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“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 ###

A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

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

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

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202021 To the Bone”]

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

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

Do It, But Differently (the Sunday post) October 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Oliver Sacks, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, October 17th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

 

“Do it differently

So it won’t come out the same

Step up, be strong,

Get yourself out of pain.

 

So you don’t have a clue

Damned if you don’t

Damned if you do

Make yourself happy by checking with you

Before you make a move

To do what someone else wants you to do.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured

Know your mind

This is behavior you have never practiced before”

 

– quoted from the poem “DIFFERENTLY” by Donna Garrett

Ancient philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism share common histories, roots and concepts, just as certain religions overlap. So, it’s not surprising to find similar recommendations in contemplative and mindfulness-based practices. For instance, it isn’t surprising that the aforementioned philosophies recommended consistency and a dedication to the practice. We find this also in religion. Hence the idea that we can do something religiously. I have heard, time and time again, that the Buddha recommended an adherence to the path even when faced with obstacles and resistance from others. For instance, according to the back story for metta (“lovingkindness”) meditation, the Buddha instructed monks to continue practicing the lovingkindness meditation even when they were being bombarded with insults (and fruit).

In Yoga Sūtra 1.12-14, Patanjali recommended abhyāsa: a dedicated, regular practice of making the “effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind….” Regular practice is also defined as something undertaken over a long period of time, without interruption, and with passion, devotion, and reverence. (As always, note that the recommendation is related to the entirety of the philosophy, not just the physical practice.) English translations of the sūtras usually include the word “ardent,” which means “enthusiastic or passionate.” This can conjure up the the picture of a hamster on a wheel, frantically working towards peace – which seems like an oxymoron.

Yet, we all find ourselves in that contradiction. We hurry up to get to yoga. We rush to slow down. We do in order to undo or not do. In some ways, it’s the human condition. The funny thing is, that in both Yoga and Buddhism, we find a balancing recommendation: vairāgya, the practice of non-attachment. Of course, letting go is easier said than done.

“Withdrawing the mind from the external world and turning it inward is difficult. There are two reasons for this. The first is our deep familiarity with the external world. This is what we know. This is where we were born. We live here and we will die here. Our concepts of loss and gain, failure and success, are defined by the external world and confined to it. We experience it as complete, solid….

 

The second reason we find it so hard to turn the mind inward is that we know very little about the inner dimension of life. The little we do know is based on momentary intuitive flashes or on what others have said. Because we have no direct experience of inner reality, we are not fully convinced it exists. For most of us, our inner world has no substance. Our belief in it is undermined by doubt. We are curious about it, but the idea of becoming established in it seems far-fetched.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.14 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Underlying the Metta Sutta background is the idea that the monks had to give up the idea that there was a more suitable place for them to meditate and practice lovingkindness. We sometimes think that the ideal place to meditate is quiet and the ideal place to practice lovingkindness is surrounded by people who are loving and kind – and there is some truth in that. However, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in Between God and Man: An Interpretation of Judaism, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.” Remember, the Buddha was invested in offering a liberating path to everyone regardless of their class or social status. Not everyone can practice under “ideal” circumstances. Additionally, even if we could, we still bring our minds and our previous (obstacle-inducing and suffering-producing) conditioning to the practice.

Patanjali was also interested in a practical practice, not just theory. So, he recommended cultivating opposites throughout the sūtras. In the first section, he described specific meditation practices around the idea (YS 1.33-39) and in Yoga Sūtra 2.33 he specifically defined the idea as a way to practice when “perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts” prevent one from following the entirety of the practice. When we look at the effect of practicing the different limbs, as described by Patanjali, we may view the practice of non-attachment as the opposite of the ardent practice. In fact, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, of the Himalayan tradition, illustrates these foundational principles of the Yoga Philosophy as elements balancing each other on a scale, recommending that we put equal weight and effort into giving our all and letting everything go.

Giving our all, in the moment, and then letting go as we flow our entire awareness into the next moment is the very essence of living in the moment. And while we are, in the base case, capable of living in that way, it can seem counterintuitive to our modern (Western) society. We are taught at an early age to be the ants not the grasshoppers, to be the little pig who takes the time to build the stone house as opposed to the two who use sticks and straw because they want to party. Inherent in our concept of responsibility is the idea that we can plan ahead and have some foresight. Yet, we can get bogged down in the planning and the doing. Conversely, even when we are aware of the psychological benefits of delayed gratification, we can want our cupcake now! And where these attitudes really get us into trouble, and really steep us in suffering is when they dovetail with abhiniveśaḥ, the afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that is fear of loss or fear of death.

“Music seems to have a special power to animate us. Kant called music, ‘…the quickening art.’ There’s something about rhythm, as a start, compels one to move…with the beat…. There’s something about the rhythm of the music, which has a dynamic, animated, propulsive effect that gets people moving in sympathy with it; and gets people moving in sympathy with one another. So…the rhythm of music has a strong bonding thing. People dance together, move together…”

 

– quoted from an interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks

“There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals… We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as “tick-tock, tick-tock” – even though it is actually “tick tick, tick tick.”

 

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

Remember, the brain likes patterns, repetition, and rhythm. The brain also likes solving puzzles and filling in the gaps. Even when our solutions or lacuna (gap-fillers) don’t make sense, they bring us some comfort. If we look at this from a Western science perspective, the brain creates a neural pathway when we do something for the first time and then reinforces, or hardwires, the pathway the more we repeat the activity, habit, or behavior. This is what we call muscle memory. If we look at this same thing from the perspective of the Yoga Philosophy, everything we do/experience creates “mental impressions” (samskaras) through which we view and understand every subsequent activity. Either way, we condition ourselves to feel, think, and be a certain way. In other words, we get into a groove, very much like a needle on a record.

Then something happens, our metaphorical record gets scratched and we skip a beat. Sometimes there’s enough momentum for the music to continue. But, sometimes, we get stuck. The groove becomes a rut or a rake (or a record that skips) and we resist the change that would alleviate our suffering. We find ourselves “stuck” even though we are doing the things that have helped us or others in the past. My yoga buddy Dave has a great joke about a groove, a rut, and a rake. What’s the difference? Perspective. Or how long you’ve been in it.

“Consequently, [René] Descartes has employed a Scholastic/Medieval argument to ground what is possibly the most important concept in the formation of modern physics, namely inertia. Yet, it is important to note that Descartes’ first and second laws do not correspond to the modern concept of inertia, since he incorrectly regards (uniform, non-accelerating) motion and rest as different bodily states, whereas modern theory dictates that they are the same state.”

 

– quoted from “4. The Laws of Motion and the Cartesian Conservation Principle” of “Descartes’ Physics” by Edward Slowik, published in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta

Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion, also called the Law of Inertia, states that “An object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at a constant speed and  in a straight line unless acted on by an unbalanced force.” Even before Newton codified it in this way, this natural phenomenon had been observed by people like Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. We can even observe it in ourselves and each other. Especially when we are engaged in a contemplative or mindfulness-based practice. Practices like Yoga and Buddhism allow us to notice when we are spiraling out of control and also when we are stuck. They also give us the tools, the force, to get unstuck. One of those tools is the practice of non-attachment. In fact, one of the lojong or “mind training” techniques in  Tibetan Buddhism is to “Self-liberate even the antidote.” (4) That is to say, don’t hold on to or grasp anything ” – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

The question is: How do you even do that? It seems impossible.

In fact, the idea that “It’s impossible,” is Arjuna’s exact argument in the Bhagavad Gita (6.33-34). His reasons (or excuses) are very relatable – that his mind is restless, turbulent, and “a nursery of waywardness, so strong it can drag an elephant, full of stubborn desires for worldly things. Indeed it’s like a mule.” He goes on, even, describing how his mind works when it doesn’t get its way. And, just like, a good kindergarten teacher, Krishna takes the time (and the crayons) to break it down – and he does so with a smile. While Krishna points to four elements (regular practice, relentless inquiry, non-attachment, and firm faith), it quickly becomes evident that Patanjali combined the first and the fourth elements in his outline. Additionally, Krishna’s explanation parallels Patanjali’s description of kriya yoga (YS 2.1), which involves discipline, self-study, and trustful surrender to a higher power (other than one’s self).

The thing to remember is that what happens in the mind, happens in the body; what happens in the body, happens in the mind; and both affect the breath. Since we can’t all automatically change the mind-body, these practices recommend we start with the breath. That’s the “force” by which we cultivate awareness and also change. Similar to the monks in the forest, the practice isn’t (only) being able to focus-concentrate-meditate on the parts of the breath when there is no distraction or interruption. Abhyāsa is about coming back again and again. Coming back to the breath, back to the ethical components, back to the mat, back to the cushion again and again – in spite of and specifically because of the distractions and interruptions. This, Krishna tells Arjuna, creates “raw force of determination, will.”

“Now begin to slowly shape your breath. Breathing through your nostrils, have the intention to lengthen the inhale and exhale. / Stay smooth and effortless. / Inhale and exhale, so as to resolve or refine any involuntary pauses. / Or any rough stages in the flow of the breath. // The slower this rhythm, the more healing it is. / The more you sense body and mind becoming quiet. / Continue to shape your breath for about one minute. // Be aware that you are using your mind to shape the breath… and the breath is shaping the mind. / Please continue. // Sense how your mind has become more calm and clear, at ease.”

 

– quoted from ” Para Yoga Nidra Practice 1: The Essential Steps” by Rod Stryker 

Of course, when you are feeling stuck, unmotivated, and possibly unloved / unappreciated, it’s hard to get moving – even in the metaphorical sense. This is when we go back to the lojong technique, as well as to Patanjali’s recommendation to cultivate the opposites. Remember to give yourself permission to take care of yourself and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do, right now – today, in this moment – that is different from what I did yesterday (or in a previous moment)? 
  • What is consistent with my practice and also shakes things up a little?
  • What haven’t I done in a long time?
  • What have I only done once?
  • With whom can I call, text, or otherwise engage? This is not to complain or explain what’s happening (unless that’s what you need), but to remind yourself that someone is in your corner. (Or to remember that you are in someone else’s corner.)

Once you have an answer that checks at least three out of five boxes, do it! Make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is only 2 minutes a day, those 2 minutes can change how you move through the rest of your day(s).

And, when everything is said and done, don’t forget to give thanks!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

NOTE: This playlist contains Easter eggs! Did you find them. The three birthday ones are stacked together – and one is actually a double. But there’s one I didn’t mention in the practice. (They are all related to the date, and the theme, but don’t be surprised if you notice there’s one or two that are obviously missing.)

A Little Metta

 

“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their lives into proper shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent. It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making. If you work with a different rhythm, you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey. There are no general principles for this art of being. Yet the signature of this unique journey is inscribed deeply in each soul. If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life.”

 

– quoted from Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Thanks, TH, for reminding me of this little bit of sweetness!

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Knowing & Unknowing, a prequel & a reboot October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Not everything that is faced can be changed;
but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

 

– James Baldwin (as quoted from the movie I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raoul Peck)

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, is a great example of how changing how you understand and identify yourself can be simultaneously challenging and beneficial, even beyond yourself. Opened by Pope John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, the council entailed four working sessions – the first of which started today, October 13th – and spanned a little over three years. It “more fully defined the nature of the Church;” changed and expanded the roles of bishops; opened up dialogue with other faith communities; and created an opportunity for Catholics around the world to better understand the teachings of the Church. One of the ways Vatican II opened up understanding within the Church was to refocus the liturgy (so that the Church calendar highlighted the events of the Holy Week, leading up to and including Easter) and to allow for services to be conducted in languages other than Latin. The goal, especially with the streamlining of focus and language options, was to ensure people “take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

To this day, however, there are Catholics who believe the liturgy and service are not real (and truly sacramental) if they are not in Latin.

Vatican II was attended by four future popes, lay members of the Catholic community, and religious leaders outside of the Catholic Church, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Rabbi Heschel worked with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to dynamical change the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; foster mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and to ensure the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. It sounds all good, right? Yet, the Nostra aetate – which specifically states, “… in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” – was one of the most controversial parts of Vatican II.

It turns out; it’s hard to get rid of your perception of others when it is tied to your convictions on right and wrong – even if correcting those misconceptions alleviates suffering.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

 

– Dr. Thomas Schelling, economist

 

Portions of the above were previously posted on October 11, 2020. The following was previously posted on October 13, 2020.

“It feels like I should have something momentous to say now that I’ve hit this landmark birthday. There is only this—I feel I’m in the middle of it all. Family, grandkids, work, marriage, good friends, joy, sadness, knowing and unknowing. Hmmm…come to think of it, that is pretty remarkable!”

 

 

– my dear friend DB on turning 60 (in an email dated 10/14/2013)

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but in many ways my life has taken turns I never saw coming. Even beyond the events of 2020, things are very different than I imagined. When we look back, when we see cause and effect – and even the now obvious beginnings of “unforeseen consequences” that absolutely could have seen coming if we had taken the time to pay more attention – it’s only human nature to think, “If I’d only known….” But, let’s be honest, coming where you come from, being surrounded by the people who surround you, and being who you are would you really have done things differently if you had known what was unknown?

Before you answer that question, consider that every moment of lives is spent a liminal moment between “knowing and unknowing,” “the seen and unseen.” Are you, in this moment considering the unknown and unseen forces at work around you and within you? Are you, at this moment, even comfortable considering the unknown (let alone the fact that there are things you know that you might need to “un-know”)?

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

 

 

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

 

 

The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians 4:18 (NLT)

When Paul the Apostle and Timothy, who would become the first Christian bishop of Ephesus, wrote the  second letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Saint Paul was focused on the church’s internal struggles, division, and quarrels. He intended to use his own personal experiences with external persecution and internal strife to reassure the congregants that was an authority on Jesus and his teachings and, furthermore, that “all this is for your benefit.” He instructed them to “not lose heart,” because their faith would be rewarded in a way that overwhelmed any current troubles. Similarly, Patanjali indicates (in the Yoga Sūtras) that the end results of our efforts (karma) are stored in affliction/pain “that is experienced in seen and unseen lives” (YS 2.12), but that ultimately everything that happens in the objective/perceived world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom.” (YS 2.18)

Again and again, the instruction is to trust that things are happening for the good if you are following the path. In the latter case, the path is the philosophy of Yoga, as opposed to Christianity; but, similar guidance is found in sacred text around the world. So the question becomes, how do we balance what we believe (our faith, especially in something unseen) with our reason, logic, and what we can clearly see (i.e., perceive with our senses)? Additionally, how do we “keep the faith” when everything seems to be going wrong?

 

“… all of us who feel we “know” a certain field—any field, whether scientific or not—should, it seems to me, regularly ponder what we don’t know, admit what we don’t know, and not turn away from what we don’t know…. Perhaps the chance for more civil discussion of these topics lies in our willingness to mark out our own areas of knowing and “unknowing,” to pay attention to one another’s areas of knowing and unknowing, and to proceed humbly together.”

 

 

– quoted from an Autumn 2006 Harvard Divinity Bulletin article entitled “Knowing and Unknowing” by Will Joyner

The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop considering the needs of others – and that’s the very minute we are divided. The minute we think we know everything and/or that we know enough to be right is the very moment we stop learning, adapting, and growing. In other words, it’s the minute we stop truly living (and the minute we stop living a life that serves the greater good). If, however, we can take Joyner’s suggestion and apply it to our daily interactions (even with ourselves) we have the possibility of living in a way that supports the greater good.

Will Joyner’s words from 2006 present us with a challenge, one we can accept on a daily basis. It’s the challenge to turn inward and to move through life with a certain level of humility. Humility is crucial because, as my friend DB so eloquently pointed out, we are not alone in this thing called life. And, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt so eloquently said, “… either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together….” To learn to live together we have to figure out a way to balance our wants and needs with the wants and needs of others. We need to figure out a way to connect between our areas of “knowing and unknowing.”

I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it is necessary. It is also self-sustaining, because the more we practice/live with discernment and the wisdom of the heart, the more we want to listen to the heart. One way to start is to consider the yamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for others and the niyamās (and other similar commandments and precepts) as doing the best for your own self. Such a practice creates a feedback loop that can serve the greater good.

“The practice of contentment begins with a conscious decision not to fixate on the fruit of our actions. It requires a deep conviction that when we perform our actions, the forces governing the law of cause and effect will ensure they bear fruit. When our actions do not appear to best fruit, we remind ourselves that unknown factors are far more powerful than known factors. When our actions bear desirable fruit, we acknowledge the higher reality that arranges unforeseen factors in our favor. When the fruit is undesirable, we accept it while acknowledging the benevolence of divine will. Thus we remain unperturbed by both the desirable and undesirable consequences of our actions.” 

 

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.42 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 13th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10132020 Knowing & Unknowing, prequel”]

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

 

Have your voted for the Carry app?

 

### WHAT DO YOU KNOW? ###

Being, the Habit (a 2-for-1 post) January 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Sunday, January 10th and Monday, January 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

I. Being, the Habit – Recognizing “That”

 

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not the same blood or birth, but of the same mind and possessing a share of the divine. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We are born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

 

– quoted from Meditations (Book 2) by Marcus Aurelius

Bring your awareness to who you are and what you’re all about. Or, as I put it on Sunday, bring your awareness to what you are. This is an inquiry into who and what you are in the habit of being. Remember that a habit is cultivated through repeated behavior that hard-wires the brain and also creates samskaras (“mental impressions”). One could argue that Western scientists and the ancient yogis were talking about the same thing; but, either way you look at it there comes a time when we have repeated certain behavior so much that we no longer realize (if we ever even knew) that said behavior was a choice. Furthermore, at some point our behavior locks us into a pattern – a pattern that is almost free of choice – and the only way to change the pattern is to break the habit of doing… which is the habit of being (a certain way).

One of my favorite mantras, as a yoga practitioner and as a teacher, is “So Hum, Ham Sa” – Sanskrit for “I am That, That I am.” I have heard that the ancient yogis said it was the sound of the breath coming into and out of the body. It is also, in English, a phrase that comes up again and again in sacred and popular text. For instance, in the story of Exodus, when Moses asks how he should identify the voice that speaks to him in the form of the burning bush, he is told, “ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh,” which is often translated into English as “I Am that I Am.” In this context, the mantra becomes a whisper from the Divine; a reminder, if you will. I often explain that the “That” in the mantra is with a “capital T,” indicating “all that and a bag of chips.” The only problem with the mantra, from a modern day perspective, is that we all too often focus on the “That” as being something positive, life affirming, and wholesome. In fact, the “That” is everything – even things we don’t like and/or see as negative, destructive, and evil.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “That’s not who we are” or “That’s not what we’re about” – and it recently that refrain has been repeated so many times it’s like an old record that has been warped from so much usage. I could point out, in great detail, that the phrases above are almost always used in the context of bad or misguided behavior that has existed since the beginning of time – or, in the most recent case, since the beginning of the United States, but that the speaker either didn’t recognize was happening before; finds abhorrent; and/or wants to create some distance between themselves and the people engaged in said behavior. Both variations of the phrase are also used as a kind of shaming, in the same way that a parent teaches a child that certain behavior is unacceptable. In the current context, however, we are not parents teaching our children. And, rather than go into a history lesson here – or run the risk of sounding overly judgmental – let me just pose a couple of philosophical questions (with really practical implications): How does the habit (of denying what is) serve us and how do we change a habit of bad behavior if we don’t acknowledge our connection to it?

As a side note, thinking about our lives and the way we engage our lives (i.e., our way of being) as a habit, brought my awareness to several Christian authors who adamantly reject the idea that “you are what you do.” Obviously, since I’ve only recently become aware of this rejection, I have not read all the books and theological expositions. A quick survey, however, seems to indicate that these writers and speakers, coming from a religious perspective, are focusing on the religious concept of being and the practical applications of spiritually being. In other words, they are looking at each person as being inextricably connected to the Divine and offering guidance on living a spiritual life in a world that focuses on so much profane doing. Here we see the same power that is in the mantra (“So Hum, Ham Sa”) – that you already are something amazing and you don’t have to do anything to be that. Just as is the case with the mantra, the power is in the realization and the lesson seems to point to people rethinking the way they show up in the world by placing their spiritual/religious beliefs as a priority in all that they do.

 

II. Being, the Habit – Of Cultivating Spirit

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

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

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

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

Walk with me…a mile, or 54. March 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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Thank you to everyone who helped me beta test Zoom on Sunday! More streaming classes are coming and I will post a recording of the class later this week.

In the meantime, remember this: 55 years ago today, Tuesday, March 24th, Civil Rights protesters stepped into Montgomery County (Alabama). The next morning they would stand in front of (but not on) the steps of the Alabama State Capital Building. It had been a long journey…even longer than the 5 days and 54 miles it took them to arrive from Selma, Alabama. And as he stood in front of (but not on) the steps of the capital, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how much longer the journey would be.

For anyone who is interested, here are two (2) posts I wrote (in January 2019 and January 2016)about the experience of some of those marchers, and how it works out on the mat.

 

### NAMASTE ###

Take Another Look Tuesday January 15, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Men, Peace, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Even though most (but not all) of America will celebrate/observe it on Monday, today (Tuesday, January 15th) is the actual birthday of a man who believed in angels and dreams; a man of faith, who believed in living a three-dimensional life; one who believed you can hear God’s voice when you hear Mahalia Jackson sing. Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King.

If you didn’t catch it the first time (or want to take another look), here’s a 2016 post about wisdom and legacy.

~ Jai Guru Dev Jai Jai~

 

FEELING THE FEET – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something.”

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

Humans are sensational beings; in that, we are beings full of sensation. And there is no shortage of sensation on the mat. We feel our clothes and the mat, the floor, or the cushion. We feel the fluctuating temperature of the breath and the body. We feel weight in our shoulders or soreness in our joints. We feel… That’s what we humans do. But we don’t just feel physical sensations. We also feel things mentally, physically, and emotionally – and all of that sensation is also information.

Whether we are feeling wonderful or puny, weak or strong, flexible or stiff, wise or ignorant, it’s important to be grateful for the sensation/information, because the sensation/information informs the practice. Even misinformation can inform the practice, but that’s not the big problem with teaching yoga.

The big problem with teaching yoga is articulating what we feel when we’re on the mat, while simultaneously holding space for what other people feel on the mat. It’s a matter, to quote Nikki Giovanni, of feeling despite what we think “we should feel.”

On any given day, someone will ask me some variation of the question, “What should I be feeling in…?” As an English major (and the daughter of my parents to boot), my first instinct is to offer some powerful purple prose describing what is happening in the pose – anatomically – and how that feels in my body. My description might be helpful – especially if the person in question is practicing in my body or practicing in my mind. However, since they are not – ever – my response can be problematic. Instead of being helpful and informative, the words I choose may cause the practitioner to feel they are doing something wrong and that they need to adjust their pose. Sometimes, the thought that their pose is not quite right can also lead to the second arrow…they start to think they need to fix their body.

As a teacher of asana, I am not alone in this quandary. Some teachers avoid the issue by never telling people what they should/could/will feel in a pose. Others have an uncanny knack for going to the other extreme.  A more skillful middle ground would be channeling Dharma Yoga teacher Kim Jeblick and saying some variation of, “I don’t know. Come into the pose. Now, tell me: What are you feeling?”

Because everybody’s body is different, everybody is going to feel something different. There is no shortage of sensation on the mat: Even if you’re paralyzed.

His book Waking describes Matthew Sanford’s experiences being paralyzed at the age of 13 and the subsequent journey that led him to yoga. The book is full of sensation – it is also full of people telling Sanford, and themselves, that he can’t feel anything. Not feeling is the beginning of the story and, it could have been the end, except, Sanford was aware of feeling presence. Somehow he understood that the feeling of presence was an intimate connection between his mind and his upper body. His lower body, however, presented itself as a brick wall, a place where he was not present:

“I am now living in a body that presents silence rather than tangible sensation…. This silence that I perceive within my body came upon me abruptly through a spinal cord injury. For most people, however, the process is slower. It develops through aging. Over time, the body becomes slower to respond, more likely to sit at rest, more content to observe rather than act. But, in each case, the fundamental healing question remains the same: What aspect of consciousness will transverse the increasing gap between the mind and body? The answer will depend upon our healing stories.”*

Sanford goes on to describe how “I hear(s) silence where there is pain” as a means of protection. This is 60 pages in; it’s still the beginning of the story.

As the story continues, Sanford describes an exploration of presence, which is also an exploration of sensation/information – which is also an exploration of the intimate energetic connection between the mind and the body. This awareness of intimacy, plus the alignment knowledge that comes from Iyengar, is what now informs Sanford’s practice, as well as his teaching.

His awareness of presence is also what makes Sanford such a powerful teacher. While other teachers struggle to define how the pose feels on the outside (in order to feel something on the inside), Sanford focuses on the inner sensations and “how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then I observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship.”

As I post this, I have been practicing yoga for 18 of my 49+ years. The only thing I have been doing longer is reading and being a black woman.

“If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power.

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

The Laws of Motion & The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni
(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice where you feel heaviness and notice where you feel lightness. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Again and again, this practice comes back to the roots, back to the feet. Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in 1965, give thanks for your feet and how they support your heart.

“It is appropriate that I sing
The song of the feet

The weight of the body
And what the body chooses to bear
Fall on me”

– from The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni

pexels-photo-267313.jpeg

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

* Matthew Sanford defines “healing stories” as “…the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.”

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

Happy Wisdom Day: To Noble Kings January 16, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mathematics, Men, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Today we celebrate the birthday
of a man who believed in angels and dreams.
We know he believed in the latter,
because he told us straight up,
“I have a dream…”
He was a man of faith,
who believed he could hear God’s voice (when Mahalia Jackson sings).
But did you know that
Dr. Martin Luther King
believed in living a three dimensional life?

– the beginning of my 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday class

 

This week has been a week of wisdom and legacy – or, maybe, that’s the legacy of wisdom. Monday was the birthday of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (b.1/11/1907), one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, who said, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” And, after each of my Monday classes, at least one person mentioned how inspired they have been (throughout their lives) by the blessing of Rabbi Heschel’s life. The thing is, on the outside, these people couldn’t have been more different (from each other and from Heschel) if they tried – and that’s the living legacy of Heschel: on the inside, we are all amazed by evidence of the Divine; on the inside, we are all seeking a relationship with the Divine.

“I prayed with my feet.” – Rabbi Heschel when asked if he found time to pray when he was marching to Selma.

The idea that one can pray with your whole body is not a foreign concept to me – nor would it have been to Rabbi Heschel, who was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to Marcus J. Freed (whose The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment combines weight training and yoga with Jewish mysticism), seven of the “10 Divine energies that emanate different attributes of God…are located in the body.” Malchut (Mastery/Nobility), Freed explains, is associated “with the hands, feet, and mouth. This makes perfect sense on reflection , as these are the organs that we can use to master ourselves and to complete the relationship with others, depending on the words we speak and the way we interact (e.g., Who we are giving to or walking towards and away from).” In Rabbi Heschel’s words and deeds we see this explanation of Malchut-Mastery/Nobility embodied.

Although Malchut-Mastery/Nobility is feminine in nature, it is often referred to as “Kingship.”And, today January 15th, we started the celebration of a King. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (b. 1929) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, four days and 22 years after Rabbi Heschel was born in Poland. Their beginnings seem as disparate as their appearances. But, go deeper and the similarities reveal themselves.

Both men descended from prominent religious leaders. Both men experienced ethnic persecution. Both men were called and ordained – and both men believed part of their calling was social action. By directly influencing Vatican II and by marching from Selma with Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel’s life became an instrument of the Divine used to combat racism, which he called “man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum hatred for a minimum of reason.” And, of course, Dr. King, himself, epitomizes a non-violent struggle for freedom, equality, peace, and brotherhood.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Oh, there will be a day, the question won’t be, “How many awards did you get in life?” Not that day. It won’t be, “How popular were you in your social setting?” That won’t be the question that day. It will not ask how many degrees you’ve been able to get. The question that day will not be concerned with whether you are a “Ph.D.” or a “no D.” It will not be concerned with whether you went to Morehouse or whether you went to “No House.” The question that day will not be, “How beautiful is your house?” The question that day will not be, “How much money did you accumulate? How much did you have in stocks and bonds?” The question that day will not be, “What kind of automobile did you have?” On that day the question will be, “What did you do for others?” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (from “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”)

In 1954, at the age of 25, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Some sources state that his first sermon, his trial sermon at Dexter, was the earliest version of a sermon he would give throughout his life: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”* Reading and listening to a 1967 version of Dr. King’s sermon, I am struck by the similarities between King’s description of a complete life (based on Judeo-Christian texts) and the concept of yoga (union) as described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of the Lord”).

The Bhagavad Gita captures the moment when the young prince Arjuna pauses in the middle of a civil war. He literally steps into the middle of the battlefield and contemplates laying down his arms. He says, “I shall not fight,” (BG 2:9) even though he is on the righteous side of the conflict. His close friend and charioteer, Krishna, reveals himself as “the Divine Teacher” (i.e., an avatar of God). Krishna then proceeds to explain the nature of the soul as well as the various types of yoga (union paths) by which a person may live a life connected to the Divine.

Last year, during the 50th anniversary of those seminal Civil Rights marches in Alabama, I drew a parallel between Krishna and Arjuna’s relationship in the Bhagavad Gita and the relationship between (Representative) John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams. Then I saw the movie Selma, and realized the filmmakers created a similar conversation/relationship between (Representative) Lewis and Dr. King. (The movie version even took place in a chariot/car!) Now, in Dr. King’s first sermon, the conversation about dharma (law) or one’s duty in life; karma (action) or one’s responsibility to others; and bhakti (devotion) or one’s love for God is directed to us.

“When you know the true nature of the material world your grief is destroyed; when you understand the true nature of the Spirit, bliss is acquired…. Divinity is subtle and beyond comprehension. It appears to be many but is one undivided.” – Krishna, Bhagavad Gita 13:1, 16

And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgment will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream…. When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”

(*NOTE: The three (3) links above for Dr. King’s sermon will take you to the same page, which contains the written text, as well as an audio recording of the text. You may also purchase recordings of Dr. King’s sermons and speeches on Amazon.)

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~