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Here’s To Beginning A New Year (a Monday post)! January 23, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, New Year, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

The following post related to the practice on Monday, January 23rd is compiled from information posted in 2021 and 2022. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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\. Donations are tax deductible.

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

“财神到 财神到
Caishen dao caishen dao [The god of wealth has come! The god of wealth has come!]

好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

财神话 财神话
Caishenhua caishenhua [Myth of money, myth of money]

揾钱依正路
wen qian yi zhenglu [if you follow the right path]”

– quoted from the song “Cai Shen Dao” [“The God of Wealth Has Come!” by Sam Hui, lyrics in Hanzi [Chinese characters], pīnyīn [“spelled sounds”], and English

Today (Monday) was the second day of the Lunar New Year and, in parts of China and the diaspora, it was the second day of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. As I mentioned yesterday, while most people consider this the beginning of the year of the (water) Rabbit/Hare, people in and from Vietnam consider this the beginning of the year of the Cat. Each region that celebrates the Lunar New Year, places special significance on each day and highlights that significance with different stories and traditions.

Some people honor the god of land on the second day, while others celebrate the birthday of all dogs. Traditionally, the second day is a day when daughters who had married and moved away from home would return to visit their birth families – which meant their families would welcome the son-in-laws. So, in some places, today is a day dedicated to the son-in-laws.

For some (particularly Cantonese people), the second day is known as “beginning of the year” and it marks the beginning of a new business year. As such, there are blessings and prayers for a prosperous new year. From 221 B. C. until 1912 A. D., it was common for beggars and the unemployed in China to spend today carrying around a picture of the God of Wealth and shouting, “Cai Shen Dao” ! [“The God of Wealth has come!” in Mandarin] In exchange for their pronouncement, they would receive “lucky money” from families and businesses.

In some parts of China, people celebrate the birthday of Che Kung on his “actual” birthday (the second), while others celebrate on the third day of the year. A military general of the Southern Song Dynasty, Che Kung is believed to have been capable of suppressing rebellions and plagues. Some even consider him “God of Protection.” Hong Kong and Guangdung Province are two of the places where people traditionally have a procession and visit a temple dedicated to Che Kung. Despite the pandemic, thousands of people visited the temple in Sha Tin in 2021; however, masks, temperature checks, and a health registration were required. In 2022, vaccinations were encouraged and people were required to use the “Leave Home Safe” app, which is a free digital contract tracing app launched by the Hong Kong government. This year, some media outlets reported a few less people than normal, while others reported more people than last year – both scenarios could be true, but in either case, most people are hoping, praying, and wishing for a better business year.

People who travel to the temple on the second and third days of the new year give thanks, light red candles and incense sticks, and present offerings. Some will spin a golden pinwheel outside of the temple to maintain good luck from the previous year or to change their fortune in the New Year. Some will even buy a personal pinwheel. There is also a big ceremony around drawing fortune sticks, which people believe offers guidance for the coming year and can be interpreted by a fortune teller. Of course, this year (like the last two years), a lot of people are seeking guidance about the pandemic – and how to proceed in a way that eliminates suffering.

A version of the following was originally posted in 2021 and 2022. Click here for that philosophical 2021 post in it’s entirety.

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Yoga Sutras offer a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

We can find examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939 (almost a month before the year of the earth Rabbit/Hare began). By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you have not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. You might think that he wouldn’t be celebrated on the second day of the Lunar New Year or on any day.

But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reason

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week. for at least a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college.” He also served as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

While Ed Roberts may not have actually been celebrated by his in-laws on the second day of the Lunar New Year, he is remembered and celebrated for the work he did in the world. A Google Doodle was posted in his honor today in 2017. Furthermore, his legacy provides a lot of reminders about how to move through the year in a way that brings change that makes the world better than we found it.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation practice.

### Wake Up Your Mind & Just Go For It! ###

FTWMI: The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push January 4, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone!

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in January of 2021 and 2022. Class details, some links, and some references have been updated.

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton proved that sometimes we all need a little push. At the age of 43, he published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which included his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and an expansion of Galileo Galilei’s observations and of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which were themselves modifications of the observations and heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus). There are several elements in the Principia that can apply to the physical practice of yoga (and to the practice of the Yoga Philosophy). However, the most direct application comes from the laws of motion, the first of which is also known as “The Law of Inertia.” We can see these principles at work just by observing a tension-free belly rising and falling as the breath enters and leaves the body.

We can go deeper with the mathematics and the science; but, just for a moment (maybe even 90-seconds) stick with the breath. Notice the Inhale, the pause, and the exhale…. Notice that third law kicking in….

Also, notice how the “force” of the breath, which is a symbol of our life and a symbol of our spirit, is an agent of change – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even energetically. Just as lengthening the breath and observation of the breath (which all can be described as prāņāyāma) change things when we are practicing on the mat, they can be an agent of change off the mat. We just have to pay attention and stay focused. But, paying attention, staying focused, and even breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out can be challenging in certain situations… especially situations involving challenging people.

“Thirdly, that I do justly value your excellent disquisitions, and I am extremely well pleased to see those notions promoted and improved which I long since began, but had not time to complete. That I judge you have gone farther in that affair much than I did, and that as I judge you cannot meet with any subject more worthy your contemplation, so believe the subject cannot meet with a fitter and more able person to inquire into it than yourself, who are every way accomplished to compleat [sic], rectify, and reform what were the sentiments of my younger studies, which I designed to have done somewhat at myself…. Your design and mine are, I suppose, at the same thing, which is the discovery of truth, and I suppose we can both endure to hear objections, so as they come not in a manner of open hostility, and have minds equally inclined to yield to the plainest deductions of reason from experiment.”

 

– quoted from a 1675-76 letter from Dr. Robert Hooke to Sir Isaac Newton, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

“I most gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concerns than that for truth; but what passes between friends in private, usually deserves the name of consultation rather than contention; and so I hope it will prove between you and me….

 

But in the mean time, you defer too much to my ability in searching into this subject. What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in considering the colours of thin plates. If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

 

– quoted from a letter marked “Cambridge, February 5, 1675-76” from Sir Isaac Newton to Dr. Robert Hooke, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

One might think when first reading the polite words and oh so charming letters between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton that theirs was a destined to be a friendship like that between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you have never heard of Hooke, that their correspondence was more akin to that of the epistles between Rainer Maria Rilke and the 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, whereby the world becomes overly familiar with the work of one because of their letters – and, in some ways this would be true. Along with Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, as well as John Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (the first two designated Astronomer Royal (whose observations Newton used in the Principia), Dr. Robert Hooke could be considered one of Sir Isaac Newton’s “giants.” But don’t get it twisted; Hooke and Newton were not “besties.” If anything, they could best be described as each other’s master teachers and precious jewels.

I often reference “master teachers and precious jewels” as people who push our buttons and get us hooked; people who give us master classes on ourselves; and/or people who add value to our life experience (even as they drive us crazy). These are the naysayers, the antagonists, the doubters, and our own personal heretics. They are the ones who never believe we can do something; hardly every give us credit when we do it (see Hooke and Newton, above); sometimes claim the credit for their own (also see above); and just seem to make everything harder. We can look at them as obstacles, road blocks, and detours on our journey towards our goals – or we can look at them as teachers. We can borrow a page from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and look at them as “the way.” Or, to paraphrase Stacy Flowers, we can look at them as the coach.

Stacey Flowers is a motivational speaker, mother, and “eternal optimist” who gave a 2016 Tedx Talk about “The 5 People You Need to Be Happy” (cheerleader, mentor, coach, friend, and peer). After last year the last few years, we might think of them as the five people who keep us grounded and focused. The way she counted them out, each finger was very intentionally chosen as a symbol for the role each person would play in someone’s life. For the coach, the one whose job is to push us farther than we think we can go and consider possibilities that seem outside of our arena, she uses the middle finger (which in some, but not all, cultures is a major league insult). The correspondence between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton are basically them giving each other the finger – without which some advancement in science might not have been made at the time.

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

Hooke and Newton’s debate about the existence and characteristics of ether and the nature of light started in a very public, and very acrimonious, fashion. There was some shift, between the public and private discourse; however, in that Hooke went from publicly stating that Newton basically stole his ideas to acknowledging how Newton continued his ideas. Meanwhile, Newton went from publicly giving Hooke no credit for the premise of the ideas – and, also, stating that Hooke’s conclusion “seems itself impossible” and was based on “both experiment and demonstration to the contrary” – to privately (in his letter) acknowledging Hooke’s contributions. But, again, this shift only seemed to be in private. In public, the disputes continued even past Hooke’s death. These disputes, along with disputes the good doctor had with other scientists, allowed Newton (and others) to paint a very negative picture of Hooke’s character.

Sir Isaac Newton also, reportedly (and as indicated above), had a contentious character. He is remembered, however, for his work. On the other hand, Robert Hooke is infamous for his plethora of disputes with other scientists (in a lot of different disciplines) – and many of those debates seem to be directly tied to Hooke trying to multitask. But, no matter how much some might want to consider him a waste of space, his disputes actually contributed to the advancement of scientific discovery. In part, perhaps because they were all members of The Royal Society of London (and, therefore, dedicated to “improving natural knowledge”), the others never completely disregarded Hooke’s insights and hypothesis. Instead, they continued the inquiry. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but there seems to be little cognitive dissonance on the part of those with whom Hooke quarreled, because everyone was constantly running experiments and making observations in an effort to find proof of the truth – or maybe just to prove Hooke wrong.

“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

On some level, we all know someone like Dr. Robert Hooke. We might even be someone else’s Dr. Hooke. Either way, consider how you feel when you encounter that person who pushes your buttons and/or is constantly telling you that you are wrong – or, sometimes (even worse), that person who refuses to see that they are wrong. Ani Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, describes a tightening that happens when we get “hooked.” We don’t all feel it in the exact same place and in the exact same way, and the intensity may vary; but we all know that feeling. The question is: Do we always notice that feeling? Second question: Do we notice the beginning of the sensation or only when it is about to go nuclear (meaning our sympathetic nervous system is all systems go to fight, flee, or freeze)? Finally, what do we do when we recognize that feeling?

Ani Chödrön specifically recommends practicing the “4 R’s;” while others might just say, “Stop and breathe for a moment.” Either way, taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening (how we are reacting) and giving ourselves an opportunity to respond – rather than react – can be the difference between someone’s negativity being an obstacle versus becoming a way for us to continue moving forward. That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between succeeding in our goals (like Sir Isaac Newton) and failing to follow through on all our goals (like Dr. Robert Hooke). That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between making our way through (or around) an obstacle and being stuck.

What I’m saying is that that metaphorical push can be the force we need to make the change we want. This is especially true after last year the last few years and the negative energy that has followed us into this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting anyone actually push you around – not even in a metaphorically sense and definitely not in a physical, emotional, and/or energetic sense. But, I do think it is important to acknowledge that we all push and pull each other on a certain level, because we are all forces of nature. While we may welcome, even solicit, a little push from someone we see as a mentor, friend, and/or peer; we may not always appreciate the shove from “the coach” we didn’t ask to coach us. Always remember, though, that there are many ways we can utilize a contentious relationships. Or, more specifically, there are many ways we can benefit from noticing how we react or respond to contentious relationships in our lives and in our practice.

Just consider, for a moment, how you (physically and mentally) react to the following:

When going by the Gregorian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was born today (January 4th) in 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. As a scientist and a man of letters, Newton would have been fully aware of the Gregorian calendar, which Catholic-ruled lands started using in 1582 and Protestant German states in 1699. However, he lived his whole life officially using the Julian calendar (because England and it’s colonies did not switch until 1752, 25 or 26 years after Newton’s death). If you go by the Old Style, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day – a fact that really got some people hot (as in pissed) when it was pointed out on Twitter a few years back.

Speaking of Christmas, today (January 4th) is the 10th or 11th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; and “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles.

 

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

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01042022 New(ton’s) Beginnings”]

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

 

Who are your five people?

 

### (Don’t even get me started about….) ###

FTWMI: Celebrating What Supports the Practice December 27, 2022

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

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in December of 2020 and re-posted in 2021. There are some edits and the class details have been updated.

“nguzo (Swahili)

Noun

nguzo

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

  2. column, supporting pole

  3. pillar (an essential supporting part of something)

  4. (figuratively) a support or comfort”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, December 27th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12272020 Will, Determination, & John”]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

CHECK OUT THE CALENDAR! You can kick off New Year’s Day 2023 in two different ways: with the very active practice of 108 Sun Salutations at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM or with the very “chill” practice of Yin+Meditation practice beginning at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM. All times are Central Standard. Details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which, I think we can all agree is true.

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

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

  • What, or who, comes to mind? 

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sūtra 3.35: hṛdaye cittasaṃvit

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

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

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

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

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

### LET’S GET LOUD ~JL ###

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

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

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

– Will Rogers

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

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

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

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

– Will Rogers

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

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

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

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

– Will Rogers

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

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

– Will Rogers

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

*

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

This Yin Yoga practice is accessible and open to all. 

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

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

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

“Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

– Will Rogers

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

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

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

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

FTWMI: Generally Coming Together October 17, 2022

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.

For Those Who Missed It: The following was originally posted in September 2021. If you’re on my Monday class list, I’ve sent you a recording of this practice since there is no Zoom practice tonight. If you are not on the Monday list, you can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“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

 

The playlist for this practice 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 ###

 

 

FTWMI: How Do You Respond? September 14, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

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

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

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 14th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where we will consider the process of forming (and changing) habits. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

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

Revisiting “The Other Plan B” (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 14, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Movies, Philosophy, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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The following “missing” post for Tuesday, September 13th contains some information previously posted in two 2020 posts. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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.]

“David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart….”

 

– quoted from 1 Samuel – The Old Testament (17:32 NIV)

Today, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not the story I used to tell on September 13th, back when we were doing all of this in person. This is a story I started telling in 2020. It’s the story about what you do when things don’t go according to plan – or, you find out things will work just as you planned, but that that’s not the way you want things to work out. Have you had days like that?

Every once in a while it happens. I start off the day, working on a plan, and something in me says, “No, not that today.” So, I go to Plan B – and sometimes I get really into it, get really excited about it, and then something in me will say, “Naw, I don’t think so.” So, I either go back to the drawing board or… I fight it. Yes, it’s true; sometimes I don’t listen to that “still quiet voice.” Sometimes I think the big capital “I” (which is my ego) knows better than whatever is moving around in my heart. Sometimes, I get halfway through the day, or all the way to the end of the day, and think, “Oh, maybe that’s why I should have paid more attention and been more present.”

There are, however, times when I absolutely am open to the Spirit and open to the moment. There are times when I let go of my frustration at things not going the way I planned and I breathe…. That’s it. I take a breath and open to the moment. I still have a plan. In fact, it’s the best of all plans, That Other Plan B: Breathe – keep breathing; be open to the present; believe and be aware of “what it is you have to offer.” 

Today, I offer you a story about David. It’s actually two stories… about the same David – even though it is simultaneously the same story about two different Davids… with a little side note about two additional Davids. (You might especially appreciate that “confusing” statement if you were around for this past Saturday’s practice, but that’s a whole other story.) To clarify today’s offering(s), the first story and the first David is the one from the Bible, specifically the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. You remember that David?

People love the story of that David, because it is the story of the underdog. When faced with the towering figure of Goliath, David used his inner resources. He drew from the experience he had as a shepherd (rather than being preoccupied by the experience he didn’t have as a soldier). He focused on what he could do (not on what he was “trying” to do). His inner strength, courage, and wisdom were what he took into his reign as king. Yes, King David made mistakes – he was human; but his legacy is firmly established by the story of his victory against Goliath, his son Solomon (who is considered the ruler with the wisest heart in the history of the world), and the statue by Michelangelo.

This brings me to the “second” David and the second story: the story of Michelangelo’s David.

You may already be familiar with the basic premise of the story: On September 13, 1501, a 26-year old artist named Michelangelo was commissioned to create a statue of the legendary David. That marble statue, unveiled in Florence, Italy on September 8, 1504, continues to captivate people to this very day. At various times throughout history, it has represented the epitome of the male form. It established Michelangelo as an artistic powerhouse, a giant in the art world. People started calling him “Il Divino” (“the divine one”). They praised, and even envied, his terribilitá – his ability to provoke intense emotion through his work. 

But, Michelangelo was not the original sculptor. In fact, when the piece was first commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral (the Operai), it was part of a series of large Old Testament statues intended for the Florence Cathedral. And, at that time, in the early 1400s, Michelangelo wasn’t even on the short list of those being considered. Granted, the main reason he wasn’t on the list was because he hadn’t been born yet, but that’s beside the point. The point being that Michelangelo, like David, wasn’t Plan A or Plan B.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

 

– Michelangelo

In 1408, at the same time that Nanni di Banco was commissioned to carve a marble statue of the prophet Isaiah, Donatello was commissioned to sculpt a marble statue of David. Both statues ended up abandoned in the workshop for about seven years. In 1410, Donatello made a statue of Joshua (an assistant to Moses) and may have been Agostino di Duccio’s mentor when the latter was commissioned, in 1463, to create Hercules. (Hercules is an odd choice for the series, yes, but there he is.) Donatello’s Joshua and Agostino’s Hercules were terracotta – and Donatello would create a statue of Saint John the Evangelist shortly after those terracotta pieces were finished. 

In between all that, around 1416, Donatello was asked to make some changes to his David – perhaps to make it more “generic” – and that altered David was placed at the Palazzo della Signoria, on top of an engraved pedestal. This clothed version of David is not, however, the primary David (statue) of today’s story. (Neither is it Donatello’s most famous depiction of David; the mostly-nude bronze he created in the 1440s, which was initially placed in the Palazzo Medici). 

“Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes Deus praestant victoria”

[Latin for “God provides victory for the country fighting strongly even against the most terrible enemy.”]

 

– Possibly the original (1416) engraving on the pedestal of Donatello’s marble statue of David (which currently reads “Pro patria fortiter dimicantibus etiam adversus terribilissimos hostes dii praestant auxilium”*)

 

In 1464, Agostino accepted the commission for the second marble statue of David. The idea was to create the statue from several blocks of marble. However, in 1465, Agostino found a large block of marble in the Fantiscritti quarry in northern Tuscany and had that transported – by sea and river – to Florence. He didn’t get much done – just blocked out the shape of the legs, feet, torso, and some drapery – before Donatello’s death in December of 1466. At that point, Agostino lost the commission and yet another artist (possibly Antonio Gamberelli, a. k. a. Antonio Rossellino) was commissioned to finish the statue in 1476. However, it doesn’t seem like this second artist got very far. The marble, that may or may not have even had a gap to distinguish the two legs, was left abandoned, exposed to the elements for 26 years.

So much for Plans A and B.

Of course, that hunk of “badly blocked out” marble was expensive (and represented the additional expense and effort of its acquisition). So, in 1501, the Operai started looking for a master artist – someone with experience – to take on what they referred to as “Il Gigante” (“The Giant”). 

Yes, it is kind of ironic that the unfinished statue of the biblical underdog who took  on “the Giant” was referred to by officials of the Church as “The Giant.” Perhaps it is most fitting, then, that while several artistic giants, like Leonardo da Vinci, were considered; they did not receive the final commission. Instead, the commission went to the artistic equivalent of the underdog, a young Michelangelo.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

 

– Michelangelo

Consider what it would be like to be 26-year old Michelangelo, staring at a chunk of marble. To the outside observer, it is nothing. But he sees inside. Seeing inside takes effort and may be harder for some than for others, but the artist who is literate in their craft may not think much about the process: They just do what they do. 

To someone who is not an artist, the artistic process may seem magical and impossible. If a non-artist were to undertake such a task, without knowing what to look for and what steps to take, the process would be frustrating. The final effort might even be embarrassing. That’s not to say that one of us non-artists couldn’t do it, it just means that we would require more steps, maybe more training and more practice.

As neuroscientists Dr. Beau Lotto pointed out in a 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias,” we all have “a space of possibility” that, based on our history and experiences, establishes our logical next steps. Ergo, what the artist does can be very similar to you reading this post (or even me writing this post). Yes, it takes effort and energy; however, if you are a literate adult – who learned how to read as a child and doesn’t have a reading impairment – you don’t think back to the struggle of the learning process every time you read or write. Even though the yoga philosophy defines this exchange of words and meaning as one of the “powers unique to being human,” we don’t always think of our ability to communicate as anything more than a tool. It’s simply part of our landscape… like the rocks on the ground before David picked them up. Or, like the hunk of marble before Michelangelo got to it.  

Post Script: I didn’t love the way I wrapped up the 2022 Noon practice. Serendipitously, just before the evening practice started, some of us had a conversation about the movie Hidden Figures and it made me think of the acceptance speech Taraji P. Henson gave when the cast won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast (or Ensemble) in a Motion Picture. Her opening words (“Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen…”) could be the words anyone says before undertaking a big task. But, what she says about the women at the center of the movie – Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson – the giants on whose shoulders the cast stood, perfectly described the mindset of underdogs like David and Michelangelo:

“They didn’t complain. They focused on the solutions.”

 

– quoted from Taraji P. Henson’s speech during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, January 29, 2017 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “09132020 What Is Inside, II”]

 

*NOTE: According to some historians, the current pedestal engraving for Donatello’s marble David is not the original and may have been changed for political/religious reasons. Interestingly, the most common English translation – “To those who fight heroically for the fatherland (or motherland) the gods provide help even against the most terrible foes” – may obfuscate an error (in the Latin) made by someone in the 16th century.

 

This past Thursday (September 8th) was the anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo’s David and it was also International Literacy Day. For the approximately 775 million people worldwide who are functionally illiterate and lack the basic reading and writing skills to manage daily living and employment tasks, my blog posts can be like Goliath. (I know, I know: Even when you are literate, these blog posts can be like Goliath – but, if you are literate, you are David and you have what it takes to conquer!) To read more about why International Literacy Day is important, you can click here and scroll to the end of my original “David” post or go directly to the official United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Literacy page.

### DREAM. BREATHE. DREAM. BREATHE. ###

FTWMI: The Practice of Observing Where You Are (and keeping notes) August 10, 2022

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 (and re-posted with revisions in 2021). Class details and links have been updated for today’s practice.

“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 dividing East and West. 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 (Wednesday, August 10th) 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 “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, 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.)

 

*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.

Errata 2022: The original post(s) contained a confusing description of the Prime Meridian Line.

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

The Powerful Possibilities That Come From “A Brother’s Love” (an expanded and “renewed” Tuesday post) August 2, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Love, Maya Angelou, Men, Music, Pain, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

My idea to spend part of August focusing on “impossible people” – and by that I mean people who do things others believe to be impossible – started long before I had ever heard of neuroscientist Beau Lotto or his work with the Lab of Misfits. In some ways it started with an awareness of certain people’s lives and accomplishments and a curiosity about how they got from A (“impossible”) to Z (“possible”). I mean, on some level I knew about “the space of possibility” and I definitely understood the theory that we live in the past. It is, after all, the science of samskāras (“mental impressions”) and vasanas (the “dwelling places” of habits). I also understood the power of imagination and visualization; often referenced the idea that an epiphany (“striking appearance” or “manifestation”) happens because the mind-intellect is prepared for the revelation; and frequently highlighted how we can be like Emily Dickinson and “dwell in Possibility.”

All of that is backed up by Western science and the Yoga Philosophy. As Dr. Lotto pointed out in his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” And that’s what I hadn’t really used as a point of focus: why some people’s imaginations allow them to think differently and know the baby steps that, to the rest of us, look like giant leaps.

If I were going to pinpoint a single starting point for my change in focus, it would be around July 31, 2016. It was the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Miss Maria Mitchell (and Mr. Herman Melville), and while listening to Justin Timberlake (ostensibly) quote Muhammad Ali to a bunch of teens, I thought, “What combination of things in someone’s past makes their will and determination so strong? What makes someone recognize that “Impossible is just a word…?”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

Impossible is nothing.”

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

A version of the following was originally posted as “A Brother’s Love” on August 2, 2020.

“Given the conditions in this country to be a black writer was impossible. When I was young, people thought you were not so much wicked as sick, they gave up on you. My father didn’t think it was possible—he thought I’d get killed, get murdered. He said I was contesting the white man’s definitions, which was quite right.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

Born today in Harlem, New York, in 1924, the author James Baldwin was – by his own words – an impossible person. His life (and career) were, in so many ways, shaped by a combination of history and opinions. First, there was the history of the United States. Then there were the opinions of his stepfather David Baldwin (who he referred to as his father) about life in general plus his stepfather’s opinion of how the world would view him, how the world actually viewed him, and his own ideas about what was possible – or, what was necessary. He spent the ages of 14 – 17 following his father’s footsteps into the ministry and then, when his father died, he took a giant leap. He said, “Those were three years [preaching] which probably turned me to writing.”

Leaping into writing was not Mr. Baldwin’s only leap. He leapt across the pond to Paris, France, twice, even as his writing challenged Western society’s conceptions about race, class, gender, and sexuality. His essays, novels, and plays include Giovanni’s Room, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, If Beale Street Could Talk (which was recently made into a movie) and the unfinished manuscript Remember This House (which was adapted to create the 2016 Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro). Mr. Baldwin first went to Paris with $40 and not a lick of French. He was 24 years old, coming to grips with his sexuality, and escaping what he viewed – what he had witnessed – was a death sentence at the hands of American society.

“Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.”

– James Baldwin, quoted from the interview “James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78” by Jordan Elgrably (printed in The Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984)

From Paris, he was able to not only gain perspective about his experiences of being Black in America (and of being Black and Gay in America), but also to offer those experience back to the United States – in the form of a literary mirror. In words that very much echo Miss Maria Mitchell’s words, he said wanted to see himself, and be seen as, more than “merely a Negro; or, merely a Negro writer.”

In his late 30’s/early 40’s, Mr. Baldwin briefly returned to the United States and physically participated in the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Liberation Movement that he had (from Paris) helped to literally inspire. He became friends with Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Giovanni, and Nina Simone (who he and Mr. Hughes convinced to become active in the Civil Rights Movement). He worked with Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, as well as Lena Horne and Miss Hansberry, to discuss the importance of civil rights legislation with President John F. Kennedy.

His friendships, however, were not only with Black artists and activists. He worked with his childhood friend Richard Avedon, marched with Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston, collaborated with Margaret Mead and Sol Stein, and also knew Rip Torn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Dorothea Tanning. In fact, to read a biography or autobiography of James Baldwin is to read a Who’s Who of activism and artistry in the 20th century. But, you don’t have to settle for a reading a measly biography. If you can get your hands on the 1,884 pages of documents compiled by the FBI, you would be in for quite a treat.

Yes, you read that correctly. For a little over a decade, the FBI collected nearly two thousand pages worth of documents on a man that many Americans may not realize helped convince President Kennedy to send federal troops to defend the civil rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery. True, it’s not the well-over 17,000 pages they compiled on Martin Luther King (not including the wire-tap documents). Here, however, is some perspective: the FBI only collected 276 pages on authors like Richard Wright (Native Son) and 110 pages on authors like Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer). Additionally, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover showed a particular interest in Mr. Baldwin and actually worked with agents to figure out ways they could ban Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 novel Another Country.

Perhaps Director Hoover was concerned about the fact that James Baldwin started the novel while living in Greenwich Village and continued as he moved back to Paris and then back to the States again, before ultimately finishing the book in Istanbul, Turkey. Perhaps he was concerned about the novels depictions of bisexuality, interracial relationships, and extramarital affairs. It’s just as likely that J. Edgar Hoover was concerned about James Baldwin’s persistent efforts to depict a deep, abiding, almost Divine, brotherly love; a universal experience of grace and growth that would make more things possible for more people. Whatever the FBI Director’s objections might have been, the report of the Justice Department’s General Crimes Section “concluded that the book contains literary merit and may be of value to students of psychology and social behavior.”

“The occurrence of an event is not the same thing as knowing what it is that one has lived through. Most people had not lived — nor could it, for that matter, be said that they had died– through any of their terrible events. They had simply been stunned by the hammer. They passed their lives thereafter in a kind of limbo of denied and unexamined pain. The great question that faced him this morning was whether or not had had ever, really, been present at his life.”

– quoted from Another Country by James Baldwin

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

– quoted from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

When so many of his friends, who were also the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, were killed, Mr. Baldwin made his second leap back to Paris. Again, it was a leap made out of fear and the basic desire to survive. His grief, anger, horror, and disappointment are all on full display in later works like If Beale Street Could Talk, Just Above My Head, and the 1985 non-fiction book  Evidence of Things Not Seen (about the Atlanta child murders). Yet, until his dying day he wrote about love and hope – even using a portion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, from the Christian New Testament, as the title of his book about the Atlanta child murders.

Another place where you can see Mr. Baldwin’s devotion to love, life, and humanity is in the words of his friends; people, who actually knew him, were inspired by him, and some of whom called him Jim or Jimmy. When he died in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote a tribute for The New York Times, entitled “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language.” In addition to describing how Mr. Baldwin introduced her to his family as his mother’s newest daughter, she explained that he “opened the [unusual] door” and encouraged her to tell her story.

“Well, the season was always Christmas with you there and, like one aspect of that scenario, you did not neglect to bring at least three gifts. You gave me a language to dwell in, a gift so perfect it seems my own invention….

The second gift was your courage, which you let us share: the courage of one who would go as a stranger in the village and transform the distances between people into intimacy with the whole world; courage to understand that experience in ways that made it a personal revelation for each of us…. Yours was the courage to live life in and from its belly as well as beyond its edges, to see and say what was, to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it….

The third gift was hard to fathom and even harder to accept. It was your tenderness – a tenderness so delicate that I thought it could not last, but last it did and envelop me it did. In the midst of anger it tapped me lightly like the child in Tish’s womb…. Yours was a tenderness, of vulnerability, that asked everything, expected everything and, like the world’s own Merlin, provided us with the ways and means to deliver. I suppose that was why I was always a bit better behaved around you, smarter, more capable, wanting to be worth the love you lavished, and wanting to be steady enough to bear while it broke your heart, wanting to be generous enough to join your smile with one of my own, and reckless enough to jump on in that laugh you laughed. Because our joy and our laughter were not only all right, they were necessary.”

– quoted from  “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered; Life In His Language” by Maya Angelou (printed in The New York Times Book Review December 20, 1987)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 2nd) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston’s Theme for Jimmy 2022”]

NOTE: In 2020, I had to cancel some of this week’s practices and, therefore, did not post the variation of my “Langston Hughes” playlist that I normally use on this date. However, I did encouraged people to practice (with those aforementioned gifts and especially the second and third gifts – with courage and tenderness that has you lifting the corners of your mouth up to your ears and laughing out loud). Last year, today fell on a Monday and so, again, I did not post a playlist.

While I have now posted a variation of what I’ve used in the past, you are still welcome to use my “Selma to Montgomery” playlist, which is available on YouTube and Spotify or, as I mentioned in 2020, you could grab some Nina Simone, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte (“Merci Bon Dieu” comes to mind, of course), Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joan Baez – and then mix in some of the jazz from today’s playlist.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth….Love is a growing up.”

– James Baldwin

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.)

### OPEN THE DOOR, & LET ME IN (OR OUT)! ###