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Do It, But Differently (just the music) October 17, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Yoga, Changing Perspectives, Philosophy, Music, Abhyasa, Vairagya.
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Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 17th) 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 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.)

 

### 🎶 ###

Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices 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.]

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

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

 

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

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

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

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

 

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

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

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

Fly (W)right (a Monday post) September 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing Sukkot. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 20th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 “More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, where foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.”

– quoted from the poem “Optimism” in Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield

“Resilience” is defined as “the power or ability to return to the original form or position; to recover readily from; the ability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after; buoyancy.” It comes from a Latin phrase meaning “to spring” or “leaping back” and, as some of friends can attest, it is one of my favorite subjects. I love the beauty and the power of resiliency. I’m also a big fan of stories, especially true stories, about people who fall down and then pick themselves back up – or even of stories, especially true stories, about people who have been pushed down and somehow, almost miraculously, pick themselves back up. Those stories are inspiring because we have all been there.

We have all tried something that didn’t work out the first or second (or even the thousandth time), but we kept going. Like Thomas Edison. Or, maybe like Alfred Nobel, we’ve spent our time working on things we thought would make the world a better place… only to discover that people thought of us as the epitome of evil – and then we have to go back to the drawing board in order to leave a different legacy. We have all battled our personal obstacles and readied ourselves to put our best foot forward… only to find someone else has found their groove before us. Like Ella Fitzgerald. Or, maybe in battling our personal demons, we just fell down… and had to get back up. Then too, we have all been the underdog (like David and Michelangelo) and we have all had to figure out a way to rise from “a past rooted in pain.” Like Maya Angelou.

I could go on. But the point is we all have to find our wings.

“Be like the bird, who
Pausing in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him
Yet sings
Knowing he has wings.”

 

– “Be like the bird” poem by Victor Hugo

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

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

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

 

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

Amos Root’s words painted a vivid picture of a successful moment. He put the reader right smack dab in the middle of the moment. But what of all the crashes; what about all of the missed take offs and landings? Can we picture a moment some might consider a failure? What keeps someone going in those moments – especially when they are in the process of trying doing something that has never been done? What’s the secret to that kind of tenacity and resilience?

Some people believe resilience is all about attitude and perspective; others believe it is physiological (and genetic). Still others believe it is a combination of the two. Either way, there are keys to mental, emotional, energetic, and physical resilience. You could even call them secrets (although we all know them). These keys (or secrets) can be highlighted by inspirational stories. For example, a cursory look at the story of the Wright brothers and their quest to fly includes a little note on sleep; being in good company (which is also having a supportive community); being mindful, especially of what works and what doesn’t work; letting go of what doesn’t work; and getting good momentum. The Wright brothers’ story also pays tribute to what happens when you wake up with a little grace and a little faith.

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

 

– Wilbur Wright

The idea of flying, testing new modifications and soaring through the sky, energized the Wright brothers. Take a moment to consider what gets you energized, excited and grateful to wake up and greet the new day – especially if the previous day was hard. For some people it is their children, their family, or their friends that get them going. For some people it’s their pets. For some people it is a new adventure, a new possibility. For some people it is the possibility of helping others and/or fulfilling their purpose. It can even be a combination of things. For instance, in Buddhism, the practice and commitment to the practice are supported by the Three Jewels: the Buddha, or teacher; the Dharma, which are the teachings; and the Sangha, which is the community. People take refuge in these, especially when times are challenging.

What inspires you to get up and keep going when you encounter challenges and setbacks?

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

 

Mishlei – Proverbs (24:16)

It’s easy to say, “Well, I know what used to work. But….” And, yes, it’s true, our lives have changed; our relationships and social situations have changed – even as the world has changed – and will keep changing. However, there are some things that are constant. There are some things that change with us. Then, too, there is something in each of us that responds to a certain type of motivation. Pinpoint your motivator.

Maybe it’s been awhile and maybe you’ve forgotten what it felt like to be excited about the new day. If so, maybe you need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Another option is to take a moment – maybe 90 seconds – to remember the feeling, the embodied feeling, of getting up, dusting yourself off, and smiling as you get ready to do what you’re going to do.

And that’s another of my favorite “secret” tips, courtesy of Yoda: Focus on what you’re doing (not on what you’re trying)! Focus on flying – whatever that means to you at this moment.

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

 

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

 

– Orville Wright

Once we get past the inspiring story, it’s easy to look at the people mentioned above and think that most of us haven’t endured the hardships some of them endured or that we haven’t accomplished the things those noteworthy people accomplished. We may not even desire what they desired. Still, we all have our trials, our tribulations, our challenges, and our obstacles. We also all have some accomplishment or experience that we keep working our way towards despite the frustration of not have achieved our goal or desire the way we expected to achieve it. Or, maybe things didn’t happen according to the timetable we had in our head. Either way, this isn’t about comparing our lot to someone else’s lot.

This is about the fact that something keeps us going.

Years ago I came across a yoga article by Christina Sell about “changing inner dialogue” and it gave me a great appreciation for the power of the word “yet.” Yes, sometimes the word can be part of self-defeating criticism, but it can also be used as a motivator. She suggested that when we’re working on something – on or off the mat – to think about it from the perspective of “I haven’t done this yet, but…. Such a little word; yet it can keep us moving in the direction that brings us closer and closer to our goals.

“A further meaning of the word yoga is ‘to attain what was previously unattainable.’ The starting point for this thought is that there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga….

Another aspect of yoga has to do with our actions. Yoga therefore also means acting in such a way that all our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged.”

– quoted from “1. Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

“‘Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.’”

– quoted from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

[A small portion of the above was previously posted on September 20, 2020. Click here for the original context and a different look at “returning.”]

 

### Be Like The Bird (but not like the Song of Solomon peacock) ###

Wow! You’re Still Holding on to That? (the “missing” Wednesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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NOTE: Randomly, coincidentally, or not, two people named Buckley created pieces entitled “The Things That Keep Us Here.” I’ve never read Carla Buckley’s novel, but I’ve used Scott Buckley’s haunting composition on more than one occasion. It is part of his Monomyth album and includes a description that also seems to fit the synopsis of the novel, “Family. Duty. The things that keep us grounded, what keep us from giving up on our hopes, but what also holds us back from stepping across the precipice into the unknown.”

As the High Holidays come to an end, I always find myself thinking about the things to which I cling even though they are no longer serving me – or never served me. I think about how the very “things that keep us grounded” and keep us from stepping into danger can also be the things that keep us from freely moving into our future.

The following reflection was originally posted on September 27, 2020 and is related to the practice from Wednesday, September 15, 2021. Some links have been added/updated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 2.39: aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāasambodhah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tehillim – Psalms (27:13-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can request an audio recording of the Wednesday 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.]

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

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

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

Perfecting Your Pace (a Monday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, New Year, Philosophy, Rosh Hashanah, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Monday, September 13th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Stay To change the past, there is no need to travel in a time machine. Everything can be done by remote control.

Here’s how it works: From beyond the continuum of time, its Creator looks at where your spaceship is heading right now. From that point, He creates all its trajectory—through the future and through the past.

Switch the direction your past is sending you. Soon enough, it becomes a different past.”

– quoted from “Maamar Padah B’Shalom 5738” (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

There was a time, years ago, when my class theme on September 13th revolved around a writer who often employed a “time slip,” which is a plot device whereby a character (or a group of characters) time travel without knowing how or why they suddenly end up in a different time. They could go back in time or they could go forward, but when it’s a true time slip, they don’t have the intention of time traveling. It’s just something that happens. And, since they are not intentionally and deliberately going to a particular time in history, a lot of what the characters do, at least initially, is observe what’s happening.

If they go back, they have a moment of remembering how they got where they were. If they go forward, it can be mind blowing to see what’s changed. This is always interesting to me in the context of a new year, because if we were to suddenly and inexplicably found ourselves at this time next year, we might find that our goals and desires have been achieved without us doing any work (or without us experiencing the work that was done).That might sound good sometimes; but, by the same token, we could find that the world has changed, but (because we weren’t around to do the work) it might have changed in a way that is not to our liking. We might even realize, vis-à-vis our knowledge of cause and effect, that we were going in the wrong direction all along.

Granted, we don’t always need hindsight to identify a “wrong” path. We can use foresight, and envision or preview the path and even the obstacles we might find along the way. Remember, previewing (or reviewing) the course before you get started is one of the keys to pacing yourself. Knowing how long the journey will take is another tip related to Sunday’s practice and the idea of pacing yourself. Granted, in life, we don’t always know how long something will take to achieve or experience, but we still have an internal clock and can remind ourselves that we may not do things at the same pace (or timetable) as those around us.

“Before you were formed in the womb, your days were numbered and set in place. They are the chapters of the lessons you came here to learn, the faces of the wisdom this world has to teach you, the gateways to the treasures this lifetime alone can bestow.

A day enters, opens its doors, tells its story, and then returns above, never to visit again. Never—for no two days of your life will share the same wisdom.”

– quoted from Hayom Yom, 17 Cheshvan; Naso 5837:6 (From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman)

I mention the internal clock because a big aspect of pacing yourself is what’s happening on the inside, beneath the surface. You all know I love to share stories and I especially love to tell stories during the High Holidays. One of my favorite stories I like to tell this time of year is an old story. It’s one you’ve probably heard before. In fact, knowing how popular this story is, I am actually surprised that I was well into my adulthood before I heard it. I’m not surprised, however, that the first time I heard the story it was in the context of Rosh Hashanah. I add a little flourish here and there (because “no two days of your life will share the same wisdom – even when they share the same story), but I basically tell the story like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pace at which the bamboo tree grows may seem painstakingly slow and the famer’s efforts may seem particularly arduous – especially when one’s focus is on the surface where nothing seems to be happening. The thing to remember, however, is that before the tree can shoot up, seemingly overnight, and reach the height of a building, it has to establish the root system that will support that growth. If the tree grows before the root system, there’s nothing to hold the tree up and nothing to nourish the tree. The same is true of each and every one of us. If we were to find ourselves in a time slip, we could wake up on the day after we had achieved our wildest dreams and loftiest desires, but we might not be prepared to enjoy and/or appreciate the experience. We also might not be qualified to handle the experience.

“Imposter syndrome,” the fear that people will discover someone is not qualified to do their job, is a common struggle these days. When you’re not the one with the fear it can seem demented that someone fears being seen as not capable of doing the very job they are doing – or are being promoted to do. But I think it’s very human. In fact, I think it’s similar to the feeling many people have about becoming a parent. The biggest difference, maybe, is that when it comes to parenthood, people are often told (a) that nobody’s really ready until it happens and (b) that, as Dr. Benjamin Spock said, we know more than we think we do. Consider how much less stressful life would be if we kept getting that parenting advice in all other areas of life.

“Krishna continues the dialogue: ‘The person who works in the world without needing or expecting a reward is both a sanyasi (true renunciate) and karma-yogi (action yogi). But the person who merely refrains from acting in the world is neither of these. You cannot just discard worldly duties, but must do them to the utmost extent of your human capacity for excellence.

‘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.’”

– quoted from 6.1-2 of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

“‘Through regular practice (abhyasa) you can draw the mind away from worldly attractions and back into the Atma. As it becomes more interior it becomes calmer. Relentless inquiry into the Self (vichara) leads to knowledge of Atma, the True Self Within. Non-attachment (vairagya) results from self-inquiry and discrimination (buddhi). When you actively turn your thoughts to all the bad consequences of the desires as they arise in you, the passion for them gradually dries up. As your passion diminishes, your mind comes under control. Firm, dedicated faith (sraddha) brings you the raw force of determination, will. All four methods are subsidiaries of the practice of meditation.’”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.35) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

There are some things we spend our whole lives preparing to do and there are some things we don’t realize we are prepared to do until we are called to do them. In either case, what we are experiencing in the present moment – and our understanding of the moment – is based on all the previous moments (and our understanding of those moments). Life is progressive.

In yoga, vinyāsa krama is “step by step progression towards a goal.” It is sometimes translated as “wise progression.” Each step, each breath, prepares us for the next step, the next breath, and the next experience. Another way to look at it is that everything we do is preparation and practice for the next thing we do. This is why texts like Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita recommend abhyāsa (a consistent, dedicated and devoted practice) and vairāgya (non-attachment).

Even when we don’t see obvious changes on the outside, consistent practice and dedication creates change. Sometimes the change is physical and sometimes the change is mental, emotional, or spiritual. But if there is change on the outside, there’s change on the inside. In fact, more often than not the first change happened on the inside and we were too busy look outward to notice it. Being (too) attached to what’s happening on the outside often prevents us from seeing the changes that make a difference – which can, in turn, become an obstacle in our path. That’s why I always suggest turning inward and going deeper. That’s why I always encourage paying attention to what’s happening underneath the surface.

That’s why I’m all about the little things and how they become the big things.

*Check out last year’s post related to resilience, love, and the giant bamboo (featuring a video of Les Brown’s version of the story).

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

### PLANT A “SEED” ###

It’s The Little Things, again (mostly the music) September 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

” Don’t become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin.”

 

– Dr. Ivan Pavlov (originally born September 14, 1849)

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 14th) 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.

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.)

 

### HOW DO YOU RESPOND? ###

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

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

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

Speaking of marathons…

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

phidippides

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

 
 

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

Fire Thread (mostly the music w/ links) August 22, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Music, Philosophy, Vairagya.
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“I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.

 

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, ‘Live forever.’ And I decided to.”

 

– Ray Bradbury (b. 8/22/1920)

 

“Almost every book I’ve ever read has left its mark.”

 

– Annie Proulx (b. 8/22/1935)

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

Sunday’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.)

 

Click here for a blog post related to last year’s practice on this date or click here to see how one of today’s writer’s is related to Chaos.

 

 

 

### Do you see the threads? ###

Just a note… August 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Poetry, Wisdom, Yoga.
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As previously announced, I cancelled today’s class and will “re-zoom” the regular schedule tomorrow. If you are on my Sunday mailing list I sent you a previously recorded practice. If you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing!

“We count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o’er their silent sister’s breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:—
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!”

— quoted from the poem “The Voiceless” by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (b. 08/29/1809)

A couple of days ago, a friend was laughing as they told me about the scene playing out in front of them: people in a boat enjoying the feeling of having the wind at their back, without any thought to the effort their return trip would require (when they would be heading into the wind). A year ago today, I posted a bit of philosophy related to being caught in an eddy and I am struck by the synchronicity: It seems we are always in the middle of something and, since we can’t go back (not really, not truly), we must find a way to move forward. Of course, progress requires effort.

There are a lot of people, myself included sometimes, who get so caught up in the pros and cons (not to mention the worst case scenarios and hypotheticals) that we don’t ever leave the dock. We become like “the voiceless” in the poem, who go to our graves “with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.” I think that group also includes those who spend a lot of time thinking about what they woulda-coulda-shoulda done if they knew what they knew now. Then there are those who rush heedlessly and needlessly into dangerous waters without giving a care to the safety and well-being of themselves or the rest of their crew. They consider that really living!

There’s a possibility that Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. thought his son (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.) fell into this latter category when he left his senior year at Harvard University in order to enlist in the Union Army – and maybe he was. Personal politics and bad science aside, however, the story of father and son (as well as the weird, complicated story of their political, religious, and scientific beliefs) points to a third possibility: There are sailors who diligently gauge the conditions; dip a toe in the water; and make sure they are always prepared for what’s to come. To be like those sailors, we must prepare to win, even when the odds (and conditions) are stacked against us. 

“Wendell,” as some called Junior, survived the Civil War (despite seeing his cousin fall on the Confederate side and despite several near fatal experiences); possibly saved a sitting president; and went on to become Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a much lauded Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Despite his personal politics and bad science, he is one of the most-cited legal scholars and one can argue that our society is better off today because of his efforts. The fact that I (and possibly you) find some of his views absolutely abhorrent doesn’t change the fact that lawyers will continue to build on his precedents in order to establish a more perfect – and progressive – union. And, I’m not convinced he would have been bothered by that.

Bottom line: We don’t have to agree with anything he did and/or thought, but what we cannot argue is that he showed up when he could, prepared to do what he thought he could, and then he did it. That’s the lesson of the third category.

“Viewing life as a race or a contest – an occasion for functioning and nothing more – was a basic Holmesian theme. When Yale awarded Homes an honorary degree in 1886, he responded: ‘I never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation for a fierce half-hour that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? [Is there anyone who would not go through all it costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph – or even for the glory of having nobly lost?] . . . Is life less than a boat race?'”

“For Holmes, life was a horse race, a boat race, a trek to the North pole, a plunge over Niagara Falls, a duel with swords, and a neck-risking game of polo. It might even be a game of cards. ‘Why do I desire to win my game of solitaire? A foolish question, to which the only answer is that you are up against it. Accept the inevitable and do your damnedest.'”

– quoted from “Chapter Two, A Power-Focused Philosophy: A Noble Nihilism” (pages 21 and 23) of Law Without Values: The Life, Work and Legacy of Justice Holmes by Albert W. Alschuler

This is the second year in a row that I have needed to cancel class today, August the 15th – although for very different reasons. As stated above, if you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing! See what happens. If you are on my Sunday mailing list, I sent you a previously recorded practice that you can use during the time you have set aside – or during another convenient time. Feel free to email me or comment below if you want the recording and/or to be added to the Sunday list.

Sunday’s playlist (for the substitute practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04252020 Ella’s Shy & Fearless Day”]

Previous blog posts related to today’s practice are linked above.

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.)

### Om Lila Aum ###

The Roots of Your Story (the Wednesday post) August 12, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, August 11th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

 

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice. We can sit all night with our friend while he talks about the end of his marriage, and what we finally get is a collection of stories about passion, tenderness, misunderstanding, sorrow, money….”

 

– quoted from the essay “Marketing” in Part III of Broken Vessels: Essays by Andre Dubus

Maty Ezraty once said, “A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).” Life is a little different in that we meet each other in the middle of our stories and simultaneously progress forward and back (as we learn about each other’s back stories). However, regardless of the order in which we receive the information, take a moment to consider that our minds, bodies, and spirits are always telling us stories. The practice just happens to be a great way to process our stories. What remains to be seen, however, is if we paying attention.

Are we paying attention to our own stories? Are we paying attention to the stories of others? What happens when we “listen” to the sensation, which is the information that relates the story? What happens when, no matter how “woo-woo” it may seem, we trust our intuition and what comes up for us during the practice?

What happens when we dig down deep into the roots of the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell each other?

“There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me”

 

– quoted from the song “Telling Stories” by Tracy Chapman

 

“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.”

 

– Alex Haley

At the beginning of the practice, as we are getting into the first pose – no matter what pose it is – we spend a little time establishing the roots, the foundation, the seat, the āsana. Then we repeat that process, again and again, as we move through the practice. Sometimes, we establish a foundation that works for a whole sequence, which gives us a different understanding of the root system and how everything stacks up from the base, the seat, the āsana (which is the pose). Sometimes, when we come back to a pose, we may pause for a moment and consider what’s changed, what’s shifted, and whether the original foundation still serves us. Sometimes we may find that, like roots, we need to spread out a little. If we spread out a little, add a prop, and/or bring another part of our body to the floor or a prop, then we are adding to our āsana, our seat, our foundation, our roots.

Adding to our roots, sometimes allows us to go deeper into our stories. The deeper we go, the more stories we find. The more stories we find, the more stories we can share.

“My fondest hope is that Roots may start black, white, brown, red, yellow people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet tall.”

 

– Alex Haley (in a Playboy interview)

We may not always realize, but we are actually telling a multitude of stories any given time. There is the physical story of who we are and what we’re doing in this moment; which is also the story of what we’ve done in past moments and may tell a little bit about our future moments. Then consider the mental story – which is inextricably tied to the physical story – and the emotional story, which is also tied to the mind-body story. There’s also, sometimes, a symbolic story based on the stories and attributes associated with the poses. Finally, there is an energetic story.

Actually, I could say that there are energetic stories; because different cultures and sciences have different energetic mapping systems. Yoga and Āyurveda, as they come to us from India, include an energetic mapping system composed of nādis (energy “channels” or “rivers”), marma points or marmāni (“vital” or “vulnerable” points), and chakras (energy “wheels”). The chakras, which are the points where the three primary nādis overlap around the center of the body, correspond with certain parts of the body and certain parts of our lives. In other words, they correspond with certain parts of our stories.

It is not an accident that the parts of our bodies that serve as our primary support (feet, legs, pelvic floor area) are referred to in yoga as our “root chakra” and that it is associated with our foundation in life: our first family, our tribe, our community of birth. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we – literally, metaphorically, and energetically – move through the world. Going deeper into these physical roots can give us deeper insight into how we build our lives, how we support ourselves, and (even) how we support our relationships and dreams.

“When you start talking about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.”

 

Roots is not just a saga of my family. It is the symbolic saga of a people.”

 

– Alex Haley

I often point out that just as we can be genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can also be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Just as someone who is adopted can find it beneficial (but challenging) to discover their birth families medical history, many of us can find that it is beneficial – but challenging – to discover the history of our ancestors: where they came from, what languages they spoke, what food they ate, what experiences informed their society. When we are able to uncover those stories, we gain insight into our own lives.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone and their mother can take a DNA test and discover some information about their family history, their roots. Of course, there will still be some unknowns and, if there’s no paper trail, there may be a lot of unknowns. Go back fifty or sixty years, before such tests were readily available to the public, and most African Americans in the United States had little to no hope of knowing their families back stories. Sure, there were family legends and bits and pieces of folklore that had been verbally passed down, but one never really knew how much was fact and how much was fiction. Even if, as is the case in my family, people lived long lives and there were family cemeteries, the legacy of slavery created a multigenerational novel with several chapters ripped out.

Born in Ithaca, New York on August 11, 1921, Alex Haley wanted to recover the ripped out chapters of his family’s story. His father, Simon Alexander Haley, was a professor of agriculture at several southern universities whose parents had been born into slavery (after being fathered by their mother’s slave owners). His mother, Bertha George Haley (née Palmer), was also the descendant of slaves and often told him stories about their ancestors. As was expected by his family, young Alex started college, but then dropped out and joined the United States Coast Guard. It was during his 20 years in the Coast Guard, that Alex Haley started his career as a writer.

Alex Haley is remembered for works like the 1965 Autobiography of Malcolm X and his 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, as well as Queen: The Story of an American Family (which was completed by David Stevens after Mr. Haley’s death), but he started off by writing love letters on behalf of his fellow sailors. Eventually he wrote short stories and articles for American magazines and, after World War II, he transferred into journalism where he was designated petty officer first-class (in 1949). He earned at least a dozen awards and decorations and the position of Chief Journalist was reportedly created for him. It was a position he held (along with the designation of chief petty officer) until he retired (in 1959).

After he retired, Alex Haley continued to make a name for himself by conducting interviews for Playboy. He was known for interviewing the best and the brightest in the African American community. In addition to his interviews with Malcolm X (which became his first book), he interviewed Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., football legend Jim Brown, and even Quincy Jones – who would compose the music for the movies made out of Alex Haley’s books. He also interviewed famous people (who were not Black)  like Johnny Carson and notorious people (who were not Black) like the Neo-Nazi politician George Lincoln Rockwell and Malvin Belli, the attorney who defended Jack Ruby.

When he started tracing his own family roots, Alex Haley interviewed family members and even traveled to Gambia (in West Africa) to interview tribal historians. Of course, there were still holes in the story and whole (cough, cough) passages missing. So, Mr. Haley decided to braid together what he could verify and what he was told with what he could imagine. Since his life experience was so vastly different from that of his ancestors, he decided to book passage on a ship traveling from the West African coast of Liberia to America – and, in order to more fully experience “middle passage,” he slept in the hold of the ship wearing only his underwear. During the 10 years that it took him to complete the novel that he initially called Before This Anger, Alex Haley supported himself as a public speaker at universities, libraries, and historical societies.

Despite accusations of plagiarism, Mr. Haley’s finished product Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a bestselling novel that has been translated into almost 40 languages, received a Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1977, and was adapted into a 12-hour television miniseries that was one of the most watched television events in history. The book ignited an interest in genealogy (particularly for African Americans) and spawned a second mini-series, Roots: The Next Generations, as well as a second book, Queen: The Story of an American Family. Queen, about Alex Haley’s paternal grandmother – who was a mixed child born into slavery – was also made into a much anticipated mini-series. The 1993 series was so anticipated that while I barely remembered that Halle Berry starred as “Queen,” I distinctly remember driving on I-45 between Dallas and Houston on a Sunday night and stopping at a motel to because I didn’t want to miss the beginning of the series. I didn’t want to miss any part of the story that could have just as easily been my family’s story.

“Racism is taught in our society, it is not automatic. It is learned behavior toward persons with dissimilar physical characteristics.”

 

– Alex Haley

In some yoga practices, when we are on our backs with legs crossed, I might call the position “Eagle Legs” or “Garudāsana Legs.” However, in some styles and traditions, like in Yin Yoga, the same position would be called “Twisted Roots.” All of us, especially in America, have twisted roots – ways in which we may not realize we are connected, ways in which we may not realize our stories overlap. In the pose, the position of the legs engages the hips – what I often refer to as “the energetic centers of our relationships.” Our hips are energetically and symbolically associated with our second chakra, also known as our “sacral” (and “sacred”) chakra, and the relationships we make outside of our first family, tribe and community of birth. It is here that we, quite literally in Sanskrit, find our “[self] being established.” Again, it is no coincidence that the twisted roots in our lives engage – and bring awareness to – our connections to those we perceive as being different from us.

This is where we start to notice how our stories overlap.

On the surface, it might appear that Alex Haley and Andre Jules Dubus II have very little in common outside of a birthday, a nationality, and a profession. Mr. Dubus was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on August 11, 1936. While Alex Haley was the oldest child and traced his heritage to African Cherokee, Scottish, and Scottish-Irish ancestors, Andre Dubus II was the youngest born into a Cajun-Irish Catholic family. Literature and writing were emphasized throughout his school and it was only after he graduated from college – with a degree in journalism and English – that, like Mr. Haley, Mr. Dubus enlisted in the military. He served in the United States Marine Corps for six years, earned the designation of captain, and eventually earned an MFA in creative writing.

“Wanting to know absolutely what a story is about, and to be able to say it in a few sentences, is dangerous: it can lead to us wanting to possess a story as we possess a cup. We know the function of a cup, and we drink from it, wash it, put it on a shelf, and it remains a thing we own and can control, unless it slips from our hands into the control of gravity; or unless someone else breaks it, or uses it to give us poisoned tea. A story can always break into pieces while it sits inside a book on a shelf; and, decades after we have read it even twenty times, it can open us up, by cut or caress, to a new truth.”

 
― quoted from the essay “A Hemingway Story” in Meditations from a Movable Chair: Essays by Andre Dubus

Andre Dubus II spent most of his adult life teaching literature and creative writing, but also earned recognition for his short stories and novellas, as well as at least one novel. He was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, as well as several PEN Awards. His works include the 1979 short story “Killings,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards (with Sissy Spacek winning for “Best Actress – Drama”) and the novellas We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Adultery, which were combined and adapted into the movie We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He also wrote Broken Vessels: Essays; Dancing After Hour: Storiess; and Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays. Like Alex Haley, some of Mr. Dubus’s work appeared in Playboy. Additionally, both men were married three times (although Andre Dubus II had twice as many children*). While the works of both men include love and hope overcoming tragedy, challenges, and horrific hardships, the source of their tragedy, challenges, and hardships were very different.

Well, ok, this first part is similar: Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II was affected by the rape of a relative. In the latter case, it was one of his own daughters and his daughter’s experience left him traumatized. (Years later, he would hear and retell the story of his sister Kathryn’s rape.) He was plagued with fear and paranoia surrounding the safety of his loved ones. His anxiety was so acute that he carried guns with him so that he was prepared to defend his family and friends against any (perceived) threats. His decision to carry multiple guns wherever he went – combined with his fear and paranoia – almost resulted in a second tragedy when he nearly shot a drunk man who was arguing with his son.

(This next part is symbolically similar to an earlier story, because it involves places the writer had never been and tragedy that occurred when strangers were thrown together.)

Like Alex Haley, Andre Dubus II wanted to go to the places about which he was going to write. He wanted to put himself in the shoes and on the path of his characters. So, he drove to Boston to check out some bars. Driving home that night, Wednesday, July 23, 1986, along I-93  between Boston and his home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Mr. Dubus saw a couple of stranded motorists: a brother and a sister, Luis and Luz Santiago. None of them knew it at the time, but a motorcyclist had suffered a personal heartbreak, gotten drunk, crashed his bike, and then abandoned it in the middle of the road. Despite his anxiety, paranoia, and fear of strangers, it doesn’t appear that Mr. Dubus hesitated to help the Puerto Rican siblings in need. Neither does it appear that he hesitated (later) to help the drunk motorcyclist.

Tragically, after he stopped to help them move their car off of the highway, someone hit Andre Dubus II and the siblings. Luis Santiago died at the age of 23. Luz Santiago survived – because Andre Dubus II pushed her out of the way.  As for Mr. Dubus, his legs were crushed in a way that initially resulted in his left leg being amputated above the knee and eventually led to the him being unable to use his right leg.**

He attempted to use prosthetics, but infections regulated him to a wheelchair. His medical and physical therapy bills stacked up – as did his anxiety, which was now compounded by clinical depression. His community of fellow writers stepped in to help him financially, and even emotionally. A literary benefit sponsored by Ann Beattie, E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Gail Godwin, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Yates yielded $86,00. But, there was more heartbreak: his third wife left him, taking his youngest two daughters.

Still, he kept writing.

“Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first 10 years. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.”

 

– Andre Dubus II

Broken Vessels: Essays, which was Pulitzer Prize finalist, contains five sections; however, in a September 1991 review in The Baltimore Sun, Garret Condon indicates that the essays can be divided into two sections: before the accident and after. A similar division can be seen in the whole body of his work as he moved from short stories based on the struggles and victories of the characters he found around him to essays about his own struggles and victories. As Alex Haley did, Mr. Dubus found himself attempting to bridge the gap between what he knew, what he was told, and what he could imagine. Lights of the Long Night braids together the story the 1986 accident as Andre Dubus II remembered it with the memories of the doctor who saved his life and those of Luz Santiago (whose life Mr. Dubus saved). Dancing After Hours: Stories is a collection of short stories full of characters whose lives are marked by a tragic before-and-after. Then there is Meditations from a Moveable Chair: Essays which depicts Andre Dubus’s personal journey through the trauma, loss, disability, and healing.
 

“It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment.”

 

– quoted from the short story entitled “A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus

“What cracks had he left in their hearts? Did they love less now and settle for less in return, as they held onto parts of themselves they did not want to give and lose again? Or – and he wished this – did they love more fully because they had survived pain, so no longer feared it?”

 

– quoted from Dancing After Hours: Stories by Andre Dubus

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love of stories and storytelling as well as how Maty Ezraty’s perspective shapes my practice. Matthew Sanford is another teacher whose perspective on stories, storytelling, and the practice inspires the way I process through the practice. His story, like Andre Dubus’s story, overlaps life before and after a car accident that left him without mobility in his legs. In the introduction to his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions defined “healing stories” as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco, to help people get in touch with the stories they hold in their mind-bodies.

When I think about our “healing stories” – the stories we tell ourselves and each other – I think about how those stories serve us, how they help us live and love more fully. When I come across someone whose story is different from mine, I question what they take away from their story – and then I question what I take away from mine… especially when our stories overlap. I consider what either one of us knows (and can verify) and how those facts and/or recollections are braided together with what we have been told and what our brains have imagined to fill in the missing gaps. When I question in this way, I sometimes I walk away from a conversation or a meditation and think “That story should be a bestseller.” Other times… Other times I think, “That’s a first draft. It needs more information and a rewrite.”

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.
 

“In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

 

– Alex Haley

ERRATA: *To avoid confusion, I specifically did not mention the names of Andre Dubus II’s parents. However, despite my best efforts to not confuse the writer/father (Andre Jules Dubus II) with the writer/son (Andre Jules Dubus III), I misspoke during the 4:30 PM practice and attributed House of Sand and Fog to the wrong author. The novel was written by the son, Andre Jules Dubus III, and while author and book were awarded and nominated for several prestigious prizes, it was not listed for the Man Booker Prize, which was known as the Booker Prize for Fiction when the novel was published. ** Also (and this is strike three), after reviewing some pictures of Andre Dubus II, I realized that I mixed up his injuries. As indicated above, his left leg was the amputated leg. Please forgive the errors.
 

NOTE: The motorcyclist who got drunk and abandoned his motorcycle on the freeway in 1986 was not (physically) involved or injured in the subsequent accident. He was charged for leaving the scene of the accident and served at least a year. In interviews, Andre Dubus indicated that the man took responsibility for his action and that he (Dubus) spoke on his behalf during the sentencing. The man had gotten drunk after his wife abandoned him and their children – a story that overlaps Mr. Dubus’s own stories of marriage, infidelity, and bad coping mechanisms. While he was able to forgive the motorcyclist, because he took responsibility for his actions, Andre Dubus II was not so forgiving of the person driving the car that hit them. The driver was sober, but (according to Mr. Dubus) never made any attempt to contact him or (as far as he knew) Luz Santiago.

 
 

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