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The Dangers of Living In A Material World September 12, 2020

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“Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.”

– Amir, remembering the lessons of his father, in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

There are times when we have everything we need and we not only recognize that, we appreciate it. There are times we may have less than what we need and, while we may recognize that, we focus on what we have and appreciate that. There are times we have more than our fair share and, whether we understand that or not, we appreciate what we have.

Then there are all the other times.

Times when, regardless of what we have, we can’t help thinking about having more. More. More. Desire is a powerful thing. It is a charge of energy that can manifest in a billion different ways: we can have what we need, but want more; we need more than we have and be brutally crushed – even driven – by that awareness and the desire for more; we can have more than others can every imagine and yet we can imagine more. And, that energy, that compulsion, that urge drives our words and our deeds. We become greedy.

On a certain level, it doesn’t matter if the desire starts in the heart or the mind, because it can take root in either place; and, once it takes roots it blossoms into greed. And greed is the kind of blossom that spreads. So, you may be more or less content, but then I can suggest that you are missing out on something and, over time (with enough suggestions, especially at a young age), that suggestion creeps in and suddenly you are doing and saying things in order to change what you possess. That’s basically the model of capitalism, materialism, and consumerism. It is the very premise of advertising: someone convinces you that you need something you want and/or that they have the best version of what you need and/or want. (And why would anyone ever settle for less than the best.)

Notice the words. They are sneaky. Words are also wonderful: Which is one of the reasons why it’s important to pay attention to the word choice when it comes to commandments, precepts, and/or vows. Take for instance, the “Ten Commandments” as outlined in Exodus. In the Talmud (in the Jewish tradition) and the King James Version (KJV) of the Christian Old Testament there is a lot of “thou shalt” and thou shalt not” attributed to outward behavior; meaning things people are commanded to do/say or not do/say. However, there are some that are specifically related to thought.

“COVET (verb transitive)

  1. To desire or wish for, with eagerness; to desire earnestly to obtain or possess; in a good sense.

COVET earnestly the best gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:31.

  1. To desire inordinately; to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess; in a bad sense.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, wife or servant. Exodus 20:17.

COVET (verb intransitive) To have an earnest desire. 1 Timothy 6:10.”

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Towards the beginning there is the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Yes, it is true, there are (external) words and deeds related to this commandment; however, the commandment itself is related to the mental exercise of memory/thought. Then, at the very end, we get to the commandment(s) related to stealing and more often than not the instruction does not state, “Thou shalt not steal.” (Although Exodus 20:17 is often translated as such). Instead, the passage related to stealing (someone’s wife, slaves, animals, or anything else) is a commandment about thought.

When it comes to theft, Patanjali also directs us towards our thoughts – and reminds us that the desire for someone else’s stuff starts inside of us, with a thought or feeling for more. Similar to harming, we can be directly involved in stealing, we can motivate others to steal on our behalf, and/or we can tacitly condone stealing. The practice requires refraining from all types of stealing. As you reap what you sow, the practice comes with priceless rewards.

Yoga Sūtra 2.37: asteyapratişţhām sarvaratnopasthānam

– “When a yogi is established in non-stealing, all gems manifest.”

As he does with the other yamās, Patanjali explains that when the practice of non-stealing is deeply embedded in our hearts and minds there is an energy shift. Specifically, internalizing the practice of asteya is rewarded with the “gems” of nature. In the commentary for sūtra 2.37, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait defines these gems as “Lofty ideals, scientific discoveries, human values, uplifting thought, and the virtues of the heart – love, compassion, selfishness” as well as the bounty of nature. Consider how often we wish for material things, but also how often we look at someone else’s accomplishments and wish they were ours.

At what point does the wish become desire? At what point does the desire become greed? At the point when it may be too late to turn back, because we are so far down the road we don’t realize we are lost (or consumed).

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 12th) 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 onYouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist entitled “07222020 The Perfect Taco.”)

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.

Not on the playlist, but definitely comes to mind…

### PER RABBI WEINBERG, BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT YOU HAVE ###

Tolstoy’s Theories & Questions (soooo many questions) September 9, 2020

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“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills, and in it you too have the only method of saving your people from enslavement. In very ancient times love was proclaimed with special strength and clearness among your people to be the religious basis of human life.”

– quoted from section V of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

Consider that if you practice ahimsā (“non-harming” or “non-violence”) and satya (a dedication to “truth”), there are times when telling the brutal honest truth, creates harm. So, the questions become (1) how to mitigate the harm – while also being dedicated to the truth – and (2) how to be honest without telling the truth. Someone who would have strived to find the balance was Leo Tolstoy who, in my humble opinion, sometimes failed miserably to find the balance.

Going by the Gregorian calendar, Leo Tolstoy was born today in 1828. He was born into nobility near Tula, Russia and, in many ways, his story could mirror that of Prince Siddhartha’s story of enlightenment… if it weren’t for those pesky trips to the brothel. Yes, born into wealth and privilege, Tolstoy indulged himself. Then he fell in love and very quickly married the 18-year old Sophia Behrs, the daughter of a court physician. There was a difference in their social status and a 16-year age difference; however, those were not the problems. Their marital strife started before they even got married when, under the guise of full disclosure, Tolstoy forced Sophia to read his diaries – filled with his sexual exploits – the night before their wedding. In a similar vein, he would later tell his favorite daughter Maria, known as “Masha,” that although it was sad that she had experienced another failed birth, “it is clearly a benefit to your spiritual life.”

Yeah, Tolstoy kinda sucked like that.

He was also, by all accounts, incredibly moody.

And, if you only know of Tolstoy as the Nobel Prize nominated author of giant Russian novels that many consider the greatest literature ever written, then my earlier statement about his story mirroring the Buddha’s story may come as a surprise – especially given his interpersonal skills as described above.

I completely understand if, given the above information they don’t want to read anything more. (Especially considering the fact that I don’t think the rest of the story redeems him.) Here’s the thing though: Tolstoy spent much of his adult life in the middle of a spiritual crisis and his efforts to resolve this crisis led him to “start” a spiritual movement that inspired people from all over the world – including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., & Rev. James Bevel. Gandhi even named a spiritual settlement in South Africa after Tolstoy.

“I believe that such a time has now arrived—not in the sense that it has come in the year 1908, but that the inherent contradiction of human life has now reached an extreme degree of tension: on the one side there is the consciousness of the beneficence of the law of love, and on the other the existing order of life which has for centuries occasioned an empty, anxious, restless, and troubled mode of life, conflicting as it does with the law of love and built on the use of violence. This contradiction must be faced, and the solution will evidently not be favourable to the outlived law of violence, but to the truth which has dwelt in the hearts of men from remote antiquity: the truth that the law of love is in accord with the nature of man.

But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries.”

– quoted from section VI of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

But, let’s back up a minute, because I’m jumping ahead. Before we get to the part where Leo Tolstoy was rooted in pacifism and Christian anarchism, we have to go back…even before the brothels.

At an early age, Tolstoy’s teacher wrote him off as not being too smart. Yet, he taught himself twelve languages. His brother suggested that he enlist in the army and also encouraged him to write. The fighting that he saw at the front during the Crimean War, combined with an execution he witness in Paris (1857), and his brother’s death around 1859, caused Tolstoy to question his faith and his place in the world. In particular, he questioned “superstitious belief in progress,” which led to a moral crisis and spiritual awakening.

Part of his questioning led him to the desire to marry and have a family. His marriage with Sophia, while full of conflict, was instrumental in the completion and publication of the novel “1805,” which was renamed War and Peace. Sophia Tolstoya rewrote each revision of the novel by hand. She wrote out the entire novel eight times in seven years, although she had to rewrite some sections 30 times – all while giving birth to four of their 13 children and taking care of the day-to-day operations of their home and business affairs. Despite their personal conflicts (which included Tolstoy’s insistence that she continue having children even after a doctor said it was detrimental to her health), Tolstoya continued to support her husband’s literary efforts throughout their marriage. The couple’s ultimate split occurred after their estate was essentially turned into a de-facto settlement for “Tolstoyans” (who wanted to be closer to their “spiritual leader”) and Sophia Tolstoya demanded Tolstoy sign over control of his publishing royalties (because she feared he would bankrupt the family). The ultimate split between the couple caused quite a public scandal, but that’s towards the end of the story. In between, there were the novels (including Anna Karenina, which Tolstoy considered his “first novel”). The Kingdom of God is Within You (the title of which references John 17:21), a series of short stories collected under the title What Men Live By, and his 1908 “Letter to a Hindu” (addressed to Tarak Nath Das).

“All that exists is One. People only call this One by different names. ~The Vedas

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. ~ 1 John 4:16

God is one whole; we are the parts. ~ Exposition of the teaching of the Vedas by Vivekananda”

– quoted from “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

All of Leo Tolstoy’s work can come under that heading of “what men live by.” The Kingdom of God is Within You highlights Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and also questions what Tolstoy viewed as hypocrisy, corruption, and moral contradictions within organized religion. It was banned in Russia; however, it was published in Germany several years after Tolstoy was placed under police surveillance by the czarist government and excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church.  “A Letter to a Hindu” draws quotes from a plethora of sacred text and shows the parallels between religious traditions many people may not realize have shared teachings.

There’s more to the story, of course there is more, but just this little bit brings up the original questions above plus some particular to the author: Was Tolstoy the ultimate hypocrite? Is he the perfect cautionary tale? Did he spend his life becoming/being what he most despised and criticized?

Then are the questions that, perhaps, you have found yourself asking over the last few years: Do we disregard the message/teaching because of the messager’s bad behavior? Should we excuse bad behavior because nobody is perfect, but some people have good intentions? How much should someone be condemned if they are doing their best to work towards a better world, but their bad (suffering-causing) behavior is rooted in years of privilege?

At each point, I think we have to come back to the beginning: ahimsā and satya. At each point, we have to turn inward and ask ourselves: What creates the least amount of harm while simultaneously allowing us to maintain our dedication to the truth?

“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating feelings of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked [ or non-virtuous].”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (1.33), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

“As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence —as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual. Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.”

– quoted from section V of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 9th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom (featuring “Three Questions,” one of Tolstoy’s short stories). 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.

“O ye who sit in bondage and continually seek and pant for freedom, seek only for love. Love is peace in itself and peace which gives complete satisfaction. I am the key that opens the portal to the rarely discovered land where contentment alone is found.”  ~KRISHNA.

– quoted from section VI of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

### “LIVE THE QUESTION NOW” (RMR) ###

peDoghQo’ (Don’t be silly)! September 8, 2020

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peDoghQo’! (“Don’t be silly!) Of course, I know something very special happened today in 1966. And, while it makes sense in the class, I couldn’t make it fit in today’s earlier post. So, this is for those of you who are looking for a way to spend part of your day.

### LIVE LONG & PROSPER! ###

But, What’s On the Inside? September 8, 2020

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“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

– Mother Teresa

I was watching an interesting video the other day (see link at end of post). Some parts were awkward and clumsy, and there were times when some of the participants felt bad about themselves (and, as an empathetic viewer I felt bad for them). The parts where people felt bad about themselves were some of the parts that were awkward and handled in a slightly clumsy way. However, the participants felt bad for themselves because the topic of the video is a sore spot for many people, especially women in America: weight and appearance. The video was interesting and good – in that it was meaningful – because it was yet another reminder that there is more going on with a person (and their health) than what we see on the outside.

“True beauty is knowing who you are and what you want and never apologizing for it.”

P!nk (born Alecia Beth Moore, today in 1979)

Michelangelo’s David was unveiled today in 1504 in Florence, Italy. At various times throughout history, the marble statue has represented the epitome of the male form. What captivates people, however, is not just the beauty of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. People love the story of David, because it is the story of the underdog. When faced with towering figure of Goliath, David used his inner resources. He drew from the experience he had (rather than being preoccupied by the experience he didn’t have) and he focused on what he could do (not on what he was “trying” to do). His inner strength, courage, and wisdom is what he takes into his reign as king. Yes, King David makes mistakes – he was human; but his legacy is represented by the statue, the story, and his son Solomon (who is considered the ruler with the wisest heart in the history of the world).

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

– Michelangelo

Consider the image of Michelangelo, the sculptor, staring at a chunk of marble. To the outside observer, it is nothing. But he sees inside. To someone who is not an artist, the process seems magical and impossible. If we were to undertake such a task, without knowing what to look for and what steps to take, the process would be frustrating and the final effort might even be embarrassing. But, even though it takes effort and sometimes it’s harder than others, the artist who is literate in their craft thinks nothing of the process: this is just what they do now.

What they do can be very similar to you reading this post (or even me writing this post). Yes, it takes effort and energy; however, if you are a literate adult (who learned how to read as a child) you don’t think back to the struggle of the learning process every time you read or write. Even though the yoga philosophy defines this exchange of words and meaning as one of the “powers unique to being human,” we don’t always think of it as being anything more than a tool. Or something that is part of our landscape… like the rocks on the ground before David picked them up. Or, like the hunk of marble before Michelangelo went to work.

But, what of the approximately 775 million people worldwide who are functionally illiterate? To those people who lack the basic reading and writing skills to manage daily living and employment tasks, my blog posts can be like Goliath. (I know, I know: Even when you are literate, these blog posts can be like Goliath – but then, you are David and you have what it takes to conquer!)

“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart….”

– quoted from 1 Samuel – The Old Testament (17:32 NIV)  

There are huge financial costs to being illiterate (an estimated $1.19 trillion (USD) globally), but there are other extreme costs. Illiteracy limits possibilities. It decreases employment opportunities, increases chances for poor health and the inclination toward crime. There is an emotional toll, in that it can lead to depression, anger, frustration, and embarrassment. Illiteracy is often associated with poverty; however, there is also a gender component: 64% of the people who are illiterate are also women.

According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), if all women completed primary education, there would be 66 percent fewer maternal deaths. This is one of the reasons UNESCO focuses on educating girls and women. This is also one of the reasons why, in 1965, the United Nations designated today, September 8th, as International Literacy Day. It is a day to promote awareness of illiteracy and cultivate compassion around this human rights struggle. It’s also an opportunity to buy a book for a public school or a library in a developing country, a rural area, or an impoverished area (even here in the United States). It’s also a great opportunity to buy a book for a friend or a loved one – maybe even a book that tells you not to judge “the book” by its cover.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 8th) 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.

Here’s that interesting video I mentioned above.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

– Michelangelo

### DON’T JUDGE, LOVE ###

The Result of Labor September 7, 2020

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“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

– Eugene V. Debs, quoted from his statement to the Federal Court (Cleveland, Ohio), after being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918

Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States and parts of Canada. We often think of Labor Day as the long weekend that marks the end of summer and the beginning of “our regular routines.” It’s one of the Federal holidays typically marked with big sales, fairs, parades, and the last big barbecues and picnics. However, there is nothing typical about this year and – with the exception of the parades – none of this reflects the original intention behind Labor Day.

Labor Day has a bloody history rooted in the Labor Movement, whose history runs parallel to the history of the Socialist Movement. It was one of the outcomes of social activism and what happens when the government decides not to honor its citizens’ right to assembly. In fact, the federal holiday was established in the United States as a direct response to conflict which arose the first time the federal government used an injunction to break up a workers’ strike in the United States.

During the last twenty years of the 19th century, there were approximately 37,000 strikes in the United States, resulting in at least 800 people being killed – with almost all the deaths being the result of altercations between the striking workers and state security forces or the military. Everything came to a head, however, with the Pullman Strike (and subsequent railroad boycott) during the late Spring and Summer of 1894.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was not only a major employer of a diverse workforce, it was also the owner and operator of the Illinois town where most of its workers lived. The company provided homes as well as groceries and all other amenities…for a fee, of course. When the economic depression kicked in 1893, the company lowered the workers already low wages; however, it did not lower rent or the cost of other goods and services within the town. Facing starvation, the workers attempted to schedule a meeting with the company’s president, George M. Pullman. When Pullman refused to meet with the workers they voted to strike. As the strike began, the company announced that the factory was closed – essentially undermining the workers’ leverage. Most of the workers, however, were part of the American Railway Union (ARU) and when the union met, for its first annual convention, it voted for a boycott.

I’m condensing and simplifying the situation a bit here, but the bottom line is that there was a cascade affect that successfully tied up railway traffic on all lines west of Chicago and eventually in most of the United States (with the exception of the East and Deep South where the striking unions were not as strong). While the union leadership, in particular the ARU’s president Eugene V. Debs urged the striking workers and their families to stay calm, people were filled with anger and that anger turned a peaceful rally into a rage-filled moment that derailed a locomotive which was attached to a U. S. Mail train. Previously, states and local militia had engaged the wildcat strikes that were breaking out, but after the events of June 29th, an injunction was obtained which cited the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Act – and prevented the ARU leadership from communicating with the striking workers, even  to urge peaceful protests. The injunction also enabled President Grover Cleveland to order in federal troops, whose orders were not focused on peace, but instead on making sure the trains kept running.

The arrival of the federal troops further enraged the striking workers and their supporters, who overturned trains, erected barriers, and destroyed railcars. Ironically, this uptick of destruction started in Independence Day. By July 7th, the altercations had turned deadly. By the second week of July, upwards of 250,000 workers in 27 states were participating in some aspect of the protests and riots. Whereas people outside of the workforce had initially sympathized with the workers, it had become something the general populace feared would directly impact them in a detrimental way. The mainstream media and the United States Congress also started changing their minds about the situation. By the end, at least 30 people had been killed, the ARU leadership had been arrested, and the strikers had lost over $1 million in wages. The railroads had lost millions of dollars in revenue and in looted and damaged property.

And, this is where things turned again.

Previously, as trade unions and the labor movement worked for workers’ rights , including fair wages and safe working conditions, different groups chose different dates to celebrate and honor the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and wellbeing of our country.” After the deaths of the workers in the Summer of 1894, Congress and President Cleveland needed something to maintain peace and acknowledge the needs of the people. They decided to dedicate a day, complete with a street parade, to recognize the “social and economic achievements of American workers.” Of course, May Day (May 1st) was already International Workers’ Day, but it was so closely associated with the Socialist Movement – which some of the ARU leadership was gravitating towards – that President Cleveland wanted a day that would not encourage additional strikes and protests. Today is that day.

“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”

– quoted from “Life of Eugene V. Debs” in Debs : His Life, Writings and Speeches by Stephen Marion Reynolds, edited by Bruce Rogers and Stephen Marion Reynolds

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 7th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga 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.

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

– Eugene V. Debs, quoted from his statement to the Federal Court (Cleveland, Ohio), after being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918

### RELEASE • RELAX • REST ###

The Art of Moving Meditation September 6, 2020

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“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

– John Cage

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

Yesterday was about the truth… the cagey truth about nothing. Today we start with the truth about words.

Words are amazing! And, when you know where they come from, words (and the way we use them) can be really funny. Take the word zen, for instance. The word zen is a Japanese word that comes to us from Sanskrit by way of Chinese, from a word that means “meditation.” So, when we say that someone practices “Zen meditation” what we are really saying is that someone practices “Meditation meditation.”

It’s funny to think of it that way, but it is also true – not only of a Zen practice, but of all meditation practices. When we sit, or even when we practice a moving meditation, the mind focuses on something again and again and again; meaning, it keeps coming back to the object of focus. Similar to japa-ajapa, we repeat and repeat, repeat and remember, repeat and understand – in other words, we gain insight. Not coincidentally, the Sanskrit word dyana (“thought, meditation”), which is the source word for zen, comes from the Greek root meaning “to see, look.” So, when we look at something again, and again, and again – even looking, as Paolo Coehlo suggested, from different perspectives – we see things “in a special way” (which is just another way to say “insight”). Our understanding of the moment (and movement) is a matter of perspective.

It’s like a road trip. The vehicle is moving but we are still inside the vehicle; the scenery is still, but appears to be moving. Everything merges and converges while we are still. Do you see where we’re going?

It’s OK if you don’t. This is kind of like that old joke where someone says, “I’m not lost. I know exactly where we are. We’re in the car.” Now, consider what happens if we could get out of the box or cage we’re in and become part of the scenery. Not walking necessarily, but riding. So that the scenery is simultaneously still and moving… but so are we. And, just like with a moving meditation, there is some part of us that always stays still.

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

– John Cage

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

Born today in 1928, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Robert Pirsig was a writer and philosopher whose way above average IQ was identified at an early age. While he ultimately served in the United States Army and  became a professor of creative writing, he is most well-known as the author of a fictionalized autobiography that centers around a road trip Pirsig took with his son Chris. The trip took them from Minneapolis to San Francisco. The book takes the reader along for the ride and also on a philosophical road trip, moving readers through a history of philosophy and an exploration of “quality” (an object of contemplation). While Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values received over one hundred rejection letters and no one expected it to have much of a shelf life, the book initially sold at least 5 million copies worldwide and has consistently appeared on best seller lists.

Pirsig served as vice-President of the Minnesota Zen Mediation Center and spent two additional years on its board of directors. But while he was familiar with motorcycles and Zen Buddhism (as well as electroshock therapy, which is also chronicled in the book), Robert Pirsig said that his seminal book shouldn’t be considered “factual” about either. The same can be said about his follow-up book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, which recounts a sailboat trip down the Hudson River. Lila picks up where the philosophical road trip left off and explores “quality” as Static or Dynamic and divides everything in the universe into four “static values” (inorganic, biological, social, and intellectual). His exploration about morals is also an exploration of perspective, and how perspectives change over time. Even though biographies indicate that a 1974 Guggenheim Fellowship “allowed” him to write the second book and the philosophical discourse into metaphysics is continuous, there is a seventeen-year gap between the books.

In the 17 years between his books, Pirsig divorced his first wife, married his second wife, lost his oldest son (who had been featured in the first book), and had a daughter. His son Christopher was killed in a mugging outside the San Francisco Zen Meditation Center. Pirsig would eventually explain that one of the reasons he and his second wife had their daughter Nell was because they believed she was a continuation of Chris’s “life pattern.” In other words, Nell was part of the same trip (metaphysically speaking, of course.)

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 6th) 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.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

“The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don’t start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don’t start with psychiatrists. If you don’t like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.”

– quoted from Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

### ZOOOOOOM ###

The Cagey Truth About Nothing September 5, 2020

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“Every moment is an echo of nothing.”

 

– John Cage

Listen. Do that 90-second thing. Just for a moment, be still and be quiet.

Notice what you hear.

Notice what you see.

Notice what you feel.

Because, as long as you are alive, these things are always happening.

“Everything we do is music.”

“The world is teeming; anything can happen.”

 

– John Cage

We refer to the absence of something as nothing, but in actuality there is always something. Our understanding of nothing or emptiness is based on our perception and awareness of the truth. Zen Buddhism, which John Cage practiced, focuses on self-restraint, meditation, insight into the nature of the mind and the nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight – especially as it benefits others. This, truly, parallels the focus of the yoga philosophy. It’s tricky, cagey even; however, if we pay attention we start to notice that the truth about nothing leads to the truth about everything – and Patanjali tells us that being dedicated to to the truth leads to everything.

Yoga Sūtra 2.36: satyapratişţhāyām kriyāphalāśrayatvam

 

– “When a yogi is established in truthfulness, actions begin to bear fruit. [Truth is the foundation for fruitful action.]”

Born today in 1912, John Cage was an artist and composer who’s most well-known work is often misinterpreted. Even as musicians – even heavy metal musicians who understand the piece take it on, there is often a level of interpretation and improvisation that changes the tenure of the piece. Some say Mr. Cage would approve of such things. Others say otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that he was a student not only of art and music, but also of Zen Buddhism, Indian philosophy, chance, and (yes) improvisation. He turned more towards music than art because more people commented on his music and, in some ways, music was harder for him. He combined his two art forms by composing music for “prepared piano,” a piano that had been altered with blocks, pins, and other objects – and essentially turned into a percussion instrument. He also collaboration with his partner Merce Cunningham, the choreographer, and spent years composing via the I Ching, a resource for divination.

Divination comes from the Latin word for “to foresee, to foretell, to predict, to prophesy” and, it is related to the Latin word for “divine,” it can be translated as “to be inspired by God.” It is, like randomly opening a page in the Bible or your favorite book, a way to gain insight into a particular situation. The I Ching or Book of Changes (sometimes translated as Classic of Changes) is an ancient resource for Chinese divination and one of the oldest Chinese classics. It became one of the “Five Classics” in the 2nd Century B.C. and has provided influenced art, literature, philosophy, and religion around the world since the Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 B. C.).

The text is the primary reference for interpreting a sequence of hexagrams which can be formed with numbers or by throwing coins containing the symbols for “yin” (a broken line) or “yang” (an unbroken line). Just like other users of Chinese divination, John Cage would form a question, throw the coins, and then create a musical interpretation of the resulting hexagon sequence and its corresponding message. While he had previously composed “by chance,” using the I Ching became his standard method of composing music after one of his students gave him a copy of the sacred text in 1951. In a 1957 lecture, he described music as “purposeless play” and “a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.”

“If something is boring after 2 minutes, try it for 4. If still boring, then 8. Then 16. Then 38. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

 

– John Cage

It was also in 1951 that Mr. Cage had two other highly influential experiences. His friend and colleague Robert Rauschenberg produced a series of white paintings which appeared to be “blank” canvases, but which actually changed based on lighting and the shadows of the people viewing them. Around this same time, Mr. Cage spent some time in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber was designed so that every part of the room absorbed sound, rather than reflecting it, so that it was meant to be completely silent and externally sound-proof.  He expected to hear silence but, instead, he heard a high pitched sound and a low pitched sound. The engineer in charge of the room told him the high pitch was his nervous system and the low pitch was his blood circulation. Instead of silence, he was treated to the music of his own existence.

There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”

 

– John Cage

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 5th) 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. (FAIR WARNING: The volume on these tracks is quite dynamic, more so on the Spotify list. I love this music, however, I know some folks hate it; so, feel free to “randomly” pick another list or…practice in “silence.”)

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.

Pure Cage

“Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself.”

 

John Cage

 

### UNCAGED ###

.

Magic? No. Magical? Yes, yes! September 2, 2020

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“The idea came from the idea of escaping the world, actually. For me, there’s definitely days where I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed by people, and I need to get away. So Bob Peterson, who is the lead writer and co-director, he and I were just sitting in a room thinking of ideas. And we were experimenting with this visual idea of a guy in floating house, and it just seemed really intriguing.”

– Pete Docter (b. 10/09/1968), quoted from an AV Club interview (dated 05/28/2009)

Today started with something that wasn’t magic, but it was magical. For reasons unknown to me, David Blaine and his team picked today for his YouTubes Original special Ascension. The stunt, to soar up thousands of feet with helium balloons and then parachute down, took years and planning and even more years of dreaming. Blaine kept saying he was doing it for his 9-year old daughter Dessa, but he was also doing it for everyone who has ever dreamed of flying, soaring, and floating above it all. He said it was amazing. I say that despite all the technology, and maybe because of it, it was magical – and it couldn’t have happened on a better day. Because, to me, September 2nd is all about magical dreams and the inspiring people who make them come true.

“I want to see how life can triumph.”

– Romare Bearden, Artist and Activist

The artist, author, and song writer Romare Bearden was born today in 1911. Perhaps best known for his collages, photomontages, and abstract and Cubist paintings, he originally aspired to be a cartoonist (and even supported himself, for a brief period, as a political cartoonist).  While serving in the United States Army during World War II, Sergeant Bearden was part of the all-black 372nd Infantry Division of the 15th Regiment. While I have read accounts that spent his service in the United States and other accounts saying that he served on the Western Front, one thing is not disputed: during the war, he saw mankind at its worst and he wanted, through his art, to express the humanity he felt was lacking in his wartime experiences.

“There are roads out of the secret place within us which we must all move as we go to touch others.”

– Romare Bearden, Artist and Activist

Of course, it is easy to imagine the atrocities one might have witnessed on the Western Front, but what would an all-black infantry member experience if the served in the United States? Segregation, prejudice, racism – and this was experienced more by the domestic soldiers than those on the battlefield. While the enlisted men were black, the officers were primarily white. In addition to the things we normally think of as being segregated during the 1940’s (housing, transportation, food service, church), especially in the South, parades and other ways people in the service were honored was done separately. The separation and hostility included people who were part of the Officer’s Candidate School in North Carolina (like Sergeant Bearden) and meant that the black soldiers were sometimes restricted to their bases even when they had time off.

When his service ended, Romare Bearden spent time in New York City and in Paris, where he studied philosophy and the history behind the art he had, primarily, taught himself to create. His work didn’t just depict African-American people; it showed the unity, cooperation, and collaboration within the African-American community. Along with his cousin, Private Charles H. Alston (with whom he also served in the U. S. Army), Emma Amos, Hale Woodruff, and 11 other artists of color, Sergeant Bearden founded the “Spiral” group, which discussed the responsibility of African-American artists to the Civil Rights Movement and “to consider common aesthetic problems.” It was during this same period that he began his collage work and started experiencing great success and recognition through exhibitions in major galleries and museums.

In 1984, four years before his bone cancer-related death, he was paid $90,000 for a 60×13-foot mural, entitled “Pittsburgh Recollections,” which was installed in a Pittsburgh subway station. In 2008, the mural’s value was estimated at $15 million. Two years after his death, the Romare Bearden Foundation was founded “to preserve and perpetuate the legacy of this preeminent American artist.” The non-profit foundation serves as the artist’s estate and has developed grants supporting children, young (emerging) artists, and scholars.

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. JUST GET ON!”

– Teacher and Astronaut S Christa McAuliffe

Born today in 1948, S Christa McAuliffe was a teacher who became an astronaut – because she was a teacher. At an early age, she was inspired by the “Space Age” astronauts like John Glen. As an adult, she was chosen from over 11,000 applicants to participate in NASA’s 1985 “Teacher in Space” project. She trained to become the first teacher in space and planned to conduct experiments and teach two lesson plans on her first mission aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. Unfortunately, the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after launch killing all seven crew members on January 28, 1986. This American of Irish and Lebanese descent, who was also a mother and wife, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor (in 2004). Schools and scholarships have been named in her honor; however, her students remember her for her advice on life:

 “Reach for the stars. Reach for it! Push yourself as far as you can.”

– Teacher and Astronaut S Christa McAuliffe

Canada’s first “space tourist” was born today in 1959. Known for reaching for a different kind of stars and pushing himself (and others), Cirque du Soleil co-founder and former CEO Guy Laliberté turned 61 today. He believes in having a greater purpose and in taking risks, which probably explains his penchant for poker playing, but also his success as an entertainer and producer. While he is now billionaire and one of the wealthiest Canadians in the world, he started off as just another kid inspired by the circus. He started off as a busker, a stiltwalker, and a fire-eater, but eventually became a producer.

In addition to curating one of the most innovative and entertaining performing arts companies in the world, he is one of the founders of the non-profit One Drop Foundation, which aims “to ensure sustainable access to safe water and sanitation for the most vulnerable communities through innovative partnerships, creativity and the power of art.” He called his venture into space a “poetic social mission” designed to raise awareness about water issues addressed by One Drop. The foundation’s values are respect, integrity, collaboration, innovation, and fun – the same elements you need for a good circus. Mr.  Laliberté said, “Inside every adult there’s still a child that lingers. We’re happiness merchants giving people the opportunity to dream like children.” Of course, to encourage others to dream, one has to dream big; always, always, always, believe in the dream; and have the resources to make it so.

“I am blessed for what I have, but I believed in it from the beginning. Today the dream is the same: I still want to travel, I still want to entertain, and I most certainly want to have fun.”

– Guy Laliberté, Cirque du Soleil co-founder, polker player, and Activist

“Life is tough, and if you have the ability to laugh at it, you have the ability to enjoy it.”

– Salma Hayek, Actor, Director, Producer, and Activist

If I didn’t have all the other birthday people to honor, but I wanted to get across the same advice and inspiration, I would defer to a Mexican-American woman who stands not quite two inches taller than me.  Born today in 1966, Salma Valgarma Hayek Jiménez, now Salma Hayak Pinault began her career in the award-winning telenovela Teresa. By 25, she had won an Ariel Award (the Mexican equivalent of an Academy Award) and was ready to take on Hollywood, where she would receive more accolades and critical acclaim. She has appeared in sitcoms, children’s specials, and every imaginable genre of movies.

In 2002, Salma Hayek produced and starred in Frida, a biography of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, which was directed by Julie Taymor. In addition to paying tribute to her Mexican heritage with Frida, honored her Lebanese heritage by producing (and voicing the character Kamila) the animated movie Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. As she continuously racks up awards and nominations for her work as an actor and producer, she has also modeled; worked as an official spokeswoman for Avon and Revlon cosmetics; and worked with Proctor & Gamble Company, in collaboration with UNICEF, to promote the funding of maternal and neonatal tetanus vaccines.  She’s a yogi who has developed a juice delivery program and her own brand of cosmetics.

In addition to all this and more, Ms. Hayek has had overcome dyslexia, navigated America’s immigration system to become a naturalized citizen, and overcame sexual assault and harassment during one of the high points of her career. Her personal experiences are part of the reason she works to increase awareness about violence against women (even testifying before the United States Senate to support the Violence Against Women Act), donates to anti-domestic abuse shelters and groups (in the United States and Mexico), and is a breastfeeding advocate who once breastfeed a newborn in Sierra Leone when the baby’s mother could not produce milk. She once said, “What is important is to believe in something so strongly that you’re not discouraged.” Inspiring words, for sure! However, I always follow another bit of her advice….

“I act tall!”

– Salma Hayek, Actor, Director, Producer, and Activist

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 2nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a magical-birthday inspired 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 is available on YouTube and Spotify. (The practice music is the same, but one playlist includes David Blaine’s Ascension and the other includes Romare Bearden’s “Sea Breeze.”)

Romare Bearden’s “Sea Breeze”

David Blaine

### REACH FOR THE STARS! HAVE FUN. ACT TALL. BEHOLD… & LIFE WILL TRIUMPH ###

We Do What We Do September 1, 2020

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“Beauty cannot exist without ugliness.

Virtue cannot exist without vice.

Living, we know death.

Struggling, we know ease.

Rising high, we know the depths.

Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite, therefore we work without conscious effort and teach without agenda.

We enjoy everything and possess nothing.

Our accomplishments do not emerge from our ego, so we do not cling to them.

Thus they benefit all beings.”

– (2) 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

A few months back, I posted about chaos theory; and if you watch one of the pendulum models (see below it can seem like so much craziness. However, when faced with so much confusion, I have to remind myself of the following:

  • we’ve seen this pattern before;
  • it makes no sense if you get caught up in the momentum;
  •  all the movement is, in fact, moving towards stillness;
  • and that, from the perspective of natural law, there is a moment when all of the movement is, in fact, “effortless effort.”

As someone with a type-A personality, I sometimes struggle with the idea of “effortless effort.” Don’t get me wrong; I can be still, I can relax. However, there are certain times where “doing nothing” feels like the wrong choice. I’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe this. Many in the Western world have been conditioned and socialized to believe this. But, not doing is still doing and “effortless effort” is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, sometimes, it takes a great deal of effort to let go.

In a 2009 blog post, Meditation Oasis (Marry and Richard Maddux) refers to a the Wikipedia description of “Wu Wei” – which literally means “not-doing doing” – as “’natural action’ giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing.” This makes me think of Alan Watts meditation where he describes breathing as something that happens to us, but also something we can engage – and, once engaged, it is something we do deeply without effort. Meditation is like this. Life is like this too, and Taoist philosophy points to “Wu Wei” as a way to act and/or experience action in daily life. On Meditation Oasis’s blog, they describe meditation as “the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.” This too, is what Patanjali advocates in the Yoga Sūtras, “resting in your own true nature.” (YS 1.3)

 “The most fluid and yielding substance will flow past the most rigid with the speed of a racehorse.

That which does not hold a particular form can enter even that which seems impenetrable.

This is why we practice “effortless effort.”

We act without ado.

We teach without arguments.

This is the way of true happiness, but because people prefer distractions and noise, it is not a popular way.”

– (43) 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

In commentary on wu-wei, Dr. Martin says, “This phrase implies pure action in the present moment without any accompanying resistance, second-guessing, or worry. In the practice of wu-wei we just “do what we do.” The more awareness and acceptance we bring to the present moment, the more wu-wei is possible. This can take the form of either energetic activity or relaxed waiting. Like acceptance, wu-wei is not passive….” The sounds great, but I wonder how it works in situations where things are steadily spiraling out of control, where there is deadly chaos and we can’t seem to find the center point. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker and am reminded that we have to bend the arc. But, how do we do that without more harm? How do we do that with ‘effortless effort?”

 “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker

Dr. William Martin wrote a book on the Tao and activism, which I have not read yet. However, Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga are philosophies that encourage experiencing the present moment – which requires stillness. So, today we are going to move into stillness.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 1st) 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. (Today’s playlist is dated March 29th or 03292020.)

Going with the flow…

### BE THE FLOW ###

From the Office of the Scholar August 31, 2020

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“We are all strangers

We are all living in fear

We are all ready to change”

 

– quoted from The Air I Breathe

The movie The Air I Breathe is partially inspired by the idea that human emotions are like fingers on a hand. In fact, the primary characters in the movie are named (or referenced as) Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, Love, and Fingers. The movie presents extreme depictions of each emotion as a life experience. The idea behind the inspiration is that to be fully human, to live a full life, we must experience all of the emotions – or, that as we are living our lives we will experience all of emotions – and that the emotions are interconnected: like fingers on a hand.

So, consider a hand. You can think of my hand, your hand, the hand of your favorite person or your least favorite person. You can think of someone who works with their hands, someone who is constantly working on their hands, or someone who does both.  It doesn’t matter; in fact, think of all the different kinds of human hands. The typical human hands (like the hands of some other primates and even some frogs) are different from the extreme appendages that other animals use to pick up things, appendages we often refer to as paws, because we typically have opposable thumbs. These thumbs, along with the fingers, enable a person to not only pick up a plethora of objects, but also to use those objects as tools. Our thumbs and fingers give us a level of dexterity that affects the way we interact with the world.

Now, let’s say that you were missing a piece of your hand or a portion of your hands function. Maybe you were missing a fingernail or a tendon. Maybe you were missing a finger, a thumb, or maybe a whole hand. Maybe no one else is missing what you are missing. Or, maybe you are surrounded by people who are missing what you are missing. Either way, it may change the way you interact with the world. It may even change the way you eat, create, or put on a mask – because your mind-body will recreate different muscles to do what you need to do. The question then, isn’t how the body functions without the missing piece. The question is: How do you function?

Does the missing part change the way you think of yourself? Does it change the way people think of you of you and then, therefore, how you think of yourself? Does the answer depend on how and why you are missing the piece or the function? Does the answer depend on how obvious it is that you are missing something? Does it matter if it is inside or outside? Does it even matter?

“It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.”

– quoted from the 1836 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have known people who would answer “no” to all of those questions; however, I also have known people who would answer “yes.” And, there is a part of me that thinks maybe these are the wrong questions. There’s a part of me that wonders at what point we start thinking of ourselves (and others) as a single part of ourselves (especially a missing or different part). There’s a part of me that wonders when we stop (or start) thinking of ourselves as a whole. Tied to that last piece of wondering is the acknowledgement that when we consider ourselves as the whole, we are no longer missing…anything.

Today in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered “The American Scholar” speech to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard College. The students invited Emerson to speak after the world’s powerful reception to his 1836 essay “Nature.” The speech was an introduction to Transcendentalist and Romantic views on Nature, as well as the American scholar’s relationship with and responsibility to Nature. It garnered him more accolades and more invitations to speak. It also made people think about the way they thought. In particular, it made people think about the way they thought about themselves.

“The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.”

 

– quoted from the 1836 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, following Emerson’s logic, we can see a lesson that also appears in the Upanishads: the Neti neti, “not this, not that” lesson pertaining to the nature of the Divine. The parallels in the argument are no accident. Emerson was in fact stating that if we focus too much on one aspect, one nature, one ability, then we lose sight of ourselves as a whole. The same can be said of an individual and their mind-body, as well as of an individual and their whole society. We are, after all, parts of a whole – and, the minute we forget that is the minute we become a thing. Like Frankenstein’s “monster,” there is more going on (inside and outside) than is apparent when we only view things through a single point of view.

“Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.”

 

– quoted from the 1836 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, August 31st) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga 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. (But, Van is the Man, and “the Belfast Cowboy” turned 75 today so…)

“If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be covetous of action. Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with many men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions. I learn immediately from any speaker how much he has already lived, through the poverty or the splendor of his speech. Life lies behind us as the quarry from whence we get tiles and copestones for the masonry of to-day. This is the way to learn grammar. Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.

But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than books, is that it is a resource. That great principle of Undulation in nature, that shows itself in the inspiring and expiring of the breath; in desire and satiety; in the ebb and flow of the sea; in day and night; in heat and cold; and, as yet more deeply ingrained in every atom and every fluid, is known to us under the name of Polarity,—these “fits of easy transmission and reflection,” as Newton called them, are the law of nature because they are the law of spirit.

The mind now thinks, now acts, and each fit reproduces the other. When the artist has exhausted his materials, when the fancy no longer paints, when thoughts are no longer apprehended and books are a weariness,—he has always the resource to live. Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary. The stream retreats to its source. A great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think. Does he lack organ or medium to impart his truth? He can still fall back on this elemental force of living them. This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act. Let the grandeur of justice shine in his affairs. Let the beauty of affection cheer his lowly roof. Those “far from fame,” who dwell and act with him, will feel the force of his constitution in the doings and passages of the day better than it can be measured by any public and designed display. Time shall teach him that the scholar loses no hour which the man lives. Herein he unfolds the sacred germ of his instinct, screened from influence. What is lost in seemliness is gained in strength.

 

– quoted from the 1836 “The American Scholar” speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

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