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Salt of the Earth (a special Black History note for Monday) February 7, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Food, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Lorraine Hansberry, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for Monday, February 6thYou can request a recording of the Monday practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

WARNING: A portion of this post refers to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but there is an opportunity to skip that section.

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. Donations are tax deductible.

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

“Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life. It is the only condiment of the poor. Cattle cannot live without salt. Salt is a necessary article in many manufactures. it is also a rich manure.

There is no article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the State can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless. The salt tax constitutes the most inhuman poll tax that the ingenuity of man can devise.”

– quoted from a letter by M. K. Gandhi, printed in Young India, Vol. XII, Ahmedabad: February 27, 1930

Some people laughed when Mohandas Karamchanda Gandhi decided salt would be the focus of a direct action, non-violent mass protest. People who are world leaders today scoffed, because they didn’t get it and they didn’t have his insight and vision. However, Gandhi wasn’t the first radical leader to emphasize the importance of salt. Jesus did it, in the Gospel According to Matthew (5:13 – 14), when he referred to his disciples as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” In both cases, the teacher whose name would become synonymous with a worldwide religious movement indicated that there was a purpose, a usefulness, to the disciples and their roles (as salt and as light). I think it’s important to remember that Jesus was speaking to fishermen, farmers, and shepherds – people who were intimately familiar with the importance of salt (and light). They knew that (different kinds of) salt can be used for flavoring, preservation, fertilization, cleansing, and destroying, and that it could be offered as a sacrifice. They knew, as Gandhi would later point out, that people in hot, tropical climates needed salt for almost everything – including healing.

Gandhi’s “audience” was different. He was living in a time of industrialization and the beginnings of these modern times in which we find ourselves. He knew that people laughed and scoffed, because they didn’t completely understand the usefulness and vitalness of salt. He understood that some people took salt for granted and, even within the pages,, he debated with experts about the benefits and risks of salt consumption. He also knew that some people – inside and outside of British-ruled India – just didn’t get the inhumanity of charging people a tax for something that they could obtain (literally) outside their front door; something that was part of the very fiber of their being.

Remember, the human body is 60 – 75% water… and most of that water is saturated with salt.

“Such a universal force [Satyagraha] necessarily makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe. The force to be so applied can never be physical. There is in it no room for violence. The only force of universal application can, therefore, be that of ahimsa or love. In other words it is soul force.

Love does not burn others, it burns itself.”

– quoted from “Some Rules of Satyagraha” by M. K. Gandhi, printed in Young India, Vol. XII, Ahmedabad: February 27, 1930 

(NOTE: The general explanation and rules were followed by a section of rules of conduct for various situations, including for “an Individual” and for “a Prisoner.”)

As I mentioned last week, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established the “Season for Nonviolence” (January 30th through April 4th) in 1998. The Mahatma Gandhi Canadian Foundation for World Peace offers daily practices based on principles of nonviolence advocated by Mahatma Gandhi (who was assassinated on January 30, 1948) and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who was assassinated on April 4, 1968). We could think of these principles as little bits of salt, sprinkled throughout the days, but the thing to remember is that these principles are not unique to one culture, one philosophy, or one religion. Neither did these two great leaders/teachers invent these ideas. Ahiṃsā (non-violence or “non-harming”) is the very first yama (external “restraint” or universal commandment) in the Yoga Philosophy and one of the Ten Commandments according the Abrahamic religions. It is also one of the Buddhist precepts. Courage, smiling, appreciation, caring, believing, simplicity, education – the principles of the first week of the “Season for Nonviolence” – all predate Gandhi and MLK; they also predate Jesus. So, too, does today’s principle: Healing.

Healing is also the focus of people who are wrapping up World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), which was first proposed by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2010. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted Resolution 65/5 on October 10, 2010, and designated the first week of February as a time to promote a culture of peace and nonviolence “between all religions, faiths, and beliefs.” This year’s theme is “Harmony in a World in Crisis: Working together to achieve peace, gender equality, mental health and wellbeing, and environmental preservation” and it stresses the fact that we are all better equipped to deal with future pandemics and natural catastrophes when we come together and work together.

Of course, future pandemics and natural catastrophes are not the only things that plague the world. We also have human-made disasters and catastrophic events. We’re still dealing with some of the same things Gandhi and MLK – even Jesus – fought: people who who would take away another person’s ability to be a healthy, thriving, human being. Again, we could look back at salt… or basic civil rights… or we could look at what it (sometimes) means to be like August Wilson’s Risa, “a woman in the world.”

While I do not go into explicit details, you may skip to the next big banner quote if needed.

In addition to being the penultimate day of World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW), February 6th is also International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Designated by the UN in 2012, this annual day of events aims to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of the practice of FGM, which is defined by the UN as “all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women.” People who endure FGM face short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as long-term consequences for their sexual and reproductive health and mental health. According to the UN, 4.32 million girls around the world who are at risk of undergoing FGM and approximately 1 in 4, or 52 million worldwide, experience FGM at the hands of a medical professional.

This is not a new practice. In fact, when I was in college (about 30 years ago) I had an argument with a male student who insisted there was no such thing as FGM. He was white, from America, and (to my knowledge) had not experienced much outside of his lived experience. He only knew what it was like to be him. If I could go back, and have that discussion again, I might dig a little deeper into why he was in such denial about something that (to date) has been experienced by at least 200 million living people. NOTE: That statistic only refers to survivors.

While the UN acknowledges that cultures are different and that all are in “constant flux,” the General Assembly also recognizes that, in order for cultures to survive, the people within a society must be able to thrive, enjoy basic human rights, and have the physical and mental wellness to reach their potential. Any one of us can think of this as someone else’s problem, but the truth is that (on some level) this is everyone’s problem to solve. In fact, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called, “on men and boys everywhere to join me in speaking out and stepping forward to end female genital mutilation, for the benefit of all.”

The good news is that FGM has declined, globally, over the last 25 years and a girl is one-third less likely to experience FGM than 30 years ago. All the good news category: more awareness means that healthcare professionals are in a better position to help FGM survivors heal from the physical, mental, and/or emotional trauma.

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

Healing begins with people. I’ve seen this up close and personal all of my life, because I grew up around healers. My father taught in medical schools and ran research labs. My mother was a hospital administrator. Her mother went to nursing school with at least one of her sister-in-laws and a couple of her future neighbors. For the most part, they all went to HBCUs (Historically Black Universities and Colleges) in the South, because the times – and the laws at the time – didn’t give them a whole lot of other options. In some ways, my grandmother and her peers would have had very similar experiences as Black nursing students before and after them. In some ways, however, their experiences would have been very different – again, because of the opportunities that were available (or not available to them) based on the color of their skin. For instance, the nurses in my family definitely had to overcome obstacles, but (maybe) not the same walls that Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes had scale in order to become a nurse.

Born February 6, 1919, in Seattle, Washington, Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes was the second of three girls born to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter. Mr. Pitter was born in Jamaica (like Bob Marley, who was born 2/6/1945) and came to the United States in as a captain’s steward during the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. After leaving his position on the passenger ship, he became a King County Clerk and then a book editor and publisher. He also worked with the Democratic Party (the Colored Democratic Association of Washington). Mrs. Pitter was a direct descendent of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and she knew how to protect her family against the hostilities they encountered. Their daughters (Constance, Maxine, and Marjorie) grew up in the tightknit household that emphasized elegance and education.

“Marjorie Pitter King remembered, ‘Politics opened doors for us and was very helpful. During the Christmas vacations, we were able to work at the post office and earn money to help with our schooling. It also helped my father obtain his job because he had been working on WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects. Then he went from there to deputy sheriff.’ (Horn)”

– quoted from “King, Marjorie Edwina Pitter (1921-1996)” by Mary T. Henry, posted on historylink.org (Juana Racquel Royster Horn cited)

All three of the Pitter girls graduated from high school and made their way to the University of Washington. Like a lot of students, especially during the Great Depression, the sisters had financial struggles. To alleviate their economic problems, the youngest of the three (Marjorie) proposed that they go into business together doing things they had learned how to do at home: typing, printing, and writing speeches. They called their business “Tres Hermanas” or “Three Sisters” – and it would have been nice if all of their troubles could have been resolved through hard work. Unfortunately, -isms and -phobias don’t work that way.

All three of the sisters had to deal with racism that manifested as name-calling and teachers ignoring them. Then, they each had their individual crosses to bear. Constance Allen Pitter Thomas, the oldest of the sisters, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and became a student teacher in the Seattle School District, but was not offered a permanent position for many years. When she was finally offered a regular position by the school district, it was as a speech therapist. She worked with students with special needs for 18 years.

Marjorie Edwina Pitter King, the youngest of the three sisters, struggled academically and then struggled because there weren’t very many women in accounting – let alone Black women. She ended up transferring to Howard University in 1942, for her senior year; but then dropped out of school and went to work for the Pentagon (during World War II). Eventually, she got married, started a family and moved back to Seattle, where she started a successful tax company. M and M Tax and Consultant Services worked with clients all along the continental coast and Mrs. Pitter King’s support extended to language translation and letter writing. She also became the first African American to be appointed to the Washington State Legislature (in 1965); served as Chair of the 37th District Democratic Party; Vice President of the King County Democratic Party; and Treasurer of the Washington State Federation of Democratic Women, Inc. While attending the 1972 Democratic National Convention, she helped draft the National Democratic Party Platform.

Then there was Maxine… the darkest-skinned of the three sisters… who wanted to be a nurse.

“It was 1939 in Seattle, and although the city had none of the formal ‘Jim Crow’ segregation laws common in the South, the result was often the same.

Being black and finding a job often meant menial work and a lower standard of living. For some black people, discrimination crushed any hope of working at all.”

– quoted from the article in The Seattle Times entitled “Seattle In The Old Days: No ‘Jim Crow’ Laws, But Blacks Were Held Back Just The Same” by Daryl Strickland (dated Jun 27, 1994)

Like her sisters, Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes enrolled at the University of Washington. She enrolled as a pre-nursing student, but then she was rejected by the the Nursing School, because the degree required nursing students to be housed in Harborview Hall – and the Dean of Nursing would not allow an African American student to live with the white students. The future Mrs. Pitter Haynes had no choice, but to change her major during her junior year. She ended up graduating from the University of Washington, in 1941, with a degree in sociology. Then, she moved to New York City and enrolled at Lincoln School of Nursing where she earned the first of two degrees in nursing. She earned her second degree, a masters in nursing, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and worked in the city of angels before moving back to Seattle.

Maxine Pitter Haynes become the first African American nurse at Providence Hospital (now Swedish Medical Center/Providence Campus). She also served as education director for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and taught at Seattle Pacific University, from 1976, until she retired in 1981 as professor emeritus.

But, in the middle of all of that, in 1971, she went back to the University of Washington… as an assistant professor at the same nursing school that had turned her away because of her skin color.

We can look at that as progress and/or we can flip the coin and look at that as healing.

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ”

– Rachel Naomi Remen (b. 2/8/1938) as quoted in At Your Service: Living the Lessons of Servant Leadership by Charles E. Wheaton

PRACTICE NOTES: I decided to focus this practice on the ways the body naturally heals: with a little yin and a little yang; a little action/resistance and passive/resting. There was some dynamic motion (to engage the sympathetic nervous system) and also moments of resting and relaxing (to engage the parasympathetic nervous system). In a practice like this, I also highlighted ahimsa (as I did above) and different techniques for relaxing and getting “unhooked,” including the practice of cultivating the opposites.

I have several playlists related to Gandhi, MLK, and ahiṃsā. However, if I were going to put together a playlist specifically for today, I would throw in a little Bob Marley (see reference above) plus some Schumann played by Claudio Arrau (b. 2/6/1903), something by Natalie Cole (b. 2/6/1950), and – if I had the time – I’d look for something appropriate from the soundtracks of one of Robert Townsend’s movies (b. 2/6/1957). Also, cause I’m silly (and I could make it work), I might throw in the Guns N’ Roses cover of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (cause, Axl Rose, b. 2/6/1962); however, I might toss it into the before/after music along with this little ditty on YouTube, by an artist born 2/6/1966.

### “Unforgettable / That’s what you are” ~ Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole  ###

FTWMI: Focus+Concentrate+Meditate = Sweet Heaven (w/expansion) January 30, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy New Year! Happy Carnival! Many blessings to those celebrating the Jade Emperor’s birthday! Peace and ease to all during this “Season of Non-violence” and all other seasons!

For Those Who Missed It: A version of the following was originally posted in February of 2021. Even though this was posted first, it is a continuation of yesterday’s “Getting Ready & Being Ready” post. Class details have been updated and a slight expansion has been added with regard to Martyrs’ Day / School Day of Non-violence and Peace.

“The Indriyas, the organs of the senses, are acting outwards and coming in contact with external objects. Bringing them under the control of the will is what is called Pratyahara or gathering towards oneself. Fixing the mind on the lotus of the heart, or on the centre of the head, is what is called Dharana. Limited to one spot, making that spot the base, a particular kind of mental waves rises; these are not swallowed up by other kinds of waves, but by degrees become prominent, while all the others recede and finally disappear. Next the multiplicity of these waves gives place to unity and one wave only is left in the mind. This is Dhyana, meditation. When no basis is necessary, when the whole of the mind has become one wave, one-formedness, it is called Samadhi. Bereft of all help from places and centres, only the meaning of the thought is present. If the mind can be fixed on the centre for twelve seconds it will be a Dharana, twelve such Dharanas will be a Dhyana, and twelve such Dhyanas will be a Samadhi.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VIII: Raja-Yoga in Brief” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Take a moment to consider where you put your energy, resources, effort, and focus. How much time, money, effort, or awareness do you put into loving someone? Or, actively disliking someone? How much energy do you spend dealing with fear or grief, anger or doubt? How much on joy or gratitude? It is generally understood that what you get out of a situation or your life is partially based on what you put into a situation or life. A more nuanced understanding of such an equation would highlight the fact that our energy, resources, effort, and focus/awareness all combine to produce a certain outcome – and this is in keeping with Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion. It is also consistent with text in Ecclesiastes and with what Rod Stryker refers to as the Creation Equation.

The problem many of us run into isn’t that we don’t know or understand the formula. The problem is that we don’t pay attention to what we are putting into the equation. Our time, energy, efforts, and resources get pulled in different directions, because our attention is distracted – that is to say, our focus/awareness is pulled into different directions. But, what happens if/when we sharpen our focus? What happens when we pull all our awareness and senses in and focus/concentrate/meditate in such a way that we become completely absorbed in one direction? Consider the power of that kind of engagement.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

 

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

 

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.4: trayam-ekatra samyama

 

– “Samyama is [the practice or integration of] the three together.”

In the third section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali outlined the last three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy and then, just as he did with the other elements, he broke down the benefits of practicing these final limbs. Similar to sūtra 2.1, there is a thread that highlights the power of three elements when practiced together. What is different about the final limbs, however, is that Patanjali devoted the majority of a whole chapter – “The Chapter (or Foundation) on Progressing” – to breaking down the benefits of integrating dhāranā (“focus” or concentration”), dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”), and Samādhi (“meditation” or “absorption”).

We can unintentionally find ourselves in a state of absorption, just as we can consciously progress into the state. We may think of it as being “in the zone” and it is something our minds are completely capable of experiencing. Even people with different types of ADHD can find themselves in this state of absorption. However, what Patanjali described, as it relates to the practice, is a very deliberate engagement of the mind – and, therefore, a very deliberate engagement of the mind-body-spirit.

There are, of course, times, when as individuals or groups we truly harness the power of our awareness and engage the mind-body-spirit in a way that could come under the heading of Samyama. Consider people coming together to raise a barn or to support a family in need. Think about grass roots efforts to register people to vote or change unjust laws. Think about how people raise money for a cause, an individual, or a community. Contemplate how someone’s focus shifts when they give something up for Lent. Although it is an extreme example, another example of a time when every fiber of someone’s being is focused on a single goal is when that goal is survival. One might do multiple tasks during such a period, but each task has the intention of ensuring survival. This is true of an individual and it can also be true of groups of people. In fact, throughout history there have been stories of individuals and groups of people who found themselves in such a situation.

One of those situations – where everyone focused every fiber of their being on survival is remembered and commemorated on the ninth and tenth days of the Lunar New Year. Legend has it that the Hokkien people (also known as Hoklo, Banlam, and Minnan people) found themselves under attack. The Hokkien were not warriors, but they came in close proximity with warriors because they were known for building great ships. One version of their story states that the events occurred during the Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1279 CE), while they were being hunted and killed; another indicates that they were caught between warring factions. Ultimately, to escape the carnage, they decided to hide in a sugar cane field – which, in some versions of the story, just miraculously appeared. They hid until there were no more sounds of horses, warriors, or battle. Legend has it that they emerged on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year, which is the Jade Emperor’s Birthday.

This year (2023), the Jade Emperor’s birthday falls on January 30th, which is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level, as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace.” In 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland. Click here to read more about these events and about how focusing on non-violence is part of the practice.

“‘From this story, we learn that unity, solidarity and the active participation of the community is necessary when it comes to facing challenges,’ said [Klang Hokkien Association president Datuk Teh Kim] Teh.”

 

– quoted from The Star article (about a version of the story where only some hide) entitled “Legend Behind Hokkien New Year emphasizes unity and solidarity” by Grace Chen (2/24/2018)

The Jade Emperor is sometimes referred to as “Heavenly Grandfather” and “Heavenly Duke.” He is recognized as the ruler of heaven and earth in some Chinese religion and mythology. In Taoism, he is one of the Three Pure Ones or the Three Divine Teachers. Fujian province (in China), Penang (in Malayasia), and Taiwan are three areas where there is a large concentration of Hokkien people and, therefore, places where the ninth day of the Lunar New Year is a large celebration. In some places the celebrations begin at 11 PM on the eighth night and can be so large that they eclipse the celebrations of the first day of the Lunar New Year (in those areas). In fact, the ninth day is actually called “Hokkien New Year.”

Those who are religious will go to a temple and engage in a ritual involving prostration, kneeling, bowing, incense, and offerings. For many there is a great feast full of fruits, vegetables, noodles, and (of course) sugar cane. The sugar cane is an important element of the Jade Emperor’s birthday celebrations and rituals – not only because of the aforementioned story of survival, but also because the Hokkien word for “sugarcane” (kam-chià, 甘蔗) is a homonym for (or sounds like) a Hokkien word for “thank you” (kamsiā, 感谢), which literally means “feeling thankful.”

Every version of the Hokkien people’s survival story is a great reminder that we can give thanks no matter how hard, how challenging, how infuriating, and/or how tragic our situation. Take last year – or the last few years, for instance: When we look back at all the hard stuff, all the grief, all the fear, all the anger, all the disappointment, and all of the trauma, we can get distracted and forget that there were moments of sweetness. Over the last few years, there were moments of kindness, moments of love, moments of birth and rebirth, moments of compassion, moments of hope, and moments of joy.

In other words, in spite of all the hard stuff, there were moments of sweetness. Take a moment to remember one of those moments; and feel thankful.

 

“‘Although we may not have an image of this deity in our temple, as long as devotees have the Jade Emperor in their hearts, their prayers will be heard,’ said [the Kwan Imm Temple’s] principal Shi Fa Zhuo.”

 

– quoted from The Star article entitled “Legend Behind Hokkien New Year emphasizes unity and solidarity” by Grace Chen (2/24/2018)

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, January 30th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice. 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.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices. Donations are tax deductible)

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

The Lunar New Year Day 9 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 9 2022”]

The Martys’ Day playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01302021 Peace for the Martyrs”]

 

### DON’T BE GREEDY, BE GRATEFUL ###

Seeing Red but/and Finding “Accidental Goodness” January 24, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy (Lunar) New Year! Happy Carnival!

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

How do you react when things don’t go your way? What happens when you are very specific about what you want and/or what you need, but then you don’t get either? Are you quick to anger? Or, do you get “hangry” when you haven’t eaten and you have to deal with irritating situations? Do you “see red” at the drop of the hat or the blink of an eye? If so, there are (obviously) practices for that.

There are also handy tips (even if you don’t have a mindfulness-based practice). For instance, it’s good to get a good night sleep, eat when you need to, and – as much as you are able – avoid situations and people that push your buttons. Of course, just to be on the safe side, you could just not leave your house on days where you might be easily irritated. You know, like today, the third day of the Lunar New Year when some people will absolutely stay home and go to bed early.

Some portions of the following were previously posted.

“恭禧发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai [Congratulations and Prosperity!]
Gong Hey Fat Choy [Congratulations and Prosperity!]

– A common New Year’s greeting in Hanzi [Chinese characters], Mandarin and Cantonese pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

According to some Chinese creation mythology the third day of the Lunar New Year is the birthday of all boars. As I mentioned yesterday, some people will spend this third day of the Year of the Rabbit/Hare visiting the temple of the God of Wealth. Others associate this day with the “marriage of mice” and – in addition to providing treats as a “dowry” for the mice – they will go to bed early to ensure the mice have a peaceful ceremony. The belief is that if the mice have a peaceful ceremony, they will not pester humans during the rest of the year. In Vietnam, where people are celebrating the year of the Cat, this third day is a day to honor teachers.

Another reason people may go to bed early on the third night of the Lunar New Year is that, in certain parts of China, this third day is the “Day of the Red Dog” or “Red Mouth” Day and there is a greater danger of conflict on this day. People may also stay home and avoid anyone outside of their primary family circle in order not to say the wrong thing in anger – as a Chinese word for “red dog” is also a description for the “God of Blazing Wrath.” Some people also associate the tendency to say the wrong thing on the third day with the demon (or monster) Nian.

The Hanzi (Chinese character) for Nian also means “year” or “new year.” According to the legends, the monster Nian would come out of the sea or the mountain once a year looking for crops, animals, or villagers to eat. All the villagers would hide at this time of year, but one time an elderly gentleman was outside during the time Nian came to visit the village. One version of the story says that the man was a Taoist monk (Hongjun Lozu) who, like Br’er Rabbit, was a bit of a trickster. He some how convinced the monster that he would taste better if he could take off his outer clothing. In the version I tell in class, there is a big chase and the monster rips the man’s outerwear with his sharp teeth and claws. Either way, when the gentleman’s bright red undergarments are revealed Nian freaks out, because he is afraid of the color red (and loud noises). Therefore, it became auspicious to start the New Year (or even a marriage) wearing red; placing red throughout the village or town; and making a lot of noise.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5; Wikipedia indicates the 4 DM equaled $1.72.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Now, imagine you are a musician like this – one who knows their stuff and is also very particular about the instruments you play – and you are presented “the unplayable piano” just hours before you’re meant to play a groundbreaking concert. What if you were also hungry, tired, and sick?

Would you see red? Or would you “accidentally” find goodness?

A version of the following was originally posted in 2022.

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”

– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano).

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

Good luck!”

– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 24th) 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 “0123-24/2022 Doing: Lessons in…”]

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

You can, as I did, also listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts.

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.)

### Play On! ###

FTWMI: Do You See What I See? & Your Presence Is Requested January 6, 2023

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“Merry Little Christmas, Epiphany, Theophany, Three Kings Day, & Twelfth Day of Christmas (for some)!”

For Those Who Missed It: The following is a compilation of related posts from 2021 and 2022. It contains two (2) very dark different sets of playlists. Links and some language have been updated. You can request an audio recording of a related 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.

I. Do You See What I See?

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold, oh yeah, oh”

 

– 2nd verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by and you didn’t think how can “they” not see the truth that’s right in front of them? It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by where you didn’t think, “What don’t they understand [what I understand]?”

Funny thing is, no matter who you are and what you believe – let alone why you believe it – you may have found yourself think or even questioning what has motivated people to do the things they are doing (or not doing) over the last few months (or years); which, of course, means that almost everyone is thinking this (or saying this) about everyone else. It seems really twisted, because it is; it’s all twisted up in avidyā (“ignorance”).

In Indian philosophies, like Yoga, suffering – the same suffering that has us asking what someone else was thinking when they did the thing they did – is caused by afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns (kleśāh). The primary one being avidyā (ignorance), which is defined in The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali as not understanding the true nature of things. For example, believing short-lived objects are eternal; believing something impure is pure; and believing something that causes suffering brings happiness are classic examples of avidyā. (YS 2.5) This basic level of ignorance becomes the bedrock for four additional forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking, all of which lead to more suffering. (YS 2.3 – 2.9, 2.12 – 2.14) After putting the way people think into context (and also explaining about functional thought patterns), Patanjali indicated that everything in the known or sensed world has two-fold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. (YS 2.18) In other words, everything we sense, think, and/or in any way experience can serve the purpose of changing the way we understand the nature of things and, therefore, change the way we think. If we have a better understanding of the world, we can have less suffering. (YS 2.16 – 2.17)

Knowing this, a practitioner might feel ready to move forward in their practice or even impatient to get to the time and place where they have less suffering – especially after the last few months or years. One might even wonder why the basic knowledge is not enough to change the world. Well, turns out there is a sūtra for that…

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind [brain] shows it.”

The brain (intellect) and mind-body are powerful. So powerful in fact, that they will store information (for us) without us knowing the information is there and/or without us consciously paying attention to the information. If and when our mind decides something is relevant and/or we are ready to understand it, the information moves to our conscious awareness – sometimes as if it is the first time we have ever encountered said information. On the flip side, if we consciously (or even unconsciously) deny the relevancy of information – and/or don’t have the connecting information that puts everything into context – the information gets dismissed.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth can be right in front of our nose (like the tape that was on my glasses for the last few weeks), but the brain filters it out of our conscious awareness. As a result, to us, it’s like the information does not exist. We just don’t see it – just like the tape that was sitting on the bridge of my nose. The difference here, between facts in the world and the tape, is that I put the tape on my glasses and consciously gave my brain permission to ignore it (with full awareness of the fact that the eyes can work like that). But, every now and again, it was like the tape would “magically” (re)appear; every once in a while, I just couldn’t ignore what was right in front of my face.

For the last few days of the “12 Days of Christmas,” the playlist started with an instrumental piece called “Story of My Life” and, as a joke, I would say at the beginning, “Not my life, but…someone’s life.” That someone being Jesus; and while the different parts of Jesus’ life story get told by Christian liturgy throughout the year, they get told in different ways (and sometimes at different times) depending on the tradition and/or denomination. It’s as if, 12 different writers wrote the same story, but emphasized different parts.

Of course, by using the number 12, I am oversimplifying reality and dismissing the fact that humans make bad witnesses. I am, also, mostly leaving out the fact that while Christians may have the corner market on the story of Jesus, they are not the only religious (or philosophical) traditions that tell the story.

Neither are they the only ones in the story…. But that’s another story for another day. Because today, is all about seeing the story through a Christian lens.

1. Chorus
They will all come forth out of Sheba,
bringing gold and incense
and proclaiming the price of the Lord.

 

2. Chorale
The kings came out of Sheba,
they brought gold, incense, myrrh along,
Hallelujah!”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

January 6th, is Epiphany, also known as Theophany (in some Eastern traditions) and Three Kings Day. As I mentioned yesterday, January 6th is almost always Epiphany, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). It’s also good to note that while since some Eastern Christian traditions use the Julian calendar, their January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as Divine, God incarnate, and God’s gift to the world. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, which is why it is also known as “Three Kings Day.” In some Eastern traditions, the magi visit on December 25th and therefore the story of theophany focuses on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (when he turned water into wine and during the Wedding at Cana).

There are masses and feasts on this day, as well as caroling. There is even some highly elevated singing, as several composers have written pieces for the day. In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several pieces for the various days of Christmastide and at least two pieces for Epiphany. One of those pieces, “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65, premiered today in 1724, to mark Bach’s first Christmas season as “Thomaskantor” (cantor at Saint Thomas) in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. I have heard that he composed the 7-movement Christmas cantata, with lyrics inspired by The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:6), in the first few days of the New Year (as the piece is dated 1724 and Saxony switched the Gregorian calendar in 1699).

“‘Its final cause,’ [Bach] wrote, ‘is none other than this, that it ministers solely to the honor of God and refreshment of the spirit, whereof, if one take not heed, it is no proper music, but devilish din and discord.’”

 

– quoted from God and Music by John Harrington Edwards (published 1903)

 

“3. Recitative B
What Isaiah foresaw there,
That happened at Bethlehem.
Here the wise men appear
at Jesus’ manger
and want to praise him as their king.
Gold, frankincense, myrrh are
the delicious gifts
With which they grace this baby Jesus in
Bethlehem in the stable.
My Jesus, when I think of my duty now,
I must also turn to your manger
and also be grateful:
For this day is a day of joy for me,
Since you, O prince of life
The light of the Gentiles….”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (2:1 – 12) is the only canonical New Testament gospel to tell the story of the “wise men” (as they are called in the King James Version). More modern versions of the text refer to them as “magi” and even “kings,” but traditionally they are only directly referred to as “kings” in a prophesy found in The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:1 – 6) and, perhaps indirectly, in The Book of Psalms (“Psalm 72: A Psalm for Solomon”) – both of which are in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. None of these cited texts reference a number, but most Western Christians consider them three (based on the gifts) … while some Eastern Christians consider them 12. Still others focus on the gift bearers as neither magi nor kings, but of shepherds.

It is also interesting to note, if you will patiently think back with me, that the “12 Days of Christmas” song does not mention magicians or scholars, but definitely mentions drummers. Classically, there are “12 drummer’s drumming” – which, according to the catechism myth represents the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes, however, there are 9 or 10 or 11, which means they could also symbolize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; the Ten Commandments; or the eleven “faithful” apostles (respectively). I also find it interesting, and thematically beautiful, that the little drummer boy not only sees himself in the baby Jesus, but also brings the same gift: his presence.

“But what do I bring, you King of Heaven?
If my heart is not too little for you, then
accept it graciously,
Because I cannot bring anything noble.”

 

– quoted from the 3rd movement (Recitative B), of “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

Some people wait until Epiphany or Theophany to add the Three Kings to their Nativity Scene – even though some cultures mark the change from Christmastide to Epiphanytide by taking their Christmas decorations down on the 7th. Some people have their King Cake or Twelfth Night Cake on this date, hoping to find the coin or the tiny baby Jesus figurine that indicates they will be extra blessed or lucky/fortunate in the year ahead. In some cultures, the person who finds the coin or baby is responsible for supplying the next year’s cake (which some people love and others think is not so lucky).

For those people who focus on Jesus’ baptism as a moment of revelation, January 6th is a day to gather by the water. Priest, pastor, or preacher led processions will make their way through the town or city until they reach the water. After blessing the water, the priest, pastor, or preacher will throw a cross into the water and some people will engage in a little “winter swimming.” In this case, the person who finds the cross is considered extra blessed. Additionally, some people will choose this date to be baptized, as it is a symbol of how they are changed.

“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 6, January 2018)

For the faithful, a sermon or homily is a big part of Epiphany or Theophany. This is especially true in the Roman Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has (in my humble opinion) a definite knack for weaving the narrative of the story into present day application.  In 2018, his homily encouraged people to be “imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.” The modern day gifts that the pontiff mentioned were gifts of the self: “care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and cannot be lacking the lives of Christians.” He also spoke in terms of taking a risk and the importance of sometimes following what might not always seem to be brightest thing on the horizon.

In thinking about Epiphany, in a religious context, I often think about epiphany in the context of innovative or scientific discovery. For someone to have an ah-ha, light bulb, or eureka moment – for someone to have an epiphany – they have to be prepared. They have to know what they are seeing or hearing. They have to know the importance of what’s growing on a culture plate when they get back from holiday; otherwise they throw it away. They have to understand that the light touch that wakes them from a deep sleep is the touch of an angel and not the touch of their sleep-mate or cattle. Whether it is in religion or science or humanity, one must have faith in order to take a risk.

Last year 2020 was very different from 2017 and this year, in 2021, Pope Francis again reflected the times. He spoke, in some ways, very much along my way of thinking: that one must be prepared. In speaking of the magi, he said, “Worshiping the Lord is not easy; it does not just happen. It requires a certain spiritual maturity and is the fruit of an at times lengthy interior journey.” He talked about the importance of prayer and, again, the importance of looking up – lifting up one’s eyes in order to “‘see’ beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive.” Basically, he offered three steps in the form of three phrases, from The Liturgy of the Word, for a deeper relationship with God: “to lift up our eyes,” “to set out on a journey,” and “to see.”

Of course, we can only see, what we are prepared to see – which is the whole purpose of the journey, which we can only take when we look up (and around) and get curious.

“And it concludes by saying that at the time, ‘the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness’ (Lk 3:2). To none of the magnates, it to but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert. Here is the surprise: God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.

 

When we listen to that list of distinguished personages, we might be tempted to turn the spotlight on them…. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God ‘proposes’ himself; he does not ‘impose’ himself. He illumines; he does not blind. It is always a very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5). Him, not us.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 6, January 2019)**

 

**NOTE: During the ZOOM Wednesday’s ZOOM classes on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I cited the incorrect date for the last quote from Pope Francis. (At the time it was also mis-dated on the Vatican’s website.) I think 2019 is correct, but I could still be mistaken. My apologies for any confusion.

The vinyasa playlist for this date is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01062021 Epiphany & Theophany”]

(Note: The playlists are slightly different for the before/after practice music. Also, I added Whitney Houston’s version of the song that was popping up in my head before the 2021 practice.)

### SEEING IS BELIEVING, BUT ONLY WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SEEING ###

 

II. Your Presence Is Requested

“What I really want to get to today is why the Magi came. What was it that brought them to Bethlehem? What was it that brought them to find Jesus and his family?”

*

– quoted from “The Epiphany Light: Another Reflection” by Reverend Ed Trevors (dated Jan 6, 2022)

 

On the surface, the embedded video below contains a direct message to Christians. However, if you pay attention, you will realize that the overall focus is for all: “Be a light.” Accept this invitation to be a light.

 
Please join me tonight, Friday, January 6th, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #27: “Looking Up / Getting & Being Ready on Zoom. 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 by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

*

 
Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01062023 Looking Up / Getting & Being Ready”]

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all. 

Prop wise, this can be 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.

### OHR ###

 

FTWMI: The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push January 4, 2023

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

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in January of 2021 and 2022. Class details, some links, and some references have been updated.

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

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

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

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, January 4th) 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01042022 New(ton’s) Beginnings”]

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

 

Who are your five people?

 

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

FTWMI: Sailing Into New Beginnings January 3, 2023

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

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in January 2021 and re-posted in 2022. I have made some slight revisions and updated some links and class details. 

 

“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, these last few years have reinforced the value of friendship, fellowship, kinship and a good laugh shared at the expense of no one. They have 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 there are different versions of the list and 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 are 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 on 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)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 3rd) 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 “01032021 Melville Sails Tolkien Beginnings”]

 

“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

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.)

 

### Grace (Enuf) ###

 

HAPPY New Year 2023! January 1, 2023

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

"Observe"

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


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

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

 

AND/OR

 

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Reflect"

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

### NAMASTE ###

Updated & Revised! Purpose Driven (a Friday post, that’s also for Saturday and Sunday!) December 31, 2022

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

The commentary below was originally posted for the fifth day of Kwanzaa 2020 (which was Friday in 2022) AND included information about the annual New Year’s Day practices. There was no class today, but you can always request the audio recording, from 2020, via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com. The New Year’s information has been updated!

The playlist for the fifth day of Kwanzaa is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12302020 Purpose Driven”]

NOTE: A track may not play due to artists’ protests.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 1st – New Year’s Day

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Coming Soon: A Season of Grace 

 

### OM AUM ###

Social Economics (an updated post) December 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Feast Day of Saint Thomas (Becket).

 

This is a revised and updated version of a post from 2020 and 2021. You can find the original 2020 post here.

 

“In The Black Candle, a 2008 documentary on Kwanzaa, narrated by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, she explains, ‘While the first principle of Umoja brings us closer and harnesses our strength, the last principle, Imani, inspires us and sustains our togetherness. Let us have faith in ourselves, in our creator, in our mothers and fathers, in our grandmothers and grandfathers, in our elders, and in our future – knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters, we are our brothers and sisters.’”

 

– quoted from the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

A funny thing can happen when we practice yoga: the deeper we go into the mind-body and spirit, the more we start to appreciate the mind-body-spirit as a whole. We may also start to appreciate all the different parts of ourselves and – in the process – we may start to appreciate each other a little more. And, by appreciate, I mean value. Just as I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and post, everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have purpose (i.e., power)  and responsibility – which means everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have value. One question for today is, “How do we express that value and appreciation?” Another question for today is, “Why do we value some things (and people) more than other?”

Social Economics (also known as socioeconomics) is defined as the social science that studies the connection between social behavior and economics (which is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services). One area of focus within social economics is how a society/community thrives (or doesn’t) because of economic activity. Another focus is how social behavior affects economics and vice versa. For instance, how the United States of America developed as a nation and how it moves (i.e., continues to move) beyond slavery are areas of study within social economics. Similarly, the impact of slavery on family structures – and how those newly defined families engaged in commerce – are socioeconomic factors.

One of the greatest tragedies of the slave trade and slavery in the Americas was the loss of family and cultural heritage. In order to survive the displacement and the many horrors of slavery, people from different tribes, communities, and cultures had to figure out a way to come together as family – despite knowing that, at any moment, even their created family could be torn apart just as their biological family was torn apart. The fact that people did, continuously create family bonds, is a testament to the human spirit and to the power of love, Divine love, that knows no limits (even when we continuously try to create them).

When we contemplate the true meaning of being a father or a mother – regardless of how that comes about – and the ultimate meaning of family, we start delving into how we value those we call family and how we show our appreciation. While we all show our appreciation for others in different ways, there are some ways that are defined by society. Of course, one of those socially-defined ways is really prevalent this time of year: gift giving/receiving – which can be a multi-layered socioeconomic focus.

“Every child has a special way of perceiving love. There are five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. If you have several children in your family, chances are they speak different languages….

 

Whatever love language your child understands best, he needs it expressed in one way – unconditionally. Unconditional love is a guiding light, illuminating the darkness and enabling us as parents to know where we are and what we need to do as we raise our child. Without this kind of love, parenting is bewildering and confusing.

 

We can best define unconditional love by showing what it does. Unconditional love shows love to a child no matter what.”

 

– quoted from The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman (PhD) and Ross Campbell (MD)

 

It is possible that when someone goes way over the top with gift giving that they are trying to compensate for a disconnect that is the result of giving to someone with a different love language. I’m not saying that is always the case. There are definitely times when someone offers a big (and costly) gesture simply because they can, maybe even because they can and they know the gift(s) will be appreciated. But you really have to wonder about someone who would give so many gifts that people lose count.

In addition to being the fourth day of Kwanzaa, which focuses on cooperative economics, it is also the Feast Day of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (also of London). Depending on when you start counting (Christmas Day versus Boxing/Saint Stephen’s Day), today is also the fourth or fifth day of the “12 Days of Christmas.” I often think of the gifts in the song as costing millions of dollars – especially when you consider that the song is cumulative, meaning that at the end of the 12 days the recipient would have received a total of 12 partridges (in 12 pear trees); 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a-laying (and let’s not even get into the eggs they are laying), 42 swans a-swimming (again, not getting into how they are swimming), 40 maids a-milking (which means there are 40 cows or goats or something!!!), 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping (with 12 pipes), and 12 drummers drumming (with 12 drums) for a grand total of 364 items (minus their accompanying items). This is based on the version of the song people might use when thinking about the song as it relates to catechism and important aspects of the Christian faith.

There are actually several different versions of the round, which some say was originally French, including versions where the gift is given by “my mother” instead of “my true love.” The song’s popularity dates back at least as far as 1780, when it was first published in London, England as “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball.” It was published in a children’s book called Mirth without Mischief and, as no music was included, people used different tunes until 1909 when the English composer Frederic Austin set and published it to his arrangement of a traditional folk melody. A lot of variations in the gifts, the descriptions of the gifts, and the order of the gifts happened long before Austin’s version, but he is definitely credited with elongating the “five golden rings;” changing a few phrasings to match the music; and changing the description of the birds on the fourth day from a species or color (as indicated in earlier versions) to “calling birds” – meaning they sing. In 1966, a version was published with the gifts being “given” instead of “sent” and prior to that, in 1892, there was a version where the gifts were “brought.” Note, however, that no versions (as far as I know) mention the gifts being “bought.”

The fact that the gifts are not referenced as being purchased is a good reminder that at certain points in time, the gifts themselves would have been seen as currency. Each item or service could be bartered or traded. But, as so many people today only seem to understand the value of something when there is a price tag attached, let’s consider the actual cost of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

“The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me….”

 

– quoted from “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball” printed in MIRTH WITHOUT MISCHIEF. CONTAINING THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS; THE PLAY OF THE GAPING-WIDE-MOUTHED-WADLING-FROG; LOVE AND HATRED; THE ART OF TALKING WITH THE FINGERS; AND NIMBLE NED’S ALPHABET AND FIGURES. Printed in London by J. Davenport, George’s Court, for C. Sheppard, No. 8, Aylefbury Street, Clerkenwell (1870)

 

The actual cost of “The 12 Days of Christmas” varies, depending on if you are giving a single set of each gift (i.e. only one set of five gold rings) or if you are going the cumulative route. According to PNC Financial Services Group’s annual “Christmas Price Index” (which they have issued for 39 years), the cost for one set of each gift in 2019 was $38,993.59; with a cumulative price tag of $170, 298.03, which was just barely more than the 2018 cost. In 2020, however, the cost was $16,168.10 – $105, 561.80. In 2021, the cost for a single set of gifts was $41,205.58; with a cumulative total of $179,454.19. This year, 2022, the overall cost went up 10.5%, putting the single set of gifts at $45,523.27 and the cumulative total at $197,071.09.

Why the huge decrease and increase, you ask? COVID.

The index continues to pay the “maids a-milking” the US Federal minimum wage (which hasn’t changed since 2009), but assumed they were only available at the height of the pandemic because they were practicing social distancing guidelines. The 2020 total did not include the dancing ladies, leaping lords, pipers, or drummers – unless you or your love were in an area where COVID was under control, in which case the price would have gone up. Same thing if you figured out a virtual option. In 2021, all of those artist/laborers were back. However, it is interesting to note that while the 2021 dancing ladies did their work at the 2019 price, the lords, pipers, and drummers – which would have all been traditional male roles in Western society – were (respectively) 12.6%, 7.1%, and 7.1% more expensive last year. In 2022, all performers received pay increases [10%, 24.2%, 2.6%, and 2.6% (respectively)].

While the swans are, normally, the highest priced item on the list, this year that “honor” goes to the leaping lord’s – thanks to that 24.2% raise. With the exception of the swans and the calling birds – which are always expensive, but didn’t increase in price – and the partridge (whose price increased because of the fertilizer needed to grow the pear tree) all the bird gifts increased because of the cost of their feed. In fact, the six geese a-laying, which increased a whopping 57.1% between 2020 and 2021, went up another 9.1% this year. The gold rings also increased in price (all three years), because… you guessed it, COVID. This year, the gold rings had the highest increase on the list (39.1%).

Now, we’re not quite to my million dollar assumption, but keep in mind that the index does not include transportation, storage, upkeep, and/or any of the accompanying materials referenced in the parenthesis above once they are delivered. Bottom line, though, it’s a lot of money.

Now, consider for a moment, that the song is not about the price tag. It’s not about the money. It’s about the love. Attaching a price tag simply brings awareness to the value of expressing love when your “love language” is giving/receiving gifts. It doesn’t take into consideration the value of “quality time,” “physical touch,” “words of affirmation,” or “acts of service” – and it definitely distracts from the fact that love is priceless.

Also priceless is faith and the Divine gifts of love that people receive from their faith. For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “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); and “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. I would argue that just as faith is priceless, so too is knowing one’s back story. 

“‘The beauty of Kwanzaa is it doesn’t start Black history from slavery. It actually starts us as inventors of civilizations, people who first broke from the animal world, spoke the first human truths, wrote the first basic texts of human knowledge, and so on. That’s what Kwanzaa does, it gives us a long memory—a long cultural biography.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

The principle for today, the fourth day of Kwanzaa, is Ujamaa (cooperative economics), which is described as “To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.” It is associated with the second red candle, which is the symbol for struggle. Now, superficially, it is easy to look at other minority communities and how they have built and supported minority business almost since the set foot on American soil and wonder why the idea of “cooperative economics” would be associated with struggle. But, to wonder about such a thing is to ignore the history of slavery and American economics. To wonder about such a thing is to ignore how slavery was the original bedrock of economics in the United States and that for much of this country’s history, people of African descent were not only not paid for their labor and goods, they were not allowed to engage in trade or decide how they wanted to participate in the economy. Additionally, when slavery legally ended (and slave owners were paid for their losses), the vast majority of freed people still labored under the same (slave) conditions. Continue through history and there is more than one example of situations where people were (legally) paid less for their work than what they were expected to pay for food and lodging. Then there are the tragic and horrific “examples” that were made of communities that built themselves up.

To add to the struggle, a debate that started in the late 19th century continues to this day. Most people associate the two sides of the debate with W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both were educated and both were leaders in the Black community. To a certain degree, they even had the ear of the establishment. However, they had very different ideas about the best way for formerly enslaved people and their descendants to actively participate in and benefit from the US economy.

In a nutshell, Mr. Washington advocated sticking to what people knew (from slavery) and becoming (scholastically) educated in agriculture, crafts, and other trades they had done during slavery. He also encouraged people to purchase property and to be patient when faced with discrimination (even if that discrimination hindered them in pursuing education and the opportunity to purchase property). On the flip side, Mr. Du Bois was considered a radical who believed in an “intellectual” education that would create what he called the “Talented Tenth” – the best and the brightest college educated individuals who could instigate activism in the streets as well as in the courts and in the boardrooms. As I said, this debate continues, in part because the stigma, racism, and prejudice associated with slavery still exists.

“‘Kwanzaa offers a new dialogue on Black culture, about our positive contributions to the world, and not just the negative stigma of race.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

You can request an audio recording of a practice related to this post via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

The 2021 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12292021 Social Economics”]

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.)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2023 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

 

### CAN YOU SEE CLEARLY NOW? ###

FTWMI: Appreciate the Power by Using the Power, Wisely December 28, 2022

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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Innocents.]

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in December of 2020 and re-posted in 2021. Class details and some links have been updated.

 

“…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)

 

I can’t help it. I’m sorry (not sorry), but I. Just. Can’t. Help. It! When I think of responsibility one of the first things that pops into my head is that famous line from the 1962 introduction of Spiderman. Then I start thinking about Stan Lee…

Born today in 1922 (as Stanley Lieber), Stan Lee did not invent the phrase or the sentiment many associate with Peter Parker and his uncle Ben Parker. He did, however, make it wildly popular and combined it with the awareness that everyone can do something to help alleviate the struggles and suffering of others. After all, for the most part, Lee’s characters in the Marvel Universe were not and are not (initially or typically) perfect alien humanoids without a care in the world. They were not sent to Earth to save humankind. No, they were making their home a better place.

And, Lee’s characters were just like his readers: people with very human fears, flaws and insecurities; people with bad tempers, impatience, fits of melancholy and vanity; people who bickered, worried about paying their bills, worried about impressing a love interest; and people who got bored or even sick. They were people – like the Fantastic Four (1961), Spiderman (1962), X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, the Avengers (1963), and Black Panther (1966) – who had to reconcile their abilities, their sometimes suddenly discovered powers, with all the need in the world… and the fact that people often thought they were freaks … and the fact that they couldn’t always solve every problem. But, neither, could they look away.

We are all able to do something. Sometimes we think what we are able to do is not much – which can be a self defeating attitude. Sometimes that attitude comes from not think about people who are not able (physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or energetically) to do what we can do. Nor do we always think about the importance of doing things the special way we do them. In neglecting to appreciate what we have to offer, we run the risk of missing an opportunity to make the world a better place.

“‘Nevermore shall men make slaves of others! Not in Asgard — not on Earth — not any place where the hammer of Thor can be swung — or where men of good faith hold freedom dear!’”

 

– quoted from the end panel of “Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: Trapped by the Trolls” in Journey Into Mystery Volume I, with the Mighty Thor #108 (1964) by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Vince Colletta, Art Simek, et al (1964)

Ultimately, each Marvel character is charged with doing “what they can, as much as they can, for as long as they can” in order to help the people around them. While that description fits two of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, today I’m mostly going to focus on today’s principle, the third principle; Ujima (collective work and responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Ujima is connected to the first green candle on the kinara (special candelabra), which is a symbol of the future and prompts celebrants to consider a future free of some of our current struggles, suffering, and plights.

We may not be able to travel through time and change the future like Dr. Strange, Rina Patel, or Iron Lad, but each of us has the power to consider cause-and-effect. We can take a look at how our past actions are reflected in our current circumstances and how our actions in this moment are the seeds that blossom into “tomorrow’s” circumstances. In fact, in the Yoga tradition such abilities are included in a list of siddhis, supernormal “powers” or abilities.

Some siddhis very much seem like Marvel Universe powers or Jedi Knight Tricks. However, there are six that are described as being “powers unique to being human.” We not only find these specifically human powers (as described in the Sāmkhya Karika) in every Marvel comic book, we find them in every one of ourselves:

  1. the power of discovery (i.e., intuitive knowledge);
  2. the power “to give a form to sound, assign meaning to each segment of sound, and to store both sound and meaning in memory….[and] the capacity to communicate both sound and its meaning to others. We also have the capacity to give a visual form to each segment of sound and the meaning associated with it[;]”
  3. the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend” abstract ideas no matter how they are (effectively) communicated;
  4. the power to eliminate “three-fold sorrow – physical, mental, and spiritual;”
  5. the power to “[cultivate] a good heart; finding friends;”
  6. the power of dana, which is “the ability to give.”

In addition to being the Stan Lee’s birthday and the third day of Kwanzaa, today corresponds with the third or fourth day of the “12 Days of Christmas” (depending on when you start counting). For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “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); and “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

Finally, as many Christians (and in particular Catholics) observe these days between  Christmas and Epiphany as “fast free days,” I will mention that one of the feast days associated with today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas or Innocents Day. This is a day devoted to the remembrance of young children killed in Bethlehem when King Herod the Great learned that the Magi, at the suggestion of an angel, had tricked him and would not lead him back to the newborn Jesus. This day (today in Western Christianity, but December 29th in some Eastern traditions) has been observed as a fast day and was even, at one time, associated with practices considered a mockery of the faith and religion. However, today some consider it a day for children to be children… and do the things that children do (especially when they do not fear persecution, oppression, hunger, famine, or disease).

“All six of these stories – nearly half the stories in the book – speak to me of a longing in our human condition, a desire for more life (either here or in the hereafter) or a desire to turn regrets around to something joyous….

 

None of the characters in this collection are more powerful than a locomotive, none are faster than a speeding bullet, but what they are able to do, I believe, reveals something of our desires, something of our humanity – the best and worst in us.”

 

– quoted from the introduction to able to…: a literary look at super powers by…, edited by Neil Ellis Orts

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12282021 Power, Responsibility, & Children”]

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2023 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

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.)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

### You’ve Got the Power! ###