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Winning the Lottery, with some Powerball® thoughts (a series of “missing” posts) March 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Purim, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or starting a new year!

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, March 16th, which was when I talked about Purim, with a little note related to Thursday, March 17th and Saturday, March 19th! (But this is not the story you think it is.) You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.”

*

– quoted from Journals (IV A 164), 1843 by Søren Kierkegaard

You know how there are some stories, like the Star Wars movies, that begin as one thing and then over time and generations become something else? That question can be answered as it relates to the story, but here I am specifically talking about the sequence.* When the original movie came out in May of 1977, it was just Star Wars. When the next movies came out – in May of 1980 and May of 1983 – they had their own titles. However, if someone referred to them numerically, they would be first, second, and third (or 1, 2, and 3). Fast forward over two decades from the originally released movie and there were prequels, which (while I am loath to admit they exist) changed the order of things. Fast forward another decade (going on two) and there were (pretty amazing) sequels to the originally released movies. The story continues… and I love that.

I love of stories and storytelling. I think it’s fascinating that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously work forwards and back. We don’t always think about it, but the way the Star Wars movies were released is actually how we meet and how most of the stories we read, hear, and watch work too. It’s very rare that we meet characters at the beginning of creation. A story usually begins in the middle or at the end. So, part of what I love about storytelling is how the storyteller (or the story) chooses to unfold the tale. In fact, part of the beauty of the story is watching it unfold.

One of my favorite stories – in part, because the way the story unfolds is part of the story – is the story people tell on Purim. It is the story in and around The Megillah or The Megillat Esther.

In case you are unfamiliar with the holiday and the story, Purim [פּוּרִים] is a Hebrew word meaning “lots” – as in “casting lots” or “lottery.” It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story told in the Megillah (“scroll”) of Esther, which is the story of how Queen Esther saved the Jewish people from the evil plot of a man whose actions are good examples of someone who was narcissistic, power hungry, and also anti-Semitic. The “Book of Esther” is not only found in the Hebrew Bible it is also one of the five megillot (“scrolls”) that make up part of the Christian Old Testament. Some people think of it as a great story about the power of a woman – and while it is that, it is also something more; because the story has a lot of “hidden” elements.

The story is quite literally about things that “someone” decided to “hide and hide” [הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר].

“Another approach, found already in rabbinic literature, takes the absence of God as a positive statement made by the author. The Rabbis, and numerous other readers since, understood the literary absence of God to be merely a surface-level fact, and in fact to be a subtle argument for the hiddenness of God, rather than his absence. A Talmudic comment (in B. Hullin 139b) playfully asks, ‘What is the source for Esther in the Torah?’ The answer given is that Esther was foretold in Deuteronomy 31:18: ‘I will indeed hide (haster astir) my face on that day.’ In part this is a pun, linking the name Esther to the Hebrew phrase ‘I will indeed hide’ (haster astir), but in part it is a serious theological claim: where did the Torah foretell a story with no God?”

*

– quoted from “8. Diaspora revisions: rethinking Exodus and rethinking God – Entering the fray: Esther as a political book” in Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

People celebrate Purim by dressing up in costume – hiding one’s true identity – and having a party or feast. People may also have a parade and a pageant. The costuming and the party (even the parades and pageants) are all, symbolically, part of the story. To add yet another symbol from the story, the feasting includes hamantaschen, a yummy triangular shaped pastry that I always think of as Haman’s hat, but which literally means “Haman’s pockets.” In some Jewish communities they are referred to as “Haman’s ears.”

The story is symbolically reinforced in many different ways during the celebration of Purim, because the biggest part of the holiday is the story itself. In fact, listening to a public reading of the Book of Esther, in the evening (since the holiday starts at sunset) and in the morning, is one of four mitzvoh (“commandments”) related to Purim. The other three take place during the day and are sending food gifts to friends; giving charity to the poor; and eating a festive meal.

While I don’t read the actual text** to people during the practice, I do tell the story. And for years, I have used the music to help me tell the story – just like I do with all the other stories. Up until this year, however, my Purim playlist was a little… shall we say, problematic. Because there was something hidden in my playlist – and not in a good way.

“This desert rose
Whose shadow bears the secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
And now she turns
This way she moves in the logic of all my dreams
This fire burns
I realize that nothing’s as it seems”

*

– quoted from the song “Desert Rose” by Sting

Some of my playlists have always reflected the culture behind the story or theme of the day. For instance, my Saint Patrick’s Day playlist is full of Irish musicians and musicians with Irish heritage, just like my Cinco de Mayo playlist is full of musicians with Mexican heritage. As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, I’ve very deliberately made some playlists multi-cultural to highlight the fact that so many cultures celebrate things like light overcoming darkness. Then, years ago, a friend’s comment really made me consider why my playlists mostly featured men. Despite all that, I never really considered that there was something off about my Purim playlist.

And, that takes us back to why certain songs were popular, while other also very good songs were not as popular.

“It’s so not an accident that most of the kirtan and “yoga music artists” on our playlists are NOT from within the tradition. (It is called erasure and happens to people of color in our own traditions ALL THE TIME.)⁣⁣⁣”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

Susanna Barkataki is a yoga advocate, a teacher, a public speaker, and the author of Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. In her book, her articles, and her classes, she encourages students and teachers to (re)connect to yoga’s ancient roots. She strongly recommends that teachers consider why they do the things they do (and say the things they say) when teaching. She also suggests that teachers take a look at how some of the things we say and do are the result of colonization and cultural erasure. However, she does not simply point to how elements of our modern, Western-centric practice are problematic. She also offers tools and solutions. For instance, she specifically points to music and highlights the fact that those of us using kirtan – which is a form of bhakti or devotional yoga – are almost always using non-traditional musicians. Sometimes, even using musicians that mispronounce the Sanskrit words.

To be clear, Ms. Barkataki uses the words “cultural erasure,” but it’s a concept I’ve always known as whitewashing. And, above and beyond anything else, she encourages us all to be mindful about the choices we make. Being mindful meant that when I was getting ready for Purim this year, I realized that in most of the ways that counted, my culturally-specific playlist was specifically the wrong culture.

In my effort to pick songs that told the story, I neglected to pick Jewish musicians. Even worse, given the context of the story, my original playlist included several songs with Arabic lyrics and/or Arabic-related references that had nothing to do with Jewish heritage. To be clear about my own hubris, I knew this… I just leaped over the issue. In some ways, my mental gymnastics included the fact that those songs could be about a Jewish woman like Esther. They could very easily have been songs written by people who didn’t know their beautiful “Persian” queen was born Hadassah. Anything is possible.

However, the reality was that they were just popular songs that were also really good, worked with the practice, and could fit the story. They were songs that I knew, because I had heard them on the radio.

“Erasure is when the originators of a particular tradition are surpassed, replaced or ignored. Why? Because it makes it easier to colonize and exploit our cultural and spiritual wisdom and wealth.”

*

– quoted from a January 2022 message entitled “What Are You Listening to? On Decolonizing Your Yoga Playlists” by Susanna Barkataki

I recently heard a young, up-and-coming artist compare achieving a huge milestone to winning the lottery. For sure, I can see that. Especially when you consider how many people commented on the fact that this artist hit this much deserved milestone, before his much lauded collaborator. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big fan of both artists, but there’s something more than talent at play here.) I think having a hit song is also like that. Because while there is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a hit song, there’s also a lot of luck. It’s like that old adage about how you can’t win if you don’t play. Of course, most people who play, don’t win – at least not really big – and it’s the same thing with being a big star in music.

Streaming services and social media mean that a lot of hustle and marketing on the part of the artist (and their community) can get an artist noticed today, in a way they couldn’t get noticed 20-plus years ago. That attention can really push a song up the charts. However, we’re still in a time time when songs are hits (in part) because they are played on the radio. And for all that hustle, many songs are played on the radio because of the way the musician looks. This is true across genres. This is even more so when it comes to music in and from certain countries and cultures. Being talented and having the “right” size, complexion, ethnicity, and (on a certain level) gender and sexuality, is like hitting the Powerball®.

“The Multi-State Lottery Association encourages all lottery players to be responsible in their amount of play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are a number of helpful resources listed below.

National Council on Problem Gambling
24 Hour Confidential National Helpline
Call: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat
Text: 1-800-522-4700

Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators

*

– quoted from the “Play Responsibly” tab on the Powerball® website

While I’ve been known to play bingo in a church basement (for charity and the chance to win a homemade quilt), I’m not really one to play the lottery. My limited understanding, however, is that there’s a lot of different ways you can win with a Powerball®. However, just like with music and other things that could make you wealthy beyond your dreams, you have to be responsible and avoid the scams. You have to balance the temptation and your desire with reality. The reality, again, being that if you don’t play you don’t win, but most people don’t win… big.

If you’re talented and have the aforementioned equivalent of the Powerball®, you can do things other people can’t do. You can write songs that make people re-think the world. You can sing songs other people not only wouldn’t think to sing, but might be afraid to sing. You can inspire people to sing your songs… even when they don’t always understand you. To me, Bob Dylan and his eponymous first album are a great example of a musical Powerball®.

Bob Dylan’s debut studio album, Bob Dylan, was released March 19, 1962. I didn’t use it for the anniversary this year – because I thought it would distract from this past Saturday’s sūtra study – but normally I use one of the playlists that I also use on Bob Dylan’s birthday (hint, hint). It’s a playlist that combines music from the original album, which only included two original Bob Dylan songs, with Bob Dylan songs covered and/or made famous by others. It’s good way, I think, to highlight the fact that Dylan is as inspired as he is inspirational.

Bob Dylan, the album, was actually recorded November 20th and 22nd of 1961, and only featured two original Dylan songs. The other eleven tracks were covers or traditional folk songs (including Negro spirituals). While Bob Dylan did arrange some of the folk songs, there’s one arrangement that he famously, uhmm… “borrowed” (without permission) from folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Exactly a month after recording the album, Bob Dylan had an informal recording session in a Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room with Bonnie Beecher and Tony Glover. Those bootleg recordings may or may not have been distributed out of someone’s trunk, but they were the equivalent of modern-day artists streaming their music. They got people excited about Bob Dylan as a musician and may be considered a better glimpse (than the studio album) of what was to come from the artist.

The bootleg recordings did not, however, drum up enough attention to really sell Bob Dylan. The album has never been super popular (chart wise) in the US or the UK. Neither did it, initially, receive a lot of critical recognition or attention. However, some reviewers did compare Dylan – as well as his voice and his style – to Elvis Presley.

Which is weird to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bob Dylan fan (on a lot of different levels). I even dig that first album. However, the comparison to Elvis is curious, when you really think about it. Because (to me) the only thing Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley had in common, especially when compared to other also talented musicians at the time, was that elusive Powerball® of talent, drive, and other people’s perceptions.

“How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone”

*

– quoted from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan

The playlist for Wednesday (March 16th) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

I plan to post the Bob Dylan playlist for Tuesday, May 24th.

*NOTE: Here’s a funny aside. In 2020, just as we started locking down for the pandemic, I blogged and posted a playlist about stories and music. That would have been Part I, except that it was for March 22nd – which means that if I ever get everything posted in sequential order it would be Part III (after the Purim or Saint Patrick’s Day post and the Bob Dylan post).

**NOTE: Since I don’t actually read the Purim text during the practice, I almost always leave out the part where Haman is begging for his life and the King misreads the situation. In some ways, it is an important part of the cause-and-effect of the narrative – and it definitely brings up another aspect of how our perceptions affect our stories – but it’s comes at the end so I often overlook it.

*

Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

*

And, here’s an old favorite.

### Are You Lucky or Are You Blessed? ###

Another New Year, Another New Season (a “renewed” post) March 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, and/or completing the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast!

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

I mentioned in my last “9 Days” video that we all have patterns. One of my patterns seems to be falling behind at certain points in the year. Maybe you have noticed that same pattern in yourself. Maybe, like me, there are times when you can pinpoint reasons, explanations, stories about why your engagement in the world changes – e.g., those years when Februarys were extra challenging and the fact that my maternal grandparents and my mother all died during (different) summers. Then there are times when the pattern seems odd (i.e., when you forget that those extra challenging Februarys still have a hold on you). Either way, when you start noticing those patterns, you may also start noticing correlating patterns – like when you start catching back up.

The following is a revised, updated, and abridged version of a 2021 post. The original post included information about the March 6th and 13th practices. 

Today, Saturday, March 20th, is the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, today is the end of the Bahá’i 19-Day Fast and the beginning of the Bahá’i New Year is at sunset this evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178 179.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, however, Patanjali underscored the importance of paying attention to the transitions.

In fact, when detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali highlighted the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and referred to them collectively as samyama. Once he explained how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautioned against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineated the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible. However, there is also an aspect of the practice that transcends these arbitrary delineations: outside becomes inside.

Endings become beginnings.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 20th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “032021 New Year, New Season”]

NOTE: Due to artist protests, one song may not play on Spotify. As I support artists in their efforts to bring about change, I am not re-mixing affected playlists.

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.)

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###

Winning the Lottery (mostly the music w/ a special link) March 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Lent, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Purim, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Purim and many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, Great Lent, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, or Purim!

Please join me today (Wednesday, March 16th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Purim 2022”]

*

Here’s something fun that’s on the YouTube playlist, but is not (yet) available on Spotify.

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.)

*

### 🎶 ###

Remembering the shortest walk (just the music) March 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Faith, Hope, Lent, Music, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and/or Great Lent!

Please join me today (Wednesday, March 9th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “03092021 Turnaround Turnback Tues”]

[NOTE: The YouTube title includes the word “Alabama” and includes the Neil Young tracks that are no longer available on Spotify. If you are using Spotify you will (musically) end up slightly ahead after the first part of the practice.]

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

*

### 🎶 ###

A Day for All Women, In A Month for All Women (just the music) March 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Lent, Music, Religion, Wisdom, Women.
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Joy and victory to women everywhere! Peace and blessings to all, especially those observing Lent, Great Lent, and the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast. 

Please join me today (Tuesday, March 8th) at 12:00 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. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[NOTE: There are  currently 19, going on 20, additional songs by/about women on the YouTube playlist. Enjoy!]

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.)

### 🎶 ###

Funkensonntag (mostly the music) March 6, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Lent, Music, Religion.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing Lent, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and/or Forgiveness Sunday!

“Think of a space in your heart, and in the midst of that space think that a flame is burning. Think of that flame as your own soul and inside the flame is another effulgent light, and that is the Soul of your soul, God. Meditate upon that in the heart. Chastity, non-injury, forgiving even the greatest enemy, truth, faith in the Lord, these are all different Vrittis. Be not afraid if you are not perfect in all of these; work, they will come. He who has given up all attachment, all fear, and all anger, he whose whole soul has gone unto the Lord, he who has taken refuge in the Lord, whose heart has become purified, with whatsoever desire he comes to the Lord, He will grant that to him. Therefore worship Him through knowledge, love, or renunciation.”

*

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

*

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, March 6th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Funkensonntag 2022”]

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.)

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Beginning Change (mostly the music) March 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 19-Day Fast, Baha'i, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Hope, Lent, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings to all, and especially to those observing (or getting ready to observe) Lent or the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast! Much love to those who are reading (and/or learning to read) on Read Across America Day!

“‘There are yet others whose way of worship is to offer up wealth and possessions. Still others offer up self-denial, suffering, and austerities (purifications). Others take clerical or monastic vows, offering up knowledge of the scriptures. Some others make their meditation itself an offering.

*

‘Some offer up prana, the mysterious vital energy force within them. They do this through control of the breath, literally stopping their inhaling and exhaling.

*

‘Yet others abstain from food and practice sacrifice by spiritualizing their vital energy – that is, by figuratively pouring their own vital life force into the Cosmic Life Force. The whole point of all these various methods of sacrifice (worship) is to develop a certain mental attitude. Those who live with a truly worshipful attitude, whose whole lives are offered up for improvement of the world, incur no sin (no karmic debt).’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (4.28 – 30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (Wednesday, March 2nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.)

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Effort and Effect (a “missing” post from a week ago) February 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Lent, Life, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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It took me about a week, but I am feeling more like myself and catching up. This is the very late “missing” post for Sunday, February 20th.You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“‘Life Is’ is a simple thing, with piano, strings & synth, and is the result of my ruminations on recent events in my life. In many ways it’s a microcosm of my life. Repetitive, in a warm, familiar kind of way, with sprinklings of sadness, and joy… always slightly improvised, but never too much drama. ;)”

*

– quoted from the description of the song “Life Is” by Scott Buckley

*

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

A few weeks ago, I asked people to consider what it means to be human. In the process of considering what it means to be human, we have to also address what it means to live life as humans. Here, we can use the words of either Scott – because life is “a simple thing” and “life is difficult.” Then we need to add in the fact that life is a beautiful thing, a hard thing, a challenging thing. Life can also be messed up, twisted, upside down, and backwards – and not always in a fun way. Life is full of dichotomy and full of contradictions. It can be, and often is, out of balance. What’s more, the way we live our lives can also be all of these things – at the same time… which can make life really hard.

It can also make it hard to do the right thing.

We would like to think that when we do the right thing everything will just fall into place. We would like to think that life will be easier if we make the right decision, at the exact right time, and do the right things. I mean, that’s what we’re taught, right? That’s the secret, right?

Sure, yes. I stand behind the idea of being in the flow. Here’s the thing though: In order for things to fall into place, they have to be set up in a certain way – which requires work, effort. That’s the part of the lesson we always seem to skip over. But, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful opportunities fall into your lap, you still have to use the opportunities. You still have to do the work.

“The literal meaning kriya is “verb.” Every verb is representative of a distinct process or function and no process of function reaches fruition without a doer.”

*

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

There are two Sanskrit words that can be translated into English as “work” or “effort,” and which both apply to our thoughts, words, and deeds/actions. The first word is kriyā and the second word is karma. Most English speakers are familiar with the word karma (or kamma in Pali). Even if they are not 100% certain about the meaning, they understand the general concept of cause-and-effect. What they may miss is that karma is the effect or consequence, while kriyā is the cause. Kriyā is an ongoing process and also the steps within the process; it is active. You could also think of karma as fate and kriyā as destiny; where the former is unchangeable and the latter as the journey to your destination.

Some traditions specifically use kriyā in relation to internal action or work and speak of karma when referring to external work. In some ways, this dovetails with Yoga Sūtra 2.1, which defines kriyā yoga (“union in action”) as a combination of the final three niyamas (internal “observations”): discipline/austerity, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self). In this context, kriyā yoga is a purification ritual and, as I mention throughout the year, there are several religious and philosophical observations that would fit within this rubric (including Lent, Yom Kippur and Passover, the Baháʼí 19-Day Fast, and the holy month of Ramaḍān).

Additionally, in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, “kriyā” is the term applied to sequences with specific energetic intentions.

This is where it gets (even more) convoluted, because karma can also be the intention. Classically, when we talk about karma, we talk about planting seeds and things coming into fruition. So, one way to think of it is that we plant seeds that already have within them the image of the final product and kriyā is what we do to nurture and harvest what’s been planted – and/or what we do when we need to uproot the poisonous weeds.

“There comes a time when we should be together
United in our fight to make things better.
Our world is here,
But will not be forever,
Depending on our will to change [the] matter.”
*
“This is a song of hope.”
*

– quoted the song “Song of Hope” by Avishai Cohen

The practice on February 20th was partially inspired by current events and people who feel called to do hard things for the right reasons. These same people have even called on others to help do the work that is required to bring more balance into the world. In thinking about these people in the modern world, I found myself thinking back to people who did hard things in ancient worlds. One such person was Arjuna in the events of The Bhagavad Gita, and, even though it wasn’t the right time of year – per se – I decided to focus on the wisdom of another such ancient person: Syncletica of Alexandria, one of the Desert Mothers.

The Bhagavad Gita is set during a lull in battle during a great civil war. Arjuna is a prince and military leader on one side of the battle. As others magically look on, he stands in the middle of the battlefield and has a crisis of faith. He looks at his family and friends on both sides of the battlefield and he “loses his resolve.” He questions why he fighting and what will be resolved. He shares with his best friend and charioteer that he is filled with an amalgamation of emotions, including the possibility of shame and unhappiness if he were to kill his own friends and family.

As he is sharing his deepest worries and fears, his friend (Krishna) reveals himself as an avatar of God and emphasizes the importance of doing what’s right even when it (and everything else) seems wrong. He outlines several different methods by which one can live a “truth-based life” and experience ultimate fulfilment (which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the spoils of battle). Krishna is very clear that there are different methods or paths for different people and (sometimes) for different situations, but that all paths ultimately lead to the Divine and to self-realization. In this context, “Karma Yoga” is defined as “the path of action for the busy, action-oriented person.”(BG 3.3) However, and this is also emphasized throughout the text, the goal is to work without desire and without expectation. Krishna indicates that “both the action and the fruits of the action” are to be offered up to the Divine so that the action is nonbinding and selfless and, therefore, will not lead to reincarnation. (BG 3.9) Remember, offering your efforts back to the Source is the same instruction Patanjali gives in outlining kriyā yoga.

Ever skeptical, Arjuna thinks it is impossible for him to work without desire. Krishna explains to him, again and again, that it is not impossible. It does require however, that one has the right mindset. It also requires (hard) work and sacrifice. (BG 3.10-3.16, 6.33-36)

“‘Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.47) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

One of the big takeaways from the Bhagavad Gita is that everyone has a role to play in society. As Krishna explains in Chapter 18 people’s different personalities play a part in determining their different roles and duties. In very general (but explicit) terms, he describes “Seers, Leaders, Providers, and Servers.” He also emphasizes that “No particular group of people is superior to any other, but like limbs of the body, each has a respective role to play.” (BG 18.41) The descriptions are clear enough that we can easily identify ourselves and also recognize that there are times when we are called to serve more than one role.

For example, a professional teacher could be described as a seer and/or a leader. But, even if we are not professional teachers, the way we live our lives sets an example. The way we live our lives teaches others – especially younger generations – how to love, how to care for each other, how to stand up for what’s right, and how to do the right thing… even when it is hard. In this way, we are all leaders.

“‘Consider them one by one. Society’s Seers are the holy ones (in some societies referred to as Brahmins). Seers are expected to establish the character and spiritual underpinnings of society. Their duties are generally of pure, unmixed sattva and are therefore congenial to a person of sattvic nature. This is what is meant by the term “born of their own nature.” Providing spiritual and moral leadership is generally “natural” to Seers.

*

‘Seers must have spiritual knowledge and wisdom – knowledge of God-realization obtained through devout study – and wisdom beyond knowledge, acquired through direct experience of the Atma. Seers must have purity of heart, mind, and body; and allow no perversity or corruption to creep in. They must possess serenity, calmness, forbearance, forgiveness, and patience – and hold to an unwavering faith in the divinity of all life. The primary purpose of the Seers is to help transform society’s exemplary human beings into godly beings.

*

‘The primary objective of society’s Leaders is to help transform ordinary human beings into exemplary human beings. The Leaders (referred to as Kshatriyas) are expected to guard the welfare and prosperity of society by serving the people. They are charged with bringing moral stamina and adherence to duty through courage, fearlessness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in the face of changing conditions. They must be examples of law, justice, and generosity. They must lead by inspiring the populace through good example and yet be ready to enforce their authority.

*

‘Both groups are strong in their own ways. The strength of the Leaders lies in their courage; the strength of the Seers lies in their spiritual glow.'”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (18.42 – 18.43) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Saint Syncletica is a perfect example of a seer. Also known as Amma Syncletica, she was a 4th century Christian mystic who was reportedly born into a wealthy Macedonian family in Alexandria, Egypt. By all accounts, she was a beautiful woman who could have lived a life of great luxury and privilege. Yet, from an early age, she felt a calling to serve God. From a very early age, she committed herself to God.

When her parents passed away, Syncletica donated her inheritance to the poor. Then, she cut her hair and, much to the chagrin of her many suitors, she and her younger blind sister moved to something akin to catacombs. One abbot reported that she just kept going deeper and deeper into the desert – which might have been a metaphor. Eventually, her lived example drew other women into the ascetic lifestyle that was focused on salvation, self-realization and union with God – the same end goal outlined in the Yoga Sūtras, described in The Bhagavad Gita, and highlighted in sacred texts from a variety of different traditions (including Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism).

It is believed that Amma Syncletica died around 350 AD, when she was eighty or eighty-four years old. The Vita S. Syncleticæ is one of the primary sources of her life and stories related to her life. The Greek biography is attributed to Athanasius I of Alexandria – although it appears to have been written after his death (and around a hundred years after hers). Thirty to fifty years after the appearance of the Vita, she is one of three women whose stories and words are included in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Saint Syncletica was venerated by the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. In some Greek traditions she is honored on January 4th (on the Julian calendar). In most traditions, her feast day is January 5th – although, she is no longer included on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and in the Episcopal Church (in the United States) she is celebrated along with two other Desert Ammas, Sarah and Theodora.

“Amma Syncletica said, ‘In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [Heb 12:24]): so we must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”

*

– based on The Life of the Blessed & Holy Syncletica by Pseudo-Athanasius, Part One: The Translation by Elizabeth Bryson Bongie 

Coda: A couple of weeks ago, I really felt the need for this message. What I mean is that I needed to hear the encouragement of this message. Given the fact that I knew some other people were facing tough decisions, I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only one that needed the reminder that even something that reduces us to tears, can lead us to “unspeakable joy.” I thought maybe we all needed to hear how important it is to keep doing the work even when you don’t feel supported by others – and, also, to keep doing the work even when you’re being supported by people with whom you have no other common ground.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was only thinking about metaphorical battles and metaphorical battlegrounds.

Yes, there were real wars and battles happening a couple of weeks ago, but they were (in many ways), out of sight and out of mind. Today, those battles and battlefields are front and center again. As we watch war play out in real time, we can clearly see the Seers, the Leaders, the Providers, and the Servers. We can see how hard it is to do the right thing – and even the high cost of doing the right thing. We can also see that the final words of the Gita are still true:

“‘Wherever Divinity and humanity are found together – with humanity armed and ready to fight wickedness – there also will be found victory in the battle of life, a life expanded to Divinity and crowned with prosperity and success, a life of adherence to dharma, in tune with the Cosmic Plan. I am convinced of this.'”

– Sanjaya, the minister, speaking to “the blind old King, Dhritarashtra (18.78) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*Dr. Peck noted that he was essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

“33-34. Arjuna interrupts again: ‘It’s impossible, Krishna! My mind is so restless, so turbulent I can’t imagine ever being able to achieve the loftiness you’re teaching. The human mind is a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed, it’s like a mule. If it doesn’t get what it wants it turns petulant and scheming. My mind can never be caught; it never halts in one place. Trying to catch and tame it is like trying to restrain the wild wind.’

*

35. Krishna breaks into a smile. ‘You know the nature of the mind, Arjuna. It is restless and hard to subdue, but it can be done. There are four main ways to do it : through regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith. Let Me explain.

*

‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (viveka). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.

*

36. ‘Those who have no mastery over their ego will find it difficult to control the mind. But those who struggle hard by the correct means (relentless practice and nonattachment) will prevail over their wayward minds.’”

*

– quoted from 6.33-36 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

*

### You Gotta Do The Work & Honor The Work You’re Doing ###

New Year, New Season (a “missing” post for multiple Saturdays) March 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, 19-Day Fast, Art, Baha'i, Changing Perspectives, Faith, New Year, Religion.
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“Nowruz Mubarak!” Happy New Year to those who are celebrating and Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere.

[This post is related to three Saturdays, March 6th; March 13th; and March 20th. You can request an audio recording of any of the practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: ‘In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.’ The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God.”

 

– quoted from a rare “New Year” message from the Universal House of Justice “To the Bahá’is of the World,” dated Naw-Ruz 177 (March 20, 2020, in reference to COVID-19 recommendations)

Today, Saturday, March 20th, was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere – which coincides with Nowruz, also known as the Persian New Year or Iranian New Year, which is also the Zoroastrian and the Bahá’i New Year. Nowruz is a compound of two Persian words and literally means “new day.” As this is a new beginning for so many around the world, it feels like an auspicious time to start catching back up on my blog posts!

The date of this New Year (and of the Vernal Equinox) is established every year through the astronomical observations that result in the Solar Hijri (Persian) calendar, which is the oldest and most accurate solar calendar. Technically, the Bahá’i New Year started at sunset on Friday evening; but it is also a moveable based on the change in seasons.

In “the Most Holy Book” of the Bahá’i faith, the Kitáb-i-Agdas, the prophet Bahá’u’lláh explained that the equinox was a “Manifestation of God” and, therefore, would mark the new day/year. He also indicated that the actual date would be based on a “standard” place chosen by the Universal House of Justice (the nine-member ruling body of the worldwide community) in Haifa, Israel. In 2014 (which was year 171 in their community), the Universal House of Justice chose Tehran as the special place in the world that would serve as the observational standard. This is year 178.

People within the Bahá’i community spend the last month of the year preparing for the New Year by observing the 19-Day Fast. Throughout various parts of Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans people from a variety of faiths have traditions which sometimes include a month’s worth of (preparatory) celebrations. These celebrations include “spoon-banging” and costumed visitors in a practice similar to Halloween’s trick-or-treaters; rituals related to light; a celebration of the elements; a celebration of ancestors; and stories about how light (literally and symbolically) overcomes darkness.

“But his splendid son, Jamshid, his heart filled with his father’s precepts, then prepared to reign. He sat on his father’s throne, wearing a golden crown according to the royal custom. The imperial [divine glory] was his. The world submitted to him; quarrels were laid to rest, and all demons, birds and fairies obeyed Jamshid’s commands. The royal throne shone with luster, and the wealth of the world increased. He said, ‘God’s glory is with me; I am both prince and priest. I hold evildoers back from their evil, and I guide souls towards the light.’”

 

– quoted from “The First Kings” in Shanameh – The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (translated by Dick Davis)

One such story appears in the Shāhnāma (“The Book of Kings”), an epic Persian poem written by Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusione around the 10th and 11th centuries and one of the world’s longest poems attributed to a single author. According to the legend, there was a time when the world was plunged into darkness and a deadly winter that caused most people to lose hope. However, the mythical King Jamshid, who spent over 100 years building a great kingdom, saved the world and restored hope by building a throne out of gems and precious metals. He then sat on the throne and had “demons” lift him up to catch the dying light so that he became as bright as the sun. More gems were gathered around him and he became even brighter. This became the “New Day.”

I often mention that every day, every inhale, and every exhale is the beginning of a New Year. We don’t often think of it that way, and we certainly don’t (as a whole) view and celebrate life that way. But, the bottom line is that every moment of our lives is a “liminal” moment: a transitional or threshold moment that serves as a doorway between times. We mark notice we have more daylight, more sunshine, and we call it “Spring!” But, in some ways, this moment is arbitrary because we have been getting more daylight since the Winter Solstice.

Sometimes, when the winter is really cold and really dark (or we’ve been cooped-up inside too much) we pay attention to the little incremental differences between one day and the next. We notice the lengthening shadows and the extra seconds. Most times, however, we don’t start noticing the changes until we are told to notice the changes. Even then, however, what we notice is the end result – the culmination of all the little changes; not the transitions themselves. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali instructs us to pay attention to the transitions.

“The transition from one year to the next year happens in an infinitely short moment that is actually non-existent in time. So too, there are transitions in the moments of life and the moments of meditation. Mindfulness of transitions in daily life and during meditation time is extremely useful on the spiritual journey to enlightenment.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on “Yoga Sutras 3.9-3.16: Witnessing Subtle Transitions With Samyama” by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (“Swami J”)

When detailing how the practice of “concentration” “progresses,” Patanjali explores the final three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy (dhāranā, dhyāna, and samādhi) and refers to them collectively as samyama. Once he explains how each one flows from the previous ones (all stemming from the earlier practices of prāņāyāma and pratyāhāra) – and cautions against efforts to skip the stages of progression – he delineates the difference between external and internal experiences. We often think of these as being very obviously related to things that are happening outside of the body and/or separate from us versus things happening inside the body and/or directly related to us. We may even break things down as things we can touch/hold versus things that are not tangible.

Obvious, right? But what happens when we “Get Inside” (as we did on Saturday, March 6th)?

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the artist, was born March 6, 1475, in Caprese (then the Republic of Florence and now Tuscany, Italy). Known for works like David, the Pietá, and some of the most well-known frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo was known as Il Divino (“The Divine One”) by his contemporaries, because he had the ability to bring inanimate objects to life and to create terribilitá (a sense of awesomeness or emotional intensity). He said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

In the practice of Yoga, we use the first four limbs of the philosophy the way Michelangelo used his carving and painting tools: to bring what is inside out, to set our inner angel free. Or, as I mentioned on the 6th, we can use it to set our inner GOAT free.

“‘He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.’”

 

– quoted from the Ebony Magazine article, “Muhammad Ali: ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ – Despite his medical problems, ‘The Greatest’ says there is plenty of fight left in his body” by Walter Leavy (published March 1985)

 

In 1964, it was announced to the world that the boxer we now know as The Greatest of All Times would no longer go by his birth name or “slave name” – which was also his father’s name. The heavy-weight champion’s grandfather had named his son (Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr.,) after a 19th-century abolitionist politician in Kentucky (Cassius Marcellus Clay) who, by some accounts, strong-armed President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate Confederate slaves and freed some of his own slaves in 1844, but still kept some slaves on hand. Muhammad Ali wanted to distance himself from that legacy of slavery and forge his own path; so, he chose a name that reflected his faith and his skills: Muhammad Ali.

The name change wasn’t even close to instantaneous. In fact, with the major exception of Howard Cosell, who coincidentally had changed his own last name back to his family’s original Polish surname, most journalists and media outlets continued to refer to the prizefighter as “Cassius Clay” for over a decade. And it wasn’t just a matter of people getting use to the new name. Because he refused to answer to his birth name, journalist would address him as Muhammad Ali in-person, but then write about “Cassius Clay.” By their own account, The New York Times wrote about over 1,000 articles about “Cassius Clay” from 1964 to 1968, but only referenced “Muhammad Ali” in about 150. This practice continued well into the 1970’s! But the practice wasn’t even consistent; the media seemed to have no problem referencing “Malcolm X” – even though, at the time, he was still legally “Malcolm Little.”

Muhammad means “One who is worthy of praise” and Ali means “Most high.” The names, as he clearly stated, were symbolic in nature – as all names are. By changing his name, Muhammad Ali honored his outside (i.e., the color of his skin) while also placing emphasis on the inside (i.e., his talent and his beliefs). He also gave the world tools to focus on the inside and to become more intimate. Sadly, some folks kept themselves stuck on the outside.

Yoga Sūtra 3.7: trayam antarangam pūrvebhyah

 

– “These three practices of concentration (dhāranā), meditation (dhyāna), and samādhi are more intimate or internal than the previous five practices.”

Patanjali devotes a series of “threads” to the distinctions between internal/intimate and external in order to illustrate that perspective can make something that feels internal feel “external” simply because there is something more “internal.” One great example of this can be illustrated by comparing different types of physical practices of yoga. For instances: A vinyāsa practice (because it is a moving practice) is more “yang” or active than a YIN Yoga practice (in which part of the practice is not moving for what can feel like an incredibly long amount of time). On the flip side, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga can be significantly more “yang” or active than a “Slow Flow” and a Restorative Yoga practice can be significantly more “yin” than a YIN yoga practice.

By the same token, focusing on the breath and the awareness of the breath  begins to feel more internal than just moving the body without breath awareness, but the former begins to feel more external when you can concentrate without actively thinking about the fact that you are concentrating on your breath (or anything else). In other words, the object of focus is the “seed” – something tangible and understandable, with a reference point. Then, there is a point in the practice when the focus becomes “seedless” – at which point being “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” (which was our thread on Saturday, March 13th).

Yoga Sūtra 3.8: tad api bahir-angam nirbījasya

 

– “These three practices are external, and not intimate compared to nirbija samadhi, which is samadhi that has no object, nor even a seed object on which there is concentration.”

 

In our physical practice, more often than not, we use the breath as our primary “seed.” At first we may simultaneously engage it on multiple levels. After all, we can feel it, we can direct it, and (under the proper conditions) we can see it. Eventually, however, we become absorbed in the experience of breathing and being alive – which is obviously a different experience than actively working with the breath, but it is also a different experience than breathing and living without being aware of the breath. I often think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of someone like Joseph Priestley, just as I think about the breathing (and awareness of breath) of those three people who left footprints on the side of a mountain in Italy over 350,000 years ago.

On March 13, 2003, Nature Journal published the work of three paleontologists who had identified fossilized footprints (and handprints) as belonging to three homo-genus individuals fleeing the then-actively erupting Roccamonfino volcano. Through those external impressions (embedded deep in the earth), we get an intimate glimpse into a brief moment of their lives. We know two fled the volcano together, one assisting the other. We know about their pace and trajectory, based on the zigzag patterns and the places where it appears one or more supported themselves with their hands. We can use their steps as tools and then, based on our own experiences, move deeper from there.

Joseph Priestley, born March 13, 1733 (according to the Julian calendar) was an 18th-century English theologian, clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, liberal political theorist, and a member of the Lunar Circle (also known as the Lunar Society). He is credited with discovering oxygen in its isolated gaseous state (which he considered “dephlogisticated air”). He also inventing soda water – which, he believed, could cure scurvy and which he called “impregnated water.” He also believed science was integral to theology and, therefore, all of his scientific work was a reflection of his liturgical work, and vice versa.

Even though much of what Joseph Priestley believed, scientifically speaking, has been superseded by advancements in technology and science, his work is one of the steps that brought us closer to the knowledge we have now. Think of his phlogiston theories as “seeds” at the beginning of the process. Now, consider, how – having moved beyond that point of understanding – we start anew… and go deeper. (As we did today, March 20th.)

“Could we have entered into the mind of Sir Isaac Newton and have traced all the steps by which he produced his great works, we might see nothing very extraordinary in the process.”

 

– Joseph Priestley

 

This week’s “threads” can be a little hard to take in just from the sūtras themselves. However, the point is to experience them and, once we have experienced them (in context) we realize they are easier to understand. There are some really great analogies related to movement and transition – which is the whole point of these threads – but the one that came to mind today takes us back to the boat analogy.

Take a moment to imagine your breath as a wave, with you floating on your back or floating in a boat. It doesn’t matter if you are lazily enjoying some time off or in a rush to go somewhere. Either way, there are times when you will have to make an adjustment – a course correction, if you will. Sometimes, you have to make big adjustments in order to stay focused; other times, little adjustments. Every now and again, however, there is a moment where you don’t need to make any adjustments or modifications. You don’t have to peddle to stay afloat and you don’t have to steer yourself in the right direction. You are one with the waves, going with the flow and “in the zone.” This is the next level of the Yoga experience. 

Yoga Sūtra 3.9: vyutthāna-nirodhah-samskāra abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhah-kşaņa-chitta-anvayah nirodhah-pariņāmah

 

– “When the vision of the lower Samadhi is suppressed by an act of conscious control, so that there are no longer any thoughts or visions in the mind, that is the achievement of control of the thought-waves of the mind.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.10: tasya praśānta-vāhitā samskārāt

 

– “When this suppression of thought waves becomes continuous, the mind’s flow is calm.”

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 6th (the “Getting Inside or ‘What Is Inside, IV’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 13th (the “Deeper Inside Makes That ‘Outside’” practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

The playlist for Saturday, March 20th (the “New Year, New Season” class) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

Impossible is nothing.”

 

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

 

 

### RIDE THESE WAVES ###