posts from 2019 and 2020, but there are quite a few new bits for some fresh context. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma. This ultrahigh level of duty carries with it the requirement that one never does anything that is contrary to this True Self Within. And even if you consider your sva-dharma more narrowly from the standpoint of being true to your profession, you should not hesitate to fight. For a warrior, war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty.”

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.31) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sacred texts from a variety of different cultures, tell us that everyone has a purpose. However, even if you don’t believe the old adage, science has shown that people who live a purpose driven life have better physical and mental health and stronger resilience than their peers. It’s a bit of a cycle: we need our mind-body-spirit to fulfill a purpose and fulfilling the purpose strengthens our mind-body-spirit so that we are better equipped to fulfill the purpose.

Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. Sometimes other people’s opinions about what we’re doing (or not doing) can also be like those things we do – or don’t do – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs; not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though; at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.

“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside”

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– quoted from the song “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant (or Adam and the Ants)

Some of y’all may be thinking, “Aren’t you like the embodiment of that Adam Ant song?” Well, sometimes I do feel like that. And, yes, I do a lot of yoga and meditation with an emphasis on letting things go that no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean, however, that other people’s opinions never affect me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever internalize external judgement or spend way too much time and energy justifying my existence and/or presence in certain spaces.

Neither does it mean that I don’t have my vices. I have a bit of a sweet tooth (cue the laughter from my friends) and while I endeavor to stick to really good quality chocolate, or pastries without a lot of preservatives, I have been known – not often, but occasionally – to grab what’s handy. And then, the suffering ensues. Because, as much as I love it, processed sugar is not our friend and when you mix it with a bunch of additives it might as well be one of the deadlier vices.

Years ago, on one of my busiest days, I was feeling lethargic, hungry, and a little spacey, but I still had one more class to teach. Rather than choose wisely and do something I knew would be helpful, but would take a bit of time, I went for the quick fix: chocolate, but not the good kind. One of the lifeguards at the Blaisdell Y saw me pull my poor choice out of the vending machine and asked if my students knew I ate stuff like that. I shrugged and said I was only going to eat half. Needless to say, I ate it all. While I felt “better” in the short term, the next morning I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I had thieves in my personal temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” 

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“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” 

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 – quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:12 – 13, KJV)

This week is Passion Week or Holy Week in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions. Some say the significant stuff begins with Saturday, although I’ll save the story for another day; others consider Palm Sunday as the beginning of one of the holiest weeks in the Western Christian tradition. Either way, Passion Monday, or Holy Monday, is the last Monday of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer within the aforementioned traditions. Part of the Passion Week or Holy Week observation is remembering the stories and parables associated with the last week of Jesus’ life. The story I most closely associate with this day is the story of Jesus throwing the thieves out of the temple and then having his authority questioned.

According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus was very clear about his purpose as he entered the last week of his life. He understood that there would be suffering (hence, the passion), trials, tribulation, and betrayal, and joy. He knew he would be tested and tempted (yet another passion/suffering). It is unclear if he knew how quickly the suffering will begin, but suffice it to say, it was immediate. When he returned to Jerusalem for Passover, he found the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a defacto market place. All four (4) canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus ran the livestock and the merchants out, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers. He then began to heal the sick and to teach, thus restoring the temple to its original purpose.

“‘People who eat too much or too little or who sleep too much or too little will not succeed in meditation. Eat only food that does not heat up the body or excite the mind. When you balance and regulate your habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing, then meditation dissolves sorrow and destroys mental pain.’

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– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.16 – 6.17) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

When we don’t treat our mind-bodies as respected temples, we suffer and are sometimes not able to do the things we need and want to do. Even if you’re getting some exercise, resting, and drinking a lot of water, the very nature of the last two years – extra sitting around, lack of routine, poor eating choices, stress, and isolation – means that all (or most) of us are out of balance. When we get out of balance, we need more of something to get back into balance. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes more water, sometimes more movement. Sometimes we need someone, like that Blaisdell lifeguard, to gently and kindly remind us what we’re doing – or not doing – is going to throw us out of balance. Other times, we just need them to quietly be present and we sort ourselves out. (Just for the record, that lifeguard did that for me too – and on the very next day no less!)

I will often refer to the fact that our bodies are mostly water as a reason why movement feels good. We are meant to flow and slosh all that salty water around a little. It’s a great visual, and it’s true on a certain level. However, there are even more scientific reasons why it’s good to stay active. One of those reasons is our lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system.

Our lymphatic system helps keep us healthy by providing proteins and other nutrients to healthy cells, while simultaneously brushing away dead, damaged, and infected cells. It also maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, as well as aiding in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Unlike the cardiovascular system, however, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. If we want lymph to bring nutrients to healthy cells and also brush/rinse away dead or damaged cells, we have to move our bodies. Any kind of movement is helpful, especially if it engages the whole body. Most physical practices of yoga engage and move your whole body in a very systematic way. So, you could say that the physical practice of yoga almost always has an element of detoxification. There are, however, certain poses and sequences that are considered detoxifying in nature.

Holy Monday, or Passion Monday, is one of the days when I suggest a “detox flow” that involves good amount of muscle engagement – to get the lymph flowing – and a fair amount of twists. In some ancient medicines and philosophies, discomfort and disease is associated with blocked or stagnate energy and so the movement is also a way to unblock the energy. The twists, like many of the other poses in the sequence, have the additional benefit of creating space by helping us loosen up tension we may not even realize we are holding and also offering a gentle massage to the abdominal cavity and low back. But, there’s another twist to the twists. Energetically speaking, with regard to yoga, the twists engage our third chakra (or “wheel’), which is related to our sense of self, our self-esteem, our personality, and how we see ourselves in the world. This is the exact area you want strengthened (or opened) when someone is questioning your authority to do what you do.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.”

*

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” 

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“And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

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– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:24 – 26, KJV)

According to the gospels, children praised Jesus and this, along with everything else, riled up the establishment. In three (3) of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) several groups of the establishment questioned Jesus’ authority and his views on taxes. First he was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” To which, Jesus asked his own question (see above) regarding the authority of the then wildly popular John the Baptist. Of course, this was a tricky question for the elders; because, if they said that John the Baptist’s authority came from God, well then so did Jesus’s and therefore he was unquestionable. If, however, they said that Jesus’s cousin was empowered only by the people, well, the people might revolt. In that moment, they could not answer.

Later, in another attempt to trap Jesus, the elders asked him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. He asked them to show him a coin suitable for payment and, when they presented a coin with a Roman face on the front – specifically, Caesar’s face – Jesus said, “’Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’.” (Matthew 22:21)

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

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– a person who thought I worked at a garden story because “you’re wearing a fanny pack,” even though none of the employees (wearing branded clothing) wore a fanny pack

In his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, the neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out that “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” This idea is very much in keeping with what Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sūtras and is why someone in a garden shop thought I worked there. It’s also why so many people in Minnesota were surprised when they walked in a studio (or a rooftop) and discovered the yoga teacher of the day looked like me. Sometimes such reactions were funny to me, but they were also exhausting. Even more ironic, exhausting, and heartbreaking, when you know the historical roots of yoga, was when people would question the authority of a brown-skinned man who was teaching yoga. After all, yoga – like Buddhism – started in a time and place where all (official) teachers were male and brown-skinned.

Of course, the world changes. It’s constantly changing. The lived reality of these ancient practices is not, necessarily, the modern experience. So, we are in the habit – in this country, at least – of questioning anything we perceive as different from the status quo. This questioning, however, extends beyond expectations around gender roles and how we understand someone’s role based on race; it also bumps us up against are own biases (unconscious or otherwise) about weight, height, class, age, and ability.

All of the aforementioned biases (and even those I did not mention) are why practices like meditation, self-study, and discernment are so instrumental to our individual and collective progression and evolution. They are also part of the reason I offer biographic stories as well as religious stories as a focal point for self-study – even to people who may not know about or believe in a particular system. By learning about the world, we learn about ourselves. By turning inward, we confront our biases and open up to the possibility of seeing things differently. We start to think differently. Changing our perceptions and our understanding of our past means that we open up to the possibility of seeing a different future – maybe, even, a more inclusive reality.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

*

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet it sees only what the mind/intellect shows it.”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Here is something I played on that never-to-be-forgotten Holy Monday after I ate that aforementioned giant chocolate bar.

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Lent and Great Lent are based on Easter, which is a moveable feast in all Christian traditions and, therefore, occurs on different dates on the Gregorian calendar. I did not really incorporate the birthdays (or poetry) of Misuzo Kaneko (b. 04/11/1903) and Mark Strand (b. 04/11/1934) into this years practice. You can click here for the 2018 post and here for the 2019 post, if you are interested in their lives and poetry.

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“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

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– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

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### Get Your Mind Clean, And The Rest Will Follow (to paraphrase En Vogue) ###

Cowboy, I Moustache You To Go… Over Here (the “missing” Sunday post) November 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, Movember 28th. There are mental health references, but nothing graphic. 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.)

“Anyhow, Mr. Coolidge – I am going to tell you about the people over the radio. You can’t talk over the radio and use the same type of stuff that you do on the stage, because you haven’t got that kind of audience. Everybody listening in over the radio wouldn’t laugh like this. A radio audience – and I’m not saying this to flatter you, but everybody, you all wouldn’t have come in if you hadn’t had a sense of humor. There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in. They don’t have that over the radio. I am sure you all had to have a sense of humor; it is certain that sex appeal drew nobody in here, and I’m positive that nobody come in to whet their intellect. No, you come in here to get just a laugh, but over the radio you have people listening in there with no sense of humor at all. Anybody can tune in on that.

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– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage, Volume Four, September 1915 –  July 1928  by Will Rogers, edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson 

It may have been on his lecture tour, maybe even on April 16, 1928, that Will Rogers said, “There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in.” I think that statement could be applied to yoga – as can the rest of that discussion about having a sense of humor and about the difference between sharing space live and in-person versus sharing virtual or recorded space. There’s no denying that there’s a difference. And while it is may also true that people are not drawn in by the sex appeal or to “whet their intellect,” it doesn’t change the fact yoga can be sexy and intellectual, as well as funny – just like vaudeville.

Vaudeville, an upscale version of your garden variety variety show, was a 19th century French invention that experienced a great deal of popularity in North America beginning in the 1880’s. A large part of that popularity can be traced to the “Orpheum Circuit,” which was started when the German producer and American immigrant Gustav Walter built the first Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. With financial backing from another German-American, Morris Meyerfeld Jr (born November 17, 1855 as Moses Meyerfeld), the impresario opened a second and third Orpheum in a pre-existing theatres in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively. All three theatres opened to sold out houses and experienced great success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the duo could book entertainers to go from one house to the other and use the publicity in one city to push ticket sales in the other cities.

Their plan was to expand through the Midwest. However, Gustav Walter died unexpectedly (after suffering with appendicitis for four days) on May 9, 1898, just three months after the Kansas City theatre opened). Morris (née Moses) Meyerfeld became the circuit’s president and, in order to carry out the original plan, paired up with Martin Lehman. After opening five more theatres, the pair joined forces with the Western Circuit of Vaudeville Theaters (WCVT); hired Hungarian immigrant Martin Beck as a booking agent (the same booking agent that would give Harry Houdini his big break); and eventually created the Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) with leaders of the Eastern Vaudeville Circuit, like Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II. 

Eventually, the big circuits merged to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit which, after more mergers and acquisitions became Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), which included the movie studio RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (later known as RKO Pictures). But that’s jumping way ahead in the story. Not to mention the fact that by the time RKO Pictures formed in 1928, Will Rogers had already filmed almost 50 silent films produced by a Polish-American immigrant named Samuel Goldwyn (born August 27, 1882 as Szmuel Gelbfisz, and also known as Samuel Goldfish). So, let’s step back a minute…

According to The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, Volume Three, September 1908 – 1915, (by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair) the first Orpheum opened June 20, 1887 and Gustav Walter was booking vaudeville-only bills by 1897. Meaning that when Will Rogers was seven some of the seeds for his success had been planted and by the time he was 18 those seeds had taken root.

After working at his family’s ranch (Dog Iron Ranch), spending some time in Argentina and the Pampas, and working at a ranch in South Africa, “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” started doing his rope tricks in the circus. First he performed in South Africa with Texas Jack Wild West Circus and then he performed in Australia with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He was about twenty-five when he returned to the United States, roping and riding at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, rodeos, and the vaudeville circuits that were just starting to come together. He was twenty-five when his rope “tricks” saved the day at Madison Square Garden and caught the attention of William Hammerstein (see “Will Rogers” link above), who kept him consistently employed, performing on a New York rooftop, for years.

In many ways, however, that rooftop gig was a bit of a fluke and the success that followed was, again, in large part because of the infrastructure that had been established by the vaudeville producers. Those previously mentioned partnerships, collaborations, and organizations connected audiences that previously had been targeted by niche entertainers and created a circuit that relied on entertainers who could appeal to people in urban as well as rural areas. The circuit would eventually guarantee performers anywhere from 20 weeks to several years worth of performances – something that had previously been unheard of for entertainers like the cowboy philosopher or a certain “handcuff king.”

“Will Rogers, billed as the Oklahoma Cowboy, in a rope act is a feature at the Orpheum this week. He does wonders in rope spinning but you get so much interested in his ‘patter’ that you forget to watch the tricks, as he calls them. He is a monolinguist disguised in chaps, and one of the best ever….

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PD. Printed in Kansas City Post and Journal, ca. 26 October 1914. Scrapbook 1914, CPpR”

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– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway: Volume Three, September 1908 –  August 1915  by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair

NOTE: The scrapbook cited above, containing a printed copy of the Kansas City Post and Journal, is part of the collection at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Pacific Palisades, California (CPpR).

Will Rogers signed a major Orpheum Circuit contract in December 1908, soon after he married Betty Blake (and only days after she saw him perform for the first time). The newlyweds spent the first four months of 1909 traveling the circuit together – something they would continue off and on throughout their marriage. By 1910, Will Rogers was so popular that he was being booked by all the major vaudeville producers and even mounted his own “Wild West” show. For many years, including in 1913 and 1914, he spent the end of summer through the beginning of winter on the Orpheum Circuit. In fact, in August 1914, he started in San Francisco (performing five days at the very first Orpheum theatre); then performed at six California Orpheum theatres plus a non “Orpheum” theatre in California and eight Orpheum theatres from Salt Lake City, Utah to Minneapolis (November 8-14) and Duluth (November 16-21). From November 22-28, he performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ten years later, on November 28, 1925, he would be performing in Washington, D. C. and visiting with President Calvin Coolidge.

While I normally reference “the Will Rogers phenomenon” (as it relates to prostate health) at the beginning of Movember, I decided to use that last little bit of trivia to bring awareness to the fact that stage migration also occurs in relation to mental health. Remember, “the Will Rogers phenomenon” is a situation where moving something from one category to another increases the average value of both categories. In medical stage migration this can occur when awareness, testing, and/or overall medical understanding changes diagnosis so that previously undetected illness is detected – which can increase the average life expectancy of people who are considered “healthy” as well as those who are considered “unhealthy.”

Note, the “Will Rogers” links above all go to the same post about prostate cancer diagnosis, but this situation also holds true for other health issues where early detection is the key to survival. It holds true for different kinds of cancer, and also applies to heart and lung issues, diabetes, and mental health issues.

We all know that the last few years have been rough – on every one – and the challenges in life include increased physical, mental, and emotional stress. If we consider these akin to the three-fold sorrows, then we (humans) have the power to eliminate this dis-ease. Eliminating our own suffering, however, requires awareness and communication. In the last few years there has been an increase in people reporting mental health issues and while that can be daunting, consider that every year people have mental health crisis that “no one saw coming,” in part because people didn’t share what they were experience and/or seek help. Some of the discrepancies between men and women’s health, including the fact that 4 in 5 people affected by suicide are men, may come down to socialization.  

It sucks that so many people are struggling, but – believe it or not – an increase in reporting is actually good news. The fact that people are sharing their experiences and seeking guidance, even treatment, is actually a good thing. It’s also the smart thing. 

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

*

– Will Rogers

Sunday’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Mov 4th & Will Rogers 2020”]

You don’t have to take my word for all this! Click here for the US Movember website page on mental health, featuring men sharing their own stories. Just click and scroll down.

“I realized, over time, that when I actually began to talk about what I was going through, it actually began to heal me.”

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– Eric Bigger, quoted on the (US) Movember website

 

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

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

 

### ALEC ###

Lesson 1.34 October 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Philosophy, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me today (Monday, October 25th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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 author Anne Tyler turned 80 today! Here’s last year’s post inspired by our lives and her writing.

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### Breathe In (Know That You Are Breathing In); Breathe Out (Know That You Are Breathing Out) ###

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). 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.]

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short, the ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary, however, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real) if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāṇāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

 

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 
 

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###

First Friday Night Special #10: “Reflect + Remember” (a post practice post) August 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

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

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

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

“Your thoughts are happening, just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you’re doing is watching it. 

 

Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation. You allow your breath to run just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And the notice a curious thing about this. You say in the ordinary way, I breathe. Because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So, the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntary and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand I am doing it, and on the other hand, it is happening to me. And that is why breathing is a most important part of meditation, because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening.”

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

Our breath is a symbol of our life, a symbol of our life-force, and a symbol of our spirit. I say something to that affect almost every day. Yet, when that first part is combined with the perspective offered by Alan Watts, it takes on a slightly different (maybe even deeper connotation): Life is happening. Life is happening to us. Life is happening all around us. Life is a happening…whether we are engaged in it or not. But, before we start rushing off to do…life (or anything else); I just want to pause for a moment and consider the three parts of the breath.

Just breathe. Do that 90-second thing. Let your breath naturally flow in and naturally ebb out. Notice where you feel the breath; where it naturally goes – where there is awareness and presence, where it’s happening. Also, notice where there is resistance – where maybe you need to cultivate awareness, where something different is happening.

One thing you may notice, if you practice, is that pretty much every type of “breathing exercise” is an exaggeration of a natural breathing pattern. There are situations when we are breathing deeply, richly. The mind-body is focused and relaxed. Other times, we may find ourselves panting, short of breath. The mind-body may still be focused, but in this second case it is also agitated. There are times when our inhale is longer than our exhale and still other times when our exhale is longer than our inhale. There are moments in life when we find we are holding our breath – retaining the inhale or the exhale – and other times when we sigh a heavy breath out. And every one of these natural breathing patterns occurs because of something that happens in/to the mind-body.

Remember: What happens to the mind happens to the body; what happens to the body happens to the mind; and both affect the breath. In turn, what happens to the breath affects the mind and the body. In our practice, we harness the power of the breath in order to harness the power of the mind and body.

To actively and mindfully harness the power of the mind-body-spirit we have to cultivate awareness. The thing is, when you take a moment to focus, concentrate, meditate – even become completely absorbed by the breath – you may start to notice that just cultivating awareness changes the way you breathe (just as cultivating awareness can change the way you sit or stand, walk or talk). Bringing awareness to how you breathe in certain situations – or even when thinking/remembering certain situations – can give you insight into what’s happening to your mind-body. That insight provides better information for decision-making. So that you can respond in the most skillful way possible, instead of just reacting.

In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is pay attention to our breath – and figure out what we need to do to keep breathing. Because that’s what we do: We breathe.

Remember: As long as we are breathing, we are alive; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to live, learn, grow, love, and really thrive. So, the first question(s) to ask yourself in a stressful and challenging situation is: What’s happening with my breath and what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?

A key element to practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”) is to observe what happens to your mind, your body, and (yes) your spirit/breath when you are in certain situations. You may notice what thoughts and/or emotions come up when you hear passages from sacred text. You may notice how your body reacts to certain music/sounds. You may notice how your breathing changes in certain poses and/or sequences. You may notice how your mind-body-spirit reacts when you imagine yourself (figuratively) walking in the footsteps of a historical or fictional person. You may notice any other combination of the above. You can also practice this important niyama (internal “observation”) by bring awareness to what happens when you remember a moment in (your) history.

Maybe the memory is something that seems to randomly pop up in your mind when you’re practicing or maybe, like with Marcel Proust, when you bite into a biscuit. Or, perhaps, as happened in the August 6th “First Friday Night Special,” it’s a memory that is brought to your awareness specifically so that you can notice your breath, notice your body, and notice your mind. Perhaps, as we do in the practice, you observe what happens when you start watching yourself reacting to the memory. Finally, you ask the last half of the question: “… what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?”

Or, better yet, “What do I need to do, in this moment, to keep taking the deepest breath I’ve taken all day?” Because that’s the practice and that’s what we do.

“As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.”

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

Here are the “memories” (and associated contexts) I shared during the “First Friday Night Special” on August 6th. Before we reached this point in the (Zoom and recorded) practice, we spent some time using the senses to get grounded in the moment; did some gentle movement to prepare the mind-body to be still in an upright position (when accessible); and practiced a little 1:1 and then 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base).

For most people, reading through the list will be a different experience than hearing each one in turn. Still, take your time. Also, give yourself time to not only breathe, but to notice the breath in the mind and in the body.

This is not about thinking about these situations or creating/telling the story. It’s about noticing how you feel and how that translates into a breathing pattern. Then, the practice becomes about noticing what changes through observation. Yes, you can engage the breath (by controlling it, even sighing). However, I encourage you to just let the breath naturally flow in and freely ebb out – and just watch what happens as you watch it. Don’t force anything. Go with the flow. If you find yourself holding on (to anything), your breath and awareness are the tools you use to let go before moving on to the next item.

  • A year ago this weekend, my mother passed. Like so many other people who have experienced an unexpected loss of a loved one, the anniversary brings certain feelings, emotions, thoughts…vibrations. There is still sadness and grief – among other things/sensations that are part of life.
    • Take a moment, especially if you have experienced such a loss, to notice what happens when you continue to breath – to live. Consider that grief comes not because we loss someone (or something), but because we loved and were loved. Let all of that wash over you.

  • A year and a few months ago, George Floyd was killed and his murder was a watershed moment in the United States and in the world. Everyone had and continues to have a different experience around what happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 (just as many people had and continues to have different feelings around what happened in Central Park on the same day).
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel, right now, as your remember, the moments between then and now. Is there any tightness? Any resistance? What happens when you notice the tightness and/or resistance? What happens when you don’t notice tightness and/or resistance? Let any judgement wash over you.

  • Nearly a year and a half ago – almost 2 years ago for some people outside of the United States – the world started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel thinking about that? What’s happening with body, your mind, your breath? How does it feel to be where you are in the ever-changing process that is life given this global health crisis (and that fact that we are all in different places/stages related to it)? What do you need to do to keep breathing? Maybe, this is a good time to sigh a breath (or two) out.

  • 56 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The law came about after protests and marches – and so much violent resistance directed at those peacefully resisting. It also came about after private citizens implored President Johnson to take action and after he spoke, passionately, to Congress. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law. Yet, to this day, the Voting Rights Acts are still being challenged and still being defended.
    • What comes up for you when you think about all the efforts that led up to the Act and all that has transpired in the meanwhile? How are you breathing?

  • 76 years ago today, on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM (local time), the United States Army Air Forces’ Enola Gray dropped the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. Buildings and trees were destroyed. Approximately 80,000 people were killed on impact. Another 35,000 died over the next week and an additional 60,000 over the next year. Thousands more suffered for the rest of their lives. Three days later, at 11:01 AM (local time) on August 9th, the United States Army Air Forces’ Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb (designated “Fat Man”) on Nagasaki and thousands more died. You may have learned that the bombs were dropped in response to or retaliation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have learned that the U. S.’s attack on Japan helped to end World War II and the Holocaust, thereby saving thousands of lives. Around the world, these historical events are taught in very different ways. So, you may or may not have learned that some people say the war was already ending. You may or may not have learned that Nagasaki was not initial target for the second atomic bomb and that, in fact, the flight crews on the bomber and its escorts had already started the contingency plans that involved dropping the bomb in the ocean – which would have saved thousands of lives.
    • What happens when you remember what you already knew? What happens when you think of something you didn’t previously know or remember? What do you need to do, in this moment, to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out?

  • 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed Union forces to seize Confederate property during the Civil War. This “property” included slaves and one of the intentions of the act was to free slaves who were in any way attached to the rebellion. Freeing slaves was also part of the intention of the Confiscation Act that Congress passed on July 17, 1862 – which allowed the federal government to free the slaves of any member of the Confederacy (military or civilian) who resided in territory occupied by the Union Army but who had not surrendered within 60 days of the Act passing. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality or the ultimate effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, but he signed them into law anyway; thereby laying a foundation for the legal emancipation of all slaves within the Union.
    • What do you feel and/or think when you consider these Acts of Congress and President Lincoln? Is there any difference in sensation when considering the slaves and/or the Confederacy? Do you experience any tightness and/or resistance around this being mentioned? Is any of the tightness and/or resistance connected to thoughts that arose related to other steps taken to ensure emancipation? What are you feeling with regard to steps taken to deny emancipation?


Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. Spend some time just breathing and observing the breath. You can repeat the 1:1 and 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base), which is a great practice before, during, and after stressful encounters. Finally, take another few minutes to allow the breath to naturally flow in and freely ebb out.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

PLEASE NOTE: The playlists begin with music related to Reiki healing energy and they are in a very specific order. If you are uncomfortable using the first two tracks, you can use the Track #3 for your practice or you can loop Track #6 (to play ~3 times). The Spotify app may add extra music – so be mindful of that. As always, you can choose not to use music during this practice. Finally, there is no personal dedication specifically because I selected the Reiki chants for this practice. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or concerns.

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion)”

– Maty Ezraty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– quoted from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

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

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

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

Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Ernest Hemingway

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

– Buchi Emecheta

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

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

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

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

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

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 21st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07212020 A Tale of Two Writers”]

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

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

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

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

– Buchi Emecheta

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

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

### Everybody: PLANT A TREE ###

Stonewall Was Not Televised (a “missing” post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, June 28th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. This post includes statistics that may be triggering for some.

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.]

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

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

The Civil Rights Movement started long before the events of Sunday, March 7, 1965 and the continued long after the other two “Selma to Montgomery” marches that followed. Some would even say that it continues to this day. Similarly, the movement to uphold the civil rights of the LGBTQIA+ community didn’t start (or end) with an unannounced raid in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, June 28, 1969.

Unlike what happened in Selma, Alabama on “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” the events that took place in and around New York City’s Stonewall Inn 52 years ago today were not televised around the world. People did not see the brutality and, initially, they did not see the indomitable human spirit rising above the brutality. Bottom line, people did not see the humanity that some were trying to systematically erase and/or ignore. Therefore, it took a while for people to get it…. Although, some would say, there are still people who don’t get it. What people sometimes don’t get, is that regardless of which marginalized (or even non-marginalized) group you discuss, civil rights are human rights – and, last time I checked, we’re all human.

There are a lot of problems we could get into when it comes to how any one of us understands “humanity.” Like, what does the word even mean? I’m fond of Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language – because it’s so intentionally “American” and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) – because it tends to be so comprehensive when it comes to the English language. That being said, Webster’s 1828 definition of “humanity” has religious overtones that could turn this into a very different conversation. It agrees with the OED, however, in the understanding that “humanity” relates to the human race and to “human beings collectively.” The OED (and other dictionaries) also point to “The fact or condition of being human; human nature.”

Think about that last bit for a moment. What are the conditions of being human? Are the conditions that you find acceptable for your existence being met for those around you? Who is around you?

According to the Williams Institute, a think tank at University of California, Los Angeles – Law, about 4.5% of American adults identified themselves as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. 29% of those within the general community are raising children. While the percentage of LGBTQIA+ people who identify as white (58%) is lower than the percentage of white Americans in general, other racial demographics are pretty much a mirror of the general population stats (21% Latino/a and 12% Black). While people under the alphabet umbrella reside all over the United States, Black LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to live in the South than the general Black populace.

When it comes to education, the statistics for LGBTQIA+ people are fairly close to those outside of the community. However, when it comes to people who have obtained a Bachelor’s degree or a post-graduate degree, the statistics flip and indicate a higher rate for people outside of the community. Prior to the pandemic, the percentages related to people who were unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, or earning an income below the poverty line were higher within the LGBTQIA+ community. This was especially true for Black and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) adults.

1.2M Black LGBTIA+ adults live in the United States, with 26% of them raising children and 56% having a low income household (which is, coincidentally, the same percentage of people who annually get tested for HIV). 26% of the Black LGBTQIA+ community have been diagnosed with depression; 79% reported experiencing verbal insults or abuse; and 60% reported being threatened with violence.

Additional studies conducted prior to the pandemic showed that people within the LGBTQIA+ community had as high or higher experiences of violence (in particular, intimate partner and/or sexual violence) than the general population. However, the “higher” statistics were related to women and People of Color – and, in most cases, people indicated that they did not always report the violence and/or assault. A higher percentage of transgender people (versus cis gender people, whose gender identity matches how they were designated at birth) indicated they had experienced intimate partner and/or sexual violence. That last statistic goes up again when specifically related to Black transgender women, who have an average life expectancy of 35.

According to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for the previous 10 years, but the 2nd leading cause of death for youth – and GLBTQIA+ youth were ten times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. In fact, The Trevor Project (and this same report) indicated that almost half of the transgender population had attempted suicide, “many before age 25.”

Recent polls indicate that nearly 90% of Americans say they personally know someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. However, GLADD, an American non-governmental media advocacy organization for the LGBTQIA+ community, published an online survey conducted by Harris Poll in 2015, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults (18 years and older) and pointed to a very different experience regarding transgender people. According to that survey, the number of people who said they knew (and/or worked with) someone who was transgender had doubled from 8% (in 2008) to 16%. More recent polls show that the numbers have gone up again – to 20%. What that means, however, is that the majority of Americans (polled), 80% only know about people who are trans because of something they see in the media. Additionally, what they see in the media (up until recently) was created by people who were not trans and who, given the statistics, may not have known anyone that was transgender when they started telling their story.

“The ways in which trans people have been represented have suggested that we’re mentally ill, that we’re that we won’t exist. And yet here we are. And we’ve always been here.”

– Laverne Cox, quoted in the trailer for her 2020 Netflix documentary Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

I’ve said it before (from a Black and female perspective) and I’ll say it again (here, as an LGBTQIA+ ally): If you don’t tell your story, someone else will. But, who knows how they will tell it or what they will tell. For a long time, People of Color (especially Black and Indigenous men), women, and people of living with disability have had their stories told and controlled by people who were not them. Furthermore, those stories were told to/for an audience that was not them. Thankfully, that is changing. But just as we can’t un-see what we’ve already seen, we can’t automatically stop thinking what we’ve been taught to think. We have to see what is right in front of our eyes. That’s why representation matters – and that’s why it still matters when a prominent figure, in the sports world or anywhere else, comes out.

“Living a full, vibrant and healthy life is a priority for [Vice President of the Minneapolis City Council Andrea] Jenkins, especially since some authorities estimate that the average life expectancy for a transgender woman of color is 35, primarily because of violence.

Her most recent volume of poetry is titled The T is Not Silent as a way to signify that the T (transgender) of LGBT can no longer be overlooked.

 ‘The only way we can change that horrifying statistic is through understanding. I have been able to live my life out, but not all transgender people have that opportunity,’ she said. ‘I realize that my age is a blessing, and I’m thrilled and grateful for my relative longevity. I try to advocate and lift up the narrative of my community every opportunity I get.’”

– quoted from the November 2, 2018 Minnesota Good Age article “Zen master – Andrea Jenkins talks poetry and politics – and shares why she never loses hope.” By Julie Kendrick

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice (but there is a Stonewall PRIDE playlist, which we used on Sunday and I have updated it so the “forbidden” music should now play).

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

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

*

Errata: Some typos have been updated and one link has been added.

### LOVE TO THOSE WHO ARE OUT & LOUD (and to those who are not so out and/or not so loud) ###

To Whom Are You/We Listening? (a “missing” post) June 28, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[Pardon me while I catch up! This is the “missing” post related to Saturday, May 29th. You can request an audio recording of the related practice(s) 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.]

“And He said: ‘Go out and stand in the mountain before the Lord, Behold! the Lord passes, and a great and strong wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake-not in the earthquake was the Lord. After the earthquake fire, not in the fire was the Lord, and after the fire a still small sound.’”

Melachim I / 1 Kings (19:11-12)

Like Patanjali, Saint John of the Cross recognized that the mind-body is constantly bombarded with information via sensations. Patanjali refers to cittavŗitti nirodhah (“ceasing the fluctuations of the mind”). Saint John of the Cross recommended “it is best to learn to silence the faculties and cause them to be still, so that God may speak.” In both cases, the ultimate aim is not to hear the noise of the “wind splitting mountains and shattering boulders,” nor is it to hear the sound of the earthquake or the fire; the ultimate goal is to hear the still quiet voice of the Divine, whatever that means to you at this moment. People have different beliefs about the source(s) of the quiet, and how you can know the good voices from the evil. But, I’m not going to get into all that today. I’m just going to ask some “simple” questions.

Are you listening to the obvious noise or are you listening to a small sound/whisper? To what little, still quiet voice inside of yourself do you listen? Just as importantly, to what little voices outside of yourself do you listen? By that I mean: To whom are you/we listening? And why are you listening to those the voices? Are they simply the ones that that get heard?

“We shall listen, not lecture; learn, not threaten. We will enhance our safety by earning the respect of others and showing respect for them”

– quoted from the “A New Vision” – 2008 Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Acceptance Address by Ted Sorenson (written for The Washington Monthly as “the speech of his dreams”)

I get asked some weird, bizarre, and wonderfully insightful questions – on and off the mat. Sometimes these questions are hyper-intrusive. Other times they are questions asked out of general curiosity and asked in ways that make me really curious, get me thinking. One of those really insightful questions, asked out of general curiosity, came from a dear friend who was a friend before really taking my classes. After taking a class one day, this friend approached me and essentially asked if I ever played female musicians. I do and I did. However, with a few exceptions (like on International Women’s Day), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly male and, with a few exceptions (like on Cinco de Mayo), my playlists were (and sometimes still are) overwhelmingly white. I can break this down even more, but you get the point: I’m an “American” girl, living in an “American” world.

Even before I literally did the math, which surprised me, I told my friend that it would be naïve of me to say, “This is what I like and this is why I like it,” without pointing out that part of why I like what I like is because it’s what I hear – and what I hear is based on an industry standard that is based on a societal standard determined by a ruling class. Being an “American” girl, living in an “American” world means that I am subject to a white, male, heterosexual gaze (and ear) – and on a certain level, I’m comfortable with that. However, the main reason I’m comfortable with that is because that’s been my primary culture for most of my life. (Please keep in mind, that I put “American” in quotes, not because American culture is monolithic, but because the stereotype of what is American is pretty monochromatic.)

Now, here’s where things get a little twisted; because if the statements above resonate with you, you may not think twice about it (just as I didn’t think twice until questioned about it). If you resemble the statements above, then you’re probably pretty comfortable with my early (and even some current) playlists, because it’s also the music to which you are accustomed to hearing – especially if you are around my same age or slightly older. Even more to the point, you may not have ever questioned why I didn’t play more African-American, Latin, and/or more female musicians. You might have even accepted the fact that I’m from Texas as the reason why I play so much country.

But, the question wasn’t really about the “why.” I mean, it’s informative and can raise awareness, but we can’t go back and change history. I can’t go back and change the vinyl I listened to as a child and/or the first cassette tapes I received as a Christmas present. Ultimately, the question from my friend wasn’t about the past. Ultimately, the question for me was: How do you react/respond now that the question has come up?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT), under “The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him.” Proverbs 31:1 (NLT)

I could have been offended and even felt threatened by the question and the resulting self-inquiry. Instead, I did the math…. And, not gonna lie, I was a little shocked. Then I did a little more soul searching and decided I could do a little more “soul” searching when it came to the music I used to tell the stories I tell on and off the mat. I could do my part, in more little corner of the world, to ensure a few more voices are heard.

Ironically, the playlist for this particular practice is mostly instrumental. It may not be obvious when the composer is not male and it may not be obvious when a composer is not white. In fact, one of the female composers sometimes shows up on playlists as “Various Artists” – which, I guess, is akin to “Anonymous” in the literary world. Then too, there’s the whole issue of the orchestra’s demographics.

There was a time, not that long ago, when orchestras in the Western world were predominantly white and predominantly male. There was a definite bias in hiring and I can say that with a good degree of certainty because once orchestras started using blind auditions as part of their hiring process, the number of women in symphonies astronomically increased. Granted, sometimes this process to eliminate bias required musicians to not only play behind a screen, but to also to take off their shoes.

The exponential increase in female musicians started in the 1980’s, but has not been completely replicated when it comes to race. While women represented 5-6% of some major American orchestras in 1970, they now make up 30%, even 50%, of some orchestras. This is a statistical change that is not explained away by a change in orchestration. On the flip side, Black and Latino musicians are still not represented in American orchestras in a way that reflects the community around them. In fact, when it comes to race, some of the orchestra pits in American look pretty much the way they did in 1969.

For example, 52 years ago, when 2 Black musicians accused the New York Philharmonic of racial discrimination, the orchestra had only one Black musician, the first one they had ever hired: 30-year old Sanford Allen, a violinist who had started studying at the Julliard School of Music at age 10. This time last year, the Philharmonic still only had one Black musician: Anthony McGill, an internationally renowned clarinetist, who had performed as the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra’s principal clarinetist for 10 years BEFORE he was hired as the Philharmonic’s first Black principal. Notably, Mr. McGill’s older brother, Demarre McGill, is also a professional musician. In fact, the elder (by 4 years) Mr. McGill is the principal flautist with the Seattle Symphony – a position he previously held with BOTH the Dallas Symphony and the San Diego Symphony.

The McGill brothers were exposed to orchestral music at a young age and started playing at a young age. Additionally, they had talent, perseverance, the resources to audition, and access to private conservatories and summer programs. All of which put them in an industry “pipeline” designed to land in an orchestra pit. Some people have argued that there are other talented non-white musicians out there – but that they don’t have access to the pipeline or the resources to audition. Others argue that the talent is coming – slowly, but surely – into the pipeline. If the latter is correct, and it’s only a matter of time, then the question becomes when will they be heard? When will they have the resources to be heard?

Yoga Sūtra 3.21: kāyarūpasamyamāt tadgrāhyaśaktistambhe cakşuhprakāśāsamprayoge’ntardhānam

– “If one makes samyama on the form of one’s own physical body, obstructing its illumination or visual characteristic to the eyes of the beholder, then one’s body becomes invisible.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.22: etena śabdādyantardhānamuktam

– “By this same [practice] the suspension or disappearance of one’s own [spoken] words and other senses can be explained.”

I have heard that Yoga Sūtra 3.22 is a “thread” that doesn’t often get heard. That’s a little pun based on the fact that the sūtra in question is a continuation of the previous aphorism and asserts that the same practice that allows one to make themselves invisible can also be use to make one undetectable by the other senses – specifically, one becomes unheard. Ironically, this particular line is not included in all translations. Sometimes it is left out completely. In other cases, it is wrapped up in one of the other lines.

I’ll be honest, I mentioned it in the previous practice (on not being seen), because I really considered just bundling it all together with 3.21. In the end, however, I decided to let this power be heard for a few big reasons: (a) it is a siddhi that is based on shabda (“word”), which is itself a “power unique to being human;” (b) I was kind of amused by the irony of it getting left out (i.e., not heard); (c) I am consistently frustrated (even angered) by the voices that go unheard; and (d) I am consistently inspired when marginalized voices are heard.

Regarding those last two points, Saturday, May 29th was almost exactly a week before a “First Friday Night Special” when I was going to focus on the throat chakra, which is related to personal will/determination as it relates to universal will/determination. It is also related to expression – one’s ability to speak and be heard; to make one’s needs and desires known to the world. Furthermore, I knew that it was just a few days before the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre that decimated Black Wall Street. The anniversary (and events leading up to the anniversary) highlighted how voices (and stories) that had been silenced for years were finally being heard. What I didn’t foresee was that during that same week, at least three other events would bring awareness to moments when people are heard versus what happens when people are silenced.

First, the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was the largest Indian “boarding” school in British Columbia Canada. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969 and by the Canadian government from 1969 until 1978, when it was closed. Although many people in the United States are unfamiliar with these schools – as they are not discussed in polite company (i.e., in most public and private school systems) – there were over 350 such schools in the United States and 130 such schools in Canada from the end of the 19th century all the way through the end of the 20th century. In Canada alone, over 150,000 First Nation children were placed in these schools – which were established with the specific intent of eradicating Indian culture and, in doing so, decimating the Indian populace as strong people, families, and communities.

Between me initially writing this post and actually posting it, remains of at least 751 more people have been discovered in unmarked mass graves at the location of a different school in Canada.

A friend who was helping an organization tell the stories of some of the children forcibly enrolled in these schools mentioned them a few years back and we talked about how little awareness there was around the schools and their mission. Like my friend, I was as appalled by the existence of these schools as I was by the fact that some of them were still in operation in 1996. According to an Indian Country Today article by Mary Annette Pember, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission estimated “that up to 6,000 children died at the schools from disease, abuse, starvation, and other ills.” Read those Canadian numbers again and consider the ramifications when it comes to similar unheard stories in the United States (which had over 2.5 times as many schools).

“U.S. boarding schools were often woefully underfunded. Conditions at the schools — poor food, clothing, housing as well as close sleeping quarters — contributed to the spread of disease and sometimes death.

According to researchers, many schools failed to keep accurate records of student deaths. Parents of those who died were often notified after the child’s burial, if they were notified at all; few could afford travel expenses to pick up their children’s remains.

Additionally, school superintendents were urged to avoid incurring expenses related to returning children’s remains home to their families.”

– quoted from the June 6, 2021 Indian Country Today article entitled, “‘We won’t forget about the children’ – Additional unmarked graves likely at US Indian boarding schools” by Mary Annette Pember

Around the same time the news was filled with stories about the deaths of First Nations children, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School (in Dallas, Texas) was getting ready for her graduation ceremony. For a variety of reasons, the school’s protocol was that graduation speeches had to be approved and so, as was required, Paxton Smith sent her speech about TV and the media through the proper channels and it was included in the “podium book.” However, her graduation happened less than two weeks after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new restriction into law that bans abortions “as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected,” which is at about six weeks. As Ms. Smith noted in the unapproved speech she ended up delivering, the law takes away a person’s choice before they may even realize they are pregnant – and this is true even if the pregnancy is the result of rape and/or incest. By her own admission, Ms. Smith expected her microphone to be cut – but it wasn’t. She was allowed to complete her short speech and express her concern about her future and the future of her peers.

On the flip side, the last thing retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter expected was that his microphone would be cut during a Memorial Day observation in Hudson, Ohio. Just like Paxton Smith, the veteran who served in the United States Army for 30 years (including during the Persian Gulf War) submitted his speech to the appropriate channels. Even though the chair of the Memorial Day Parade committee and president of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary asked him to remove a portion of his speech, the Lieutenant Colonel thought it was important for people to hear about the history of Memorial Day; the whole history, including how it got started. For a variety of reason, he expected his keynote speech to be heard in its entirety. Instead, when he reached the point in his speech where he talked about the first Memorial Day observation, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s speech was cut. In a single moment, he was denied his First Amendment Right. More to the point, he was denied one of the very rights he fought and served to protect. He was also denied the respect that some would say should come hand-in-hand with serving in the military. Why wasn’t he heard (clearly)? Because someone wanted the unheard story of freed Blacks having a parade after giving a proper burial to Union troops to stay unheard.

“The throat chakra has been referred to as the Holy Grail of the chakras because it holds information from all the chakras…. Within the sacred container of the throat chakra, all of this energy and information is ‘metabolized’ – broken down and put back together into a form that becomes your unique expression in the world.”

– quoted from “chapter 5: The Chakras – Your Body’s Energy Stations” in Energy Medicine: Balancing Your Body’s Energies for Optimal Health, Joy, and Vitality by Donna Eden with David Feinstein, Ph.D.

More often than not, when we talk about the neck and throat in our physical practice of yoga, we end up focusing on the heart and heart openers. Which means that a lot of time we access the throat chakra by accessing the heart chakra – and they are inextricably connected, physically and energetically. On the physical side, when we do back bends / heart openers, we are extending the spine. This extension includes the cervical spine, which can sometimes present a problem. Since the neck is usually the most flexible part of the spin it can get hyper-extended, over flexed, over extended, and over rotated. On the energetic side, it can get blocked.

Ideally, if the cervical spine is simply continuing the extension of the rest of your spine, then fully bending backwards (through your whole spine) would bring the top (or back) of your head to your feet and there would still be a hand’s-breadth worth of space at the back of your neck. Consider, however, how often you do a backbend and find your head collapsing back against the tops of your shoulders – essentially compressing the base of the cervical spine instead of extending it. It’s good, every now and again, to check in with your neck to see if it is in line with the rest of your spine or if it is doing its own things.

Checking the alignment of our neck is a good idea even when we don’t completely recognize that we are in spinal extension. Our head, on average, weighs about 12 lbs., but when we drop the head forward (or back) we compound the pressure on our neck. Drop your chin down and the weight/force on the cervical spine increases about 10 lbs. for every inch. In other words, look down so your head drops an inch and now there’s ~22 lbs. of weight on your neck. Look down another inch and now you’ve increased the load to ~32 lbs. – and so it goes. The angle may not seem like much; but, consider what happens when you spend hours looking down at a computer or a book – especially if you are also hunched over or slouching as you look down. For that matter, consider how much extra weight you’re adding to your upper body when you look down during a push up or plank!

Thinking about all that added pressure may remind you to take more breaks to roll out your neck and shrug your shoulders throughout your day – which is great – but don’t forget that all that looking down is also shortening some of your neck muscles and weakening some of your neck muscles. The result of that imbalance in the front and back of your neck may mean your muscles are straining when you’re in a neutral position, because they are not in the habit of holding your head up properly. This can result in neck and shoulder pain, which may in turn cause (stress) headaches. All that looking down and hunching over also means that we are, essentially, hiding our hearts.

“This is a vulnerable place, because the throat chakra is where the inside comes out.”

– quoted from “Chakra Five: Sound – The Communication Chakra” by Anodea Judith, PhD

In learning about the energetic connections between the mind-body-spirit, as outlined by Yoga and Āyurveda as the come to us from India, I was taught that when addressing a particular area make sure you address the areas directly above and directly below. In other words, if you are focusing on the 5th chakra (throat), you would also address the 4th (heart) and 6th (third eye). Inevitably this brings awareness to the whole mind-body – especially when your focus is something like the 5th chakra, which pretty much requires you to address the whole body. And I mean that symbolically as well as energetically, physically, and mentally.

Remember, each part of the (physical) mind-body is metaphorically and energetically connected to one of 7 major energy wheels (chakras)*, which in turn are metaphorically and energetically connected to part of our lived experience. The 1st chakra is related to our lower body, our roots – metaphorically and energetically associated with our first family, tribe, and community of birth. Just as we can be biologically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Hence, an adoptee may deal with genetic and energetic situations related to people that don’t “recognize” as family.

The 2nd chakra, the sacral chakra (lower abdominal and pelvic regions), is the associated with our sacred relationships – in particular, the relationships we make outside of our tribe and community of birth; people we might think of as our “chosen family.” (NOTE: All relationships are sacred; awareness of this simply highlights connections we may overlook. It can also include relationships we make with our first family grouping once we are an adult.) Moving into our upper abdominal cavity, we encounter the 3rd chakra (solar plexus) – metaphorically and energetically associated with our personality, our sense of self, and our self-esteem (ego). These are all tangible and describable parts of our lived experience and, for the most part, fall into the category of being “specific” in nature/manifestation.

The 4th chakra, the heart chakra, is related to our ability to embrace others, ourselves, a moment, and the world. This area is also related to the way we give and receive love, as well as the way we offer our gifts to the world… or not. When we start moving into manifestations of the heart, we start moving into emotional experiences that may or may not be tangible. In fact, we start moving into a category of things that are “unspecific” in nature and towards a category of things that manifest in a way that is “barely describable” – or, only indicated by signs.

Remember, we may not be able to touch a parent’s love for their child, but we can see it and we can experience the feeling of it. Because of this, we often marry these emotional experiences to the outward expressions of what is felt on the inside – which brings us to the 5th chakra, the throat chakra. When we start going deeper into the energetic dynamics of the throat, we find that we are not exploring how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination in a vacuum. No, the throat chakra is connected to how we express our needs, desires, and will/determination as we engage, interact, and/or surrender to (or balance) the needs, desires, and will/determination of others.

The third eye center, or 6th chakra, is the “seat of intuition” and related to one’s ability to perceive the Truth. The crown chakra, or 7th chakra, is related to the present moment. Both of which are “real,” but not tangible (as in touchable) or perceivable through the senses. When it comes to the throat chakra, we want to be able to perceive the Truth, in this present moment, so that we can speak the Truth, right here and right now.

In summary, I often point out that where we come from or start in life plays are part in how we make friends and with whom we make friends (even when it comes down to geography and logistics); where we come from and the friends we make along the way plays a part in how we see and understand ourselves and our place in the world; how we see ourselves and the support we get (or don’t get) from our family and friends plays a part in how we embrace the world and whether or not we offer our gifts and unique expressions/viewpoints to the world – as well as how well we compromise or “play” with others – and all of that plays a part in our understanding of the Truth when we encounter it as well as our ability/willingness to stay in the present moment versus having a penchant for being stuck in the past or constantly daydreaming (without any effort to manifest those dreams).

So, let’s say you (or a person you know) have a strong foundation in life. As a child you had what you needed and, sometimes, you even got what you wanted. If someone told you “no,” there was an explanation that your 5-year old brain may not have completely understood, but trusted and accepted. You may have taken some things for granted, but you mostly appreciate what you had (and have). You have great, supportive relationships, and a solid sense of self that comes with self awareness. You know you have love, joy, and kindness to offer the world and so you offer it to the best of your ability. You may have some self doubt – that’s natural and human – however, for the most part, you are determined to do certain things in life. Now, consider how you (or this person you know) speak up for yourself and others. Think about how the person above “says something” when they “see something” and something needs to be said.

[*NOTE: Some systems describe a several layers of chakras beyond those physically connected to the mind-body, but still connected to our lived experiences. The first of these (purely) metaphysical wheels is the 8th chakra, which is sometimes associated with a sense of wholeness – as in, being fully connected with the Divine. Consider how not feeling you have a stable foundation in life, not feeling connected to others and/or yourself, and not pursuing your dreams (or speaking up for yourself) can make you gullible (i.e., easily fooled or tricked); more inclined to focus on the past or an unrealistic future; and/or consistently seek out ways in which you can feel more connected and more powerful.]

“What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?”

– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes

During this practice, I asked if not being heard is like Langston Hughes’s “a dream deferred.” Do those who go unheard eventually explode, as the poem concludes? My answer is yes; because, as uncomfortable as it might make us – and as much as we might not like to hear it or admit it – we can’t deny that there are a lot of voices we are just now starting to hear. We are just now starting to hear some voices from the hills and from the mountains, and we are just now starting to hear some voices from the cities. We are just now starting to hear these loud (explosive) voices, because we weren’t paying attention when they were quiet (or being silenced).

There may be some voices we wish we had heard sooner. We may appreciate what they have to say; we may feel enriched by their perspectives; and we might think they would be less angry if they had been heard sooner. And then there are those equally angry voices that we wish would shut up, because we don’t appreciate their perspectives; we don’t believe we will be enriched by what they have to say; and we may not understand why they are so angry.

My dharma-buddy Stacy was recently featured on a podcast (see below) where she talked about how uncomfortable it is to talk to someone who has recently, and/or over the years, expressed opinions you find abhorrent. Maybe it’s a racist uncle. Maybe it’s a misogynistic friend or a classist neighbor. Maybe it’s your radically-left leaning, militant aunt. Either way, we’ve all been there and we’ve all had that moment where we decide not to speak up, because we don’t want things to become more twisted and uncomfortable.

Then, because we (or someone) didn’t speak up, the situation gets worse and more people get hurt. People start asking why we (or someone) didn’t speak up; why we (or someone) let the pain and suffering continue to happen – maybe even causing direct harm to more people. We may even find ourselves in situations where the finger pointing becomes victim blaming and shaming and not only are we not addressing the original issue, we’re not even addressing the situation that manifested as people not feeling comfortable speaking up and speaking out. Some of the greatest leaders in the history of the world have indicated that it is our responsibility to speak up. If we accept that as gospel truth then we also have to acknowledge the responsibility of listening and making sure voices (including our own) are being heard.

“There are in the white South millions of people of goodwill whose voices are yet unheard, whose course is yet unclear, and whose courageous acts are yet unseen. Such persons are in Montgomery today. These persons are often silent today because of fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. In the name of God, in the interest of human dignity, and for the cause of democracy, I appeal to these white brothers to gird their courage, to speak out, to offer the leadership that is needed. Here in Montgomery we are seeking to improve the whole community, and we call upon the whites to help us….  If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

– quoted from the December 3, 1959 Address at the Fourth Annual Institute on the Nonviolence and Social Change of Bethel Church, Montgomery Alabama by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

What does it take to be heard? Well, first you have to speak. What does it take to speak? You have to have fortitude; which can come from that strong foundation, strong support, and that strong sense of self. You have to recognize that you’re not going to change every heart and every mind. Simultaneously, you have to know your heart and mind so that, even if what you say makes people uncomfortable, it is said from the heart, with love and kindness. Part of that practice of speaking from the heart – expressing your heart – is recognizing that everyone won’t agree with you or even understand you. And, that’s ok. As one of my sister-in-laws has said, repeatedly, “Sometimes it’s not for you to understand.”

You have to be aware that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. Maybe your basic premise is flawed or maybe you have the right idea, but express it in a way that’s not wise, skillful, or wholesome. You have to recognize that other people’s needs and desires are based on their lived experiences – which are different from your lived experiences. But, with all that, you have to be determined to be heard. Finally, you need someone who is willing (determined even) to listen – and maybe even to give you their platform.

“SM: …I just talk with her about how, I imagine how difficult that will be; given that she has not been able to make her voice heard with someone that she is close to, with someone that she knows. And that that is a great place to start.  It’s like metta practice: Don’t doubt the power of such a seemingly small interaction – that the impact ripples out. So, talk to your friends and family, who articulate a perspective or viewpoint that is different than yours; without trying to convince them that their way is wrong, without trying to change their mind. Again, genuinely engaging with interest: How did you come to have that perspective? How do you imagine that impacts these people? Like, genuinely, with interest to understand.

DH: So courage doesn’t necessarily mean flipping tables or, you know, throwing cutlery. It can just be inquiring with real interest, as opposed to just an outright confrontation.

SM: Absolutely. And it may have that same intensity for that friend as it would for me, say, in my workplace proposing a whole anti-racist curriculum.”

– quoted from the Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris episode “#350: How to Be Courageous” – featuring Stacy McClendon

Ultimately, there are lots of things – physically, emotionally, and energetically speaking – that keep us from…well, speaking. Sometimes there’s too much energy, too much engagement, and at other times there is not enough. Sometimes when we want to talk about a certain subject or be heard on a certain issue, we find we have a scratchy throat or that we’re losing our voice. Other times, we just can’t seem to find the right words… or we can’t get the words out and we stutter. Sometimes another person’s will/determination to be heard is stronger than ours – sometimes because they believe they should be (and/or have the right) to be heard.

Going back to the Patanjali’s sūtra, the “ability” to not be heard can feel like a loss of power, but what if it enables a transfer of power? What if enables more to be heard? What if it enables more understanding?

May 29th is the anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. Born in 1917, President Kennedy is credited with writing Profiles in Courage while recovering from back surgery during his tenure as a United States Senator. He even won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, despite the fact that the book was not included in a list of finalists. The short book features profiles of eight United States Senators who spoke up for what they believed to be right, even though their actions, words, and deeds were not necessarily popular with their constituents and/or party. They spoke for what they believed to be right even when they found themselves under attack and without a position. Heart openers and the idea behind the book are usually my focus on President Kennedy’s birthday, and might even seem to be a good point of entry for Yoga Sūtra 3.22 – except for that really inconvenient part of the story people don’t often mention.

At the beginning of 1953, Ted Sorenson became the chief legislative aide to the then-freshman Senator John F. Kennedy. Eventually, he would become President Kennedy’s special counselor, adviser, and primary speechwriter. Along with Georgetown University professor Jules Davids, he was initially (and publicly) recognized as someone who aided the Senator in writing Profiles in Courage. He even received some remuneration for his “research” and assistance. These days, however, many historians acknowledge that while the idea was Kennedy, the final product was almost all Sorenson. Likewise, a poem featured in the miniseries 11.22.63 is almost always credited to Stephen King, who wrote the book of the same name – even though the poem does not appear in the book. The original poem was, in fact, written by Bridget Carpenter and then edited by Stephen King as he reviewed her script.

It is nice to get credit where credit is due, but these examples are also a good reminder that we all have a voice – even if we are using sign language, even if we are using a computer – we have a way to be “heard,” to share the power of our words. So remember, you have been invited in and honor what you have to say, and honor what those around you are saying.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

– a poem by Bridget Carpenter and Stephen King, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

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

On having the heart to have a heart-to-heart (the aforementioned podcast)

### LISTEN SILENCE LISTEN ###

Let’s Breathe (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) May 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Monday, May 24th and Tuesday, May 25th (TRIGGER WARNING). You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair. It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”

 

 

– quoted from a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter Ellen, dated April 8, 1854 (as printed in The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, volume 4, edited by Ralph L. Rusk, 1939)

There are some practices, like at Common Ground and during the old rooftop practices, where we don’t use a playlist. Sometimes, like on Saturdays, we often start the practice without the music. However, more often than not, I pick something instrumental to set the tone. It may even be something that is “punny” and/or something that contains an inside joke or subliminal message. On Tuesday, for instance, we started with “A Breath of Stillness” – and just like on Monday that was the focus of the practice; to find the stillness that allows us to breathe and then to find stillness that speaks to us in between the breaths.

There are whole (ancient) texts written on asana, but my go to reference (for quick and dirty instruction) is Yoga Sūtras 2.46 – even though that is the first in a series of three sūtras detailing postural instruction. While other texts (like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, and Shiva Samhita) give more detailed instruction about how to position the parts of one’s body, Patanjali’s instructions are consistent with the qualities one needs in order to practice: stability and steadiness, comfort and ease, equanimity and overall peace of mind (joy). The other texts primarily focus on achieving these qualities through the site chosen for the practice, while Patanjali focuses on the mind-body as the site. All the texts, however, point to the quality of breath as an indicator of the quality of the body’s position.

But, what happens when our body is not in a position to breathe? What happens when we don’t have (as instructed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) “a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds…” or find that we are not “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”? Do we not practice? Do we not breathe??

Of course, those are ridiculous questions. Of course we are going to practice (if we are committed to ourselves and our practice). Furthermore, we have no choice with regard to our breath, because as long as we are alive, we will breathe. We may not breathe well; we may need the assistance of a machine or a reminder from a teacher/friend, but breathing is one of the biggest parts (and signs) of being alive.

When we “sit” and breathe on our mats and on our cushions, we acknowledge that this is something people all around the world have done before us; something millions and billions of people are doing at the same time as us; and something people will be doing, all around the world, long after we are gone. On a certain level, we acknowledge the divinity of the breath and breathing… the universality of it… even when our experience of it is different.

These types of acknowledgements allow us to experience a deeper and richer breadth of breath (and life). These types of acknowledgements also allow us to take a journey into the stillness and into the richness within us and all around us – and to tap into what is divine, or universal, within us and around us.

“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”

 

 

– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

 

Don’t let the word (or concept) of “God” bother you and become an obstacle to your practice/journey. After all, you could use the word “Light” or “the Divine” or “Goodness” or “Goddess” or “Universe” or “the Community / World.” Try it, just breath for a moment and use the word(s) that work for you.

One of my favorite Yoga Sūtras is 1.36 and I refer to it often: viśokā vā jyotişmatī, which encourages us to focus on the place inside of us that is “free from sorrow” and “infused with light.” According to the practice, focusing in this way anchors the mind and brings peace of mind. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, even points to traditions where this is the “core of the entire text” and of the practice. We find this central idea – even this centering practice – in other religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism.

I specifically used the two examples above, because over the weekend, I got similar reminders from two different contemplative theologians/teachers from two different spiritual communities. The first was Thomas J. Bushlack, PhD, who is a Christian professor of theology and ethics – as well as a longtime practitioner of yoga. The second was Buddhist dharma teacher Tara Brach, PhD (who, I believe, also practices yoga). As I already mentioned, both are contemplative leaders in their traditions and also offer meditations to people within and outside of their spiritual communities.

Full disclosure, Dr. Bushlack is someone I know personally, someone who is part of my yoga community, and someone I closely associate with the religious philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. This weekend, however, rather than quoting Saint Thomas, he was quoting a different namesake: Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and one of the three co-developers of Centering Prayer (which Dr. Bushlack offers as a foundational practice for religious and non-religious professionals). While I shared a bit more (here and in class on Monday night) than he did, the reference to “our core goodness” dovetails with Dr. Brach’s use of “Buddha-nature” and both references are in relation to a practice that is fundamentally tied to knowing there are times we can do something (as much as we can for as long as we can) and other times when we have to let go, surrender.

“1. …. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.

 

2. Our basic core of goodness is our true Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to beread according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“… we can’t do it alone and we can’t do it if we think it’s like a sense of my own ego’s heart. In other words, that doesn’t work. If you think you’re responsible, [you’re personally responsible,] for another life, then your heart won’t be able to open big enough. So, in a way, you have to hand that over… just sense that there’s a love and intelligence in this universe that’s bigger than this personal self. And you can entrust whatever feels like too much into it….

 

It’s a practice.  And it took me a long time, because, I, especially when I was a active as a therapist, really thought it was up to me to fix people. Until I came to this amazing realization that everybody has Buddha-nature. I mean, everybody has that light and that heart and some people are going to unfold more than others in ways that manifest….

It’s a surrendering of control and thinking that we’re the doer – and realizing that this body-mind will serve the greater good best that doesn’t think it’s ‘a doer.’”

 

 

– quoted from a weekly Satsang / Live Q&A session (recorded 10172020), regarding “Holding Space for Ourselves and Others when the Suffering Feels like too Much” – part of “The Power of Inquiry: Healing Conversations” by Tara Brach

 

Normally when we come to a really big anniversary – the anniversary of something good or bad, monumental, even tragic and horrific; something that left a mark on our hearts, minds, and psyches – we remember where we were, what we were doing, maybe even what we were wearing and who was with us. We can remember exactly how we felt and what we thought. I find that’s the norm when we come up to an anniversary, especially a personal or universal anniversary that was tragic. We remember little things, minute, seemingly inconsequential things – even when the event affects each of us in different ways.

But, May 25, 2020 is a little different for most people in the world.

You may not remember exactly what you were doing a year ago today – let alone what you were wearing. We were still in the (relative) beginning of the pandemic shutdown, so maybe you remember where you were and what you weren’t doing, because it was outside of your normal routine. Maybe nothing stands out in your actual physical memory of the day itself, other than that it was Memorial Day… or maybe a special day specific to you. Yet, you remember today the events of today.

We remember today because it is the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd and while many people witnessed some aspects of his murder – maybe even on this date – most of us weren’t actually there when it happened. We may have only been a few blocks or miles away, but most of us were completely unaware of what was happening until after the fact. Even then, most of us didn’t imagine the horror of the act itself. On May 25, 2020, most of us were completely unaware that what was happening around us – and that the world would be able to watch the horror of it all, in real time – was about to change everything. It changed the way people interacted with each other.  It changed the way people understood (or thought they understood) one another. It changed the way people thought about their breath… and their ability to breathe.

“Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In times like these
That’s what your heart is for
Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In honor of your brother
That’s what your heart is for”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

Breathing is connected to our autonomic nervous system; it is something that happens to us, and also something we can engage or control. When we inhale, there’s a little micro-extension in the spine; a moment of heart-opening (and bending over backwards). When we exhale there’s a micro-flexion in the spine; a moment where we turn inward and perhaps surrender. Notice that there is balance in this system: the inhale is active/yang; the exhale is lunar/passive.

In fact, each part of our breath is associated with a different part of our nervous system. The inhale is tied to the sympathetic nervous system and our fight/flee/freeze or collapse response. It activates when we need to “GO!” and, therefore, is considered the gas pedal. The exhale is connected to the parasympathetic nervous, which is connected to our ability to rest and digest – as well as to create. It activates when we need to slow down or stop and, therefore, is considered the brakes of our system. (Notice that “STOP!” would fall into the sympathetic nervous system category.)

So, our physiological systems are designed move in and out of balance – to find balance within the imbalance. However, situations that activate our sympathetic nervous system (making us want to fight, flee, freeze, or collapse) also create a breathe pattern that is not sustainable over long periods of time. Additionally, we are living in a time where our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly activated – sometimes to the point of being over stimulated – and we develop a habit of bad breathing. Add to that the fact that the physiological – as well as emotional and psychological – effects of COVID make it harder and harder to breathe.

To make matters worse, in some traditional sciences (like Chinese Medicine) the vitality for the heart and lungs is associated with the arms and with emotions of joy and grief/sorrow+loss, respectively. Each of those meridians is coupled with another meridian – specifically the intestine meridians, which are related to how we digest. Remember, our need to process, digest, metabolize, and release waste is not restricted to food, drink, or medicine that we consume. We also consume experiences, actions, thoughts, and words – which means we also have to have space and time (not to mention the energy) to digest all that! And, over the last year-plus, we have had a lot of “that!” to digest.

“First, keep breathing…. Don’t take this next breath for granted. Never take your breath, which is a symbol of your life, for granted. Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day. Then follow it with another… and another. Make it a habit, a practice, to very deliberately and intentionally breathe. Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

 

– quoted from my blog post/page “A Place to Start”

 

Last year, I made a point to emphasize things I say all the time, things I’ve been saying for over a decade – but those things landed differently after we watched George Floyd die. As I knew it would. Which is why I added that last part, the reminder to “Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that George Floyd wasn’t the first person to utter those words before dying during an encounter with the police. It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that it’s more than Eric Garner, who was killed in New York City on July 17, 2014. Those are just the one’s vaguely familiar to most of us.

But what about Nicholas Dyksma (August 31, 2015 in Harris Country, Georgia); Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin, Jr, (January 4, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona); Hector Arreola  (January 10, 2017 in Columbus, Georgia); Christopher Lowe (July 26, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas); Javier Ambler II (March 28, 2019 in Austin, Texas); Derrick Scott (May 20, 2019 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma); Elijah McClain (who was restrained on August 24, 2019 in Aurora, Colorado, declared brain dead on August 27th, and taken off life support on August 30th); Byron Williams (September 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada); John Elliott Neville (who was restrained while in county jail on December 2, 2019 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and died on December 4th); Manuel Ellis (March 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington); or William Jennette (restrained and died in a Marshall County, Tennessee jail in earlier this month)?

Just for the record, those are not the only people who died or the only people who experienced similar restraints and positioning during police encounters. What about David Cornelius Smith, who (on Thursday, September 9, 2010) was restrained (after a Taser was used on him multiple times) at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, mere feet from where I taught yoga? He was in a coma and on life support before being declared dead on September 17th.  (In 2013, the City of Minneapolis promised to offer additional training in restraint safety and paid Mr. Smith’s family $3 million in a settlement after footage from one of the officer’s personal cameras, i.e., not body-cam, was entered into evidence. Some have said that the 2010 footage bears a striking resemblance to the footage from last year, in terms of the restraint tactics and overall attitude of the police officers involved.)

And, let’s not forget the teenager who was previously restrained by the same police officer who killed George Floyd?

Finally, please note, that not all of the aforementioned were Black, nor were they all minorities.

“Fight for your life
Fight for your life
In the face of a society
That doesn’t value your life
For the men in your life
For the boys in your life
For your brothers, for your fathers
For the ones that came before us
For the future, for the future
For the future, for the future

Continue to breathe”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

 

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity [well-being]:”

 

 

– quoted from part II of the poem “Merlin’s Song” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love reading the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, born May 25, 1803 (in Boston, Massachusetts), even though I sometimes get frustrated reading Emerson. I love reading Emerson, because over 200 years after his birth, his words are still relevant to our society. But, I get frustrated, because… his words are still relevant to our society. It’s like we’ve learned nothing individually (or collectively) about our mind-body-spirits and our relationship to the rest of nature. Both my feelings of love and frustration are enhanced by the fact so much of Emerson’s essays and speeches, especially on subjects like Nature and consciousness and Creation, sound like my Yoga philosophy books – like the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita – as well as certain religious commentary that I find myself diving into.

Those similarities are not a coincidence. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a theologian (as well as a philosopher) who graduated from Harvard Divinity School before becoming the leader of the transcendental movement in the 19th century. He was a student of Eastern philosophies and ancient religions. He was also a poet, a teacher, and an abolitionist whose views on race (and nationality) did not age well. He was also banned from his alma mater (for 27 years and 6 days)  for speaking up about things he saw wrong within his own religious community.

Despite the aforementioned sketchy ideas about race and nationality, Emerson believed in the sanctity of all things – as he saw all things as connected to God; but his critics accused him of diminishing God. In a sermon, his Harvard Divinity School mentor, Henry Ware, Jr., spoke of “The Personality of the Deity” and said, “Take away the Father of the universe, and, though every ordinance remain unchanged, mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum; clothed, fed, governed, but objects of pity rather than congratulation, because deprived of those resting-places for the affections, without which the soul is not happy.” His idea that “the fact of knowledge and ideas reveals to him the fact of eternity” also did not sit well with the clergy.

“Once Emerson, on being asked by a relative if he were a Swedenborgian [a devotee of Swedish Lutheran theologian and church reformer Emanuel Swedenborg], replied: ‘I am more of a Quaker than any­thing else. I believe in the “still, small voice,” and that voice is Christ within us.’ Just how well Emerson understood his own position presents an interesting problem. Discovering how much of a Quaker Emerson really was may add the history of another influence on Emerson’s thought, and hence define more clearly one of the great influences on American ideals of today.

 

The problem of determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson is complicated by the difficulty of separating that influence from the many others that have been discovered in his work. How much Plato Emerson knew, how well he understood the neo-Platonists, whether or not he ever comprehended the message of the orient, and what was his attitude toward science are questions that must be satisfactorily considered before an exact and final statement of the Quaker influence on Emerson can be made. To attempt such finality here would be foolhardy; to at­tempt any sort of definition may be fruitless in view of G. E. Woodberry’s statement: ‘One follows him [Emerson] into the books he read, not for the sources of his thought, but for the mould of the man himself.’”

 

– quoted from “1. Introduction” in “The Quaker Influence on Emerson” (a thesis submitted for the Degree of Masters of Arts, University of Wisconsin, 1939) by Charles D. Gelatt (the then-future entrepreneur and philanthropist  

 

Of course, another reason it would be “foolhardy” to try “determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson” is that, by his own admission, he believed in tapping into that place inside of himself – that is also inside of all of us. Whether we call that place our heart, our spirit, or our soul; whether we identify it as God, or Christ-nature, or Buddha-nature; whether we identify it as the source of Light and/or the greater goodness inside of you, we can use the breath to tap into it. We can find it in between the inhale and the exhale. And I will meet you there.

 

“Three problems are put by nature to the mind; What is matter? Whence is it? and Whereto? The first of these questions only, the ideal theory answers. Idealism saith: matter is a phenomenon, not a substance. Idealism acquaints us with the total disparity between the evidence of our own being, and the evidence of the world’s being. The one is perfect; the other, incapable of any assurance; the mind is a part of the nature of things; the world is a divine dream, from which we may presently awake to the glories and certainties of day. Idealism is a hypothesis to account for nature by other principles than those of carpentry and chemistry. Yet, if it only deny the existence of matter, it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. It leaves God out of me. It leaves me in the splendid labyrinth of my perceptions, to wander without end. Then the heart resists it, because it balks the affections in denying substantive being to men and women. Nature is so pervaded with human life, that there is something of humanity in all, and in every particular. But this theory makes nature foreign to me, and does not account for that consanguinity which we acknowledge to it….

 

But when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to inquire, Whence is matter? and Whereto? many truths arise to us out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old. As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power. Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite.”

 

– quoted from the essay the 1836 essay “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

There is no playlist for the Monday night practice at Common Ground Meditation Center.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

 

Check out my previous blog posts about the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s August 31, 1837 speech for the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the July 15, 1838 speech to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School (that got him banned until 1865).

”3. God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to be read according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“‘No one really understands the Atma [Soul/Essence], Arjuna. One person sees it as wondrous, another speaks of its glory, others say it is strange, and there are many who listen but do not comprehend it at all. Very few even think of inquiring into what is beyond this physical world.’

 

‘I am well aware that I have veered into high philosophy, but you must understand that all beings, whether called ‘friend’ or ‘enemy/ have this indestructible Atma within. You must be poised above this debilitating sorrow of yours.’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.29-30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley.

 

### “For your brothers, for your fathers, for your sons, for your daughters, for your mothers, for your sisters, for your friends, for your teachers, for your cousins…continue to breathe” ###