jump to navigation

Consider Being In the Stream September 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
2 comments

 “Yin and Yang

Hidden in the mystery of the Tao

lies the original unity.

This unity contains the duality

of yin and yang.

Yin and yang together

produce the energy of creation

and give rise to all things.

Every atom of the cosmos

contains the yin and yang together.

We feel this harmonious process

In the rising and falling of the breath.”

– (42) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

“When the mind lacks any hindrances, it automatically becomes bright, luminous, and clear. Such a mind is receptive to the development of wholesome states; to concentration, and to the ability to see clearly into the impermanent nature of things.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

Yoga Sutra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “The mind can be calmed by regulating the breath, especially with emphasis on the exhalation and the natural stilling of breath [retention that comes with the practice].”

Ever notice when the inhale becomes the exhale, when the exhale becomes the inhale? I don’t just mean on the mat or on the cushion. I mean, do you notice the beginning of the end (or the ending that is the beginning) in your day to day life? It’s kind of like trying to unpack why we react or respond to certain things/people in certain ways and/or where an idea begins, really begins. It’s also like trying to figure out where something went horribly wrong.

“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Sometimes we miss the moment when we actually start to sink, slip, get pushed off center, and/or the moment when our buttons get pushed. Even when we are in the middle of a volatile situation – and we recognize it as such – we may think, “I’m handling this so well. I got this! Look at me behaving like a grown-up and using my words (instead of fisticuffs).” And that right there is the moment we miss. That right there is the moment we actually start to slip or sink, because, more often than not we miss the little slips that mark the beginning of our fall. Instead, we focus on what happens when all the little things come together to make the big thing. We continue on our merry way, without regard for the fact that we have already started moving in the wrong direction.

Contemplative and mindfulness-based practices help in cultivating awareness. We can develop awareness so that we start to notice the little slips and we can also develop awareness around the fact that we are on a slippery slope or have somehow lost traction. One of the best things about the practices, however, is that they can also give us tools to regain traction. These tools are the opposites of what you think – and I mean that quite literally.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

As mentioned in earlier posts, the yoga philosophy, details five afflicted thought patterns (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death), which lead to and/or feed nine obstacles to the practice and to life (disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, an inability to withdraw from sense craving, clinging to misunderstandings, frustration [from failing to reach a goal], and the [frustration] inability to maintain a clear and present mind). The nine obstacles produce five debilitating conditions (physical pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling of limbs, abnormal inhalation, and abnormal exhalation) which feed into the five afflicted thoughts and the nine obstacles. It can be a continuous feedback loop – or, more appropriately, it’s the endless cycle of karma.

We don’t always see the beginning of the cycle when we are in the middle of it, neither do see the beginning (or end) of the circle when it is already completed. So, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers ways to work the mind and one of those ways is by cultivating the opposites. A similar practice is found in Buddhism, where the five hindrances, also considered obstacles to practice and to life, are defined as sensory desire or greed; ill will; dullness and drowsiness; restlessness and worry; and doubt). Notice the overlap, not only in the impediments (or stumbling blocks), but take a moment to notice that the Buddha also encourages the cultivation and awareness of opposites that is mentioned in the Tao te Ching and the Yoga Sūtras.

“The Buddha taught a four-step approach to working with the mind. You should apply Skillful Effort to:

  • prevent negative states of mind

  • overcome negative states of mind

  • cultivate positive states of mind

  • maintain positive states of mind”

“…sometimes people say that spiritual growth takes ‘effortless effort.’ I’m sorry to disillusion you, friend, but there is no effortless effort. Effort must be balanced.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

Another parallel in the practices is the emphasis on the work/effort (karma) required to reach a pristine, clear mind and to tap into our intuitive wisdom. For example, the Taoist concept wu-wei is usually translated as “effortless effort,” but some commentators (and even the Tao itself) highlight the effort. You could even explain the practice as just “doing what we do,” but with awareness – and that awareness allows us to find the way of progressing with the least amount of resistance. It’s kind of like having a certain body type; even if you are born with your desired genes and physique, even if you are born with certain talents and/or have a propensity for certain skills, effort goes into the maintenance of your mind-body and skills. Some things may be easier for some people (at certain times), but they still require effort.

When we overlook the effort that unintentionally produced our current circumstances, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the effort to change course. The teachings dispel the misconception that something magical happens which enables some people to “keep calm” or to avoid snake-bit situations and focuses instead on the action of actively keeping calm and actively avoiding situations that seem to get worse the more we do. When we become more aware of cause and effect, we can be more conscious about how we work our way towards a desired situation or outcome.

“You must remember that it is not some other person or some difficult situation that is causing your problems. It is your own past conditioning.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Today’s playlist is dated 07192020 “Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”)

This come to mind, and it turns out the message fits.

### FIRST, FIND THE FLOW… THEN GO ###

 

We Keep On Falling September 29, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

“‘For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.’”

Mishlei – Proverbs (24:16)

Here we are again. We spent some time “remembering, reflecting, repenting, and planning.” We were inspired and filled with momentum, ready for better days… And then, the inevitable happens: we fall, we stumble, we trip; we fail. We may be all the way back to square one or squarely behind the 8-ball; either way, we have a moment where we feel like we suck and it sucks to be us.

But, here’s the thing. Everyone fails. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has a setback. Think of Thomas Edison who famously said that he had had not failed 10,000; he hadn’t even failed once. He said, instead, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That right there is the perspective of a man who gets up. That right there is the resilient attitude of a person who learns not only from “mistakes,” but also from things just not going according to their plan. The lesson for today, however, is more than just about our character being defined by what happens IF we fall – cause, come on, we’re going to fall. The lesson is even about more than how we rise back up. Today is also about how we respond when someone else falls and how we set ourselves up for success.

“‘When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult, lest the Lord see and be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him. Do not compete with evildoers; do not envy the wicked’”

Mishlei – Proverbs (24:17 -19)

In his podcast, Armchair Expert, the actor Dax Shepard recently admitted that he had fallen off the wagon after 16 years of sobriety. No, he did not go back to imbibing his drugs of choice – and that’s a blessing and a reason to celebrate – but he did start running (backwards) down a slippery slope. As he details in the podcast, his slip came with all the bad behavior of someone who had never been sober… and all the hubris of someone who had spent almost 2 decades actively being sober. The podcast episode was recorded right at the beginning of the high holidays; so (in my head), it’s cool that he started the new year doing exactly what is recommended to wipe the slate clean. What’s kind of gut wrenching to hear, as he talks about owning up to his mistakes and asking forgiveness from his wife, Kristen Bell, as well as from his podcast co-host, Monica Padman, and all his friends is how much time he spent twisting the poisoned arrow (and the second arrow).

Remember, in Buddhism there are two parables about arrows. In the case of the poisoned arrow, a man is shot with a poisoned arrow while surrounded by people who want to help save his life. The man, however, is so focused on why his shot (and all the particulars about the person that shot him) that the poison seeps into his bloodstream and kills him. In the story about the second arrow, the Buddha points out that when a person is shot by one arrow after the other (both non-poisonous), the first arrow represents physical pain; while the second arrow is the emotional and mental suffering we add to the experience. Dax Shepard admitted he spent a lot of time not being honest simply because of his comparison to others, the possible judgment of others, and the fact that he didn’t want to “lose” the accomplishment of all those years of sobriety. To his credit, he is figuring out a way to let the people around him help him. To his credit, he is figuring out the blessing of gratitude. His story may be more dramatic than ours and may have more public details, but we’ve all been in situations where we thought we had something figured out and then…. Oops, not so much.

There is yet another piece to (t)his story. It involves the homonyms “fell” and “fail.” Think for a moment about how admitting that we “fell” puts the events firmly in the past and allows us to focus on the present, as it moves into the future. When we use the word “fail” we get stuck. Because it is in the present tense – and, even when conjugated, can feel very active – we may focus on past events as if they are our present, future, and forever condition. Take a moment, to consider what happens when we put the falling in the past and rise up. Yes, life (or people) may knock us down again, but in this moment there is a lesson about how to do things differently.

“My fears were the opposite of what the result was.”

– Dax Shepard, quoted from an Armchair Expert episode “Day 7” (recorded September 21, 2020)

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 29th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. 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.

### CAREFUL HOW/WHERE YOU STAND ###

Signed, Sealed… September 29, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays. May your name be written and sealed in the Book of Life.)

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many will pass and how many will be born?
Who will live and who will die?”

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

It occurred to me today (Monday) that each of the Abrahamic religions has a day on their calendars that is described as “one of the holiest days” or “the holiest day” of the year. Each of these days is observed with solemnity and yet each is also described as joyous. There is at least one final element (although you could call it two) that these three days have in common. But, before we reach that final element, consider the dichotomy of the first two elements: solemnity and joyous. From the outside looking in, it seems strange: how can these two things go together? From the outside looking in there is a clear disconnect; however, when you go deeper the connection becomes very clearer.

Last night (Sunday) at sunset marked the beginning of Yom Kippur, “the Day of Atonement,” which is the last of the “Ten Days of Awe” or “Ten Days of Atonement” that make up the High Holidays. The ten days are considered the holiest of days, but it is this final day that is considered the holiest. It is a day when people within the Jewish community fast, refrain from bathing and using oils or lotions, and also avoid wearing leather shoes. People will spend the day praying, reflecting, and repenting. As Teshuvah (or Tchuvah) is still the focal point, it makes sense that the ritual of the Yom Kippur service is serious. After all, who has fun admitting they did something wrong and asking for forgiveness? The service includes a communal opportunity to confess (and take responsibility for one’s actions); identify the cause of inflictions (in order to plan a way to stop making the mistake); and an absolution or forgiveness of sins/transgressions.

“‘When you make a vow to the Lord, your G-d, you shall not delay in paying it, for the Lord, your G-d, will demand it of you, and it will be [counted as] a sin for you.

But if you shall refrain from making vows, you will have no sin.

Observe and do what is emitted from your lips just as you have pledged to the Lord, your G-d, as a donation, which you have spoken with your mouth.’”

Devarim – Deuteronomy (23:22 – 24)

In Judaism, a vow is restriction, a limitation. We don’t always look at vows that way in a secular sense, but it is also true (outside of Judaism) that any oath, precept, or vow someone takes curtails or inhibits their behavior. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider how marriage vows and taking an oath for a government office establish certain expectations. Consider how the yamās in the yoga philosophy are “external restraints” as well as universal commandments and how they establish a code of conduct. Consider also, however, that similar to legal prohibitions, we may find ourselves breaking the restraints under the guise of wanting more freedom. The only problem is that sometimes, in the process of “living without limits,” we hurt ourselves or others. We break trust and then we need a way to heal.

Kol Nidrei is a prayer chanted by the hazzan (“cantor”) three times. It essentially states, “Every vow and bond (or self-imposed prohibition), every oath, every promise, every obligation or every renunciation” made between the current Yom Kippur and the next will be cancelled, absolved, considered null and void – as if they never existed. Each time is a little louder than the previous times. So that what begins as a whisper ends in almost a shout. Think about a child or someone who is deeply ashamed of something they have done; there is a hesitancy the first time they speak and ask for forgiveness and then, eventually, there is a confidence in the rightness of their action (related to repentance).

Another part of the service is Al Chet (“for the sin”). While it is only recited during Yom Kippur; it is recited nine to ten times (depending on tradition) during the Yom Kippur service. Al Chet is a list of all the different ways in which one can/might/will sin throughout the year, starting with “For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly” and ending with a summary that covers everything one may have been forgotten (or not even have known). Each grouping of transgressions is divided by the words, “For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.” And, finally, it states that no one else can forgive and pardon [everything].

No, these prayers are not a “Get out of jail free” card that allows people to run around all year lying and breaking promises. Neither are they the spiritual equivalent of crossing your fingers behind your back. There’s no glee that you’re going to be able to get away with something. And, no, if you’re wondering, none of this is chanted or sung in a way that makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance. Yet, Yom Kippur is considered a joyous occasion. Why?

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

 

– quoted from “An Essay on Criticism” (line 525) by Alexander Pope

Consider, for a moment, that we all make mistakes. We all stumble, fall, sin, hurt ourselves and others. But, how great is it to get a second chance! How great is it to get up and get moving, to have a fresh start and a new lease on life. In the Jewish community, Yom Kippur is a joyous day, because it is day committed to realigning one’s life and to renewing one’s relationship with G-d. That is the ultimate return/turn (i.e., teshuvah), the turning towards G-d and turning towards one’s true self. It is an opportunity to recognize, “here is where I went wrong and here, right here, is how I get back on track.”

To me, “Good Friday” is a comparable day in the Christian tradition. And, as I’ve mentioned before, it can be considered really weird to think of someone being tried, tortured, and crucified as “good.” Remember, however, that the Old Testament definition of “good” is that something is meaningful and serves its purpose. The purpose of the crucifixion, in Christianity, is the absolution of sin – and Christians who observe the Lenten season and the Easter do so in order to retain or reconnect to G-d.

Have you noticed the common denominators? First there is a desire to be connected to the Divine and then there is the recognition that we (as humans) make mistakes which could keep us separated – except for the fact that these days and the rituals associated with them provide a way restore, reconnect, return to that desired connection.

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

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

Just as is the case with mundane relationships, maintaining a spiritual or sacred relationship requires sacrifice and compromise (i.e., submitting to another’s will). This is highlighted in the third holiday I referenced: Eid al-Adha, “the Feast of the Sacrifice.”

In Islām, each day of fasting during the month of Ramadān concludes with a communal breaking of the fast. At the end of the month, there is a celebration in the form of Eid al-Fitr, the “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.” Then, even quicker than Sukkot comes on the heels of Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition, Muslims observe Eid al-Adha, which is the “Feast of the Sacrifice.” Eid al-Adha is observed in recognition of Ibrahim (Abraham) being willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael. While it is easy to see how one would celebrate the end of a month of fasting and how that is considered holy, it is this second Eid that is considered the holiest of the two. Again, from the outside it seems weird to celebrate someone’s willingness to kill their own child. (Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t actually do it.) However, it is his willingness that is the focus here. Ibrahim (Abraham) being willing to submit to G-d’s authority, as well as the Divine intervention that provides an alternative for the sacrifice, is what is celebrated.

Even though there are some differences (and more similarities than what I’ve mentioned), all three holidays focus on Divine mercy and that very real, very human desire to be part of something bigger than our individual selves. People want a deeper connection to their true/best self, to their community, and some people also want a deeper connection to G-d. Again, the desire for connection is a human desire, even felt by people outside of these faiths and traditions.  And whether we are inside or outside of a faith, community, and/or tradition there will be times when we will make mistakes, break trust, and hurt those with whom we desire closeness. It doesn’t feel good to acknowledge we’ve made a mistake and hurt someone (even ourselves). Neither does it feel good to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness. Consider, however, how great it feels to know that you love and are loved in a way that allows you to move beyond the mistakes, beyond the betrayals, and move towards healing.

“I cannot argue with their concern that this world has a lot of problems. I cannot argue with the reality that children born into this world will face significant challenges, many of which I cannot even imagine. But our Jewish tradition doesn’t give us the option of deciding that we should end this world because it is just too messed up. Our Jewish tradition simply, incessantly, commands us to better it…..

Of course, I could have simply begun this sermon with the terms that are listed in this morning’s Torah reading. Torah teaches this clearly. Its first verse that insists that everyone be included in the covenant even those with no voice and then it concludes by teaching us that choosing to act in accordance with God’s sense of justice and good will is the choice that leads to life. Because we are not truly alive when we act as if there is no hope for our world. Because we are not truly alive when others are limited in their ways of living. Because we are not truly alive when suffering occurs that our very own hands could have prevented. Because we are not truly alive when our hands do not act as though they were linked with the hand of God in partnership and we repair the world together.”

– quoted from an untitled 5765 (2004) Yom Kippur sermon by Rabbi Julie Schwartz (Temple Emanu-El, Georgia)

The 75-minute Monday night Common Ground Meditation Center practice is provided in the spirit of generosity (dana), freely given and freely received. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.

[Stay tuned for Tuesday’s post and playlist!]

### I’m YOURS ###

It’s Time to…. September 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
2 comments

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tehillim – Psalms (27:13-14)

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

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

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

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

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 20th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

How Long is Not Long? (or, Why Is It Taking So Long?) September 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
3 comments

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“But the truth is: ‘All sounds are kosher’ – not only for the shofar, but for the heart as well.”

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

If you’ve taken a class from me this last week (live or via a recording) you’ve heard me mention the fact that a shofar can still be considered kosher even if it has a hole in it. A shofar is a ram’s horn that is blown (like a trumpet) to during most Rosh Hashanah services and at the end of Yom Kippur. Historically it has also been used at other times, including as a call-to-arms before a battle. During the High Holidays, there are four types of sounds (tekiah = a long, smooth blast, shevarim = three short bursts, terua, = a series of short bursts, and tekiah gedolah = a long, drawn out, smooth blast), which are produced in very specific patterns in order to remind people to turn inward and reflect, remember, repent, and hope. As with most spiritual rituals, the horn has to be produced in a certain way and blown by a specific person. However, the mitzvah (or “commandment”) related to the High Holidays is not related to the blowing – it’s a commandment to hearing the sound. Obviously, since it is an organic instrument, each shofar sounds slightly different, but what is super fascinating to me (and others) is that certain imperfections do not “ruin” the instrument.

As teachers and scholars like Rabbi Binyomin Weisz point out, a hole can change the sound of the shofar and it’s still kosher. Granted, there are some ways a shofar can be broken – and even fixed – that make it no longer kosher. To be honest, the fact that you could “fix” a broken shofar so that it sounds like it originally sounded, but in doing so make it unusable for its intended purpose – and, therefore, not good – just strengthens the lesson for me. Given that so many people are struggling with “imposter syndrome” and high expectations, here’s the four part lesson: (1) let go of expectations; (2) do what you do; (3) appreciate what you’re doing, because it has value/meaning, and (4) remember the value/meaning of you (being who you are and doing what you do).

“No man can be a good bishop if he loves his title but not his task.”

– quoted from City of God by Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo)

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

– quoted from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

So there’s this story. It’s an old story and you’ve probably heard it before. I am actually surprised that I was well into my adulthood before I heard it, but not surprised that the first time I heard the story it was in the context of Rosh Hashanah. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell and, this year, I will tell it something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

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

Classical study of this week’s sūtra focuses on the cause and effect related to reincarnation; but I like to start with the cause and effect of right here and right now. In this moment, we can see how past attachments led to suffering and how our current attachments will lead to suffering (all in this lifetime). Unless, of course, we are (still) so attached, that we cannot take a step back and gain perspective. Like the farmer’s neighbors, the person in the rabbi’s office didn’t have big picture perspective. And big picture perspective and clarity are exactly what Patanjali promises in the sūtra. Perspective and clarity provide the “essence of why.” Once we understand the “why-ness” of something, there are no more questions… only answers.

Consider that when we are attached to a certain outcome, we put all our energy into ensuring (to the best of our ability) that things will happen a certain way. In doing so, we can lose sight of the fact that there are other ways. We may have definite ideas about how people should behave and (as my dharma buddy Stacy points out) we become absolutely convinced that things will work out if people “just do things our way.” We can get so focused on – i.e., so attached to – things happening a certain way that we actually create blind spots.

We sometimes fail to see all the possibilities within a situation (which sometimes means we miss opportunities) and we sometimes neglect to anticipate where things will “go wrong.” We miss the fact that other people have an “our way” that they also think is the best way. We can become so attached to things happening a certain way that we decide the end justifies the means and we are willing to veer away from our moral compass. We may even break vows – and then we are really upset when things still don’t work out they way we desired, because we actually compromised our values for nothing! Sometimes, we will concede, things work out for the best. Sometimes, we will concede, things turn out better than we planned. Along the way, however, there is an extra level of suffering because we couldn’t let go of our expectations.

“Greed is not a defect in the gold that is desired but in the man who loves it perversely by falling from justice which he ought to esteem as incomparably superior to gold; nor is lust a defect in bodies which are beautiful and pleasing: it is a sin in the soul of the one who loves corporal pleasures perversely, that is, by abandoning that temperance which joins us in spiritual and unblemishable union with realities far more beautiful and pleasing; nor is boastfulness a blemish in words of praise: it is a failing in the soul of one who is so perversely in love with other peoples’ applause that he despises the voice of his own conscience; nor is pride a vice in the one who delegates power, still less a flaw in the power itself: it is a passion in the soul of the one who loves his own power so perversely as to condemn the authority of one who is still more powerful.”

– quoted from City of God by Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo)

Many of the commentaries focus on the idea of desire, in this context, as being so intense it is described as greed – which is often defined as a deadly sin. Greed is motivated by external factors. Yes, we may feel some deep internal compulsion to acquire certain things (or people), but ultimately that compulsion is fed by the belief that either the thing (or person or position) has intrinsic value and/or that we will be more valued/valuable because of our material possession(s). That belief in the value of the material thing is an external belief and it is steeped in avidyā (“ignorance”). Taking a look at our thoughts, words, and deeds as being the result of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns puts things in a context that is hard to ignore. It is especially hard to ignore when we see that, yes, suffering comes from these greed-inspired thoughts, words, and deeds. We also see how things unfold because we are motivated by the desire to have.

What happens if, as Patanjali instructs, we cultivate the opposites? What happens if we let go of our desires? What happens if we let go of expectations?

Remember, the cultivation of opposites does not mean that you don’t do your best and go all in on whatever you’re doing. Quite the opposite: Remember, when it comes to “Contemplating the Goal,” The Bhagavad Gita says, “‘The karma-yogi offers all works and all desires for the fruits of works to the Divine – and thus wins eternal peace in the Divine. But the person impelled by selfish desire gets entangled in agitations and anxieties of the mind.” (5.12)

“‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success or failure. This mental evenness is what is mean by yoga…. Indeed, equanimity is yoga!’” (2.48)

– quoted from The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Just before I started reading (and in some cases re-reading) the commentary for this week’s yoga sūtra, I decided to watch Rabbi Marc Katz’s sermon from last week. The sermon was titled “Finding Our Resiliency” and, serendipitously, contained a very familiar piece of advice. It is advice that is also part of this week’s commentary and takes us back to Yoga Sūtra 1.37, which explains that we can cultivate a peaceful mind by “focusing on someone who is free from all desires.” There are definitely historical, spiritual, and literary examples, but don’t forget that one way to contemplate/meditate is to focus on yourself as if you were free from all desire.

Think about how easy it is to look at someone else’s situation and give them advice. We can do that because, even though we may care deeply for the person, we are not emotionally, mentally, and spiritually invested in things going a specific way. We are only invested in things working out for the best for them. Take a moment, as we enter the last few days of the Ten Days of Atonement, Ten Days of Awe, to look at your life and the possibilities ahead as if you were a friend (or a rabbi) you had called for advice, clarity, and perspective.

I know, I know, for some of you this seems super hokey. But, I encourage you, stop for a moment; to take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, sigh it out (three times or more); and just breathe. Give yourself at least 5 minutes of sitting and breathing (or moving and breathing) without thinking about anything except how it feels to breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Then, spend a few minutes considering what you would say to someone in your current situation. What would you say to someone who was not you? Don’t factor in anyone else’s opinions. Just for a moment, listen to the wisdom of your own heart.

“So how do we tap that inner strength? How do we find that spark of resilience buried deep within us? First, know that you’ve been here before. True, no one has faced the exact challenge of our current era. Every moment is unique. But each of us has overcome some challenge in our past…. Each one of us has a proven history of mourning deaths, finding new relationships, reconciling broken friendships. Every one of us knows how to heal, to mend, to salve our broken hearts….

Work to forgive yourself when you fail to meet your own expectations, but don’t give up on yourself entirely.”

– quoted from “Finding Our Resiliency,” an Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon by Rabbi Marc Katz

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 26th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Les Brown’s take on the bamboo story

“Family. Duty. The things that keep us grounded, what keep us from giving up on our hopes, but also holds us back from stepping across the precipice into the unknown.”

– quoted from the liner notes for “The Things That Keep Us Here” (from Monomyth) by Scott Buckley

“Unearthing knowledge of what truly lies in the unknown is breathtaking, but also terrifying – a realization of what must be done.”

– quoted from the liner notes for “The Vision” (from Monomyth) by Scott Buckley

### DIG DEEP ###

The S-word September 23, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word”

– quoted from “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

For years, I avoided saying the words, “I’m sorry.” It wasn’t that I never made a mistake or didn’t feel remorse about something I had said or done or even thought. Instead, I very deliberately, very intentionally, practiced expressing my remorse with other words. Because, despite the song and the old saying, “sorry” is a word I think it is far too easy for people to say.

We say we’re sorry when we accidentally bump into someone while walking or when we both reach for the same prop in a yoga class. We say “sorry” when we hit the wrong button on the elevator and the door closes on someone who was trying to catch it or when we don’t hold the door open for someone who has their hands full. We say “sorry” when we didn’t hear or understand something someone says and we say we’re sorry when we don’t want to do something that it’s clearly not right for us to do. We use the same word for the little inconsequential stuff as for the really big stuff and we do this despite the fact that we have so many other words; words that in some cases are much more appropriate for a situation. (Say hello, “excuse me” and “pardon me.”)

I apologize. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’ll do better next time.
Please forgive me. I was wrong. Please give me a second chance.
Pardon me. I regret what I did/said. My bad.
Excuse me. Please accept my regrets. Mea culpa.

Earlier in the New Year (that started this past Friday at sunset), I mentioned that words are one of our super powers – and by that I mean they are one of the siddhis (or “powers”) unique to being human according to Indian philosophy. In fact, the process of asking and/or offering forgiveness is something that utilizes all six (6) of the powers unique to being human.

First, there is uha (“knowledge without doubt, clear understanding, intuitive knowledge”). In a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness,” Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield refers to the act of forgiveness as a “a deep process of the heart, which requires a person to process and honor ”the betrayal of yourself or others, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the fear.” I’ll add to that the need to process and honor the love, expectation, and disappointment that are usually involved in the situation. In order to reach the point where we can truly ask and/or offer forgiveness we have to understand the situation and the underlying emotions. The absolute worst “apologies” ever – and I put that in quotes, because they really aren’t apologies – are conditional and redirect action towards those who have been harmed. For instance, when people say something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended, but…” and/or “I apologize to anyone I may have offended,” they aren’t actually apologizing. The act of asking for and/or offering forgiveness is similar to the act of expressing gratitude: the more specific one can be, the more genuine the act – and this requires truly understanding the situation.

The second “power unique to being human” is shabda (“word”) and it is our ability to not only form a sound, but also to assign meaning that sound; depict that sound and meaning visually; to remember the sound, meaning, and visual depiction and to convey that meaning to others. I think it is obvious how this power comes into play when we are talking about forgiveness and repentance. However, for the record, let me reiterate that the words we use matter because of how we use them! (Also, this is one of those powers where one could say that this is a power other beings in the animal kingdom share with being human. And while this is true, humans have the ability to deliberately and intentionally hone this ability. Consider, also, the power of the written word. A handwritten apology is akin to a love letter.)

Adhyayana is the ability to “study, analyze, and comprehend” and it is directly tied to the first “power unique to being human.” This analytical ability not only allows us to turn inward and gain an understanding of our own intentions (as well as the intentions of others), it also means we can dig deep inside of ourselves and gain a clear understanding of what we are feeling. We can’t always understand how other people are feeling, but we can take a moment to cultivate empathy by considering how we would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. This third power also gives us the ability to understand why one person’s actions, words, and thoughts can hurt us in a way it is hard to get past, while another person’s actions, words, and thoughts feel inconsequential. Finally, it gives us the ability to predict the cause and effect of our thoughts, words, and deeds – which means we have the capacity to not hurt someone and/or to stop making the same mistake over and over again.

“It’s a deep work of the heart that purifies and releases – and somehow permits us to love and be free.”

– quoted from a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness” by Jack Kornfield

 

The fourth “power unique to being human” is dukha-vighata-traya, which means we are born with the ability to eliminate three-fold sorrow (“physical-mental-spiritual suffering”) because we have the ability to understand the cause and the cure of what ails us. Forgiveness and repentance are powerful healing agents. They are a balm to the soul. Letting go of what no longer serves us (or only serves in dividing us) can feel like a cool breeze on a summer day. It’s a clean slate and is like hitting the reset button on a relationship.  Remember, as teachers like Jack Kornfield point out, forgiveness is for you: “It’s not for anyone else.”

The final two powers are suhrit-prapti (which is “cultivating a good heart; finding friends”) and dana (“generosity, the ability to give”). I put these two together not because they are less than the others, but because they – along with the fourth – can defy logic. They are, in every tradition, heart practices. The ability to cultivate friendship and emotionally invest in others carries with it the risk of being hurt. There is a reason why the word “passion,” which comes to us from Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English is more closely associated with love (and strong emotions) than with its original meaning “to suffer.” The ability to cultivate a good heart means that we open up to the wisdom that is part of the heart (according to Eastern philosophies) and also that we are capable of thinking beyond our own needs and desires. This last part – the ability to consider the needs and desires of others – is directly tied to our ability to give others what the need, including what is legally ours. We can spend all day considering what material possessions we have that could benefit others, but let us not forget the priceless value of what is in our own hearts. We are the only one who can offer our forgiveness.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

 

– quoted from “An Essay on Criticism” (line 525) by Alexander Pope

Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance, return, turn,” is a big part of the High Holidays. On Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, there is even an absolution of vows (every vow). But remember, this is not about self flagellation (or even, really, about condemnation). In offering forgiveness to ourselves and others we are not required to forget or condone bad behavior. Neither are we required to stay in a bad situation. The practice does not require us to be perfect. The practice does, however, does require us to open our hearts to the possibility of a new beginning.

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 23rd) 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.

The last song / A final word…

### BE DIVINE (WE YOU CAN) ###

On Having A Good Time September 22, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“[Forgiveness] is a deep process of the heart and in the process you need to honor the betrayal of yourself or others, the grief, the anger, the hurt, the fear – and it can take a long time.”

– quoted from a dhamma talk entitled “The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness” by Jack Kornfield

So, let’s talk about time for a minute… I mean, a moment. I’ve been considering time and asking that age old question (How Could I Spend  My Time?) because of the High Holidays, which started with Rosh Hashanah, “the the Head of the Year” or Jewish New Year, at sunset this past Friday. But, I’m also thinking about time today because it is the Autumnal Equinox here in the Northern Hemisphere. In theory, the angle of the Earth combines with its rotation around the sun to produce four noteworthy (and marked) dates: Autumnal Equinox, Winter Solstice, Vernal (or Spring) Equinox, and Summer Solstice.

I say, “in theory,” because we like to think that today everyone around the world has equal amounts of day and night and that these appreciable moments in time are actually that – appreciable and notable. The truth, however, is that there is no sudden/automatic change in how much light and how much darkness we get. It’s not a dimmer switch and we can honestly notice changes much earlier than indicated by the celestial calendar. Furthermore, no one is really getting 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night on the actual equinox. We perceive daylight long after the sun has moved below the horizon and, therefore, daytime is longer at latitudes above the equator than below. Here in Houston, I’ll get 12 hours and 8 minutes (as will people in Cairo, Egypt and Shanghai, China). On the flip side, someone in Anchorage, Alaska will get 12 hours and 16 minutes (as will people in Helsinki, Finland). Even at the equator, a true 12-hour split doesn’t happen on the equinox: It happens on the equilux (“equal light”), which this year falls on Wednesday, September 23rd.

OK, so, having established that we all have a certain amount of time today – and that we like to think that we all have the same amount of time today – take a moment to consider that to be productive we have to spend some of that time eating/drinking, sleeping, and pooping. That’s just life, and there’s no getting around it. We can, however, factor in how we can eat/drink, sleep, and (yes) poop in way that keeps us productive. This doesn’t mean rushing through meals, sleeping as little as possible, and avoiding bathroom breaks. In fact, it may mean quite the opposite. As you take a moment to turn inward and consider what works best for you, you have to consider all of your rhythms.

“Dearest friend,
Dearest in truth, because I find it touching that you should so thoroughly go into my condition at a time when you are either very busy or not well or possibly both.”

 – letter from Sigmund Freud to Wilhlem Fleiss dated May 21, 1894

Most people have heard the term “biorhythm,” which is a theory presented by Wilhelm Fliess in the later 19th century. Fliess, a close personal friend of Dr. Sigmund Freud, was an otolaryngologist who believed that people’s lives are broken down into (on average) a 23-day physical cycle, a 28-day emotional cycle, and a 33-day intellectual cycle. According to this theory, everyone (regardless of sex or gender) have peak days and low days and we could use these patterns to determine how we spend our time throughout the month and year. Many Western scientists think of Fliess’s ideas as pseudoscience (except, ironically, when it comes to women – and then it’s referred to as infradian rhythms).

On the flip side, Western science recognizes circadian rhythms and ultradian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are natural, internal processes that regulate things like sleep, and repeat with the rotation of the Earth (so roughly every 24 hours). Ultradian rhythms are cycles that repeat throughout a 24-hour day, like the need to eat. (Although, “ultradian” is also used in sleep research to define the various stages of sleep one cycles through when getting a good night sleep. All of that is to say that our bodies and minds operate in such a way that there are times when we are energized and there are times when we are exhausted. Even if we don’t feel particularly tired – or feel like we should feel tired – the bottom line is that there are times when we will have a lot of willpower, energy, and determination to get things done and other times when we won’t have the energy or inclination to be quote-unquote productive.

“Every time you focus your attention you use a measurable amount of glucose and other metabolic resources. Studies show that each task you do tends to make you less effective at the next task, and this is especially true for high-energy tasks like self control and decision making. So distractions really take their toll.”

– quoted from Your Brain at Work by David Rock

In the Old Testament times, something was “good” when it had meaning and served its purpose. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Leo Tolstoy is very clear in his short story, “The Three Questions,” about what is most important (i.e., what is most meaningful). So, when we consider that we don’t have an unlimited amount of time, energy, and will/determination, how do we focus that time, energy, and will/determination? How do we channel it so that it actually strengthens our will/determination, enhances our energy, and makes us feel like we have more time? How do we have a “good” time – and by that I mean meaningful.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 22nd) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. 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.

### MAZEL TOV ###

Start (Now) As You Mean To Go On September 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
add a comment

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.)

“‘There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.’”

– quoted from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, born today in 1866

If you only live your life according to the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar-based calendar, it may be strange and confusing to hear people wishing each other a happy new year at the end of January, the beginning of February, towards the end of March, or at the beginning of fall. We forget that the way we manage and identify time is partially constructed. It’s a matter of perspective, and people’s perspectives can be different. So, right now, all over the world people are wishing each other a happy new year and planning how they want to live their lives if they are blessed with a new year.

 

“Either get busy living or get busy dying.”

– quoted from the film the novella “Rita Hawyworth and Shawshank Redemption: Hope Springs Eternal” by Stephen King, born today in 1947

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”

– Leonard Cohen, born today in 1934

Friday at sunset was the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, “the the Head of the Year,” which is also the beginning of the High Holidays in Judaism. The “Ten Days of Awe” or “Ten Days of Atonement,” which culminate with Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement, are observed through reflection, remembrance, and repentance. And, as I mentioned yesterday, they are days where people let go of what no longer serves them and plan for the year ahead. That letting go and planning revolve around the concept of Teshuvah (or Tchuvah), the Hebrew word for “repentance” or “return” – and therefore around the practice of forgiveness.

Forgiveness can be a tricky thing because, as the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield points out, it requires us to process and honor feelings of betrayal, grief, anger, hurt, fear. It also requires us to process and honor that we have those hard feelings, in part, because we also feel love and expectation. Kornfield speaks of it as a “deep process of the heart” and I think it is also, very much related, to those siddhis (or powers) “unique to being human.” In fact, it’s related to all six: the power of knowledge without doubt; the power words; the power to “study, analyze, and comprehend;” the power to eliminate threefold sorrow; the power to cultivate friendships; and the power of generosity. Of course, we need to tuck into our own hearts and use those power, and that requires going through the pain we are currently experiencing in order to discern the movements of the heart.

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

 

– H. G. Wells, born today in 1866

“Don’t let the sun go down without saying thank you to someone, and without admitting to yourself that absolutely no one gets this far alone.”

“Don’t live in this place.”

– quoted from the 2005 University of Maine Commencement Speech by Stephen King, born today in 1947

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 21st) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom.

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.

 

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

– quoted from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, born today in 1934

### PLEASE FORGIVE ###

New Year, New Wings September 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

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

– Wilbur Wright

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

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

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

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

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

– quoted from “Learning to Fly” from Pink Floyd

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

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

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

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

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

– quoted from “Given to Fly” by Pearl Jam

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

– Orville Wright

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

(“Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.)

Yoga Sūtra 2.38: brahmacaryapratişţhāyām vīryalābhah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Devarim – Deuteronomy (16:18 – 20)

Pardon me, while we jump to October.

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

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

Sunrise

Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

She definitely fits the description above!

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

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

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