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FTWMI: The S-word September 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 5781/2020. Class and date-related details have been updated. An extra quote and a recent video have also been embedded within the main text.

“Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”

– quoted from “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin

For years, I avoided saying the words, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t that I never made a mistake or didn’t feel remorse about something I had said or done or even thought. Instead, I very deliberately, very intentionally, practiced expressing my remorse with other words. Because, despite the song and the old saying, “sorry” is a word I think it is far too easy for people to say.

We say we’re sorry when we accidentally bump into someone while walking or when we both reach for the same prop in a yoga class. We say “sorry” when we hit the wrong button on the elevator and the door closes on someone who was trying to catch it or when we don’t hold the door open for someone who has their hands full. We say “sorry” when we didn’t hear or understand something someone says and we say we’re sorry when we don’t want to do something that’s clearly not right for us to do. We use the same word for the little inconsequential stuff as for the really big stuff and we do this despite the fact that we have so many other words; words that in some cases are much more appropriate for a situation. (Say hello, “excuse me” and “pardon me.”)

I apologize. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll do better next time.
Please forgive me. I was wrong. Please give me a second chance.
Pardon me. I regret what I did/said. My bad.
Excuse me. Please accept my regrets. Mea culpa.

Earlier in the New Year (that started this past Sunday at sunset), I mentioned that words are one of our super powers – and by that I mean they are one of the siddhis (or “powers”) unique to being human according to Indian philosophy. In fact, the process of asking and/or offering forgiveness is something that utilizes all six (6) of the powers unique to being human.

First, there is uha (“knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge”). In a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness,” Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield refers to the act of forgiveness as a “a deep process of the heart, which requires a person to process and honor ”the betrayal of yourself or others, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the fear.” I’ll add to that the need to process and honor the love, expectation, and disappointment that are usually involved in the situation. In order to reach the point where we can truly ask and/or offer forgiveness we have to understand the situation and the underlying emotions. The absolute worst “apologies” ever – and I put that in quotes, because they really aren’t apologies – are conditional and redirect action towards those who have been harmed. For instance, when people say something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended, but…” and/or “I apologize to anyone I may have offended,” they aren’t actually apologizing. The act of asking for and/or offering forgiveness is similar to the act of expressing gratitude: the more specific one can be, the more genuine the act – and this requires truly understanding the situation.

The second “power unique to being human” is shabda (“word”) and it is our ability to not only form a sound, but also to assign meaning that sound; depict that sound and meaning visually; to remember the sound, meaning, and visual depiction and to convey that meaning to others. I think it is obvious how this power comes into play when we are talking about forgiveness and repentance. However, for the record, let me reiterate that the words we use matter because of how we use them! (Also, this is one of those powers where one could say that this is a power other beings in the animal kingdom share with being human. And while this is true, humans have the ability to deliberately and intentionally hone this ability. Consider, also, the power of the written word. A handwritten apology is akin to a love letter.)

Adhyayana is the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend” and it is directly tied to the first “power unique to being human.” This analytical ability not only allows us to turn inward and gain an understanding of our own intentions (as well as the intentions of others), it also means we can dig deep inside of ourselves and gain a clear understanding of what we are feeling. We can’t always understand how other people are feeling, but we can take a moment to cultivate empathy by considering how we would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. This third power also gives us the ability to understand why one person’s actions, words, and thoughts can hurt us in a way it is hard to get past, while another person’s actions, words, and thoughts feel inconsequential. Finally, it gives us the ability to predict the cause and effect of our thoughts, words, and deeds – which means we have the capacity to not hurt someone and/or to stop making the same mistake over and over again.

“It’s a deep work of the heart that purifies and releases – and somehow permits us to love and be free.”

– quoted from a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness” by Jack Kornfield

 

The fourth “power unique to being human” is dukha-vighata-traya, which means we are born with the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (“physical-mental-spiritual suffering”) because we have the ability to understand the cause and the cure of what ails us. Forgiveness and repentance are powerful healing agents. They are a balm to the soul. Letting go of what no longer serves us (or only serves in dividing us) can feel like a cool breeze on a summer day. It’s a clean slate and is like hitting the reset button on a relationship.  Remember, as teachers like Jack Kornfield point out, forgiveness is for you: “It’s not for anyone else.”

The final two powers are suhrit-prapti (which is “cultivating a good heart; finding friends”) and dana (“generosity, the ability to give”). I put these two together not because they are less than the others, but because they – along with the fourth – can defy logic. They are, in every tradition, heart practices. The ability to cultivate friendship and emotionally invest in others carries with it the risk of being hurt. There is a reason why the word “passion,” which comes to us from Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English is more closely associated with love (and strong emotions) than with its original meaning “to suffer.” The ability to cultivate a good heart means that we open up to the wisdom that is part of the heart (according to Eastern philosophies) and also that we are capable of thinking beyond our own needs and desires. This last part – the ability to consider the needs and desires of others – is directly tied to our ability to give others what they need, including what is legally ours. We can spend all day considering what material possessions we have that could benefit others, but let us not forget the priceless value of what is in our own hearts. We are the only one who can offer our forgiveness.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

 

– Dr. Maya Angelou

Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance, return, turn,” is a big part of the High Holidays. On Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, there is even an absolution of vows (every vow). But remember, this is not about self flagellation (or even, really, about condemnation). In offering forgiveness to ourselves and others we are not required to forget or condone bad behavior. Neither are we required to stay in a bad situation. The practice does not require us to be perfect. The practice does, however, require us to open our hearts to the possibility of a new beginning.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

 

– quoted from “An Essay on Criticism” (line 525) by Alexander Pope

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 28th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “High Holidays: Sorry”]

The last song / A final word…

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.)

### BE DIVINE (WHEN YOU CAN) ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible is nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Dr. Wayne Dyer

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

### “May our hearts be open” ~BC ###

FTWMI: Practice Responsibly July 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This post from 2020 – and the one you can find here, related to yesterday’s “anger/kindness” theme – have come back to haunt me. Yet, they have also come back to bring me some comfort. I hope you, too, find some comfort and good practice reminders in the following. In addition to some format edits, class details and links have been updated for today.

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to a beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to a British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like those referenced above, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are using and Apple device and having problems viewing the “Class Schedules,” you may need to update your browser.

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

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.)

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Still Getting (Un)Hooked, After All These Years July 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.”

– quoted from “How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked” by Pema Chödrön (published by Lion’s Roar, 12/26/2017)

A random short appeared in my YouTube queue. It was only about 60 seconds, from a channel I have never watched nor followed, and I’ll admit that I got “hooked” within a few seconds. Remember, “hook” is one way the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön translates the Tibetan word shenpa. It can also be translated as “urge, impulse, charge, or attachment.” It is the first sign that someone has pushed your buttons and activated your sympathetic nervous system, which makes you want to fight, flee, or freeze/collapse. While her teachings related to shenpa and the four R’s (which are a way to get unhooked), are often connected to negative button-pushing, we would be mindful to note that the ability to be hooked is ego-related and, therefore, is also connected to positive things.

The lure is the pretty or shiny thing that draws us in so that we can get hooked. There’s nothing wrong in feeling a sense of pride in your work, your appearance, and/or your child. Part of the practice, however, is being mindful of the fact that that pride is a button that can be pushed. And this is where I first got hooked by the short video, because the content creator was highlighting their hard work. That hard work and (let’s call it) artistry was what caught my attention. But, that’s not the point of this post – neither, in some ways, was it the point of the video.

You see, the people in the video had been accused of something. They had been publicly accused, by someone who doesn’t know them, of something that, in some ways, is not inherently a bad thing. Although I personally think that not acknowledging the thing can be detrimental, I also understand that everyone is not in position to see the thing: privilege.

Yes, they had been accused of having privilege. It’s something we all have to a certain degree; however, it is also something that people are starting to understand in a different way than perhaps they understood it in the past. Hence it becoming a point of accusation. To be clear, being accused of having (and using your) privilege is not even close to the same thing as being accused of murder or treason or conspiracy to commit either, it is a hot button. It is something that results in shenpa and, therefore, creates some of the same feelings and reactions. So, it was interesting (but not surprising) that the content creators were quick to defend themselves. It was also interesting that the way they went about defending themselves, ultimately, proved the accusers’ point (to a lot of people). Equally interesting is that, for every person pointing out that their accusers were correct, there was someone vehemently defending the content creator. That’s the thing about public accusations; they lead to public shenpa. They can also lead to public awareness and public action.

Today’s practice highlights public accusations, as well as the resulting public shenpa and public awareness and action. While we can see the parallels to events happening today, these events took place in France in 1898.

As I noted in 2020: “We are living in a time when a lot of people are getting “hooked” by a large number of things. One thing in particular that stands out is people experiencing shenpa because of loud, public, and blunt accusations. The accusations are all related to what in the yoga philosophy would be called avidyā (ignorance) and all four of the other afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns. The loudest of the accusations comes in the form of one of several words: racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or xenophobic. And, let’s be honest, if someone uses the right “mean” word, they don’t have to do it loudly (or publicly) for the accused to feel the bite of the hook. Furthermore, this shenpa-related reaction is so prevalent right now that we don’t have to turn on the news, read about it, or look online to see someone experiencing this particular form of suffering: all we have to do is look in the mirror.” Click here to read more about shenpa and Émile Zola, who fled France today in 1898.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 19th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace, J’Accuse!”]

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.)

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

– from “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola, published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898

### RRRR(R) ###

Water Music Peace (mostly the music) July 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Confessions, Music, Peace.
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“I am getting ready to go see Stalin and Churchill…. I have a briefcase filled up with information on past conferences and suggestions on what I’m to do and say. Wish I didn’t have to go, but I do and it can’t be stopped now.”

– quoted from a letter dated July 3, 1945 addressed to his mother (Martha) and sister (Mary) by President Harry S. Truman

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 17th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07172021 Water Music Peace”]

 

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.)

### 🎶 ###

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

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

*

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

*

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

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 6th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07062021 HHDL Big Day”]

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

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

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

Errata: An unfortunate typo has been corrected.

*

### 🎶 ###

Freedom: Still Making It Make Sense July 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s National CROWN Day (unofficially, of course)!

“… so he said to put an end to all misunderstanding: ‘We parted on bad terms.’

The Manageress seemed to construe this as excellent news.

‘So then you’re free?’ she said.

‘Yes, I’m free,’ said Karl, and nothing seemed more worthless than his freedom.”

*

– quoted from “FIVE / The Hotel Occidental” in the unfinished novel Amerika by Franz Kafka

In some ways, we are living in a realistic, surreal world, not unlike the worlds created by Franz Kafka, who was born today in 1883. Like Kafka’s characters, we find ourselves transformed and/or in oddly transformational situations where we are forced to confront things that just don’t make sense. Of course, in order for things to make sense, we need context… reference points… history. In fact, in a letter to Oskar Pollak (dated 27 January 1904), Kafka advocated reading books that shake us awake. This was a follow-up to an earlier letter (dated 8 November 1903, translated by Frederick R. Karl), in which Kafka wrote, “We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.”

Today in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail about how (and why) the “Second Day of July 1776” would be remembered and celebrated for all times.

Today in 1863, the Army of the Potomac forces, led by Major General George Meade, defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the third Battle of Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and its conclusion not only halted the confederacy’s invasion of northern territories, it also marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War (but not the end of the battle for long-promised freedom).

Today in 2019, in America’s ongoing effort to make our ideals make sense (as a reality rather than a theory), the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. As I noted last year: “New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.” You can click the previous link for the history and/or click here for more (con)text(ure).

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 3rd) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “4th of July 2020”]

[NOTE: This playlist has been remixed since 2020. It is still slightly different on each platform, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that certain contextual videos do not appear on Spotify. One track may not play on Spotify due to artist protests.]

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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.)

### Feel Free ###

The Importance of Feeling/Being Safe June 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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May we all be safe and protected, especially if we find ourselves seeking asylum.

“This startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe points out the gap between what we say and what we do. On the one hand we publicly pronounce the equality of all peoples, discarding all racialistic theories; on the other hand, in our immigration laws, we embrace in practice these very theories we abhor and verbally condemn.”

*

– United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) speaking to the Senate about immigration quotes in 1948

Beware, ya’ll, I’ve got my hammer out; because I feel like some things need to be hammered home.

I could say that that this feeling started when I re-read the quote above and started thinking about how much it (unfortunately) still applies. However, the truth is a little more complicated than that. The truth is that I’m always thinking about “the gap between what we say and what we do” – in any situation – but that I especially started thinking about in relation to refugees when Russia invaded Ukraine towards the end of February. That invasion, and the escalation of a war that began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea at the end of February 2014, highlighted the fact that refugees can come from anywhere and look like anyone. However, that heightened awareness of who can be a refugee, also reinforced the fact that many people in the world have stereotypes and biases that make life harder for people who are already facing horrific challenges.

Some people, at various points along Ukraine’s border, said they saw no discrimination happening as people fled the conflict. Others witnessed and/or experienced racial bias which resulted in people being stranded in a volatile situation. We can all believe what we want – or believe what we must to sleep at night – but if you were paying attention as the events unfolded, you saw and heard newscasters attributing value based on race, ethnicity, and nationality. If you were paying attention, you witnessed countries and local governments setting policy based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender.

Even if you weren’t paying attention to any of those things, you could look inside of your own heart and mind and observe how you felt about refugees fleeing Ukraine versus refugees fleeing Afghanistan… or Syria… or Vietnam… or Venezuela… or South Sudan… or the Congo….

“Whoever. Wherever. Whenever.
Everyone has the right to seek safety.”

*

– the 2022 theme for World Refugee Day 2022

Today is World Refugee Day.

The United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th as World Refugee Day in December of 2000. The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defined a refugee as “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to ‘a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognizes that “many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.” Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Stateless Persons, and Returnees all fall under the Refugees category. Although they are granted certain rights and protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, because we often say one thing and do something completely different.

World Refugee Day is an internationally observed day to honor the humanity of all refugees. It is a day to celebrate the strength, courage, and resilience of people who have held onto their families, cultures, languages, and dreams despite being forced to flee their home country either to escape war, famine, pestilence, persecution, or all of the above. It is also a day to raise awareness and solicit support, while cultivating empathy, compassion, and understanding. Finally it is a time to recognize the generosity of host countries. So, ultimately, it is a day to engage and honor those powers “unique to being human.”

“We will continue to represent the best of American values by saving lives and alleviating suffering, working with our partners at home and abroad to assist the forcibly displaced in their time of need – no matter who or where they are, on World Refugee Day and every day.”

*

– quoted from the 2022 World Refugee Day statement by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken*

As I have mentioned before, I can be skeptical of the idea that only humans can cultivate the six siddhis (“attainments” or abilities) that are described as being “unique to being human” in the Sāmkhya Karika. Similarly, I question the idea that certain values can (or should be) described as if they only belong to a certain group of people – especially since so many different groups share the same values. I strongly encourage us, however, to look at our own personal values and what we each (individually) believe to be true. In the process, I also strongly encourage us to look at whether or not what is in our hearts is also in our minds and reflected by our words and deeds. When we do this, we give ourselves the opportunity to look at whether or not our affiliations reflect what’s in our hearts and in our minds. This is one way to practice svādhyāya (“self-study”).

Svādhyāya (“self-study”) is the fourth niyama or internal “observation” in the Yoga Philosophy. And, I want to emphasis that it is an exercise in OBSERVATION. I often place it in the same category as discernment and contemplation, as those practices appear in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola – meaning, these are ways to note the “interior movement” of one’s own heart, especially in certain contexts. Like discernment and contemplation, svādhyāya can be in our judgment toolbox, but it’s not about making or passing judgments; it’s about making good, virtuous, choices.

By “good,” I mean it is something that has meaning and purpose. By “virtuous,” I mean something that is generous in it’s ability to alleviate suffering (i.e., something that does the least amount of harm to the most amount of beings and/or over the longest amount of time).

“According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;

  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;

  • The right to work;

  • The right to housing;

  • The right to education;

  • The right to public relief and assistance;

  • The right to freedom of religion;

  • The right to access the courts;

  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory;

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents.

Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.”

*

– from the United Nations

According to the United Nations, refugees are entitled to certain rights that are, theoretically, human rights. The United States is NOT on the top 10 list of countries who receive the most refugees, however, according to U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The United States is the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance….” Within those statements, there is a huge contradiction. I’m not talking about the fact that many people believe the U. S. myth and talking point that “people are always coming here,” I’m talking about the fact that the United States doesn’t even guarantee all of the aforementioned rights to it’s citizens. When you look at how that contradiction (and, some could argue, hypocrisy) plays out in real time, it’s easy to see how we end up with a conflict between theory and practice. Another way to look at that is: This is one of the reason’s there’s a “gap between what we say and what we do.”

So, today, I think it’s important acknowledge that gap and why it’s here (inside of each of us as well as in the world). Also, given this year’s theme, I think it’s important to contemplate what “safety” means to us. The UN has five points that define “seeking safety” means:

  1. Right to seek asylum
  2. Safe access
  3. No pushbacks
  4. No discrimination
  5. Humane treatment

Even with those five points (and the descriptions outlined by the UN), we can only define what it means to us individually. We can only define what finding safety would look like to us if we were forced from our home and from our homeland. Once we do that, however, once we define it, we are one step closer to being able to extend it.

“Once you’ve woken up to the understanding that vulnerable people literally die for their lives

There is no alternative but to decide to care.

So you resolve to care.

You realize that vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness

That all of us are vulnerable in some way. / That some days we’re weaker than most / and that some of us don’t have that option.

So you grieve for those who lost their lives / and you grieve for the ones that you lost too. / Not just during this crisis / but during every one before it….” 

*

– from the poem that begins “The Seven Stages of Grief during Coronavirus: Acceptance.” (see end of post) by Emi Mamoud (@EmiThePoet)

Please join me today (Monday, June 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the classYou can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06202020 #WorldRefugeeDay”]

NOTE: One song is no longer available on either streaming platform. It is still listed, but will not play.

Emi Mamoud, an incredible poet

Some elements of the above post were included in my 2020 World Refugee Day post, which philosophically focused on Yoga Sūtra 2.25 and the connection between avidyā (“ignorance”) and suffering. Click here to read that post.

*NOTE: Since I made a point, yesterday, of mentioning my certain aspects of my own legacy, please note that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine, his maternal grandparents were Hungarian Jews, and his step-father was a Holocaust survivor (and refugee). 

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

### May we all be peaceful and happy / May we all be healthy and strong / May we all have ease and wellbeing ###

When Intuition Expands (the post for the First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearly”) June 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Baseball, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Nobly honoring all connections leads to a noble life.

“A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, ‘If only….'”

*

– quoted from the poem “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

In October 1967, American Heritage (volume 18, issue 6) featured an excerpt from Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey. Mr. Gardner was a popular mathematics and popular science writer – whose life and work is fascinating enough to have it’s own theme – and he was known for his work in recreational mathematics, magic, and criticism of fringe or pseudoscience. He was also known for annotating works that were popular with the masses, but not always understood by the masses. His book about a very popular baseball poem includes a history of how the poem became so popular, as well as a biography of the poem’s author. At times, it is also just as scathing and hilarious as the actual poem.

The poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888,” was originally published in The Daily Examiner (now The San Francisco Examiner) today in 1888. It was published under the pen name “Phin,” a diminutive of the nickname “Phinney,” which is what Ernest Lawrence Thayer was called when he attended Harvard University. Like Mr. Thayer, Martin Gardner studied philosophy (albeit at the University of Chicago rather than Harvard) and both landed in the publishing world. But they lived in different times, pursued different interests, and – I’m willing to bet – had really different egos. What is interesting to note, however, is how egos come up in their work – especially with regard to “Casey,” which is (ultimately) a poem about egos, emotions, and how our judgement and behavior can be swayed by our egos and emotions.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

*
– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.” [Translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (for comparative analysis), “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind shows it.”]

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

*

Human beings are sensational beings. This means a few different things. First, it means that we are infused with sensation – we feel things. We have sense organs that soak up information and communicate via sensation or “feelings,” which the mind-intellect processes. Second, we place value on things (and people) that make us feel things; we call them sensational. Finally, we find sensational things appealing – meaning, we are drawn towards people and things that provoke a visceral reaction, (i.e., that make us feel things). Being sensational beings can be amazing; however, it can also be problematic. The problematic part is that our intellect can sometimes be so overwhelmed by sensation that we find ourselves doing irrational things, while simultaneously believing they are rational things. Sometimes, being sensational beings means we don’t “see” clearly.

To be transparent, part of the problem may be that we don’t always understand how we “see” things. We assume that we have the full picture and that what we see – and understand – is exactly what someone else sees, but for some reason doesn’t understand. (“I mean, for goodness sake, it’s right in front of them! How can they not see that?”) This disconnect can manifest as people arguing even though they are on the same side of a debate and/or “agreeing to disagree” and coming to a stalemate in a situation where movement towards resolution and reconciliation is vital to survival.

In these situations, everyone ultimately loses.

It would be great if we could take a deep breath, step back, and get more perspective. It would be great if we could really talk with each other and ask the right questions. But, there are certain things about which we are quite impassioned – which means we are quite literally infused with suffering. We don’t want to (or can’t) ignore what we’re feeling – especially in times when we are feeling quite a bit (or when we are feeling quite numb). Instead, we need to balance the mind-body experience – and, gain some insight into our sight (i.e., how we “see” things and why we “see” things the way we do when others “see” things in a different way).

“Intuition is important, knowing what questions to ask. The other thing is a passion for getting to the core of the problem.”

*

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Born today in 1924, Dr. Tosten Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with his collaborator Dr. David Hubel.

Click here to read my 2020 post about their research on ocular dominance columns and how their original thesis around neural pathways and the mechanisms of the visual cortex was way off center.

Please join me tonight, Friday, June 3, 2022, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearlyon 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.
*
Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04012022 An “Important” Story””]

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all. 

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

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

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

“‘Every act of perception,’ Edelman writes, ‘is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination.’”

*
– Dr. Oliver Sacks, quoting Dr. Gerald Edelman (co-winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

More ocular science…

(NOTE: Some blog quotes by Drs. Wiesel and Hubel are from a short biography produced by National Science & Technology Medals Foundation when Dr. Wiesel was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science.)

### I CAN SEE YOU. CAN YOU SEE ME? ###

When Nothing Expands or Opens (a side note) June 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom.
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Nobly humble and grateful.

Trigger Warning: I reference very current events in this post.

“If you have spoken to another and your words did not help, it is proof you did not speak with him, but with yourself. Your words may be the words you wanted to say, the words you believe, but they are not the words he needed to hear.

*

If you would speak to him and speak his words, then certainly he would hear.”

*

– quoted from the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory; words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

During the Wednesday afternoon (4:30) class, there was yet another mass shooting here in the United States. This one was in a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The practice I was in the middle of teaching (and the subsequent practice) revolved around the truly devastating and tragic events that also took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. It’s an important story and even though (as I referenced in the link above) I sometimes skip items on my pedagogical calendar, I probably would have still told the story. However, I  probably would have told it in a different way had I been aware of the shooting.

Years and years ago, a teacher offered me the mantra “Jai Jai Guru Dev” (or some variation of “Jai Jai Guru Deva”). This mantra can be translated in different, but related, ways. The way it was first explained to me was “victory to the big mind” (or “big brain”). It is a healing mantra that I often offer when friends are ill. It can be a reminder that there is something bigger than ourselves and bigger than our egos. It can be also a reminder that we can play around all we want and get really excited about how we’re winning, but eventual the Universe (i.e., the House) always wins – which is itself a reminder that there is wisdom bigger than our ego-driven opinions.

At the end of the day, we may have different opinions about why we, here in the USA, have a problem – but we really can’t deny that there is a problem. We also can’t afford to deny or ignore the fact that it’s a problem no one else in the world is having. Neither can we deny or ignore the fact that if we keep speaking with ourselves, instead of with each other, than we will keep having this problem.

“‘It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man– that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times– whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don’t admit that my failure proved my view to be a wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that’s how we appraise such attempts nowadays–I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes.’”

*

– quoted from Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (b. 06/02/1840)

If you’re interested in a short 2020 post about Thomas Hardy, please click here.

*

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).

Jai Jai Gurudeva Jai Jai ###