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Still Dreaming the Heart’s Wildest Dream August 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Take a moment to consider how you deal with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice. You can consider it from your perspective as an individual and/or as part of a collective, a community… a republic. Either way you look at it, consider that your unique perspective – based on your past experiences – determines what you believe is a reasonable and rational way to deal with differences, imbalance, and/or injustice. Just to be clear: “past experiences” include everything you have felt, thought, said, done, and experienced around you. Past experiences make up your “mental impressions” (samskaras) – which, over time, can become vasanas, the “dwelling places” of our habits.

I was thinking about vasanas the other day when I heard Caroline Myss use the idea of living in a high rise as a metaphor for how we live in the world. The point she was making is that, if we live in the penthouse, we have a different understanding of the world and our circumstances than if we live on the first floor (or in the basement). Additionally, she talked about people not really caring about the problems people were having on other floors and she talked about perspective as it relates to the view outside, the vista. All of this made me think about how our perspectives determine how we resolve conflict.

Consider, if you will, that we “might be” in the habit of dealing with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice in ways that are not alleviating our suffering. I put “might be” in quotes, but let’s be real; if we look at some of the events that happened today in U. S. history (from 1862 to 1963 and beyond), we find a lot of suffering. Like a lot, a lot, of suffering. But, there’s not a whole lot of alleviation. We do, however, find dreams, hopes, promises, and possibilities.

As many of y’all know, I’m a big fan of “dwell[ing] in Possibility.” I sometimes wonder, however, at what point that idea becomes counterproductive. At what point do we have to pack up our baggage and move from unlimited possibilities to unlimited probability? At what point do we realize that moving means getting rid of some old, out-dated stuff that no longer serves us?

At what point do we recognize that the problems in the basement (and on the first floor) contribute to the problems in the penthouse – and vice versa? And, at what point do we recognize that we are all in the same dwelling place?

Better yet, at what point do we recognize that it’s time to move from dreams to reality? 

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

 

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 28th) 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 “08282021 The Heart’s Wildest Dream”]

“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

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.)

 

### To Have Wild Dreams, We Have to Live Wild Dreams ###

FTWMI: The Impossible Cornerstones of Liberty August 5, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Poetry, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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A portion of the following was originally posted in 2020. Class details and links have been added.

“‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”

– from the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Today (August 5th) in 1844, when the cornerstone of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal was placed on a rainy Bedloe’s Island, it seemed impossible to complete the project meant to be a testament to freedom, friendship, and the spirit of the people. People in France provided the funds for the statue designed by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (with scaffolding created by Gustave Eiffel), while people in the United States were meant to pay for the base and pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt. The only problem was that the Americans were short…about $100,000 short.

Hunt’s design for the pedestal and base incorporated the eleven-point star foundation of the army fort (Fort Wood) which had been built in 1807 and abandoned during the Civil War. He always intended his design to be simple, so as not to take away from the statue itself, but raising money for his design turned out to be such a challenge that he scrapped twenty-five feet from the height of his original design. He also cut back on materials so that instead of the pedestal and base being constructed entirely out of granite, he had to make do with concrete walls covered with a granite-block face. His cost cutting measures still might not have been enough if a certain newspaper man hadn’t decided to tap into the spirit of the people and, in doing so, overcame what some viewed as an impossible obstacle. That newspaper man was Joseph Pulitzer and on March 16, 1885 he implored people in the United States to give what they could, even if it was a penny, in order to pay for the base and pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Starting with an ad and a series of front page editorials, he was able to crowd fund over $100,000 in about 5 months.

“We must raise the money! The World is the people’s paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people – by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans – by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.

Take this appeal to yourself personally. It is meant for every reader of The World. Give something, however little. Send it to us. We will receive it and see that it is properly applied.”

 

– quoted from The New York World editorial by Joseph Pulitzer, 1885

Joseph Pulitzer offered people a six inch metal replica of Lady Liberty (described as a “perfect fac-simile”) if they donated a dollar to the “Pedestal Fund” established by Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and a twelve inch replica if they donated $5. While that may not seem like a lot today, keep in mind that this was after the Financial Panic of 1873 (which created a depression in the United States and Europe). Also, interest seemed to be in short supply since the United States was still trying to recover from the Civil War – which left many Americans desiring heroic public art rather than allegorical public art. But, Joseph Pulitzer had a way with words and there were a group of people – immigrants – who were inspired to donate specifically because of the symbolism of the statue. Ultimately, over 125,000 people donated – most donating a dollar or less. They not only donated to receive the replicas, they donated via auctions, lotteries, and boxing matches.  They donated by depriving themselves of things they needed or things they wanted. Some kids donated by pooling their “circus” and candy money. Some adults donated what they would normally spend on drinks. At the end of the fundraising, Joseph Pulitzer printed every donor’s name in the New York World – regardless of how little or how much they donated.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a building or structure. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone; thereby making it the very foundation of the foundation. It determines the overall position of the structure and is often placed with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. It is usually inscribed with the date of its placement and often includes a time capsule, which includes some clues as to what was important to the people who attended the ceremony. Such was the case with Lady Liberty’s pedestal cornerstone, which was placed over a square hole dug for a copper time capsule. The time capsule contained a number of articles, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States – both documents considered to be the cornerstones of the United States and the ultimate law of the land.

Although we don’t always think of it this way, one of the cornerstones of the legal system in a commonwealth is a bar. It might be wooden railing, it might be metal railing; however, historically, this bar separated those within the legal profession (specifically the judge and those who had business with the court) from everyone else. In particular, “everyone else” referred to law students whose aspirations were to “pass the bar” – meaning they would be on the other side of the symbolic railing. This symbolic railing is also used to refer to professional organizations, membership in which is sometimes required in order for an attorney to practice law in a particular jurisdiction. Let’s skip “state bars” for a second and just focus on “voluntary” bar associations – which, in the United States are private organizations which serve as social, educational, and lobbying organizations. Legal professionals can not only use these bar associations to network with other professionals and the general public (hence expanding their practice), they can also advocate for law reform. I place “voluntary” in quotes, because I’m not sure how possible it is to practice law in the United States without being a member of a “bar association” (not to be confused with a state bar).

Even if it’s possible to practice without being a member of a bar association – and I trust one of you lawyer yogis will educate me with a comment below – I imagine it would be quite challenging (maybe even impossible) to successfully practice. Especially, back when there was only one major bar association in the United States. And, especially back in the 1920’s when your race and gender prevented you from joining said association. Such was the plight of Gertrude Rush (née Durden), born today (August 5th) in 1880 in Navasota, Texas. Ms. Rush not only became the first African-American woman to be admitted to the Iowa (state) bar, for about 32 years she was (sometimes) the ONLY female attorney practicing in the state of Iowa (1918 – 1950). She placed a particular emphasis on women’s (legal) rights in estate cases and had a passion for religion, extensively studying the 240 women whose stories are featured in the Bible. Many within the local court referred to her as the “Sunday school lawyer.” She took over her husband’s law practice and, in 1921 (just a year after women’s right to vote was ratified by the United States Congress) she was elected the president of the Colored Bar Association; however, it was impossible for her to be admitted to the American Bar Association. She tried. So, did several other African-American lawyers. They tried because the ABA had one Black lawyer and was, therefore “integrated.” Eventually, however, they stopped trying to join an organization that didn’t want them and started their own organization.

“…a very worn Bible is almost as prominent as the well-thumbed Iowa code on the desk of Mrs. Gertrude E. Rush.”

– quoted from “Iowa’s Only Negro Woman Lawyer Firmly on the Golden Rule” article about Gertrude Rush, located in Iowa Public Library (excerpt printed in Notable Black American Women, Book 2 by Jessie Carney Smith

Gertrude Rush was one of the founding members of the Negro Bar Association, which was incorporated on August 1, 1925 with 120 members (which was about 11 – 12% of the Black lawyers in the US at the time). Eventually renamed, the National Bar Association, the NBA ” addressed issues such as professional ethics, legal education, and uniform state laws, as well as questions concerning the civil rights movement in transportation discrimination, residential segregation, and voting rights.” The NBA supported civil rights groups by providing legal information, filing outside legal briefs (amicus curiae), and blocking federal court nominees who opposed racial equality. As a bar association, however, the NBA did not directly participate in civil rights activities. Instead, NBA members like Gertrude Rush and (eventual) Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall became members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

It was as part of the NAACP’s legal team  that Justice Marshall argued cases like Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Raymond Pace Alexander founded the National Bar Journal (1941), which became a way for Black lawyers to challenge legal principles which conflicted with the interest of African-Americans. The Rev. W. Harold Flowers, a co-founder with Ms. Rush and a former president of the NBA (who would eventually be appointed as an associate justice of the state Court of Appeals), was the attorney whose motions in 1947 resulted in a reconfigured jury after he pointed out that the Arkansas court had not had a Black juror in 50 years. Additionally, the NBA established free legal clinics in 12 states, thereby creating the foundational cornerstone for the poverty law and legal clinics of today.

Gertrude Rush was also one of the organizers of the Charity League, which coordinated the hiring of a Black probation officer for the Des Moines Juvenile Court; created the Protection Home for Negro Girls, a shelter; and served on the boards of a host of other women’s organizations. She also served as a delegate to the Women’s Convention (WC), which was a political auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention (NBC).

“In 1919 Mrs. Gertrude Rush, a prominent black lawyer and [WC] delegate from a Baptist church in Des Moines, Iowa, posited that the vote would enable women to fight for better working conditions, higher wages, and greater opportunities in business. Through suffrage, Rush maintained, women could better regulate moral and sanitary conditions, end discrimination and lynch law, obtain better educational opportunities, and secure greater legal justice.”

 

– quoted from “Religion, Politics, and Gender: The Leadership of Nannie Helen Burroughs” by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Chapter 8 of This Far By Faith: Readings in African-American Women’s Religious Biography, edited by Judith Weisenfeld & Richard Newman)

Please join me on Zoom (tonight), Friday, August 5, 2022, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for “The Impossible Cornerstones of Lady Liberty and Lady Justice” (a “restorative” practice featuring pawanmuktasana and gentle movement inspired by Somatic Yoga and Universal Yoga).

Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Prop wise, you will mostly need something that allows you to be comfortable when seated, prone, and/or supine. There may also be some kneeling. [NOTE: You can always practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.]

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

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: If you interested in a more active practice related to this date, check out the “Lady Liberty” post and playlists from June 17th. 

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.)

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

 

 

The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“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

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###

Freedom: Still Making It Make Sense July 3, 2022

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

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

The Manageress seemed to construe this as excellent news.

‘So then you’re free?’ she said.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

### Feel Free ###

FTWMI: In the beginning… June 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, One Hoop, Pain, Suffering, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted June 28, 2020. Class details and music links have been updated. Two extra quotes and additional 2021 post links (with statistics) have been added.

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.)

“[It was] a perfect event in my life because it let me live the kinds of dreams I had of seeing an equitable society. I was able to live my life, which I would have done anyway, but without Stonewall I would have had more opposition. So it turns out the times were on my side, which left me with a basically happy life.”

*

– Martin “Marty” Boyce

It started off like any other regular Friday. People got up, got dressed, went to work (on Wall Street) or to school. Some wrote poetry or songs in a café. Some gathered on a street corner hoping to score their next meal. It was a regular Friday, and people were looking forward to the weekend. They came home or went to a friend’s place. They changed clothes – that was the first spark of something special… but it was still just a regular Friday. People were going to go out, have a good time, sing, dance, gather with friends (maybe do it again on Saturday night), and then spend some time recovering so that, on Monday, they could go back to being regular.

It was a regular Friday… that became an extraordinary Saturday, because at around 1:20 AM on Saturday, June 28, 1969, four policeman dressed in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector from the New York Police Department walked into the Stonewall Inn and announced that they were “taking the place!” It was a raid.

“I was never afraid of the cops on the street, because I was not an obvious person. I was not flaunting my homosexuality to anyone. I wasn’t holding hands. It would never have occurred to me to try and have a confrontation with them [because] you don’t want to be arrested for any stupid reason. I never had any problems with the police. I never had problems with anyone anywhere, until that night…. I never ever gave it a thought of [Stonewall] being a turning point. All I know is enough was enough. You had to fight for your rights. And I’m happy to say whatever happened that night, I was part of it. Because [at a moment like that] you don’t think, you just act.”

*

– Raymond Castro

In some ways, there was still nothing special. The Stonewall Inn, located on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan was a Mafia owned “private bottle bar” frequented by members of the GLBTQIA+ community. It was raided on a regular basis, usually at a standard time. Because the bar was Mafia owned, it would normal get a heads up (from someone who knew the raid was coming – wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and just before the raid was scheduled the lights would come up so people could stop holding hands or dancing (both of which were illegal for same sex partners) and any illegal alcohol could be hidden. The police would separate people based on clothing and then a female officer would take anyone wearing a dress into the bathroom in order to check their genitalia. Some people were arrested, but many would go back to the party once the police had taken their leave.

The raid that happened this morning in 1969 was different. There was no warning. No lights came up. No then-illegal activity was hidden. Unbeknownst to the patrons, four undercover officers (two men and two women) had previously been in the bar gathering visual evidence. The police started rounding people up and, also, letting some people go. They were planning to close the bar down. The only problem was…people didn’t leave. The people who were released stayed outside in the street, watching what was happening, and they were eventually joined by hundreds more.

“I changed into a black and white cocktail dress, which I borrowed from my mother’s closet. It was mostly black, empire-waisted, with a white collar. I used to dress with a bunch of older queens and one of them lent me black fishnet stockings and a pair of black velvet pumps…. The cop looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you!’ and I said, ‘Please, it’s my birthday, I’m just about to graduate from high school, I’m only 18,’ and he just let me go! [I was] scared to death that my father would see me on the television news in my mother’s dress.”

*

– Yvonne (also known as Maria) Ritter

At times the crowd was eerily quiet. But then, as Mafia members were brought out, they started to cheer. When employees were brought out, someone yelled, “Gay power,” and someone started to sing. An officer shoved a person in a dress and she started hitting him over the head with her purse. The crowd was becoming larger… and more restless. At some point people started throwing beer bottles and pennies (as a reference to the police being bribed by the Mafia.) This was becoming a problem, but an even bigger problem was when the police found out the second van was delayed. They were stuck.

Then, things went from bad to worse when some of the 13 people arrested (including employees and people not wearing what was considered “gender appropriate clothing”) resisted. One of the women, a lesbian of color, managed to struggle and escape multiple times. At some point there were four officers trying to contain her. When a police officer hit her over the head, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And they did.

Police officers barricaded themselves and several people they were arresting (some of whom were just in the neighborhood) inside of the bar for safety. The NYPD’s Tactical Patrol Force was called out to free the officers and detainees trapped inside the Stonewall Inn. One witness said that the police were humiliated…and out for blood. The police’s own escalation, in trying to contain the violence, was met with a Broadway chorus style kick-line… and more violence. The escalation continued. At times, people were chasing the police.

The ensuing protests/riots lasted through the weekend and, to a lesser degree, into the next week. The bar re-opened that next night and thousands lined up to get inside. There was more vandalism and more violence, but on Saturday night (June 28th) there were also public displays of affection: at that time, illegal same-sex public displays of affection. People were out.

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot!”

*

– Stormé DeLarverie

The Stonewall Uprising, the riots and the ensuing protests and celebrations were not the first of their kind. Three years earlier, the Mattachine Society had organized “sip-ins” where people met at bars and openly declared themselves as gay. That kind of organized, peaceful civil disobedience was happening all over the country during the 60’s. It was a way to break unjust laws and it temporarily reduced the number of police raids. However, the raids started up again.

Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Zazu Nova, Jackie Hormona, Martin “Marty” Boyce, Sylvia Rivera, Raymond Castro, John O’ Brian, and Yvonne “Maria” / “Butch” Ritter were among the people involved in the Stonewall Uprising. The musician Dave Van Ronk (who famously arranged the version of “House of the Rising Sun” made famous by Bob Dylan) was not gay, but he was arrested. Alan Ginsberg, who was gay, would witness the riots and applaud the people who were taking a stand. Village Voice columnist Howard Smith was a straight man who had never been inside the Stonewall Inn until he grabbed his press credentials and made his way into the center of the uprising. Craig Rodwell (owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) and Fred Sargent (the bookstores manager) started writing and distributing leaflets on behalf of the Mattachine Society. They also drummed up media interest. In addition to Rodwell and Sargent, Dick Leitsch (a member of the Mattachine Society), John O’Brien, and Martha Shelley (a member of the Daughters of Bilitis) would start organizing so that the protest that turned into a riot would come full circle as a protest that created change.

A year later, June 28, 1970, thousands of people returned to Stonewall Inn. They marched from the bar to Central Park in what was then called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” The official chant was, “Say it loud, gay is proud.” And, I’m betting there was at least one kick line.

“But [Gil] Scott-Heron also had something else in mind—you can’t see the revolution on TV because you can’t see it at all. As he [said] in a 1990s interview:

*

‘The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that’s going to change people is something that nobody will ever be able to capture on film. It’s just something that you see and you’ll think, “Oh I’m on the wrong page,” or “I’m on I’m on the right page but the wrong note. And I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to find out what’s happening in this country.”’

*

If we realize we’re out of sync with what’s really happening, we cannot find out more on television. The information is where the battles are being fought, at street level, and in the mechanisms of the legal process.”

*

– quoted from the Open Culture article “Gil Scott-Heron Spells Out Why ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’” by Josh Jones (posted June 2nd, 2020)

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 28th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06282020 Stonewall PRIDE”]

(NOTE: The YouTube playlist has been updated with the latest link to the “forbidden” music. The Spotify playlist may skip an instrumental track.) 

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

*

– quoted from an originally unpublished introduction to Animal Farm by George Orwell

Click here for a short note about Gil Scott-Heron, whose lived experience in 1969 New York City may not have been a specifically LGBTQIA+ experience, but did write words that speak to an intersectionality of experiences that existed 52 years ago today and still exist to this day. As I mentioned last year, “He was speaking from the experience of being part of a marginalized (and sometimes vilified) community in the world (in general) and in New York (specifically). And, therefore, it is not surprising that his words apply.” Click here for some contextualized stats.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING.

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

*

### SAY IT LOUD ###

To See In A Special Way (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) June 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Helen Keller, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Philosophy, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post-practice post for Monday, June 27th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

“A healing story is my term for the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it. They can be as simple as ‘Everything happens for a reason’ or as sharp as ‘How come nothing ever works out for me?’ Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

*

– quoted from “Introduction: The Mind-Body Relationship in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

What Matthew Sanford wrote about his personal story is true of all our stories: They are full of healing stories. These stories are intertwined with the stories of others and we often find ourselves in the intersection between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive. This could be the “silence” of which Sanford also speaks – or it could be the shadow of the myth. Either way, we grow up in this in-between space and, at some point, we may realize that we can step out of the shadow. At some point, we may realize that we must step out of the shadow of the myth in order to move forward. Stepping out of the shadows of our personal mythology, however, often requires us to recognize that very little is as black and white as we thought it was and the only reason things seemed simpler “back in the day” was that we lacked awareness.

Of course, awareness can be painful, because it can lead to uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, as well as uncertainty. Awareness comes with the knowledge that no one is as perfect as they are portrayed in the story. The hero (or heroine) sometimes use their greatness to do and say really horrible and detrimental things. The anti-hero or the one that was demonized may actually save the day. Awareness can allow us to see cause-and-effect, in the past and (on a certain level) in the future. However, both hindsight and foresight require us to “see” clearly and to understand what we are seeing, which can sometimes be problematic. True hindsight and foresight require us to look at the facts (and the fiction) as if we are simultaneously viewing two sides of the same coin – something we can only do under special conditions and using a special tool.

Studying history can be the special conditions, but not everyone loves diving into a biography or a chronology. Even when we do appreciate history, we may only view it from one side – which means we still lack knowledge. Furthermore, our vision may still be impaired by our perception, which itself may be impaired. This is where the mind and mindful awareness come in, because paying attention to how we think (and why we think the things we think) creates the special tool we need to distinguish the difference between the mythology and the reality, fantasy and fiction, the constructive and the destructive.

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

*

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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

On a certain level, perception is one area where philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism dovetail with the physical sciences. All agree, in theory, that most of what we perceive is based on what’s happening in the mind and what’s happening in the mind is mostly based on past experiences. What we see/comprehend is based on what we have previously seen/comprehended. When there are gaps in our knowledge (i.e., where there is ignorance), the mind-intellect fills in the gap. What fills in the gap may not make sense to anyone or anything other than our mind-intellect. It may not even make sense to us, on a conscious intellectual level. However, we (often) accept what comes from our mind even when there is some part of us that says, ‘That doesn’t actually make sense, when you really think about it.’

The point is we don’t necessarily think about it. Or, we think about it in a way that makes it make sense – which is how confirmation bias works: we look for a reason to believe. We can say we all believe in the truth, but the truth is that we are all looking for something in which to believe – which is why philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism (and even some religions) have practices that revolve around being, rather than thinking.

Being and breathing, with awareness.

Vipassanā is a Theravada Buddhist meditation technique that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). It literally means “to see in a special way” and can also be translated as “special, super seeing,” “inward vision,” “intuition,” or introspection.” In English, however, it is usually translated as “insight.” This insight is achieved by sitting, breathing, and watching the mind-body without judging the mind-body. Part of the practice is even to recognize when you are judging and, therefore, recognizing when you are getting in your own way. It is a practice of observation – which is also part of our yoga practice. It is a way to parse out fact and fiction, myth and reality, and that place where they overlap like a wacky Venn Diagram.

I have heard that in Theravada Buddhism there are eighteen (18) stages or types of “insight,” which bring awareness to eighteen (18) pairs of opposites and create the opportunity to eliminate attachment to those dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns which lead to suffering. In some texts, this is how “opposites” are engaged, which is also a practice recommended in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. A connected technique in the Yoga Philosophy is svādhyāya (“self-study”), which includes the practice of bringing awareness to how one feels within a certain context. For instance, we can pay attention to how we feel – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually/energetically – when we learn different elements of someone’s story, as well as when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes: be it the hero(ine) of the story or someone inspired by them.

The following is a revised version of a 2020 post.

“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.”

*

– quoted from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

If you want to talk about people who did not let other people’s limited perceptions define them, let’s talk about Helen Keller and the people that surrounded her. Born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Keller lost both her ability to see and her ability to hear when she was 19 months old. She fell ill with what might have been scarlet fever or meningitis and while she lost two of her senses, Keller was far from dumb. She figured out a way to use signs to communicate with Martha Washington (the Black six-year old daughter of her family’s cook, not to be confused with the 1st lady) and by the age of seven she had developed more than 60 signs – which her family also understood. Furthermore, she could identify people walking near her based on the vibrations and patterns of their steps – she could even identify people by sex and age.

Keller’s mother, Kate Adams Keller, learned about Laura Bridgman (who was a deaf and blind adult) from Charles Dickens’ travelogue American Notes for General Circulation. The Kellers were eventually referred to Alexander Graham Bell who, in turn, introduced them to Anne Sullivan (who was also visually impaired, due to a bacterial infection). Keller and Sullivan would form a 49-year relationship that evolved over time. Even when Sullivan got married, Keller (possibly) got engaged, and illness required additional assistance from Polly Thomson, the women worked and lived together. Keller would go on to learn to speak and became a lecturer, as well as an author and activist. Sullivan would be remembered as an extraordinary educator whose devotion and ability to adjust to her student’s needs is memorialized in school names and movies like The Miracle Worker and Monday After the Miracle. Keller (d. 06/01/1968), Sullivan (d. 10/20/1936), and Thomson (d. 03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

All of this is part of the mythology of Helen Keller and also of Anne Sullivan. All of this is part of the “healing story” that have inspired so many people, some of whom are considered “able bodied” and some of whom are considered “disabled.” And while these are the most well-known facts, they are only a handful of facts. They represent an oversimplified version of a complicated story about complex people, their convoluted relationships, and their controversial legacies.*

“At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him.”

*

– quoted from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912) [referencing St. Clair McKelway, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle]

Helen Keller is notable for many reasons, but she was (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about her family history and some of her views. Her father, and at least one of her grandfathers, served in the Confederate Army and she was a related to Robert E. Lee. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist, an advocate for people with disabilities, and a supporter of birth control – but/and she also believed in eugenics. Yes, a woman who was blind and deaf publicly wrote and spoke in favor of the idea that humans could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Eugenics has been scientifically debunked and is rife with basic humanitarian issues. At its core, it also exhibits a lack of faith in humanity and human potential. Still, history continues to show us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics. But/and, one of those mind-boggling examples is Helen Keller: someone who used their very public platform to support a theory that, in practice, would not have supported their own existence.

Again, that’s just one side of the coin. Just as no group of people is a monolith, no individual is one-dimensional. Hellen Keller herself pointed this out when she referenced the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich. She wrote in her autobiography, “… it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” There is clarity in knowing, deep inside, that each of us is connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside ourselves. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us in a functional/skillful direction – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

That’s the lesson of “insight.”

“After long searches here and there, in temples and in churches, in earths and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it.”

– from “ The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

– “The clear, unshakeable awareness of discerning knowledge (insight) is the means to nullifying sorrow (created by ignorance).”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel”]

*NOTE: Radiolab recently aired a podcast episode entitled “The Helen Keller Exorcism” (dated Mar 11, 2022). While I wrote the aforementioned details about Helen Keller a couple of years ago, with minimal context, this podcast featured the perspective of fantasy writer Elsa Sjunneson, who is persistently resisting people’s limited perceptions of her and the myth of Helen Keller. (It also provides some of the backstory about Helen Keller’s most controversial views.)

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us… Happiness is a state of mind, and depends very little on outward circumstances.”

*

– quoted from To Love This Life: Quotations by Helen Keller by Helen Keller (with Forward by Jimmy Carter)

*

### OBSERVE YOUR OWN SELF – BODY AND MIND ###

FTWMI: Blood Will Tell (or Blood Will Out)… June 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted in 2020. It includes one link (within the text) that directs you outside of this blog. Class details, playlist links, and theme details have been updated.

“But not until recently has it been recognized that in living organisms, as in the realm of crystals, chemical differences parallel the variation in structure.”

*

– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

Pause for a moment. Consider the idea that “blood will tell” or “blood will out.” These are phrases, along with “blue-blood” that date back at least as far as the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when it was believed you could tell who was an “pure-bred” aristocrat and who was of Norse or Celtic descent by the way one fought on the battlefield. Your view of which was preferred depended on which side of the battle you fell.

Now, consider the idea that you can tell something about someone’s heritage just by looking at their outside – or at their actions. Don’t click yet, but consider the idea that in this picture you can see “humanity at its best and at its worst.” Even before you click on the link, you may have a feeling. Now, when you click on the link, pause before you read the headline or the caption.

Did your first impression match what you were seeing? Did it match what you were expecting?

I always say, go deeper. Go deeper than what is on the surface and you will find that we all breathe – even when we do it on a machine; we all have hearts; we all have the same blood pumping through our veins and arteries. Except we don’t…

Go deeper.

Dr. Karl Landsteiner, born today in 1868, was an Austrian biologist and physician known for identifying and classifying the main blood groups, based on the presence of different agglutinins (the substance which causes blood particles to coagulate and aggregate, i. e., clot). Even though Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys documented successful blood transfusions as far back in 1667, the success of those surgeries was most likely the result of luck and/or the small amounts of blood that were used. Landsteiner’s research in 1900, as well as his work with Dr. Alexander S. Wierner to identify the Rhesus factor (in 1937), enable physicians to transfuse blood without the allergic reaction that proved fatal when blood types were mixed. In between his work with blood types, he worked with Drs. Constantin Levaditi and Erwin Popper to discover the polio virus (1909). He has been awarded several prestigious science awards, including the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and is known as the “Father of Transfusion Medicine.”

“I have recently observed and stated that the serum of normal people is capable of clumping the red cells of other healthy individuals… As commonly expressed, it can be said that in these cases at least two different kinds of agglutinins exist, one kind in A, the other in B, both together in C. The cells are naturally insensitive to the agglutinins in their own serum.”

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– Dr. Karl Landsteiner, winner of the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 

In honor of Dr. Landsteiner’s birthday, today is World Blood Donor Day. (Coincidentally, it falls just the day before the anniversary of Dr. Denys’s 1667 surgery on a 15-year old boy, using sheep’s blood.) Established in 2005 by the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, World Blood Donor Day is a celebration of and an expression of gratitude for the millions of donors worldwide. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness for the need for safe blood and blood products, which is a universal need. According to WHO, 42% of the world’s blood supply is collected in high income countries, which are home to only 16% of the world’s population. Additionally, as of 2014, only 60 countries have the majority (99-100%) of their blood supplied by voluntary, unpaid donors. Over 70 countries depend on family and paid donors. Go deeper and you will find that even in countries that can depend on voluntary donations, certain parts of the country experience shortages which can only be alleviated by a mobilized network. One of the goals of World Blood Donor Day is to “mobilize support at national, regional, and global levels among governments and development partners to invest in, strengthen and sustain national blood programmes.”

“The last category of our innate siddhis is dana, “the ability to give.” We have both the wisdom and the courage to share what lawfully belongs to us with others. We are designed to experience the joy of giving. This joy is the architect of human civilization, characterized by self-sacrifice and selflessness.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sutra 2.24 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The 2022 World Blood Donor Day theme is “Donating Blood is an act of solidarity. Join the effort and save lives.” Please join me today (Tuesday, June 14th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06142020 World Blood Donor Day”]

 

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.)

“I found that Landsteiner and I had a much different approach to science: Landsteiner would ask, ‘What do these experimental observations force us to believe about the nature of the world?’ and I would ask, ‘What is the most simple, general and intellectually satisfying picture of the world that encompasses these observations and is not incompatible with them?

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– from “Fifty Years of Progress in Structural Chemistry and Molecular Biology.” By Dr.  Linus Pauling (published in Daedalus, 99, 1005. 1970)

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### WHAT QUESTION ARE YOU ASKING? ###

“Being…” – Lessons in Svādyāya (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) May 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Texas, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humbly grateful as we find enduring compassion and balance together. 

This is an expanded and “renewed” post for Tuesday, May 17th. 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.)

BEING GRATEFUL

“Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”

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– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

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– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Yesterday, I ended the practice with a philosophical reminder that life is precious and, some would argue, mathematically rare. It’s a simple idea that most people can agree upon (even when we can’t agree on when life begins – or ends). That’s why we have all those pithy statements life “life is a gift,” “this moment is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present (in English),” and – one of my personal favorites – “your presence in this present moment is also a gift.”

Here’s the thing about gifts though: When we receive them, we give thanks. Even when we don’t like or want the gift and even when we would prefer something else, we say thank you. When we really, truly, appreciate the gift, we might go into great detail about how much we appreciate the gift, why it is perfect for us, and/or how it will make our life better. We may even find ourselves giving thanks long after we have received the gift. In fact, every time we use it and/or think of it, we might express a bit of gratitude. And all of that gratitude is inextricably connected to our happiness and well-being.

What happens, however, if we are simultaneously receiving our blessings in one hand and having them taken away from the other hand? What happens if we are struggling to hold on to our blessings? What happens, if something was passed down to us and we not only took it for granted, we never really gave thanks?

I’ll tell you what happens. We struggle. We fear. We despair. We may even feel hopeless. In those moments, we may not think of expressing gratitude. Or, we may think giving thanks is too hard given our present challenges. And, sure, yes, it may be hard. But, it’s not impossible. In fact, I would argue that it is essential. It is essential that we give thanks for the rights and the blessings that have been given to us. It is essential that we express gratitude for the people (adults and children) who fought and struggled to get us where we are today. To do that, however, to really appreciate what was done for us, we have to know our history.

We also have to get/understand our history – something, I’ll admit, was sometimes beyond me. Even though I’m Brown. Considering I didn’t always get it, I shouldn’t be surprised that others (still) don’t get it.

BEING BROWN

The following was originally posted in 2020. You can practice svādyāya (“self-study”) with this post, by putting yourself in my shoes or the shoes of some of the other people mentioned. You can also practice svādyāya by noticing what resonates with you, what parallels your own experience, and what feels odd to you.

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

– Anonymous

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“…we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities…. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

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– Linda Brown, quoted in a “Black/White and Brown” produced by KTWU Channel 11 (May 3, 2004)

For a long time, most of my life, I didn’t get it. How could I get it, as odd as it is to understand, it was outside of my experience.

I am related to some of the smartest people I know –and I know a lot of really smart people. My father has a PhD and taught doctors, his mother was a school teacher, my maternal great-grandmother and both grandmothers taught Sunday school, and my mother worked with doctors and lawyers – so I didn’t get why they made such a big deal about my grades or my education. I appreciated it when my parents arranged things so I could enroll in special programming (like “Research and Development”), but sometimes I kind of took it for granted. Going to a private school, for instance, was just what my brothers and I did sometimes. Granted, one of my brothers ended up in private school after my parents were informed he would be bused to a “Black school” as part of a desegregation plan in the 80’s (which I thought was beyond silly, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about why the plan existed (in the mid-80’s!!!). I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

My maternal grandfather owned bars in Houston, like the Sportsman, and supper clubs, like The Club Supreme, which was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (venues owned and operated by and for African-American audiences during segregation). I grew up hearing about the great talents he booked and about people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and the Supremes stopping by the house for dinner. Sometimes I would walk into Club Supreme, look down the dark and dusty ballroom to the stage at the back and imagine what it was like in its heyday. When I walked next door to the Sportsman, owners/editors of newspapers, bankers, and business owners seemed to not only know my name, but also my GPA. Sometimes I thought it was weird – especially when they would tell me they were holding a job for me when I graduated from college – but mostly I just thought part of being a grandfather was being proud of your grandchildren; I figured he must talk about me to his customers because that’s what grandfathers did. I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble.”

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– Linda Brown, age 17, in a 1961 New York Times interview

In May 2004, I finally started to get it. It was the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and as people were celebrating, remembering, and producing documentaries, I was doing the math. In doing the math, I finally really understood that Black people not being able to go to the school of their choice wasn’t part of some distant history lesson. It was part of living history – it was part of my family history. The teachers, administrators, farmers, businessmen and businesswomen, police officers, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, authors, truckers, military personnel, farmers, and preachers in my family successfully did what they did – not because they had the economic and educational advantages that they gave me, but in spite of not having what I took for granted. My parents grew up in the South, in the shadow of Brown v Board, in a state where the Attorney General actively worked to keep school segregation legal despite the U. S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. The people who worked behind the bar and sat on the barstools at my grandfather’s clubs knew me not because my Paw-Paw was some random grandfather proud of his random grandchildren, but because they all understood what I did not: my brothers, cousins, and I were symbols of progress and change. We were proof that the world – or at least our little corner of the world – was getting better, more equitable and more just.

When my grandfather died, people seemed to come out the woodwork. I kind of expected the elders. What I didn’t expect were the people my age, people who wanted to remember and celebrate a businessman in the community who had financially supported the education of young people in the community. They came to celebrate and remember, because they got it.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Linda Brown, the student at the center of Brown v Board, was actually part of three school segregation related lawsuits: the one SCOTUS ruled on today in 1954; Brown II in 1955; and a case filed by the adult Linda Brown in 1978 (Brown III), which was re-opened and appealed through the late 80’s / early 90’s. The first case, officially filed as “Oliver Brown, et al v Board of Education of Topeka, et al,” was a class action lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief counsel, for thirteen parents on behalf of 20 school-aged children. However, the case itself was a test case and symbolic of several cases across the country. The case in Kansas was selected by the NAACP as the pilot case, because it was considered more Midwestern than Southern, the Brown’s neighborhood was desegregated (but the local school was not), and Oliver Brown was selected as the named plaintiff because he was a man. (The idea being that a male plaintiff might be considered more seriously by the courts and the ruling might carry more national weight if inequality could be proven outside of the South.)

While the unanimous 1954 ruling is celebrated as a landmark victory, it was more symbolic than anything else. The Supreme Court first ruled that there was no such thing as “separate, but equal” – at least not as schools existed at that time. Then, in 1955, SCOTUS ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” – but, here again there was no timetable and the interpretation of the very poetic phrase was left not to the NAACP or the plaintiffs, but to the states.

“It’s disheartening that we are still fighting. But we are dealing with human beings. As long as we are, there will always be those who feel the races should be separate.”

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– Linda Brown, in a 1994 New York Times article (around 40th anniversary)

Look around today and you will see the legacy of Brown v Board. There is some positive, some signs of progress; there is also some negative. Were Linda Brown still alive today, she could easily file another lawsuit…on behalf of her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Part of the legacy of Brown v Board is living in the shadow of the Plessy v Ferguson concept of “separate but equal.” We can say it’s the shadow that makes us appreciate the light; but, at some point we need more light.

“I didn’t understand what was happening then, but it was clear that Brown versus Board of Education was a necessary victory. It might have been a little flame, but it served to set off a mighty flame. To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that, after 1954, were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”

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– Linda Brown, in a April 29, 2004 speech (marking the 50th anniversary) at Chautauqua Institution

SVāDYāYA I: BEING LINDA 

This year and last year, I started May 17th practice with a visualization exercise inspired by one that Shelly Graf (Associate Director of Common Ground Meditation Center) offered in 2021. As I explained in last year’s post (and in the practice), the exercises we offered are different, except in the fact that they provide an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”). My version of the exercise may land different (now that you have the background), but if you have another few moments, please check out last year’s post to read about the visualization and related insights.

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Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05172020 Brown”]

Linda Carol Brown

“When they won, it set a lasting legal precedent. [Linda] Brown was attending an integrated junior high school by then, and she later recalled the initial desegregation of local elementary schools going smoothly. But over the course of her life, she saw the reality of school integration fall short, locally and nationally.”

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– quoted from the 2018 Chalkbeat article entitled “In her own words: Remembering Linda Brown, who was at the center of America’s school segregation battles” by Sarah Darville (posted May 27, 2018)

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### NAMASTE ###

Remember, You Can Still Practice! May 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Gratitude, Healing Stories, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Swami Vivekananda, Women, Yoga.
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May love endure and may it sustain you.

“I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.”

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— the end of 1876 Sunday school lesson by Ann Reeves Jarvis (words that inspired her daughter Anna Maria Jarvis)

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Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms. I’m not sure when (or if) I will go back to teaching on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but I will continue to offer the 2020 recordings for those who are on my Sunday mailing list (or who request the recording). Click here to check out my 2020 blog post about Mother’s Day (which lands in a special way since my mom unexpectedly passed in 2020).
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The Mother’s Day playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Mother’s Day 2020”]

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“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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For a more philosophical practice, check out this 2021 post related to Yoga Sūtra 3.18. (Scroll down for the second Saturday information.)
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The playlist related to YS 3.18 is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05082021 More Sides of the Story”]

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I will be back on schedule (and on Zoom) tomorrow. If you are interested in receiving one of the aforementioned practices, please comment below or email me via myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.
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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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### METTA ###

FTWMI: The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story May 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Riḍván!” to those celebrating the “the Most Great Festival.” “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Eastertide or Counting the Omer! 

 

The following was previously posted in 2021. Holiday related dates and statistics, as well as class details have been updated.

“These ideas have to be understood in Dhyana, or meditation. We hear a sound. First, there is the external vibration; second, the nerve motion that carries it to the mind; third, the reaction from the mind, along with which flashes the knowledge of the object which was the external cause of these different changes from the ethereal vibrations to the mental reactions. These three are called in Yoga, Shabda (sound), Artha (meaning), and Jnâna (knowledge). In the language of physics and physiology they are called the ethereal vibration, the motion in the nerve and brain, and the mental reaction. Now these, though distinct processes, have become mixed up in such a fashion as to become quite indistinct. In fact, we cannot now perceive any of these, we only perceive their combined effect, what we call the external object. Every act of perception includes these three, and there is no reason why we should not be able to distinguish them.

 

When, by the previous preparations, it becomes strong and controlled, and has the power of finer perception, the mind should be employed in meditation. This meditation must begin with gross objects and slowly rise to finer and finer, until it becomes objectless. The mind should first be employed in perceiving the external causes of sensations, then the internal motions, and then its own reaction. When it has succeeded in perceiving the external causes of sensations by themselves, the mind will acquire the power of perceiving all fine material existences, all fine bodies and forms. When it can succeed in perceiving the motions inside by themselves, it will gain the control of all mental waves, in itself or in others, even before they have translated themselves into physical energy; and when he will be able to perceive the mental reaction by itself, the Yogi will acquire the knowledge of everything, as every sensible object, and every thought is the result of this reaction. Then will he have seen the very foundations of his mind, and it will be under his perfect control.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter VII: Dhyana and Samadhi” in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

According to the Sāmkhya Karika, possibly written around the same time as the Yoga Sutras, humans have six special siddhis (“powers”) that are unique to being human. One of those six is shabda, which means “word.” It is the power to create a sound (or a combination of sounds); assign meaning to the sound(s), by associating the sound(s) to ideas; and then to not only remember the sound and meaning, but also to share the sounds and meanings. Additionally, this power includes the ability to create a visual depiction of the sound(s).

I love words and the way they work. So, it’s no surprise that I am particularly fond of this power; however, I also find it a really interesting power because shabda requires context and, on a certain level, that requires us to use another of the siddhis that are unique to being human – Adhyayana, the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend.” For instance, if I say “May Day” without context, you have to guess at my meaning – and your guess is going to depend on your overall knowledge, which is going to partially depend on your culture. If I don’t provide context, then you provide the context (based on your knowledge and culture, as well as the situation) – which may or may not be the intended context.

Context and your understanding of the context is key, because there’s a big difference between me saying, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and me saying, “It’s May Day! It’s May Day! It’s May Day!” Of course, if we’re on Zoom and our connection is breaking up then what your hear may pretty much be the same thing. So, knowledge of the situation kicks in. Is one of us on a boat in a storm? Is one of us on an airplane? Could I be talking about someone on a boat or on an airplane (and you just missed the first part of the conversation)? Or is it, as it was a couple of Saturdays ago, May 1st… also known as May Day?

I often refer to May 1st as “the hardest working on the calendar,” because it seems like everyone wants a piece of it. There are so many different things that happen on this day. People in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate May Day, a celebration of Spring – which is a descendant of Beltane, a Gaelic and pagan holiday to mark the beginning of “pastoral” summer. It’s also International Workers’ Day (and very close to the May 4th anniversary of the Haymarket affair). In the United States it is both Law Day and Loyalty Day. Finally, it is the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker within the Roman Catholic tradition.

To really appreciate how busy this day can be, though, keep in mind that I haven’t mentioned any of the religious movable feasts that overlap May 1st; that my list pretty much focuses on the Northern Hemisphere (even though there are celebrations, like Samhain, happening in the Southern Hemisphere at the same time); that I’ve completely overlooked big historical anniversaries (like the United Kingdom of Great Britain being formed in 1707); and that I haven’t mentioned any of the really lovely people I know who were born on May 1st! To understand how some of these observations came into existence, we need a little context of two of the aforementioned: Beltane and International Workers’ Day.

“Early in the morning
It’s the dawn of a new day
New hopes new dreams new ways
I open up my heart and
I’m gonna do my part and
Make this a positively beautiful day”

 

– quoted from the song “Beautiful Day” by India. Arie

As I referenced above, Beltane is a Gaelic and pagan holiday with origins in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in places like Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. It is one of four major seasonal holidays (along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa) with roots connected to Gaelic mythology about the aos sí (the supernatural people of the “mounds” (sídhe), which in Gaelic is pronounced like “she”). To honor the “wee folk” or “fae” – and to keep them from perpetuating mischief against simple mortals – people offer feasts, music, and much merriment.

Since it falls midway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Beltane is sometimes called “first of summer” (Cétshamain). It is a pastoral occasion because it is the time when people would move their cattle out into summer fields. In fact, a common ritual in Celtic traditions is to move cattle (and people) around or through (or even over) big bonfires during these times when it is believed that the veil between worlds is thin. This ritual is in part to make sure that there are no (disguised) evil spirits occupying the herd and in part to protect the herd from said evil spirits. In the early days, the fire’s people kept burning in their homes would be extinguished and then re-lit using the flames of the Beltane bonfires. Additionally, people would decorate their homes with May flowers that evoked the color and feeling of the fire.

Of course, fire is not the only element considered holy and cleansing in Celtic traditions. Water is also a focus during Beltane as some people would visit holy wells and walk around them in the same way the sun would move around them (east to west). They would pray as they walked and sometimes even wash with the well water. Another water related practice would be for people (especially virgin maidens) to roll around in the morning dew on Beltane. They might also wash their face in the dew and save a little bit of the dew to use in their beauty regime throughout the year.

Notice how this very brief description of Beltane rituals and traditions overlaps the modern day celebrations of Spring known as May Day – when people are feasting outside, dancing around May poles, and crowing “maidens” as the May Queen. Modern May Day celebrations are also connected to the early Roman celebration Floralia, a celebration of Flora (the Roman goddess of flowers). In places like Greece, there is also a connection to Maia, a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. A more in-depth overview of Beltane and Floralia would highlight how (and why) these pagan rituals and traditions overlap Christian observations of Easter and also why there are so many feast days related to the Virgin Mary during May. But, I’ll save that for another day; because…

It’s also International Workers’ Day. Sometimes called “Labour Day” (or simply “May Day”), it is a celebration of labourers and the working class. It was a date designated by the Marxist International Socialist Congress when they met in Paris on July 14, 1889 (the one-hundred year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille). It was a date chosen for a worldwide demonstration in support of an 8-hour workday, because it had been previously chosen by the American Federation (in 1886) for a similar demonstration in the United States – a demonstration that is remembered today as the Haymarket affair (also known as the “Haymarket riot” and the “Haymarket massacre”).

“There was an instance of silence. Then from beneath Spies’s hood came the words: ‘The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.’”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 23 – The Scaffold” in The Haymarket Tragedy by Paul Avrich

That 1886 demonstration started as peaceful rallies around the country, on Saturday, May 1st. However, as peaceful as the rallies were, people’s passions were high. Thousands of those protesting were also on strike – and, in places like Chicago, Illinois, thousands had been on strikes for months. By May, strikebreakers were being protected by the police and, on May 3rd, two to six striking workers (depending on the source) were killed. Local anarchists organized a rally at Haymarket for the following morning. Thousands showed up for the rally. Again, it was peaceful… so, it was so peaceful that the Mayor (Carter Harrison, Sr.) left and went home after listening to one of the speeches.

Then the police showed up, and someone threw “a dynamite bomb” at the police line; killing 34-year old Patrolman Mathias J. Degan (who had just barely completed 16 months on the police force). Office Degan (Badge #648), who was a widower and father of one, would be the first of eight* officers to die as a result of the explosion. Approximately 70 other officers were injured. At least four civilians died; countless others were injured; and hundreds were arrested. Eight of the organizers were put on trial and – although there was no evidence that any of the eight threw the bomb, and only speculation that any of them had helped make it – they were convicted of conspiracy. (One was sentenced to 15 years in prison; seven were sentenced to death, although only four were hanged as Governor Richard J. Oglesby changed two of the sentences to life in prison and one person took his own life. By 1893, some perceptions about the Haymarket defendants had changed and Governor John Peter Altgeid not only pardoned the surviving anarchists, he also criticized the trial.)

 Going back a bit, remember that this socialist-driven labor movement happened during the “Long Depression” (which followed the Civil War) and would be followed by the “First Red Scare” – which was partially the result of hyper-nationalism related to World War I and partially related to Russia’s October Revolution and Russian Revolution. However, while it is easy to just point at the Russian cause-and-effect in this situation, it is worth noting that some of the reaction to the Haymarket affair was also rooted in xenophobia and nationalism: five of the eight defendants were German-born immigrants; one was an American-born citizen of German descent; one was a British-born immigrant; and the final one was an American-born citizen of British descent. (Governor Altgeid, who issued the pardons, was a German-born immigrant.)

When you start putting all the pieces together, it becomes easier to answer the questions, “Who would object to an International Workers’ Day?” and “Why would someone want to co-opt International Workers’ Day?”

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.

(b) PURPOSE.—Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States—

(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and

(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on all public officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Law Day, U.S.A.; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Law Day, U.S.A., with appropriate ceremonies and in other appropriate ways, through public entities and private organizations and in schools and other suitable places.”

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 113 of the United States Code

 

 

“(a) DESIGNATION.—May 1 is Loyalty Day.

(b) PURPOSE.—Loyalty Day is a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.

(c) PROCLAMATION.—The President is requested to issue a proclamation—

(1) calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Loyalty Day; and

(2) inviting the people of the United States to observe Loyalty Day with appropriate ceremonies in schools and other suitable places.

 

– quoted from Title 36, Section 115 of the United States Code

 

First observed in 1921, Loyalty Day was originally called “Americanization Day.” It was recognized by the United States Congress (and President Dwight D. Eisenhower) in 1955 and became an official reoccurring holiday in July of 1958. It was also in 1958 that President Eisenhower asked Congress to move Child Health Day to the first Monday in October so that it would not ever conflict with Loyalty Day. He did not, however, seem have the same issue with Law Day – as he had previously proclaimed May 1st as Law Day in February of 1958.

Law Day is not a public holiday and, in fact, is only observed by some of the law associations. On the flip side, Loyalty Day is a holiday – albeit one about which many people in the modern United States may not have ever heard. Pandemics and natural disasters notwithstanding, Loyalty Day parades have been held in parts of Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin since the 1950’s.

It was also in 1955 that Pope Pius XII designated May 1st as the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker. This was the second feast day associated with the adopted (or foster) father of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition. (Additionally, there are two more days that celebrate Joseph, one in the Western Christian tradition and one in the Eastern Christian tradition.) Unlike President Eisenhower, Pope Pius XII didn’t try to completely circumvent the ideals of the labour movement. Then again, the Roman Catholic Church has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to “co-opting” earlier traditions and this feast day fits that tradition.

Pope Pius XII wanted Catholics to turn their focus from the socialist movement and towards the “holiness of human labor” as epitomized by Joseph – who raised Jesus (at God’s behest), taught Jesus a trade, and (as a carpenter) emphasized the creative nature of the Divine. Joseph is also the patron saint of workers and so Pope Pius XII (and subsequent popes) could use the day to stress the ideals of a holy worker and, as Pope John Paul II said, “to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide [social] changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.”    

Now, given all that context, and understanding that there’s even more going on during any given May 1st, we find that we can understand each other’s words a little better. But, what happens if you don’t have any of this context? What happens if you have a completely different understanding of May Day – even as May 1st? How could you possible understand what I’m saying when you hear, “May Day! May Day! May Day!”?

Well, as it turns out, Patanjali has a sūtra for that.

Yoga Sūtra 3.17: śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt samskara tat-pravibhāga-samyamāt sarva-bhūta-ruta-jñānam

 

– “By making Samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception and knowledge of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are normally confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by all living beings [i.e., all languages of humans and animals].”

Remember that every word is simply a sound or combination of sounds with an associated meaning, which is context. When we hear a sound without an associated context it has no meaning. But similar sounds can be different words, and the same word can have multiple meanings; which means that sometimes a sound brings to mind a generic context or meaning and/or multiple meanings. Finally, there is the concept of the thing to which the word is being associated. This is why, based on earlier sutras, I often say that when we first sit down to practice “single-pointed focus” it is actually multi-pointed focus. We focus on the light of a candle, but also simultaneously we bring into awareness our understanding of the concept of all candles, the specific candle, and the concept of light and this specific light – to say nothing of the fact that we are also aware of the process of focusing and also aware of ourselves in the process of focusing.

Another classic example of how this all works is a stick, which may be a piece of word and/or it may be a pencil. The words “stick” and “pencil” can be applied to the generic concepts of a small, thin piece of wood (with or without a pigmented core) that is used for drawing or writing and also can be applied to a specific piece of wood. Simultaneously, the words could apply to a mechanical pencil (not made out of wood) – even when communicating with another species (like a dog). The same is true of the words “palo” and “lápiz” (in Spanish) or “peann luaidhe” and “bata” (in Irish Gaelic) or “peansail” and “bata” (in Scottish Gaelic).

In science fiction, like in the Star Trek franchise, people use a universal translator to understand beings who speak different languages. In the sutras, however, Patanjali indicates that our brains are universal translators. The human body is capable of making an incredible amount of sounds – even the sounds of animals and inanimate objects like musical instruments. The fact that human beings are capable of making the sounds – that can be remembered, shared, and assigned meaning – means that other human beings are also capable of understanding, remembering, and sharing these same sounds. While there are situations that make it challenging and/or physically impossible to speak and/or hear, most of the things/languages any given person doesn’t understand results from lack of familiarity, awareness, and attention.

Many languages have similar etymology (i.e., historical roots) and therefore have words with sounds and meanings that are similar enough for a native speaker of one language to pick up the meaning of words in a language they have never spoken. Here, again, context matters and is helpful in discernment. Context also goes a long way in understanding new languages should one decide to study them, which requires applying samyama (focus-concentration-meditation). Of course, if you are an American with limited (or no) exposure to African languages like Xhosa, Zulu, Dahalo, Gciriku and Yei – or an Australian language like Damin – you might think this is an exception to the above rule. However, if you have a working mouth, tongue, teeth, and lips, you have all the parts needed to articulate the clicks found in the aforementioned languages – you simply need the knowledge and practice to make the sounds and additional samayama to learn the words and their associated meanings. Hence, with a little focus-concentration-meditation, you could understand someone saying, “ikhandlela” or “ipensile” and “intonga.”

Of course, given the fact that this present moment is the culmination of all of our previous moments – and that last sentence is the culmination of all the previous sentences and moments; you may not need to study Xhosa to understand those last three words (at least in printed form). All you have to do is focus-concentrate-meditate on what you’ve already learned.

If you do that – if you’re able to do that – you’re really using your siddhis… and if you keep practicing accordingly, you may find that the past, the present, and the future are clearly revealed.

Because everything is connected to everything (and everyone) else, the ultimate understanding comes from an understanding of how things are connected. Our connections in this present moment are the result of the previous moments and, therefore, if we really focus-concentrate-meditate, we can start to see how we got here (wherever and whatever “here” may be).

Yoga Sūtra 3.18: samskāra-sākşat-karaņāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam

 

 

– “By making Samyama on previous mental impressions (samskaras), one obtains knowledge of past lives.”

 

Sometimes it has hard for me to completely wrap my head around the dynamics of cause-and-effect, specifically karma, as it relates to past lives and reincarnation. I tend to focus on the here and now, i.e., how the way I’m living now and what I think, say, and do today results in tomorrow. I will even look at patterns in my overall behavior and consider what I can learn from reoccurring experiences. Sometimes, when I think, say, or do something that is definitely (and definitively) afflicted/dysfunctional, I’ll even joke around and say that that specific action is the reason I won’t be enlightened in this lifetime. Overall, however, I mostly focus on cause-and-effect as it relates to this current life experience.

And, there is definitely, merit to looking at the patterns in one’s current life – just as there is a definite opportunity to learn from the karma of this present existence. In fact, in doing so we often find ourselves remembering things we had forgotten. After all, there are tons of memories stored in our mind-body, just waiting to be released by a movement, a pose, a song, a word, a picture, or even a madeleine or cookie.

Memories may pop-up as fully formed concepts or they may be completely out of context. You may hear me talking about specific people in a certain situation and it reminds you of something you previously experienced. You may meet someone with a certain name and get a funny feeling – only to realize later that their name (and/or their behavior) reminded you of someone else. Sometimes, we pause and think, “I wonder why that just came up for me.” Other times, we just brush the “random” thought or sensation away without careful consideration.

Similarly, we may experience a thought or sensation without context and without a specific attached memory. It is like a sound without meaning – we can easily ignore it and think it means nothing. However, looking at that mental impression through the paradigm of reincarnation, we may find that the meaning is in a previous lifetime.

Of course the early yogis, just like the Buddha, advised against getting too caught up – or too attached – to what happened in the past. After all, even if we remember all the details, we can’t change what happened in the past. There is no siddhi for that! We can, however, learn from the past, make amends for past transgressions, anticipate future moments (because we live our life in patterns), and plan how we want to move forward. We can (and must) also remember that right here, right now, we are making new samskāras, new mental impressions, and planting new (karmic) seeds that will become our future moments… maybe even our future lifetimes.

“Each experience that we have, comes in the form of a wave in the Chitta, and this subsides and becomes finer and finer, but is never lost. It remains there in minute form, and if we can bring this wave up again, it becomes memory. So, if the Yogi can make a Samyama on these past impressions in the mind, he will begin to remember all his past lives.”

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 3.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 1st) 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.

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.

*NOTE: The eight officers who died were Patrolman Mathias Degan, Patrolman John Barrett, Patrolman George Miller, Patrolman Timothy Flavin, Patrolman Thomas Redden, Patrolman Nels Hansen, Patrolman Michael Sheehan, and Patrolman Timothy Sullivan (who is not always included in the count since he “succumbed to his wounds two years later, on June 13, 1888”).

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

  • August Spies, editor of the German-language Arbeiter-Zeitung (Workers’ Newspaper), who had just finished speaking and was not in a position to throw the bomb (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Samuel Fielden, a Methodist pastor who was not one of the organizers, and who (along with Spies) was one of the speakers at the rally and not in a position to throw the bomb (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893. He is the only defendant not buried at Maymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home Cemetary);

  • Albert Parsons, a former Confederate soldier turned abolitionists – who wasn’t even at Haymarket Square when the bomb was thrown (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Adolph Fischer, a typesetter for Arbeiter-Zeitung – who, like Parsons, was not onsite during the explosion (executed on November 11, 1887);

  • Michael Schwab, editorial assistant at Arbeiter-Zeitung, who was speaking at a completely different rally during the explosion (originally sentenced to death, his sentence was changed to life on November 10, 1887 and he was pardoned on June 26, 1893); and

  • George Engel – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was a known anarchist (executed on November 11, 1887)

  • Louis Lingg – who was not at Haymarket Square on the 4th, but was accused of making bombs (sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1887, on the eve of his execution);

  • Oscar Neebe, office manager of Arbeiter-Zeitung – who was not at Haymarket Square and stated that he was not even aware of the bombing until the next day (sentenced to 15 years, he was pardoned on June 26, 1893).

     

### WORDED (that’s the whole story) ###