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Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’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.

“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

*

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

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

*

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

*

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

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’”

*

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

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

*

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

*

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

*

– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

*

### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###

A Simple, Radical, “Bad to the Bone” Man January 11, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

In American English, “bad” has two meanings, one of which is “even better than good.” The saying “bad to the bone” fits with that positive description and is often associated with someone who is “cool,” rebellious, and radical in a way that bucks the system… in a way, even, that can bring much needed change. There are some people who play with the idea of being “bad to the bones,” but the truth is that that kind of goodness has nothing to do with the clothes one wears so much as it has to do with what’s underneath, what’s at the core and the roots of a person. In other words, what matters is who they are all the way down to their bones.

One of my favorite inspirational reminders is based on the idea that, in Judaism, there are 248 mitzvot aseh (“positive commandments”), which are commands to perform certain activities, and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (“negative commandments”), which are commands to abstain from certain activities; meaning, we should avoid avoid the negative things every day of the year and do the good things with “every bone in our body.”* To me, someone who manages to do that in a very public way is “bad to the bone.”

The following is an abridged version of a post from January of 2021. Click here for the original post.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

 

– quoted from “Part V: The Meaning of this Hour – 40. Religion in Modern Society” in Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

It is one thing to practice our beliefs and hold tight (but not too tightly) to the tenets of our faith, whatever that means to you, when life is good and everything is easy. But life, as we have recently been reminded, can be hard, twisted, upside down, and backwards; in a word, challenging. So, sometimes the best way to notice how we show up in the world, in general, is to specifically notice how we show up in stressful / challenging situations. For instance, what is your habit when things are so challenging and all consuming, people – including yourself – might expect you to compromise?

I don’t know much about the person who (first) asked Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel if he found time to pray when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery, but I know the person – a journalist – was motivated by at least two pieces of knowledge: (1) they knew Rabbi Heschel was a man of faith and (2) they probably knew that Judaism prescribes daily prayers throughout the day. There is another possible piece of motivating knowledge, projection – it’s possible, probable even, that the person asking the question couldn’t imagine how prayer was possible during such a tumultuous time and in a situation where the faithful rabbi was surrounded by Christians. But, here’s the thing about Rabbi Heschel, he was use to praying with his whole body and he was use to being surrounded by Christians.

“I prayed with my feet.”

 

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1965, when asked if he found time to pray when marching from Selma to Montgomery

Born today in 1907, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), an activist, and is (to this day) considered one of the most significant and influential theologians of the 20th century. The youngest of six, his father died when he was nine, but his family was firmly established in the community, as he was the descendant of distinguished Chasidic rabbis on both sides of his family. He grew up in a household and in a religious tradition where prayer and a declaration of faith were prescribed multiple times a day – “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise” – and where there was an obligation to leave the world better than it was found. He earned his rabbinical doctorate in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party and could chronicle a parallel in that rise and a decline in the esteem he had previously received based on the merit of his scholarship. He felt, at times, abandoned by his Christian teachers, mentors, and peers. But, there was something in him – maybe everything in him – that could not step away from the spiritual path he was on, a path first paved by the prophets and rabbis whose lives he chronicled.

In addition to writing several biographies about his mystical elders, Rabbi Heschel was a student and a professor of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalism), in which the Tree of Life can be seen as a way to understand the world, a way to live in the world, and a spiritual road map for those desiring a deeper connection. He was in the habit of viewing, exploring, and gaining understanding of the world and his engagement in the world through the lens of this tradition that recognizes seven of the pars of the body as ways to express seven of the ten energies/attributes of the Divine (as found on the Tree of Life): Chesed (“loving-kindness”), right arm; Gevurah (“strength”), left arm; Tiferet (“beauty,” “balance,” or “compassion”), the heart; Netzach (“endurance”), right hip and leg; Hod (“humility”), left hip and leg; Yesod (“Foundation” or “Bonding”), solar plexus; Malchut (“mastery” or “nobility”), hands, feet, and mouth. Being in the habit of seeing the body as intending to express elements of the Divine, meant that everything Rabbi Heschel did could be seen as a religious / spiritual experience. Everything was symbolic – and, therefore, the simplest things held great power.

Of course, there was nothing simple about showing up at a Civil Rights demonstration at the height (and site) of defining violence. Yet, for Rabbi Heschel there was no question that he would show up. He knew that his presence, like the presence of so many others who were not Black (and, in his case, not Christian), would be a unifying presence. He knew that showing up sent a message to the world indicating that the issue of civil rights was not only “an American problem,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson would later say, but an international problem.

Additionally, as a man of faith and as a religious leader, Rabbi Heschel simply felt that showing up was a kind of spiritual obligation. In fact, he sent a telegram (dated June 16, 1963) to President John F. Kennedy stating that to continue humiliating (and subjugating) African Americans meant that they (religious leaders) “forfeit the right to worship God.” Let it sink in for a moment that a Jewish mystic demanded leadership in the form of “moral grandeur and spiritual audacity” from a Catholic president on behalf of a group of people led by Black Baptist minister. There’s a lot there that could be divisive – unless, regardless of your religion or denomination, you are bound by the Spirit.

“For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration, but a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism’s political activism and also of the traditions of Hasidism, a Jewish pietistic revival movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, according to which walking could be a spiritual experience.

 

He said it reminded him of the message of the prophets, whose primary concern was social injustice, and of his Hasidic forebears, for whom compassion for the suffering of other people defined a religious person.”

 

– quoted from an article about the 40th Anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, by Dr. Susannah Heschel

 

In addition to marching arm-in-arm with Black Christians like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Representative John Lewis in 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (more commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II) in 1962. Prior to Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church was “in the habit” of teaching the history of Jesus in a way that demonized Jewish people – and missed the part where a lot of different groups of people were part of the story. Rabbi Heschel worked closely with Cardinal Augustin Bea, the Jesuit head of the Secretariat for the Christian Unity, to write the Nostra aetate, which dynamical changed the way the Church teaches and views Jewish people; fostered mutual knowledge and respect among congregants of the two faiths; and ensured that the Church officially (and categorically) condemned anti-Semitism. Here too, the good rabbi’s work outside of the synagogue was a reflection of his work inside of the synagogue, and vice versa. Here too, honored the traditions (and the ethics) of his spiritual fathers.

Here too, Rabbi Heschel’s spiritual habits showed everyone who was in the habit of being.

“We do not step out of the world when we pray; we merely see the world in a different setting. The self is not the hub but the spoke of the revolving wheel. It is precisely the function of prayer to shift the center of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender….

 

Prayer takes the mind out of the narrowness of self-interest and enables us to see the world in the mirror of the holy.”

 

– quoted from Man’s Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 11th) at 12:00 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. 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202021 To the Bone”]

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

 

### Amen, Selāh ###

State of the “Union” (mostly the music w/a link) January 8, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Yoga.
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“My expectations were reduced to zero at twenty-one. Everything since then has been a bonus.

Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.

 

*

– Dr. Stephen Hawking (CH CBE FRS FRSA), born 01/08/1942

 

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, January 8th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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

 

“He is One, without beginning, middle, or end; he is all-pervading. He is infinite wisdom, and he is bliss.

The seers meditate on him and reach the source of all beings, the witness of all. He goes beyond all darkness. He is Brahma, he is Shiva, he is Indra, he is the supreme, the changeless Reality. He is Vishnu, he is the primal energy, he is eternity. He is all. He is what has been and what shall be. He who knows him conquers death. There is no other way to liberation….

He, as the Self, resides in all forms, but is veiled by ignorance. When he is in the state of dream that men call waking, he becomes the individual self, and enjoys food, drink, and many other pleasures. When he is in the state of dream that men call dreaming, he is happy or miserable according to the creations of his mind. And when he is in the state of dream that men call dreamless sleep, he is overcome by darkness, he experiences nothing, he enjoys rest.”

 

*

– quoted from “Kaivalya” in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (The Principal [sic] Texts Selected and Translated from the Original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

### 🎶 ###

HAPPY New Year! January 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[“Happy New Year!” and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!]

"Observe"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)


TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE

Celebrate the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM CST!

AND/OR

RELAX • RELEASE • REST • RENEW • HEAL

Celebrate the New Year with Yin+Meditation

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM CST!

The New Year is a beginning and an ending… and it is also a middle. On New Year’s Day we honor and celebrate transition with 108 Sun Salutations in the morning (10 AM – 1 PM, CST) and/or a Yin Yoga plus Meditation practice in the evening (5 – 7 PM, CST). We also put things in perspective. These practices are open and accessible to all, regardless of experience.

Please wear loose, comfortable clothing and make sure you are well hydrated before the practice. It is best to practice on an empty stomach (especially for the 108 ajapa-japa mala), but if you must eat less than 1 hour before the practice, make sure to keep it light. Make sure to have a towel (at the very least) for the 108 practice. For Yin Yoga, a pillow/cushion or two, blocks or (hardcover) books, and a blanket or towel will be useful. I always recommend having something handy (pen and paper) that you can use to note any reflections.

Use the link above for login information (or click here for more details about these practices and other practice opportunities related to the New Year).

The 108 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “New Year’s Day 108 Ajapa-Japa Mala.”]  NOTE: This playlist has been revised for 2022, but should still sync up with the 2021 recordings.

The Yin+Meditation playlist is part of the “12042020 Bedtime Yoga” available on YouTube and Spotify.

Both practices are online and donation based. If you don’t mind me knowing your donation amount you can donate to me directly. You can also email me to request my Venmo or Ca$hApp ID. If you want your donation to be anonymous (to me) and/or tax deductible, please donate through Common Ground Meditation Center (type my name under “Teacher”).

Please note that there is still no late admittance and you must log in before the beginning of the practice (so, by 9:45 AM for the 108 or by 4:45 PM for the Yin+Meditation). You will be re-admittance if you get dumped from the call.)

"Reflect"

Part of the 6-piece “Monumental Moments” series by Anthony Shumate, 2015 (located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths)

 

*Anthony Shumate’s “Monumental Moments” sculptures are located in Buffalo Bayou Park, along the Kinder Footpaths in Houston, Texas. They are unexpected reminders to “Explore,” “Pause,” “Reflect,” “Listen,” “Emerge,” and “Observe” – all things we do in our practice!

### NAMASTE ###

Social Economics (today’s “missing” post) December 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a meaningful observation if your focus is on the Feast Day of Saint Thomas (Becket).

 

This is a revised and updated version of a post from 2020. You can find the original post here.

 

“In The Black Candle, a 2008 documentary on Kwanzaa, narrated by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, she explains, ‘While the first principle of Umoja brings us closer and harnesses our strength, the last principle, Imani, inspires us and sustains our togetherness. Let us have faith in ourselves, in our creator, in our mothers and fathers, in our grandmothers and grandfathers, in our elders, and in our future – knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters, we are our brothers and sisters.’”

 

– quoted from the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

A funny thing can happen when we practice yoga: the deeper we go into the mind-body and spirit, the more we start to appreciate the mind-body-spirit as a whole. We may also start to appreciate all the different parts of ourselves and – in the process – we may start to appreciate each other a little more. And, by appreciate, I mean value. Just as I mentioned during yesterday’s practice and post, everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have purpose (i.e., power)  and responsibility – which means everything and everybody (and all the parts of the body) have value. One question for today is, “How do we express that value and appreciation?” Another question for today is, “Why do we value some things (and people) more than other?”

Social Economics (also known as socioeconomics) is defined as the social science that studies the connection between social behavior and economics (which is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services). One area of focus within social economics is how a society/community thrives (or doesn’t) because of economic activity. Another focus is how social behavior affects economics and vice versa. For instance, how the United States of America developed as a nation and how it moves (i.e., continues to move) beyond slavery are areas of study within social economics. Similarly, the impact of slavery on family structures – and how those newly defined families engaged in commerce – are socioeconomic factors.

One of the greatest tragedies of the slave trade and slavery in the Americas was the loss of family and cultural heritage. In order to survive the displacement and the many horrors of slavery people from different tribes, communities, and cultures had to figure out a way to come together as family – despite knowing that, at any moment, even their created family could be torn apart just as their biological family was torn apart. The fact that people did, continuously create family bonds, is a testament to the human spirit and to the power of love, Divine love, that knows no limits (even when we continuously try to create them).

When we contemplate the true meaning of being a father or a mother – regardless of how that comes about – and the ultimate meaning of family, we start delving into how we value those we call family and how we show our appreciation. While we all show our appreciation for others in different ways, there are some ways that are defined by society. Of course, one of those socially-defined ways is really prevalent this time of year: gift giving/receiving – which can be a multi-layered socioeconomic focus.

“Every child has a special way of perceiving love. There are five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. If you have several children in your family, chances are they speak different languages….

 

Whatever love language your child understands best, he needs it expressed in one way – unconditionally. Unconditional love is a guiding light, illuminating the darkness and enabling us as parents to know where we are and what we need to do as we raise our child. Without this kind of love, parenting is bewildering and confusing.

 

We can best define unconditional love by showing what it does. Unconditional love shows love to a child no matter what.”

 

– quoted from The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman (PhD) and Ross Campbell (MD)

 

It is possible that when someone goes way over the top with gift giving that they are trying to compensate for a disconnect that is the result of giving to someone with a different love language. I’m not saying that is always the case. There are definitely times when someone offers a big (and costly) gesture simply because they can, maybe even because they can and they know the gift(s) will be appreciated. But you really have to wonder about someone who would give so many gifts that people lose count.

In addition to being the fourth day of Kwanzaa, which focuses on cooperative economics, it is also the Feast Day of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (also of London). Depending on when you start counting (Christmas Day versus Boxing/Saint Stephen’s Day), today is also the fourth or fifth day of the “12 Days of Christmas.” I often think of the gifts in the song as costing millions of dollars – especially when you consider that the song is cumulative, meaning that at the end of the 12 days the recipient would have received a total of 12 partridges (in 12 pear trees); 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a-laying (and let’s not even get into the eggs they are laying), 42 swans a-swimming (again, not getting into how they are swimming), 40 maids a-milking (which means there are 40 cows or goats or something!!!), 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a-leaping, 22 pipers piping (with 12 pipes), and 12 drummers drumming (with 12 drums) for a grand total of 364 items (minus their accompanying items). This is based on the version of the song people might use when thinking about the song as it relates to catechism and important aspects of the Christian faith.

There are actually several different versions of the round, which some say was originally French, including versions where the gift is given by “my mother” instead of “my true love.” The song’s popularity dates back at least as far as 1780, when it was first published in London, England as “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball.” It was published in a children’s book called Mirth without Mischief and, as no music was included, people used different tunes until 1909 when the English composer Frederic Austin set and published it to his arrangement of a traditional folk melody. A lot of variations in the gifts, the descriptions of the gifts, and the order of the gifts happened long before Austin’s version, but he is definitely credited with elongating the “five golden rings;” changing a few phrasings to match the music; and changing the description of the birds on the fourth day from a species or color (as indicated in earlier versions) to “calling birds” – meaning they sing. In 1966, a version was published with the gifts being “given” instead of “sent” and prior to that, in 1892, there was a version where the gifts were “brought.” Note, however, that no versions (as far as I know) mention the gifts being “bought.”

The fact that the gifts are not referenced as being purchased is a good reminder that at certain points in time, the gifts themselves would have been seen as currency. Each item or service could be bartered or traded. But, as so many people today only seem to understand the value of something when there is a price tag attached, let’s consider the actual cost of the “12 Days of Christmas.”

“The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me….”

 

– quoted from “The Twelve Days of Christmas sung at King Pepin’s Ball” printed in MIRTH WITHOUT MISCHIEF. CONTAINING THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS; THE PLAY OF THE GAPING-WIDE-MOUTHED-WADLING-FROG; LOVE AND HATRED; THE ART OF TALKING WITH THE FINGERS; AND NIMBLE NED’S ALPHABET AND FIGURES. Printed in London by J. Davenport, George’s Court, for C. Sheppard, No. 8, Aylefbury Street, Clerkenwell (1870)

 

According to PNC Financial Services Group’s annual “Christmas Price Index” (which they have issued for 38 years), the total cost for 2019 was $170, 298.03, which was just barely more than the 2018 cost. In 2020, however, the cost was $105, 561.80. This year, 2021, the cost is $179,454.19.

Why the huge decrease and increase, you ask? COVID.

Yes, the index for the last two years paid the “maids a-milking” the US Federal minimum wage, but assumed they are only available because they are practicing social distancing guidelines. Last year’s total did not include the dancing ladies, leaping lords, pipers, or drummers – unless you or your love were in an area where COVID was under control, in which case the price would have gone up. Same thing if you figured out a virtual option. This year all of those artist/laborers are back. However, it is interesting to note that while the dancing ladies do their work at the 2019 price, the lords, pipers, and drummers – which would have all been traditional male roles in Western society – are (respectively) 12.6%, 7.1%, and 7.1% more expensive.

While the swans are, apparently, always the highest priced item on the list, all but one set of bird gifts increased in price over the last two years. In fact, the six geese a-laying increased a whopping 57.1% from last year. (On the flip side, the four calling birds have stayed consistent at $599.96.) The gold rings also increased in price (both years), because… you guessed it, COVID. Now, we’re not quite to my million dollar assumption, but keep in mind that the index does not include transportation, storage, upkeep, and/or any of the accompanying materials referenced in the parenthesis above.

Bottom line, though, it’s a lot of money. Now, consider for a moment that the song is not about the price tag. It’s not about the money. It’s about the love. Attaching a price tag simply brings awareness to the value of expressing love when your “love language” is giving/receiving gifts. It doesn’t take into consideration the value of “quality time,” “physical touch,” “words of affirmation,” or “acts of service” – and it definitely distracts from the fact that love is priceless.

Also priceless is faith and the Divine gifts of love that people receive from their faith. For those of you keeping track of the gifts related to the catechism myth, today’s gifts and symbols are: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); and “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions. I would argue that just as faith is priceless, so too is knowing one’s back story. 

“‘The beauty of Kwanzaa is it doesn’t start Black history from slavery. It actually starts us as inventors of civilizations, people who first broke from the animal world, spoke the first human truths, wrote the first basic texts of human knowledge, and so on. That’s what Kwanzaa does, it gives us a long memory—a long cultural biography.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

The principle for today, the fourth day of Kwanzaa, is Ujamaa (cooperative economics), which is described as “To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.” It is associated with the second red candle, which is the symbol for struggle. Now, superficially, it is easy to look at other minority communities and how they have built and supported minority business almost since the set foot on American soil and wonder why the idea of “cooperative economics” would be associated with struggle. But, to wonder about such a thing is to ignore the history of slavery and American economics. To wonder about such a thing is to ignore how slavery was the original bedrock of economics in the United States and that for much of this country’s history, people of African descent were not only not paid for their labor and goods, they were not allowed to engage in trade or decide how they wanted to participate in the economy. Additionally, when slavery legally ended (and slave owners were paid for their losses), the vast majority of freed people still labored under the same (slave) conditions. Continue through history and there is more than one example of situations where people were (legally) paid less for their work than what they were expected to pay for food and lodging. Then there are the tragic and horrific “examples” that were made of communities that built themselves up.

To add to the struggle, a debate that started in the late 19th century continues to this day. Most people associate the two sides of the debate with W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Both were educated and both were leaders in the Black community. To a certain degree, they even had the ear of the establishment. However, they had very different ideas about the best way for former slaves and their descendants to actively participate in and benefit from the US economy.

In a nutshell, Mr. Washington advocated sticking to what people knew (from slavery) and becoming (scholastically) educated in agriculture, crafts, and other trades they had done during slavery. He also encouraged people to purchase property and to be patient when faced with discrimination (even if that discrimination hindered them in pursuing education and the opportunity to purchase property). On the flip side, Mr. Du Bois was considered a radical who believed in an “intellectual” education that would create what he called the “Talented Tenth” – the best and the brightest college educated individuals who could instigate activism in the streets as well as in the courts and in the boardrooms. As I said, this debate continues, in part because the stigma, racism, and prejudice associated with slavery still exists.

“‘Kwanzaa offers a new dialogue on Black culture, about our positive contributions to the world, and not just the negative stigma of race.’”

 

– Dr. Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University and founder/co-editor of Columbia University’s “Black Theology Papers Project” (quoted in the Oprah Magazine article “The Principles and Meaning of Kwanzaa: The holiday is a call to celebrate the richness of what it means to have African roots” by Stephanie L. King (Dec. 7, 2020)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 29th) 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 “12292021 Social Economics”]

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

 

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 – The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the class schedules calendar. And, yes, some folks have done both!!

 

 

### CAN YOU SEE CLEARLY NOW? ###

For Those Who Missed It: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating! May you have a good observation if your focus is the Feast Day of Saint Stephen or Saint John.]

 

The following was originally posted in December of 2020. I do not typically use music for the Monday night practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, but I have left the playlist links for this post. The class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

  1. prop, pillar (an object placed against or under another, to support it)

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

– definition from WordSense.eu (and English dictionary based on Wiktionary)

During Kwanzaa, people contemplate the meaning and practical applications of seven guiding principles. The Swahili word nguzo carries with it an underlying meaning (pun intended) that emphasizes the importance of an object as structural support – in other words, something described as “nguzo” is essential to the very existence of the structure… or, in this case the community.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa are not unique to any one culture and that is kind of the point. Because people brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves were from different cultures, the holiday was created to be a reflection of a variety of cultures. That reflection is present not only in the social construct of the principles, but also in the spiritual and religious overtones which were heavily influenced by rituals and traditions practiced during other winter holidays: like the emphasis on lighting candles.

Of course, just as Kwanzaa owes its development to other traditions, other traditions have historically borrowed from each other. People constantly talk about “family values” and/or “Christian values” and yet, those so-called Christian values come directly from Judaism.  Additionally, when we look at the Five Pillars of Islam and the Six Articles of Faith (also in Islam) we find there’s a whole lot of overlap with Judaism and Christianity – which is not surprising given their historical and theological roots. You find similar overlap between Yoga and Buddhism, as well as between Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and all of the above. Sometimes (as with the three Abrahamic religions) the overlap is the direct result of history, geography, and migration. In some cases, like with Yoga and Buddhism, the overlap is intentional. Then there is spontaneous invention (also called multiple discovery).

When applied to social science, spontaneous invention is when two or more societies develop similar infrastructures and social mores without directly influencing one another. Can this happen (and how does this happen) without direct exchange and interaction? Cultural selection theory, an extension of memetics (the study of information and culture based on an analogy with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) says yes; basically, because we are all human. As we all face the same challenges, we all develop similar tools in order to guarantee survival.

“I gotta be me, I’ve gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am

I want to live, not merely survive
And I won’t give up this dream
Of life that keeps me alive
I gotta be me, I gotta be me
The dream that I see makes me what I am”

 

– quoted from the song “I Gotta Be Me” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

Granted, different groups of people (at any given point in time) have faced different threats to their ability to thrive and survive. For instance, when you look at communities that have been marginalized, oppressed, and (at times) victimized by genocide, you find that people consistently figure out ways to hold on to some elements of their culture and beliefs. In other words, they figure out ways to maintain some connection to who and what they are and from whence they come – despite being labeled (i.e., defined and named) by their oppressors. Understanding this idea (and the cultural history behind the idea) is critical to understanding the importance of today’s Kwanzaa principle, which is Kujichagulia (“self-determination”): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

During Kwanzaa, the first red candle is a symbol of the struggle related to self-determination. Of course, if you are part of a majority group you may not have experienced any significant struggle related to your identity. People, for the most part, see you as you are and accept your explanation when you say that they have misunderstood who you are and what you are all about. You rarely have to explain who you are, where you come from, or why you do the things you do culturally speaking. More to the point, you know who you are, where you come from, and why you do the things you do (cultural speaking) – even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. On the flip side, maintaining cultural heritage is hardest when, as was the case with Africans brought to the Americas, there is intentional disconnection created by the oppressor – making it virtually impossible to communicate during the initial displacement and separation. Over time, people lost the knowledge of who they were, where they came from, and even why their ancestors taught them to do certain things in certain ways. Furthermore, the socially acceptable nomenclature (process of naming) descendants of slaves in the United States has been a continuous erasure and supplanting of identity by the majority power. The struggle against adults being classified as if they were children or animals/property is why American history is full of different legal names for people of African descent: Colored, Negro, Afro-American, African American, Black, etc.

Every once in a while I will hear someone say something to the effect of, “I wish those people would make up their minds about what they want to be called. It’s all so confusing.” Yeah, well, I could wish we could all go back in time and change history (so it wouldn’t be so “confusing” for y’all), but I think all of our energy would be better spent if, in this moment, we completely opened up to hearing and understanding someone’s story about themselves. Maybe then we can find a way to accept each other.

History shows us that it is relatively easier to maintain cultural heritage when a “community of birth” is able to stay physically connected. I’m not saying it’s easy, mind you, but relatively easier, because there is a reinforcement of language, traditions, historical knowledge, and rituals – even if the information has to be passed down in a clandestine fashion. Sometimes this effort is actually aided by the oppressor (hence all the Christian holidays that overlap with indigenous and/or pagan holidays). But, you also find covert methods like Irish dancing, drumming (in a variety of indigenous cultures), and the singing of African-American spirituals. Even singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” can fall into this category.

One theory (often debunked) about “The 12 Days of Christmas” is that it is a catechism song used to teach and remember important elements of Christianity during a time when Christians (or sometimes, specifically Catholics) were persecuted. For the record, Snopes.com says nope and declares this idea “False.” But some people don’t care. Even some people who agree that the theory doesn’t hold (historical) water think that the song and symbolic elements make a good pneumatic mnemonic (a spiritual memory tool) and should be utilized as such.

When looking at today’s gifts symbolically, the “partridge in a pear tree” is a symbol of Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” represents the Old and New Testament; and the “three French Hens” stand for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). We can look at the overlap as a purely coincidental (or serendipitous), but it is interesting to note that in Western Christianity the first three feast days celebrated during Christmastide are for Jesus (on the 25th), Saint Stephen (on the 26th), and Saint John the Apostle/Evangelist (on the 27th). As I previously mentioned, the Feast Day of Saint Stephen is observed by some Eastern Christians today (the 27th) and, similarly, some Eastern Christians celebrate Saint John’s feast day on other dates. (NOTE: The Tridentine Calendar, in the Roman Catholic tradition, lists additional acceptable feast days for Saint John, related to the different ways he is identified by the Church.) But what makes this connection doubly interesting to me is that, for many Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of hope; Saint Stephen is referenced in the Bible as being “a man full of faith;” and the Bible repeatedly refers to Saint John as “the disciple who Jesus loved” and “the disciple beloved of Jesus.” Furthermore, Saint Stephen’s story is the focus of The Acts of the Apostles – which bridges the history of the Old and New Testaments.

Without going too far down the biblical hermeneutics rabbit hole, note that while a lot of people are taught that Jesus was crucified on a “cross” made from a dogwood tree, biblical scholars debate whether he was actually nailed to a cross, a tree, or a stake. Additionally, the “True Cross” is described as a combination of cedar, pine, and cypress. Meanwhile, a pear tree was prominently featured in a pair of (twinned) paintings, by the German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, which highlighted the crucifixion on one side and the characteristics necessary to “carry their cross” on the other. Interestingly, these same characteristics are described in sacred texts associated with Hinduism, Yoga, and Buddhism.

“‘Focus on going beyond all of nature and all worldly attachments. To be bound to worldly nature is certainly not the purpose of life. Focus instead on the Eternal that lies beyond this worldliness.’” 

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.45, excerpt) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley   

 

“Whoever wants to carry their cross well, he must wholly renounce the world, and die completely to it, only so will he protect his soul from suffering and pain. He must serve God unfailingly until his end, so that the grace of God will not be taken away from him. This is God’s promise to us all. Amen.”

 

– English translation of German inscription at bottom of an oil painting entitled “A Male Saint Lying Prostrate Beneath a Pear Tree” (which is paired with an oil painting of the crucifixion) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Maler)

 

 “‘To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes.’” (2.48, excerpt)

 

 “‘I repeat, Arjuna, nobody can really become one with the Godhead without leaving their desires behind and abandoning their attachment to the fruits of their actions. The paths of desireless action (karma yoga) and renunciation (sanyasa) may seem to be different from one another but they are not. All spiritual growth is based on surrendering attachments and selfish motives.’” (6.2)  

 

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

 

Please join me today (Monday, December 27th) 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 class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

The 2020 playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

 

“Umoja (unity) — To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility) — To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics) — To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose) — To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity) — To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith) — To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

### “Don’t Give Up On Me, I Won’t Give Up On You” ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: How We All Come Together, Even When We’re Apart December 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Confessions, Faith, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Boxing Day! Happy St. Stephen’s Day and “Kwanzaa, yenu iwe na heri!” – “May your Kwanzaa be happy!” to everyone who is celebrating!

The following was originally posted in relation to the practice on Saturday, December 26, 2020. Class details have been updated.

“So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:2 – 6:5, NIV)

In the Christian New Testament, the canonical gospels recount the life, teachings, and death of Jesus – and the importance of all of the above – from four different viewpoints (that of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). These books are immediately followed by The Acts of the Apostles, which is (in many ways) devoted to explaining how teachings originally intended to make people more observant Jews became a “new” religion. This history lesson is followed by a series of letters instructing the then new congregations on how they should conduct themselves based on the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. Early on in Acts (also known as The Book of Acts), the apostles faced a complaint that they were not focusing on all that was important.

Not being able to focus on what’s important is something we may all face during challenging times. We find ourselves being pulled in multiple directions and not doing anything well. This can lead to a great deal of stress and suffering, experienced by us and the people around us. More often than not we will find that part of this stressful experience is a decrease in the quality of our breath – which translates into two of the four debilitating conditions that coincide with the “obstacles to practice.” (YS 1.30-31) In other words, being pulled in multiple directions can result in painful mind-body experiences that may prevent us from doing anything, let alone doing anything well.

The apostles resolved their issue by dividing up their resources (i.e., themselves) and having seven people focused on serving the poor while the others taught and prayed. As an individual person, we don’t have that same luxury of dividing ourselves up; we have to figure out a way for everything to work together as a unit. The Yoga Sūtras indicate that part of what brings our mind-body-spirit together (or, at least awakens our conscious awareness of this connection) is better awareness of the breath.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

 

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.53: dhāraņāsu ca yogyatā manasah

 

– “The mind is qualified for concentration.”

We all have the ability to focus-concentrate-meditate, but sometimes it can be challenging. For instance, if there is a lot going on we may find our brain jumping from one object/idea to another. This is cittavŗtti (“fluctuations of the mind”), which Patanjali said is stopped by yoga, which is “union.” When they mind stops jumping around, we go a little deeper into the moment and whatever is occupying the moment.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re completely absorbed by someone or something – be it work or play – your breathing changes? I’m not necessarily talking about a life-and-death situation where your sympathetic nervous system is activated. I’m talking about those moments that sometimes go unnoticed, when you’re reading or working or playing or focusing your whole being on another being. Next time that happens, take a moment to notice your breathing and the quality of breath.

What I have noticed is that, in those moments, my breathing and quality of breath is very similar to the breathing I experience when I’m sleeping or meditating. This is no accident. In fact, Patanjali’s instruction in the Yoga Sūtras indicates that there is a direct connection between the way we breathe, the quality of breath, and our ability to focus-concentrate-meditate. Additionally, the Yoga Sūtras reinforce the importance of focusing-concentrating-meditating on God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

Yoga Sūtra 1.23: īśvarapraņidhānādvā

 

– “[A perfectly still, pristine state of mind] also comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara [the Divine],”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.45: samādhisiddhirīśvarapraņidhānāt

 

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

 

Living a purpose driven life, especially a spiritually or religiously driven life, means that everything you do is, ideally, a reflection of your faith and ministry. In such an ideal situation, everything is finely balanced, focused. This becomes a “tricky thing,” however, when everything inside and outside of you is not balanced or focused. In an unbalanced situation, what grabs and holds our attention is what is most familiar, most persistent, and most prominent.

For instance, if we are practicing an āsana or pose that requires us to stand on our tiptoes, and one of our toes is broken or stubbed, we may find ourselves only thinking about that toe. On the flip side, if we are taught to always find a way to focus on our breath then, no matter what pose we’re in, we adjust the body so the mind stays on the breath. Such focus, such concentration, requires discipline – and it also requires that the mind is fit to focus. In the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali very clearly instructs that mastering āsana (“seat” or pose) leads the way to practicing awareness of breath and that mastering prāņāyāma (“controlling / expanding the life force”) leads to the ability to choose that on which we focus. Focus over a long period of time is concentration and concentration over a long period of time becomes meditation – possibly even that “perfect meditation” that is complete absorption. Additionally, an increase in Spirit comes with that absorption.

“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people. Opposition arose, however….”

 

The Acts of the Apostles (6:7 – 6:9, NIV)

 

For someone like Saint Stephen, who was probably a Hellenistic Jew, his official “job” as a server often put him in more direct contact with the general public than those who were officially assigned to teach. The general public in his case consisted of “traditional” Jews, the Hellenistic Jews (who had adopted some aspects of Greek culture), non-Jews, and those people we now view as “Christians.” When people started publically and vocally opposing this “new way” of religious life, Saint Stephen found himself in front of the Sanhedrin (high court) being accused of treason. He further riled people up with his speech (see Acts 7) and was very publicly executed. He is most often recognized as protomartyr, or the first Christian martyr, and today is one of the days recognized around the world as his feast day.

Saint Stephen’s Day is just one of several rituals and traditions people are currently observing as an extension of the holiday season. Some of the religious rituals and traditions are different from culture to culture – even though the occasion for observation is the same. Then there is Boxing Day, a tradition that is purely cultural; except, since it is observed in countries where there are also religious celebrations for Saint Stephen’s Day, there is a blurry line. So blurry, in fact, that some people do not know the difference.

Also known as the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, it is celebrated today in Western Christianity and tomorrow in some Eastern Christian churches (but on January 9th for Eastern Christians using the Julian calendar). In parts of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is symbolically observed as Lá an Dreoilín (“Wren Day”), with “wren boys” and mummers dressing up and acting out the stories, singing, dancing, and sometimes offering (now fake) wrens to their neighbors. In some countries there are symbolic stonings and/or bleeding of livestock (although the latter is no longer en vogue. Saint Stephen’s Day is a public holiday in some Eastern European countries and – in countries like Catalonia, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic – it is actually a day of great feasting. It is also a public holiday in counties like Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom that celebrate Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is a European tradition that dates back to at least the 1830’s and is officially defined (by the Oxford English Dictionary) as “the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.” The custom of an employer, or the general public, giving someone in the service industry a “Christmas-box” actually dates back at least to the 17th century – and could have been observed in the Middle Ages. Generally, the “box” contained money or presents as a gratuity for good service given throughout the year. Historically, it was also a day off for servants and other people who would have worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Since it is a bank holiday in the Commonwealth, observation may be adjusted when – like today – the actually holiday falls on a weekend.

Boxing Day is sometimes called, “Second Christmas” or the Second Day of Christmas – which may or may not be related to the 12 Days of Christmas from the song. But let’s talk about the 12 days, shall we.

There’s a certain amount of debate around the intention, purpose, and even beginning of the “12 Days of Christmas.” Some people start counting on Christmas Day, while others start counting today. For some, these twelve days (also known as Twelvetide) are an important part of Christmastide and the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. It is a sacred time and has absolutely nothing to do with the (seemingly) material- and consumer-driven song. Some, however, overlap the ideas and think of the “gifts” as symbolic. When viewed through that religiously symbolic lens, the song becomes a way to teach (and remember) catechism. Even for those who view the days and the song as a purely commercial venture, the days represent a deep commitment to love and devotion.

“Umoja (unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

 

Kujichagulia (self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

 

Ujima (collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

 

Ujamaa (cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

 

Nia (purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

 

Kuumba (creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

 

Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

 

– The Nguzo Saba (or “Seven Essential Pillars”) of Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday which begins today and runs through January 1st is considered a cultural holiday – but it has very definite spiritual overtones. It was created by Ron Karenga, currently the Chair of the Africana Studies Department at California State University Long Beach and a civil rights activist, as a way for African-Americans to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions that were lost due to slavery. He chose the name from the Swahili phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruit” and focused on seven principles that are common values in countries throughout the continent of Africa.

In addition to contemplating the principles and their practical applications, people decorate their homes, schools, and offices in a way that reflects their African-American heritage, drum, sing, dance, and tell stories. Decorations include a special mat, decorative corn, a unity cup, and a Kinara (“candle holder”), which holds a black candle in between three red and three green candles. Collectively, the candles are symbolic of an African flag. Individually, each candle (starting with the black one in the middle) represents a different principle and a different aspect of the lived African-American experience.

Although it was first celebrated in 1966, before I was born, it is not a holiday I every celebrated. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I viewed it as a “made up” holiday or that, when I started to look into its origins, I was a little hesitant to focus on it. In truth, however, all holidays are “made up” and many have slightly sketchy backgrounds. But we don’t necessarily think about those sketchy back-stories or dubious beginnings when something is part of our tradition. Instead, we cling to what we know and if any part of our tradition or ritual becomes problematic, we move it to the background and cling to the spirit. (Hence the reason people no longer “bleed” their cattle or neighbors for Saint Stephen’s Day.) Over time, though, our rituals and traditions can become a little like balancing with a stubbed toe – our focus is determined by what you were taught and what you value.

A few years back, Dr. Linda Humes, a New York City based professor of Africana Studies, pointed out that the seven principles are common values in a lot of different cultures. Her invitation for everyone, regardless, of race, ethnicity, or nationality to contemplate the seven principles was not an invitation to misappropriate the holiday of Kwanzaa. She wasn’t telling people who were not African-American and/or did not have African-American family members to extend their holiday season by decorating their homes with the colors of Africa. Instead, Dr. Humes was encouraging people to consider whether or not they are living a value driven life.

“So, the seven days you’re actually celebrating and thinking about seven principles. Those seven principles are called the “Nguzo Saba.” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are “Umoja” (Unity), “Kujichagulia” (Self-Determination), “Ujima” (Collective Work and Responsibility), “Ujamaa” (Cooperative Economics), “Nia” (Purpose), “Kuumba” (Creativity), and “Imani” (Faith). Those are seven principles that everyone can use to have a better life. It doesn’t matter if you’re African-American. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. These seven principles will help you to be a better human being and also help to make the world a better place.”

 

– Dr. Linda Humes, professor, storyteller, folklorist, and founder of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 26th) 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.

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “12262020 Boxing St Stephen’s Kwanzaa”]

 

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.)

 

THE NEW YEAR IS ALMOST HERE! You can kick off New Year’s Day in one of two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “LET’S GET TOGETHER & FEEL ALL RIGHT” ~ Bob Marley & The Wailers ###

 

For Those Who Missed It: A Christmas Prelude December 22, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Christmas, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Peace and good will!” to all. “Happy Holidays!” and “Merry Christmas!” to all who are celebrating.
The following was previously posted on December 23, 2020. Dates have been adjusted accordingly.

“Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl
Now I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the
World”

– quoted from the song “What a Strange Way to Save the World” by 4Him

Almost everyone has a favorite Christmas carol – even if they don’t celebrate Christmas! And the carols not only tell the story of Christmas, they are a great way to tell the story. For a little over a decade, I have used a variation of today’s playlist to do just that: tell the story of Christmas. Sometimes, Christmastide overlaps Chanukah and the playlist expands accordingly. It’s not that hard, really. After all, they are both celebrations of light that focus us on the 25th.

This year’s variation, as it appears on YouTube and Spotify, is a little different. There’s no Garth, but my favorite Garth “carol” does appear in a surprisingly endearing format – and delivered by someone dearly loved. Both formats include an a cappella version of “The Little Drummer Boy” (which holds a special place in my heart), but they are different versions. Another variation on a theme: the two different versions of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” The one on YouTube includes an introduction to a live performance by a choir in London (and concludes with a prayer). The one on Spotify is the one people usually hear in my classes just before we start the practice.

Which brings me to another change: the beginning of the playlist. Just as so many set the tone this time of year by playing holiday music, I usually have two or three tracks at the beginning of the playlist that are not actually intended for the practice. They are simply to establish a feeling of reverence and celebration consistent with the time. The version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” (by Carola) that I typically use is amazing and makes every space feel a little like a cathedral. But, since there is no way to really time things out the way I normally would, you can enjoy the music after the practice.

“Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum

I played my drum for him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum

Then he smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum”

– quoted from the song “The Little Drummer Boy”

Please join me today (Wednesday, December 22nd) 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 “12232020 A Christmas Prelude”]

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 CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2022 in two ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or with the very “chill” practice of a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### “AND HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS, NOW” ###

Knowing, Feeling, Being… Free (mostly the music w/a link) December 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

“He is One, without beginning, middle, or end; he is all-pervading. He is infinite wisdom, and he is bliss.

The seers meditate on him and reach the source of all beings, the witness of all. He goes beyond all darkness. He is Brahma, he is Shiva, he is Indra, he is the supreme, the changeless Reality. He is Vishnu, he is the primal energy, he is eternity. He is all. He is what has been and what shall be. He who knows him conquers death. There is no other way to liberation….

 

 

He, as the Self, resides in all forms, but is veiled by ignorance. When he is in the state of dream that men call waking, he becomes the individual self, and enjoys food, drink, and many other pleasures. When he is in the state of dream that men call dreaming, he is happy or miserable according to the creations of his mind. And when he is in the state of dream that men call dreamless sleep, he is overcome by darkness, he experiences nothing, he enjoys rest.”

 

*

– quoted from “Kaivalya” in The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal (The Principal [sic] Texts Selected and Translated from the Original Sanskrit by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 18th) at 12:00 PM. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “0619 Juneteenth 2021”]

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.)

 

Click here for a post related to this date.

Reminder: Class is cancelled next week and there will be a special offering the following week (January 1, 2022).

### 🎶 ###

Light in the Darkness (a Monday post practice post) December 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Baha'i, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays!

This post practice post for Monday, December 13th. 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.]

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

– #146 quoted from “CHAPTER IV. APOPHTHEISMS AND INTERLUDES” of Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 10/15/1844)

For many years, when it was time to set our personal intentions during the practice, I would reference something/someone related to the practice and/or something/someone related to current events. It didn’t matter if it was a local tragedy or something unfathomable on the other side of the planet; it made sense to me to offer a little kindness and compassion. Be it a man made or a natural disaster, it made sense to remember that no matter what I or the people around me were experiencing somewhere in there world there was someone who could benefit from our positive energy.

For a moment, we formed a cosmic “prayer circle” and many of you told me that that practice resonated with you. Some of you would even come up to me afterwards and say that you too had been thinking about the plight of someone that normally wouldn’t have crossed your mind. It wasn’t an excuse not to reach out a helping hand when we could. In fact, it was sometimes the opposite. It was a good reminder of hope and charity and, also, that we are all part of something more: a larger community than the one right in front of our noses.

But then the pandemic hit – and it didn’t make sense to offer our energy, condolences, thoughts, and prayers in the same way. It didn’t seem fair for me to highlight one person or one group of people when we were all directly affected. Sure, some people were still more affected than others. But who was I to say “look over here, look over there” when we were all suffering?

So, perhaps over the last 21 months the offering, the dedication, has felt a little more personal. Perhaps it was less of a reminder that we were all in this together, and more of a reminder that, as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk.” Maybe you had to remind yourself to be more intentional about your energy. 

Either way, it was still an opportunity to extend a little bit of our hope, love, kindness, compassion, hope, and joy into the world. It was still a much needed moment… a moment to metaphorically stare into the light. Because Friedrich Nietzsche’s words are no less true when we flip them around. In fact, flipping them around highlights two parts of the yoga practice, as outlined by Patanjali: turning inward to study yourself and to focus on your own light.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah

 

– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”

The following is an expanded version of a portion of a post related to the practice on December 13, 2020. Some class details and references have been updated.

Yoga Sutra 1.36: viśokā vā jyotişmatī

 

– “Or [fixing the mind] on the inner state free of sorrow and infused with light, anchors the mind in stability and tranquility.”

How does one keep the faith? This is a question we can ask at any time, but it becomes a particularly significant question when we are faced with doubt or fear. Or darkness. We all have moments of doubt, of fear, of darkness. Those moments can come from the inside and also from the outside, from things that are going on all around us. Those are the times, I think, when it is good to remember the words of Yoga Sūtra 1:36 which instructs us to focus on our inner light. However, even if you are not familiar with this thread, every culture and every spiritual (and religious) tradition has a story that serves as a similar reminder – and, during the darkest times of the year – people in the Northern Hemisphere bring out these stories, re-tell them, and celebrate them.

There are some aspects of light celebration in Samhain, the pagan holiday marking summer’s end. But, in truth, this year’s celebrations of light started with Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights. Next up was Chanukah, which starts at sunset each year on the 25th of Kislev. Last year (in 20210), the 8-day festival of light in the Jewish tradition overlapped the (Western Christian) Feast Day of Saint Lucia (also known as Saint Lucy’s Day) on December 13th – and I noted that we were getting double the light. Of course, that might have implied that this year we would have less light.

But that’s not really how light works – and that’s not really how light celebrations work. If anything, this year’s celebration of Saint Lucy was an opportunity to highlight one person’s contribution during a challenging time, a dark period in history (if you will).

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

 

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

 

Saint Lucy’s Day is also a day centered around faith, persecution, and the miracles that come from someone doing what they can in the midst of so much “can’t.” It is mostly celebrated in Scandinavian countries and Italy, as well as places like the Twin Cities where there is a large Scandinavian population, as well as a strong Catholic, Lutheran, and/or Anglican presence. Prior to calendar reformation, it was celebrated on the shortest day of the year – meaning, the day surrounded by the most darkness.

The day honors a 4th century virgin-martyr who would bring food and drink to Christians hiding from religious persecution. Lucy herself was persecuted, and that part of the story is a little gory – although, notably, full of miracles. She is often depicted wearing a white robe or dress with a red sash, both the colors of which are symbols of her purity, piety, and her martyrdom. Being chosen to wear her symbols and to represent Saint Lucy or her court (including the “star boys”) is an honor not because of what was done to her, but because of her faith led her to alleviate the suffering of others.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

 

– quoted from “Shine” by the Maccabeats

In 4th century Syracuse (Roman Empire), the best places to hide were in the Roman catacombs, the very epitome of darkness on every level. So that her hands were free to carry the food and drink, Lucy (whose Latin name, Lucia, shares a root with the Latin word for “light”) would wear a wreath of candles around her head. Being the source of her own light, while carrying a feast, required her to stand and move very carefully, very deliberately, and very intentionally – almost as if she was in Tādāsana (“Mountain Pose”).

When we practice āsanas (“seats” or poses), a significant amount of energy and awareness goes into how we sit (or stand). This deliberation and intention allows us to pay attention to our breath (which is a symbol of our spirit and life force) and also to extend and direct our breath (and therefore our spirit and life force). In a sense, we are careful about how we stand specifically so that we can be intentional about how we use our energy. Another way to think of this is that how we move and hold our body, as well as how we breathe and pay attention to our breath, allows us to very intentionally, deliberately, and mindfully start to focus on our inner light. When we focus-concentrate-meditate on our inner light, it appears to get brighter. In fact, over time, our inner light begins to shine out into the world – but, first we have to be able to see it.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

While I realize that posting two days in a row about the divine symbolism of numbers may lead to certain conclusions, let me be clear on two points. First, I like numbers and appreciate the science of equations (maybe as much or more than the average person), but I can’t really call myself a mathematician. Likewise, even though I often encounter numerical symbolism when I study religion and philosophy, I can’t say that I know very much about numerology or arithmomancy (also called arithmancy). All that said, when I keep hearing about certain things I perk up and pay attention. So, I’ve started getting curious about the number 9.

I was born on the 9th of a month, as were some of my favorite people; but I’ve also had a love-hate relationship with the number. It’s not 7; which has a lot of personal significance for me, is sometimes considered a symbol of humans, and is related to a lot of aspects of (and stories within) the Abrahamic religions as well as several energetic and/or spiritual systems.

It’s not eight, which is associated with infinity.

It’s not a 10.

It’s 9. 

Sure, it’s the highest single digit natural, or cardinal, number. It also pops up a lot in relation to harshad (“joy bringer”) numbers like 18, 27, and 108. Of course, I remember that the holy month of Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. But I missed (or forgot) the fact that the Baháʼí Faith considers it a symbol of completion – so much so that it is incorporated into the faith’s name and sacred buildings. Similar reverence in relation to completion is found in Hinduism. In fact, four times a year there are periods of nine nights (and 10 days) that are devoted to Durga, the mother goddess, with each night dedicated to various manifestations of God as mother.

Sure, somewhere in the back of my brain, I knew that the Buddha had nine virtues; that (in Christianity) there are nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit and nine “Choirs of Angels” (divided into three spheres of three); and that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed system. But I had forgotten, or not given much thought, to how the number nine pops up in prayer.

I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that one of the prayers offered during some Jewish services actually comes with extra blessings on Rosh Hashanah – bringing the total blessings to nine. Neither had I contemplated the numerical significance of “the nine days” (Tisha HaYamim) of mourning preceding Tish’a B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av (the eleventh on the Hebrew calendar) and how that date marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (in 423 BCE and 70 CE, respectively). And, honestly, I didn’t know that other significant historical events and tragedies in Jewish history happened on that date – the ninth day of the eleventh month, which is eerily reflective of the tragedies and historical events associated with Schicksalstag (the ninth day of the eleventh month on the Gregorian calendar).

There’s more… a lot more that I didn’t know. However, here’s a little more that I knew, but hadn’t really thought about: A novena is a nine-day (or nine-week) period of prayer within some Christian traditions.

The word “novena” is used to describe the period, the practice, and the prayer(s). It comes from the Latin novem, meaning “nine,” and it is a period meant to parallel the time described in The Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14, NIV) when the twelve Apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” They did this, per Jesus’s instructions (and with a little guidance from some “angels”) in preparation of receiving gifts (or powers) from the Holy Spirit. Of course, as indicated above, the practice of praying (and even fasting) for nine days predates Christianity – some historians even track to the practice back to the Roman Empire (again, as it relates to mourning).

In a modern context, novenas are often used to request a Divine gift or as part of a larger ritual. They are often associated with Marian Feast Days – sometimes being recited in anticipation of a feast day and sometimes starting on the feast day. For example, some people started a novena on November 29th and completed it on December 8th. Others, started praying (a different novena, see below) on December 13th.

Western science has shown that there is power in prayer and meditation. Said power is also magnified when people gather together (even virtually) and/or engage in prayer and meditation at the same time. So, while you could pray a novena at any time (and it is believed that there is power in that practice), there is more power at certain times. That extra power comes from an exponential increase in energy going towards light (instead of darkness) when we all focus, concentrate, meditate together.

Kind of like when set our personal intentions and dedications towards the beginning of our āsana practice.

“O St Lucy, preserve the light of my eyes so that I may see the beauties of creation, the glow of the sun, the colour of the flowers and the smile of children.

 

Preserve also the eyes of my soul, the faith, through which I can know my God, understand His teachings, recognize His love for me and never miss the road that leads me to where you, St Lucy, can be found in the company of the angels and saints.”

 

– quoted from A Novena Prayer to St Lucy, Protector of the Eyes

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

 

“‘Remember, dear friend, that I am subtly inherent in everything, everything in the universe! I am the all-illuminating light of the sun, the light in the moon, the brilliance in the fire – all light is Mine. I am even the consciousness of light, and indeed, I am the consciousness of the entire cosmos.’”

 

– The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (15:12) by Jack Hawley

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! I will once again offer two New Year’s Day practices on January 1st (2022). You can start the New Year with 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM or a Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM. There will also be a reflective “First Friday Night Special” on January 7th. All times are Central Standard. Log-in details will be updated on the “Class Schedules” calendar

 

### Keep Shining! ###