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Generally Coming Together (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 28th. 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.]

“Another classic definition of yoga is ‘to be one with the divine.’ It does not matter what name we use for the divine – God, Allah, Īśvara, or whatever – anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

 

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

If you take even the most rudimentary survey course on the Yoga Philosophy, you will learn that the Sanskrit word yoga means “union” (and you will probably learn that it comes from the root word for “to yoke”). Go a little deeper, however, and you will find a lot of different classical (as well as modern) interpretations of the word, including the idea that it is “to come together” or “to unite.” In our physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, there is often an emphasis on bringing the mind, body, and spirit together. The reality, however, is that there is already a mind-body-spirit connection. The practice is simply a way to recognize and reinforce the connection. And, just as we are individually connected in a variety of ways, we are collectively connected – we just need a way to recognize and reinforce those connections.

Dr. David DeSteno has a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group – a psychology lab that focuses on “ways to improve the human condition.” To be clear, the lab is not focused on technological hardware but on social behavior. As his bio states: “At the broadest level, his work examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue. Studying hypocrisy and compassion, pride and punishment, cheating and trust, his work continually reveals that human moral behavior is much more variable than most would predict.”

Recently, I came across a Wired article that was adapted from his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, in which he points out that in many areas of his (20 years worth of) research, psychologists and neuroscientists are simply (re)codifying systems that have existed for thousands of years in religions all over the world. The overlapping points –where east meets west; where ritual and tradition meet science and the scientific method; where faith meets reason – always fascinate me and also make me chuckle. I chuckle at the hubris that Dr. DeSteno identifies within himself (and other scientists), which relegates ritual and tradition to superstition and myth – forgetting that every old wives’ tale or story from the old country was a way for ancient civilizations to understand the university, just as “science” is the way the modern world understands the university. That same element of hubris is also why sometimes modern scientists forget that they don’t know everything.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the connection between faith and reason and by the way we human beings (sometimes) trust certain things when we experience them directly; trust things for which we have no other explanation than that it is; and at other times can only trust something that has been “scientifically proven.” In this case, “scientifically proven” means that it is quantified and also that the cause and effect can be duplicated. Of course, this makes me laugh, sardonically, because thousands of years of “evidence” is often thrown out as “anecdotal” because of who experienced it and how it was originally documented.

“But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Throughout the year I reference a lot of different rituals, customs, and traditions from a variety of different cultures, religions, and philosophies. I do this because I firmly believe that we human beings have more commonalities than differences. Some of those commonalities involve the ways in which we come together as spiritual communities and the power of those get-togethers. As I have mentioned before, there are certain times of year – often around the changing of the seasons – when everyone and their brother seems to be getting together for some communal ritual. These times are powerful in that they are steeped in faith; however, when you look at the Jewish community around this time of year, it becomes obvious that the power is in the faith as well as in the coming together – the yoga, as it were – of the community.

For instance, there are some devout Jews who will begin preparing for the New Year 40 days before Yom Kippur. Then there are people who only come to services during the High Holidays, the “Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement.” This latter group includes people who identify as culturally and/or ethnically Jewish. Then, just a few days later, people celebrate Sukkot – and now the coming together includes, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, people who are not Jewish in any way, shape, or form. Power is increasing, as is knowledge – which is also power.

“The Talmud tells us that one of the things that is in constant need of “bolstering” and improvement is Torah study. Thus, we say “Chazak” to strengthen ourselves in Torah study.

 

It’s crucial to review the Torah we’ve learned so as not to forget it. This is why, after finishing a portion of the Talmud, we say “Hadran alach,” “I will return to you.” Similarly, when we finish a book of Torah, we say “Chazak,” in other words, “We should have the strength to review what we learned.”

 

Likewise, when a person does a mitzvah, we say “Yasher koach” (“More power to you”), meaning, “Just as you did this mitzvah, may it be G‑d’s will that you do many more mitzvahs!”

 

– quoted from “Why Say ‘Chazak’ Afer Finishing a Book of Torah?” by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin (posted on  chabad.org)

When I explain Sukkot to my yoga community, I specifically mention that it takes place over seven days (as explicitly stated in Devarim – Deuteronomy 16:15) and is celebrated over eight days in the diaspora. The extra day is actually “a second day festival” which, when observed, applies to all major holidays. For the Jewish diaspora (i.e., the community residing outside of Israel), a “second festival day” was established about 2,000 years ago to reconcile the fact that a new month started with the sighting of the new moon at the Temple in Jerusalem and then that sighting had to be communicated to the world at large. In addition to building in travel time (since this was before telecommunication and the internet), religious leaders took into account the fact that messengers may not arrive (in an appropriate period of time or at all). People within the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are primarily the only people within the diaspora who still observe this second day, but the timeline can get a little confusing when holidays overlap.

 

While I often reference the extra day when it comes to Sukkot, I haven’t always mentioned that for some (excluding the diaspora) the eighth day is its own separate celebration: Shemini Atzeret, literally “The Eighth [day] of Assembly.” Furthermore, this eighth day has its own rituals, traditions, and prayers – specifically, the prayer for rain and the prayer to remember departed souls. Traditionally, this is NOT a celebration for “[all] who live within your city.” It is immediately followed by Simchat Torah (or, for some, the second day of Shemini Atzeret), which is a celebration of an ending that is also a beginning.

As prescribed by the Talmud, the Torah – which consists of the “Five Books of Moses” – is read publicly over the course of the year and traditionally people are not meant to go more than three days without reading the Torah. The five books are divided up into 54 portions, known as Parshah (or Sidra), which are read weekly and accompanied by special blessings. Each week a special group of people are selected to read the designated portion during services. There are times when two portions are combined. The most notably combination occurs when the end of Devarim – Deuteronomy (33:1 – 34:12), known as V’Zot HaBerachach Parshah, is immediately followed by the reading of the first chapter of Bereishit – Genesis. This double reading occurs on Simchat Torah (or the second day of Shemini Atzeret). Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with/of the Torah” and services are traditionally filled with singing, spontaneous dancing, and more gratitude… which is more power.

“Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous…. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06162020 Abe’s House & Soweto”]

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

 

– Mother Teresa

 

If you are interested in more information about the work of Dr. David DeSteno, click here to check out the Wired article referenced above.

 

### Peace, Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, YOGA ###

 

 

It’s the Little Things, again (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Philosophy, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga, Yom Kippur.
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“Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those observing the Yom Kippur or celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 14th. 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.]

“The key to getting the most out of any experience is preparation before the event. You cannot expect to leap from the shower to the shul and instantly feel holy. It just doesn’t work that way.”

– quoted from “Preparing for Rosh Hashana: The secret to an inspiring new year” by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Just as you can’t jump up off the coach and run a marathon, without some training, Rabbi Yaakov Salomon once pointed out that the desire for a deep spiritual connection requires some preparation. The means he mentioned included introspection, meditation, and prayer – all methods also mentioned in other traditions, including in Indian philosophies like yoga. A lot of people, however, aren’t familiar with all 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy; they just know about the two limbs that form the postural practice: āsana and prāņāyāma. But, just practicing those two little things can take you deeper into the overall practice and help cultivate big connections.

In many ways, hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is all about little things and about bringing awareness to the little things. The way we sit or stand determines how we breathe; the way we breathe in different positions determines how we feel. When we bring our awareness to how we feel we can go deeper into the pose as well as into ourselves. It all starts with little things. Little things, like how we place our hands or engage our core, can make the difference between going deeper into a pose and deeper into ourselves versus getting injured. Although, sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from getting injured; but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday’s story was all about how using the practice to notice little things, can give us insight into why we think the way we think and do (and say) the things we do (and say) – on and off the mat. For instance, next time you’re on the mat, give yourself the opportunity to notice these “little things” – one at a time and then all together:

  1. Make sure your legs are in a position that’s comfortable for low back and arms in a position that’s comfortable for neck and shoulders.
  2. Breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out.
  3. Notice the “L” of your hands, especially when you have weight in your hands and arms. (In grade school you might have learned that one “L” on your forehead means loser, but if you put two “L”s together you have a shot at a goal; if you tip the ends out, you have a “W” – which means winner.)
  4. For a vinyāsa practice, match the movement to the breath. For all practices, notice the natural internal movement that happens as you breathe.
  5. Press your shoulders down and squeeze the tips of your shoulder blades together. Notice how the engagement in the back body affects the front of the body.
  6. Engage the inside (starting at your feet and engage your core by squeezing into your midline).
  7. Focus on something that’s not moving so that your mind-body stays present. Remember, where your eyes go, your mind goes; where your mind goes, your body goes – especially in a balancing pose.
  8. SMILE!
  9. Notice what happens when you put it all together.
  10. Change your perspective and look at things in a slightly different way. (If you are working on a peak and/or advanced pose, practice a pose that looks and feels similar and, therefore, may require similar engagement.)
  11. Don’t panic! Be present and trust your practice in this moment.

Tuesday’s practice also featured this personal story from Rabbi Yaakov Salomon. It’s a story about little things and is a great reminder that while we may not always notice the little things until they become the big things, the little things matter. In fact, every little thing we feel, think, say, and do is the possibility of a big thing we’re in the habit of feeling, thinking, saying, or doing.

The following was originally posted on September 14, 2020. The playlist links have been added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

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

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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? ###

The Practice of Observing Where You Are (and keeping notes) August 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted August 10, 2020. I’ve added some links and class details have been updated.

“Every man is a valuable member of society, who by his observations, researches, and experiments, procures knowledge for men.”

 

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Insight, which can be viewed as “seeing something in a special way,” can be cultivated through observation. If you think about it in this way, then any knowledge and insight you can for yourself can also be useful to others. This is true when we observe anything in the world – including ourselves.

So, pick something. It could be your breath, it could be a certain way you’re feeling, it could be a sensation in or on your body, it could be a thought (or a series of thoughts) playing around your head, but pick one thing and then observe it. Observe it as you do “that 90-second thing.” Observe it as you walk on your way or move through your practice. Notice how things shift and change.

Of course, just the fact that you are bringing awareness to the something changes it and changes the way you move in relation to it. What if, however, you bring your awareness to your center? What if you observe how you move in relation to your center and then after a pose or a sequence of poses, you pause and observe the “something” that you picked at the beginning? This becomes a practice about cause and effect, and also a practice about orientation. The only question is: Where’s your center?

When you consider moving from you center, you have several from which you can choose. You can pick your physical center (top to bottom) which is your solar plexus, or your left to right physical center which is your spinal column. Alternately you could pick one of your energetic centers: heart chakra or the center axis defined in various traditions (which essentially corresponds to the area of your spine). Here we are consciously choosing a navigation point, but consider that even when we don’t consciously choose a center for observation or movement, these centers still serve as guiding points, constant lines of reference. When you pick one as your focus it becomes prime – and, just like a cornerstone, it gives you direction.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

The cornerstone for the Royal Observatory, Greenwich was laid today (August 10th) in 1675. It is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (0:00:00) and the Prime Meridian Line which is the primary constant running East and West and the globe. King Charles II established the observatory as well as the position of the Astronomer Royal who the king declared was “to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.”

The observatory has been used throughout its history as a basis for the measurement of timekeeping and mapping. At one time, the Prime Meridian was marked by a metal strip (of various materials), but has been marked with a green laser shining north across London since December 16, 1999. The first Astronomer Royal was John Flamsteed, whose observations and calculations where communicated to scientists like Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually used comet observations and calculations of Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (who succeeded Flamsteed as Royal Astronomer) in order to prove certain theories in Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Although we may think of the Prime Meridian as 0⁰ 00’00, it is actually slightly East of center (0⁰ 00’00.417), which requires an adjustment on other lines of navigation in order to provide accurate geographical coordination. Discrepancies aside, even the original line would have been incredibly helpful to Ferdinand Magellan, who set sail today (August 10th) in 1519, with the intention of circumnavigating the globe. Magellan named the Pacific Ocean “peaceful sea” – even though it wasn’t peaceful or a sea – and the Strait of Magellan is named for him, as he used it to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. After three years, a mutiny, a ship wreck, a ship defection, and a change of course for one ship, one of Magellan’s original ships completed the journey around the world. That ship, the Victoria, contained 18 of the original 270 seamen. Magellan, however, was not included in that number who completed the journey.  He was killed in the Philippines (by a poisoned arrow) after involving himself in an indigenous land dispute.

“The profession of astronomy is limited for men, and must necessarily, under the most favourable circumstances, be still more so for women. At the present time there are less than half a dozen women in England who are following astronomy as a profession, and it is improbable that there will ever be employment for more than twenty, either at Greenwich or elsewhere.”

 

– Isabella Jane Clemes, one of four “Lady Computers” who started working at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890*

As you are navigating through your practice, you have the opportunity to explore your body and mind, as well as keep a catalog of all you encounter. In this way, your body and mind are like the Smithsonian Institution, which houses an observatory, 4 research centers, a publishing house, a national library, 16 museums, and the National Zoo. It is the largest museum, education, and research complex and it was established legislation the United States Congress passed today (August 10th) in 1846.

James Smithson was a British scientist who spent his life traveling and gathering information. He never married and indicated that if his nephew and heir died childless then Smithson’s estate should be used to establish an institution for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

At the Smithsonian, you can find thousands of items related to nautical and astronomical observation, time keeping, and Magellan – including a number of navigation devices named for Magellan. Consider, for a moment, what you will find when you explore your own mind-body. Consider, also, how what you find increases your knowledge about yourself (and maybe the world).

“… it is in knowledge that man has found his greatness and his happiness, the high superiority which he holds over the other animals who inherit the earth with him, and, consequently, no ignorance is probably without loss to him, no error without evil, and that it is therefore preferable to urge unwarranted doubts, which can only occasion additional light to become elicited, then to risk by silence letting a question settle to fest, while any unsupported assumptions are involved in it.”

 

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 10th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”]

NOTE: This is a 2-for-1 playlist. You can start with Track #1 or Track #14.

 
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.)

 

*NOTE: Isabella Jane Clemes, Alice Everett, Edith Mary Rix, and Harriet Maud Furniss all started working as “Lady Computers” at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890. They were joined by Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) and others in 1891. According to a study published in 2010, 667 women attended  the International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in August 2009 – indicating that worldwide there were well over fifty-five times as many women in astronomy than Clemes ever imagined.

 
 

### WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU? ###

More Than 46664 (the “missing” Sunday post, with a reference to Monday’s practice) July 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Eid al-Adha Mubarak!” “Blessed Eid!” to those who are observing. May your faith and love bring peace.

[This is a “missing” post related to Sunday, July 18th – with a reference to the practice on Monday, July 19th. 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.]

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

– Pema Chödrön

Last week, as I started talking about Ani Pema Chödrön’s teachings on shenpa, I started thinking about vibration. Remember that shenpa can be translated as hook, urge, impulse, charge, or attachment. It is simultaneously a feeling, a thought, and the impetus to do something. It is vedanā – and this is why I’ve been thinking about vibration.

Vedanā is a Sanskrit word that has many different English translations. Without any subtext or cultural context (which is actually quite interesting), it can be translated as “sensation” or “feeling.” However, in Buddhist traditions it is also translated as “pain.” One ancient text even points out that we are sensational beings in that “Feeling accompanies every citta [mind-stuff], there is no moment without feeling.” When the word appears in ancient yoga texts, it has been translated into English as “divine [or transcendental] touch,” “supernatural touch,” and “sensation springing from contact of the six senses of the world.” When I first learned of the word, it was translated as “sensation,” “feeling,” or “vibration.”

I know, I know; that’s a lot of different meanings. While we may have different feelings or understandings of the English words, the common thread between the different translations is that they all refer to embodied experiences that simultaneously arise with thoughts (and thoughts that simultaneously arise with embodied experiences). When we get down to the nitty-gritty, they also all refer to things that create a reaction in the mind-body. In other words, vedanā is a physiological, mental, and emotional reaction to something – or, more specifically, to everything.

In the yoga philosophy and other Indian philosophies, vedanā may manifest in 108 different ways. The 108 is achieved by the equation 2x6x3x3, which breaks down as follows:

  • 2 methods of perception (We experience things mentally or physically.)
  • 6 senses (We collect information via the senses of scent, taste, sight, touch, sound, and mind.)
  • 3 attitudes (We experience everything as positive, negative, or neutral.)
  • 3 tenses (We experience things as part of our past, present, or future.)

Keep in mind that our thoughts can be afflicted or not afflicted (klişțāklişțāh) – or, if you think of it in the psychological sense: dysfunctional or functional. Therefore, our perception and/or feelings about something can be magnified by our thoughts and our thoughts can be magnified by our perceptions and/or feelings.

I know, I know; it can get a little chicken-or-the-egg and. To be honest, though, the practice isn’t really about identifying the ultimate source of a particular sensation or vibration – because we already know the (ultimate) source. The real practice begins by recognizing sensation, thoughts/feelings, and vibrations as they arise and then bringing awareness to how we react to what’s arising. As we move through our practice – on or off the mat or cushion – we also have the opportunity to notice that because our mind-body reacts and responds to vibration, we can change our mood, demeanor, and even our thoughts by changing the vibrations or sensations within us and around us.

“Our emotional energy converts into biological matter through a very highly complex process.  Just as radio stations operate according to specific energy wavelengths, each organ in the body is calibrated to absorb and process specific emotional and psychological energies.  That is, each area of the body transmits energy on a specific, detailed frequency and when we are healthy, all are ‘in tune.’ An area of the body that is not transmitting at its normal frequency indicates the location of a problem. A change in intensity of the frequency indicates a change in the nature and seriousness of the illness and reveals the stress pattern that has contributed to the development of the illness.”

– quoted from “Chapter 1 – Energy Medicine and Intuition: Reading the Field” in Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss, Ph.D.

We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we move our bodies and “get our juices flowing.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we decide we don’t want to be around someone’s “negative energy” or we do want to be around someone because “they’re so positive.” We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we find a quiet spot to be still – maybe to meditate, maybe to pray. We can, and do, change the vibrations around and within us when we play music, “sweet music.”

There have been lots of studies around the vibrational effects of sound and the benefits of music therapy. There are even on-going debates about frequencies and which ones are best for optimal health versus which ones are best to incite a riot. There’s even Nada Yoga – union achieved through sound – which is a practice that predates Western research. Mantra, kirtan, and spiritual chanting from a variety of cultures and religious communities all utilize sound as a way to connect to a higher power – and, in doing so, change the physical-mental experience of the person engaged in the practice. Even if we do not engage in the aforementioned spiritual and/or religious, we have experienced the power of music. So, recently, when thinking about things that get us hooked and unhooked, I started thinking about music.

“Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice. Such is the value of music.”

 

– Nelson Mandela speaking to musicians at a Freedom Day concert in London

As I mentioned last year, Nelson Mandela (born July 18, 1918) lived more than four lives in one lifetime. While his overall fortitude was inspirational, it is interesting to note that one of the things that inspired him and kept him going, especially in prison, was music. Apparently, he was such a fan of music that people spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out his favorite songs and his favorite musicians. While the award-winning South African journalist Charl Blignaut reported, in 2013, that “Mandela didn’t want to show favouritism[,]” Madiba clearly had eclectic taste ranging from classical music to rock and jazz music, to fusion music and “the traditional Xhosa songs he heard as he was growing up.”

In 1984, the British 2 Tone and ska band The Specials (also known as “The Special AKA”) released the song “Free Nelson Mandela,” which peaked at number 9 on UK Singles chart, number 1 on the New Zealand chart, and became a popular anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The song was re-recorded in 1988 and immediately made its way back on the charts – as it did again in 2013. Similar to Stevie Wonder’s 1980 gold-certified “Happy Birthday” – which got people rallied around the idea that there should be a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Free Nelson Mandela” was a catchy, highly danceable tune that felt more like a celebration than a protest. Both songs raised awareness and created movement that energized and heightened the power of preexisting movements.

Even though a holiday had been proposed in the U. S. soon after King’s death in 1968, and even though it came up again and again over the years, within two years of the song’s release (and a petition driven by the song) President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law that created a federal holiday. While it took longer than a couple of years for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison and more than a couple of years before apartheid ended in South Africa, it only took a few weeks for it to be a regular part of dance parties at Oxford and rallies in places like Germany.

The success of “Free Nelson Mandela” inspired the creation of other songs. In 1987, Hugh Masekela released “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela), another up tempo song. That same year, the racially integrated (and multi-culturally inspired) band Savuka released Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga (Mandela)” – which was a bit of an elegy that honored several anti-apartheid activists. Both songs were taken up as rallying cries by activists, but Mr. Masekela’s song – with its imagery of Nelson Mandela “walking down the streets of South Africa” without a walk zone or a war zone – was banned by the South African government until the end of apartheid.

While he was in prison, the future president of South Africa often smuggled out messages of appreciation to people like Hugh Masekela. Once he was released, Nelson Mandela had the opportunity to publicly dance to the songs that had inspired him and the world. Think, for a moment, how that must have felt for him – and for the musicians, not mention all the people witnessing that exchange of sensation.

I can’t help but wonder if Nelson Mandela imagined those moments – conjured up the sensations of those moments – before he was freed. I wonder if he sat in prison and imagined himself drinking a little something associated with celebrations, and rites of passages (like a young man’s home-coming) while he listened to one of his favorite musicians sing about that “magic beer.” Can you imagine what that would feel like?

Can you imagine how such feelings could keep a person going in the middle of hardship?

“During apartheid, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela once summoned Yvonne Chaka Chaka to her Soweto home to deliver a note and a message from her husband in prison on Robben Island.

‘It was just a note to say “your music keeps us, your fathers, alive in jail”,’ the Princess of Africa told me earlier this year. I asked her if Madiba ever told her what song of hers he enjoyed most.

‘Umqombothi,’ she replied. It remains her most popular track.”

– quoted from the 12 Dec 2013 City Press article, “Who was Mandela’s favourite singer?” by Charl Blignaut

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“As they have dared, so shall I dare. Dare to tell the truth, as I have pledged to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. My duty is to speak out; I do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty. My nights would otherwise be haunted by the spectre of the innocent man, far away, suffering the most horrible of tortures for a crime he did not commit.”

– quoted from the January 13, 1898 L’Aurore essay, “J’Accuse” by Emile Zola (who fled France on July 19, 1898)

You can read more about Nelson Mandela, from a philosophical perspective, in last year’s post. You could also check out the post from July 19, 2020 and consider what music would keep you centered, grounded, and focused if you were accused of something quite horrible.

### WHAT ARE YOU FEELING – & HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL? ###

The Center of the Puzzle (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Kundalini, Life, Mathematics, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, July 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“How is life like a puzzle? Or not like a puzzle?”

 

 

– quoted from the beginning of the practices on May 19th and July 13th

 

If we really think about it, it is not just our lives that are like puzzles. Our practice, our mind-body, even our relationships are like puzzles. There are all these different shaped pieces that sometimes fit together and sometimes don’t fit together. There are all these pieces that look like they could fit together, but don’t actually fit. Then there are all those little clues – like hard edges and different color schemes or patterns – that indicate what fits and what doesn’t fit.

When you are solving a puzzle (especially if it has a lot of pieces and/or it has an intricate design), it’s always helpful to have a picture of the finished product. It’s also nice to know that you have all the pieces (or, at the very least, that you know what pieces you have and which pieces are missing). In this way, our physical bodies – and, therefore, our physical practice of yoga are very much like a puzzle. We know the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone; the shin bone is connected to the knee bone; the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the hip bone is connected to the back bone; and that this construction is duplicated in the upper body. We also know that the muscles, nerves, tendons, and other connecting tissues fit together (and work together) in certain ways.

For instance, we know that the hamstrings and quadriceps work together to extend and flex the knee when we walk. We also know that if one leg is shorter (or stronger) than the other that that difference will affect the way we walk and will affect other parts of our bodies – even parts we don’t automatically recognize as being connected. The same is true if we are missing all or part of one leg or if all or part of one leg isn’t mobile. Even if you consider yourself “able-bodied,” you have probably had an injury that affected your mobility – or maybe you went hiking and messed up your shoe in a way that affected your gait. Or, maybe, you just got a rock in your shoe. Either way, take a moment to think back and consider how the change in one area affected all your other areas as you moved.

“The Cube is an imitation of life itself – or even an improvement on life.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

When it comes to our physical practice of yoga, our sequencing considers how the mind-body is mentally and physically connected and we also consider the energetic aspects of how we are connected. By building each āsana (“seat” or pose) from the ground up, we are able to ensure maximum amount of stability so that we can stretch and/or strengthen with intention and integrity. Similarly, we build the sequence from the ground up so that the mind-body is prepared to do each subsequent set of āsanas. This awareness of how things are connected is particularly important when we are practicing vinyāsa and/or implementing vinyāsa karma in order to achieve a “peak pose.”

While vinyāsa is often translated into English as “flow,” it literally means “to place in a special way.” Classically speaking, the poses are placed so that we exaggerate the body’s natural tendencies and, therefore, engage natural movement (even when moving in a way we might not normally move off the mat). When we forget the intention behind the movement we may find ourselves moving in a way that is counterintuitive and contraindicated by our basic anatomy and the fundamentals of kinesiology. Moving “in a way that is counterintuitive” can be subjective and is not always a bad thing. We definitely learn and grow when we play around with different types of movement. Also, while doing the same practice over and over again can be a great way to gauge progress and master a certain skill, getting “outside of the box” can also highlight bad habits that we’ve been “practicing.” Ultimately, one should always listen to the teacher within and consider if they are really ready to do certain things – especially since, not being mentally ready to do something can be just as dangerous as not being physically ready to do something.

On the flip side, movement that is contraindicated may not always be obvious – especially if we move fast enough and use momentum, rather than alignment and breath, to “muscle” into a pose. However, moving too much and too fast often results in injury. This can be a problem with some “flow” (or even “vinyasa”) practices that are not alignment and breath-based. Remember, just because we can do something (if we do it fast enough and with enough muscular force), doesn’t mean we it’s a good idea. Ideally, a practice works its way towards a “peak.” Maybe that peak is Śavāsana and a deep-seated meditation or maybe it’s a “peak pose” – i.e., something that a random person couldn’t walk into a room and do without being warmed up. Either way, this is where vinyāsa karma comes in handy. Vinyāsa karma literally means “to place the step in a special way.” In other words, it is a step by step progression towards a goal and it is a practice that can be utilized even in sequences where there is no “flow.”

Naturally, we can come at the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) from a purely physical viewpoint and sequence accordingly. However, the system of yoga includes a mental and subtle body awareness which can also be accessed and harnessed through the poses and movement. Kundalini, Tantra, and Svaroopa are some of the yoga systems that specifically engage the energetic and subtle body through the practice of āsana; however, there can be tantric elements in any yoga practice that considers the way the mind-body-spirit is “woven” together. For instance, when I mention how the energy of our “first family, tribe, and community of birth” contributes to how we cultivate friendships with people we may perceive as “Other,” that is an element of tantra. When we warm up the core in order to have more stability in balancing poses, that is an element of tantra. When we open up the body in order to loosen up areas that may be holding stagnant energy, that also is an element of tantra. Notice, (especially as it relates to the last example) that any of these examples can happen outside of a “vinyasa” practice. Notice, also, that there is no reference to balancing the different types of energy associated the difference sides of the body… although, that too is tantra.

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.”

 

– Ernö Rubik

So, you can see how our mind-bodies and, therefore our practice, are like puzzles – like a giant Rubik’s Cubes. On a certain level, however, our lives – and relationships – are different from a physical puzzle; because we don’t start with a picture of the finished product and we don’t know if we have all the pieces. Let’s be honest, we don’t even know if all the pieces we have are for a single puzzle. Despite these differences, we can take a page from the life of the creator of one of the most popular toys of the 80’s: we can visualize the picture we want; see what fits and what doesn’t fit; be open to the possibilities that are around us and inside of us; and use the tools at hand.

Born in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary on July 13, 1944, Ernö Rubik started off as an architect and architect professor. He studied at the Secondary School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (where he joined the architecture faculty), and the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design, also known as the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (where was a member of the Faculty of Interior Architecture and Design). As a professor, he wanted to build a three dimensional model he could use to help his architecture students develop spatial awareness and solve design problems. He started off with 27 wooden blocks, which would have worked great if he just wanted a static three dimensional model. But, Rubik wanted something he could easily move into a variety of shapes. That was his vision.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that this particular creator didn’t just have a background in architecture (with an emphasis on sculpture). He was also the son of two parents who were themselves creators: his father being a world-renowned engineer of gliders and his mother being a poet. Although, Rubik is quick to credit his father as one of his inspirations, it’s best not to ignore the fact that he grew up watching both of his parents creating things that delighted others.

So, he had a vision and he had pieces to his “puzzle.” He even knew how everything fit together. He just didn’t know how everything would move together. Then one day, while walking on a cobblestone bridge in Budapest, he looked down and realized if the core of his model resembled the cobblestones he could twist and turn the pieces accordingly. Violá!

Ernö Rubik had the vision (a “picture” of the final product); the pieces and how they fit together; and he was open to different possibilities so that when (metaphorically speaking) he stumbled on the cobblestone, he recognized the opportunity. Finally, because of his father’s experience as an inventor, he knew how to apply for a patent and what was needed to take something to market. Even though he ran into a few problems along the way – after all, he was doing all of this under a communist regime – he eventually licensed his invention, the “Magic Cube” to the U. S. based Ideal Toys. Invented on May 19, 1974 and renamed “Rubik’s Cube” in 1979, the toy was introduced to the world in 1980. The toy was so popular that it led Ernö Rubik to create more three dimensional puzzles, including Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Snake, and Rubik’s 360.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

Even though all of Ernö Rubik’s puzzles can be viewed through a geometric and mathematical lens – and even though they mostly rely on the engagement of a central core – there are some differences between the puzzles. Rubik’s 360 requires a certain amount of manual dexterity that is not required to manipulate the other toys and Rubik’s Snake can be a bit like origami, in that the toy can be made into different shapes. But, perhaps the most puzzling of all is the original Rubik’s Magic.

The original Rubik’s Magic has eight interwoven black tiles with rainbow rings painted on the front and the back. In its “unsolved” (flat, rectangular) state, the front of the tiles show three rings side-by-side and the back of the tiles show pieces of three rings that will be interlocking when the puzzle is solved. The puzzle can be manipulated to make a ton of different shapes, like a star, a box, a bench, and even a toy chest. In fact, in the “solved” position, the rectangle becomes heart-shaped. The tiles fold and unfold horizontally and vertically, in tandem and individually – which means they flip into each other, over each other, twist, and can be rolled like a wheel. Later iterations of the puzzle featured images (like the Simpsons going to the beach, Harry Potter playing quidditch, and dinosaurs) that create a bit of a story.  

Take a moment to consider what happens if your life is like the images on a Rubik’s Magic. Yes, you might see your life as disconnected circles or you might see yourself as separate from the other people around you. Consider, however, what twists and turns, flips and rolls, get you connected. Or, more accurately, get you to recognize that you are already connected. If you see one side of you Magic as the image of how your life is at this moment, consider that the other side is the image of some goal, desire, or experience you’d like to achieve. The pieces are there, again, you just have to flip, twist, turn, and roll things so that you’re relaxing on the beach or grabbing the golden snitch.

Again, the pieces are already there; it’s all just a matter of “placing things in a special way.” When we look at our lives – or even other people’s lives (if you check out the link above) – through the energetic system of our practice, we start to develop more awareness about the puzzle. We even might start to realize that we are the center of the puzzle.

 

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”

                                                                                          

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

Tuesday’s  playlist available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel” playlist.] 

 

 

 

“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

 

### Only A Little Puzzling ###

 

 

A Strenuous, Deliberate “Photo” of You (the “missing” Monday post) July 14, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Men, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 12th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

– quoted from a journal entry dated August 5, 1851, as printed in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau: Journal, Walden Edition by Henry David Thoreau, compiled and edited by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn and Bradford Torrey

At the beginning of the Common Ground Meditation Center practices, before I start the recording, we do a little round robin of introductions that includes people’s names, pronouns, any requests they might have, and a prompt question (that people may or may not choose to answer). Even when the prompt question is, “How are you feeling today?” it is somehow (secretly) connected to the theme of the practice.

Sometimes, as I did this week, I ask a question that I couldn’t have asked 200 years ago; a question the answer to which would have been very different if asked 100 years ago or even 20 or 30 years ago. This week’s question: Are you a mental picture taker or an actual picture taker? The answer to that question has changed as photographic technology has, umm… developed.

Ten years ago, there was no Instagram. Twenty years ago there was no Facebook or YouTube. One hundred years ago, no one was going into the woods as Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817) did and posting selfies or videos of how they lived deliberately and sucked out all the marrow of life. Two hundred years ago, one of the leading film innovators, George Eastman wasn’t even born yet. (He was born July 12, 1854.)

Monday’s class was all about Thoreau and Eastman, but it was also about taking mental snapshots – of ourselves, our bodies, our circumstances, and even people and things around us. Our memories are far from perfect and, even when our senses are taking everything in, we are not always consciously aware of what we are observing/sensing. Photographs and videos can do a better job of preserving a moment, but they aren’t perfect either. Even with the right lighting, the right angle, and panoramic camera feature, these recordings are only capture a reflection of a moment – which is not the same as the moment.

Sure, a picture can show us something we had forgotten or something we didn’t observe/sense in the moment. However, there can also be optical illusions created by the lighting, the angle, and the camera’s mechanisms. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we are only given a moment in that moment.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

– quoted from “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

“What we do during our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are.”

– George Eastman

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mental picture kind of person. Yes, pictures of me, places that I’ve been, and the people with whom I spend my time exist. However, I’m more likely to soak up a moment, in the moment, than I am to take an actual picture of the moment. I’m more likely to remind myself to “remember this” even as I recognize that I’m already in the process of “forgetting this.” And, even when I take a picture, I rarely go back and look at it.

My tendency to eschew photos has not always been my personal trend. One of my maternal great-uncles was an avid photographer and when one of my brothers and I lived near him he was constantly taking us around the Washington, D. C. area and photographing us at area landmarks. These photos are amazing and look like the kinds of pictures you would find in an advertisement. In fact, for many years, those photos and the experience of those “photo shoots” had me considered modeling. I actually did some modeling in my preteens and early teens – you know, back when I was a kid and my height was not considered an obstacle. But, overall, I wasn’t (and still am not) a fan of candid shots or random selfies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love photographs… of other people (and landscapes). But, like a lot of people, I’m not overly fond of pictures of myself. They almost always seem to catch me with my eyes closed, a funny expression on my face, and/or they just don’t look like I think I look. As I highlighted in last year’s post, there’s a little history behind the science of film that relates to this. There’s also a little science, similar to the reason why very few people like to hear recordings of themselves, behind why people may not like the way they look in photos.

“We are repeatedly exposed to ideas in the media that support social norms and stereotypes. This can facilitate our own adoption of these ideas, which can sometimes be harmful. A 2008 study found that exposure to faces of an Asian ethnicity led participants to develop positive attitudes towards other Asian faces shown to them. This indicates that the amount and nature of exposure different ethnicities receive influences their popular perception in society. It is commonly understood that minority populations are shown less in western media, and are often shown in ways that support racial prejudice.”

– quoted from The Decision Lab’s “Why do we prefer things that we are familiar with? The Mere Exposure Effect, explained.”  

According to the “mere-exposure effect” (also known as the familiarity principle), people develop a preference for things with which they are most familiar. Psychologists have conducted studies about this phenomenon using words, Hanzi (Chinese characters), paintings, geometric figures, and even sounds (played for chicks before and after they hatched). Similar research has also been conducted with actual people and photographs of people. Time and time again, the research shows a preference for things with which we are familiar and a tendency to avoid things that are unfamiliar. The familiar brings “warmth,” a feeling of affection – even when we don’t recognize it as such. The unfamiliar brings confusion, sometimes fear and a strong desire to disassociate and/or avoid.

If you are thinking, “Wait, I look in the mirror and see myself every day. Wouldn’t the ‘mere-exposure effect’ support me liking pictures of myself?” As it turns out, the answer is no; because what you see in the mirror is not what you see in the photo. What we see in a picture is the version of us with which our friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances are familiar. But, it’s the reverse of what we see in the mirror. Remember, we are mostly asymmetrical and our reflection is not our true image.

So, looking at pictures of ourselves is akin to what happens when someone listening to a recording of us hears us, but we hear something completely different. With sound, we often talk about “air conduction” and how our own voice reaches our inner ear in a different manner than external voices – and, therefore, the vibration that reaches the brain is different. However, studies have shown that physiology is only part of the reason we don’t like our own voices when we hear a recording. The other part is psychological: familiarity. In fact, studies have shown that if we hear a recording of our voice mixed in with unknown voices, we are likely to express a preference for our own voice (even if we don’t automatically recognize it as ours).

“If you drive, you probably see yourself as a competent, considerate, skillful driver, especially compared with the morons and [others] you face on the road on a daily basis. If you are like the typical subject, you believe you are slightly more attractive than the average person, a bit smarter, a smidgen better at solving puzzles and figuring out riddles, a better listener, a cut above when it comes to leadership skills, in possession of paramount moral fiber, more interesting than the people passing you on the street, and on and on it goes.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Our voice and image are all tied to our sense of self and, on a certain level, our self esteem. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article by Madeleine A. Fugère Ph.D., one of the reasons we may not like our own pictures is because of self-enhancement bias, which is a psychological cocktail that results in people having a mental picture of themselves that is not 100% accurate. Self-enhancement bias is primarily a combination of “illusory superiority bias” (whereby we judge others harsher than we judge ourselves and view ourselves as special); the illusion of control (believing that we are more responsible for our successes than our failures); and “optimism bias” (the belief in the back of our minds that things will work out for the best).

Obviously, some people are more optimistic than others and – due to social and psychological conditioning – some people have more of each of these attributes than others. However, the bottom line is that, in the base case, a healthy human being believes they are slightly more attractive than others may find them. When we look in a mirror, we can move around and adjust things to engage our “confirmation bias.” But, there’s no changing a recording. Additionally, if we are already prone to disliking a picture – before it’s even taken – our “hindsight bias” kicks in along with our “confirmation bias.”

Of course, as Dr. Fugère points out, we can use these same psychological tendencies to become more familiar with images of ourselves. And, similar studies show that this also works with recordings. First, we can take and look at our pictures more often. Some people even suggest looking at older pictures of ourselves (which may actually fit our mental picture). Also, some research has shown that while other people may like regular pictures of us, we may prefer selfies. (Even though I didn’t come across evidence of this, it may be because the camera is flipped in reverse when we take our own picture.) Finally, the best pictures are, of course, the pictures we associate with a positive memory and emotional experience – and studies show that happy people are attractive people.

All of which contributes to why influencers may be inflating their self esteem – sometimes in a way that is healthy (but, sometimes in a way that becomes really unrealistic and, therefore, detrimental to themselves and their followers).

All of which also means that my tendency to avoid pictures, may not be serving me in every moment.

“A report in 2010 published in the British Journal of Social Psychology suggests that you even see yourself as more human than other people. The findings predict that no matter what country you come from, no matter your culture, if aliens chose you to represent the entire species as Earth’s ambassador, you would feel as though you could fulfill that role better than most. When asked, most people believed they exhibited the traits that make humans unique in the animal kingdom more than the average person. In 2010, UCLA researchers conducted a survey of more than 25,000 people ages 18 – 75 and found that the majority rated their own attractiveness as about a seven out of ten. This suggests that the average person thinks that he is better looking than the average person. About a third of the people under 30 rated themselves as somewhere around a nine. That sort of confidence is fun to think about considering that it is impossible for everyone to be better-looking than half the population.”

– quoted from You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

[You can find last year’s blog post on Thoreau and Eastman’s birthday in the bolded links above.]

MKR - All Rights Reserved

Back in the modeling days!

### “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth….” GE ###

The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself – a philosophical perspective (a “missing” post) July 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Monday, July 5th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“The liberating current brings us excitement, energy, and novelty, while the descending current brings us peace, grace, and stability. In order for either of these pathways to really be complete, all of the chakras need to be open and active. Liberation without limitation leaves us vague, scattered, and confused. We may have wonderful ideas and lots of knowledge, but we are unable to bring these fruits to any tangible completion. On the other hand, limitation without liberation is dull and stifling. We become caught in repetitive patterns, clinging to security and fearing change.”


– quoted from  “Chapter 1 – And the Wheel Turns: Liberation and Manifestation” of Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

Sometimes in yoga, I talk about the inhale literally being an “inspiration” (from the Latin, by way of Old French and Middle English) whereby we are filled with spirit. The exhale is, by the same logic (Latin by way of late Middle English), an “expiration” whereby something is literally expiring, returning to the source. Some of you have even heard me say, “Inhale down your spine, in the direction of the manifesting current; taking all the possibilities of the Universe and making them your unique experience. Exhale back up your spine, in the direction of the liberating current, taking your unique experiences (and efforts) back to the source.” In Wheels of Life: A Users Guide to the Chakra System, Anodea Judith explores the fact that “we must limit” in order to manifest – and the ancient texts back her up in the idea that there are ways in which we are limited. There are ways we can have a lot, but we can’t have it all.

If we think of the source of all things – whatever that means to you at this moment – then we’re thinking of the source of unlimited possibilities. We’re thinking of something infinite and something limited only by our imagination/understanding – which is finite. On the flip side, we are not omnipotent and/or omnipresent. We can experience multiple sensations at one time, but we can only truly focus-concentrate-meditate on one thing at a time. While our initial possibilities are limitless, our whole lives are built around the experience of “narrowing things down.” So, we do.

There’s nothing wrong with narrowing things down and establishing boundaries. That’s all part of the human experience. Being human means we are constantly swinging like a pendulum between having everything and having nothing – in every area of our lives. We run into problems, however, when we don’t recognize (and appreciate) what we have; when we operate from a perspective of scarcity instead of a point of abundance. We run into problems when we are paralyzed by what we don’t have and/or by something that hasn’t happened.

“The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”


– Dr. Noam Chomsky

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, it’s unlikely you will step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”


– quoted from Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization by Noam Chomsky (in conversation with Heinz Dieterich, with additional collaboration by Edward Herman; introduction by Denise Glasbeek and Julian Semphill)

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, I spent the last week-plus thinking, contemplating, and discussing the concept of freedom, liberation, and independence. On a certain level, I do that all the time; but there is an acute awareness between PRIDE, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July – and I start thinking about those concepts on a lot of different levels. The most obvious level in this context, of course, is the legal aspect. However, last Tuesday I referenced the nine obstacles (and their four accompanying physical-mental experiences) outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and, if you go back, those obstacles and ailments are kind of floating under all of this week’s posts, classes, discussions, and meditations. Because, as it turns out, our minds are one of the biggest obstacles to anyone of us experiencing true freedom, liberation, and independence.

Tonight (Monday, July 5th), as well as during the Juneteenth class and in the First Friday Night Special post-practice blog post, I shared the story of how circus elephants are trained not to move beyond a designated circumference.  It’s a story I’ve seen and heard a lot of people tell, but I first came across it because of Steve Ross’s yoga practice. The story is a great reminder about how powerful the mind is, how it can literally stop us in our tracks. And, while we might name an endless list of things holding us down and holding us back, it really comes down to one thing: our relationship with fear.

Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I say it all the time: The threat doesn’t have to be real, but the emotional and embodied experience is real. Additionally, a perceived threat can be in the past and yet the emotionally embodied experience can still actively experienced in the present (and, as Lisa Nichols points out, projected into the future). Both fear of failure and fear of success can paralyze us, because at a very early age we were taught that fear equals danger and, when we feel the associated sensations, we have to be still or turn back.

Yes, on a neurophysiology level, fear activates our sympathetic nervous system which activates our fight-flight-freeze response. However, adults teach children what to fear and how to respond to that fear. We know not to stick our hand in the fire or on a hot stove for the same reason we know to look both ways before crossing the street: someone taught us to fear the consequences. Similarly, we teach those who come after us. As we grow through life, we keep the tool of fear – sometimes even more than we use the tool that is our awareness. Eventually, these lessons in fear are just like everything else we experience in life; they hardwire our brains and create samskaras (“mental impressions”).

We view our experiences through previous experiences. Over time our reactions to certain sensations (including certain thoughts) feels instinctual – even though  they’re conditioned. Over time, there’s very little (if any) difference between the way we react to the possibility of failing, falling flat on our face, and/or embarrassing our self  and the we  react to the possibility of a snake in our path.

“As a rope lying in darkness, about whose nature one remains uncertain, is imagined to be a snake or a line of water, so Atman is imagined in various ways.


When the real nature of the rope is ascertained, all misconceptions about it disappear and there arises the conviction that it is nothing but a rope. Even so is the true nature of Atman determined.”


– quoted from “Chapter 2 – Vaitathya Prakarana (The Chapter on Illusion)” (verses 17 and 18) of Mandukya Upanishad [English translation by Swami Nikhilananda]
   

Remember, I’m talking about the possibility here. I’m talking about the point when the brain goes, “What is that?” Someone can tell you, “Oh, that’s just a big hank of rope someone left out when they pulled their boat in,” but, if you’ve lived around water moccasins your whole life, the adrenaline might already be pumping. It may not even matter that you’re in a part of the world that doesn’t have cottonmouths. You’ve been conditioned – by yourself and others – to stay safe. Just the idea of something we fear can bring up the sensations. In fact, just reading the words above might have caused your body to tense up in preparation. (I know just typing it does the same for me!)

Sacred texts from India, like the Upanishads (“sitting near” devotedly) and the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs), often use the idea of a snake to describe our experience with māyā (“illusion”). Interestingly, Death sometimes shows up in Hindu mythology as a snake called Yama, which can be translated into English as “binder” and is also the same Sanskrit word used for the first limb of the Yoga Philosophy (Yamas), which consists of five “external restraints.” In other words, the snake we see in the road is a limitation – even if it’s not a snake.

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”


– Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don’t think J. Krishnamurti was telling people to walk up on something that might be a snake and poke it with your finger – just as the writers of the Vedic texts were not necessarily telling people to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to confirm the nature of reality versus illusion. Instead, the practice is about going deeper into the mind-body experience. Where, for instance, do you hold your tension, discomfort, and dis-ease? Where do you hold your fear, anger, disappointment, grief, and confusion? Where, as I asked people on Zoom, do you not feel free, liberated, and independent?

Breathe into those spaces where you don’t feel free, liberated, or independent. Remember, your awareness and your breath are tools you carry with you everywhere. Don’t be a fool! Use those tools! Use the inhale to explore those places where you are holding tightness and create space around those places. Maybe imagine that you are blowing into those areas like you blow into a balloon and feel that expansion. Then, use your exhale to let something go. You may not be ready to let go of everything – and, it’s important to acknowledge that. Just release what you can release and let go of whatever is ready to go.

“There’s a darkness
Living deep in my soul
It’s still got a purpose to serve”


– quoted from the song “Put Your Lights On” by Santana and Everlast

One of my favorite songs, and one of the star-studded collaborations included on Santana’s record-breaking album Supernatural, was written by Everlast. The title comes from what we do when we’re driving as the sun sets, when we start driving at night, or when it starts to rain: We put our lights on so we can see and be seen. We put our lights on to avoid danger. We put our lights on so we can be less afraid. One of my favorite verses (quoted above) is a reminder that sometimes we need the limitation. Remember, fear is an important neurophysiological tool – that’s why it’s such a great teaching tool. However, we can’t let the tool rule our whole life. Sometimes we have to remember, as the angel in the song also reminds us, “I got nothing to fear.”

When we can, and when we are willing, letting go of something – some attachment to the past, some fear of the unknown – makes us like the elephant that looks down and realizes there’s no stake, no chain, and no shackle. We’re free!

I’ve heard stories about elephants that are considered “escape artists” and no amount of “training,” no matter how brutal, can keep them from testing the limits of their binds. Most elephants, however, never seem to look down. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about pachyderms. I know the location of their eyes limits them in some way, as does bright lights; so, maybe they can’t see around their trunk and tusks. But, the most likely scenario (especially in cases where the shackle is removed) is that they have been conditioned to fear what happens if they go beyond the originally established boundary.

Ultimately, the circus elephants are limited by their mind-body connection. As are we; which means, if we want to be truly free, in a physical-mental and emotional-energetic way, we have to recognize our stakes to pull them up. We have to recognize our chains to break them. We have to recognize our shackles to release ourselves.

“‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.”’”


– quoted from the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7, 1.11) [English translation by John Richards]

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Practice.

Do you need your high beams or your parking lights (to see your chains)?

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow. We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us. We can transform our fear….


Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.”


– quoted from “Introduction – Fearlessness” of Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh

### Let Wisdom Speak Over Fear ###

Speaking of Things that Were Not Televised… June 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Life, Men, Philosophy, Science, TV, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

– from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex by Charles Darwin (pub. 1871)

Let’s start with a plea and a digression.

Please, please, please don’t miss understand me. When I say that I’m not a Cardi B fan, I’m not saying that I dislike her (or her music) – I’m just saying that I don’t really listen to rap music. (Although, I really, really, really do get a kick out of those “If Cardi B Did the Sound Effects for Star Wars” videos.) That being said, you would have to have been living under a rock to not have heard Cardi B’s name in the last few years.

Maybe you heard of her because someone loves her music: Her accolades include being the only woman to win the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as a solo artist and the first female rap artist to have a RIAA Diamond-certified song, which means it sold (and/or streamed) over 10 million units – and in the United States that applies to less than 60 songs. Maybe you heard about her because someone hates her music and/or finds it offensive: Yes, WAP, I’m looking at you and all the records you broke – including making Cardi B the first (and so far, only) female rapper to achieve Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles in two decades and the first (and so far, only) female rap artist to top the Global Spotify chart on multiple occasions. Maybe you heard of her because of her relationship with her husband; her relationship with other rappers; and/or allegations (and indictments) for violent and otherwise illegal behavior. Or maybe, you heard about the fact that she recognizes that her songs are not all appropriate for children (and, ergo, won’t let her toddler listen to them).

Maybe you know nothing about her except that she is not shy about her speaking her mind when it comes to politics. (Again, I’m not a fan and I’m not here to condone or debate some/any of her statements. I’ll just say that I can appreciate that she publicly “stans” Eleanor Roosevelt.) You also might have heard about Cardi B recently, because people have been talking about how she announced the fact that she is pregnant with her second child.

In listening to a group of moms talk about Cardi B’s announcement (on social media and at the BET Awards), I was struck by the part where these women – from different generations, but all older than the aforementioned 28-year old – talked about how they didn’t document their pregnancies and/or their children’s lives the way some people do today. The same was true for their mothers and themselves as children. Part of the mom-discussion was about body image and body positivity – which is another point of pride for some and contention for others when it comes to Cardi B. However, some of the conversation was related to technology and the changing awareness around how the most mundane and/or “long and boring” things can also be the most important.

Even when they are not televised.

What happens if we could go back to the begin; go back to our origins? What if we could go back to our origins as a person, our origins as a member of a specific group we decided to join (like a political or social organization) and/or a member of a group (like race, gender, ethnicity, sex, and/or generation) into which we were born? What if we could go back to the origins of our country, our species, or our planet – and watch things unfold in real time?

What if we could see exactly how things developed… or evolved, purely from the stand point of an observer? Would the opportunity to witness the truth or reality of something change our engagement with that something, ourselves, other people and/or the world?

And what if, in going back, we were able to witness how our ideas around such things developed… and evolved?

[The first quote above and the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for current classes, were originally posted on June 30, 2020.]

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence…. I should premise that I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny.”

– from On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (pub. 1859)

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

“Is it on your grandmother’s or grandfather’s side that you are descended from an ape?”

– Bishop Samuel Wilberforce to Thomas Henry Huxley (reportedly), June 30, 1860

 “I asserted – and I repeat – that a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man – a man of restless and versatile intellect – who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.”

– Thomas Henry Huxley to Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (reportedly), June 30, 1860 (from Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, by his Son Leonard Huxley by Leonard Huxley (Volume I)

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “March 31 Hays Code 2020”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

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

(NOTE: I’ve re-set the settings for making comments. And yes, that’s two weeks, out of 3, that I’ve mentioned the Scopes Monkey Trial.)

DON’T FORGET! There’s a “First Friday Night Special” on Friday, July 2nd, 7:15 – 8:20 PM (CST) & the focus will be on “the effort to free/liberate yourself from….” Additional details are available on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###

Thicker Than…? (a”missing” 2-for-1 post, for Monday-Tuesday) June 16, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Health, Love, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Tuesday, June 15th and includes references to the Monday, June 14th practice. You can request an audio recording of the practices from Monday and/or Tuesday 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.]

“God, give me strength
And keep reminding me
That blood is thicker than water
Oh, but love is
Thicker than blood

And if blood is
Thicker than water
Then what are we fighting for?
We’re all sons and daughters
Of something that
Means so much more”

 

– quoted from the song “Thicker Than Blood” by Garth Brooks

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day, which coincides with the birthday of Dr. Karl Landsteiner (b. 06/14/1868). Coincidentally, the day devoted to celebrating and expressing gratitude for the generosity of millions of donors around the world is exactly one day before the anniversary of the first documented successful xenotransfusion. The term “xenotransfusion” shares a root with “xenophobia” (fear of “strangers” or fear of “foreigners”) and was originally used to describe the transfer of blood from one species to another, usually between a non-human and a human. Eventually it was also used to describe blood transfusions between a variety of non-human animal species, including canine to cat, bovine to caprine (cattle to goat), and caprine to bovine.

Several physicians and surgeons had attempted blood transfusion in animals, but the most significant experiments of this nature were conducted in 1666 – 1667 by Dr. Richard Lower (in England) and by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys (in Paris). On June 15, 1667, Dr. Denys* (with assistance from Dr. Paul Emmerez) transfused about 12 ounces of sheep blood into the elbow of a 15-year old boy who had been experiencing chronic fever – and who was not finding relief from leeches repeatedly administered by a barber-surgeon. Although most people agree that the small amounts of blood being transfused is what enabled them to avoid the fatal allergic reaction that occurs when mixing blood types (which had not yet been discovered since Dr. Landsteiner hadn’t even been born), Drs. Denys and Emmerez went on to conduct several other successful transfusions.

*NOTE: The information above reflects information from multiple sources which I have consulted since I first learned about the human xenotransfusion. I recently came across something that suggested that while the date, patient details, and source animal were confirmed, the identity of the doctor(s) was not and that Dr. Richard Lower may have conducted the first successful transfusion. However, most sources I researched indicated that Dr. Lower’s first documented xenotransfusion was on November 23, 1667, with the assistance of the surgeon and physician Sir Edmond King. Both Drs. Denys and Lower were physicians to members of the royal family in their respective countries and both may have been ousted from their Courtly roles because of politics. In the case of Dr. Denys, there was also the matter of a patient who died and a trial – during which it came out that the patient didn’t die from a xenotransfusion; they had been poisoned by their wife.

A year ago Monday, and to a certain extent this Monday, I spent World Blood Donor Day focusing on “dana” generosity and the idea that “love is thicker than blood.” I even went down the rabbit hole and got into the etymology of phrases like “blood will tell,” “blood will out,” and “blue-blood.” But this year, when I focused a little more on questions and how the questions we ask can cause us to look at things – ourselves and the world – a certain way, I took another look at the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.” Where does the saying come from? And, does it mean what we think it means?

Simple questions, which (as it turns out), are not as simple as they seem.

I often say that the human mind-body is 60-75% water, depending on age, gender, and overall health. Of course, some of that water is (in) the blood and most of that water is saturated with salt, proteins, and other particles. Also, the fluidity of water is partially determined by the temperature of the water. So, the viscosity of water in the body varies. However, if we consider room temperature water (25°C or 77°F) at a pressure of 1 atmosphere then the resistance to flow is 0.00890 poise (or rounded up to 0.009 P or 0.01 P). At 37°C or 98.6°F (an average body temperature), blood plasma viscosity is 0.015 P and whole blood viscosity is 0.04 P.

I know, it’s not exactly apples-to-apples, but those are standard measurement points – and water’s viscosity is about 0.007 P at 37.8°C or 100°F, so I think you get the point. On the flip side, we can’t touch, hold, and measure love; we can only feel it. We can feel it flowing and recognize when there’s a resistance to the flow; but how do we measure that in order to compare it to water or blood? How can we determine if it’s thicker than blood?

Of course, I’m being a little facetious here. The old adage isn’t about physical science at all. It’s about something that is philosophical and metaphysical in nature and, therefore, requires going deeper.

“The first words [Dandie Dinmont, the farmer] said when he had digested the shock, contained a magnanimous declaration, which he probably was not conscious of having uttered aloud – ‘Weel – blude’s thicker than water – she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.’”

 

– quoted from “Volume II, Chapter IX, Die and endow a college or a cat. Pope.” of Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer (pub. 1815) by Sir Walter Scott, Bart

One of the earliest literary references to blood and water can be found in the 12th century narrative poem Reinhart Fuchs, the oldest known German beast epic (which was itself based on a French poem). According to an English translation of a 13th century version of the poem about the trickster fox (Reynard), “I also hear it said that kin-blood [or, clan blood] is not spoiled by water.” Many believe this statement refers to the fact that not even distance or the “tumultuous tides” of the high seas can sever some connections. The idea that one can move away from home, marry into another clan / family, and still have some loyalty to your original family and tribe is an underlying premise in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering, or The Astrologer – which gets the credit of being one of the first literary references of the actual phrase “blood is thicker than water” (even though the phrase appeared in print as early as 1670).

In Sir Walter Scott’s novel, first published anonymously in 1815, Guy Mannering is a guest of the Laird and Lady of Ellangowan. He offers to determine the horoscope of his hosts’ young son, Harry Bertram; however, when he predicts that the boy will have three periods of bad fortune, he decides that the details of the bad fortune should be concealed until the boy turns 5. The only problem: young Harry’s first period of misfortune is getting kidnapped before the age of 5. As the paths of Guy Mannering and Harry Bertram (under his adopted identity) cross again and again in India, England, and then again in Scotland, the heir of Ellangowan (Harry) is presumed dead by all but the Laird’s sister (who has inherited the ancestral home). When the “last will and testament” of Harry’s aunt is read, one of those in attendance points out that she (the deceased) can do with her earthly goods as she desired. As Sir Walter Scott alludes at the beginning of the chapter, she can extend her generosity to a college or a cat; a deceased heir and a servant; and everything in between.

“With them, any two children nourished at the same breast are called ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘suckling brothers;’ and the tie is very strong. A boy and a girl in this relation cannot marry, even though by birth they had no family relationship….But the Arabs hold that the brothers in the covenant of blood are closer than brothers at a common breast; that those who have tasted each other’s blood are in a surer covenant than those who have tasted the same milk together; that ‘blood-lickers,’ as the blood brothers are sometimes called, are more truly one than ‘milk-brothers,’ or ‘sucking brothers’ ; that, indeed, blood is thicker than milk, as well as thicker than water.”

– quoted from “I. THE PRIMITIVE RITE ITESELF. 2. An Ancient Semetic Rite” in The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture by H. Clay Trumbull

Beyond literary references, we can find evidence of people making, reinforcing, and commenting about familial bonds and chosen bonds since the dawn of recorded time. In The Blood Covenant: a Primitive Rite and It’s Bearing on Scripture, the American clergyman and Civil War veteran Henry Clay Trumbull chronicled ancient rituals from around the world that are based on the premise “that the blood is the life ; that the heart , as the blood-fountain, is the very soul of every personality; that blood-transfer is soul transfer; that blood-sharing, human, or divine-human, secures an inter-union of natures; and that a union of the human nature with the divine is the highest ultimate attainment reached out after by the most primitive, as well as by the most enlightened, mind of humanity.” Many of these rituals were described to Trumball by people who had participated in the rituals themselves and/or were first-hand witnesses.

For example, he wrote about Syrian men in Lebanon becoming brother-friends in a public ceremony involving blood-letting, ingesting, and a blood-smeared written contract (in duplicate) that was worn by the men and that formed a sacred and legal bond that was considered stronger than the legal ties of marriage (as it could not be dissolved). He also described similar African rituals – although, in at least one tribe, the bond was established by through contact with incisions made on the hands, stomachs, and right cheeks foreheads and the blood was mixed in “beer” and drunk (as opposed to being licked off a knife). There was also an exchange of gifts to seal the bond. In the aforementioned cases, such bonds required loyalty between the bonded; that each person to defend the other in times of crisis/war; that each person support the other in times of need; and that each be willing to take on the other’s familial responsibilities should the need arise. These bonds could also, in theory, be used to end conflict just as some marriages have been used throughout history. After all, there is power in connection.

“Someone told [Jesus], ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’

He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’

Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. Matthew 12:47-50 (NIV)

There are, of course, conversations about covenants (and the power of covenants) throughout the Abrahamic religions – and these conversations are often related to conflict resolution and/or familial responsibility. In addition to the passages (above and below), where Jesus highlights spiritual relationships over (genetic) blood-kin relationships, there is a point in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (specifically Matthew 18) when Jesus instructs his disciples on “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” [little children] and what to do in various situations, like if one of their “sheep” go astray [leave the others to go after it]. In a situation where one brother “trespass[es]” against another and the two in conflict cannot come to an agreement, they are told to gather “one or two others” who can sever as witnesses [18:16]. Part of the explanation for this instruction comes from 18:20, when he tells the disciples that he/his teachings will be among them when “three or more are gathered in my name….” In other words, the will be more powerful and more spiritual grounded/connected.

These Christian contexts is why some scholars state that the “water” in the old “proverb” refers to “the water of the womb” – which twists the whole saying around. If we accept this etymology or origin of the phrase, the original meaning was always “love is thicker than blood.” If that was always the meaning, then it stands to reason that, at some point in history, someone added that last part to the public lexicon so people would stop misunderstanding the message.

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

– quoted from The Gospel According to St. John 19:25-27 (NIV)

 

There is no playlist for the Monday night Common Ground practice.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “06142020 World Blood Donor Day”]

 

### “Love is, thicker than water” ~ Andy Gibb / Barry Gibb ###