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Because Every Vote Counted (Part 3): more aptly titled “To Ensure Every Vote Counted” July 2, 2020

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[Surprise! This is an expanded version of two more events I mention during classes on July 2nd: the anniversary of the birth of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ]

“The issue in this case is not whether declaring a war on illegal drugs is good public policy. The importance of ridding our society of such drugs is, by now, apparent to all…. Precisely because the need for action against the drug scourge is manifest, the need for vigilance against unconstitutional excess is great. History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the dissenting opinion on Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989)

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. We’ve already established that when Caesar Rodney cast his vote for independence, today in 1776, his vote did not extend freedom, liberty, or independence to all humans within his territory. But, that is not the end of today’s story. Exactly 132 years after Caesar Rodney’s famous ride to cast a vote for independence, a baby boy was born to a railroad porter named William and his wife Norma, a teacher. This son, a descendant of slaves on both sides, would spend his whole life working to extend those freedoms to all and today in 1964 (on his 56th birthday) he would receive a great “birthday present” in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back to Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908.

William and Norma Marshall named their son Thoroughgood, which he would later shorten it to Thurgood. The Marshalls were a Black family, the descendants of slaves. William and Norma taught their sons about the Constitution and the rule of law. William even took his sons to listen to court cases, which the Marshalls would then debate. Thurgood Marshall would later say that those early debates with his father turned him into a lawyer. But he wasn’t just any lawyer: he was the “winning-est” attorney in the history of the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS), the first African-American United States Solicitor General, and the first African-American to Supreme Court Justice.

“If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”

 

The Gospel According to John  (8:36) and motto for Lincoln University (Oxford, Pennsylvania)

 

“Veritas et Utilitas (‘Truth and Service’)”

 

– motto for Howard University (Washington, D. C.)

 

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

 

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

 

By all accounts, Thurgood Marshall was an excellent student throughout high school (graduating third in his class), but started college as a bit of a prankster. He attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania (halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore) and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American literature and philosophy. His peers included Langston Hughes and Cab Calloway, who would become internationally renowned artists. Thurgood Marshall would become just as celebrated as Hughes and Calloway, but rather than pursuing literature, he earned a law degree from Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class, and proceeded to change the world.

During the Civil Rights Movement, he argued and won more cases (29 out of 32) before the country’s highest court than any other attorney. After an equally notable career as an appeals court judge – notable in part because Senators from the southern states held up his appointment, causing him to serve the first few months in recess, and also because once he was able to serve none of his cases were overturned – Thurgood Marshall served as United States Solicitor General (winning 14 out of 19 cases). He then returned to the Supreme Court – this time as its first African-American Justice; the first in 178 years.

Both of Thurgood Marshall’s alma maters (Lincoln University and Howard University) are historically black universities (HBCUs). It wasn’t as if he never considered attending a school that was not an HBCU; he didn’t have a choice – segregation prevented him from attending institutions of higher education like the University of Maryland School of Law. In what some might consider an interesting twist of fate, he would not only become known for arguing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a school segregation case he argued in his mid-forties, his first major victory working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was also a school segregation case: against the University of Maryland School of Law. At the age of 26, Thurgood Marshall joined his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston in representing Donald Gaines Murray in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936). Murray had been denied acceptance to the University of Maryland because of his race. In both Murray v. Pearson and Brown v. Board, Thurgood Marshall challenged Plessy v. Ferguson, 3 U.S. 537 (1896), and the doctrine of “separate but equal.” He won both cases, but only the latter case completely overturned the legality of school segregation.

“What’s at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.”

 

– Thurgood Marshall, NAACP attorney for plaintiff in Murray v. Pearson, 169 Md. 478, 182 A. 590 (1936)

As I referenced before, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law today in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It would also outlaw unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, work environments, and public accommodations. It also expanded the definition of “all men” (as written in the second sentence of the “Declaration of Independence”) to include all people. Over the years, there would be several landmark cases that impacted the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of those cases was decided almost exactly 56 years later (on June 15, 2020), when SCOTUS upheld a portion of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6 -3 decision, the highest court in the country affirmed that it is unconstitutional for an employer to fire someone for being gay or transgender. Clarence Thomas, Thurgood Marshall’s successor in that he is the only other African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, was one of the 3 dissenters.

Thurgood Marshall believed the death penalty was unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)) and supported a woman’s right to choose (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)). He is not only remembered as a champion of Civil Rights, his name and his work are often mentioned in the same breath as the names and efforts of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. The three men had different backgrounds and so worked in different ways, even in different spheres; and yet they had the same aim: to expand those “unalienable Rights” detailed in the “Declaration of Independence” and ratified by the Constitution of the United States of America.

A spirit of strong conviction (first 5 minutes only)

 

Electric… but not an Electrician

“Like many anniversary celebrations, the plan for 1987 takes particular events and holds them up as the source of all the very best that has followed. Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunate. Not the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the ‘more perfect Union’ it is said we now enjoy.

 

 

I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

 

 – from speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

“And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective. Otherwise, the odds are that for many Americans the bicentennial celebration will be little more than a blind pilgrimage to the shrine of the original document now stored in a vault in the National Archives. If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 (Boston 1966), will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.

 

Thus, in this bicentennial year, we may not all participate in the festivities with flag-waving fervor. Some may more quietly commemorate the suffering, struggle, and sacrifice that has triumphed over much of what was wrong with the original document, and observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled. I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

 

– conclusion to the speech given by Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall at The Annual Seminar of the San Francisco Patent and Trademark Law Association, Maui, Hawaii May 6, 1987

 

 

### MOKSHA • MUKTI ###

 

 

 

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 2) July 2, 2020

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[While each sequence is slightly different on July 1st and 2nd, this is essentially an expanded version of the story I tell about Caesar Rodney’s Ride and why John Adams thought future generations would celebrate July 2nd.]

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. There are certain times a year when these ideas are front and center in the consciousness of people in and around the United States of America. We talk about them around Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We talk about them around the anniversaries of tragic events like 9/11. D-Day, and the attack on Pearl Harbor. In recent years, they’ve come up in conversations, debates, and arguments related to athletes protesting during the national anthem. I talk about these ideas all the time, as they are related to Eastern philosophies like yoga and Buddhism. And, of course, we talk about them as we approach the Fourth of July, a theoretical celebration of freedom, liberty, and independence. However, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, most of these conversations about leave out a two big pieces of the discussion: (1) what people did to ensure the freedom, liberty, and independence (of some) and (2) all the people who were not included in that initial declaration of independence (and the subsequent revolution that followed).

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

– from “The Declaration of Independence” drafted by the Committee of Five and (eventually) signed by delegates of the Second Continental Congress

“The Declaration of Independence” was the formal announcement and explanation of the “Lee Resolution” (aka “The Resolution for Independence).” Its second sentence is often referenced as “one of the best-known sentences in the English language” and is possibly the most quoted sentence in American history. It provided justification for revolution and the building blocks for a new nation. It was, however, not completely true. While we may want to delude ourselves into thinking the founding fathers meant all humans when they signed off on the declaration – or even all males – the “all men” was very specific in that it meant “white men only.” And, if we are being honest, there was also a religious subtext which further restricted who would be granted the subsequently mentioned Rights. (Yes, yes, we can go around and around about religious freedom, but there was a definite assumption within the text that “all men,” see above, believed in one God – even if they had slightly different ways of worshiping said God.)

The Second Continental Congress would approve the resolution and the declaration unanimously, but it was never a sure thing. There was debate with the Committee of Five as to how to present their argument to the other delegates in a way that would sway things in their favor. Remember, everyone on the committee and every one of the delegates was, at the time, a subject of the Crown – meaning they were citizens of the British Commonwealth – and what they were proposing was straight-up treason. They knew this would be evidence of treason. Furthermore, they knew that they were placing their family, friends, and neighbors at great risk. They also thought freedom, liberty, and independence were worth the risk. So, they drafted the resolution and prepared to take a vote.

“If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here the saying is true, ‘Thinking makes it so.’”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.11 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

The vote was scheduled to take place in Philadelphia at the beginning of July 1776. There was one problem: a unanimous vote was not guaranteed. The Delaware territory was represented by Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read. Rodney and McKean were for independence; Reed was against. While this looks like a slam dunk on paper, Rodney was not in Philadelphia when the vote was announced. He was in Delaware, and if he didn’t vote, Delaware’s vote would not be counted.

If you talk about freedom, liberty, and independence, and then reference a significant horse ride, most people in America will think about Paul Revere and his midnight ride (of April 18, 1775). If you ask someone from Delaware, however, they might also mention Caesar Rodney, whose ride is depicted on the back of the “Delaware quarter.” Caesar Rodney was a life-long bachelor who spent his life in public service. He was a soldier, a lawyer, and a judge whose many roles included Brigadier General of Delaware Militia, Sheriff of Kent County, Justice of the Peace, and delegate and Speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties (as was his grandfather before him). As I previously mentioned, Rodney was also delegate to the American Continental Congress and would eventually serve as President of Delaware. When Rodney heard the vote for independence had been called he was resolving Militia issues in Delaware, 70 – 80 miles away from Philadelphia depending on the route.

Keep in mind that this was before planes, trains, and automobiles. There were no paved roads or freeways as we know them today. Still, there is no indication that Caesar Rodney hesitated. He heard the call to adventure and set off to ensure freedom, liberty, and independence for his family, friends, neighbors, and future generations (of “men”). Some (including his brother) say he spent part of the trip in a carriage, which makes sense given the situation. However, he is depicted and remembered as riding his horse 70 – 80 miles from Monday, July 1, 1776 until later afternoon on Tuesday, July 2, 1776. He rode across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams. He endured extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms. And he did it all while wearing a mask, in the form of a handkerchief, across the lower portion of his face.

Let me repeat that last part in case you missed it: He rode for two days, over rough terrain and in inclement weather while wearing a face mask.

“This Forenoon, Mr. Caesar Rodney, of the lower Counties on Delaware River, two Mr. Tilghmans from Maryland, were introduced to us…. Caesar Rodney is the oddest looking Man in the World. He is tall—thin and slender as a Reed—pale—his Face is not bigger than a large Apple. Yet there is Sense and Fire, Spirit, Wit and Humour in his Countenance.

 

He made himself very merry with Ruggles and his pretended Scruples and Timidities, at the last Congress.”

 

– from diary entry dated 1774. Saturday. Sept. 3, by John Adams

“[He was] remarkably genteel and elegant in his person, dress, and manners, had a great fund of wit and humor of the pleasing kind, so that his conversation was always bright & strong and Conducted by Wisdom… He always lived a bachelor, was generally Esteemed, and indeed very popular.”

 

– Thomas Rodney, in describing his older brother (after Caesar Rodney died)

Caesar Rodney suffered from asthma and facial cancer. The cancer would eventually kill him, but in the latter part of his life he was in a great deal of pain and the cancer ravaged his face. While there are no portraits of him, people like John Adams would write about him and (see above) describe him in letters and journals. Read that passage from John Adams diary again. Get a picture in your head of Caesar Rodney tired, dusty, and still wearing his boots and spurs – as well as a green handkerchief or scarf across his nose and mouth. Imagine such a man walking into a congressional assembly in order to cast his vote for independence.

“As I believe the voice of my constituents and all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, and as my own judgment concurs with them, I give my vote for independence.”

 

– Caesar Rodney, Delaware delegate to the Second Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

When I teach on July 1st and 2nd, I tell the story of Caesar Rodney as we move through a sequence of poses inspired by Jivamukti Yoga. Jivamukti Yoga takes its name from the term “jivan-mukti,” a soul liberated while living. So, we are literally, physically, metaphorically, and energetically on the road/path to freedom. The poses would be good recovery poses if you had just spent two days riding on a horse and, when we are in the studio, the soundtrack features music that would have been popular back in the day. By “back in the day,” I mean today in 1776.

Delaware is known as “The First State” and therefore, when the United States Mint started its “50 State Quarters Program” it started with Delaware. If you look at the back of the Delaware quarter you will find an image of Caesar Rodney, riding his horse, in order to ensure the boon of freedom, liberty, and independence. Delaware school children learn about his ride to Philadelphia, sometimes in schools and/or school districts named after him. His name can also be found on town squares, parks, church monuments, streets, and various institutions. There are also statues, in Delaware and elsewhere. One of those statues, in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, was recently taken down by order of the mayor. (The city also removed a statue of Christopher Columbus and the state has removed “whipping posts” from city centers.) Part of the discussion” surrounding what to do with the statue from Rodney Square includes the idea of putting it in a museum and putting his (and Delaware’s) history into context.

“We cannot erase history, as painful as it may be, but we can certainly discuss history with each other and determine together what we value and what we feel is appropriate to memorialize. In this period of awakening for our City, State, and country, we should be listening more to each other and building a more just City and a better America.”

 

– Press Statement from Wilmington, Delaware Mayor Mike Purzycki regarding removal of statues and the related “overdue discussion”

Some of the historical context is included in the story above. Here’s a little more, and this is the part that directly relates to why the Wilmington statue was taken down.

Caesar Rodney was born in 1728, on family’s farm, “Poplar Grove” (now known as “Byfield”) on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Both sides of his family were fairly prominent and Byfield was a successful 800-acre farm. It was successful, even described as “prosperous” farm that sold wheat and barley. Needless to say, there were slaves. At some point the farm expanded to 1,000 acres with at least 200 slaves. Caesar Rodney, named for his father, was the oldest of 8. His father died when he was 17 and while he “officially” became head of the household, he was also placed under a guardianship by the Delaware Orphan’s Court.

There was some debate about slavery in Delaware in 1767 (when Rodney was 39). While records indicate that he was on the side that wanted to end or limit slavery, a closer look implies that such a decision might have been in his family’s best financial interest. Caesar Rodney was 48 when he made that famous trek to Philadelphia – now, clearly and legally, a slave owner. While I am not sure when he made the provision, his last will and testament included provisions for the education of his nephew and instructions to free all of his slaves when he died, “or shortly thereafter.”

“I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence… We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.”

 

– from Caesar Rodney’s letter to his younger brother Thomas, dated July 4, 1776

Caesar Rodney cast the deciding vote on July 2, 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. (Yes, that’s correct.) Believe it or not, the “2nd” is very important in this history. In fact, on July 3, 1776, John Adams, who would go on to become president, spent the day writing letters – including the one quoted (below) to his wife Abigail Adams.

“But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it…. This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

 

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

 

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

 

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

 

– from letter John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams, with the heading “Philadelphia July 3d, 1776”

Now, if you’re wondering why we celebrate the 4th of July… you’ll have to come back on Saturday.

 

 

### LET FREEDOM RING ###

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 1) July 1, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

 

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

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. These ideals form the basis of every Eastern philosophy and, one can argue, they are cornerstones of human existence. They are definitely supposed to be the cornerstones of the United States of America – after all, the country was founded on these principles. So, it’s not surprising that when my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience there’s some extra energy. You may even call that energy excitement, as I definitely get jazzed by the idea of all people everywhere experiencing absolute freedom, liberty, and independence.

There’s one little hitch – and it’s something, I admit with some chagrin, that I don’t often mention explicitly when I have taught previous classes on freedom, liberty, and independence: When my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience it also overlaps with my experience as a Black American. In other words, I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence fully aware that everyone in my country of birth wasn’t originally intended to be free. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence knowing full well that the Committee of Five, which drew up the Declaration of Independence, decided it was more important to present a “united front” than it was to condemn slavery. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence with a very definite understanding that the majority of the forefathers who signed the declaration never considered fighting for the freedom, liberty, and independence of people who look like me. So, all of that energy is churning up inside of me – along with the awareness that some people in my country of birth take their freedom for granted, while others are still fighting to experience that which they are (now) legally entitled to experience.

“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.”

 

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

 

In any given year, for the last decade or so, I have taught at least 9 classes specifically related to freedom, liberty, and independence as it relates to the United States (plus classes related to the Civil Rights and Suffragists Movements, as well as classes related to freedom in a religious or philosophical context) and most people have never given a second thought to what’s going through my mind (or heart) as I do it. More importantly, most people never give a second thought to why I do it (let alone that I love doing it) given all that’s in my heart (and on my mind).

So, of course, now you’re wondering why….

I do it, and I usually love doing it, because I think history is important. I think it is important to understand, as much as we are able, how we got where we are as a country and as a community of people. (This is the same reason I teach so much about various religions.) With respect to the United States, I think it is particularly important to understand our history, because this country has never lived up to its ideals. While that can be seen as hypocrisy – and on a certain level it was and is – we still hold the ideals up as a standard. More importantly, we still have the possibility of dwelling within those ideals. But, we can only “dwell in possibility” if we understand that we are not currently “living the dream.”

“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

 

I say all of this, online, knowing that there are people who can easily take my words out of context. More importantly, I say this knowing that we are living during a time when certain people relish taking such statements out of context. And, even though I doubt very many of the latter will see this, I still want to address people who might say, “See, see, here’s a black person who understands the importance of history.” To those people I say, “Yes, that is correct; I understand the importance of history.” To those same people I also say, “I understand the importance of history AND I also understand the importance of myth. So, when I teach, I make sure to distinguish one from the other. Give a statue of Robert E. Lee horns and wings and I will gladly teach the importance/significance of that.” {NOTE: I am not suggesting here that General Lee was a devil – although certain Union soldiers might disagree –rather, I am pointing to the fact that statues of him play the same role in society as artwork and literary references depicting a certain fallen angel.)

“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

Even though he wasn’t riding specifically for me and most of my ancestors, Caesar Rodney, the distinguished gentleman from Delaware, spent two days on a horse in order to vote for freedom. He did it while experiencing great pain and dis-ease. He did it because he knew that his vote counted. And, the fact that he did it means there’s a possibility – somewhere down the line – that people who look like me will one day experience true freedom, liberty, and independence in “the land of the free.”

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 1st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Stay tuned for more on Caesar Rodney and why John Adams thought future generations would be celebrating July 2nd!

 

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

 

Hard to watch, harder to live.

 

Easier to watch, still challenging to live.

### PURSUE HAPPINESS WITHOUT SUFFERING ###

Origins June 30, 2020

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“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

 

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

 

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

 

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

 

– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

 “I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

 

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 30th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated March 31.)

 

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###

 

 

Pause…. June 29, 2020

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“…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

It may seem odd, paradoxical even, to feel the need to pause during a time when the pause button has been pressed on the whole world. That need, however, is what I’m feeling right now. Maybe some of you are feeling it too. A moment of reflection highlights the fact that while some things have been on pause during this pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders, the world hasn’t actually stopped. We haven’t actually stopped.

Most of us have still been bombarded with external and internal stimuli. We’ve still had to figure out what to do next. We’ve still had to adapt to new information. We’ve still had to process grief, anger, astonishment, confusion, and yes, even joy. Maybe there’s even been some disappointment, fear, disgust, guilt, and loneliness. It’s not all bad – during this time people have experienced great amounts of love and kindness, friendliness, compassion, generosity, and (as mentioned before) joy. Sometimes we’ve experienced all of this in the space of a day…or in one hour… or in a matter of minutes. It can be overwhelming. And, more to the point, all of what we are feeling is occupying space in our minds and in our bodies – which can be exhausting.

“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

In Eastern philosophy, human beings can experience vedanā, which can be translated as “feeling,” “sensation,” or “vibration.” Different philosophies address, and even describe, these sensations in different ways. However, what is consistent about these embodied experiences is that thoughts simultaneously arise with these sensations and these thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. The only problem with looking at these categories from a purely psychological viewpoint is that what may seem functional in a given moment may still create suffering – even in that moment – and the philosophical viewpoints (in this context) are specifically concerned with how the afflicted thoughts create suffering. This idea, that there are types of thoughts which create suffering (not only in our selves, but also in others) is also consistent between the philosophies.

I say it all the time: sensation is information. In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collection information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

That’s a lot of sensation, a lot of information. Now, consider that our thoughts around what we experiencing (externally) and feeling (internally) may be based on avidyā (“ignorance”). We may or may not have correct information around a certain experience, but/and we may add a level of imagination and/or be unconscious to certain aspects of our experiences. Finally, we may remember an experience, or even a thought and feeling, in a way that creates more layers of sensation – even more layers of ignorance. We can, and will eventually, get into how all this manifests in the body – and the fact that there is action associated with the senses, but notice how even just getting into the basics is exhausting.

What happens if you pause? What happens if you just take a moment out of every day to just let all the sensation wash over you? It doesn’t have to be a full practice of yoga or meditation, although a full practice can be extraordinarily helpful. What is most important is to stop; notice what you are experiencing; appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering.

“I think this is an interesting time and an important time for all of us to check our perspectives and where we’re coming from. For me and my people, for the Black community, this is not an exciting time for us. And this isn’t a time that we get to really reflect. We’re dealing with a lot of trauma. We’ve lost a lot of lives. We’ve been losing lives for decades, for centuries. And I think, for me, I am trying to figure out how to channel my anger…. I’m also mourning with my people… and I’m not settling….”

 

– Janelle Monáe, during a “Drama Actresses Roundtable” with Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, Reese Witherspoon, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rose Byrne (hosted by The Hollywood Reporter June 2020)

Sandra Razieli and I were recently discussing the ubiquitous presence of the Yoga Sūtras in Western yoga and people’s love of lists. I think, a love of acronyms (as a way to remember the list) is included in that love of lists. Here I offer you both. SNAP: Stop; Notice what you are experiencing; Appreciate that there is power in your experience (i.e., the power to create suffering or the power to alleviate suffering); Press play on the power to alleviate your own suffering. Just as in modern day vernacular, this type of snap reinforces the need to pay attention to what is in this moment. It can be abrupt, even abrasive, but it is a reminder not to look away. (In this case, it is also a reminder that looking away just adds another layer of sensation – and, perhaps, another layer of suffering.

“The Purusha, when it identifies itself with nature, forgets that it is pure and infinite. The Purusha does not love, it is love itself. It does not exist, it is existence itself. The Soul does not know, It is knowledge itself. It is a mistake to say the Soul loves, exists, or knows. Love, existence, and knowledge are not the qualities of the Purusha, but its essence. When they get reflected upon something, you may call them the qualities of that something. They are not the qualities but the essence of the Purusha, the great Atman, the Infinite Being, without birth or death, established in its own glory. It appears to have become so degenerate that if you approach to tell it, “You are not a pig,” it begins to squeal and bite.”

 

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

 

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 29th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom. There will be a lot of space (to breathe and to feel) in today’s practice.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

 

###  ###

 

In the beginning… June 28, 2020

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

 

– Martin “Marty” Boyce

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

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

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

 

– Raymond Castro

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

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

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

 

– Yvonne (also known as Maria) Ritter

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Stormé DeLarverie

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

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

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 28th) at 2:30 PM to celebrate Pride. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Screenshot_20200625-115749_Drive_1593111243731

### SAY IT LOUD ###

It’s There (Even When You Can’t See It) June 27, 2020

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Making contact

I believe

The greatest gift

I can conceive of having

is

to be seen by them,

to be understood

and

touched by them.

The greatest gift

I can give

is

to see, hear, understand

and to touch

another person.

When this is done

I feel

contact has been made.

 

– from the poem “Making Contact” by Virginia Satir

For those of you who missed the memo: I am a huge fan of the work of therapist and author Virginia Satir. Born yesterday (June 26th) in 1916, she is known as the “Mother of Family Therapy” and placed her work in “family reconstruction” and “family sculpting” under the umbrella of “Becoming More Fully Human.” She developed the Virginia Satir Change Process Model, which was adopted by corporations in the 1990’s and 2000s as a change management model, and the Human Validation Process Model. Similar to other existential therapist (although I’m not sure she ever used such a label), Satir found that when people came into therapy the presenting, or “surface,” problem was seldom the real problem. Instead, her work revolved around the idea that the real issue was how they coped with situations in their lives. Additionally, she documented that people’s self-esteem played a part in how they coped with conflict and challenges. So, here again, the issue comes down to functional versus dysfunctional thought patterns and how those thought patterns manifest into words and deeds that alleviate suffering or cause suffering.

When Satir worked with patients she would utilize role playing as well as meditations. The role playing was to get family members to consider each other’s perspectives and, in doing so, cultivate empathy and better understanding. The guided meditations were a way for people to recognize that they already had (inside of themselves) the tools/toolkit – or abilities – needed to overcome challenges and obstacles within their relationships. They also empowered people to use the tools that were inside of them, and to cultivate those tools. However, Satir did not see her work as being limited to “traditional” families; she believed that if her work could heal a family unit, it could also heal the world. They key, again, was offering people that “greatest gift” and figuring out what people really wanted and/or needed.

“It is now clear to me that the family is a microcosm of the world. To understand the world, we can study the family: issues such as power, intimacy, autonomy, trust, and communication skills are vital parts underlying how we live in the world. To change the world is to change the family.”

 

– from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Satir was born on the anniversary of the birth of the award winning novelist Pearl S. Buck, who was also known as Sai Zhenzhu. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892, Buck spent most of her life in China. Her experiences in China, both as a young child of missionaries and as an adult, resulted in a plethora of novels, short stories, children’s books, and biographies that exposed Western readers to the people, culture, and landscape of China. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Buck was a humanitarian who wrote about everything from women’s rights and immigration to Communism, war and the atomic bomb. Her work was a form of activism, but she didn’t regulate her actions to the page alone. When it came to Asian, mixed-race, special needs, and international adoptions, Buck was more than a writer – she was a parent. In addition to advocating against racial and religious matching in adoptions, Buck adopted six children of various ethnicities and nationalities. (Previously, she had given birth to one special needs daughter. So, she was a mother of seven.) She also co-founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, inter-racial adoption agency (with author James Michener, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, and interior designer and decorator Dorothy Hammerstein); established the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to support children who were not eligible for adoption, and opened Opportunity Center and Orphanage (aka Opportunity House) to advocate for the rights of orphans in South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam. Buck believed that families formed from love (as opposed to blood, race, religion, or nationality) and that they were living expressions of democracy – something she felt the United States could not unequivocally express during the Jim Crow era. In 1991, Welcome House and the foundation merged to form Pearl S. Buck International to continue Buck’s legacy.

“I was indignant, so I started my own damned agency!”

 

– Pearl S. Buck explaining why she started Welcome House in 1949 (after multiple agencies told she could not adopt Robbie, a mixed race 15-month old boy, because his skin was brown)

 

“What lingers from the parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of her or his irrational parenting.”

 

– from Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

Take another look at the poem at the top of this post. No, don’t read it… just look at it. What do you see? More specifically, who do you see? Granted, your device, your eyes, or even your brain may not see what I see. But, consider what you might see. What if you saw yourself? What if you saw someone you loved? What if you saw someone you didn’t like? Even if you don’t see what I see, the underlying meaning is the same: there is an individual, with open arms, wanting, needing, and waiting to be seen.

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

 

– Virginia Satir

 

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

 

– 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 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, today in 1880, 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.

“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.”

 

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

 

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 (10/20/1936), and Thomson (03/20/1960) are interred together at the Washington National Cathedral.

“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.”

 

– from “How I Became a Socialist” by Helen Keller (published in The New York Call 11/03/1912)

Helen Keller, like Pearl S. Buck, is notable for many reasons, but both women were (and still can be) considered controversial when you think about their family histories and some of their views. Buck was described as “a thorn in the side of the welfare establishment” and her award-winning novel The Good Earth is considered by some to be literary propaganda. Keller’s 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, history has shown us some pretty messed up examples of people believing in eugenics, the idea that we could genetically pre-select character traits in order to create a better society. Besides the basic humanitarian issues, one of the problems with eugenics is that at its core there is a lack of faith in humanity.

In referencing the coincidence that she was related to the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, Keller 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 you are connected to both sides of the coin. That clarity comes from going deep inside one’s self. If we pay attention to what’s going on inside of our own hearts we have a compass that steers us right – at least, that is the message of contemplatives.

“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).”

Please join me for a little discernment in the form of a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, June 27th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated 06032020.)

 

 

### STILL HUMAN ###

A Thought from “Anne no Nikki” June 25, 2020

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[The embedded video/link at the end of this post can be used as a soundtrack for reading this post.]

“Dear Kitty,

 

It’s lovely weather outside and I’ve perked up since yesterday. Nearly every morning I go to the attic where Peter works to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs. From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.

 

He stood with his head against a thick beam, and I sat down. We breathed the fresh air, looked outside, and both felt that the spell should not be broken by words…. I looked out, of the open window too, over a large area of Amsterdam, over all the roofs and on to the horizon, which was such a pale blue that it was hard to see the dividing line. ‘As long as this exists,’ I thought, ‘and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy.’”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Diary of a Young Girl was first published today in 1947. It was the saved writing of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 14. The book was published 13 days after what would have been her 18th birthday. At the beginning of this month I referenced her birthday (and death), and several other events, in a post about avidyā (“ignorance”) as it relates to how the way we see the world can create suffering. Ignorance, like stuffy air in our lungs, affects the way we move through the world. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the stuffy air out of our lungs. To really, fully experience our lives, we have to get the ignorance out.

Both types of elimination require being very deliberate and intentional on a daily basis – just as Anne Frank recommended. We all know, however, that it can be challenging (even during the pandemic) to set aside time just to breathe. We all know it’s challenging even when we know the importance of it, and even when we “do it for others.” So, consider how much harder it is to very deliberately and intentionally – and on a daily basis – eliminate ignorance. Consider that is especially hard when the layers and layers of avidyā are deeply imbedded in our subconscious and unconscious mind.

As recently as yesterday, I mentioned samskāras, those layers and layers of past experiences that inform her present (and possibly future) thoughts, words, and deeds. These karmic impressions are established in a way similar to how we form neural pathways: we experience something for the first time and impressions are created; every future experience hardwires these impressions become hardwired. They determine how we experience everything that comes after they are established. Some would say these samskāras are always problematic, because they always include at least a smidgen of avidyā – which means that everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by bits of ignorance. At least, that’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario: everything we think, say, do, and understand is informed by a lot of ignorance.

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God…. As long as [the simple beauty of Nature] exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

 

— Anne Frank, written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

In this moment, we may not know how ignorant we are. We can only, really, assess our level of suffering and the level of suffering around us. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, collectively, our level of suffering and the suffering around us points to levels of avidyā that’s out of the exosphere. There’s no clear (upper) boundary to the Earth’s exosphere and there’s no clear boundaries between our layers of samskāras or between our ayers of avidyā. Which means that, for some, the challenging job of working through our layers is extra challenging.

Maybe you haven’t started the work (but you’re thinking about it). Maybe you’ve started (but you’re getting a little frustrated). Maybe you just need the reminder today. Either way, there’s a really simple way to remind yourself to turn inward. You may have heard some version of this reminder. You may have even heard a simpler version, but I offer this one from Maha Ghosananda, because it feels pretty comprehensive (to me). It comes to mind today, because Maha Ghosananda experienced similar tragedies as those experienced by Anne Frank.

“We miss so much here, so very much and for so very long now: I miss it too, just as you do. I’m not talking of outward things, for we are looked after in that way; no, I mean the inward things. Like you, I long for freedom and fresh air….

Riches can all be lost, but that happiness in your own heart can only be veiled, and it will still bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens….”

 

— Anne Frank’s “A Thought” written in her diary (“Kitty”) on Wednesday, February 23, 1944

Maha Ghosananda was a Theraveda Buddhist monk in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot and he shared the teachings of the Buddha with people in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. During the Pol Pot regime, 1.5 to million people died in and around “the Killing Fields.” When the Pol Pot regime fell, Maha Ghosananda was one of the 3,000 Cambodian Buddhist monks who survived. Those 3,000 represented approximately 5% of the monks who had lived in Cambodia before the regime. After the Pol Pot regime, Maha Ghosananda worked to restore his country and his faith within the country. His many efforts included service as a representative to the United Nations and annual peace walks. The peace walks (dhammayietra) were simultaneously protests and pilgrimages that included terrain which still included land minds.

I mention all of this to point out that Maha Ghosananda ministered to people who were suffering in ways many of us can barely imagine and during incredibly challenging times – so he had to keep it simple.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…”

 

Excerpt from Larry Yang’s Huffington Post article, “Buddhist Intention: Being Kind in Unkind Times” 11/07/2011

 

 

Anne no Nikki (anime) soundtrack composed by Michael Nyman

 

### HONOR YOUR HEART >> THOUGHTS >> WORD >> DEEDS ###

What’s Behind Your Curtain? June 24, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

“my heart
Is true as steel:”

 

– Helena in Act II, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Life is a matter of perception. We experience certain things and that experience colors the way we experience future things. The way we experience something, based on previous experiences plays a part in what we engage ourselves, others, and our experiences. In other words, life is how you see it. In the yoga philosophy, these layers of experience or layers of perception are referred to as samskāras (which is often translated as “impressions”). Specifically, samskāras are karmic impressions formed by everything we say, do, think, and experience through our senses. These layers of impression can be very subtle, and may be imbedded deep within our subconscious and unconscious memories or they can be very much in the front of our conscious mind. Either way, they can strongly influence the way we think, speak, and act. Part of the practice, both in Yoga and in Buddhism, is to burn away the veil. Or, you could think of it as washing them away.

“Go and pray upon a mountain
Go and pray beside the ocean
And you’ll wash your spirit clean”

 

– from the song “Wash Your Spirit Clean” by Walela

There are lots of great stories about how previous experiences color future and current experiences, and one of those stories comes from Christianity and Islām. It is the story of Zechariah or Zachary. Zechariah was a Jewish priest married to a woman named Elizabeth (who happened to be a relative of the Virgin Mary). According to the gospels (specifically Luke 1:6), the couple were good people who followed the commandments and orders of God. We can take from this, and the fact that Zechariah was a rabbi, that they had spent their lives steeped in their beliefs and, not only keeping those beliefs in their heart, but also acting according to the beliefs in their heart. They were also old and considered their beyond child bearing years. So, it’s not surprising that Zechariah doubted the words of the angel Gabriel, who informed the couple that they would have a son named John and that he would “be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord…. and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. (Luke 1:14 – 15).

“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

Based on his previous experiences, the angel’s message didn’t make sense to the rabbi. It especially didn’t make sense, because Judaism, like many other cultures and religions has very specific naming traditions. Given these traditions, what self-respecting rabbi (with a great name) would name a descendent of Aaron and Moses “John?” Zechariah wanted proof, he wanted a sign, and so Gabriel said the rabbi would be mute until the day the prophecy was fulfilled – basically, until Zechariah believed.

Before the baby was born, there were some other events that were some other unbelievable events. One of those events came in the form of a visit from Elizabeth’s relative Mary. It turned out that Mary, a virgin, had also received a visit from Gabriel and was also pregnant. Her son would be born 6 months after Elizabeth’s son – and both sons were destined for greatness. When Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son was born, their friends and family assumed the baby would be named after the father. The still mute, Zechariah, however, wrote down the words that ultimately ended his muteness: “his name is John.” His written words were actually a sign that Zechariah’s experiences had changed his beliefs. Or, more precisely, his disbeliefs had changed and the veils were lifted.

“On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.”

 

New Testament: The Gospel According to Luke (1:59 – 1:64 NIV)

In the modern world, this son of Zechariah and Elizabeth is known as John the Forerunner (in Eastern Christianity), John the Immerser (in some Baptist traditions), John the Baptizer, the prophet John (in Islām), or simply John the Baptist. Born 6 months before Jesus, he would go on to baptize Jesus and be associated with a spiritual cleansing ritual within Christian traditions. To be baptized is to have one’s sins washed away and is a way to be transformed, or to mark one’s transformation.

There are four feast days associated with Saint John the Baptist, one of which is today, June 24th. Also, as an aside, Saint John of Capistrano (b. 1386) and Saint John of the Cross (b. 1542) would have celebrated birthdays today. The fact that today is not a feast day for the other two Johns is actually more interesting than the number of feast days for John the Baptist. Most feast days are traditionally celebrated on the death date of a saint. The idea behind “dies natalis” being that upon death one is born into eternal life (and free of original sin). Today, however, is one of two feast days in Western Christianity associated with an individual’s birth – the idea being that Jesus and John the Baptist were cleansed in the womb. (NOTE: The Virgin Mary is concerned immaculate in that she was “conceived without sin.”)

As Christianity made its way through the pagan and indigenous cultures, this became a “good” day to co-opt… because it already had meaning. Today is also Midsummer. Considered the ancient (pagan) middle of Summer, it is also the astronomical beginning of Summer and was widely celebrated long before Christianity existed. Many of the pagan celebrations involved bonfires; fire being another element used in purification.

Celebrations of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist are recorded back as far as 1333, when the poet and scholar Petrarch noted women in Cologne were “rinsing their hands and arms in the Rhine ‘so that the threatening calamities of the coming year might be washed away by bathing in the river.’” For people in Quebec and for French Canadians throughout the North American continent, today has a particularly patriotic and cultural heritage significance – making it similar to Saint Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.

“No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form.”

 

– Abolitionist, suffragist, and minister Henry Ward Beecher (b. 06/24/1813)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 24th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

 

 

### BE GRATEFUL ###

Are You Dreaming or Not Dreaming? June 23, 2020

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“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.”

 

Chuang Tzu: Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, Wisdom of Ancient China, Taoist Scriptures translated by Lin Yutang, Mingming “Michael” Xu, et al

 

“QUINCE: Bless thee, Bottom! bless thee! thou art
translated. {Exit}

BOTTOM: I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

 

– the rude mechanicals in Act III, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

Everything is a matter of perspective, and our experiences provide that perspective. We see/understand everything through the lens of our experiences. The only problem is that we viewing everything through layers and layers of experiences, essentially layers and layers of samskaras, which often limit our perspective and our understanding. Our senses may pick up everything around us and, on some level, our brains sift through, process, and analyze every bit of information (in the form of sensation), but our mind/intellect may only consciously share a portion of that information. Add to that the fact that we cannot see ourselves, not really. So, we depend on our understanding of what we believe others perceive about us and combine that with how we want to be (or already think we are) perceived. It’s a flawed circuit, based on avidyā (ignorance). Or, as the Eastern philosophers say, it is all a dream, a projection, an illusion, māyā.

Now, add in the fact that we interact with others (and ourselves) based on this limited and flawed view of ourselves, others, and the world – and that we cling tightly to our flawed understanding because we fear losing ourselves. We fear that loss of self even when we recognize on some level that we are limited in our understanding. We especially fear that loss of self when we believe we have right understanding. Factoring all of this, is it any wonder that there is so much suffering in the world? Not only do we not truly understand ourselves or others, we act as if we do understand ourselves and others. We become like Shakespeare’s Bottom: not understanding that we have literally become an ass.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, however, tells us that we the powers/abilities to lift the veils of illusion. We have ways in which we are innately powerful and, while being steeped in avidyā can disempower us – and create suffering and obstacles that result in physical and mental ailments – we can in fact empower ourselves by going a little deeper into ourselves and our perceptions.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

 

A Hand-book of Proverbs by Henry George Bohn

 

“If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill,
That is the true beginning of our end.
Consider then we come but in despite.
We do not come as minding to contest you,
Our true intent is. All for your delight”

 

– Peter Quince, the carpenter, as The Prologue (in the play), in Act I, Scene v of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

In Yoga Sutras 2.15 – 2.25, Patanjali codifies the idea that everything we experience has the potential to cause suffering, an emotional experience; that this suffering is avoidable, because it comes from confusion about what we perceive and the power to perceive; and that everything we perceive serves the two-fold purpose of fulfillment and freedom. Within these threads, he also points out that there are four ways in which we can experience the material world; that while we may perceive something our mind/intellect may not allow us to understand it; that once we truly understand something, that understanding changes everything – for us, but not for anyone else; and that once we gain a deeper understanding, ignorance and (therefore) suffering are eliminated. Simple, right? And yet, it gets just as confusing as a play within a play littered with fairies and star-crossed lovers.

June 24th is Saint John’s Day, also known as Midsummer – making today, June 23rd, Saint John’s Eve or Midsummer’s Eve. Another way to think of tonight is as Midsummer’s Night, as this is when the celebrations begin and theoretically could be the night made famous by William Shakespeare’s play. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is the ultimate comedy with its rude mechanicals and their play within a play, the royal audience, the royal fairies, the star-crossed lovers, and Puck. Ah, Puck!

Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, like the audience, sees everything. But he also understands and points out what the audience may miss. Since he is part of the play, he also plays around with everyone. He is the ultimate trickster (whose pranks provide much of the comedy) and therefore a great symbol for the mind. Puck is the embodiment of māyā. At the end of the play, after all of his shenanigans have been resolved, he reiterates a message that is stated at various times throughout the play: everyone is just dreaming.

If we are dreaming, it is possible to wake up. If we wake up, consider how differently we may treat ourselves and others.

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,”

 

– Puck in Act V, Scene i of A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare

 

“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

 

– from “Chapter I: The Awakening” in The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 23rd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom that may flip your perspective upside down and backwards. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

[For more information and commentary about the sutras, you can use the sidebar calendar and click on any Saturday date starting in mid-March 2020. Additional posts during the week may also reference the sutras, but on Saturdays they are the primary focus.)

 

 

### “Helena: … my heart Is true as steel…” ###