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Wow! You’re Still Holding on to That? (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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NOTE: Randomly, coincidentally, or not, two people named Buckley created pieces entitled “The Things That Keep Us Here.” I’ve never read Carla Buckley’s novel, but I’ve used Scott Buckley’s haunting composition on more than one occasion. It is part of his Monomyth album and includes a description that also seems to fit the synopsis of the novel, “Family. Duty. The things that keep us grounded, what keep us from giving up on our hopes, but what also holds us back from stepping across the precipice into the unknown.”

As the High Holidays come to an end, I always find myself thinking about the things to which I cling even though they are no longer serving me – or never served me. I think about how the very “things that keep us grounded” and keep us from stepping into danger can also be the things that keep us from freely moving into our future.

The following reflection was originally posted on September 27, 2020 and is related to the practice from Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Some links have been added/updated.

“So I draw courage and stand face-to-face with my limitations, without shrinking or running. I allow for honest remorse. Here is my place of Now….

Of course, acceptance does not mean becoming complacent. I still need to honestly evaluate my life and reflect on how I want to act differently this coming year. It also doesn’t preclude trying my best.

But at this very moment my state of ‘now’ is my truth.”

– quoted from an article entitled “Perfectly Imperfect: The Secret of the Shofar” (09/12/2020) by Rabbi Binyomin Weisz

Every year we go on a journey. We spiral up – we fly (w)right – and we spiral down. We have times when we need to say, “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven” – which are really just ways to say, “I love you.” (But, to be fair, we also have times when we are not ready for any of that.)

We have inspirational times, like the High Holidays are in the Jewish tradition, when people are getting ready for “good” (as in meaningful) days, better days. And, when those times come, I often wonder how long it’s going to take for people to really come clean. I wonder why it takes us so long to recognize the power in remembering and reflecting, starting small, and rooting down to grow up. I consider all the different possibilities that can lead us to a new beginning and a “sweet new year.”

Each part of the journey is a story-within-a-story (within-a-story). That’s the way our lives work. We are all, each of us, the hero in our own story as well as the antagonist and/or supporting character and/or “magical guide” and/or benevolent goddess and/or “father” figure in someone else’s story. Paying attention to the stories is another way to pay attention to your life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

– “A person firmly established in the non-possessiveness gains complete understanding of the “why-ness” (or essence of why) of birth.”

Like everyone else, I have my favorite stories for each season; but, I don’t get the chance to tell every story every year. (That’s why some of the highlighted words above are not yet linked to a post.) There is, however, a story I make sure to tell every year, right at the end of the High Holidays. It’s a Charlie Harary story with a timeless message. It’s a message, coincidentally, that would have worked really well with yesterday’s yoga sūtra because it is, absolutely, a story about non-attachment. (And also gold.) But I didn’t tell the story yesterday – I saved it for today.

Some people may believe that I save today’s story for the one of the final days of the high holidays because it is sometimes an intense physical practice. But, in reality, there is a bit of symbolism that plays out in the story and in the timing of the story. You see, even though I don’t talk about the significance of the Rosh Hashanah, the Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement, and Yom Kippur until people are observing them; many people within the Jewish community start planning and observing (a time of contemplation and preparation) forty days before Yom Kippur. They listen for the call of the shofar; recite Psalm 27 twice a day; and some communities even begin a tradition of communal prayers for forgiveness (Selichot). For others, observation begins with Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance – even though, if they plan to go home and/or attend services, they have to make arrangements beforehand. Finally, there are people who may only fast and attend services on Yom Kippur.

There is merit to each person’s timetable. And I see this kind of timetable in other communities – including in the yoga community. I am especially aware of how it is playing out right now, as some people are transitioning back into studios and gyms, some people are holding steady to their online or individual practices, and still others are waiting….

“Had I not believed in seeing the good of the Lord in the land of the living!

Hope for the Lord, be strong and He will give your heart courage, and hope for the Lord.”

Tehillim – Psalms (27:13-14)

There is merit to each person’s timetable. However, we ultimately come back to the question of what purpose does the practice (or observation) serve and – if it serves a meaningful purpose – why are we waiting? If we want more meaning, more purpose, more insight, and more gratitude/happiness in our lives, we have to get ready for it.

True, life can be like a standardized test – some people don’t seem to need as much preparation as others. But, the ultimate truth (in that) is that some people spend their whole lives preparing, getting ready, for more life. You will find that, as occurs in the stories from yesterday and today, if our focus is on getting that the glittery, shiny stuff, that we think enables us to live the way we want to live and be the people we want to be, we may never achieve our ultimate goal. Sometimes all the preparation keeps us from living our best lives and being our best version of our self – because all of our focus and energy is going towards the means (not the end). Furthermore, we can let the idea of everything being “perfect” hold us back.

On the flip side, some people actually live a life full of meaning, purpose, insight, and gratitude/insight because that is their ultimate purpose. They are not getting ready to get something glittery and shiny with a lot of value; they recognize that they already have it. Our lives and the lives of those around us are of the highest value. (I wonder how long it will it take for us to recognize that.)

“And the real goal of Yom Kippur is to spend one day just being you – but the real you… that soul, that you.”

 – quoted from “Yom Kippur: Time to Come Home” by Charlie Harary

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

You can request an audio recording of the Wednesday 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.]

(The YouTube playlist linked above includes the video of Charlie Harary’s “Drop Your Bags.”)

A variation on a theme, a different Charlie Harary story about Yom Kippur and “Coming Home”

### GET HERE NOW / BE HERE NOW ###

It’s the Little Things, again (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing the Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 14th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.”

– quoted from “Preparing for Rosh Hashana: The secret to an inspiring new year” by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Just as you can’t jump up off the coach and run a marathon, without some training, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon once pointed out that the desire for a deep spiritual connection requires some preparation. The means he mentioned included introspection, meditation, and prayer – all methods also mentioned in other traditions, including in Indian philosophies like yoga. A lot of people, however, aren’t familiar with all 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy; they just know about the two limbs that form the postural practice: āsana and prāņāyāma. But, just practicing those two little things can take you deeper into the overall practice and help cultivate big connections.

In many ways, hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is all about little things and about bringing awareness to the little things. The way we sit or stand determines how we breathe; the way we breathe in different positions determines how we feel. When we bring our awareness to how we feel we can go deeper into the pose as well as into ourselves. It all starts with little things. Little things, like how we place our hands or engage our core, can make the difference between going deeper into a pose and deeper into ourselves versus getting injured. Although, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from getting injured; but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday’s story was all about how using the practice to notice little things, can give us insight into why we think the way we think and do (and say) the things we do (and say) – on and off the mat. For instance, next time you’re on the mat, give yourself the opportunity to notice these “little things” – one at a time and then all together:

  1. Make sure your legs are in a position that’s comfortable for low back and arms in a position that’s comfortable for neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out.
  3. Notice the “L” of your hands, especially when you have weight in your hands and arms. (In grade school you might have learned that one “L” on your forehead means loser, but if you put two “L”s together you have a shot at a goal; if you tip the ends out, you have a “W” – which means winner.)
  4. For a vinyāsa practice, match the movement to the breath. For all practices, notice the natural internal movement that happens as you breathe.
  5. Press your shoulders down and squeeze the tips of your shoulder blades together. Notice how the engagement in the back body affects the front of the body.
  6. Engage the inside (starting at your feet and engage your core by squeezing into your midline).
  7. Focus on something that’s not moving so that your mind-body stays present. Remember, where your eyes go, your mind goes; where your mind goes, your body goes – especially in a balancing pose.
  8. SMILE!
  9. Notice what happens when you put it all together.
  10. Change your perspective and look at things in a slightly different way. (If you are working on a peak and/or advanced pose, practice a pose that looks and feels similar and, therefore, may require similar engagement.)
  11. Don’t panic! Be present and trust your practice in this moment.

Tuesday’s practice also featured this personal story from Rabbi Yaakov Salomon. It’s a story about little things and is a great reminder that while we may not always notice the little things until they become the big things, the little things matter. In fact, every little thing we feel, think, say, and do is the possibility of a big thing we’re in the habit of feeling, thinking, saying, or doing.

The following was originally posted on September 14, 2020. The playlist links have been added.

“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. Such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered samskaras in the yoga philosophy. While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know, is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including those deeply embedded habits known as samskaras.

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###

Perfecting Your Pace (a Monday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 13th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Stay To change the past, there is no need to travel in a time machine. Everything can be done by remote control.

Here’s how it works: From beyond the continuum of time, its Creator looks at where your spaceship is heading right now. From that point, He creates all its trajectory—through the future and through the past.

Switch the direction your past is sending you. Soon enough, it becomes a different past.”

– quoted from “Maamar Padah B’Shalom 5738” (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

There was a time, years ago, when my class theme on September 13th revolved around a writer who often employed a “time slip,” which is a plot device whereby a character (or a group of characters) time travel without knowing how or why they suddenly end up in a different time. They could go back in time or they could go forward, but when it’s a true time slip, they don’t have the intention of time traveling. It’s just something that happens. And, since they are not intentionally and deliberately going to a particular time in history, a lot of what the characters do, at least initially, is observe what’s happening.

If they go back, they have a moment of remembering how they got where they were. If they go forward, it can be mind blowing to see what’s changed. This is always interesting to me in the context of a new year, because if we were to suddenly and inexplicably found ourselves at this time next year, we might find that our goals and desires have been achieved without us doing any work (or without us experiencing the work that was done).That might sound good sometimes; but, by the same token, we could find that the world has changed, but (because we weren’t around to do the work) it might have changed in a way that is not to our liking. We might even realize, vis-à-vis our knowledge of cause and effect, that we were going in the wrong direction all along.

Granted, we don’t always need hindsight to identify a “wrong” path. We can use foresight, and envision or preview the path and even the obstacles we might find along the way. Remember, previewing (or reviewing) the course before you get started is one of the keys to pacing yourself. Knowing how long the journey will take is another tip related to Sunday’s practice and the idea of pacing yourself. Granted, in life, we don’t always know how long something will take to achieve or experience, but we still have an internal clock and can remind ourselves that we may not do things at the same pace (or timetable) as those around us.

“Before you were formed in the womb, your days were numbered and set in place. They are the chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, the faces of the wisdom this world has to teach you, the gateways to the treasures this lifetime alone can bestow.

A day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never—for no two days of your life will share the same wisdom.”

– quoted from Hayom Yom, 17 Cheshvan; Naso 5837:6 (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

I mention the internal clock because a big aspect of pacing yourself is what’s happening on the inside, beneath the surface. You all know I love to share stories and I especially love to tell stories during the High Holidays. One of my favorite stories I like to tell this time of year is an old story. It’s one you’ve probably heard before. In fact, knowing how popular this story is, I am actually surprised that I was well into my adulthood before I heard it. I’m not surprised, however, that the first time I heard the story it was in the context of Rosh Hashanah. I add a little flourish here and there (because “no two days of your life will share the same wisdom – even when they share the same story), but I basically tell the story like this:

Like so many of us, there’s this person sitting or standing on the edge of a mountain of uncertainty. This year, for obvious reasons, feels different from other years. What feels the same for this person, however, is the frustration and fear that comes from looking back and realizing that they have the same doubts and fears, hopes and dreams that they had this time last year. Rather than feeling like they’ve taken steps forward, closer to their dreams, this person feels like they have stayed in the exact same place – or even that they have taken a few steps back. Everything seems meaningless and pointless and, frankly, they feel they have nothing to show for all the times when they’ve reflected, remembered, repented, and planned.

So, as the head of the year approaches, this person goes to their rabbi and explains that they’re having a hard time. Yes, they understand that everyone is having and hard time – doesn’t make it easier. And, yes, they understand that some folks have it harder – doesn’t make them feel better. Bottom line, they aren’t motivated to make a plan for a new year when they feel they have nothing to show for the old.

The rabbi listens, as rabbis do, and then asks the person: How long does it take for a giant bamboo tree to grow as tall as a building?

Of course, this person doesn’t know (and is a little annoyed that their rabbi chooses this time to ask what appears to be a rhetorical – or liturgical – question). So, the rabbi tells the story of a farmer who decides they want to grow a giant bamboo tree. It’s a good investment, because if the farmer can get a good clump of culms, they can sell the edible shoots and also sell some of the sheath for construction and weaving. The farmer does some research, figures out the best place to plant, obtains some rhizome with their roots intact, and plants the cutting in a hole that is large enough to hold the rhizome and the roots (but not any deeper than the root-ball).

Satisfied with their work, the farmer goes about their business, watering and fertilizing the newly planted areas as needed. They do this for a year…. And then a second year…. By the third year, some of the farmer’s neighbors are starting to crack jokes about the farmer and their empty plot of land. Because no one sees anything happening – except the farmer diligently watering and fertilizing the area for yet another year. Finally, in the fifth year, a new growth appears. Then, within six weeks, that fertile green sprout shoots up as tall as a building.

“So,” the rabbi asks the person in their office, “how long does it take a giant bamboo to grow as tall as a building?”

The person who came seeking advice frustratingly says, “Six weeks.”

“No,” the rabbi patiently explains, “it takes five years….. Growth takes patience and perseverance. Every drop of water makes a difference; every step you take makes an impact. You may not see the change right away, but growth is happening.”

The pace at which the bamboo tree grows may seem painstakingly slow and the famer’s efforts may seem particularly arduous – especially when one’s focus is on the surface where nothing seems to be happening. The thing to remember, however, is that before the tree can shoot up, seemingly overnight, and reach the height of a building, it has to establish the root system that will support that growth. If the tree grows before the root system, there’s nothing to hold the tree up and nothing to nourish the tree. The same is true of each and every one of us. If we were to find ourselves in a time slip, we could wake up on the day after we had achieved our wildest dreams and loftiest desires, but we might not be prepared to enjoy and/or appreciate the experience. We also might not be qualified to handle the experience.

“Imposter syndrome,” the fear that people will discover someone is not qualified to do their job, is a common struggle these days. When you’re not the one with the fear it can seem demented that someone fears being seen as not capable of doing the very job they are doing – or are being promoted to do. But I think it’s very human. In fact, I think it’s similar to the feeling many people have about becoming a parent. The biggest difference, maybe, is that when it comes to parenthood, people are often told (a) that nobody’s really ready until it happens and (b) that, as Dr. Benjamin Spock said, we know more than we think we do. Consider how much less stressful life would be if we kept getting that parenting advice in all other areas of life.

“Krishna continues the dialogue: ‘The person who works in the world without needing or expecting a reward is both a sanyasi (true renunciate) and karma-yogi (action yogi). But the person who merely refrains from acting in the world is neither of these. You cannot just discard worldly duties, but must do them to the utmost extent of your human capacity for excellence.

‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’”

– quoted from 6.1-2 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

“‘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 (buddhi). 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.’”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.35) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

There are some things we spend our whole lives preparing to do and there are some things we don’t realize we are prepared to do until we are called to do them. In either case, what we are experiencing in the present moment – and our understanding of the moment – is based on all the previous moments (and our understanding of those moments). Life is progressive.

In yoga, vinyāsa krama is “step by step progression towards a goal.” It is sometimes translated as “wise progression.” Each step, each breath, prepares us for the next step, the next breath, and the next experience. Another way to look at it is that everything we do is preparation and practice for the next thing we do. This is why texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita recommend abhyāsa (a consistent, dedicated and devoted practice) and vairāgya (non-attachment).

Even when we don’t see obvious changes on the outside, consistent practice and dedication creates change. Sometimes the change is physical and sometimes the change is mental, emotional, or spiritual. But if there is change on the outside, there’s change on the inside. In fact, more often than not the first change happened on the inside and we were too busy look outward to notice it. Being (too) attached to what’s happening on the outside often prevents us from seeing the changes that make a difference – which can, in turn, become an obstacle in our path. That’s why I always suggest turning inward and going deeper. That’s why I always encourage paying attention to what’s happening underneath the surface.

That’s why I’m all about the little things and how they become the big things.

*Check out last year’s post related to resilience, love, and the giant bamboo (featuring a video of Les Brown’s version of the story).

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### PLANT A “SEED” ###

You and Your Heart Are Invited September 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Healing Stories, Health, Rosh Hashanah, Texas.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

 

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

 

Lebonese Maronite Christians Shaker Morris and Raheeja Dabaghi fled their home land because of religious persecution. At some point after the made their way to the Gulf Coast, in the United States, they anglicized their last name. Raheeja was mother was a seamstress so she taught her son how to sew, crochet, knit, and tat. She wanted to make sure he knew how to repair his own shirts, but her son was a curious child. A really curious child. So he figured out how to repair a lot of things – including the human heart.

Born today in 1908, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Dr. Michael DeBakey was an internationally renowned heart specialist. He developed a roller pump at the age of 23, while studying medicine at New Orleans’s Tulane University, that became a key part of the heart-lung machine. The machine is officially the Cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) pump – but is sometimes just referred to as “the pump.” Along with Dr. Denton Cooley, he was a pioneer in the development of artificial hearts and he revolutionized heart surgery so much that his own technique, the DeBakey Procedure, was performed on him when he was 97 years old. These are just some highlights and most of this was AFTER he served in the United States Army (and the United States Army Reserve) during World War II and after he helped develop Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units during the Korean War.

Dr. DeBakey practiced medicine until he died at 99. In fact, in his nineties, he was still traveling the world helping to establish hospitals in places like Baku, Azerbaijan. Around 2001 (seven years before he died), it was estimated that Dr. DeBakey had performed 60,000 operations and touched approximately 20,000 hearts. It’s safe to say, this was a man who knew a little something about hearts… a little something about what the heart needs… and a little bit about what the heart wants in the new year.

“The human heart yearns for peace and love and freedom. Peace heals, elevates, and invigorates the spirit. Peace represents the health of humanity. To achieve peace, we must enlist our highest moral instincts. We must pledge, in the deepest recesses of our hearts, to respect others as we wish to be respected and to use good reason, persuasion, and good will, and not resort to a war of words or arms to influence opinions and policies. To achieve peace will require a powerful will, scrupulous character, steadfast courage, dogged discipline, and a passionate devotion to the noblest human principles. But the rewards more than justify our unremitting effort, for peace permits each of us to move forward, unimpeded, to improve humanity’s lot.”

 

– Dr. Michael DeBakey (in 1998)

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 7th) 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.

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.)

Click here to read last year’s Rosh Hashanah post.

 

### Bah Dum – Bah Dum – Bah Dum ###

The Labor to Change September 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Hope, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

“The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don’t start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don’t start with psychiatrists. If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.”

 

– quoted from Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

Most federal U. S. holidays and almost all religious holidays (around the world) are “floating” with regard to the Gregorian calendar, meaning that they don’t fall on the same date every year (although they may fall on the same day of the month). All these “movable feasts” on my calendar means that sometimes I have to make a choice about where I focus, concentrate, my efforts. My tendency is to put religious and spiritual themes before political and social themes, and to put either of those types of themes before the “I just happen to love this book/author/music/musician/idea” themes. But, I really get a kick out of the times when I don’t have to choose, because the overlap makes sense. For instance, today is Labor Day in the United States and Canada and it’s also the birthday of Robert Pirsig, who was born today in 1928.

At first glance, it may not be obvious why I (or anyone) would connect these two. However, if you go deeper, you start to notice that both (themes) revolve around morals the way a motorcycle wheel rotates around its axis. We may not always be going in the same direction or traveling the same way, but someone (or something) must do the work in order for us to get where we are going. The work has to get done even when we don’t think about the work or the mechanics of it. Similarly, someone must do the work in order for there to be change – and, if no one does the work (or thinks about the toll of the work), everything comes to a stand still. The practice is about noticing what’s working and what’s not. Furthermore, since tonight (Monday night) at sunset marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah (the “Jewish New Year”), this is as good a time as any to start looking at our individual and collective morals – not to mention the change(s) we want to see in the world and how we work (individually and collectively) to get closer to our goal(s).

“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”

 

– quoted from “Life of Eugene V. Debs” in Debs : His Life, Writings and Speeches by Stephen Marion Reynolds, edited by Bruce Rogers and Stephen Marion Reynolds

 

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

 

[Click on the links above to read more about Labor Day and Robert Pirsig. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice (which combines the two themes with the physical practice) via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

NOTE: I did not get into the ethical components of the yoga and meditation practice and it is up to you to consider your personal morals.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground 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.

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

 

### ZOOM ZOOM ###

 

New Year, New Wings September 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Faith, Hope, Mantra, New Year, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

“We could hardly wait to get up in the morning.”

– Wilbur Wright

“Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there”

– quoted from “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  

Consider the possibilities of a do over. We all make mistakes; we all choose one path and then (even if it works out) consider what might have been; and we all have moments when we want a do over. And, on a certain level, we get one: every time we inhale, every time we exhale.

Every time you inhale, every time you exhale; something begins and something ends. Every time you exhale, every time you inhale; one year ends and a new one begins. We don’t necessarily think about time and life that way – but it doesn’t make it any less true.

“There’s no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, a state of bliss”

– quoted from “Learning to Fly” from Pink Floyd

Rosh Hashanah, “the the Head of the Year,” began at sunset on Friday night. So, for Jewish people around the world (and for people who observe the commanded holidays outlined in Deuteronomy), today is the second day of the New Year and the second day of the High Holidays; the “Ten Days of Atonement,” also known as the “Ten Days of Awe” which culminate with Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement.” It is one of the holiest times of the year and is celebrated by people who might not typical go to services. Unlike a secular new year, it is more than a celebration – it is an observation: a time for reflection, remembrance, and repentance.

That last one, repentance, is really huge. It’s one of the key elements of this time. Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance,” is not about self flagellation; it’s not about beating yourself up. It’s up recognizing when you’ve made a mistake – even the same mistake again and again – and deciding you’re not going to STOP making that mistake. Then you express some REMORSE and, however possible, actually articulate or VERBALIZE that remorse. This is a time when people are very deliberately, very intentionally, asking for and/or offering forgiveness. Then, because there’s a good chance the mistake is a habit – maybe even a deeply ingrained habit that forms a “mental impression” (samskara) – people PLAN how they want to move forward with their lives. They consider not only what they want to turn away from, but also what they are turning away from – or, even better, what they are turning towards.

Turning towards something, returning, is the active ability of coming, going, sending, or putting something back to a place or activity. A return is also one gets from an investment of time or money. And, in Hebrew, teshuvah can also be translated as “return.” Yes, many secular/cultural Jews return to their homes, their families, and the traditions of their birth during the High Holidays. When they return physically and spiritually, they also engage in the possibility of returning to their best version of themselves and the possibility of living their best lives. This is not taken lightly, nor should it be. This is an invitation to the rest of your life!

Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik, in her vlog “Lori, Almost Live,” once talked about how you accept the invitation to the rest of your life the same way you would accept any other invitation: You RSVP. Except, the steps you take to RSVP for your life are slightly different (as you can see in her video and by the words in all caps above). Yes, it’s true, when we get a regular invitation we consider all kinds of things, but today I want you to think about two things. First, when you start to think about a new year, and new possibilities, you ask yourself if you are given to fly. Second, if you are given to fly (even if you ain’t got wings), ask yourself if you are willing to (re)turn.

“And he still gives his love, he just gives it away
The love he receives is the love that is saved”

– quoted from “Given to Fly” by Pearl Jam

Today in 1904, in a cow pasture known as “Huffman Prairie,” just outside Dayton, Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright completed their 49th flight. They had moved their flights from Kitty Hawk and the Kill Devil Hills of North Caroline, in part because of the windy weather and in part because cutting their (land-based) travel time gave them more opportunities to fly. For the Flyer II, they used white pine instead of spruce and added weight to strengthen the frame. They also added a more powerful engine, shifted the center of gravity forward, and adjusted the plane’s wings configuration to create more pitch stability – all of which made it easier to fly. Finally, because they had less wind than at Kitty Hawk, they devised a catapult to pull the airplane down a wooden track. The catapult dropped a 1,000-pound (544 kilograms) weight from 20 feet (6.1 meters) in order to achieve a greater speed at takeoff.

Wilbur Wright was flying for today’s flight, which was remarkable not only because it lasted 1 minute, 36 seconds (covering 4,080 feet), but also because it was the first time they flew in a complete circle. 360 degrees! Amos I. Root, a beekeeper, had driven 175 miles (from Medina, Ohio) just to see the Wright Brothers fly. He published his eyewitness account of that first circle in his magazine, Gleanings in Bee Culture.

“When it turned that circle, and came near the starting-point, I was right in front of it, and I said then and I believe still, it was. . . the grandest sight of my life. Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing right toward you – a locomotive without any wheels. . . but with white wings instead. . . Well, now, imagine that locomotive with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with the tremendous flap of its propellers, and you have something like what I saw.”

– quoted from an article dated a January 1, 1905, in the Gleanings in Bee Culture by Amos I. Root

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 13th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.”

“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.”

– Orville Wright

### MAY YOUR NAME BE WRITTEN & SEALED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE ###

Anyone Can Follow the Recipe: Resist. Dissent. Persist. September 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Faith, Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, Life, Loss, Men, New Year, Pain, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

Yoga Sūtra 2.38: brahmacaryapratişţhāyām vīryalābhah

– “When walking in awareness of the highest reality is firmly established, then great strength, capacity, or vitality (‘virya’) is acquired.”

So, just to be up front, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about sex today.

As a point of clarification, I will point out that when many people in the West talk about brahmacarya, the fourth yamā (“restraint” or universal commandment) they talk about it as celibacy – which is more of an effect of the practice than the practice itself. This idea occurs, first, because it is hard to see the practice. Since it is hard to see what is going on inside of someone’s head and heart, we look to see the outward effect and, in this case, it means that the Sanskrit is sometimes translated as “continence,” which is the control of one’s bodily fluids; specifically as it relates to the bladder and bowels. Then the explanation gets extended to fluid exchanged during sex. This is all relevant; however, it’s also like saying monks shave their heads so they don’t have to wash their hair.

In truth, brahmacarya is more literally translated as “following G-d” or “chasing G-d.” I, more often than not, will explain it as conducting one’s self with the awareness that everyone and everything are connected. In other words, the fourth external restraint or universal commandment is to think, speak, and act justly and divinely.

So, today, I’m going to talk about a couple of people who lived their lives justly (even righteously) and divinely – and with an awareness of how we are all connected. The fact that one of these individuals was Jewish and that some believe the other should be recognized by Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) as “Righteous Among Nations” is not a coincidence. According to the Jewish tradition, today is Rosh Hashanah, “the Head of the Year” and the beginning of the High Holidays, also known as the “Ten Days of Awe” or “Ten Days of Repentance” which culminate with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the holiest of times on the Jewish calendar. Additionally, for many around the world, it is the only time during the year when they attend services. It is a time of reflection, remembrance, and repentance.

It is also a time of preparation…. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, we remember: “The Notorious R. B. G.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), who died yesterday (Friday, September 18th) and Calvary Captain Witold Pilecki (also known as Tomasz Serafiński) who allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis today in 1940, in order to report the truth about what was going on in concentration camps like Auschwitz.

Let’s start with Calvary Captain Pilecki, who served as an officer in the Polish Army during the Polish-Soviet War (1919 – 1920) and during World War II. As part of the Resistance to Nazi Occupied Poland, he co-founded the Secret Polish Army (along with Lieutenant Colonel Jan Henryk “Darwicz” Włodarkiewicz and Lieutenant Colonel Władysław “Stefan” Surmacki ), which eventually became part of the Home Army. When Germany invaded Poland at the end of 1939, very little was known about the concentration camps, but Captail Pilecki had a plan. His idea, which was approved by his Polish Army superiors, was to come out of hiding during a Warsaw roundup in order to be arrested and shipped to Auschwitz, where he could organize the resistance and report on the situation from the inside.

“I’ve been trying to live my life so that in the hour of my death I would rather feel joy, than fear.”

– Witold Pilecki’s statement to the judge after his sentencing, May 15, 1948

He was given a false identity card and was arrested on September 19, 1940. Arrested with him were 2,000 civilians, including journalist and historian Władysław Bartoszewski (who was designated “Righteous Among Nations” in 1965). After being detained for two days, “Tomasz Serafiński” was assigned number 4859 and shipped to Auschwitz, where he would document the difference between the way the Nazis treated Jewish people versus non-Jewish people and the escalating move towards genocide. During his two and a half years at Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki would form Union of Military Organizations (ZOW), a resistance organization within the camp, which set up intelligence networks; distributed extra food, clothing, and medical supplies; boosted morale; and prepared for a possible Home Army coup. At one point, ZOW was even able to construct and use a secret radio receiver and help at least 4 Polish men escape (with one of Witold’s reports).

“Witold’s Report” (also known as “Pilecki’s Report”) was information that was regularly smuggled through the Polish resistance to London and even to the British government. It provided the outside world with the first “official” documentation of the Nazi’s atrocities. For much of the war, however, the reports of genocide were considered too unbelievable.  As the Nazi’s plans became more and more obvious, and as his calls for the Allies to bomb the camps were denied, Captain Pilecki realized he was running out of time. He was receiving word from the outside that the Allies supported the idea of a prisoner insurrection –which he too had one time suggested. However, by 1943, those inside were too weakened to mount an attack. He thought could be more convincing in person, so he put a new plan in motion.

After he escaped in April 1943, Captain Pilecki wrote “Report W,” outlining the conditions of the camps, as well as details about the gas chambers, the selection process, the crematorias, and the sterilization experiments. His report was signed by other escapees and included the names of ZOW members. He continued to work and organize the resistance, while also expanding “Report W.” He participated in the Warsaw Uprising and was reassigned to Italy, but eventually returned to Communist-controlled Poland. In May of 1947, he was arrested by Communist government and tortured, but he would not reveal other members of the resistance. He was eventually “tried” and executed. His most comprehensive version of the “W Report” (from 1945) was published in 2012 as The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery and his life has been the subject of a number of books, songs, and articles.

“Who will be calm and who will be tormented?
Who will become poor and who will get rich?
Who will be made humble and who will be raised up?
But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah [return and prayer and righteous acts]
deflect the evil of the decree.”

– quoted from the poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”)

Even if you are not Jewish, even if you’ve never attended services during the High Holidays, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of the words from the liturgical poem “Unetaneh Tokef” (“Let Us Speak of the Awesomeness”). It begins with the belief that on Rosh Hashanah G-d writes people’s names and fates in the “Book of Life” and that book is sealed on Yom Kippur. Then there is a litany of fates. Some people will go to services specifically to hear the poem, some will avoid it (as parts are explicit and can be triggering). Many of the fates are included in a beautifully haunting song by a young Leonard Cohen – which will stick with you! However, outside of the tradition, people don’t really focus on the end of the poem, which highlights the fact that (in theory) we have 10 days to ensure our name and fate are sealed favorably. The end of the poem outlines three key elements to the observation of this holiest of times. These three key elements can also be described as key elements to living a good life.

Supreme Court of the United States Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived a good life. She was a trailblazer who’s life, legacy, and style –as a lawyer, a judge, a woman, a working mom, a wife, and a fitness wonder – is the reason she’s “notorious.” She had the ability to stay open-minded, even when her mind was made up, and to hear out people with opposing views. “We are different, we are one,” a line from the opera Scalia/Ginsberg, perfectly sums up her close friendship with the ultra conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and also her approach to how the law should be applied. In some ways, she was small, quiet, and unassuming. In other ways, she was larger-than-life,” determined to keep dreams alive,” and defiantly righteous.

She had what can best be described as “the ultimate partnership” or “an atypical 1950’s marriage” with her husband Martin “Marty” Ginsburg. During their 56 years of marriage (until his cancer-related death), they raised a family while she made sure he graduated from law school despite his first bout with cancer and he campaigned for her to be nominated to the federal court and SCOTUS. She was the highest ranking woman in her graduating class at Cornell University and only one of nine women (with about 500 men) enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956. She had made Harvard Law Review, transferred and graduated (at the top of her class) from Columbia Law School, taught law at a major university, argued before the Supreme Court, and endured anti-Semitism and sexism by the time her name was put on the short list for the Supreme Court.  She was the second woman and the first Jewish woman appointed to SCOTUS and one of eight Jewish justices who have severed on the USA’s highest court.

“I have a last thank you. It is to my mother, Celia Amster Bader, the bravest and strongest person I have ever known, who was taken from me much too soon. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”

– quoted from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s SCOTUS nomination speech, June 14, 1993

Celia Bader died of cancer when the young high school cheerleader known as “Kiki Bader” was just about to graduate from high school. Because she was a girl, the young teen was excluded from some of the traditional Jewish mourning rituals – a fact that would fuel her desire to see change in the world. While she did, eventually, turn back to the faith of her youth, I don’t know how devout Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was; so I don’t know for sure the part that prayer played in her life. As to the other two elements, however, we see them again and again in her story.

Teshuvah is Hebrew for “return” and also “repentance.” In truth, the two translations go hand-on-hand, because to repent is to return to G-d, community, your true self. First as a Civil Rights lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and then as a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in the business of returning to the spirit of the law and the Constitution. She was also in the business of giving people, companies, and the country an opportunity to be better than the worst versions of ourselves. Many people find it ironic that so much of her early work, work that strengthened the rights of women, was actually on behalf of men. To me, though, that work is reminiscent of Captain Witold Pilecki, who wrote, “When marching along the gray road towards the tannery in a column raising clouds of dust, one saw the beautiful red light of the dawn shining on the white flowers in the orchards and on the trees by the roadside, or on the return journey we would encounter young couples out walking, breathing in the beauty of springtime, or women peacefully pushing their children in prams — then the thought uncomfortably bouncing around one’s brain would arise . . . swirling around, stubbornly seeking some solution to the insoluble question: Were we all . . . people?”

“I tell law students… if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

 

 – United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (quoted from The Mercury News, Feb. 6, 2017)

 Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “righteousness,” “righteous acts,” or “charity” and comes from the word tzedek, which means “righteousness,” “fairness,” and “justice.” Now, Biblically speaking, references to charity are related to harvests. While it is easy to see how helping someone less fortunate is righteous; how is it justice? The answer is found in The Notorious RBG’s own words and actions. The answer is also found in Jewish tradition where there is an obligation to do what one can to “heal” or “repair” the world – and there is no arguing that Justice Bader Ginsburg did her part. Again and again, she worked to fix what was broken in our legal system and ultimately in our adherence to the spirit of the Constitution.

“You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.

You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.”

Devarim – Deuteronomy (16:18 – 20)

Pardon me, while we jump to October.

In the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy contains a list of observations commanded by G-d. They are pretty specific and in chronological order. Then, at the end of the list, after Sukkot, the “Festival of Booths” – which includes the commandment not to come empty-handed – there is an interesting passage that is directly tied to being blessed. And, that order to establish a fair and justice society are the words Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had in her office: “Zedek, zedel, tirdof” (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”).

Out of context, the words seem simple and obvious. Of course, those words would resonate with a world-renowned judicial expert, But, go back; look again. What the Bible tells us is that we have an obligation, a responsibility, to pursue what is just and fair. Go back; look again at the poem. The poem tells is that our fate is sealed (in a positive way) when our thoughts, words, and deeds are in pursuit of what is fair and right. Not for a second did the Brooklyn-born and raised R. B. G. take those words for granted.

Sunrise

Sunset

In my family’s religious and cultural tradition, a person’s birth is marked as “sunrise” and their physical death is marked as “sunset.” Growing up, I was also surrounded by people – Jewish people – who’s new day dawned at as the sun set. The dichotomy was always oddly beautiful to me: a reminder that something is always beginning as something ends. For obvious reasons, I felt sick when I heard that Justice Bader Ginsburg would not be going into the New Year with us. Like my maternal grandmother, she battled cancer for a long time and so, sad as I am for her family, her friends, and the world, I am grateful she no longer has to deal with the pain.

There are many people, from many demographics, that may be asking, why right now; trying to make sense of something that is hard to believe. I think, though, that this is not the time to question or reason. This is a time to celebrate and grieve. Celebrate a woman who was blessed with an inspirational life. Remember how she lived in a way that defied convention and established a way of being that some people take for granted. But, never take it for granted. Plan how you can live life on your terms – in a way that is fair and justice, righteous and inspiring. Divine.

“… don’t give way to emotions that sap your energy, like anger. Take a deep breath and speak calmly.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, sharing advice from her mother, in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

This week’s sūtra indicates that there is power in following in the footsteps of the divine. Another translation, however, indicates that when we achieve that power (from following in the footsteps of the divine) we have “the capacity to transmit knowledge.” The Notorious R. B. G. did both. In 2016, she not only share wisdom from her mother, Celia, but also mentioned advice from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (the first woman on the high court) who essentially shared the secret to serving on the high court while dealing with cancer: use your time wisely.

When we look back, we can clearly see that the Notorious R. B. G. spent her whole life following good advice, while transmitting knowledge and wisdom. Let’s do the same; and move forward.

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2002 interview with NPR

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 19th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.

“We have a vibrant and energetic body and are firm and confident.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.38 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

She definitely fits the description above!

“People ask me, ‘When will you be satisfied with the number of women on the Supreme Court?’ When there are nine.”

– Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 2016 “CBS Sunday Morning” interview with Jane Pauley

### MAY YOUR NAME BE WRITTEN & SEALED IN THE BOOK OF LIFE ###

Just… Look – Part II: Beginnings and Endings September 10, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Basketball, Books, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Texas, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women.
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 “To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

– from In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Today (Monday) is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my grandmother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have turned 90 today. Given a few more months beyond this, she would have seen me reach the half century mark. So, this is me, holding space for beginnings and endings.

As many of you know, my grandmother was one of my constants. Through her example and her work as a nurse (especially for children, veterans, women, shut-ins, and those experiencing end-of-life care), I saw the various stages of life and the importance of being treated with respect and dignity as we all move through those stages. She was the person who always reminded me to be proud of my hair, proud of my body, proud of my spirit, and proud of my life.  And, maybe more than anyone, she illustrated how life is an adventure…an opportunity to fly…a dream…and a dance between the physical and the spiritual.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of superior role models, but Miss Jean (aka Miss Jean Rockets) was the elder in whom I saw myself. We were kindred spirits. And I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

At her funeral in June, I was charged with following the Neighbor/Nurse remarks with the family remarks. Even now, on her birthday, I can think of so many more rich and endearing memories that I could have shared. However, I stand by these:

“Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.” Taraji P. Henson started her 2017 SAG Awards speech with those 8 words. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen.” While her speech goes on record as an awards acceptance speech, it was really a thanks giving, an expression of gratitude for women who were trailblazers and light bringers, a celebration of women who lived lives no one expected them to live. Since today my family charged me with giving thanks and celebrating the life of a trailblazer and a light bringer, I start the same. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.”

Before I was born, she was Miss Jean and she remained Miss Jean after I was born because, as she said, she was too young to be a grandmother: She was 40 then. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was one of her first lessons to me – I say me, but really, to all of us: be yourself, define yourself, live for yourself.

That last part, “live for yourself” might seem odd given how much of her life she devoted – and lived – for all of us, and for all of her patients. Long before I knew the words from John 17 (verses 16 and 18), Miss Jean taught me – taught all of us – what it meant to be in the world, but not of the world; to recognize the Spirit in everyone and everything; and to honor mind, body, and spirit through action. She was a living, breathing instrument of God who – as she told me now and again – was stuck together with spit, glue, and chewing gum.

I don’t really remember her chewing gum, but she sure had a lot of gumption. That spirited initiative allowed her to listen to her heart and follow her heart, fiercely – even when it led her to cold places, like Kansas City, and back home again. Clearly, given how far some of us traveled this week, we learned that lesson too.

Miss Jean taught me the power of being still, being quiet, and appreciating your own company. She taught me the power of a smile; the power of getting on your knees at the end of the day and first thing in the morning; and she taught me the power of prayer even when you’re not on your knees. All the way to the end of her life, she taught me the power of the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things you cannot change; to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She taught me to not only tell stories and listen to stories, but to really hear other people’s stories. She taught, by example, the power of being open to other people’s ideas even while standing in your own truth. She’s the reason we cousins and siblings have the conversations we have.

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” But, throughout my life [Pleasantville] has been my home, because that’s where Miss Jean and Paw-Paw WANTED to take us in. It was the place where there were always chocolate chip cookies and a biscuit in the cookie jar; your favorite dessert on the cake tray, sweet tea in the fridge, homemade popsicles in the freezer, baked potatoes and salmon on the grill, Cornish hen in the oven, and the only friends I’ve known my whole life. Standing in her doorway first thing in the morning, stretching and greeting the day and standing in the doorway waving as we drove away, Miss Jean taught me – taught us – to savor life and savor love.

She was passionate about the things and people she loved: music, movies, books, God, her friends, her family, teddy bears, and the Houston Rockets – not necessarily in that order. I could tell you stories she probably wouldn’t appreciate me telling in church, but if she were here to hear me repeat some of our conversations she would just get that sparklingly defiant look and say, “Well, it’s the truth.”

Here’s one more truth: Despite how I started today, I don’t think of my grandmother as a hidden figure. I think of her as a beacon of life and light. I have lived my whole life in Miss Jean’s light. Make sure you heard that right – not in her shadow, IN HER LIGHT! And although her physical body is gone, her light still shines bright. If you have any doubts today, look around you; if you have any doubts tomorrow, look in the mirror: See your life, see your light, and honor it – as she did.

If this were one of my yoga classes, I’d end by saying, “Namaste,” which is a Sanskrit word that literally means, “I bow thou,” and is often translated as “The light in me honors and acknowledges the light that is also in you.” However, today, I’m finishing up one of our last conversations and sending my grandmother off with words from Joy Unspeakable by Barbara Holmes. Holmes wrote,

“For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

### Ecclesiastes 3:4 ###