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Being the Questions (mostly the music & links) December 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Poetry, Yoga.
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“Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

 

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

 

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am”

 

– quoted from Sonnets to Orpheus, II.29 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Click here for the 2020 post about Ranier Maria Rilke, who was born today in 1875.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 4th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

(more…)

FTWMI: “This is why you were brought [here]” November 29, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Men, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted November 29, 2020. Class details and links have been updated.

“Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? —”

– quoted from the poem, “Surprised by Joy – Impatient As The Wind” by William Wordsworth (written in memory of his daughter)

If you’re anything like me, when you think of C. S. Lewis, born today in 1898, you think of Narnia and Aslan, and Christian allegories sometimes disguised as fantasy and children’s books. Like me, you might express a little confusion over why Mr. Lewis himself said the Chronicles of Narnia were not “allegories” and you might absolutely love The Screwtape Letters even though (or maybe because) it is super dark and written so well that it almost always feels as if no one will win and “The Patient” – as well as the demons – will be condemned to everlasting turmoil. Regardless of how he defined his work, you might recognize Mr. Lewis and his writing as falling under the heading of Christian apologetics. However, if – like me – you’ve read more C. S. Lewis than you’ve studied, you might be surprised by the author’s multi-layered relationship with “Joy.”

Christian apologetics is a category of study and theology focused on the defense of Christianity. It has its foundations in Torah study and Greek philosophical discourse, but there is a long list of New Testament Biblical references to the need for “a verbal defense” of belief. One of the best examples comes from The First Epistle General of Peter.

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

1 Epistle General of Peter (3:14 – 15, NIV)

Unlike the epistles, or letters, attributed to Saint Paul and titled to reference specific Church communities (e.g. in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, etc.), the letters attributed to Saint Peter are more generically addressed to “strangers” in a variety of areas (in 1st Peter) and “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (in 2nd Peter, KJV). The meaning of “strangers” is debatable, but what is consistent in the letters, and in modern understanding of the letters, is that the letter are addressed to people who were subject to persecution (because of their faith), people who might have been tempted to give up their faith because of the persecution, and who – despite the persecution – experienced a faith-related longing. This longing, which Saint Peter described as “hope,” C. S. Lewis defined as “Joy.”

“The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no further, for in a sense the central theme of my life is about nothing else. For those who are still disposed to proceed I will only underline the quality common to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

 – quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was the Belfast-born youngest son of Albert James Lewis (a solicitor) and Florence “Flora” Augusta Lewis, who could be considered Irish royalty. Flora’s father was an Anglican priest; one of her great-grandfathers was Bishop Hugh Hamilton; and another of her great-grandfathers was the Right Honourable John Staples, who served as an Irish Member of Parliament for 37 years and was a descendant of titled persons in Northern Ireland. Naturally, C. S. – later known as “Jacksie” and then “Jack” – was baptized in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, which is the second-largest church in Ireland (after the Roman Catholic Church) and identifies itself as both Catholic and Reformed. All that is to say that, he and his older brother Warren “Warnie” Hamilton Lewis were raised in a very structured, family-embedded tradition of faith.

Somewhere along the way, for a variety of reasons – and based on a variety of experiences – both brothers fell away from the Church and away from their family’s traditional beliefs.

While “Warnie,” the elder brother, finished his schooling and went on to serve 18 years in the military, the younger Lewis brother was drafted, sent to the front line on his 19th birthday, was wounded and traumatized by the death of his friends, and was sent home within a year. Once he physically recovered, “Jack” (whose nickname came from a beloved pet) went back to England to finish his studies.

Previously, at around age 15, “Jack” became interested in the occult and began to actively and publicly define himself as an atheist. As such, he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about God, explaining why God didn’t exist, and surrounding himself with like-minded people and things. The problem was that when he returned to Oxford and started paying attention to his experiences (and the way he felt as he read, wrote, and interacted with people), he found he was being (spiritually and emotionally) sustained and nurtured by things and people who were theistic as opposed to atheistic. And the more he delved into his embodied experience, rather than just his analytical experience, the more he realized… there was something more.

“But soon (I cannot say how soon) nature ceased to be a mere reminder of the books, became herself the medium of the real joy. I do not say she ceased to be a reminder. All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’. But Nature and the books now became equal reminders, joint reminders, of – well, of whatever it is. I came no nearer to what some would regard as the only genuine love of nature, the studious love which will make a man a botanist or an ornithologist. It was the mood of a scene that mattered to me; and in tasting that mood my skin and nose were as busy as my eyes”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

At around the same time, 1931, both brothers reclaimed their Christian roots and deepened their brotherly bond. They had been living together in Oxford for about a year, went on walking tours together, and participated in the weekly Thursday night “Inkling” meetings – which featured works-in-progress of the various members who were and would become literary giants in the English language. The “Inklings” – who were all white, Christian men of Oxford – included in their number the Lewis brothers, their close friend J. R. R. Tolkien (and his son Christopher, who were both raised Catholic), Charles Williams (a devout member of the [Anglican] Church of England), Henry Victor “Hugo” Dyson Dyson (a lecturer and literary collector known as H. V. D. Dyson, who was instrumental in C. S. Lewis’s return to Christianity), and Arthur Owen Barfield (“the first and last Inkling,” whose anthroposophical beliefs in a spiritual world accessed through human experience heavily influenced all the other Inklings).

C. S. Lewis’s spiritual memoir, Surprised by Joy, concludes in 1931, but wasn’t published until 1955. In the interim (around 1950), he started corresponding with a Jewish American poet (in the United States) who was estranged from her abusive husband. This woman – a child prodigy, an atheist, and former Communist, whose husband (also an author) may have introduced her to C. S. Lewis’s work – started the transatlantic correspondence because she had faith-related questions. Intrigued, and ultimately attracted, to each other’s intellect, the correspondence became more personal than theological. She frequently referenced him to others and once wrote, “Just got a letter from Lewis in the mail. I think I told you I’d raised an argument or two on some points? Lord, he knocked my props out from under me unerringly; one shot to a pigeon. I haven’t a scrap of my case left. And, what’s more, I’ve seldom enjoyed anything more. Being disposed of so neatly by a master of debate, all fair and square – it seems to be one of the great pleasures of life, though I’d never have suspected it in my arrogant youth. I suppose it’s unfair tricks of argument that leave wounds. But after the sort of thing that Lewis does, what I feel is a craftsman’s joy at the sight of a superior performance.”

The poet officially divorced her husband, converted to Christianity, and moved with her two school-aged sons to England to be with “Jack.” In April of 1956, several years after her arrival (in 1953), the couple entered into a “civil marriage” so that she and her children could stay in England. It was described as a marriage of friendship and convenience. However, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer (in October of 1956), C. S. Lewis realized he not only admired her, he loved her. He was 58 years old and surprised by Joy* – as his beloved wife was Helen Joy Davidman.

(*NOTE: C. S. Lewis was teased by his friends, but said that the title and intention of the book Surprised by Joy had nothing to do with his wife being Joy. So, you can take the overlap as serendipity… or God winking.)

“Total surrender is the first step towards the fruition of either. Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all. (And notice how the true training for anything whatever that is good always prefigures and, if submitted to, will always help us in the true training for the Christian life. That is a school where they can always use your previous work whatever the subject it was on.)”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes from a special process of devotion and letting go into Ishvara [the Divine], the creative source from which we emerged.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

– “From trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine], [a perfectly still, pristine state of mind] comes.”

“‘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)

“‘Those who see Me in everything and everything in Me, know the staggering truth that the Self in the individual is the Self in all. As they live in constant spiritual awareness, I am never out of their sight or lost to them – nor are they every out of My sight or lost to Me. ’” (6.30)

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 29th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. 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 belowor (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11292020 Jack’s Surprising Joy”]

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

“Your remarks about music would seem to lead back to my old idea about a face being always a true index of character… not of course exactly, but its general tone. What type of person is this girl of whom Debussy has been talking to you? As to your other suggestions about old composers like Schubert or Beethoven, I imagine that, while modern music expresses both feeling, thought and imagination, they expressed pure feeling. And you know all day sitting at work, eating, walking, etc., you have hundreds of feelings that can’t (as you say) be put into words or even into thought, but which could naturally come out in music. And that is why I think that in a sense music is the highest of the arts, because it really begins where the others leave off.”

– quoted from a letter addressed to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves (who he called “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend”), written by C. S. “Jack” Lewis, dated 20 June 1916

The connection between home and Joy….

“It was this that forced me to write. I longed to make things, ships, houses, engines. Many sheets of cardboard and pairs of scissors I spoiled, only to turn from my hopeless failures in tears. As a last resource, as a pis aller, I was driven to write stories instead. You can do more with a castle in a story than with the best cardboard castle that ever stood on a nursery table.”

– quoted from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis


### TASTE JOY (But don’t get it twisted and confuse “lower” pleasure with the “higher”)! ###

FTWMI: This Room, This Music, This Light, This Darkness: This Dance November 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Hope, Life, Loss, Peace, Philosophy, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted on November 22, 2020 (and reposted in 2021). Class details and links have been updated.

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why. Not until the future eats the present, anyway. We know when it’s too late.”

– quoted from 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Life changes in a moment…in a heartbeat, in a breath. Sometimes we don’t even notice the change until it is coupled with a bunch of other changes. Every once in a while, however, something makes us pause, stop in our tracks, breathe, reflect. Sometimes we pause because of something breathtakingly beautiful. Other times, our breath is taken by something heartbreakingly tragic.

Today in 1963 was a Friday, and a little girl missed her first sleepover. Had she been any other 5-year old girl, nobody would have cared or even noticed, but the reason this little girl missed her first sleepover is the same reason high school, college, and professional football games were cancelled or postponed. It was the same reason people all over the world were glued to the radios and televisions. Today in 1963, a wife lost her husband; three children (that five-year old girl, her almost three-year old brother, and her yet to be born brother) lost their father; and the whole world paused, stopped, as a Nation lost – and then gained – a leader meant to usher in a new era of civil rights and environmental conservation.

Today in 1963, at 12:30 PM (Central Standard Time), President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove down Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Governor of Texas John Connally – who was riding in the motorcade with his wife Nellie, President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and two members of the United States Secret Service – was seriously wounded. A bystander was also injured by a ricochet.

“We did not ask for this room or this music. We were invited in. Therefore, because the dark surrounds us, let us turn our faces to the light. Let us endure hardship to be grateful for plenty. We have been given pain to be astounded by joy. We have been given life to deny death. We did not ask for this room or this music. But because we are here, let us dance.”

– a poem by Stephen King and Bridget Carpenter, featured in the miniseries 11.22.63

President Kennedy was not a perfect man, but he remains a key figure in American history and, for many, a symbol of democracy and “American” ideals. He was the first Catholic president; the youngest person to be elected president; and the sixteenth U. S. Senator to serve as president – one of three people who moved directly from the Senate floor to the Oval Office. He was also the fourth sitting United States President to be assassinated (by gunshot, although one could argue that Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley could have survived with better medical attention). Many people saw President Kennedy’s assassination as a moment when Americans lost their (collective) innocence and many felt his death as a personal loss, as if they had lost a member of their family or a dear friend.

Whichever way you see it (or him), President Kennedy’s death was the middle and the beginning of a cascade of events that, arguably, changed history. It also started the domino effect on conspiracy theories that persist to this day. Many people have wondered what would have happened if he had not been assassinated.  As he was beginning to campaign for a second term, people have theorized what the country would have been like if he had run and won – or even had an opportunity to deliver either of the speeches he had written for events scheduled on November 22, 1963.

“For this country is moving and it must not stop. It cannot stop. For this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a party is not to our party alone, but to the Nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause–united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future – and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver to the Texas Democratic State Committee in Austin, Texas, in the evening, on November 22, 1963

Historians and political scientists have likewise contemplated what would have happened to the country if his brother Bobby, who served as Attorney General and as a U. S. Senator, and/or Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been assassinated. After considerably research, Stephen King wrote a novel about a man who goes back in time with the intention of preventing JFK’s assassination. Of course, as is always the case when dealing with chaos theory, things are not as simple as changing one thing and moving forward.

There is always an inner ripple and an outer ripple; there is always a sticky domino; there is always a butterfly – and, in the case of 11/22/63 (which was turned into the television miniseries 11.22.63), history pushes back. We may not like how life unfolds, collapses, and converges, but we must sometimes consider the words of Namagiriamma Krishnamacharya, who said, “Maybe this situation has happened for a reason. A reason that will unfold later.”

“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.

That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions – it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations – it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”

– quoted from a speech President John F. Kennedy had planned to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas, Texas, in the afternoon, on November 22, 1963

Please join me today (Tuesday, November 22nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “11/22/63”]

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

“Dear Mr. President

Thank you for walking yesterday – behind Jack. You did not have to do that – I am sure many people forbid you take such a risk – but you did it anyway.

Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later – you can imagine. The touching thing is, they have always loved you so much, they were most moved to have a letter from you now….

But you were Jack’s right arm – I always thought the greatest act of a gentlemen that I had seen on this earth – was how you – the Majority Leader when he came to the Senate as just another little freshman who looked up to you and took orders from you, could then serve as Vice President to a man who had served under you and been taught by you….

But of course [Jack’s ship pictures] are there only waiting for you to ask for them if the walls look too bare. I thought you would want to put things from Texas in it – I pictured some gleaming longhorns – I hope you put them somewhere –

It mustn’t be very much help to you your first day in office – to hear children on the lawn at recess. It is just one more example of your kindness that you let them stay – I promise – they will soon be gone –

Thank you Mr. President

Respectfully

Jackie”

­

– excerpts from a short letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson, written by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, dated “November 26 Tuesday” (the day after JFK’s funeral)

“All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.

The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. Today, John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. He lives on in the mind and memories of mankind. He lives on in the hearts of his countrymen. No words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. No words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of America that he began….

We will carry on the fight against poverty, and misery, and disease, and ignorance, in other lands and in our own. We will serve all the nation, not one section or one sector, or one group, but all Americans.

These are the United States: A united people with a united purpose.”

– quoted from the “Let Us Continue” speech delivered to Congress and the public by President Lyndon B. Johnson, November 27, 1963  

NOTE: In anticipation of the holiday(s), I have cancelled classes on November 23rd – 27th. Don’t forget to be grateful.

### “Life turns on a dime” again and again (11/22/63, SK) ###

Having A Say, redux (the “missing” post) November 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Hope, Life, Meditation, Men, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, November 11th. Some passages were previously posted. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question ‘what is a woman’?

To state the question is, to me, to suggest, at once, a preliminary answer. The fact that I ask it is in itself significant. A man would never set out to write a book on the peculiar situation of the human male. But if I wish to define myself, I must first of all say: ‘I am a woman’; on this truth must be based all further discussion. A man never begins by presenting himself as an individual of a certain sex; it goes without saying that he is a man. The terms masculine and feminine are used symmetrically only as a matter of form, as on legal papers. In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity. In the midst of an abstract discussion it is vexing to hear a man say: ‘You think thus and so because you are a woman’; but I know that my only defence [sic] is to reply: ‘I think thus and so because it is true,’ thereby removing my subjective self from the argument. It would be out of the question to reply: ‘And you think the contrary because you are a man’, for it is understood that the fact of being a man is no peculiarity.”

– quoted from “Introduction: Woman as Other” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Almost every January, I ask the question “What is a woman?” Then, at various times throughtout the year, I offer different lives and perspectives that could be considered as answers. But, whenever I address the issue, I recognize that the “controversial” question Simone de Beauvoir posed in 1949, is no less controversial today. In fact, it can seem more controversial today, because it is often used as a “gotcha” question asked by people who have vastly different intentions than Simone de Beauvoir. Remember, she was asking and addressing the question for philosophical insight. And, here I am doing the same.

I know, I know, I’m just asking for trouble here, but please consider a couple of things before moving forward. First, as I just mentioned, this is not the first time – in class or on the blog – that I’ve referenced what it means to be a woman. Second, I’m referencing it here in relation to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras. Specifically, I’m referencing the meaning of the word “woman” – or “women,” “wimmin,” “womyn,” “womban,” “womon,” and “womxn” – in relation to Yoga Sūtra 3.17, which indicates that “By making samyama on the sound of a word, one’s perception of its meaning, and one’s reaction to it – three things which are ordinarily confused – one obtains understanding of all sounds uttered by living beings.” [NOTE: “one’s reaction to it” is sometimes translated as “knowledge of it.”]

I absolutely could use a less “controversial” word – as other teachers do. I’ve heard a teacher reference a pencil and another teacher (Vyasa, perhaps) used a cow. In class, I actually cited Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition, who used the example of a table in his commentary on the sūtras. Those are all great examples, simple examples; because, if you know English (assuming you are reading this text in it’s original language), the sight/sound of each of those words is associated with specific objects, which immediately come to mind. If you don’t know a word, it is meaningless to you. Nothing comes to mind or you think of something that feels off, not quite right. But, you don’t know the word, so you need more information.

On the flip side, you can know the word and still need more information, because your perception of what I mean may not be the same as mine. We may not have the same object(s) in mind. However, by using our supernormal power of words, we can come to an agreement about the qualities that make up the concept that exists in the world (i.e., the pencil-ness, cow-ness, and/or table-ness of the thing). In other words, we can go deeper into our understanding of what makes something what we perceive/understand it to be.

While it seems like people have been going deeper into our understanding of what it means to be a woman since the dawn of time (or, at the very least, since recorded history), there’s always the possibility — not to mention the fear — that someone will completely miss the point.

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow in our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep to oursleves along, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.

quoted from Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s speech at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention (and birthday celebration for Susan B. Anthony), February 18, 1890

If we just stick with modern (Western) history, the question of what it means to be a woman is a question that contains multitudes. For instance, when we talk about Miss Maria Mitchell and Rabbi Regina Jonas, the question becomes about their vocations. In a conversation about Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Oliver, the question becomes about upbringing and sex(uality). For Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zitkála-Šá, as well as for Gwendolyn Brooks, Louise Erdrich, Nikki Giovanni, and so many others, the question becomes about culture, race, and behavior (including sex and sexuality). Then the conversation turns to health and well-being, especially mental health, when we focus on Bertha Pappenheim (“Anna O”). We can easily pickup all of those threads if we are discussion Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, or Ntozake Shange, because their lives prove that the question of what it means to be a woman is always about all of those things – and also about rights and responsibilities. We can start our conversation about what the word means, to us and to others, at any one of those intersecting points. However, since Saturday was the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, let’s start with the issue of rights and responsibilities.

Born November 12, 1815, in Johnstown, New York, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a social activist, abolitionist, and suffragist. While she was one of the most influential leaders of the women’s rights movement, she does not fit the stereotypical image of a “women’s liber” or a “man-hating feminist.” She was, for example, no Susan B. Anthony. However, one could argue that there would have been no Susan B. Anthony — as she is remembered today — without Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While their backgrounds and life choices were different, they were united in their quest for equal rights.

“If I were to draw up a set of rules for the guidance of reformers, such as Franklin and other celebrities tell us they did for their own use, I should put at the head of the list: Do all you can, no matter what, to get people to think on your reform, and then, if your reform is good, it will come about in due season.”

– quoted from a diary entry dated “Cleveland, August 20 [1888]” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (as published in Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letterz, Diary and Reminiscences, Edited by Theodore Stanton and Harriot Stanton Blatch, Volume Two])

Elizabeth Cady grew up in a wealthy family with a conservative lawyer for a father (Daniel Cady) and and a very progressive abolitionist mother (Margaret Livingston Cady). Some biographers say that the Cady family had servants, at least three of whom were African American. At least one of those “servants” (Peter Teabout) was actually enslaved and it was in his company that she and her sisters sometimes attended church. 

It seems that it was just her and her sisters that sat in the back pews of the church. While she was the seventh of eleven children, six of her siblings, including all of her brothers, died before reaching adulthood. Her last brother died when she was around ten and she responded to her parents’ grief by stating that she would live the lives her brothers would not get a chance to live. Her father’s response, that he wished she were a boy, was the first time she felt there was a difference between her sisters and her brothers. 

Despite the perceived difference between the siblings, Elizabeth Cady was well-educated — for a girl of her time — and received high marks and recognition in her advanced classes. She even convinced her father to send her to Troy Female Seminary, where she became actively interested in the abolitionist movement. It was through the seminary and the abolitionis movement that she and befriended Frederick Douglass. It was also the way she met her greatest collaborators in life: Henry Brewster Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

“This can already be seen in the different reception given a new citizen of the world. If the father or someone else asked what ‘it’ was after a successful birth, the answer might be either the satisfied report of a boy, or—with pronounced sympathy for the disappointment— ‘Nothing, a girl,’ or ‘Only a girl.’”

– Bertha Pappenheim (b. 02/27/1859) as quoted in The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives, edited by Elizabeth Koultun

“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

– quoted from “Part IV – The Formative Years: Chapter XII. Childhood” in The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (b. 01/09/1908)

Elizabeth Cady and Henrey Brewster Stanton met at the home of her  first cousin, Gerrit Smith (son of her maternal aunt), who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and one of the “Secret Six,” who funded John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, which initiated the revolt that was a prelude to the Civil War. At the time that they met, Henry Brewster Stanton was an attorny, abolitionist, and social reformer, who would go on to become a journalist and politician. Some say his support of the suffragist movement was tangential, but no one can argue that it was instrumental. It was instrumental on many levels, including the fact that he unconditionally supported his wife.

When they married in 1840, the couple omitted the word “obey” from their vows — which was a common Quaker tradition, although neither of them were Quakers. Elizabeth Cady took her husband’s surname, but she was never known simply as “Mrs. Henry B. Stanton;” she was always, in some way, recognized as “Cady Stanton.” But the exclusion or inclusion of a single word, did not diminish the couples union. Nor did it diminish her role in the household.

“First, no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman — born with the average brain of humanity — born with more than the average heart — if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are power.”

– quoted from Maria Mitchell: Life, Letters, and Journals by Maria Mitchell (b. 08/01/1818)

Mrs. Cady Stanton was a proud wife and mother of seven. Contrary to the social norms of the time, she recognized that healthy women had similar desires as healthy men; believed women should control a couple’s sexual relationships; and proclaimed a man’s “drunkeness” as grounds for divorce (or, at the very least, abstinance). She also belived that a woman should absolutely have dominion over her body when it came to childbearing. She was equally as bold about declaring her motherhood (when others were more demure silent) and would raise a red or white flag in front of her house depending on the sex of her newborn child. 

Of course, her “voluntary motherhood” required a compromise when it came to social reform and that compromise required her to be at home when her husband was away. While Henry Brewster Stanton traveled ten months out of the year in the 1850’s, Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt she was “a caged lioness.” However, her partnership with Ms. Anthony made the compromise less restrictive. Whenever the family moved, they set up a room for Susan B. Anthony and the women figured out the best way to work towards their goals: 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote; Susan B. Anthony organized and spoke.

“Eventually Anthony supplanted Henry in Elizabeth’s affections. Both Henry and Susan moved in and out of her life and her household, but overall, Stanton probably spent more hours and days with Anthony than any other adult.”

– quoted from the “Methodological Note: Stanton in Psychological Perspective” section of In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Elisabeth Griffith

The collaboration between Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not restricted to speeches. They co-founded the New York Women’s State Temperance Society – after Anthony was prevented from speaking at a temperance conference because she was female – and the Women’s Loyal National League in 1863. The league, which used different iterations of the name, was specifically formed to lobby for the abolition of slavery. At one time they collected almost 40,000 signatures in support of abolition, which was the largest petition drive in United States history at that time. They also initiated the American Equal Rights Association (1866) and founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (1869).

On January 8, 1868, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton started publishing the weekly paper The Revolution. The paper’s motto was “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” In addition to women’s rights and the suffrage movement, the paper covered general politics, the labor movement, and finance. Ms. Anthony ran the business end of things. Mrs. Cady Stanton co-edited the newspaper with the abolitionist minister Parker Pillsbury. The initially received funding from the transportation entrepreneur George Francis Train – who shared their views on women’s rights, but not on abolition – but eventually transferred control of the paper to the wealthy writer and activist Laura Curtis Bullard, who toned “the revolution” down a bit.

The ladies that started it, however, did not tone down at all.

“He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies, which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.”

 

quoted from the The Declaration of Sentiments by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with Mary Ann M’Clintock

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was actively engaged in the fight for civil rights long before meeting Susan B. Anthony. Along with Lucretia Coffin Mott and Martha Coffin Wright, she organized the Seneca Falls Convention, which was the first women’s rights convention organized by women and was the primary author of the Declaration of Sentiments. One hundred of the approximately 300 attendees to the conference signed the declaration, which Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with assistance from Mary Ann M’Clintock, had modeled after the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Cady Stanton (and her sister, Harriet Cady Eaton), Mrs. M’Clintock (plus her daughters Elizabeth W. and Mary M’Clintock and her half-sister, Margaret Pryor), Mrs. Mott, and and Mrs. Wright were among the 68 female signers; Frederick Douglass, Thomas M’Clintock, and James Mott were among the the 32 male signers.

Frederick Douglass’s name on the Declaration of Sentiments was not an accident or random happenstance. He and Mrs. Cady Stanton met early in her crusade for universal suffrage and he was one of her staunch supporters during the Seneca Falls Convention. In fact, some historians note that it was his very vocal support that led to the acceptance of the Declaration. While his support for women’s suffrage did not wane, he, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony (with whom he would also eventually befriend) did temporarily break away from each other when the issue of suffrage was divided over race and gender. He also called out E. Cady Stanton for using racist terms about Black and Asian men, when it looked like they might get the vote before (white) women. 

That divide between the three friends is a great way to highlight the fact that the fight for voting rights has always marginalized already marginalized people. It has asked people to define themselves as one thing over the other. This, as many scholars have pointed out, is not something straight, white, Christian males in America have historically had to do. They can just be “men” and everything else is understood as a foregone conclusion.

Marginalized people, however, have had to “pick one” all the time. This was especially true in the 19th century, when the presence of Black women was desired by both sides of the suffrage movement. Yet, to deny one side of themselves meant that they could be excluded from voting; either because they were Black… or because they were a woman.

Susan B. Anthony forced this issue into the courts when she and fourteen other women attempted to vote in Rochester, New York, in 1872. She was arrested, indicted, “tried,” and convicted during the very public and very publicized 1873 criminal trial (United States v. Susan B. Anthony). The case hinged on the definition of a citizen (as it related to the 14th Amendment) and the definition of a woman. After establishing that “the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman,” the judge instructed the all male jury – all male because women were prohibited from serving on juries – to find the defendant guilty without discussion or deliberation, which they did. Ms. Anthony was instructed to pay a fine, of $100 plus court cases, which she did not.

It’s unclear how, exactly, they determined that she was a woman on the date in question.

“U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Can I provide a definition? [Senator Blackburn confirms.] No. I can’t.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): You can’t?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.

U. S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): So, you believe the word ‘woman’ is so unclear and controversial that you can’t give me a definition?

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Senator, in my work as a judge, what I do is, I address disputes. If there is a dispute about a definition, people make arguments and I look at the law and I decide….”

– quoted from the confirmation hearing of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ketanji Brown Jackson (Tuesday, March 22, 2022)

Fast forward to the 21st century, where Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Janelle Monet sing lyrics that seem to be lifted directly from the Declaration of Sentiments or Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s diary – and to that moment when then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was being interviewed to be the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. Fast forward to that moment, when two very different women faced the question about the definition (the meaning) of the word woman.

When I heard Senator Marsha Blackburn’s question, I heard it as so many people heard it: as that “gotcha” question some people like to ask these days. I also heard it, as so many others have heard it throughout history, as a pick-a-side question. The sides might be defined in different ways now, versus in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it still marginalizes people who are already marginalized. What I did not hear was a question asked with a sincere interest in the inquiry. What I did not hear was a question posed with an interest in how any of us decides on our answers.

Many people, Senator Blackburn included, have said that Supreme Court Justice Brown Jackson did not answer the question. Others have pointed out that she absolutely answered the question – she just didn’t answer the question with either/any of the answers they wanted to hear. It doesn’t help that many media outlets only reported a portion of her answer. In fact, most major outlets only quoted her as saying, “I’m not a biologist.” 

Which, I think we can all agree is true.

I also think, though, that the issue isn’t whether or not Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is a biologist. And, despite the way the exchange was reported, the issue isn’t even whether or not being a biologist is relevant. The relevant part,in that case, was how a judge, or justice, defines things (i.e., words) as it relates to the law and specific contexts related to the law. As then-Judge Brown Jackson pointed out, the role of judges, or justices, is to look at the differing definitions (when there is a dispute),the arguments behind the definitions, and the law. In other words, they focus-concentrate-meditate on the word, people’s understandings of the word, and the related (or relevant) qualities (as they apply to the law).

Take a moment, to think apply the tool of samyama to the word “woman” (or any of the other aforementioned variations of the theme)*:

  • What, or who, comes to mind? 

  • What’s your “standard” for a woman? 

  • How many women do you know that don’t fit your exact standard? 

  • What are the overlapping qualities that apply to your “standard” and also to those outside of your standard?

  • How do you know you know if someone has those overlapping qualities?

*NOTE: This is a deliberately simple rubric, so that you can decide on attributes. If your only attribute is “sex/female,” you could skip the first two questions or you could layout a biological definition of female.

Yoga Sūtra 3.35: hṛdaye cittasaṃvit

– “By making samyama on the heart, one gains knowledge of the contents of the mind.”

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

NOTE: YouTube features several extra videos that are not available on Spotify. Some are speeches worth hearing. Some are music videos worth seeing. To make up the difference, the Spotify playlist has its own Easter egg.

ERRATA: The original post linked to the wrong YouTube playlist. My apologies for the inconvenience.

“If I am to confess what drove me, as a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of my fellow man. God has bestowed on each one of us special skills and vocations without stopping to ask about our gender. This means each one of us, whether man or woman, has a duty to create and work in accordance with those God-given skills.”

– quoted from the doctoral thesis entitled “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” by Rabbi Regina Jonas (b. 08/03/1902)

### LET’S GET LOUD ~JL ###

FTWMI: More Hope, More History… November 9, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted on November 9, 2020 and reposted in 2021. Class details and links have been updated, as have some date notations. *Granted, things don’t always turn out the way we expect.

“Fate is what you are given. Destiny is what you make of it.”

– original source unknown

Let’s talk about the difference between fate and destiny. Often, especially in (American) English, we use the words interchangeably, and without distinction. We sometimes do this even if we know “destiny” shares etymological roots with “destination” and “fate” is rooted in the mythology of the three goddess, sisters, or witches (depending on the depiction) who weave (or stir) together the circumstances of one’s life. Either way you look at it, both are related to cause and effect – something we pay attention to in the Eastern philosophies like Yoga and Buddhism.

The concept of will, or determination, is one of the challenges that comes up when discussing fate and destiny; because, our understanding of the concepts may involve a level of predestination. One way to distinguish the two concepts, and the role predestination plays, is to think of fate as the present moment – which has been determined by all the previous moments – and destiny as a possible future moment – which will be determined by fate (i.e., this present moment and all the previous moments). If we look at it this way, we can’t change our fate, but we can change our destiny.

Yes, yes, it might be possible to present and argue the reverse, but I think that way gets really muddled. I’d rather go back to the “seat” of the words. Fate comes to the English from Latin, by way of Italian and Middle English, from a phrase that means “that which has been spoken.” Destiny comes through Old French and Middle English, from the Latin meaning “make firm, establish.” So, again, fate is what has happened and destiny is what we make happen. As an example, step back [a couple of days] with me and let’s revisit Philoctetes from The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes.

“Human beings suffer.
They torture one another
They get hurt and they get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

– The Greek Chorus in The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney

Remember that Philoctetes was a great archer who had a magical bow. According to Sophocles accounting of events, the bow was a thank you gift from Heracles, the divine protector of mankind and patron of gymnasiums, whose funeral pyre could only be lit by the great archer. So, by using his skills to light the pyre, Philoctetes has the means to (eventually) assist Odysseus in winning the Trojan War by mortally wounding Paris with a poisoned arrow. Those circumstances, along with the fact that he is bitten by a poisonous snake, make up Philoctetes’ fate. His destiny could be to die of his wounds on the island where his colleagues abandoned him – because they couldn’t stand the sound of his belly aching – or he could go to Troy, win the war, and have his snake wound healed.

Now, keep in mind that like all the other characters, the fate and destiny of Philoctetes are tied up with the fate and destiny of Paris who, once wounded, could have been healed if he hadn’t pissed off and abandoned his first wife. (Alas, poor, pitiful Paris, thought his destiny was power, rather than the love of a “good woman,” and let that thirst for power be his dharma or guiding principle.)

“Fate is your karma. Destiny is your dharma.”

– Livnam Kaur

Some people think the power of fate and destiny can reside not only in our actions, but also in a date. Take today, for instance: November 9th. In Germany it is known as Schicksalstag – “Destiny Day” or “Fateful Day” – because of all the historical events that happened today and shaped the history of Germany. It’s kind of wild, when you think about it. But, also, when you start to go deeper into the events, you start to realize that some (but not all) of the events were planned because people believed in the power of the day.

In talking about the events of today throughout German history, most people start with 1848 and the execution of the democratic politician, poet, and publisher Robert Blum. One of the leaders of the National Assembly of 1848 and a prominent figure during the Vienna revolts, Blum was arrested after the Vienna revolts and argued in vain that his role as a deputy from the German Diet should protect him from execution. Instead, his death was used as an example and a method for crushing the subsequent revolution in Germany in the spring of 1849.

Fast forward 70 years, to 1918, and Emperor Wilhelm II was dethroned by his chancellor, Max von Baden, and socialist and social democratic politicians proclaimed the beginning of the “Free” German Republic. As a side note, Albert Einstein was named winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics today in 1922.

In 1923, the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” marked the initial emergence and downfall of the Nazi Party. Even though the march officially failed it was the beginning of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and during the Nazi regime it was considered a national holiday honoring the Nazis who died today in 1923. As a side note, German Crown Prince Wilhelm (son of the ousted Emperor) chose this day to return out of exile.

Another example of people using previous events to infuse their actions with the power of the day’s history tragically, and horrifically, happened today in 1938: Kristallnacht (“Night of Glass”). The Nazis symbolically chose this night to begin destroying synagogues and Jewish properties. More than 400 Jewish people died and, after this demonstration of far-reaching anti-Semitism, the Nazi’s arrested approximately 30,000 people on November 10th, many of whom would ultimately die in concentration camps.

“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis romanus sum’ [‘I am a Roman citizen’]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is Ich bin ein Berliner!… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner!

– U. S. President John Kennedy, speaking to the public in West Berlin, June 26, 1963

“Every stone bears witness to the moral bankruptcy of the society it encloses.”

– English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as quoted in the New York Times article “Mrs. Thatcher Visits the Berlin Wall” by John Tagliabue (published Oct. 30, 1982)  

One of the outcomes of the World War II was the division of Germany and, ultimately, the construction of the Berlin Wall. However, today in 1989 marked the beginning of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of German separation. In many ways, this event can be seen as an accident. I mean, it wasn’t like anyone planned it to happen today.

Yes, people, including Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, had called for the end of the Wall. Furthermore, musicians like David Bowie (1987), Bruce Springsteen (1988), and David Hasselhoff (1989) boldly played songs about freedom in concerts near the Wall – and, in Hasselhoff’s case, over the Wall! There was also the announced intention (by the East German government) to change policy. But the changes were intended for a different day.

“We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer Paul Lincke understood something about American presidents. You see, like so many presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin. [I still have a suitcase in Berlin…..]”

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!”

– U. S. President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the public at Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987

When the policy changes were announced by Günter Schabowski, an official of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), during a press conference on November 9th, he hadn’t actually been briefed about the details. Based on the wording of the announcement he had been given, when asked when the policy changes would go into effect, he said, “As far as I know… effective immediately, without delay.” That wasn’t actually true, but, the metaphorical wrecking ball was swinging. In answering follow up questions, and in subsequent interviews that day, Schabowski “confirmed” that the decrease in travel restrictions applied to every part of the Wall and to travel in every direction – including into West Berlin. Naturally, people started showing up at the Wall demanding to be let through and, by 11:30 PM, at least two gates were open.

On the flip side, I would not be surprised if the German drug company BioNtech intentionally chose this date to announce that their COVID-19 vaccine, developed with Pfizer, is 90% effective. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone thought drawing on the power of the day would give people more hope than a basic announcement on any other day. After all, the announcement [a year ago] today, *means the end of the world’s suffering isn’t just fate, it’s destiny.

“Call miracle self-healing,
The utter self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
And lightening and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.”

– The Greek Chorus in The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney

Please join me today (Wednesday, November 9th) 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify.

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

(And, if you want some Bruce….)

“I’m not here for or against any government. I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down”

– Bruce Springsteen, speaking German in East Berlin, before playing “Chimes of Freedom” with the E Street Band, during the “Rocking the Wall” concert, July 19, 1988

### dóchas / dúchas // història /  esperança // histoire / espoir // historio / espero ###

FTWMI: Don’t Let Yesterday Take Up Moustache Today November 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Changing Perspectives, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in Movember 2020. Class details and links have been updated for this evening’s Yin Yoga practice. Click here for a 2021 post about how “Will Rogers” is related to mental health. (The 2021 post includes the original “vinyasa” playlist.)

“Well, what shall I talk about? I ain’t got anything funny to say. All I know is what I read in the papers.”

– Will Rogers

Since I started doing Movember classes, almost a decade ago, people have asked (and I have wondered) whether this month dedicated to “changing the face of men’s health” has made a difference. I say yes, and have anecdotal evidence to back it up; but a lot of the scientific evidence is based on the importance of stage migration, whereby improved detection of an illness leads to a change in the average life expectancy of people who are clinically healthy and also the average life expectancy of people who are considered unhealthy.

As recently as 2019, Italian researchers were studying how improved diagnostic scanning could improve life expectancy as well as quality of life for patients with oligometastatic prostate cancer. Another example of this type of stage migration in prostate cancer was documented in 2005 by researchers at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut. Researchers noticed a decline in the reported incidence of “low-grade” prostate cancers and, therefore, a change in overall life expectancy of people with prostate cancer. Based on a “population-based cohort of 1,858 men,” 75 years or older, the researchers compared prognosis and outcomes of prostate tissue (“retrieved and reread in 2002-2004”) based on the original Gleason score readings versus more contemporary interpretations of the Gleason score.

The Gleason score is a combination of two “grades” assigned to the two most dominant tissue cell patterns (with the lowest “grade” being the closest to normal or healthy tissue). The more contemporary readings changed which tissue patterns were considered “low grade” cancer, hence the decline in population numbers. However, they also found that since the contemporary score readings were significantly higher than the original readings, the overall mortality rate lowered by 28%. Both the examples above (from Italy and Connecticut) are indicate how early detection saves lives. They are also classic examples of why stage migration is known as “the Will Rogers phenomenon.”

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

– Will Rogers

Born today in 1879, in Oologah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), Will Rogers was known as “America’s Cowboy Philosopher,” “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” and “Ambassador to the World.” He was a cowboy and circus performer, a stage and motion picture actor, as well as a vaudeville performer, a humorist, and a syndicated newspaper columnist. He was also a Cherokee citizen who traveled the world three times and was, at one time, the highest paid Hollywood star.

Rogers was known for his folksy, down-home wit and his rope tricks. His smile, attitude, and intellect allowed him to make fun of everyone from politicians to gangsters (yes, there’s a Will Rogers’s joke in there) and everything from prohibition to gender interactions (and, yes, there’s probably a joke in there too). He once joked that his ancestors weren’t on the Mayflower, but that “they met the boat” and was proud of the fact that while he could joke about everyone, he’d never met a man he [didn’t] like.

While he spun his jokes, Will Rogers spun his rope. He earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records by simultaneously throwing a rope around a horse’s neck, a second rope around the rider, and a slipping a third rope under the horse so he could loop all four legs together. He randomly roped a wild steer in Madison Square Garden, before it could hurt an spectators – gaining front page attention and a job on a rooftop: just him, his rope, and his horse. He eventually performed with the Ziegfeld Follies, appeared on Broadway, and showed he could rift about anything and anybody – including President Woodrow Wilson.

“A gag, to be any good, has to be fashioned about some truth. The rest you get by your slant on it and perhaps by a wee bit of exaggeration, so’s people won’t miss the point.”

– Will Rogers

He was also known for getting people to laugh at themselves – a skill which enabled him to serve as a goodwill ambassador to Mexico and mayor of Beverly Hills. Will Rogers was a symbol of the self-made man and the common man, who believed in working hard, progress, and the possibility of the American Dream. All of which is pretty ironic when you consider that when he was growing up (as the youngest of 8), his father thought he needed to “be more responsible and more business-minded.” While he did eventually buy land in Oklahoma, where he had intended to retire, Will Rogers did not follow in his father’s footsteps. On the flip side, the three of his four children who survived into adulthood all seemed to follow some aspect of Will Rogers: one was a World War II hero who starred in two films (as his father) and served in Congress; one was a newspaperman who worked a ranch; and his only daughter became a Broadway actress.

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

– Will Rogers

Please join me tonight, Friday, Movember 4th, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #25: “The More You Mou’ on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

*

Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Diwali 4 on Movember 5 2021”]

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all. 

Prop wise, this is a kitchen sink practice. You can practice without props or use “studio” props and/or “householder” props. Example of Commercial props: 1 – 2 blankets,2 – 3 blocks, a bolster, a strap, and an eye pillow. Example of Householder props: 1 – 2 blankets or bath towels, 2 – 3 books (similar in size), 2 standard pillows (or 1 body pillow), a belt/tie/sash, and a face towel.

You may want extra layers (as your body may cool down during this practice). Having a wall, chair, sofa, or coffee table may be handy for this practice.

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

“Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

– Will Rogers

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can dial 988 (in the US) or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, you can also click here to contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

Errata 2022: This post was originally linked to the incorrect Spotify playlist.

### “Common sense ain’t common.” WR ###

Listen, I’m Still SINGING BOUT MY STUFF! (mostly links, felicitations, and an explanation) October 18, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, Ntozake Shange, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Religion, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Suffering, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Simchat Torah.

“she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/ no tune

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly.

[Lady in Brown] I’m outside Chicago

[Lady in Yellow] I’m outside Detroit

[Lady in Purple] I’m outside Houston

[Lady in Red] I’m outside Baltimore

[Lady in Green] I’m outside San Francisco

[Lady in Blue] I’m outside Manhattan 

[Lady in Orange] I’m outside Saint Louis”

 

– All the Ladies from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf  by Ntozake Shange

I’m “outside” Portland, working with a talented group of Yoga teachers, pregnant – as well as postpartum – people, and filmmakers to create new classes for the Carry app.

Conceived by Maya Page, the Carry app is an iOS-based yoga and meditation app “for pregnancy, birth, and beyond,” that promotes healing for a wide spectrum of people. Even though my experiences working with the Carry app put me front and center – instead of behind the scenes – the intersecting energies around creation, birth, healing, and life is something I’ve experienced before. I experienced it working (behind the scenes) with Ntozake Shange on an anniversary revival of her groundbreaking and award-winning choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enough.

Born today in 1948, Ntozake was an award winning playwright and novelist who changed her name to the Zulu words meaning “she comes with her own things” and “who walks like a lion.” The beginning of her story predates the transistor radio (first introduced today in 1954), but the radio is a definite element in her stories. You can click here to read last year’s related post

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07112020 An Introduction.”]

Click here for yesterday’s post related to Simchat Torah. 

Since I am not teaching on Zoom today, people on the Tuesday class list, will receive links to previously recorded practices. If you are not on the Tuesday list, you can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

### “I found god in myself
and i loved her
i loved her fiercely” (NS) ###

 

 

FTWMI: The S-word September 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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Shana Tovah U’Metukah!” to anyone who is observing the High Holidays.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 5781/2020. Class and date-related details have been updated. An extra quote and a recent video have also been embedded within the main text.

“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 Sir 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’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 Sunday 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 they 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.

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

 

– Dr. Maya Angelou

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, require us to open our hearts to the possibility of a new beginning.

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

 

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

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 28th) 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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “High Holidays: Sorry”]

The last song / A final word…

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

### BE DIVINE (WHEN YOU CAN) ###

FTWMI: How Do You Respond? September 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 2020. This slight revision includes updated class details and music links,  plus a link to my “9 Days” series.

“According to Yoga philosophy, the causes of our thought patterns have a much deeper source than we normally realize. Our inner world is propelled by our habits, which in turn govern and determine the nature of our emotions, thoughts, speech, and actions. Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.12 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Habits: The things we do repeatedly, routinely, sometimes without thought or consideration. There are habits we label as “good” and others we label as “bad” – and then there are the ones that just are. There are habits we cultivate and others we may attempt to break. Even as people talk about all the different external factors to cultivating or breaking a habit – like how many days it takes (20, 30, or 40) and what life hacks enable them (like leaving your running shoes by the door, pre-packing your gym bag, or setting your phone to shut down media after a certain time) – habits, like all muscle memory, are ultimately mental exercises.

Even though we may not think very much about certain habits, they are happening because of what’s going on inside of our brains. We do something for the first time and a neural pathway is formed. We repeat the behavior enough times and the pathway is hardwired. Suddenly we feel compelled to do something or we think “it’s just what I/we do.” Even sometimes when the behavior is detrimental, harmful, to ourselves and others; we may not give it a second thought. In the Yoga Philosophy, such deeply ingrained or embedded habits (regardless of if we consider them “good” or “bad”) are considered vāsanās (“dwelling places”), which are based on samskaras (“mental impressions”). While such habits can feel instinctual, they are in fact conditioned.

“It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread – the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature.”

 – quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

For most of his life, Dr. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov celebrated his birthday today, September 14th. It was his habit. Born in Ryazan in 1849, he would be 68 when the Russian Empire switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (at which point his date of birth would be recognized as September 26th). Imagine if you had lived 68 years, doing things with a certain reference point in mind and then, suddenly, that reference point changed. Now, I can’t say for sure that it phased the Nobel laureate one way or the other – I don’t even know how (or if) he celebrated his birthday. What I do know is that Dr. Pavlov knew a thing or two about habits.

The oldest of 11, and known as a curious and active child, Ivan Pavlov started school late because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901). His ultimate win, however, was the direct result of experiments exploring the gastric function of dogs (and children).

Dr. Pavlov first noted that dogs started salivating before their food was actually delivered. He initially called the physiological anticipation, “psychic secretion,” but eventually his reflex system work would be viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

“When the dog is repeatedly teased with the sight of objects inducing salivary secretion from a distance, the reaction of the salivary glands grows weaker and weaker and finally drops to zero. The shorter the intervals between repeated stimulations the quicker the reaction reaches zero, and vice versa. These rules apply fully only when the conditions of the experiment are kept unchanged…. These relations also explain the real meaning of the above-mentioned identity of experimental conditions; every detail of the surrounding objects appears to be a new stimulus. If a certain stimulus has lost its influence, it can recover the latter only after a long resting that has to last several hours.

The lost action, however, can also be restored with certainty at any time by special measures.”

– quoted from the Dec. 12, 1904 Nobel Lecture “Physiology of Digestion” by Dr. Ivan Pavlov, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

While Ivan Pavlov and the Pavlovian response are often associated with the ringing of a bell, his written records indicate a plethora of external stimuli, including visual stimuli. Ultimately, he explains that what is most important is that the conditions are controlled and that the test subjects had control of their faculties. In fact, he used the global platform of his Nobel lecture to state, categorically, “Our success was mainly due to the fact that we stimulated the nerves of animals that easily stood on their own feet and were not subjected to any painful stimulus either during or immediately before stimulation of their nerves.” On another occasion, Dr. Pavlov encouraged scientists to be curious and not “a mere recorder of facts.” His lessons and research run parallel to the elements of practice which Patanjali described thousands of years before as being a method of controlling the activities of the mind, including the mental impressions known as samskaras and those deeply embedded habits known as vāsanās.

Take a moment to consider what habits you’ve have been developing that you we may or may not have intended to cultivate

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                             Those (referring to the “fluctuations of the mind” as described in previous sutras)

nirodhaḥ                Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 14th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where we will consider the process of forming (and changing) habits. 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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09042021 Experiencing the Mind”]

Check out my “9 Days” series for an ongoing exploration of intentionally cultivating habits.

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

### “NEVER GIVE UP / ALWAYS LET GO” (Swami J) ###

FTWMI: Pace Yourself (abridged) September 12, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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[For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in 2021. This is an abridged version with updated class details.  ]

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short; they ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary. However, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real), if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running, then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. Now matter who you are or what you do, it’s also nice to have some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal,” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāṇāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 12th) 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.

NOTE: The 2021 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. It includes a track related to the High Holidays.

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###