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Knowing & Unknowing, a prequel & a reboot October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

– James Baldwin (as quoted from the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck)

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened by Pope John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, the council entailed four working sessions – the first of which started today, October 13th – and spanned a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correcting those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

 

– Dr. Thomas Schelling, economist

 

Portions of the above were previously posted on October 11, 2020. The following was previously posted on October 13, 2020.

“It feels like I should have something momentous to say now that I’ve hit this landmark birthday. There is only this—I feel I’m in the middle of it all. Family, grandkids, work, marriage, good friends, joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing. Hmmm…come to think of it, that is pretty remarkable!”

 

 

– my dear friend DB on turning 60 (in an email dated 10/14/2013)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but in many ways my life has taken turns I never saw coming. Even beyond the events of 2020, things are very different than I imagined. When we look back, when we see cause and effect – and even the now obvious beginnings of “unforeseen consequences” that absolutely could have seen coming if we had taken the time to pay more attention – it’s only human nature to think, “If I’d only known….” But, let’s be honest, coming where you come from, being surrounded by the people who surround you, and being who you are would you really have done things differently if you had known what was unknown?

Before you answer that question, consider that every moment of lives is spent a liminal moment between “knowing and unknowing,” “the seen and unseen.” Are you, in this moment considering the unknown and unseen forces at work around you and within you? Are you, at this moment, even comfortable considering the unknown (let alone the fact that there are things you know that you might need to “un-know”)?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

 

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

When Paul the Apostle and Timothy, who would become the first Christian bishop of Ephesus, wrote the  second letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Saint Paul was focused on the church’s internal struggles, division, and quarrels. He intended to use his own personal experiences with external persecution and internal strife to reassure the congregants that was an authority on Jesus and his teachings and, furthermore, that “all this is for your benefit.” He instructed them to “not lose heart,” because their faith would be rewarded in a way that overwhelmed any current troubles. Similarly, Patanjali indicates (in the Yoga Sūtras) that the end results of our efforts (karma) are stored in affliction/pain “that is experienced in seen and unseen lives” (YS 2.12), but that ultimately everything that happens in the objective/perceived world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom.” (YS 2.18)

Again and again, the instruction is to trust that things are happening for the good if you are following the path. In the latter case, the path is the philosophy of Yoga, as opposed to Christianity; but, similar guidance is found in sacred text around the world. So the question becomes, how do we balance what we believe (our faith, especially in something unseen) with our reason, logic, and what we can clearly see (i.e., perceive with our senses)? Additionally, how do we “keep the faith” when everything seems to be going wrong?

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop considering the needs of others – and that’s the very minute we are divided. The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop learning, adapting, and growing. In other words, it’s the minute we stop truly living (and the minute we stop living a life that serves the greater good). If, however, we can take Joyner’s suggestion and apply it to our daily interactions (even with ourselves) we have the possibility of living in a way that supports the greater good.

Will Joyner’s words from 2006 present us with a challenge, one we can accept on a daily basis. It’s the challenge to turn inward and to move through life with a certain level of humility. Humility is crucial because, as my friend DB so eloquently pointed out, we are not alone in this thing called life. And, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “… either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together….” To learn to live together we have to figure out a way to balance our wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. We need to figure out a way to connect between our areas of “knowing and unknowing.”

I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary. It is also self-sustaining, because the more we practice/live with discernment and the wisdom of the heart, the more we want to listen to the heart. One way to start is to consider the yamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for others and the niyamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for your own self. Such a practice creates a feedback loop that can serve the greater good.

“The practice of contentment begins with a conscious decision not to fixate on the fruit of our actions. It requires a deep conviction that when we perform our actions, the forces governing the law of cause and effect will ensure they bear fruit. When our actions do not appear to best fruit, we remind ourselves that unknown factors are far more powerful than known factors. When our actions bear desirable fruit, we acknowledge the higher reality that arranges unforeseen factors in our favor. When the fruit is undesirable, we accept it while acknowledging the benevolence of divine will. Thus we remain unperturbed by both the desirable and undesirable consequences of our actions.” 

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.42 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

Have your voted for the Carry app?

 

### WHAT DO YOU KNOW? ###

Giving Flowers for Now & for Later (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Movies, Music, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot. Happy Equinox to all!

 

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 21st. 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.]

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

 

– quoted from the 2005 University of Maine Commencement Speech by Stephen King

As more and more people pass away at an early age, especially those whose deaths are tragic, we hear the old saying that we should give people their flowers when they are living. Although I can’t find the original source, Anne Frank is often quoted as writing “Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.” How scary is that? I mean, to me, the idea that someone could come to the end of their days – or live all of their days – not knowing how much they are loved and appreciated is very scary and unsettling. The human heart can hold a lot of love and a lot of kindness, even a lot of courage, wisdom, and generosity. But, the human heart can also hold its fair share of regret, fear, judgement, hatred, selfishness, self-centeredness and inconsideration.

The aforementioned “negative” sentiments may or may not seem really scary to you, but think about how they are expressed in the world. Then think about how those expressions in the world manifest in books by Stephen King. Born September 21, 1947, Mr. King is an acknowledged expert in horror, suspense, supernatural fiction, who has also written crime, science-fiction, and fantasy novels. His (65-and-counting) novels and hundreds of short stories and novellas (like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, from 1982), as well as non-fiction work and have sold hundreds of millions of copies, won hundreds of awards, been adapted into movies and comic books, and creeped the living daylights out of people all over the world. And, it doesn’t matter if you use his first novel, Carrie (1974) or Pet Sematary (1983) or Misery (1987) or (one of my favorites) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), every Stephen King story starts with a “what if” and then proceeds to give us a glimpse into the best and the worst parts of the human heart. And the worst parts can be really scary.

Of course, there is more to Stephen King than scary stories. He is also a musician who has collaborated with artists like Foo Fighters and Bronson Arroyo, as well as John Mellencamp, and played guitar for the Rock Bottom Remainders. He is also a husband, father, grandfather, a Boston Red Sox fan, a philanthropic (and political) activist, and a recovering addict. In addition to inspiring two of his own children to become published authors, he has written books on writing and reportedly “donates [millions every year] to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment,” schools, and arts-related organizations. He and his wife Tabitha King (neé Spruce), who is also an author and activist, support Maine charities and communities through their foundation. They also own a radio station group.

While I haven’t read everything he has ever written, I am a Stephen King fan and I appreciate his work and his life – and I appreciate how both have made me think about my work, my life, and the world-at-large.

“Either get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

– quoted from the film the novella “Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption: Hope Springs Eternal” by Stephen King

 

Like Stephen King, Herbert George Wells was born on September 21 (in 1866) and was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction including works of history, satire, biography, and autobiography. While his work also is full of social commentary and glimpses into the human heart, when most people think of H. G. Wells, they think of science fiction like The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), War of the Worlds (1897), and When The Sleeper Wakes (1899). Also like King, Mr. Wells suffered an accident that severely injured one of his legs and left him bedridden for an extended period of time. There are several obvious differences between the two accidents, including the fact that Stephen King’s happened when he was a successful adult writing about writing; while young “Bertie” suffered his accident as an eight year old. But, the very advice Mr. King gives in On Writing – to read as much as possible – is the very experience that led Mr. Wells to write (a hundred years later).

H. G. Wells got people to think. He got people to think, “What if…?” He inspired authors and scientists like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Carl Sagan, Ursula Le Guin, Sinclair Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Margaret Atwood. He predicted a world war, the atomic bomb, and wrote about a “world brain,” which was basically an encyclopedia accessible by the entire world through another of his fantastical ideas (let’s call it an electronic web). He also wrote about aircraft, tanks, space travel, and satellite television that had not yet been invented.

He was also a husband and a father, possibly even a grandfather; however, with all due respect, he seems to have been more of a philanderer than a philanthropist. While some of his actions set women back, he predicted the sexual revolution and, perhaps, even inspired it. Again, I haven’t read all of his books – or indulged in all of the movies, radio plays, and comic book adaptations – but I appreciate the worlds that he built and how they make us think about the world we are building.

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

 

– H. G. Wells

My third bouquet of gratitude flowers goes to Leonard Cohen, also born on September 21 (in 1934), an award winning musician and poet, whose songs are psalms, sacred songs, for the human heart. A Companion of the Order of Canada (CC) and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (GOQ), he started out as an author or poetry and prose, who even had some of his drawings published with his written words. His professional music career didn’t start until he was in his early thirties; however, despite what some might consider a late start, he proceeded to create fifteen studio albums in nearly fifty years and wrote songs that would become chartbusters for himself as well as for singers like Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (who is the father of Mr. Cohen’s granddaughter), and Jennifer Warnes. He also inspired bands likes Nirvana and U2, collaborated with Phillip Glass, and co-wrote (and/or had music featured) in several films, including the rock musical Night Magic (which he co-wrote with composer Lewis Furey).

Mr. Cohen was a father, who collaborated with his son on an album and his daughter on a musical video and on one of his world tours. While he studied (and practiced) Zen Buddhism as an adult – and was even ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk – Leonard Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family with a rich religious heritage and observed the Sabbath “even while on tour and [performing] for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.” He never seemed to shy away from political and social commentary, in his music or in his life. In fact, some of his efforts to support peace efforts and reconciliation in the Middle East were met with discussions of boycotts and, ultimately, withdrawal of some supporting organizations. Despite those discussions of boycotts, however, his 2009 performance in Tel Aviv, Israel (which occurred towards the end of the High Holidays that year) sold out within 24 hours.

Leonard Cohen had style and grace that was evident in his dress and his demeanor, as well as in the way he performed. For instance, there is a powerful moment in the recording of a live performance of “Anthem” (a moment possibly captured by his daughter Lorca) when Mr. Cohen introduces his band to the audience. This is something that is pretty typical for most Class A musicians when they are on tour, but the way it happens at this performance in London epitomizes what it means to give someone their flowers while they are still living. Watching the footage is also like watching a mutual appreciation society in action. The gratitude is a living breathing thing being exchanged between all the people on the stage.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

 

– Leonard Cohen

 

Living and breathing gratitude is a key element in my practice this time of year, because giving thanks is a critical aspect of happiness. In fact, “expressing gratitude” is recommended by experts like Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in Positive Psychology and the author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and A Clash of Values: The Struggle for Universal Freedom, who use to teach a class at Harvard University called “Happiness 101” (also known as Psychology 1504). In his class and through his research, he offered the following 6 very practical tips for cultivating happiness:

“1. Give yourself permission to be human.

  1. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.
  2. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.
  3. Simplify!”
  4. Remember the mind body connection.
  5. Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

I share these tips this time of year, because Monday at sunset marked the beginning Sukkot, which many people consider the “Season of Happiness,” because they view the instructions in the Bible as a mandate to be happy. Since the instruction is to be joyful, or rejoice, about things that have yet to happen – blessings yet to come – one has to wonder: How can we be “independently happy” and celebrate something that hasn’t happened yet?

That’s a good question, and the tips above are some of the really good answers. Especially, if you allow your gratitude to ride the waves of your consciousness, almost like a traveler in a time machine.

“‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.’”

 

– quoted from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

 

Portions of the following were previously posted on October 4, 2020 (see “Sukkot” link above).

In the Torah (and the Christian Old Testament), there are a list of commandments and, mixed into that list, are certain dates the faithful are commanded to observe. We think of them, in the modern context, as “holidays” and they are filled with ritual and tradition. Sometimes the mandate is general and left to interpretation (like when it says in Deuteronomy, “‘… and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee.’” Other times, however, it is very specific about who, what, when, and even where. Sukkot, the “Festival (or Feast) of the Tabernacles (or Booths)” is one of the times where the details are specific – even when they appear vague.

For seven days, 8 in the diaspora, people within the Jewish community and people who observe the commanded holidays, eat, sleep, socialize, and sometimes work in a temporary shelter. The shelter, a sukkah, consists of three walls of any material and a roof made of natural fiber. (Natural being something grown from the earth.) I mentioned last year that it is a holiday that seems tailor-made for the times we find ourselves in – when it is still recommended that people gather outdoors in small groups, maintain a little social distance, and wash their hands. I reiterate this, not to make light of the tradition or the circumstances we find ourselves in; but to reinforce the wisdom of the rituals and the traditions – as well as the fact that things can be sacred even when they are not perfect.

“Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.”

 

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

 

– quoted from Devarim  – Deuteronomy (16:14 – 15)

 

One of the significant things about Sukkot is that it is a time for people to come together regardless of their circumstances, gender, religion, or political affiliation. It is a time for all to remember challenges of the past; while also celebrating better days ahead. Another especially noteworthy thing about Sukkot is the symbolism behind the rituals. For instance, one of the points of being outside in the most basic of shelters, exposed to the elements, is to remind people of the time when their ancestors were living in simple, temporary shelters when they were exiled in the desert for 40 years. It is also a good time to remember how much we have – as well as the fact that we could be happy with less. Sukkot is a reminder that life can be full, even when it is simple and bare-boned. It is a time of appreciation and it is also about accepting the present moment.

That last part – accepting the present moment – is easy to overlook. However, the commandment specifically states that the celebration occurs in a place chosen by God. In other words, we might not be where we want to be or where we thought we would be. (Hello, 2020 & 2021!) This is something I point out every year, but it was especially pointed out to me in 2016, when the creamery, where I held my 2015 Sukkot retreat was no longer available… and again, in 2017, when it was no longer as easy to schedule time in the church where I held the second retreat… and again, in 2019, when the church camp I had planned to use experienced a fire and had to cancel the bulk of their season. And now, here it is 2020 (& 2021) … once again, things are not as we planned – despite the fact that CP graciously offered to help me plan a 2020 retreat. On the face, it might seem that we are “destined” not to observe this time – and yet, we do, every year… just not necessarily in the place that we thought.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

 

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

 

The Talmud says:

 

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Sukkot 2.5 for 09212021]

NOTE: YouTube has music from the original movie version of The Time Machine.

 

### Thank you for all that you do! Thank you for just being you!! ###

The Roots of Your Story (the Wednesday post) August 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. 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.]

 

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice. We can sit all night with our friend while he talks about the end of his marriage, and what we finally get is a collection of stories about passion, tenderness, misunderstanding, sorrow, money….”

 

– quoted from the essay “Marketing” in Part III of Broken Vessels: Essays by Andre Dubus

Maty Ezraty once said, “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).” Life is a little different in that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously progress forward and back (as we learn about each other’s back stories). However, regardless of the order in which we receive the information, take a moment to consider that our minds, bodies, and spirits are always telling us stories. The practice just happens to be a great way to process our stories. What remains to be seen, however, is if we paying attention.

Are we paying attention to our own stories? Are we paying attention to the stories of others? What happens when we “listen” to the sensation, which is the information that relates the story? What happens when, no matter how “woo-woo” it may seem, we trust our intuition and what comes up for us during the practice?

What happens when we dig down deep into the roots of the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other?

“There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me”

 

– quoted from the song “Telling Stories” by Tracy Chapman

 

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.”

 

– Alex Haley

At the beginning of the practice, as we are getting into the first pose – no matter what pose it is – we spend a little time establishing the roots, the foundation, the seat, the āsana. Then we repeat that process, again and again, as we move through the practice. Sometimes, we establish a foundation that works for a whole sequence, which gives us a different understanding of the root system and how everything stacks up from the base, the seat, the āsana (which is the pose). Sometimes, when we come back to a pose, we may pause for a moment and consider what’s changed, what’s shifted, and whether the original foundation still serves us. Sometimes we may find that, like roots, we need to spread out a little. If we spread out a little, add a prop, and/or bring another part of our body to the floor or a prop, then we are adding to our āsana, our seat, our foundation, our roots.

Adding to our roots, sometimes allows us to go deeper into our stories. The deeper we go, the more stories we find. The more stories we find, the more stories we can share.

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

We may not always realize, but we are actually telling a multitude of stories any given time. There is the physical story of who we are and what we’re doing in this moment; which is also the story of what we’ve done in past moments and may tell a little bit about our future moments. Then consider the mental story – which is inextricably tied to the physical story – and the emotional story, which is also tied to the mind-body story. There’s also, sometimes, a symbolic story based on the stories and attributes associated with the poses. Finally, there is an energetic story.

Actually, I could say that there are energetic stories; because different cultures and sciences have different energetic mapping systems. Yoga and Āyurveda, as they come to us from India, include an energetic mapping system composed of nādis (energy “channels” or “rivers”), marma points or marmāni (“vital” or “vulnerable” points), and chakras (energy “wheels”). The chakras, which are the points where the three primary nādis overlap around the center of the body, correspond with certain parts of the body and certain parts of our lives. In other words, they correspond with certain parts of our stories.

It is not an accident that the parts of our bodies that serve as our primary support (feet, legs, pelvic floor area) are referred to in yoga as our “root chakra” and that it is associated with our foundation in life: our first family, our tribe, our community of birth. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we – literally, metaphorically, and energetically – move through the world. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we build our lives, how we support ourselves, and (even) how we support our relationships and dreams.

“When you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.”

 

Roots is not just a saga of my family. It is the symbolic saga of a people.”

 

– Alex Haley

I often point out that just as we can be genetically 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. Just as someone who is adopted can find it beneficial (but challenging) to discover their birth families medical history, many of us can find that it is beneficial – but challenging – to discover the history of our ancestors: where they came from, what languages they spoke, what food they ate, what experiences informed their society. When we are able to uncover those stories, we gain insight into our own lives.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone and their mother can take a DNA test and discover some information about their family history, their roots. Of course, there will still be some unknowns and, if there’s no paper trail, there may be a lot of unknowns. Go back fifty or sixty years, before such tests were readily available to the public, and most African Americans in the United States had little to no hope of knowing their families back stories. Sure, there were family legends and bits and pieces of folklore that had been verbally passed down, but one never really knew how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even if, as is the case in my family, people lived long lives and there were family cemeteries, the legacy of slavery created a multigenerational novel with several chapters ripped out.

Born in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921, Alex Haley wanted to recover the ripped out chapters of his family’s story. His father, Simon Alexander Haley, was a professor of agriculture at several southern universities whose parents had been born into slavery (after being fathered by their mother’s slave owners). His mother, Bertha George Haley (née Palmer), was also the descendant of slaves and often told him stories about their ancestors. As was expected by his family, young Alex started college, but then dropped out and joined the United States Coast Guard. It was during his 20 years in the Coast Guard, that Alex Haley started his career as a writer.

Alex Haley is remembered for works like the 1965 Autobiography of Malcolm X and his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as well as Queen: The Story of an American Family (which was completed by David Stevens after Mr. Haley’s death), but he started off by writing love letters on behalf of his fellow sailors. Eventually he wrote short stories and articles for American magazines and, after World War II, he transferred into journalism where he was designated petty officer first-class (in 1949). He earned at least a dozen awards and decorations and the position of Chief Journalist was reportedly created for him. It was a position he held (along with the designation of chief petty officer) until he retired (in 1959).

After he retired, Alex Haley continued to make a name for himself by conducting interviews for Playboy. He was known for interviewing the best and the brightest in the African American community. In addition to his interviews with Malcolm X (which became his first book), he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., football legend Jim Brown, and even Quincy Jones – who would compose the music for the movies made out of Alex Haley’s books. He also interviewed famous people (who were not Black)  like Johnny Carson and notorious people (who were not Black) like the Neo-Nazi politician George Lincoln Rockwell and Malvin Belli, the attorney who defended Jack Ruby.

When he started tracing his own family roots, Alex Haley interviewed family members and even traveled to Gambia (in West Africa) to interview tribal historians. Of course, there were still holes in the story and whole (cough, cough) passages missing. So, Mr. Haley decided to braid together what he could verify and what he was told with what he could imagine. Since his life experience was so vastly different from that of his ancestors, he decided to book passage on a ship traveling from the West African coast of Liberia to America – and, in order to more fully experience “middle passage,” he slept in the hold of the ship wearing only his underwear. During the 10 years that it took him to complete the novel that he initially called Before This Anger, Alex Haley supported himself as a public speaker at universities, libraries, and historical societies.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, Mr. Haley’s finished product Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a bestselling novel that has been translated into almost 40 languages, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was adapted into a 12-hour television miniseries that was one of the most watched television events in history. The book ignited an interest in genealogy (particularly for African Americans) and spawned a second mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations, as well as a second book, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen, about Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother – who was a mixed child born into slavery – was also made into a much anticipated mini-series. The 1993 series was so anticipated that while I barely remembered that Halle Berry starred as “Queen,” I distinctly remember driving on I-45 between Dallas and Houston on a Sunday night and stopping at a motel to because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the series. I didn’t want to miss any part of the story that could have just as easily been my family’s story.

“Racism is taught in our society, it is not automatic. It is learned behavior toward persons with dissimilar physical characteristics.”

 

– Alex Haley

In some yoga practices, when we are on our backs with legs crossed, I might call the position “Eagle Legs” or “Garudāsana Legs.” However, in some styles and traditions, like in Yin Yoga, the same position would be called “Twisted Roots.” All of us, especially in America, have twisted roots – ways in which we may not realize we are connected, ways in which we may not realize our stories overlap. In the pose, the position of the legs engages the hips – what I often refer to as “the energetic centers of our relationships.” Our hips are energetically and symbolically associated with our second chakra, also known as our “sacral” (and “sacred”) chakra, and the relationships we make outside of our first family, tribe and community of birth. It is here that we, quite literally in Sanskrit, find our “[self] being established.” Again, it is no coincidence that the twisted roots in our lives engage – and bring awareness to – our connections to those we perceive as being different from us.

This is where we start to notice how our stories overlap.

On the surface, it might appear that Alex Haley and Andre Jules Dubus II have very little in common outside of a birthday, a nationality, and a profession. Mr. Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 11, 1936. While Alex Haley was the oldest child and traced his heritage to African Cherokee, Scottish, and Scottish-Irish ancestors, Andre Dubus II was the youngest born into a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. Literature and writing were emphasized throughout his school and it was only after he graduated from college – with a degree in journalism and English – that, like Mr. Haley, Mr. Dubus enlisted in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, earned the designation of captain, and eventually earned an MFA in creative writing.

“Wanting to know absolutely what a story is about, and to be able to say it in a few sentences, is dangerous: it can lead to us wanting to possess a story as we possess a cup. We know the function of a cup, and we drink from it, wash it, put it on a shelf, and it remains a thing we own and can control, unless it slips from our hands into the control of gravity; or unless someone else breaks it, or uses it to give us poisoned tea. A story can always break into pieces while it sits inside a book on a shelf; and, decades after we have read it even twenty times, it can open us up, by cut or caress, to a new truth.”

 
― quoted from the essay “A Hemingway Story” in Meditations from a Movable Chair: Essays by Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus II spent most of his adult life teaching literature and creative writing, but also earned recognition for his short stories and novellas, as well as at least one novel. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as several PEN Awards. His works include the 1979 short story “Killings,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards (with Sissy Spacek winning for “Best Actress – Drama”) and the novellas We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Adultery, which were combined and adapted into the movie We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He also wrote Broken Vessels: Essays; Dancing After Hour: Storiess; and Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays. Like Alex Haley, some of Mr. Dubus’s work appeared in Playboy. Additionally, both men were married three times (although Andre Dubus II had twice as many children*). While the works of both men include love and hope overcoming tragedy, challenges, and horrific hardships, the source of their tragedy, challenges, and hardships were very different.

Well, ok, this first part is similar: Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II was affected by the rape of a relative. In the latter case, it was one of his own daughters and his daughter’s experience left him traumatized. (Years later, he would hear and retell the story of his sister Kathryn’s rape.) He was plagued with fear and paranoia surrounding the safety of his loved ones. His anxiety was so acute that he carried guns with him so that he was prepared to defend his family and friends against any (perceived) threats. His decision to carry multiple guns wherever he went – combined with his fear and paranoia – almost resulted in a second tragedy when he nearly shot a drunk man who was arguing with his son.

(This next part is symbolically similar to an earlier story, because it involves places the writer had never been and tragedy that occurred when strangers were thrown together.)

Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II wanted to go to the places about which he was going to write. He wanted to put himself in the shoes and on the path of his characters. So, he drove to Boston to check out some bars. Driving home that night, Wednesday, July 23, 1986, along I-93  between Boston and his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Mr. Dubus saw a couple of stranded motorists: a brother and a sister, Luis and Luz Santiago. None of them knew it at the time, but a motorcyclist had suffered a personal heartbreak, gotten drunk, crashed his bike, and then abandoned it in the middle of the road. Despite his anxiety, paranoia, and fear of strangers, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Dubus hesitated to help the Puerto Rican siblings in need. Neither does it appear that he hesitated (later) to help the drunk motorcyclist.

Tragically, after he stopped to help them move their car off of the highway, someone hit Andre Dubus II and the siblings. Luis Santiago died at the age of 23. Luz Santiago survived – because Andre Dubus II pushed her out of the way.  As for Mr. Dubus, his legs were crushed in a way that initially resulted in his left leg being amputated above the knee and eventually led to the him being unable to use his right leg.**

He attempted to use prosthetics, but infections regulated him to a wheelchair. His medical and physical therapy bills stacked up – as did his anxiety, which was now compounded by clinical depression. His community of fellow writers stepped in to help him financially, and even emotionally. A literary benefit sponsored by Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Yates yielded $86,00. But, there was more heartbreak: his third wife left him, taking his youngest two daughters.

Still, he kept writing.

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

 

– Andre Dubus II

Broken Vessels: Essays, which was Pulitzer Prize finalist, contains five sections; however, in a September 1991 review in The Baltimore Sun, Garret Condon indicates that the essays can be divided into two sections: before the accident and after. A similar division can be seen in the whole body of his work as he moved from short stories based on the struggles and victories of the characters he found around him to essays about his own struggles and victories. As Alex Haley did, Mr. Dubus found himself attempting to bridge the gap between what he knew, what he was told, and what he could imagine. Lights of the Long Night braids together the story the 1986 accident as Andre Dubus II remembered it with the memories of the doctor who saved his life and those of Luz Santiago (whose life Mr. Dubus saved). Dancing After Hours: Stories is a collection of short stories full of characters whose lives are marked by a tragic before-and-after. Then there is Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays which depicts Andre Dubus’s personal journey through the trauma, loss, disability, and healing.
 

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.”

 

– quoted from the short story entitled “A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus

“What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or – and he wished this – did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it?”

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love of stories and storytelling as well as how Maty Ezraty’s perspective shapes my practice. Matthew Sanford is another teacher whose perspective on stories, storytelling, and the practice inspires the way I process through the practice. His story, like Andre Dubus’s story, overlaps life before and after a car accident that left him without mobility in his legs. In the introduction to his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions defined “healing stories” as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco, to help people get in touch with the stories they hold in their mind-bodies.

When I think about our “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves and each other – I think about how those stories serve us, how they help us live and love more fully. When I come across someone whose story is different from mine, I question what they take away from their story – and then I question what I take away from mine… especially when our stories overlap. I consider what either one of us knows (and can verify) and how those facts and/or recollections are braided together with what we have been told and what our brains have imagined to fill in the missing gaps. When I question in this way, I sometimes I walk away from a conversation or a meditation and think “That story should be a bestseller.” Other times… Other times I think, “That’s a first draft. It needs more information and a rewrite.”

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

 

– Alex Haley

ERRATA: *To avoid confusion, I specifically did not mention the names of Andre Dubus II’s parents. However, despite my best efforts to not confuse the writer/father (Andre Jules Dubus II) with the writer/son (Andre Jules Dubus III), I misspoke during the 4:30 PM practice and attributed House of Sand and Fog to the wrong author. The novel was written by the son, Andre Jules Dubus III, and while author and book were awarded and nominated for several prestigious prizes, it was not listed for the Man Booker Prize, which was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction when the novel was published. ** Also (and this is strike three), after reviewing some pictures of Andre Dubus II, I realized that I mixed up his injuries. As indicated above, his left leg was the amputated leg. Please forgive the errors.
 

NOTE: The motorcyclist who got drunk and abandoned his motorcycle on the freeway in 1986 was not (physically) involved or injured in the subsequent accident. He was charged for leaving the scene of the accident and served at least a year. In interviews, Andre Dubus indicated that the man took responsibility for his action and that he (Dubus) spoke on his behalf during the sentencing. The man had gotten drunk after his wife abandoned him and their children – a story that overlaps Mr. Dubus’s own stories of marriage, infidelity, and bad coping mechanisms. While he was able to forgive the motorcyclist, because he took responsibility for his actions, Andre Dubus II was not so forgiving of the person driving the car that hit them. The driver was sober, but (according to Mr. Dubus) never made any attempt to contact him or (as far as he knew) Luz Santiago.

 
 

### Tell me your story… ###

The Difference A Day Made I (a “missing” post, that is also very timely) July 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the “seriously missing” post for Memorial Day, May 31st, that is also timely. 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.

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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.]

 

“Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs.”

 

– Walt Whitman writing about the new game, baseball, in the Brooklyn Eagle (07/23/1846)

 

Those are the words of Walt Whitman. Born May 31, 1819, the “Bard of Democracy” who is also known as the father of “free verse,” was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson to be the voice of America – and he endeavored to do so, to speak for and about all who crossed this land, your land, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, gender, or  anything else. In the preface to Leaves of Grass he wrote, “… read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book…”

Following Whitman’s advice can be a tricky thing, because no one has the same experience on the same day every year; time forces us to overlap experiences. So, while some consider Memorial Day a time “to get better air in our lungs” and a time for holiday sales; others are remembering, memorializing, veterans who were lost during wars and conflicts here and abroad. But, time is tricky, and the fact that Memorial Day doesn’t happen on the exact same date every year, means that (this year) some people were remembering George Floyd – as well as the protests and riots that erupted after he was killed. Still others were remembering a Memorial Day 100 years (and a day) ago – Memorial Day 1921, when a 19-year old shoe shine boy known as Dick Rowland got on an elevator operated by a girl known as Sarah Page (who was reported as being 17 years old, but may have actually been 21) and what happened next set-off a riot and massacre the ramifications of which people are still experiencing today. As we move through the practice, I will endeavor – as Walt Whitman did – to speak for and of those who no longer speak.

Going back as far as the 1800’s, people in the South had regular communion with the dead. You can read more about how those traditions evolved into our modern day observation of Memorial Day here.

No one knows for sure what happened that day, other than that on a holiday when they were both working, “Diamond Dick Rowland” took his only means of transportation to go to a segregated bathroom and something startled Sara, making her scream and him run – after all, she was white, he was Black and they were in an enclosed area.

No one knows for sure what happened but, by all accounts, there was no assault – sexual or otherwise – committed by Dick (who was Black) and Sara (who was white) never claimed that there was. However, there were rumors and innuendo, and “Diamond Dick” was arrested. A front page story in the Tulsa Tribune stated that he was arrested for sexual assault and – as was a common occurrence at the time, when a Black man or boy was arrested (especially if it was related to the harming of a white woman or girl) – a lynch party gathered at the jail. In this case, the sheriff (Willard McCullough) told the group to go home that their presence was unnecessary. He even moved the young man in order to protect him (and possibly kept him hidden even after the riots).

Another thing that was different was the presence, in segregated Tulsa, of a prominent Black community – a thriving community of businesses and residences that, in some ways, was independent of the white community. Established in 1906 by O. W. Gurley (who relocated during the 1889 Land Rush), the area was called the Greenwood District and it sat in Indian Territory. Today, we remember it is as “Black Wall Street.” Some members of this Black community, including some World War I veterans newly returned from the war, showed up to support and protect one of their own. Of course, conflict arose, a shot was fired, someone died, and in a matter of hours – from May 31st to June 1st – a whole community was destroyed.

Ted Turner’s CNN (Cable News Network) premiered Sunday, June 1, 1980, at 5 PM EST; making it the first 24-hour news channel and the first all-news television in the United States. While other news channels made fun of the new outlet, CNN stayed focused (with the slogan “Go live, stay with it, and make it important.”) and changed the way government made and addressed policy and also the way people interacted with each other and the news. There was no such thing back in 1921, but you can read more about the CNN Effect here.

Martial law was declared. The National Guard came in to squash the violence, but it was too late to save the Greenwood District; too late to save those who had died and too late to save the homes of those who were displaced. The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics and a 2001 Oklahoma state commission both recorded 36 confirmed deaths (26 Black and 10 white) as a result of the Tulsa Massacre. However, historians have offered a wide range of estimated deaths and injuries, estimates that go all the up to 300. The Red Cross repeatedly stated “there was no reliable way of accounting for people that died” and indicated that, because of the ensuing cover-up and mass burials, any recorded numbers were sheer conjecture. However, the Red Cross officially documented and offered estimates of damages: approximately 1,256 houses were burned (some by firebombs dropped by airplanes); 215 others were looted (but not torched); 2 newspapers, a school, and a number of churches, hotels, stores, and black-owned business destroyed or damaged by fire.

Because Tulsa was segregated and the Black Frissell Memorial Hospital (established in 1918) was one of the places that burned down, very few Blacks were actually taken to the hospital. This just added to the confusion. Some people were treated in the basement Morningside Hospital, which had also been established in 1918 (because of the influenza pandemic) and the Red Cross registered 8,624 people (about 2,480 families) as being affected. Of that number, “183 people were hospitalized [see above]; 531 required first aid or surgical treatment;” and 19 people died from their injuries by the end of the year. Additionally, eight miscarriages were attributed to the massacre.

The National Guard helped put out fires, but a lot of their energy was dedicated to rounding up and “capturing” Black Tulsans. By June 2nd, approximately 6,000 Black people were under guard at the fairgrounds and convention hall. An all-white jury blamed the “riot” on “Black mobs” and indicted over 85 individuals, however no one was convicted of anything. Just as happened after public lynchings, photographs of corpses, Black Tulsans being captured, and Black people attempting to recover their belongings from their ravaged homes were turned into postcards.

“When the bullets stopped flying and the fires ceased on June 2, Tulsa Mayor T. D. Evans sent a short communication to the Red Cross Society:

 

‘To the Red Cross Society:

Please establish headquarters for all relief work and bring all organizations who can assist you to your aid. The responsibility is placed in your hands entirely.

T. D. Evans, Mayor’

 

Director of Disaster Relief Maurice Willows arrived in Tulsa with the stated purpose of ‘picking up the fragments – the relief of human suffering – the care of the sick and wounded, and bringing order out of the chaos.”

 

– quoted from the Rediscovering Black History article “‘The Responsibility is Placed in Your Hands Entirely’ – Red Cross Relief after the Tulsa Race Massacre” by Netisha Currie, archives specialist at the National Archives in College Park (which also appeared in The National Council of Social Studies’ Social Education (volume 85, no. 1)

 

The white citizens who actually carried out the destruction were not arrested, as most of them (approximately 400) had been deputized by Police Commissioner J. M. Adkison and Chief of Police John A. Gustafson. Over half of those deputized (at least 250) were also armed by the chief – who would later be investigated for a plethora of corruption violations. The chief of police was ultimately indicted (on five counts) and, on July 30, 1921, found guilty of two counts: failing to stop and conspiracy and fraud/embezzlement in a different situation. He went to jail for the latter count. Since “Diamond Dick” reappears on the jail rosters after John Gustafson’s conviction, some believe the young Black man was kept hidden because of the chief’s corruption (and his part in a previous lynching).

All charges and indictments against “Diamond Dick” were eventually dropped. It is believed that he fled Tulsa after his release at the end of September 1921, possibly with assistance from the Sheriff Willard McCullough and his deputy Barney Cleaver (who had been Tulsa’s first African-American police office – until he was fired by police chief Gustafson). Although no one seemed certain about what happened to “Diamond Dick,” sightings were reported in Kansas City, Missouri; South Omaha, Nebraska; back in Tulsa; and – as late as the 1960’s – in Oregon. Some of the confusion about what happened to the man at the center of the events that lead to the destruction of Black Wall Street may be due to a name change. It has been reported (by several sources, including by Tulsa-based This Land Press in May 2013) that the shoe shining teenager may have actually been named James Jones and that people called him “Jimmie” Jones until he changed his surname to Roland, to honor the adopted grandparents who helped raise him. He appears in the police custody logs as “Dick Rolland” (with an exta “L”), but Dick Roland is the name which appears on his sworn affidavit from September 1921. At some point, he decided he liked Dick more than James or Jimmie – although one classmate said that he also went by “Johnny.” According to This Land Press, the extra “w” in the young man’s name was a mistake made by reporters.

Reports about Sarah Page were just as convoluted – especially after she refused to press charges against “Diamond Dick” (who, again, by all legitimate accounts, didn’t do anything illegal). According to the Tulsa-based Center for Public Secrets, records show a Sarah “Sarie” Elizabeth Beaver born in Arkansas on July 27, 1899, who married and divorced twice – first married to Robert H. Fisk in March 1918 (divorced by January 1920) and then married to Raymond M. Page in Missouri in February 1920. The Pages divorced after a 1-year waiting period, in 1921, and Sarah’s divorce petition was served by Tulsa County Sheriff Willard McCullough (yes, the one and only), who would falsely malign her character. Her second divorce was decreed on June 4, 1921 at which point she returned to Missouri and the name “Sarah Bever.” After testifying as a witness during the grand jury investigation into the Tulsa massacre, returned to Tulsa in September 1921 and eventually married Fred E. Voorhies (who had also testified during the grand jury). The 1940 census shows a couple fitting their stats living in California, and having a daughter named Sue. Additional records indicate that lived out their remaining days together.

“On Thursday morning, June 2, 1921, one of Tulsa’s many problems was that of optics. A large chunk of the city had been obliterated in a matter of hours and an embarrassingly large portion of the city’s population had a hand in the obliterating. How this was going to look to outsiders was far from an irrelevant concern for many Tulsans, especially the city’s elite for whom pride in the city’s accomplishments was keen…. Would businesses go elsewhere? Would other ‘better citizens’ from other places look down their noses?”

 

– quoted from The Center for Public Secrets Journal article entitled, “Mask of Atonement: The Plan to Rebuild the Homes of Greenwood” by Randy Hopkins

Efforts to rebuild Black Wall Street were hampered by trauma, a lack of resources, a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the fact that many of the 35 blocks previously designated as the Greenwood District were co-opted by the city. Some Black survivors fled Tulsa and never returned. Those that stayed lived in tents as they tried to rebuild and, subsequently, were referred to as “destitute.” Meanwhile, national news outlets immediately started running front page headlines stating that Tulsa would rebuild the homes, in a way that served as “an atonement for the harm done,” and that Tulsa would serve as an example for other cities in the country. Public fundraising efforts kicked off immediately, but barely any of the funds made it to the Greenwood residents and, by June 4th, the Associated Press was telling major news outlets not to donate. A committee of seven, which would eventually name itself the Board of Public Welfare, was referred to as the “reparations committee” – knowing good and well there were no reparations, because they were not only telling people not to donate, they were returning some of the donations.

While city officials were publicly applauded for assisting the impoverished, white developers (with the backing of the mayor) attempted to enact city (fire) ordinances and get new zoning in place that would have prevented Blacks from rebuilding in what was considered prime real estate. The Oklahoma Supreme Court deemed the primary ordinance unconstitutional; but, constantly battling restrictions in how and what residents could build created more and more setbacks. It was also demoralizing. Even though they were backed and supported by their “angels of mercy” (as the called the Red Cross), Black residents found themselves up against the interests (and substantial efforts) of the mayor and the all-white reconstructing committee that wanted a larger “industrial” separation between the races.

The committee wanted Black residents to sign over their land to a holding company so that the land could be appraised by a white appraisal committee, which would then pay the Black citizens at the lower industrial-zoned value – even though the property was residentially zoned. Naturally, the Black citizens balked; but, to little avail. By the time the Red Cross pulled out of Tulsa, 700 “semi-permanent buildings and homes” had been constructed, but 49 families were still living in “tent-homes.” Over the next decade, a smaller, less elegant Black Wall Street emerged. The difference in size was partially due to the fact that city officials expanded earlier plans for a small rail hub. They used the destruction of Black Wall Street as an excuse to construct Tulsa Union Depot, a large rail hub connecting three major railroads traveling through Oklahoma and onward to Missouri, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and California.

The construction of Tulsa Union Depot cost $3.5 million dollars, which was paid by a bond passed in 1927. (And trust me when I tell you don’t want me to get into Tulsa’s history with bonds right now.) The Depot was hailed as “the single best [Public Works Administration] symbol of hope for economic recovery during the bleak days of the depression” and opened in 1931 to crowd of at least 60,000 people. It operated as a train station until 1967; was purchased by a private company in 1980; and was renovated (by the same contractor company that built it). In 1983, it re-opened as a privately held office complex. In 2004, the county purchased the building for $2.2 million and used $4 million for renovations. After an internal transfer (between different divisions within the county), the Tulsa County Industrial Authority (TCIA) signed a 99-year lease with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The Jazz Hall’s lease was for $1, with the stipulation that they would pay (the city) for operating expenses. As of 2020, the space was in the middle of a legal dispute that will ultimately cost millions to resolve.

I don’t know if you’re keeping track, but that last paragraph detailed almost $10 million that was spent on something other than rebuilding the Greenwood District – and it does not account for any revenue earned by the city because of the depot. In many ways, you could say the initiative to build the Depot was the very opposite of Ujamaa (“Cooperative Economics”), the fourth principle of Kwanzaa.

“The extent of aid and relief, as in many aspects of the Red Cross work, stopped short of a supportive hand. Survivors of the massacre were only supplied the lumber to rebuild their homes; for labor they had only themselves to rely on and any other able-bodied friends who could pitch in. Greenwood, once lined with homes ranging from fancy mansions to modest well-kept abodes, resembled a shantytown emerging from a way.”

 

– quoted from the Rediscovering Black History article “‘The Responsibility is Placed in Your Hands Entirely’ – Red Cross Relief after the Tulsa Race Massacre” by Netisha Currie, archives specialist at the National Archives in College Park (which also appeared in The National Council of Social Studies’ Social Education (volume 85, no. 1)

 

Ujamma is in practice when people within a community buy locally, support local businesses and each other – that’s what Black people were doing in the Greenwood District before it was destroyed. That’s what Black people were doing all around the segregated South. Think about it for a moment and it’s easy to see that it’s what’s happening in most ethnic-minority communities around the country. But that local rallying doesn’t happen so much, any more, in African American communities (comprised of the descendants of emancipated Africans) – and the reason why comes back to what happened to Black Wall Street.

But, people’s hesitancy is not just about the devastation that happened in Tulsa in 1921. It’s also about the devastation that happened in Colfax, Louisiana in April of 1873 (when at least 150 Black men were murdered). It’s about the fact that after Black officials were elected in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, white supremacists decided to overthrow the Wilmington government and destroy the press – somewhere between 60 – 300 Black people were killed (Again, exact numbers are hard to ascertain when there’s a cover-up that lasts over 100 years.) It’s also about the Atlanta Massacre in 1906 (when at least 100 people were killed) – as well as what happened in Chicago, Illinois; Knoxville, TN; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; and several dozen cities during the “red summer” of 1919.

The “red summer” included what happened in Elaine, Arkansas in 1919 when Black sharecroppers (who outnumbered their white peers) created a union and white people showed up to riot. One white man was shot and killed at the meeting (at least 4 others were killed as things unfolded); anywhere between 50 to 200+ Black people – including veterans and children were also killed. Many of the Black workers were arrested and tortured until they “confessed” to an insurrection that never happened. The imaginary insurrection that never happened was reported by major news outlets, including the New York Times and Arkansas Gazette. Sixty-seven Black men were convicted by an all-white jury and received sentences from 20 years to life. The trial for twelve additional men lasted about 1 hour; at the conclusion of which, the man had been given the death penalty. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and ensured the exoneration of the “Elaine 12” – exonerations which were partially based on the 14th Amendment.

There was also Rosewood, Florida in 1923 – the history of which sounds a lot like Tulsa, plus 102 years. About 150 Black people were killed, but a grand jury and special prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute any white men that might have been involved in the murders. If you add it up, just using the minimum of the estimates, over 700 people were killed just because they had Black skin and were creating their own little piece of the American dream. Again, that’s the bare minimum and it doesn’t take into account any individuals who were murdered outside of these incidents nor does it include anyone killed during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

– quoted from the preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

 

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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).

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

The Difference A Day Made II (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 28th. 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.]

“What a difference a day made
And the difference is you”

– quoted from the song “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes”* by Dinah Washington

Every present moment is the culmination of previous moments and the beginning of the next moment. Bundle a bunch of moments together and you get a day – which is the culmination of all the days before and, and the beginning of all the days that come after. So, a day can make a big difference. Individually and collectively, we can change course in a day. It’s unfortunate that something built up over a lifetime can be destroyed in a day (see the next post); however, the converse is also true: we can begin to right a wrong in a day. Yes, a day can make a big difference, but the difference depends on what we do with the day.

Take today, a few years ago. It was a sunny Saturday, before the rain started, and I was serving as an officiant in the wedding of two dear friends. This couple had been together for 15 years and a day – and, as I pointed out to them: “That day is very important, because, historically, it provides a legal marker for the completion of a year.” Additionally, in a variety of ancient traditions – from the pagan Celts to the Vodou practicing Haitians – a year and a day is a sacred period, a period of time connected to an honorable duty that transcends lifetimes and generations. In fact, we now have reason to believe that Celtic couples who hand-fasted for a year and a day were legally wed. In European feudal societies, a serf who escaped and was absent from their place of servitude for a year and a day, was legally recognized as free and granted certain rights and privileges.

This particular day had an extra special significance to us, as African Americans, because the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted today in 1868. It granted citizenship, the rights and liberties of citizenship – including representation, and “equal protection of the laws” to “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.…” The amendment was specifically intended to extend the above to free Blacks and former slaves, theoretically granted voting rights to Black men (although it would take the 15th Amendment for that to start taking effect and even then…). The 14th Amendment also made it illegal for former slave owners to request repayment for emancipated slaves and gave the United States Congress “the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this [amendment].”

Sounds pretty cut and dry, right?

Except the original 14th Amendment excluded Indigenous Americans “not taxed,” women, and (as late as 1873) it excluded children. It has become the foundation of a large number of Supreme Court decisions, but has not been easily enforced. In fact, enforcement (of the letter and spirit of the law) has required a number of amendments and court decisions. Plus, the actual adoption, today in 1868, almost didn’t happen.

“So far as the appeals of the learned gentleman [from Ohio, U. S. Representative George Hunt Pendleton] are concerned, in his pathetic winding up, I will be willing to take my chance, when we all molder in the dust. He may have his epitaph written, if it be truly written, ‘Here rests the ablest and most pertinacious defender of slavery and opponent of liberty;”’ and I will be satisfied if my epitaph shall be written thus: ‘Here lies one who never rose to any eminence, who only courted the low ambition to have it said that he striven to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly, the downtrodden of every race and language and color.’

I shall be content, with such a eulogy on his lofty tomb and such an inscription on my humble tomb, to trust our memories to the judgement of the ages.”

– quoted from the January 13, 1865 speech by U. S. Representative (from Pennsylvania) Thaddeus Stevens, as published in The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens: April 1865 – August 1868 by Thaddeus Stevens, edited by Beverly Palmer and Holly Ochoa

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 has been referred to as the first civil rights law in the United States. It began the process of voiding the Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857), Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision which declared that the constitution was not intended to include people of African descent and that said individuals could not claim or apply for citizenship regardless of the conditions of their birth. However, it excluded members of First Nations because of their tribal allegiances/citizenship. Some argued that Indigenous Americans were still subject to U. S. jurisdiction and were therefore entitled to U. S. citizenship and representation. The language in the 14th Amendment was intended to clear up this murkiness, but it was still problematic – as became clear(er) when John Elk tried to register to vote in April 1880.

Mr. Elk was born into a Ho-Chunk/Winnebago tribe, but later lived outside of the reservation (in a white community) and renounced his tribal membership, thus giving him the right to claim U. S. citizenship. Or, at least, that was the theory. His claim was denied; however, for the same reason he thought he had a claim: the 14th Amendment. In John Elk v. Charles Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94 (1884), the Supreme Court upheld the fact that Charles Wilkins denied John Elk’s claim. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 (also known as the Snyder Act) basically changed the status of Indigenous Americans and made Elk v. Wilkins legally irrelevant – but did not overturn the SCOTUS decision. Women, of course, were granted the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920.

It bears noting that while the 14th Amendment has become the foundation of a large number of Supreme Court decisions (also see link below), it has not been easily enforced. In fact, enforcement (of the letter and spirit of the law) has required a number of amendments and court decisions. And, as I said before, it almost didn’t happen.

Resistance to what would become the 14th Amendment dates back as early as 1866, when Congress introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1866 in order to enforce the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery). President Andrew Johnson, who inherited the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, saw no need to restrict former Confederate states as they were reintroduced into the Union. He also frowned upon legislation that curtailed the Black Laws (or Black Codes) intended to keep former slaves in restricted situations. (I sometimes think of the end of “General Order No. 3” as the beginning of such restrictions.) Furthermore, he feared what would happen if citizenship was granted to certain immigrants (e.g., Chinese Americans – who were later excluded by the Chinese Exclusion Acts of the 1880s – and Romani people).

“The way Frederick Douglass told it, he learned to distrust Andrew Johnson practically on sight. On March 4, 1865, Douglass was in Washington DC, one of the many thousands of people gathered in attendance for the second inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. According to Douglass’s account, he watched from the crowd as Lincoln conferred with Johnson, his vice president to be. ‘Mr. Lincoln touched Mr. Johnson and pointed me out to him,’ Douglass reported. ‘The first expression which came to [Johnson’s] face, and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion.’ Johnson quickly realized that Douglass was looking right back at him, so he ‘tried to assume a more friendly appearance.’ But there was no mistaking that original, unguarded expression of hostility. Douglass, according to his telling, then turned to his neighbor in the crowd and remarked, ‘Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he certainly is no friend of our race.’

The prediction would prove all too accurate.”

– quoted from “5: ‘One Nation, One Country, One Citizenship’ – ‘No Friend of Our Race’ in A Glorious Liberty: Frederick Douglass and the Fight for an Antislavery Constitution by Damon Root

While many legislatures were appalled, I’m not sure they should have been surprised at the newly assumed President’s attitude. Nor, in my humble opinion, should they have been surprised by the fact that he vetoed the bill that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1866. President Johnson was, after all, a North Carolina-born Democrat, a former Senator from Tennessee, and a former owner of at least 10 slaves. Ironically, he had “escaped” from what was technically a form of legal serfdom when he was a teen.

At the age of ten, he joined his older brother William as an apprentice to the tailor James Selby. He was legally bound to serve for about 11 years, but ran away (along with his brother) after about 5 years – because he was unhappy with his situation. Mr. Selby offered a reward for both brothers – or for the future president alone. Despite his best efforts, Andrew Johnson was not able to purchase his own freedom (from James Selby). Almost twenty years later, however, he was able to purchase his first two slaves: teenaged half-siblings named Sam and Dolly. About fourteen years after that he acquired a teenaged slave named Henry, who would eventually accompany him (as a freedman) to the White House.

After purchasing his first slaves, the then-Senator Johnson would often “hire” Sam out and, eventually, Sam received some of that payment – courtesy of Mrs. Eliza McCardle Johnson. Sam also married a slave named Margaret and they had several children, at least three of whom were born into slavery. Although not married, Dolly had three (maybe four) children. While she and Sam appear to be pretty dark-skinned (in pictures and according to the census), Dolly’s second daughter, Florence Johnson** – who accompanied the Johnson’s to the Executive Mansion – appears quite light-skinned and all three of her children were listed on the census as “mulatto” (indicating that they were mixed). Dolly’s son, William Andrew Johnson**, was twelve years younger than his eldest sister (Liz) and ten years younger than Florence. When he died at the age of 86, his death certificate listed President Johnson’s son, Robert, as his father. (There is no record naming the father of either of Dolly’s daughters, but there were a lot of rumors in Tennessee at the time of their births.)

To be clear, records indicate that Andrew Johnson freed his slaves on August 8, 1863 – courtesy of Mrs. Eliza McCardle Johnson; that they all stayed on as paid employees; that the Johnson family maintained friendly ties with the emancipated people; and that Sam eventually arranged for emancipated family members to live (rent free) on Johnson land. On October 24, 1864, the then-Governor of Tennessee declared himself “your Moses” and freed enslaved people in Tennessee. Fast forward and President Johnson would be impeached in 1868, for violating the 1867 Tenure of Office Act – which only existed because Congress, once again, overrode his veto. (The act was repealed in 1887. SCOTUS declared it unconstitutional in 1926.)

“I asked [William Johnson] if he wasn’t better off when Andrew Johnson owned him then since then. He said, ‘Yes, we were mighty well off then. But any man would rather be free than a slave.’”

– quoted from Ernie’s America: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s 1930s Travel Dispatches by Ernie Pyle

In April 1866, the United States Congress made the landmark decision to override a presidential veto. Later that month, the gentleman from Pennsylvania, U. S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens, combined several different proposals into a single amendment (the 14th), which was approved and submitted for state ratification in June 1866. President Johnson, again, opposed the proposition – but Congress made it veto poof. The Southern states resisted ratification, but Congress made ratification of both the 13th and 14th amendments a requirement in order for those States to regain their political voice. Additionally, the Union Army ensured compliance.

Connecticut was the first state to ratify the amendment (on June 30, 1866). New Hampshire would follow suit about a week later (on July 6, 1866) and the president’s adopted state of Tennessee (on July 18, 1866). Other states trickled in, but some states (like South Carolina and the president’s home state of North Carolina) initially rejected the amendment. Then there were states like New Jersey, Oregon, and Ohio) that rescinded their ratification. Note that I am leaving out a whole lot of legal certification and maneuvering when I jump to the part where Alabama ratified it (on July 13, 1868) and Georgia, which had previously rejected the amendment, ratified it on July 21, 1868. Secretary of State William H. Seward staunch opponent of the spread of slavery (and a former Senator and Governor of New York) received Georgia’s formal ratification on July 27th and officially proclaimed the adoption today in 1868.

After the 14th amendment had been officially adopted, Virginia (October 1869), Mississippi (January 1870), Texas (February 1870), Delaware (February 1901), Maryland (April 1959), California (May 1959), and Kentucky (March 1976) ratified the amendment. Note that Mississippi and California were the only states out of that list that had not previously rejected the amendment. The states that had previously rescinded their ratification all re-ratified: New Jersey (April 2003), Oregon (April 1973), and Ohio (March 2003).

Yes, it was 2003 before the 14th amendment was ratified by all the states that existed during Reconstruction.

You can make of that what you will… but be very clear in your logic. Ask yourself, how would you feel if in 2003 you lived in a state where (“legally” and on paper) you were not considered a fully endowed citizen? How would you feel about Others if you were afforded all the rights of citizenship, but they were not? How would you treat those Others?

“‘If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”

– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: I love and am often inspired by the song “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” but today is the first time I actually looked up the songs history. Popularized in the English-speaking world by Dinah Washington in 1959, the song was originally called “Cuando vuelva a tu lado.” It was written in Spanish by María Grever, the first Mexican woman to achieve international acclaim as a composer, and recorded by Orquesta Pedro Vía in 1934. Thirty years later the original song experienced a resurgence of popularity when it was covered by Los Panchos, a trío romantico, joined by Eydie Gormé. A beautiful version (in Spanish, with an English verse) was released by Natalie Cole in 2013.

The English lyrics, by Stanley Adams, were played by Harry Roy & his Orchestra and recorded in 1934 by Jimmie Ague as well as by the Dorsey Brothers. However, it was Dinah Washington who won a Grammy Award for the song (in 1959) and whose version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. The song also appears in some recordings as “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” and with “difference” completely spelled out.

Cuando vuelva a tu lado

** NOTE: I refer to Florence Johnson and William Andrew Johnson even though President Johnson’s slaves did not have surnames. As many emancipated people did, the newly-freed Sam and Margaret, Dolly, Henry, and the children of the former adopted the surnames of their former owners.

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker

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).

### HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL, TODAY? ###

Introducing….You (the “missing” Sunday post) July 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 11thYou can request an audio recording of Sunday’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. 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.]

“Saepe est etiam sub pallĭolo sordĭdo sapientia.

[English translation: Wisdom often is under a filthy cloak.]”

– Latin proverb (associated with Socrates, Diogenes, and Cicero)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are meeting someone for the first time. It is also the very first time you’ve seen them – and maybe you are meeting them in a cold place during winter or a rainy place during the rainy season. Either way, you are both wearing overcoats. You’re also both of a certain age, whatever that means to you at this moment. So, you’re meeting not at the beginning of your stories but in the middle, maybe even at the end.

We may not think about it, but this is how we most often meet – in the middle of our stories and without being able to see what’s inside.

We exchange names and, if we know someone else with said name, we start seeing this new person through the layers and layers of previously formed ideas, impressions, and opinions. That’s just the way the mind-body works. If, however, we are each the first person either of us has met with said names, we start forming ideas, impressions, and opinions about a person with said name. That’s just the way the mind-body works.

We may not even be consciously aware of it, but there it is. Our first sense of someone is based on an overcoat, samskaras (mental impressions), whatever is happening in the middle of the story, and a name – that may or may not be their given name (or, under certain circumstances, may or may not be the name by which most people know them). The overcoat in this case is, literally, an article of clothing – and also all the external factors like the samskaras, the name, and anything else we may know or assume based on the situation (like occupation, vocation, race, ethnicity, gender, and age range).

Over time, the overcoat comes off, literally and figuratively. We make more mental impressions, maybe we learn another name, and as we move through the rest of the story we also learn (in a backwards sense) about the beginning of a person’s story: why they are the way they are; think and do the things they think and do. Over time, we go deeper.

“Pleased to meet you
But I’m quick to judge
I hope you drop the grudge
I know I’m not what you want from me”

– quoted from the song “Pleased to Meet You” by Rynx (featuring Minke)

Every practice is an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) you to yourself. Every pose, every sequence, allows you to remove the layers and layers of overcoats until you reach the heart and core of who you are. That’s svādhyāya, “self-study.”

Sometimes, I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to different philosophical aspects of the practice – as I did this time last year and/or to various rituals and traditions. I also use the practice to introduce (or reintroduce) people to some of my favorite people. People like two writers who share a birthday and, obviously, an occupation. Both of these writers just happen to be Pulitzer Prize winners; have ties to The New Yorker magazine; and are mostly recognized by (first) names that are not on their passports and birth certificates.

Remember, their names are part of their overcoats.

Elwyn Brooks White was born July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri was born July 11, 1967, in London, England. While very different in some ways, their books prove that anyone can be the hero (or heroine) of a great story; that situations we’ve never personally encountered can be highly relatable when related by a good storyteller; and that fiction (like yoga) can be a great way to process difficult emotions.

“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Place yourself in the background; do not explain too much; prefer the standard to the offbeat.”

– quoted from “An Approach to style” by E. B. White published in The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White

Even though most readers know him by his initials, E. B. White was known to friends and professional colleagues as “Andy.” Ostensibly, the nickname came about because of a tradition at Cornell University whereby students with the last name “White” are renamed after the university’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s birth name is not known to many of her readers – and for a similar reason: her name was also “changed” at school. However, in her case, the change came because her name was unfamiliar (rather than so familiar). Dr. Lahiri’s parents migrated from West Bengal, India to the United Kingdom. When the author was three, the family migrated to Kingston, Rhode Island – where at least one teacher was unfamiliar Bengali names and unwilling to learn how to pronounce them. According to an August 19, 2003, USA Today article by Bob Minzesheimer, “[A kindergarten teacher] said something like ‘That’s kind of a long name’ and decided it was easier to pronounce ‘Jhumpa’” – her nickname.

Remember, names are part of our overcoats. What we call each other makes a difference in how we see and understand each other.

“SOME PIG”

“TERRIFIC”

“RADIANT”

“HUMBLE”

– quoted from the messages in the web in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (illustrated by Garth Williams)

When Charlotte (the spider) comes up with her plan to save Wilbur, she says, “Why, how perfectly simple.” She then goes on to use her experience (as a master weaver) to introduce (and reintroduce) her friend (the pig) in a way that makes him more valuable alive, rather than dead. Her plan is, in fact, perfectly simple: write what you know… and change the overcoat. Even through their details are different, the stories written by both E. B. White and Jhumpa Lahiri are about their own personal experiences… and what happens when we get underneath the outer layers.

E. B. White is remembered as the author of beloved (and sometimes banned) children’s books like Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but he started off as a journalist. He also worked for an advertising agency (and in some non-literary jobs) before submitting manuscripts for the then newly-founded The New Yorker. He eventually became a writer and contributing editor for the magazine. It was during his tenure at The New Yorker that he got a blast from his (Cornell University) past when he was asked to update work by one of his former professors.

The Elements of Style (sometimes called White & Strunk’s Elements of Style) was originally composed and self-published by William Strunk Jr. for his English students at Cornell University. It contained what Dr. Strunk Jr. considered the fundamentals: “Seven rules of usage, eleven principles of composition, a few matters of form, and a list of words and expressions commonly misused [and/or misspelled]….” When it was published by Harcourt, Brace & Howe in 1920, it included eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition,” “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” In the late 1950’s, Macmillan Publishers commissioned Mr. White to expand and modernize “the little book” (partially based on a 1935 edition by William Strunk Jr. and Edward A. Tenney). Since its 1959 publication, White & Strunk’s Elements of Style has been reprinted three times, illustrated, and served as the inspiration for an opera and a comprehensive history.

Mr. White won a Newberry Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, a Presidential Freedom Award, a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, a National Medal for Literature, and a L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for Letters, an award that actually recognized all of his work. In 2004, the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) even established an award in his honor for books that “embodied the universal read aloud standards that were created by [his work].” You might think all of those accolades meant that Mr. White always followed his own advice. But, let’s be real: talking farm animals, airplane-flying mice, and Public Relations specialists who just happen to be spiders wasn’t very standard in 1945 and 1952.

“No, I have never encountered any story plot like Charlotte’s Web. I do not believe that any other writer has ever told about a spider writing words in its web. Perhaps I should ask some of the children’s book ladies who go back even further in time than I do, but I am sure nothing even remotely like this has been written.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to “Andy” (E. B. White), from Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief, Department of Books for Boys and Girls (dated April 2, 1952, as it appears in Dear Genuis: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom)  

“It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of “Charlotte’s Web” is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

 

As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago…. Spiders are skilful [sic], amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

 

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.

– quoted from a letter addressed to Ursula Nordstrom, Harper & Row publisher and editor-in-chief (Department of Books for Boys and Girls), from  E. B. White (dated September 29, 1952)

The January 1948 issue of The Atlantic contained an essay by E. B. White entitled, “Death of a Pig,” which described the short life and “premature expiration of a pig” – as well as the burial and how the whole community mourned the occasion. In the essay, Mr. White said, “I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs.“ While there is no mention of a spider in the essay – and he doesn’t specifically mention a pig dying in his September 29, 1952 letter to Ursula Nordstrom, his publisher / editor – many believed that the essay wasn’t enough and that he felt the need to write more in order to express his sorrow and regret, to process his feelings about his experiences. On the other hand, it doesn’t take a letter to an editor (or a fan) to see how Jhumpa Lahiri has also used fiction to process personal experiences.

“In Bengali the word for pet name is daknam, meaning, literally, the name by which one is called, by friends, family, and other intimates, at home and in other private, unguarded moments. Pet names are a persistent remnant of childhood, a reminder that life is not always so serious, so formal, so complicated. They are a reminder, too, that one is not all things to all people.”

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Despite having conflicted feelings associated with her name and schooling, Jhumpa Lahiri went on to earn a B. A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University and four degrees from Boston University. A few years after completing her doctorial thesis, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies became the seventh collection of short stories (in 82 years) to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. (There have now been only nine collections to win the award in over 100 years.) Several years after her award-winning debut, The New Yorker published her short story entitled, “The Namesake.” It was the story of a Bengali boy living in a strange land with a strange name.

The story became a book and then a movie and, in the process, “Jhumpa Lahiri” became a household name.

In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, Jhumpa Lahiri’s accolades include a PEN/Hemingway Award, a Frank O’Connor International Story, and the National Humanities Award. She has also been a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Her second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, debuted at number one on The New York Times best seller list – an achievement one book editor associated with her “newfound commercial clout,” but an achievement (I would humbly suggests) actually rests on the beauty and clarity of her storytelling. As one critic put it, “There is nothing accidental about her success; her plots are as elegantly constructed as a fine proof in mathematics.”

Unaccustomed Earth was also named number one by the editors of The New York Times Book Review’s “10 Best Books of 2008.” Perhaps, even more telling is the fact that when the collection won the Frank O’Connor International Story award that same year, there was no shortlist because, as reported by The Guardian on July 4, 2008, “The jurors decided that Unaccustomed Earth was so plainly the best book that they would jump straight from longlist to winner….” The Frank O’Connor award was one of the world’s richest awards for short story collections and normally had a longlist of approximately 60 books and a short list of three or four.

“In so many ways, his family’s life feels like a string of accidents, unforeseen, unintended, one incident begetting another…They were things for which it was impossible to prepare but which one spent a lifetime looking back at, trying to accept, interpret, comprehend. Things that should never have happened, that seemed out of place and wrong, these were what prevailed, what endured, in the end.” 

― quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri is a polyglot who speaks Bengali, English, and Italian. She, undoubtedly, also understands a little bit of Spanish (and maybe Greek). Not only has she written and translated work in (and out) of all three of the languages she speaks, in 2015 she wrote an essay for The New Yorker stating that she was now only writing in Italian. Since 2015, she has published two books in Italian and edited and translated at least two collections of work by Italian writers.

Dr. Lahiri’s love of language is obvious not only in the languages she speaks and writes, but also in the connections that she makes through her writing. Both The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth have ties to two of her literary predecessors: Nikolai Gogol and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some people might be confused by her success with the “masses,” because she is so clearly erudite. However, above and beyond anything else, what a reader finds in Jhumpa Lahiri’s books are regular, everyday people navigating the spaces between two worlds and two identities – just like she does. (Just like E. B. White’s characters do.)

“Writing was also an escape [for Jhumpa Lahiri]. Growing up brown and ‘foreign’ in a town where white was the predominant theme had its challenges. There was the persistent feeling of other, not American enough, not Indian enough, of constantly straddling fences, stretching identities. She is amused, and slightly annoyed, by Indians who immigrate to the United States and eagerly embrace a Caucasian identity, excitedly reporting to their Indian friends that they’d moved into an all-white neighborhood, where there were no blacks. Thanks to her parents — her mother would often retort to these friends, ‘What do you think you are?’ — she said, ‘I was never into any sort of denial.’”

– quoted from The Washington Post article entitled, “The Writer Who Began with a Hyphen” by Teresa Wiltz (dated October 8, 2003) 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction”]

”His family name was Bashmachkin. It is evident from the name, that it originated in bashmak (shoe); but when, at what time, and in what manner, is not known. His father and grandfather, and even his brother-in-law, and all the Bashmachkins, always wore boots, and only had new heels two or three times a year. His name was Akakii Akakievich. It may strike the reader as rather singular and far-fetched; but he may feel assured that it was by no means far-fetched, and that the circumstances were such that it would have been impossible to give him any other name; and this was how it came about.”

– quoted from “The Overcoat” (as it appears in The Overcoat & Other Short Stories, Dover Thrift Editions) by Nikolai Gogol (story translation by Isabel F. Hapgood)

[Last year’s post for July 11th is linked above. Here’s different post related to the naming of things.]

### “Juliet: ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;” WS ###

Sailing Into New Beginnings (the Sunday post) January 4, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Men, Movies, New Year, Peace, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to everyone.

[You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

 

“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”

 

– quoted from “Chapter LVIII. Brit” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

On more than one occasion, I have compared breathing to our “own personal ocean.” I even once honored one of my teachers by sharing that at the end of her classes people felt like there were floating on a surfboard after a spending a whole day riding the waves; muscles completely relaxed, the mind-body completely one with the rising and falling of the waves as they ebb and flow. Those are just my words to express very common experiences. And, before you ask; no, I don’t actually surf. I have, however, spent all day for several days, learning how to sail and much of my young life playing and swimming in the ocean water of the Gulf. I also read a lot. And, the way the brain works, it’s not uncommon for me to make the visceral connection between something I’ve done and something I’ve read.

It happens with the very best of books: we find ourselves in the middle of a grand adventure, full of pirates, mutineers, and cannibals, or elves, dwarfs, and hobbits. There may be dragons to slay, train, or befriend; there may be fire on the mountaintop; there may be rings of temptation or friendship; there may be wagers in the middle of battles and so much merriment we can barely contain the laughter that pops out loudly enough that we find ourselves, suddenly, back in the our ordinary lives.

“Certainly it reminds me very much of Bilbo in the last years, before he went away. He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?’ He used to say that on the path outside the front door at Bag End, especially after he had been out for a long walk.’”

 

– Frodo reminiscing with Sam and Pippin in “Book 1, Chapter 3: Three is Company” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

The thing we sometimes forget is that our ordinary lives can not only lead us to great adventures, they can themselves be great adventures. We may not, as a young Herman Melville did when he set sail for the South Seas today in 1841, find ourselves actually taking part in a mutiny; landing in a Tahitian jail; escaping from that same jail; and then wandering around the island for two years before serendipitously befriending another great literary mind. We may not, as J. R. R. Tolkien was today in 1892, be born into a family of clock, watch, and piano makers; have an Aunt Jane who lived on a farm called Bag End (with no reference to us); and have cousins named Mary and Marjorie who made up a language called “Animalic” (inspiring us to make up our own languages); nor might we spend our adulthood in close friendships with some of the greatest literary minds of our time; and neither might we share those friendships with our son. Still, just as Melville and Tolkien did, we could write about our own lives and life experiences in a way that (sometimes) entertained and amused others. I say “sometimes,” because both authors produced work that has had mixed reviews.

While Melville’s first two sea-based novels met with quite a bit of success, his third book was so poorly received he said that he wrote the fourth and fifth just for the money. His sixth novel, Moby Dick, or The Whale, was first published in London in three installments and is now easily considered his most famous novel, but it was a critical flop when first published. On the flip side, Tolkien was surprised that his first book of fiction, The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, turned out to be such a hit… with children – and was later surprised that he and his work inspired a very passionate, loyal, and scholastic fan base. Even though his books were heavily influenced by his Catholic upbringing, his experiences at war, and his fascination with all things mythical and mystical, he was not always a fan of other work in the “fantasy adventure” genre and thought people read way too much into his books.  

“Call me Ishmael”

 

– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

“‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,’ said Pippin….

 

‘I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.’”

 

– Pippin and Merry meeting “Treebeard” in “Book 4, Chapter 4: Treebeard” in The Two Towers (Volume 2 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

Remember that, in the yoga tradition, our ability to combine meaning with sound, remember and share the combination, and create and share a visual representation of the combination of sound and meaning all fall into one of the “powers unique to humans;” and, as I mentioned yesterday, the brain likes naming things. So, there is great power in a name. J. R. R. Tolkien was very clear about this on more than one occasion in his books and the idea of words being powerful is further emphasized by the fact that he made up languages to solidify the cultures of the different characters he created. Herman Melville, on the other hand, started off his most well-known novel with the introduction and naming of a character that plays a major role in the telling of the story, but a minor one in the action.

The opening line to Moby Dick, or The Whale is easily in the top 5 most well-known (and quoted) opening lines of fiction. It is extra interesting when we consider the name (Ishmael) as it is connected to the Abrahamic religions. First, the name is often associated with people of little means and few (blood) relational ties – and Melville’s narrator explains that he was both, at the time of the story, “having little or no money in my purse and nothing particular to interest me on shore[.]” Second, the name itself can be translated into English as “God has hearkened” – meaning “God (has) listened.” Which begs the question, how can we (mere mortals) not listen?  

“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

 

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given, us. And already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black. The Enemy is fast becoming very strong. His plans are far from ripe, I think, but they are ripening. We shall be hard put to it. We should be very hard put to it, even if it were not for this dreadful chance.’”

 

– quoted from “Book 1, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

“I try all things; I achieve what I can.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter LXXIX. The Prairie” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

In a normal year (depending on which study you read and the time period studied), only about 20% – 40% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually achieve their desired goals. I know that’s a big gap, but either way you look at it over half of people who make resolutions don’t follow through. There are all kinds of explanations for this, and all kinds of “life hacks” to improve your odds, but ultimately it all comes down to little things. Little things and baby steps can make a big difference. They keep us focused on our intentions and they keep us progressing on the right track – even when there’s a detour. Little things and baby steps even help us appreciate the detour that is actually the scenic route. As we leave a year that was hard for just about everyone – and figure out a way to look forward to what’s to come – I wouldn’t be surprised if the odds are stacked against us.

Daunting thought I know. But, as Tolkien reminds us (in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again), “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” So, think for a moment about the fact that something as small and powerful as a word, or a name, can change the odds in your favor. Now ask yourself: What name would you choose for yourself to indicate how you want to move through this New Year? What’s you symbol, what’s your sign, for this new beginning? What will be your own personal reminder throughout the year and thus, at the end of the year, part of your story?

 

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter XXXIX. First Night-Watch: Fore-Top (Stubb solus, and mending a brace)” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

 

“‘No!” said Thorin. ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!’”

 

– quoted from “Chapter XVIII: The Return” in The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien

Even though many, maybe most, are still struggling with all those we’ve lost and everything we experienced, this last year reinforced the value of friendship, fellowship, kinship and a good laugh shared at the expense of no one. It also made people reevaluate their values – although, again, this is one with which some are still struggling. But, no matter where you are in your journey, I encourage you to never underestimate the power of being nice, smiling, and eating a second dinner (and then dancing or walking it off, you know, Hobbit style).

Keeping that in mind, I just want to say, for the record, that I have not forgotten about those of y’all who are counting the “Days of Christmas.” To catch up, today is the 9th or 10th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; and “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments.

Note, again, that different versions list the last four or five days worth of gifts deviate the most (in type of gift and order) from one version to another – which might be the cause of the effect of people getting all mixed up. In fact, The Journal of American Folk-lore, Volume XXX, No. CXVII (published July-September 1917, edited by Franz Boas), features an article on “Ballads and Songs” (edited by G. L. Kittredge) specifically listing a wide variety of versions that include (but is not limited to): “some part of a juniper tree;” “a-bleating lambs;” “a-bleating rams;” “fiddlers fiddling;” “bulls a-roaring;” “stags a-leaping;” “silver florins;” “golden pippins;” “hounds a-howling” – and a 78-year old singer from Massachusetts who, according to assistant editor Kittredge, forgot the eighth day gift December 30, 1877.   

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

 

  – The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (2:22 – 5:23, NIV)

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter I. Loomings” in Moby Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville

 

 

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

 

– quoted from a letter dated “Midyear’s Day, Shire Year 1418” from Gandalf to Frodo, delivered by Strider/Aragon/Elessar in “Book 1, Chapter 10: Strider” in The Fellowship of the Ring (Volume 1 of the Lord of the Rings) by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

### Grace (Enuf) ###

 

Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Movies, Philosophy, TV, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

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

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

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

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###

 

Impossible x3 August 3, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Movies, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Here there is a role reversal of what was related in bSotah – instead of the woman [Queen Salome Alexandra] being “nameless” now she is named and cunningly tries to get around the rabbinic prohibition, while the male character, her son, is unnamed and plays no role in the matter in dispute.”

 

– commentary on bShabbat (16b – 14b) in doctoral thesis entitled “Queen Alexandra: The Anamoly of a Sovereign Jewish Queen in the Second Temple Period” by Etka Liebowitz, PhD

There was a time when being a female (non-nun) member of the clergy would have been considered impossible. But, imagine for a moment, someone who was not only the first woman to be ordained in their religion, but to receive the highest orders during a time when it was hard to even be a male member of your religion. Allow me to introduce you to (or re-acquaint you with) Rabbi Regina Jonas ([‘re-ghee-na yo-nas]). Born today in 1902, Rabbi Jonas was not only the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi; she was ordained in Berlin in 1935. In other words, she became the first woman to be named as a Jewish teacher during the height of Nazi Germany.

Throughout history, you can find plenty of women who fulfilled rabbinical duties. They did not, however, hold the title. These women, like Beruryah (Rebbetzin Meir), Yalta, the Hasmonean queen Salome Alexandra (also known as Alexandra of Jerusalem), and the daughters and granddaughters of the great Talmud scholar Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzachaki), are found in the Talmud and would have been studied by Rabbi Jonas and other women who studied at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, the Jūdisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau, and other theology schools that admitted women. Unlike her female peers, however, Rabbi Jonas didn’t just want the academic teacher’s degree; she wanted the title and the responsibilities. And this desire was something that she felt and expressed from a very young age.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Rabbi Regina Jonas had a passion for Jewish history, the Bible, and the Hebrew language; a passion that was remembered even by her high school friends and supported by Orthodox rabbis like Isidor Bleichrode, Delix Singerman, and Max Weyl (who officiated at the synagogue the Jonas family attended). When she decided to pursue her degree and also the title, Rabbi Jonas wrote and submitted a final theses, which was a requirement for ordination. Her final theses topic, which was based on Biblical, Talmudic, and rabbinical sources, was near and dear to her heart: “May a woman hold rabbinic office?”

While halakhic literature did not specifically with ordination, she combined halakhic theory related to women’s issues with a modern attitude about women’s roles. She did not, however, use a Reform movement argument. Instead, Rabbi Jonas wanted to establish gender equality within the (and as a) continuity of tradition – and, in doing so, established herself as independent of both the reform movement and Orthodoxy. She also included in her argument very specific gender qualities and expectations centered around Zeni’ut (“Modesty”), which she viewed as being essential to someone’s role as a rabbi. Interestingly, some of her thesis is very much consistent with the ideas Hannah Crocker expressed in 1818.

Rabbi Jonas concluded that yes, a woman could be a rabbi according to halachic sources. She went even further by saying that female rabbis were a “cultural necessity, in part because of so-called female qualities like compassion, interpersonal skills, and psychological intuition. Her final thesis, which was supervised by Eduard Baneth, renowned professor of Talmud at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, was submitted in June 1930. Unfortunately, Rabbi Baneth died soon after her submission and his successor was not willing to ordain women. Ironically, a leader in the Reform movement, Rabbi Leo Baeck, also rejected her submission.

“Almost nothing halakhically but prejudice and lack of familiarity stand against women holding rabbinic office.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas

Despite the fact that her professors were not willing to ordain her, she received a “good” grade for her thesis and graduated as a religious teacher. She then began teaching religion at several girls’ schools in Berlin. At this same time, however, anti-Semitism created an increased need for Jewish teachers and religious education. Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of Liberaler Rabbinerveband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to ordain Rabbi Jonas on behalf of the conference and, within two years, she began to serve the official community as “pastoral-rabbinic counselor.” She particularly ministered to those in the Jewish Hospital, those who were considering emigrating, and people economically affected by “Kristallnacht.” As more and more rabbis were imprisoned by the Nazis or fled the persecution, she began to lecture to various groups, preach in liberal synagogues and lead some Havdalah (“weekday”) services in the Neue Synagogue, the flagship of German Jewry. At one point, during the winter of 1940 – 1941, the Germany Jewry organization established by the Nazis actually sent her to cities that no longer had rabbis. Even when she was forced to work in a factory, she continued her ministry.

On November 2, 1942, Rabbi Jonas was compelled to fill out a declaration form where she listed her property, including all of her books. Two days later, all of her property was confiscated by the Nazis. The next day, she and her mother were arrested. They were deported November 6th, to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she continued to preach and counsel. The psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl asked her to help him with crisis intervention, including meeting and assessing new arrivals and helping to prevent suicide attempts. On October 12, 1944, at the age of 42, Rabbi Jonas and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed.

“Since I saw that her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law, I herewith certify that she is qualified to answer questions of religious law and entitled to hold the rabbinic office. And may God protect her and guide her on all her ways.”

– quoted from the Diploma of Ordination for Rabbi Regina Jonas (approved by Rabbi Max Dienemann)

None of the male religious leaders who survived the Holocaust spoke of Rabbi Regina Jonas. However, a copy of her thesis, her teaching certificate, her rabbinical diploma, personal documents, and two photos have been preserved at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin. Included in those personal documents were letters of gratitude from refugees she had counseled (and whose families she continued to counsel in Germany). There is also a list of 24 sermons and lectures she delivered, along with notes for at least one full sermon. In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas is a documentary about her life and legacy, which features rabbis like Gesa Ederberg, who celebrated the 75th anniversary of Rabbi Jonas’s ordination with a Havdalah service – the very type of weekday service Rabbi Jonas led in Berlin.

“God has placed abilities and callings in our hearts without regard to gender. If you look at things this way, one takes woman and man for what they are: human beings.”

– quoted from a 1938 news article by Rabbi Regina Jonas

I am cancelling classes on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, but will post as I am able. Thank you to everyone who is keeping my family in your hearts and minds.

 

### SHALOM  שָׁלוֹם ###

It’s A Kiss My Asana “Flashback Friday” April 3, 2020

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“You want it bad you want it oh so much
There are some things that you should know
Some things that someone like you just cannot touch

 

You weep and dwell on our loss
Stand denied by the nails in the cross
And I for one you for two
Knows no one’s gonna do it for you
No one’s gonna do it for you”

– “No One’s Gonna Do It For You” by The Hellacopters

A lot of people, most people I would surmise, have a moment when they wish all the hard stuff was over – that they could just go to sleep and wake up with their problems solved. Can you imagine what that would be like right now? Can you imagine what it would be like if you fell asleep tonight and, when you woke up, all of this was over? No more pandemic, no more social distancing, no more self-quarantines.

Now, can you imagine what it would feel like if you actually slept through all of this…and woke up to find the world changed? Everyone else has lived their way into a new normal and you are just discovering that the old normal is…history.

Yes, this would make a great story – but it’s not a new story; it’s actually a very old story. It’s a story that predates all the specific details of this present moment, but a story that endures because it touches on some very basic and universal truths:

  1. Suffering happens (This is the first of the 4 Noble Truths from Buddhism.)
  2. Change happens (Or, as Heraclitus put it over 400 years BCE, “You could not step twice into the same river” – which implies that we want things to stay the same.)
  3. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell as quoted in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion by Diane K. Osbon)
  4. As much as we want it to be otherwise, “no one’s gonna do it for you.” (The hard part of adulting, and lyrics from a song by The Hellacopters.)

Just to clarify, the four (4) items above are NOT the 4 Noble Truths, but it’s no accident that they mirror them or that I’ve pulled statements from what appears to be vastly different sources. And yet, and yet…. The reason why these elements can be found in philosophy, religions, comparative mythology, and rock music (even literature and mathematics) is that they are elements of the human experience. We find them everywhere; we find them inside of ourselves.

“You must unlearn what you have learned… No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

 

– Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (and a quote I used during a 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class)

Kiss My Asana is an annual yogathon, to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program. Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals.

This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

We’re doing this, right?

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Since it’s “Flashback Friday,” check out one of my previous offerings dated April 3rd (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 3rd)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 3rd)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 3rd Practice

My next virtual practice is on Saturday. Use the same Meeting ID as last week’s class or, if you were unable to attend last week, check out the “Class Schedules” tab. You’ll find access details in the calendar description for Saturday, April 4th. I’ll post the playlists by Saturday morning.

Also, if you are interested in YIN Yoga, plan to join me and a special guest on Wednesday (April 8th) for a special webinar/mini-practice at 3 PM. Details to be announced.

“No One’s Gonna Do It For You”

 

### KAALI DURGE NAMOH NAMAH ###