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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 ###

Here’s To Beginning A New Year (a Monday post)! January 23, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, New Year, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

The following post related to the practice on Monday, January 23rd is compiled from information posted in 2021 and 2022. 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.

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.

“财神到 财神到
Caishen dao caishen dao [The god of wealth has come! The god of wealth has come!]

好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

财神话 财神话
Caishenhua caishenhua [Myth of money, myth of money]

揾钱依正路
wen qian yi zhenglu [if you follow the right path]”

– quoted from the song “Cai Shen Dao” [“The God of Wealth Has Come!” by Sam Hui, lyrics in Hanzi [Chinese characters], pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

Today (Monday) was the second day of the Lunar New Year and, in parts of China and the diaspora, it was the second day of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. As I mentioned yesterday, while most people consider this the beginning of the year of the (water) Rabbit/Hare, people in and from Vietnam consider this the beginning of the year of the Cat. Each region that celebrates the Lunar New Year, places special significance on each day and highlights that significance with different stories and traditions.

Some people honor the god of land on the second day, while others celebrate the birthday of all dogs. Traditionally, the second day is a day when daughters who had married and moved away from home would return to visit their birth families – which meant their families would welcome the son-in-laws. So, in some places, today is a day dedicated to the son-in-laws.

For some (particularly Cantonese people), the second day is known as “beginning of the year” and it marks the beginning of a new business year. As such, there are blessings and prayers for a prosperous new year. From 221 B. C. until 1912 A. D., it was common for beggars and the unemployed in China to spend today carrying around a picture of the God of Wealth and shouting, “Cai Shen Dao” ! [“The God of Wealth has come!” in Mandarin] In exchange for their pronouncement, they would receive “lucky money” from families and businesses.

In some parts of China, people celebrate the birthday of Che Kung on his “actual” birthday (the second), while others celebrate on the third day of the year. A military general of the Southern Song Dynasty, Che Kung is believed to have been capable of suppressing rebellions and plagues. Some even consider him “God of Protection.” Hong Kong and Guangdung Province are two of the places where people traditionally have a procession and visit a temple dedicated to Che Kung. Despite the pandemic, thousands of people visited the temple in Sha Tin in 2021; however, masks, temperature checks, and a health registration were required. In 2022, vaccinations were encouraged and people were required to use the “Leave Home Safe” app, which is a free digital contract tracing app launched by the Hong Kong government. This year, some media outlets reported a few less people than normal, while others reported more people than last year – both scenarios could be true, but in either case, most people are hoping, praying, and wishing for a better business year.

People who travel to the temple on the second and third days of the new year give thanks, light red candles and incense sticks, and present offerings. Some will spin a golden pinwheel outside of the temple to maintain good luck from the previous year or to change their fortune in the New Year. Some will even buy a personal pinwheel. There is also a big ceremony around drawing fortune sticks, which people believe offers guidance for the coming year and can be interpreted by a fortune teller. Of course, this year (like the last two years), a lot of people are seeking guidance about the pandemic – and how to proceed in a way that eliminates suffering.

A version of the following was originally posted in 2021 and 2022. Click here for that philosophical 2021 post in it’s entirety.

“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

The Yoga Sutras offer a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

We can find examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939 (almost a month before the year of the earth Rabbit/Hare began). By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you have not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. You might think that he wouldn’t be celebrated on the second day of the Lunar New Year or on any day.

But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reason

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week. for at least a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college.” He also served as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

While Ed Roberts may not have actually been celebrated by his in-laws on the second day of the Lunar New Year, he is remembered and celebrated for the work he did in the world. A Google Doodle was posted in his honor today in 2017. Furthermore, his legacy provides a lot of reminders about how to move through the year in a way that brings change that makes the world better than we found it.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation practice.

### Wake Up Your Mind & Just Go For It! ###

FTWMI: A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted today in 2022. In addition to some slight edits, this post includes updated class details and a remixed playlist.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In American English, “bad” has two meanings, one of which is “even better than good.” The saying “bad to the bone” fits with that positive description and is often associated with someone who is “cool,” rebellious, and radical in a way that bucks the system… in a way, even, that can bring much needed change. There are some people who play with the idea of being “bad to the bones,” but the truth is that that kind of goodness has nothing to do with the clothes one wears so much as it has to do with what’s underneath, what’s at the core and the roots of a person. In other words, what matters is who they are all the way down to their bones.

One of my favorite inspirational reminders is based on the idea that, in Judaism, there are 248 mitzvot aseh (“positive commandments”), which are commands to perform certain activities, and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (“negative commandments”), which are commands to abstain from certain activities; meaning, we should avoid avoid the negative things every day of the year and do the good things with “every bone in our body.”* To me, someone who manages to do that in a very public way is “bad to the bone.”

The following is an abridged version of a post from January of 2021. Click here for the original post.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. At times he felt abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven areas of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life):

  • Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm;
  • Gevurah (“strength”), left arm;
  • Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart;
  • Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg;
  • Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg;
  • Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus;
  • Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth.

Being in the habit of seeing the body as something intended to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but also an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, he honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Please join me today (Wednesday, January 11th) 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.

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; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

*NOTE: The aforementioned aphorism is based on an ancient Hebrew idea that there are 248 bones or significant organs in the body.

### Amen, Selāh ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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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: What You Will See January 5, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Mantra, Meditation, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Philosophy, Religion, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone! Happy Twelfth Night, to those who are celebrating!

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in January of 2021 and re-posted in 2022. Some language was updated in 2022. You can request an audio recording of a previous year’s practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“I’ll do my best” 

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act I, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga and/or meditation, there can be days where it is hard to focus. Sometimes the practice is all about bringing your awareness back to your focal point – again and again and again, to the best of your ability…. Actually, that is always the practice; it’s just that sometimes we are more aware that to keep our awareness fixed on something requires a certain amount of conscious effort – until it doesn’t. It requires a certain amount of conscious effort until the mind moves through the layers of words and meaning and effort; and becomes absorbed or merged with the object of our focus. Until that time, we just have to be like Viola.

Sometimes, the object itself is the most helpful anchor for our awareness. In the first part of Yoga Sūtras, the chapter or foundation on concentration, Patanjali offers a list of objects on which one might focus in order to overcome the obstacles to practice and achieve clarity of mind (YS 1:28, 1:32 – 39: repetition of OM/AUM; attitudes of the heart (loving-kindness for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, happiness for the virtuous, and non-judgment for the non-virtuous); the parts of breath; a point on the body and/or a sense organ (and it’s corresponding sensation); the point of inner light and joy; a person who is virtuous and free of desire/suffering (or our own self in such a state); intuitive wisdom (revealed in a “dream” state); or “whatever”… in other words, “what you will”).

Yoga Sūtra 1.39 doesn’t actually instruct us to literally bring our awareness to “whatever” or “what you will.” Patanjali is more specific than that and literally states that “… by meditating on a well-considered object of one’s choice, one attains steadiness of mind.” Whenever we focus-concentrate-meditate, that combined effort (samyama) will lead us somewhere; it will lead us towards the object, possible into absorption or the merging with the object. So, Patanjali cautions the practitioner to choose wisely, to pick something – something “well-considered” – that will lead one towards peace, balance, maybe in joy; something that will lead us, as gently as possible, closer to our goals and closer to the people around us. So, focus-concentrate-meditate on what you will; but with the full awareness that some objects will just create more confusion where there is already a lot of confusion.

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I. 
It is too hard a knot for me t’untie.”

– Viola (a twin in disguise) in Act II, scene ii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

There is a lot, and I mean, a lot of confusion in William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What You Will. There’s confusion around identity, the state of twins, and who loves whom. Don’t get it twisted, people know who they are (inside and out), but people are disguised – and that often involves a little gender bending or reversal of “social norms.” Then, people fall in love with people who are in disguise; other people think they are loved (sometimes by someone in disguise); and still others try to fool someone into thinking someone loves them. I know, this all sounds really convoluted and confusing… because it is; it is intentionally so.

The confusion in Twelfth Night, or What You Will, results in much of the audience’s entertainment. But, let’s be real, sometimes even the audience is just as confused as the players. There’s just so much; kind of like the “Twelve Days of Christmas Song,” which sometimes gets confusing as we get closer to the end – especially if it is being sung in a round.

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

– Orsino (Duke of Illyria) in Act I, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Depending on when you started counting the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” today is either the eleventh day or the twelfth day. 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 Sick, 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; “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles; and “twelve drummers drumming” for the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed.

I personally get “confused” – or, maybe a better word is flummoxed (in the sense of dumbfounded) – that the eleven “faithful” apostles are highlighted, but one of the key elements of the 12 points of doctrine is directly tied to the “unfaithful” servant. But, let me not jump ahead; because that just makes things more confusing. 

“Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere.” 

– Feste (the Countess Olivia’s servant, a jester) in Act III, scene i of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Going by the Western Christian tradition, tonight is either the Twelfth Night, or tomorrow night is the twelfth night. I know, still much confusion. One way to clear things up is to consider that Twelfth Night, or What You Will is often considered twelfth night entertainment for people awaiting a moment of “striking appearance.” Think of Scrooge being shown a twelfth night play by one of the ghosts: It is a way to spend some time, preparing, until it is time to see what one is prepared to see.

Although, for some, it is entertainment for the celebration after they have seen what they are prepared to see.

Still confused? That’s OK; we’re getting closer to clarity.

January 6th is Epiphany. It’s almost always Epiphany, also known as Theophany in some Eastern traditions, 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). Also, In the Eastern Christian traditions that use the Julian calendar, January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

Clear as mud, right? Maybe this will help.

“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 an incarnation of God. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, and so the day is also known as “Three Kings Day.” Other traditions focus on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (during the Wedding at Cana).

“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” 

– Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s uncle) to Malvolio (Viola’s steward) in Act II, scene iii of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

However one looks at it, Twelfth Night is directly tied to Epiphany. It marks the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Epiphanytide, which for some Christians rolls directly into Carnival or Mardi Gras season… or Shrovetide… or Ordinary Time – all of which leads to the Lenten season and, ultimately, to Holy Week and Easter (and then, for some, Pentecost). There are a lot of different cultural traditions associated with Twelfth Night celebrations, but many in the West center around caroling, feasting, and wassail (a mulled cider). Some people will wait until Twelfth Night to add the “Three Wise Men” (and even the little drummer boy) to their Nativity scene. Some people will share a “Three Kings” or Twelfth Night cake, which will have a coin or a baby figurine inside. The person who receives the “prize” is considered extra blessed or lucky – and sometimes has to bring the cake the following year.

If you are not Christian, or are unfamiliar with why different Christian traditions have different customs, consider that the liturgical season is a way to tell the story of Jesus – and the story of God’s relationship with people, through a Christian lens. As with any good story – or any history – there are different perspectives and different narrators. Each tradition highlights the aspects of history in a way that helps people understand what is important to the faith.  

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”

– Fabian (a servant for the Countess Olivia) in Act III, scene iv of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

The playlist for this practice is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01052021 and Twelfth Night” or “01052021 aka Twelfth Night”]

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.)

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

– Malvolio (a steward for the shipwrecked twins) in Act II, scene v of Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

### BE GREAT, BE GRATEFUL, & BE NICE ###

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) ###

 

The Purpose of Naming (a revised and updated post) January 3, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Mantra, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy 2023 to Everyone!

The following was originally posted in 2021. I have added some extra bits for 2023; but, if you had a particularly challenging 2022, you might also be interested in last year’s post for January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet….

 

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

 

– Juliet (on the balcony) in Act II, scene ii of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Here we are, a New Year and a new beginning – but we still have a big mess leftover from before. The world has been here before. In fact, Johannes Mercurius found himself here in 533 AD. He was a native of Rome, who became a priest at the Basilica of Saint Clement (Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano) on Caelian Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome. The basilica has an interesting history – not the least of which is that contains memorials and references to “Johannes surnamed Mercurius” and “Presbyter Mercurius.” I might dive into that rabbit hole one day, but I mention all this today, because Johannes made quite a name for himself in the church.

Quite literally, he made a name for himself: Today in 533, he was elected pope and decided to change his name to Pope John II. Nowadays, someone changing their name when they are elevated to the Papacy is the ruler rather than the exception. However, Pope John II was the first pontiff to take a new name to mark the beginning of his Papacy and he did it for two reasons. First, he was named after the Roman (and therefore “pagan”) god Mercury; which made his birth name highly inappropriate. Second, he wanted to send a message to the Church and the world about his intention and expectations as Pope.

Pope John II started his Papacy during a time when everything and anything within the Church was for sale. “Simony,” named for a Simon who is associated with sorcery in The Acts of the Apostles, is the practice of purchasing or selling religious appointments, offices, and positions. According to The Catholic Catholic Encyclopedia: Infamy-Lapparent (as published in 1910), the Church’s highest office was unfilled for two months and, during that time, people were very openly, and “shameless[ly] trafficking in sacred things…. Even sacred vessels were exposed for sale.” Given that the position was ultimately filled by a man bearing a Roman god’s name, who had given the Church quite a few “gifts,” one can’t help but wonder how Pope John II came into his position. Either way, simony was outlawed by the Church and the teenage king, Athalaric, right around the time the new pontiff was elevated.

“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (8:18 – 8:22, KJV)

The 533 decree outlawing simony is interesting in that this rule banning bribery required that whenever there was a disputed election, the Church had to pay the poor three thousand pieces of silver. King Althalaric gave Pope John II the responsibility of overseeing the collection and distribution of such penalties. At the same time, the new pontiff had to deal with an adulterous bishop and also had to decide whether or not to reinstate bishops in Africa who had started teaching and practicing a form of Christianity that rejected the theology of the Holy Trinity. Clearly, he had a lot on his plate and he wanted – nay, needed – a name that sent a very definitive statement about his intentions moving forward. He needed a name that held some esteem, especially as it related to the bishops in Africa. Ultimately, he choose to name himself after Pope John I, who had been beatified and venerated as a martyr after establishing a precedent in relation to Christians who denied the divinity of Jesus in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire.

Pope John II did not have a chance to make a ruling on the issue of bishops in Africa, as the controversy was brought to him shortly before his death on May 8, 535. But the practice of changing one’s name had been established. It didn’t take right away. In fact, it would be 450 years after Pope John II changed his name before another pontiff (this time, birth name Pietro Canepanova – a very good Catholic name, as he was named after the first Pope) would change his name: also to John. This Pope John (XIV) would immediately be followed by a “John” who actually kept his birth name, Pope John XV (born Giovanni di Gallina Aba), who would be followed by a series of pontiffs who would change their names. Thus far, Pope John is the most popular papal name, with 23 (excluding the ones known as John Paul).

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

 

– quoted from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

There is something to be said for naming things, and people – even, maybe especially, ourselves. January 2nd is a day when I usually ask people to consider what name they would use to indicate how they would like to move through the new year. The name would be something positive and active – something from the heart – that can serve as a message to others and a reminder to one’s self: something to bring the awareness back to your purpose, mission, or guiding principle. Something to keep one focused.

At the end of 2021, I heard someone talking about a retreat (or workshop) where people wrote down a name that they associated with themselves before a transformative experience. Similar to what we used to do at the end of the New Year’s Day 108 mala, they threw the names in a fire; letting go of what no longer served them. Hearing about that ritual reminded me that we know the story behind Juliet imploring Romeo to change his name and we know why Pope John Ii changed his name. Being just as clear about our own motivations can help us stay focused in the year ahead.

Yoga, Buddhism, and even modern Psychology all have practices centered around the naming of things. The naming, or sometimes labeling, of an object (even a non-tangible object) is a way of bringing awareness to awareness and also to one’s understanding (or lack of understanding) about the nature of things. This practice can be a vital aspect of practicing non-attachment. It can also help someone stay focused, in particular by continuously turning the awareness back to a single point and/or away from that which may be distracting.

You can try this by doing “that 90-second thing” with the intention of focusing on your breath and, anytime your mind drifts away, continuously bringing it back by thinking, “Inhale. Exhale,” in tandem with the breath. Alternately, you can think there word, “Thinking,” or some combination thereof. The more you do this, the less you may need to do this in order to stay focused. Never forget, however, that there is merit/benefit to doing this type of practice every time you sit (if that’s what the mind-body needs).

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

 

“Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness…. There is an analogous phenomenon in those who lose their sight; some people who become blind may have, paradoxically, heightened visually imagery.”

 

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

Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb of the 8-limbed Yoga Philosophy, is often defined as sense withdrawal. People may think of it as suppressing the senses or ignoring sensation, but in fact the practice is more about acknowledging all that is and then choosing on what to focus the mind. Additionally, the yoga tradition understands the experience of sensation as an engagement of the sense organs and also the mind. So there is internal and external action, which makes the practice two-fold and as much, if not more, about turning inward as it is about turning away from something outward.

In the commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, explains that, “Following the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, it is translated from back to front: hāra means “to pull, to withdraw, to bring, to carry”; ā means “from every direction in every respect”; and prati means “toward.” Thus pratyāhāra means “pulling the mind from every direction and in every respect to a focal point.” The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali not only defines and lays out a path towards the practice; it also offers instruction on some beneficial focal points.

One point that consistently stands out as beneficial is the practice of drawing all awareness to the breath and the experience of breathing. (YS 1.34) Remember, however, that before one can really focus all awareness on the breath and the experience of breathing one’s mind-body has to be stable and comfortable, steady and at ease, balanced between effort and relaxation. (YS 2.47) Even then, one has to be aware of all the parts of the breath and the different experiences of breathing in order to transcend the experiences of the various parts. (YS 2.49 – 2.51) Even then, one has to be willing to put in the time and effort… especially the time, because there is a bit of math related to the practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.54: svaişayāsamprayoge cittasyasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāņām pratyāhārah

 

– “Withdrawing from every direction toward a focal point, the sense organs and actions cease engaging with the [corresponding] sense objects and become like the true nature of the mind.

 

“A minimum of 48 seconds is required for the bonding between prana and mind to fully mature. Thus pranayama is not defined by how long we hold the breath but rather by how long we hold our mind on the subtle movement of prana in the pranic field.

 

When mental concentration is 12 times longer than the period of concentration defining pranayama, it is pratyahara…. Dharana, concentration, is 12 times longer than pratyahara. Our capacity to concentrate increases with practice, allowing dharana to mature into dhyana and Samadhi.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.54 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation practices.

 

The playlist revised for 2022 is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

Did you know that I spent 2022 making a video series about changing perspectives and habits? Here is the last video in the series, which is an invitation to begin the series.

 

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

 

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

 

Errata: The 2021 post cited the wrong Romeo and Juliet scene number.

### CONTROL YOUR OWN MIND ###

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!!

 

 

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