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Freedom: Still Making It Make Sense July 3, 2022

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

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

The Manageress seemed to construe this as excellent news.

‘So then you’re free?’ she said.

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

### Feel Free ###

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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

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

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

Being and breathing, with awareness.

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

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

The following is a revised version of a 2020 post.

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

*

– quoted from The New Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

That’s the lesson of “insight.”

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.26: vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyah

*

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

The Importance of Feeling/Being Safe June 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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May we all be safe and protected, especially if we find ourselves seeking asylum.

“This startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe points out the gap between what we say and what we do. On the one hand we publicly pronounce the equality of all peoples, discarding all racialistic theories; on the other hand, in our immigration laws, we embrace in practice these very theories we abhor and verbally condemn.”

*

– United States Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) speaking to the Senate about immigration quotes in 1948

Beware, ya’ll, I’ve got my hammer out; because I feel like some things need to be hammered home.

I could say that that this feeling started when I re-read the quote above and started thinking about how much it (unfortunately) still applies. However, the truth is a little more complicated than that. The truth is that I’m always thinking about “the gap between what we say and what we do” – in any situation – but that I especially started thinking about in relation to refugees when Russia invaded Ukraine towards the end of February. That invasion, and the escalation of a war that began when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea at the end of February 2014, highlighted the fact that refugees can come from anywhere and look like anyone. However, that heightened awareness of who can be a refugee, also reinforced the fact that many people in the world have stereotypes and biases that make life harder for people who are already facing horrific challenges.

Some people, at various points along Ukraine’s border, said they saw no discrimination happening as people fled the conflict. Others witnessed and/or experienced racial bias which resulted in people being stranded in a volatile situation. We can all believe what we want – or believe what we must to sleep at night – but if you were paying attention as the events unfolded, you saw and heard newscasters attributing value based on race, ethnicity, and nationality. If you were paying attention, you witnessed countries and local governments setting policy based on race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender.

Even if you weren’t paying attention to any of those things, you could look inside of your own heart and mind and observe how you felt about refugees fleeing Ukraine versus refugees fleeing Afghanistan… or Syria… or Vietnam… or Venezuela… or South Sudan… or the Congo….

“Whoever. Wherever. Whenever.
Everyone has the right to seek safety.”

*

– the 2022 theme for World Refugee Day 2022

Today is World Refugee Day.

The United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th as World Refugee Day in December of 2000. The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defined a refugee as “someone who fled his or her home and country owing to ‘a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Additionally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognizes that “many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.” Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), Stateless Persons, and Returnees all fall under the Refugees category. Although they are granted certain rights and protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, because we often say one thing and do something completely different.

World Refugee Day is an internationally observed day to honor the humanity of all refugees. It is a day to celebrate the strength, courage, and resilience of people who have held onto their families, cultures, languages, and dreams despite being forced to flee their home country either to escape war, famine, pestilence, persecution, or all of the above. It is also a day to raise awareness and solicit support, while cultivating empathy, compassion, and understanding. Finally it is a time to recognize the generosity of host countries. So, ultimately, it is a day to engage and honor those powers “unique to being human.”

“We will continue to represent the best of American values by saving lives and alleviating suffering, working with our partners at home and abroad to assist the forcibly displaced in their time of need – no matter who or where they are, on World Refugee Day and every day.”

*

– quoted from the 2022 World Refugee Day statement by United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken*

As I have mentioned before, I can be skeptical of the idea that only humans can cultivate the six siddhis (“attainments” or abilities) that are described as being “unique to being human” in the Sāmkhya Karika. Similarly, I question the idea that certain values can (or should be) described as if they only belong to a certain group of people – especially since so many different groups share the same values. I strongly encourage us, however, to look at our own personal values and what we each (individually) believe to be true. In the process, I also strongly encourage us to look at whether or not what is in our hearts is also in our minds and reflected by our words and deeds. When we do this, we give ourselves the opportunity to look at whether or not our affiliations reflect what’s in our hearts and in our minds. This is one way to practice svādhyāya (“self-study”).

Svādhyāya (“self-study”) is the fourth niyama or internal “observation” in the Yoga Philosophy. And, I want to emphasis that it is an exercise in OBSERVATION. I often place it in the same category as discernment and contemplation, as those practices appear in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola – meaning, these are ways to note the “interior movement” of one’s own heart, especially in certain contexts. Like discernment and contemplation, svādhyāya can be in our judgment toolbox, but it’s not about making or passing judgments; it’s about making good, virtuous, choices.

By “good,” I mean it is something that has meaning and purpose. By “virtuous,” I mean something that is generous in it’s ability to alleviate suffering (i.e., something that does the least amount of harm to the most amount of beings and/or over the longest amount of time).

“According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community.

The rights contained in the 1951 Convention include:

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions;

  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State;

  • The right to work;

  • The right to housing;

  • The right to education;

  • The right to public relief and assistance;

  • The right to freedom of religion;

  • The right to access the courts;

  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory;

  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents.

Some basic rights, including the right to be protected from refoulement, apply to all refugees. A refugee becomes entitled to other rights the longer they remain in the host country, which is based on the recognition that the longer they remain as refugees, the more rights they need.”

*

– from the United Nations

According to the United Nations, refugees are entitled to certain rights that are, theoretically, human rights. The United States is NOT on the top 10 list of countries who receive the most refugees, however, according to U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The United States is the world’s largest single donor of humanitarian assistance….” Within those statements, there is a huge contradiction. I’m not talking about the fact that many people believe the U. S. myth and talking point that “people are always coming here,” I’m talking about the fact that the United States doesn’t even guarantee all of the aforementioned rights to it’s citizens. When you look at how that contradiction (and, some could argue, hypocrisy) plays out in real time, it’s easy to see how we end up with a conflict between theory and practice. Another way to look at that is: This is one of the reason’s there’s a “gap between what we say and what we do.”

So, today, I think it’s important acknowledge that gap and why it’s here (inside of each of us as well as in the world). Also, given this year’s theme, I think it’s important to contemplate what “safety” means to us. The UN has five points that define “seeking safety” means:

  1. Right to seek asylum
  2. Safe access
  3. No pushbacks
  4. No discrimination
  5. Humane treatment

Even with those five points (and the descriptions outlined by the UN), we can only define what it means to us individually. We can only define what finding safety would look like to us if we were forced from our home and from our homeland. Once we do that, however, once we define it, we are one step closer to being able to extend it.

“Once you’ve woken up to the understanding that vulnerable people literally die for their lives

There is no alternative but to decide to care.

So you resolve to care.

You realize that vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness

That all of us are vulnerable in some way. / That some days we’re weaker than most / and that some of us don’t have that option.

So you grieve for those who lost their lives / and you grieve for the ones that you lost too. / Not just during this crisis / but during every one before it….” 

*

– from the poem that begins “The Seven Stages of Grief during Coronavirus: Acceptance.” (see end of post) by Emi Mamoud (@EmiThePoet)

Please join me today (Monday, June 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the classYou can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06202020 #WorldRefugeeDay”]

NOTE: One song is no longer available on either streaming platform. It is still listed, but will not play.

Emi Mamoud, an incredible poet

Some elements of the above post were included in my 2020 World Refugee Day post, which philosophically focused on Yoga Sūtra 2.25 and the connection between avidyā (“ignorance”) and suffering. Click here to read that post.

*NOTE: Since I made a point, yesterday, of mentioning my certain aspects of my own legacy, please note that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from what is now Ukraine, his maternal grandparents were Hungarian Jews, and his step-father was a Holocaust survivor (and refugee). 

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.)

### May we all be peaceful and happy / May we all be healthy and strong / May we all have ease and wellbeing ###

Remember, What’s Important (& You Can Still Practice! Part II) June 19, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy Juneteenth! Happy Dads’ Day!!

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

*

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

It is kind of wild to think about what it means to be a dad, a pa, a da, a papa, a daddy, a pappi, a paw-paw, a gran-daddy, a pepaw… today, Juneteenth, – especially if you are in the United States… especially if you are in Texas. And, if you are new to me, then maybe you’re wondering why I didn’t mention being a father. It is, after all, Father’s Day for much of the world. However, as I have mentioned in the past, today is about more – so much more – than someone’s ability to beget a child. Today, like Mothers’ Day, is about people who raise children. Sometimes they are known by different names than the ones I listed above (and my apologies to the uncle-pappies out there), but they are all still doing they job.

They are still sticking, staying, and raising the children who will be the future.

The thing is, it hasn’t always been easy to stick, stay, and raise a child. I’m not saying it’s easy now. However, now more people have a choice. Go back to yesterday in 1865, in my home state (let alone the little island where I was born) and there were a lot of people who didn’t have a choice. They sometimes didn’t get a say in when, if, and/or how they beget a child. Neither did they often get a say in whether or not they stayed to raise the child. On some level, that changed today, June 19, 1865, with General Gordon Granger’s reading of “General Order No. 3.” However, as history has shown us, the order that announced the (legal) end of slavery – in the Confederate states – didn’t change much for the emancipated people. And, not to seemingly digress, but neither did it change much for “dirt poor” white people in said states. At least, however, people had a choice.

Or did they?

In yoga, I often mention samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits), which – just like neural pathways and culture – are created through repeated behavior. They are the legacy of being alive. Slavery and having choice stolen are also part of the legacy of being alive, especially if you are in the United States, and so we can’t ignore what that legacy has given us: a culture where people who beget a child don’t always know how to stick AND a culture where stereotypes abound about the people who don’t stick.

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

*

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

I’m fortunate in that I have a father, known as Daddy (or Hey), who had a hand in raising me to be the person I am. In fact, for all the ways I am like the women in my family, those are all the ways I grew up wanting to be just like my dad – who, as my Mommy (or Ahma) was fond of saying, I thought was the smartest person on the planet. (He taught doctors and married my mom, so… just saying.) He is a man who was raised by a man who was raised by a man and they all grew up in rural Texas (on hard clay).

The fact that I grew up knowing all these Black men, and got to touch the soil that they owned, is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.

My dad went to a “Negro” school (because that was his only option), earned an undergraduate degree and a PhD from HBCUs, served in Vietnam, and then went on to teach doctors who are practicing medicine all over the world. He also raised two sons… who, along with their many accomplishments, raised their own kids and now have grandkids.

All of these things are gifts I cherish to this day. All of these things I appreciate with the understanding that everyone can’t say the same. Everyone doesn’t get the same gifts, but we get something. We get someone, a teacher, an uncle, a neighbor, a Big Brother…

And today is about celebrating those gifts.

Since today is also about celebrating emancipation and freedom, I think back to my Texas elders and ancestors – my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and all the generations I never met. I think about their dreams. I think about their dreams of freedom. I think about the dreams they had for the generations that were coming after them. I think about the fact that if I had any ancestors listening to General Order No. 3, today in 1865, they could not – in their wildest dreams – have dreamed the details of my life.

Yet they dreamed of me and a world where I could dream of things they never conceived.

In their wildest dreams, they never would have dreamed of people still fighting and struggling to rise in 2022.

Yet, in the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, WE…

“…rise
…rise
…rise.”

*

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

There is no class today, but I will be back on schedule (and on Zoom) tomorrow. If you are on my Sunday recording list, I have sent you a copy of the 2020 Dad’s Day practice and a copy of the 2021 Juneteenth practice. If you want to be added to my Sunday list (or any other list), please email me or comment below.

The “Dad’s Big Day” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

The “0619 Juneteenth” playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

The embedded links in the first paragraph of this post will take you to the appropriate date-related posts from 2020. In a 2022 update (of my Juneteenth 2020 post), The Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense that Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America (a. k. a. The Naming Commission) has recommended that Fort Rucker be renamed Fort Novosel – after Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Novosel Sr. (the son of Croatian immigrants), who flew more than 2,500 extraction missions in Vietnam, rescuing more than 5,500 soldiers – and that Fort Hood be renamed Fort Cavazos – after General Richard Cavazos, a Mexican-American Texan who served during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was the Army’s first Mexican-American four-star general. These recommendations, along with seven others (including 1.5 which would be named after women who served in the military) will be in the hands of Congress in October of this year.

Let’s keep dreaming, y’all, and let’s keep dreaming (and working) on those dreams coming true.

*

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.)

*

### DREAMS OF FREEDOM (should be part of all our bios) ###

Ode to a Poem about Poets, Born Today (mostly the music and links) June 7, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Poetry, Yoga.
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Years ago…

I wrote a poem –

dedicated to / inspired by poets

poets born today [in 1917, 1954, 1943, and 1958].

Then I re-posted it.

This is not THAT POEM.

©MKR 2022

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 7th) 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 “06072020 Birthday of Poets”]

(NOTE: The interlude music is different between the playlists. YouTube is the original. The “poem” link above includes a video not on either playlist.)

 

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.)

*

### 🎶 ###

When Intuition Expands (the post for the First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearly”) June 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Baseball, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Nobly honoring all connections leads to a noble life.

“A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, ‘If only….'”

*

– quoted from the poem “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

In October 1967, American Heritage (volume 18, issue 6) featured an excerpt from Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads about the Mighty Casey. Mr. Gardner was a popular mathematics and popular science writer – whose life and work is fascinating enough to have it’s own theme – and he was known for his work in recreational mathematics, magic, and criticism of fringe or pseudoscience. He was also known for annotating works that were popular with the masses, but not always understood by the masses. His book about a very popular baseball poem includes a history of how the poem became so popular, as well as a biography of the poem’s author. At times, it is also just as scathing and hilarious as the actual poem.

The poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888,” was originally published in The Daily Examiner (now The San Francisco Examiner) today in 1888. It was published under the pen name “Phin,” a diminutive of the nickname “Phinney,” which is what Ernest Lawrence Thayer was called when he attended Harvard University. Like Mr. Thayer, Martin Gardner studied philosophy (albeit at the University of Chicago rather than Harvard) and both landed in the publishing world. But they lived in different times, pursued different interests, and – I’m willing to bet – had really different egos. What is interesting to note, however, is how egos come up in their work – especially with regard to “Casey,” which is (ultimately) a poem about egos, emotions, and how our judgement and behavior can be swayed by our egos and emotions.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

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

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

*

Human beings are sensational beings. This means a few different things. First, it means that we are infused with sensation – we feel things. We have sense organs that soak up information and communicate via sensation or “feelings,” which the mind-intellect processes. Second, we place value on things (and people) that make us feel things; we call them sensational. Finally, we find sensational things appealing – meaning, we are drawn towards people and things that provoke a visceral reaction, (i.e., that make us feel things). Being sensational beings can be amazing; however, it can also be problematic. The problematic part is that our intellect can sometimes be so overwhelmed by sensation that we find ourselves doing irrational things, while simultaneously believing they are rational things. Sometimes, being sensational beings means we don’t “see” clearly.

To be transparent, part of the problem may be that we don’t always understand how we “see” things. We assume that we have the full picture and that what we see – and understand – is exactly what someone else sees, but for some reason doesn’t understand. (“I mean, for goodness sake, it’s right in front of them! How can they not see that?”) This disconnect can manifest as people arguing even though they are on the same side of a debate and/or “agreeing to disagree” and coming to a stalemate in a situation where movement towards resolution and reconciliation is vital to survival.

In these situations, everyone ultimately loses.

It would be great if we could take a deep breath, step back, and get more perspective. It would be great if we could really talk with each other and ask the right questions. But, there are certain things about which we are quite impassioned – which means we are quite literally infused with suffering. We don’t want to (or can’t) ignore what we’re feeling – especially in times when we are feeling quite a bit (or when we are feeling quite numb). Instead, we need to balance the mind-body experience – and, gain some insight into our sight (i.e., how we “see” things and why we “see” things the way we do when others “see” things in a different way).

“Intuition is important, knowing what questions to ask. The other thing is a passion for getting to the core of the problem.”

*

– Dr. Torsten Wiesel, co-winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Born today in 1924, Dr. Tosten Wiesel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with his collaborator Dr. David Hubel.

Click here to read my 2020 post about their research on ocular dominance columns and how their original thesis around neural pathways and the mechanisms of the visual cortex was way off center.

Please join me tonight, Friday, June 3, 2022, 7:15 PM – 8:20 PM (CST), for First Friday Night Special #20: “Being Sensational and Seeing Clearlyon Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.
*
Friday Night’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04012022 An “Important” Story””]

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 to Common Ground are tax deductible; class purchases and donations directly to me are not necessarily deductible.)

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

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

More ocular science…

(NOTE: Some blog quotes by Drs. Wiesel and Hubel are from a short biography produced by National Science & Technology Medals Foundation when Dr. Wiesel was awarded the 2005 National Medal of Science.)

### I CAN SEE YOU. CAN YOU SEE ME? ###

When the Past and the Present Open (mostly the music and links) May 31, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Poetry, Yoga.
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Nobly balance compassion and justice to get harmony. 

“The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,

No matter who it is, it is sacred—is it the meanest one in the laborers’ gang?

Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?

Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off, just as much as you,

Each has his or her place in the procession.

(All is a procession,

The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.)”

*

– quoted from 6th stanza of the poem “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman

Please join me today (Tuesday, May 31st) 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 “05312020 Walt Whitman”]

(NOTE: The YouTube playlist includes recordings of some of the poems, as part of the before/after class mix. These tracks are not included on Spotify. Both versions have a 2022 addition.)

“In Kenya, people walk out of yoga class feeling great, just like they do in New York. The one difference I loved, however, was that the children who took the classes always broke out into a spontaneous song or dance right in the middle of class. Then they would go back to the yoga postures.”

*

“Visiting the Kenyan [women’s] prison brought me unexpected joy. The inmates, some of whom are H.I.V.-positive, told me that yoga has become a rare source of happiness in their daily lives.”

*

– Robert Sturman talking about documenting the work of Africa Yoga Project (quoted from the New York Times interview “Yoga in Africa” by Karen Barrow) 

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman (b. 1819). Here’s a little excerpt from my 2020 post about this date: “There are times when we have so much churning inside of our minds and our bodies that it can make us physically ill. It churns and churns, until it spills over. Or, another analogy is to think of all of that emotion as water inside of a pot on top of an open flame: it’s “simmering, simmering, simmering…” until it boils over. When we are children, we are taught to be mindful of the hot stove and the pot that sits on top. We watch our elders; placing various ingredients inside, stirring, churning, adjusting the flames – even tasting along the way, sometimes even letting us taste a little. We watch and learn that we can make something delicious, or potent medicine, or poison, or paint and dye. We watch and learn that if we don’t pay close attention we will make a big, unusable, inedible mess. We watch and learn that if we are not careful, we can hurt ourselves or others.”

Click here to read more of this post.

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.)

*

### 🎶 ###

Take Another Look At Yourself (mostly the music and links) May 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Love is the connection and the connector.

“You have a gift for great silence Watson. It makes you invaluable as a companion.”

*

– Sherlock Holmes

*

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

*

– quoted from “I: DISCIPLINE, Problems and Pain” in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M. D.

*Dr. Peck notes that he is essentially paraphrasing the first of the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 22nd) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for ”05222021 Take A Look At Yourself”]

*

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (b. 1859) and Dr. M. Scott Peck (b. 1936). Here’s a little excerpt from my 2021 post about this date: “When we focus-concentrate-meditate on someone’s body (and life), including our own, we start to see certain trends. First and foremost, is that our experiences build on top of one another. This is consistent with one of the underlying concepts within the Yoga Philosophy, as outline by Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, that we view each experience through the mental impressions (samskaras) of previous experiences. Another thing we may notice is that, as it states at the beginning of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, “Life is difficult.” However, the issue isn’t life… the issue is how we deal with our difficulties.”

Click here to read last year’s post.

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.)

*

### 🎶 ###

Svādyāya II: Omar’s Strait Road, Comes (and Goes) Through the Same Door (a 2-for-1 “renewed” post) May 18, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Celebrate the times when endurance, humility, and gratitude go hand-in-hand!

The following is an amalgamation of date-related posts from 2020 and 2021. Class details and some additional year-related information has been updated.

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 listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think only God really knows”

 

– quoted from the song “The Wind” by Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)

Imagine that you are one of the most influential polymaths of the Middle Ages. You are a phenomenal mathematician, astronomer, and scientist who wrote treatises on algebra and astronomy and you were able to calculate a year so accurately (so precisely) that, over 800 years after your death, a calendar based on your calculations is still used by millions, even billions of people.  Just imagine that level of accomplishment; soak up the feeling of being that accomplished.

Now, imagine that over 800 years after your passing, most people in the West – possibly in the world – don’t remember you for your accomplishments in math or science. Instead, imagine that what most people remember is that you were a poet – a poet known for a vast collection of poems you may or may not have written (some of which appear in the public sphere 43 years after your death). What if you wrote some or all of the poems attributed to you, but you wrote them as a diversion; a way to relieve stress and relax your mind between calculations, a little brain candy before going to sleep?

While you’re imagining all that, you may as well imagine that you were deeply religious, deeply committed to your faith and your Creator – so much so that your scientific work and philosophical essays (on existence, knowledge, natural phenomena, and free will and determination) all start off praising Allah and the Prophet Mohammed and end with blessings to the same. Yet, some people claim you were a nihilist, an agnostic, and/or purely a humanist. How would you feel if some people viewed you as the most divine (and Divinely inspired) poet in your faith and culture – yet, during your lifetime you were viewed as a heretic, your poems as blasphemy?

Practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”) and go a little deeper into how you might feel if all of that were true of you – as it is true of Omar Khayyám.

“Every line of the Rubáiyát has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature.”

 

“The inner spiritual message is for all mankind, no matter what form it is contained in. The message is greater than any sect’s way of understanding it and goes out to all, just as the Sun shines on everyone, sinner and saint.

 

Fitzgerald’s first translation of the Rubáiyát was inspired for the benefit of all mankind. Allah works in mysterious ways. Whenever he wants something to come through in a pure way, it will happen in spite of everything.”

 

– from Who is the Potter? A Commentary on The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Abdullah Dougan (based on translations by Edward FitzGerald)

Given what we know about Omar Khayyám, who was born May 18, 1048, he might be equal parts amused and disgusted everyone doesn’t think cubic equations or Euclidean geometry and the parallel axiom when they hear his name. But, he also might not care. (After all, if all he is dead; so what would matter to him what we think?)

He might not mind that when people hear his name today, especially in the West, most people think of quatrains: complete poems written in four lines. Again, he might not care that some people consider his words (or words attributed to him) as their personal mantras. Then again, he didn’t care very much for people who claimed to have the answer to everything and, therefore (if he were alive), he might be annoyed that some people wave his words (or words attributed to him) completely out of context – or, even in support of things in which he didn’t believe.

“And do you think that unto such as you
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew
God gave a secret, and denied it me?
Well, well—what matters it? Believe that, too!”

 

– quoted from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám, translated by Richard Le Gallienne

Khayyám’s popularity in the West is primarily due to a collection of translations by Edward FitzGerald. FitzGerald, an aspiring English poet and writer, was a contemporary of William Makepeace Thackeray and Lord Alfred Tennyson, but but his literary aspirations never met with the acclaim of his friends. His friend and professor, Edward Byles Cowell (a noted translator of Persian poetry and the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge University) sent FitzGerald the quatrains in the form of two manuscripts: the Bodleian (containing 158 quatrains) and the “Calcutta” manuscript. While the initial pamphlet of the Rubáiyát, didn’t receive much fanfare, it would eventually become so popular that FitzGerald approved four editions of the “collection of poems written in four lines” and a fifth would be publish after his death.

Edward FitzGerald was a Christian skeptic and his skepticism comes through the translations loud and clear, as if he found a kindred spirit in the Persian poet. On the flip side, some see Omar Khayyám as a Sufi mystic – even though, he was reviled by prominent Sufi leaders during his lifetime. Lines like “Who is the Potter, pray, and who is the Pot?” further the confusion as they can be seen as a very definitely acknowledgement of a Divine Creator or as a philosophical question posed by a writer who believes God is a construct of man. Those religious and spiritual contradictions, the sheer volume of poems, and the lack of provenance are some of the problems critics have with all of the quatrains being attributed to Omar Khayyám – and why there’s such a wide range between estimates. 

“Be happy for this moment.
This moment is your life.”

*

– Omar Khayyám

While a 2009 article in the book review section of The Telegraph indicates that the Rubáiyát has been published in at least 650 editions, with illustrations by 150 artists, and translated into 70 languages – and set to music by no less than 100 composers – there’s a distinct possibility that some of the poems were not actually written by this particular Persian mystic. 1,200 – 2,000 quatrains are often attributed to Khayyám, but some didn’t appear in the public sphere until 43 years after the poet’s death. Furthermore, prominent scholars have estimated that the actual number of verified lines is 121 – 178, or as little as 14 – 36.

In addition to some poems, and his work in math and astrology, Omar Khayyám wrote several philosophical essays about existence, knowledge, and natural phenomena. One such essay, on free will and determination, is entitled “The necessity of contradiction in the world, determinism and subsistence” – which puts a whole other spin on the poems if, in fact, he wrote them as a kind of brain candy.

“This cycle wherein thus we come and go
Has neither beginning, nor an end I trow,
And whence we came and where we next repair,
None tells it straight. You tell me yes or no.

***

We come and go, but bring in no return,
When thread of life may break we can’t discern;
How many saintly hearts have melted here
And turned for us to ashes who would learn?

***

The Skies rotate; I cannot guess the cause;
And all I feel is grief, which in me gnaws;
Surveying all my life, I find myself
The same unknowing dunce that once I was!

***

Had I but choice, I had not come at call,
Had I a voice why would I go at all?
I would have lived in peace and never cared
To enter, stay, or quit this filthy stall”

 

– selections from The Rubáiyát, quoted from The Nectar of Grace: Omar Khayyam’s Life and Works by Swami Govinda Tirtha

Given the quatrains quoted above and the fact that I initially mis-dated both playlists (and only caught the mistake once on my own), you might be surprised that today’s Tuesday’s title is not a type-o. It really is intentionally “Omar’s Strait Road,” because (Euclidean geometry aside) Omar Khayyám shares a birthday with the “King of Country”: George Strait.

Born May 18, 1952 (in Poteet, Texas), George Strait is considered one of the most influential and popular recording artists of all time. He has 13 multi-platinum, 33 platinum, and 38 gold albums and has sold over 100 million records worldwide (making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time). He was elected into Country Music Hall of Fame (in 2006, while still actively recording and performing) and named Artist of the Decade (for the 2000’s) by the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Additionally, he was named Entertainer of the Year by Country Music Awards (CMA) in 1989, 1990 and 2013 (making him the oldest entertainer so designated and the only person to win in three different decades) and by the ACM in 1990 and 2014 – making him the most nominated and most awarded artist for both Entertainer of the Year awards. (I’m not even going to try to tally his total awards count or how often he’s been on the Billboard charts, because that just gets ridiculous.)

“King George” is known for his blockbuster tours and has performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 30 times, over almost 40 years. However, his first performance was a bit of a fluke – he went on as a replacement for Eddie Rabbit, who was sick with the flu. Ironically, Strait – who retired from touring with his 2013 – 2014 record-breaking “The Cowboy Rides Away Tour” – came out of retirement to perform on the final night (03/20/22) of the Rodeo when it returned after being shut down by COVID.

2022 Update: George Strait’s concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was reportedly the largest crowd of the season (79,452 people) and featured “29 songs played over the course of two-plus hours, 20 of those covered at his last rodeo show.” Ashley McBryde opened and Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett made guest appearances during a show that, naturally, included “The Weight of the Badge” and a video tribute to first responders.

A United States Army veteran, with a degree in agriculture, George Strait’s philanthropic endeavors include co-founding the Jenifer Lynn Strait Foundation (which is named for his daughter and supports children’s charities in the San Antonia area); serving as spokesman for the VF Corporation’s Wrangler National Patriot program (which raises awareness and funds for America’s wounded and fallen military veterans and their families); and co-founding and hosting the Vaqueros Del Mar (Cowboys of the Sea) Invitational Golf Tournament and Concert with his business partner Tom Cusick (in order to raise money for David Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, benefiting wounded servicemen, servicewomen and their families).  Additionally, he continuously supports agriculture and land and wildlife management programs and scholarships at his alma mater (Texas State University) and variety of disaster relief efforts.

Also worth noting, the King and his Queen (Norma) will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this past December.

“There’s a difference in
Living and living well
You can’t have it all
All by yourself
Something’s always missing
‘Til you share it with someone else
There’s a difference in living and living well”

 

– quoted from the song “Living and Living Well” by George Strait

So, Omar Khayyám and George Strait share a birthday and a tendency to succeed in their endeavors. And they are also thought of as poets. The thing is, if you really pay attention to the lines of the poems and the songs, it seems like they also share a bit of the same philosophy. It’s a philosophy found in Khayyám’s essays (as well as the poems attributed to him) and centers around the idea that (for some reason) one day we are here and one day we will not be here and that, prior to dying, everyone suffers, but we decide what we do with all that time in between. Given these “givens,” we can (in the words of these two poets):

  • Have “a nice little life,” “let [ourselves] go” spending the time we are given “living well” and, at the end of the day say, “My life’s been grand” or
  • Just feel “grief, which in me gnaws;” have a heart “as hard as that old Caliche dirt,” and “just wanna give up.”

There is, of course, a third option: Join the “maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew” that dogmatically believes they are the only one with all the answers. (“Check yes or now.”)

“The world will long be, but of you and me
No sign, no trace for anyone to see;
The world lacked not a thing before we came,
Nor will it miss us when we cease to be.”

 

– quoted from (quatrain 132) Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Ahmad Saidi (with preface by Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

Please join me today (Wednesday, May 18th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “05182021 Omar’s Strait Road”]

 

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

 

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d–
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

 

– XXVII and XXIX from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám

 

“Even if a man had lived for a hundred years and had changed his religion, philosophy, and beliefs twice a day, he could scarcely have given expression to such a range of ideas.”

 

– commentary by Sadegh Hedayat in In Search of Omar Khayyám by Ali Dashti (translated by L. P. Elwell-Sutton)

 

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.)

Errata: This was originally posted with the wrong anniversary timing for the Straits and an incorrect spelling of Robert Earl Keen’s middle name. My apologies to email subscribers.

### 22 ###

Remember Rachel’s Challenge, Especially When You’re Suffering (the “missing” Wednesday post) April 22, 2022

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“Chag Sameach!” “Happy Festival!” to anyone celebrating Passover. “Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Great Week, Easter Week, Counting the Omer, Riḍván, and/or Earth Day! 

This is A 3-in-1 “missing” post (with a coda) for Wednesday, April 20th. It features information on overlapping sacred traditions and also on an anti-bullying non-profit and is a bit of a “renewed” post (since it contains some previously posted material). You can request an audio recording of any of these practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, feel free to comment or email me.

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.)

“[Bridge: P!nkKhalid & Both]
Hope floats away
If you could spend a day in my shoes
Your mind would change
If you knew what I’ve gone through
We want the same (Yeah, we do)
Maybe then you’d understand
How it hurts to be human, oh”

*

– quoted from the song “Hurts 2B Human” by P!nk, featuring Khalid

A lot of this week was devoted to the subject of suffering, on and off the mat. Sure, we all have friends that were suffering this week – and then there’s all the general suffering in the world. Because there is, and has always been, a lot of suffering in the world; there is, and has always been, a desire for the end of suffering. There is, and has always been, people actively seeking an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many paths, practices, and methods that – on some level – promise an end to suffering. That’s why there are so many really great books, poems, movies, plays, and songs about suffering and how people deal with suffering.

Suffering, it turns out, is interesting and inspiring.

One of the things I find interesting about humans and suffering is how often we tie our salvation to something more than ourselves and our own agency. What’s particularly interesting to me is that when we look at religious traditions (and philosophical traditions that are sometimes culturally religious), the teachings very specifically connect the end of suffering to our own agency and something more than ourselves… something divine, or Divine.

“[Chorus]
What if you were told that today
Was the last day of your life
Did you live it right?
Love is a gift you give away
And it reignites
Don’t wait, don’t let it pass you by
(don’t let it pass you by)”

*

– quoted from the song “The Fight” by Taboo

Over the course of this week, all the Abrahamic religious traditions – and at least one tradition with ties to the Abrahamic religions – have been engaging in sacred celebrations and rituals that are tied to suffering and the end of suffering. Jewish communities have been celebrating Passover and, as of Sunday, some are also Counting the Omer. Western Christian communities (including Roman Catholics) observed Easter on Sunday and then, for some, Easter marked the beginning of the Octave of Easter (or Eastertide). On the flip side, this week marked the Holy Week or Great Week for people within Eastern Orthodox Christian communities. This month (in 2022) is also the holy month of Ramadān in Islām. Finally, Thursday marked the beginning of Riḍván in the Bahá’í community.

Since several of these holy observations started on Saturday, I’m going to point out that Hanuman Jayanti (or Hanuman Jannotsav) – which is celebrated in India, Nepal, and throughout the Hindu diaspora – also has a connection to suffering and the end of suffering. Oh, and then there’s Earth Day – which is not a religious holiday, per se, but is still connected to suffering on this planet, a desire to end that suffering, and the realization that the path to that freedom from suffering must come from a global community acting together… which would be divine.

Because everyone uses different calendars, this conflux doesn’t happen every year. Yes, there is usually an overlap between Passover and at least one Holy Week; however, this year is different. This year, these sacred times overlapped tragic anniversaries related to April 19th and 20th. This year, there’s more suffering and more awareness of the different ways we could/can/might end suffering – in ourselves and in the world around us.

There’s just one problem. Actually, there are several problems.

One, we don’t always pay attention to the right part of the stories. You know, the part where we have to practice what we preach, act in ways that are congruent to our beliefs, and – like Hanuman (or Nahshon) – take giant leaps (or wade in the water) in order to help and/or save others. Two, we sometimes forget that we are community; that while it may hurt 2b human, we have each other and we (can) have each other’s backs. We forget how breaking bread with someone (whether it be on Spy Wednesday or Easter Wednesday) can reveal the true nature of things. Finally, we all too often lash out at others when we are suffering.

Sometimes we lash out like Pharaoh – and our hardened hearts result in everyone being plagued with more and more suffering. Other times we are like Judas – and we lash out in ways that seem small, inconsequential, and petty; but have magnificent consequences. Then there are those times when our personal suffering is like that of Jesus’s followers who, once their suffering is alleviated by a striking realization, go on to share the good so that others may also find relief from their suffering.

All the stories told during this week’s holy observations and celebrations are reminders that we are in community – even when we are not in a religious community. While there are bullies and bad guys in these stories, there are also reminders that any one of us can make a good (meaningful) difference. We can be Moses or Aaron or Miriam or Nahshon. We can be any of the disciples or Marys or Martha or Joanna. We can be like Hanuman. We can be like Baháʼu’lláh, in that we bring communities together even as we are being separated.

Finally, we can be like Rachel Joy Scott whose legacy is a challenge. It’s not a religious challenge, it’s an existential challenge. It’s a challenge that could not only change your life, it could change the lives of those around you.

SO MUCH SUFFERING…

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2020. However, I have revised and expanded some sections related to Moses and Passover.

“First and foremost, we believe creation of the world, G-d created a world in which he wanted the human being to actually be able to do something – that is to say, to exercise free will, to be like G-d, meaning to be a creator, not to be lab rats…. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. But to have a relationship with G-d requires that I have an exercise of my free will…. Free will means an environment in which not necessarily do I always have pleasure when I make the right decisions and not necessarily does someone always suffer when they make the wrong decision. Free will is having real power to create stuff. Free will is having real power to alleviate suffering.”

*

– Rabbi Mordechai Becher, in vlog explaining one of several reasons why suffering exists

If you look back over this last week of blog posts, you will see a lot of different takes on suffering. So much suffering, in the midst of so much that is holy. I could point back to any number of quotes from this week’s post, any number of quotes from various traditions and belief systems. But, just focus on something simple…a simple list, the Four Noble Truths from Buddhism:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eight-fold Path is the way to end suffering

In the Passover story, Moses has similar experiences and a similar journey as Prince Siddhartha has in relation to Buddhism. (Both also have parallels to Arjuna’s experience at the center of the battlefield during The Bhagavad Gita.) There are some obvious differences, but let’s focus on the similarities for a moment. Both were raised in wealthy households, lived lives of privilege, experienced the suffering of others, and – instead of turning away, as some would do – both took the opportunity to alleviate themselves and others from suffering.

According to an oft quoted proverb, G-d is in the details – or, in the detail. And, it turns out, that the element of G-d is one of the big differences between the two stories. Another big difference is that while both heroes were raised in wealth, Moses was born a slave – and knew his connection to the Jewish people, people who were suffering. Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha (or “Enlightened One”), was 29 years old when he left the palace gates and saw suffering for the first time. At 35, when he became enlightened, the Buddha codified the 4 Noble Truths and began teaching. He died at the age of 80. This all happened in India, during the 6th Century (~563) BCE.

On the other hand, Moses was born into suffering during the 14th Century (placing Exodus between 1446 – 1406) BCE. Not only are the Jewish people, his people, enslaved when he is born, but because Pharaoh declared that all baby boys should be killed, Moses was born during greater than normal suffering. Theoretically, he always knew some amount of suffering existed. In fact, one way to look at Shemot / Exodus 2, is that Moses left the luxury of the palace specifically to witness the suffering of his first family, his tribe, his community of birth. He was 40 years old when he had to flee his home after stepping in to protect a Jewish man who was being beaten; and he was 80 when G-d (in the form of the burning bush) commanded him to return to Egypt and speak to Pharaoh about freeing the Jewish people. Theoretically, he was also 80 when he received the Torah, G-d’s truth for his people and he was 120 when he died.

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlined how the mind works and how to work the mind. The mind, he explained, has a tendency to wander, move around, and get caught up in those fluctuations. Those fluctuations are either afflicted or not afflicted – meaning some thoughts bring us pain/suffering and others alleviate or don’t cause pain/suffering. He went on to describe how afflicted thoughts cause nine obstacles, which lead to five conditions (or states of suffering). Eventually, he described exactly what he meant by “afflicted thoughts.” Throughout these first two chapters of the text, he gave examples on how to overcome the afflicted thoughts; on how to alleviate the suffering they cause; and on how to overcome the obstacles and painful states of suffering. His recommendation: Various forms of meditation.

One technique Patanjali suggested (YS 1.33) is offering loving-kindness/friendliness to those who are happy, compassion to those who are sad, happiness to those who are virtuous, and indifference to those who are non-virtuous. (Metta meditation is a great way to start this practice.) Knowing, however, that everyone can’t just drop into a deep seated meditation, Patanjali also offered physical techniques to prepare the mind-body for meditation. Those physical techniques are the physical practice.

I find the yoga philosophy particularly practical. But then again, I tell my own stories.

Historically speaking, Patanjali was in India compiling the Yoga Sutras, outlining the philosophy of yoga, during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have heard, that at some point in his life, the Buddha was aware of yoga – but that doesn’t mean he was aware of the yoga sutras, simply that he was aware of the lifestyle and the codes of that lifestyle. Perhaps he even had a physical practice. The Buddha, however, did not think the yoga philosophy was practical enough. In theory, this explains some of the parallels between yoga and Buddhism. It may also help explain why there are so many lists in Buddhism and why the Buddha taught in stories.

I have no knowledge of (and no reason to believe that) Moses knew anything about yoga, the yoga philosophy, or the sutras. However, he can be considered a “desert brother” or Jewish mystic for much of his adult life – meaning that he undoubtedly engaged in prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Even if he didn’t attribute certain aspects of the body to the aspects of the Divine that are found on the Tree of Life, and even if he didn’t physically move his body with the intention of connecting with G-d, Moses spent much of his adult life as a shepherd. As a shepherd, moving around the hills with his ship, Moses connected with nature and with G-d, which is the ultimate dream of some philosophers and truth seekers.

“Then Job stood up, and rent his robe and tore his hair; then he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. And he said, ‘From my mother’s womb, I emerged naked, and I will return there naked. The Lord gave and the Lord took; may the name of the Lord be blessed.’”

*

– Job, upon learning that how much he’s lost in a single moment (Iyov / The Book of Job 1.20-21)

Moses probably didn’t know the story of the Buddha. He would have, however, known the story of Job. Some traditions even credit him as the author of The Book of Job, the events of which took place around the 6th Century BCE – the same time as Prince Siddhartha’s evolution into the Buddha. The Book of Job is the story of a man who endured great suffering. From Job’s perspective, there was a point when it could even be considered pointless suffering. But only to a point, because eventually Job’s suffering was alleviated and the way in which he endured the suffering is rewarded.

Job clung to his faith and believed that G-d was always with him. Moses, as I mentioned in a previous post, was told by the burning bush that G-d will always be with him and with the Jewish people. So the lesson is, “[we] are not alone in this. / As brothers [and sisters] we will stand and we’ll hold your hand.”

Sometimes, when I sing-along to the Mumford and Sons’ “Timshel” (even when I embellish the lyrics, see above) I don’t point out that the title of the song does not translate to “you are not alone in this.” There is a reference in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that refers back to Beresh’t / Genesis 4:7 and the story of Cain and Abel. Steinbeck translated G-d’s words to Cain as “thou mayest.” In reality, if you’re going to use Steinbeck’s reference, it’s “thou mayest rule;” but it is sometimes translated as “you can rule/master” or “you will rule /master” and the object of this command or explanation is “sin.” As in: You can (or will, or mayest) rule (or overcome, or master) Sin.

I’m not going to get into the various understandings and meanings of sin. Suffice to say, anything one would categorize as a sin can also categorized as an affliction and therefore something which causes suffering. The key part here is that many translations of “timshel” reinforce the concept of free will. We choose how we deal with suffering. Even when we don’t realize we are choosing, our choice can alleviate or increase our suffering.

The Buddha’s parables about the second arrow and the poisoned arrow brilliantly illustrate how this choice works. So too, do the stories of Cain and Able, Job, and Moses and the Jewish people during Exodus. (Remember, not everyone celebrated that first Passover and not everyone left Egypt when they had the chance.) Even the story of the Passion of the Christ – the story of Jesus and his last week of life – includes a correlation between free will and suffering, a connection between our actions and the end of our suffering.

“This year however, we are experiencing, more than ever, the great silence of Holy Saturday.  We can imagine ourselves in the position of the women on that day.  They, like us, had before their eyes the drama of suffering, of an unexpected tragedy that happened all too suddenly.  They had seen death and it weighed on their hearts.  Pain was mixed with fear: would they suffer the same fate as the Master?  Then too there was fear about the future and all that would need to be rebuilt.  A painful memory, a hope cut short.  For them, as for us, it was the darkest hour.

*

Yet in this situation the women did not allow themselves to be paralyzed.  They did not give in to the gloom of sorrow and regret, they did not morosely close in on themselves, or flee from reality. They were doing something simple yet extraordinary: preparing at home the spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  They did not stop loving; in the darkness of their hearts, they lit a flame of mercy.  Our Lady spent that Saturday, the day that would be dedicated to her, in prayer and hope.  She responded to sorrow with trust in the Lord.  Unbeknownst to these women, they were making preparations, in the darkness of that Sabbath, for “the dawn of the first day of the week”, the day that would change history.  Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.  How many people, in these sad days, have done and are still doing what those women did, sowing seeds of hope!  With small gestures of care, affection and prayer.”

*

– Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020

ACCEPTING RACHEL’S CHALLENGE

NOTE: Portions of the following were originally posted in 2021. 

WARNING: This post specifically references a horrific and tragic event from 1999. You can skip most of these references by jumping from the first highlighted quote to the second highlighted quote.

“Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. According to Webster’s Dictionary, compassion means a feeling of sympathy for another person’s misfortune. My definition is forgiving, loving, helping, leading, and showing mercy for others. I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Back in 2018, as one of my Kiss My Asana yogathon offerings, I referenced a lot – well, some – of the people who tragically lost their lives throughout history on April 19th and 20th. One of the people I mentioned was Rachel Joy Scott – the first person shot at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. In some ways, it is hard to believe that 22 23 years have passed since that mass shooting. Remember mass shooting that some people thought would change everything? It’s equally hard to believe that there are adults – people who can serve in the armed forces, legally vote, and in some cases legally drink alcohol in the United States – who were not even born when 2 high school seniors killed 12 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives. It’s mind-boggling to me that (based on recent events in early 2021 and data compiled by The New Yorker and Trace in 2019) there have had been over 200 mass shootings in the United States since April 20, 1999. (As of April 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in schools since this week in 1999.) Those shootings have affected thousands upon thousands of lives. Furthermore, it is astounding that what was (at the time) the fifth deadliest shooting in the United States (after World War II) “is now not even in the top ten.”

I’m not going to spend my time here (or in class) talking about my opinion about gun control and/or the 2nd Amendment. Nor am I going to spend a lot of time stating the obvious fact that, as the statistics and the lives lost clearly attest, we have a problem – because, let’s be honest, we have a lot of problems right now. What I am going to focus on today is Rachel’s Challenge. Not the program (although I will mention that) so much as the idea(l).

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

*

– quoted from the essay “My Ethics, My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott (written in period 5)

Somewhere on her person, perhaps in her backpack, 17-year old Rachel Joy Scott had a notebook. It was one of several notebooks that turned up after Rachel’s death. Some of the notebooks were full of thoughts, poetry, and art she was just sharing with herself. Some of the notebooks, however, were a form of communication between her and her “big brother” Mark Pettit. They would each write in the notebooks and then swap them during small groups at church.

The notebooks became a way for Rachel’s family to tell her story and also a way to spread her message about the importance of compassion. They, along with the stories that other people shared about their encounters with Rachel, led her family to start Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit that creates “programs that promote a positive climate in K-12 schools.” They also have comprehensive programs for colleges and businesses.

On the foundation’s website, the Rachel’s Challenge mission is stated as “Making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect; and where learning and teaching are awakened to their fullest.” They also indicate that when the program is fully implemented, “partner schools achieve statistically significant gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate; along with reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.”

“ANTROBUS: …. Oh, I’ve never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for — whether it’s a field, or a home, or a country. All I ask is the chance to build new worlds and God has always given us that second chance, and has given us [opening the book] voices to guide us; and the memory of our mistakes to warn us. Maggie, you and I must remember in peace time all those resolves that were clear to us in the days of war. Maggie, we’ve come a long ways. We’ve learned. We’re learning. And the steps of our journey are marked for us here.”

*

– quoted from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

I did not know Rachel Joy Scott or Cassie Bernall (17), Steven Curnow (14), Corey DePooter (17), Kelly Fleming (16), Matthew Kechter (16), Daniel Mauser (15), Daniel Rohrbough (15), Isaiah Shoels (18), John Tomlin (16), Lauren Townsend (18), Kyle Velasquez (16), William “Dave” Sanders (47), nor (to my knowledge) do I know anyone else that was at Littleton, Colorado, today in 1999. I did not know the two seniors that wrecked so much havoc (and whose names I am choosing not to post, even though their families also suffered greatly.) I am not affiliated with the foundation Rachel’s family started and neither have I gone through their program. However, I believe in the message and I believe in the idea(l).

I have seen the chain reaction that starts with compassion and kindness – just as I have seen the chain reaction that begins with a lack of empathy and a lack of equanimity. In that essay she wrote in period 5, Rachel talked about first, second, and third impressions and how they don’t always give you a full picture of someone. She wrote, “Did you ever ask them what their goal in life is, what kind of past they came from, did they experience love, did they experience hurt, did you look into their soul and not just at their appearance?” We are, right here and right now, experiencing the chain reactions that occur when we don’t really see each other and when we don’t recognize the fact that we are all connected. We are – right here and right now – about to set off a new chain reaction.

Quick, ask yourself: What is motivating you and what do you expect to come out of your actions?

“One of the big things we’re focused on is how you see yourself. Each and every one of us in this room has a great capacity to do great things.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking to a small group of students during a Rachel’s Challenge event

*

“I challenge students to choose positive influences. Rachel wanted to make a positive difference. So, she surrounded herself with the right influences that helped her be a powerful, positive person.”

*

– Craig Scott speaking in a 2018 TODAY feature story

*

𝄌

“‘Consider purification, tapas, which literally means “to melt,” as in refining ore. The purpose of purification is not pain and penance, but to deliberately refine one’s life, to melt it down and recast it into a higher order of purity and spirituality. The goal is very important; it is not self-punishment but refinement – to shift from human existence into Divinity!

*

There are three main methods of purification: the refinement of one’s thoughts, words, and deeds – also called the purification, respectively, of one’s instruments of mind, speech, and body. When you modify these three you automatically change for the better.’”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (17.14) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

In the past, when I’ve talked about Rachel’s Challenge, I’ve used a fairly non-religious playlist. This year, however, the overlapping holidays inspired me to remix the playlist for these holy times. I wanted music that would reflect the different traditions and the different stories, while also reflecting Rachel Joy Scott’s ethics and codes of life. I also wanted something that was inspiring and hopeful, like the young woman herself.

As I was remixing, I came across “Godbone” by (one of my favorite composers) Bear McCreary. In the the television series See and in games like “King of Dragon Pass,” “godbone” is a term used for metal and/or concrete. I’m not 100% positive about the etymology of the term, but it reminded me of the Lunar New Year story about the Kitchen God and how the fireplace poker came into existence. It also made me think about Krishna’s explanation of tapas – which can be defined as heat, discipline and austerity, as well as the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity.

Whenever I reference tapas, which is one of the niyamas (“internal observations” in the Yoga Philosophy), I mention that it can be applied physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and spiritually. It can also be applied religiously. In fact, fasting during the holy month of Ramadān, giving something up for Lent, and giving up leavened bread during Passover are some of the examples I use throughout the year. Those same traditions also incorporate the the final two internal observations – svādhyāya (“self-study”) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (“surrendering to [a higher power]”) – which combine with tapas to form kriya yoga (“yoga in action,” or an ongoing process moving towards union with Divine). (YS 2.1) These sacred rituals are all about refining the (c)ore of who we are.

“And he shall sit refining and purifying silver, and he shall purify the children of Levi. And he shall purge them as gold and as silver, and they shall be offering up an offering to the Lord with righteousness.”

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– quoted from Malachi (3.3)

Back in 2010, Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote an article about bitter herbs, suffering (in Passover and in life), and a group of women who were inspired to go deeper into the Biblical idea that the Jewish people’s suffering in Egypt was “the ‘kur habarzel ― the iron crucible[.]’” She wrote about how these women went to see a silversmith at work and how, through their observations and questions, they gained a better understanding of the process of suffering and how to deal with suffering. Like Rachel’s challenge, Sara Rigler’s insight gives us a better understanding of how we can graceful engage our own suffering: Always look for the image of the Divine in ourselves and always look for that same reflection in others.

“As the silversmith held a piece of silver over the fire, he explained that he needed to hold the silver where the flame was hottest in order to burn away all the impurities. The woman, remembering the Biblical verse, asked if he had to sit there the whole time the silver was being refined. The silversmith responded that not only did he have to sit and hold the silver the entire time, but he had to keep a careful eye on it, because if the silver was left in the flame a moment too long, it would be destroyed.

‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ the woman asked.

‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I see my image in it.'”

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– quoted from the aish.com article “Why Celebrate with Bitter Herbs? – Yes, God took us out of Egypt, but He put us there in the first place!” by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04202022 Rachel’s Challenge, Holy Remix”]

“She was a real girl, who had real struggles, and – just was in the pursuit to, you know, pretty much just show compassion and love to anybody who needed it. You know: Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever class – any of that stuff. I mean, it did not matter to Rachel…. She saw my heart.”

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– Mark Pettit, talking about the movie I’m Not Ashamed, a 2016 film based on their journals

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can 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, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

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If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

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### AMEN, SELAH ###