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Freedom: Still Making It Make Sense July 3, 2022

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

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

The Manageress seemed to construe this as excellent news.

‘So then you’re free?’ she said.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

### Feel Free ###

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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

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

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

Being and breathing, with awareness.

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

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

The following is a revised version of a 2020 post.

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

*

– quoted from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

That’s the lesson of “insight.”

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

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

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

*

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

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

Remember, You Can Still Practice! May 8, 2022

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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I will be back on schedule (and on Zoom) tomorrow. If you are interested in receiving one of the aforementioned practices, please comment below or email me via myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.
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In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

*

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### METTA ###

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 1st) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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Ways and Means (mostly the music) February 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Karma, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Science, Swami Vivekananda, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“In India there was a sect called the Râsâyanas. Their idea was that ideality, knowledge, spirituality, and religion were all very right, but that the body was the only instrument by which to attain to all these. If the body came to an end every now and again, it would take so much more time to attain to the goal. For instance, a man wants to practice Yoga, or wants to become spiritual. Before he has advanced very far he dies. Then he takes another body and begins again, then dies, and so on. In this way much time will be lost in dying and being born again. If the body could be made strong and perfect, so that it would get rid of birth and death, we should have so much more time to become spiritual. So these Rasayanas say, first make the body very strong. They claim that this body can be made immortal. Their idea is that if the mind manufactures the body, and if it be true that each mind is only one outlet to the infinite energy, there should be no limit to each outlet getting any amount of power from outside. Why is it impossible to keep our bodies all the time? We have to manufacture all the bodies that we ever have. As soon as this body dies, we shall have to manufacture another. If we can do that, why cannot we do it just here and now, without getting out of the present body?”

*

Concentration. Concentration is Samâdhi, and that is Yoga proper; that is the principal theme of this science, and it is the highest means. The preceding ones are only secondary, and we cannot attain to the highest through them. Samadhi is the means through which we can gain anything and everything, mental, moral, or spiritual.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 4.1 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, February 19th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

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

 

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Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.

“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’”

*

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

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

*

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

*

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

*

– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

*

### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###

The Hardest Working Day, the Way the Words Work, & More Sides of the Story (2 “missing” Saturday posts) May 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Many blessings, also, to those who are Counting the Omer (and, also, to those who are not).

 

[This is a post related to Saturday, May 1st and Saturday, May 8th (making it a preview for Saturday, May 15th). You can request an audio recording 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.]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 1st is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

The playlist for Saturday, May 8th is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

The eight anarchists who were convicted of conspiracy were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

Focus+Concentrate+Meditate = Sweet Heaven (the “missing” post) February 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Lent, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy New Year! Many blessings to those celebrating the Jade Emperor’s birthday and/or observing Lent!

[This is the post for Saturday, February 20th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“The Indriyas, the organs of the senses, are acting outwards and coming in contact with external objects. Bringing them under the control of the will is what is called Pratyahara or gathering towards oneself. Fixing the mind on the lotus of the heart, or on the centre of the head, is what is called Dharana. Limited to one spot, making that spot the base, a particular kind of mental waves rises; these are not swallowed up by other kinds of waves, but by degrees become prominent, while all the others recede and finally disappear. Next the multiplicity of these waves gives place to unity and one wave only is left in the mind. This is Dhyana, meditation. When no basis is necessary, when the whole of the mind has become one wave, one-formedness, it is called Samadhi. Bereft of all help from places and centres, only the meaning of the thought is present. If the mind can be fixed on the centre for twelve seconds it will be a Dharana, twelve such Dharanas will be a Dhyana, and twelve such Dhyanas will be a Samadhi.”

 

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

 

Take a moment to consider where you put your energy, resources, effort, and focus. How much time, money, effort, or awareness do you put into loving someone? Or, actively disliking someone? How much energy do you spend dealing with fear or grief, anger or doubt? How much on joy or gratitude? It is generally understood that what you get out of a situation or your life is partially based on what you put into a situation or life. A more nuanced understanding of such an equation would highlight the fact that our energy, resources, effort, and focus/awareness all combine to produce a certain outcome – and this is in keeping with Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion. It is also consistent with text in Ecclesiastes and with what Rod Stryker refers to as the Creation Equation.

The problem many of us run into isn’t that we don’t know or understand the formula. The problem is that we don’t pay attention to what we are putting into the equation. Our time, energy, efforts, and resources get pulled in different directions, because our attention is distracted – that is to say, our focus/awareness is pulled into different directions. But, what happens if/when we sharpen our focus? What happens when we pull all our awareness and senses in and focus/concentrate/meditate in such a way that we become completely absorbed in one direction? Consider the power of that kind of engagement.

Yoga Sūtra 3.1: deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.2: tatra pratyaya-ikatānatā dhyānam

 

– “Dhyāna is the repeated continuation, or unbroken flow of thought, toward that one object or place.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.3: tadeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ svarūpa-śūnyam-iva-samādhiḥ

 

– “Samadhi [meditation in its highest form] is the state when only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form.”

Yoga Sūtra 3.4: trayam-ekatra samyama

 

– “Samyama is [the practice or integration of] the three together.”

In the third section of the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali outlined the last three limbs of the Yoga Philosophy and then, just as he did with the other elements, he breaks down the benefits of practicing these final limbs. Similar to sūtra 2.1, there is a thread that highlights the power of three elements when practiced together. What is different about the final limbs, however, is that Patanjali devoted the majority of a whole chapter – “The Chapter (or Foundation) on Progressing” – to breaking down the benefits of integrating dhāranā (“focus” or concentration”), dhyāna (“concentration” or “meditation”), and Samādhi (“meditation” or “absorption”).

We can unintentionally find ourselves in a state of absorption, just as we can consciously progress into the state. We may think of it as being “in the zone” and it is something our minds are completely capable of experiencing. Even people with different types of ADHD can find themselves in this state of absorption. However, what Patanjali described, as it relates to the practice, is a very deliberate engagement of the mind – and, therefore, a very deliberate engagement of the mind-body-spirit.

There are, of course, times, when as individuals or groups we truly harness the power of our awareness and engage the mind-body-spirit in a way that could come under the heading of Samyama. Consider people coming together to raise a barn or to support a family in need. Think about grass roots efforts to register people to vote or change unjust laws. Think about how people raise money for a cause, an individual, or a community. Contemplate how someone’s focus shifts when they give something up for Lent. Another example, although it is an extreme example, of when every fiber of someone’s being is focused on a single goal is when that goal is survival. One might do multiple tasks during such a period, but each task has the intention of ensuring survival. This is true of an individual and it can also be true of groups of people. In fact, throughout history there have been stories of individuals and groups of people who found themselves in such a situation.

One of those situations where everyone focused every fiber of their being on survival is remembered and commemorated on the ninth and tenth days of the Lunar New Year. Legend has it that the Hokkien people (also known as Hoklo, Banlam, and Minnan people) found themselves under attack. The Hokkien were not warriors, but they came in close proximity with warriors because they were known for building great ships. One version of their story states that the events occurred during the Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1279 CE), while they were being hunted and killed; another indicates that they were caught between warring factions. Ultimately, to escape the carnage, they decided to hide in a sugar cane field – which, in some versions of the story, just miraculously appeared. They hid until there were no more sounds of horses, warriors, or battle. Legend has it that they emerged on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year, which is the Jade Emperor’s Birthday.

“‘From this story, we learn that unity, solidarity and the active participation of the community is necessary when it comes to facing challenges,’ said [Klang Hokkien Association president Datuk Teh Kim] Teh.”

 

– quoted from The Star article (about a version of the story where only some hide) entitled “Legend Behind Hokkien New Year emphasizes unity and solidarity” by Grace Chen (2/24/2018)

The Jade Emperor is sometimes referred to as “Heavenly Grandfather” and “Heavenly Duke.” He is recognized as the ruler of heaven and earth in some Chinese religion and mythology. In Taoism, he is one of the Three Pure Ones or the Three Divine Teachers. Fujian province (in China), Penang (in Malayasia), and Taiwan are three areas where there is a large concentration of Hokkien people and, therefore, places where the ninth day of the Lunar New Year is a large celebration. In some places the celebrations begin at 11 PM on the eighth night and can be so large that they eclipse the celebrations of the first day of the Lunar New Year (in those areas). In fact, the ninth day is actually called “Hokkien New Year.”

Those who are religious will go to a temple and engage in a ritual involving prostration, kneeling, bowing, incense, and offerings. For many there is a great feast full of fruits, vegetables, noodles, and (of course) sugar cane. The sugar cane is an important element of the Jade Emperor’s birthday celebrations and rituals – not only because of their story of survival, but also because the Hokkien word for “sugarcane” (kam-chià, 甘蔗) is a homonym for (or sounds like) a Hokkien word for “thank you” (kamsiā, 感谢), which literally means “feeling thankful.”

Every version of the Hokkien people’s survival story is a great reminder that we can give thanks no matter how hard, how challenging, how infuriating, and/or how tragic our situation. Take last year, for instance: When we look back at all the hard stuff, all the grief, all the fear, all the anger, all the disappointment, and all of the trauma, we can get distracted and forget that there were moments of sweetness. Last year, there were moments of kindness, moments of love, moments of birth and rebirth, moments of compassion, moments of hope, and moments of joy. In other words, in spite of all the hard stuff, there were moments of sweetness. Take a moment to remember one of those moments; and feel thankful.

 

“‘Although we may not have an image of this deity in our temple, as long as devotees have the Jade Emperor in their hearts, their prayers will be heard,’ said [the Kwan Imm Temple’s] principal Shi Fa Zhuo.”

 

– quoted from The Star article entitled “Legend Behind Hokkien New Year emphasizes unity and solidarity” by Grace Chen (2/24/2018)

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

### DON’T BE GREEDY, BE GRATEFUL ###