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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)! ###

FTWMI: Practice Responsibly July 26, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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This post from 2020 – and the one you can find here, related to yesterday’s “anger/kindness” theme – have come back to haunt me. Yet, they have also come back to bring me some comfort. I hope you, too, find some comfort and good practice reminders in the following. In addition to some format edits, class details and links have been updated for today.

“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to a beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to a British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like those referenced above, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar (b. 12/14/1918) and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and he didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way.

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 26th) 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. If you are using and Apple device and having problems viewing the “Class Schedules,” you may need to update your browser.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

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.)

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Dà shǔ “Major Heat” (the “missing” Sunday post) July 25, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, First Nations, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Yoga.
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Stay hydrated, y’all, and “may our hearts be open!”

This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 24thYou 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.)

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

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

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

If you’re anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, I don’t have to tell you that it’s hot. Neither do I have to do much to bring your awareness to the heat – the great heat, the major heat. Since I use different calendars, I may talk about different things on this date. However, because it’s almost always really hot this time of year, no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m always aware of the heat – and that shows up in the practice.

For instance, in years past, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar has fallen around this time of year (on the Gregorian calendar). The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and, like other religious calendars, the names of the months (and days) have special significance. In this case, the ninth month is the holy month of Ramadān, which means “scorching heat” or “dryness,” and is one of the “99 Names of Allah (God)” or “99 Attributes of Allah (God).” It is a period of fasting and reflection – which, in the Yoga Philosophy, is a form of tapas (“heat,” “discipline,” and “austerity”). On the other hand, if we want to just stick with a yoga paradigm, Guru Purnima, which is based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar, fell on today’s Gregorian date in 2021. This celebration of teachers is also a celebration of light (in the form of wisdom/teachings) burning away darkness (e.g., ignorance).

I sometimes mention John Newton, the Anglican clergyman known for hymns like “Amazing Grace,” who was born in London on July 24, 1725. Newton’s life was full of hardship and trauma. His mother died just a couple of weeks before he turned seven years old, and then – after a couple of years at boarding school and a couple of years with his father and stepmother – he went to sea with his father. When he was 18 years old, he was pressed into the Royal Navy, but ended up being publicly punished after trying to desert.  Eventually, he transferred to a slave ship – but, he didn’t have any better luck there and was himself enslaved by the time he was 20. After three years, he was rescued, but found himself in the middle of a terrible storm. Faced with the very real possibility of his own death, John Newton prayed and made a promise to God: if he survived, he would turn his life around. True to his word, he gave up drinking, gambling, and cursing. Later, he would also give up working within the slave trade and begin serious religious study. He spent years applying to be ordained by several different churches before being ordained and accepted by the Church of England.

“Family worship succeeding, the portion of the Scripture read had in it the following words, ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am,’ –– It was [John Newton’s] custom to make a short familiar exposition on the passage read. After the reading, he paused for some moments and then uttered the following affected words –– –I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient – I am not what I wish to be, I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good –– I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection –– yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was, a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge; by the grace of God I am what I am, Let us pray.”

– quoted from passage entitled “Anecdote of Mr. John Newton” by Dr. Gill, in the “Gleanings” section of The Religious Monitor, or, Evangelical Repository (March 1825)  

Finally, July 24th is “Pioneer Day” in Utah and it marks the occasion, in 1847, when Brigham Young looked out of the back of a covered wagon and said, “It is enough. This is the Right Place.” Young was the successor of Joseph Smith, the founder of what is now known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and – before he was exiled from Illinois – Young had a vision of a place that these Mormon settlers could call home, a place where they would be free from religious persecution and conflict: “a place on this earth that nobody else wants.” 148 settlers followed Brigham Young west. Most reached the Great Salt Lake Valley, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, a couple of days ahead of their leader, who was suffering from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

When the story of the Mormon pioneers has been the main focus of the practice, I have mentioned that some people in Salt Lake City spend today celebrating “Pie and Beer Day.” Some do so because they’re not part of the Church and it’s a funny little rhyme. Some do so because they feel this official holiday isn’t as inclusive as it (theoretically) could be. On that same note, there is an Intertribal Powwow on this date that celebrates indigenous culture and the contributions of Native Americans to Utah, as well as highlights the fact that there were, in fact, people who wanted the land. I mention all of this because I consider all of these viewpoints as an opportunity for svādhyāya (“self-study”), which is the niyama (internal “observation”) that directly follows the practice of tapas.

Similarly, I contemplate those religious pioneers that left New York, Illinois, and Missouri earlier (in 1946) and got trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains as they traveled to California. They got trapped and many – like in the case of the tragic Donner party of 18 – did not survive the extreme cold. But, when I talk about Brigham Young and those 148 pioneers, I think about the extreme heat. I have been to the east side of Salt Lake City, to This Is the Place Heritage Park – albeit in the winter; but I imagined what it would be like after traveling months on end and through so much heat. I thought about the religious fervor that carried people through the rocky terrain and I thought about what it might have been like for Brigham Young, sick, feverish, maybe delirious, and (even if he was experiencing chills) surrounded by major heat, great heat.

“The center of most ancient cultures, from China in the second century B.C. to the twentieth-century native America, was the earth. Human welfare was attached to the rains upon the soil, the wind of the heaves and pliable trees embedded in an abundant forest. Chief Seattle, in 1854, summed up this ancient view of how humanity stands in relation to the world” ‘This we know – the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.'”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

The traditional Chinese calendar, also known as the Agricultural Calendar and the farming calendar, is a lunisolar calendar that is also the basis for many other cultural and religious calendars throughout East Asia. It breaks down into twelve lunar months and twenty-four solar terms. Each day, month, season, and year is based on an astronomical and/or natural phenomena. For instance, days begin and end at midnight; a month begins and ends with the new moon; and the Lunar New Year begins on the second (or third) new moon after the Winter Solstice. Each month of the Lunar Year is associated with an agricultural phenomena as well as with a zodiac animal. On the flip side, the solar year begins with the Winter Solstice and each of the twenty-four terms is based on the sun’s celestial longitude and associated with “pre-climate” and “mid-climate” experiences. (NOTE: This system also includes intercalary or “leap” months during some years.) According to the traditional Chinese calendar, the sixth pair of solar terms are Xiǎo shǔ (小暑, “slight heat”) and Dà shǔ (大暑, “great heat” or “major heat”). This year, the latter started on Friday night and continues through August 7, 2022.

Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”) is the twelfth solar term and the last part of summer. It is considered the hottest time of the year in most of China and Chinese news media have reported that this year is the hottest “great heat” in recorded history. Agriculturally speaking, it is believed that “crops grow most rapidly, fireflies appear, soil becomes more humid, and heavy thunderstorms arrive” during this solar term. As is true of other religious and cultural observations, people in different regions throughout East Asia have different rituals and traditions related to this time of year. However, one commonality is the focus on how heat affects the mind-body and what people can do to boost their health and longevity. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this time of year is focused on “clearing” heat and excessive dampness and stagnation from the body and “clearing” and nourishing the heart.

“Since everything is connected by the circle, health is understood broadly, defining the whole being within the social and natural order. What is good for nature is good for humanity, what is good for one is good for all, what is good for the mind is good for the body, and so on. To harm a part is to harm the whole. What is bad for the heart is bad for the body, what damages one person damages all people, what injures the earth injures me. Conversely, to restore and preserve the good health of one body and mind is to foster the well-being of the whole, the earth and all life upon it.”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

Like Ayurveda and Yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) associates the vitality of the heart with the arms. The heart meridian (YIN) begins at the inside of the armpit and runs along the front inside edge of the arm to the pinky finger. It is paired with the small intestine meridian (YANG), which runs along the back inside edge of the arm, starting with the pinky finger, zigzagging across the shoulder and the up the side of the neck to the outer corner of the eye (just in front of the ear). These meridians are associated with fire, summer, mid-day (which is sometimes the hottest part of the day), red (with a little hint of blue), and joy (when in-balance versus anxiety when out-of-balance). Additionally, this time of year is associated with the “yang within yin” (you can think of it as action within the inaction) – a reminder that each energy type illustrated in the Yin-Yang symbol includes the opposite energy.

A common TCM practice is to “treat winter disease in the summer,” which is really about taking preventative measures against ailments like bronchitis, bronchial asthma, nasal/sinus allergies, and other cold weather ailments – all ailments related to the lungs, the meridians of which (along with large intestines meridian) are also located in the arms. Preventative care may include a customized herbal treatment, acupuncture, and/or a treatment whereby herbal patches are placed on specific meridian points. Being mindful of what we eat and drink is another way people take care of their mind-body vitality. Along with a lot of other traditional (and modern) medicines, TCM practitioners recommend eating light and staying hydrated during extreme heat. Specific to Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”), people avoid spicy food, oily food, and heavy meals – as well as (extremely) cold meals and raw food. There is also an emphasis on getting enough rest, not overexerting one’s self (say, with strenuous exercise), and not spending a lot of time outside in the heat.

“The key is to achieve balance, which means being flexible, diverse, moderate, and in harmony with your own rhythm and needs. Chinese medicine makes use of acupuncture, herbs, diet, physical exercise, massage, mental discipline, and the modification of life-style habits as forms of therapy to reestablish the rhythmic swing of the Yin-Yang pendulum.”

– quoted from the “Everyday Life” section of “Chapter Four – Cycles of Circles: A Theory of Relativity Yin-Yang” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

As I mentioned before, different regions have different traditions and rituals related to Dà shǔ (大暑, “Great heat” or “Major heat”). In Guangdong province, people eat herb jelly, which is made of “divine grass.” Also known as “immortal grass,” this flowering plant is part of the lamiaceae or labiatae family of plants, which includes basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, and perilla, as well as conventionally identified medicinal herbs like catnip, salvia, bee balm, wild dagga, and “Chinese motherwort.” In Taiwan, this is the best time to eat pineapple. In at least one part of the Fujian province, people may make mizao from fermented and pickled rice (often cooked with brown sugar) and consume it to revitalize any energy sapped by the heat. They may also drink warm mutton soup – made from “summer mutton” – and litchis that have been soaked in cold water. In Hunan province, people may eat a spring chicken in order to harness the power of youth.

Finally, in Zhejiang province, one of the highlights of the festival is a “Great Heat Boat,” which is giant boat filled with offerings made in hopes of a good harvest, a good catch, and a happy life. Fishermen carry the boat during a parade that leads to the sea, where the ship is cast off and then set afire. Like many other festivals in China, this one includes firecrackers (to ward off the bad luck) and blessings (to cultivate the good luck).

“Eastern Philosophy is based on the premise that all life occurs within the circle of nature. Things within this matrix are connected and mutually dependent upon each other. Nature is one unified system, the Tao with polar and complementary aspects: Yin and Yang. Nature is in constant motion, following cyclic patterns that describe the process of transformation. When the elements of nature are in balance, life is harmonic and flourishes. When the balance of polar forces is upset, disaster looms.”

– quoted from “Chapter Three – Philosophy in the East: The Doctor As Gardener” in Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O. M. D.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08222021 Fire Thread”]

Extreme heat can not only make people lethargic and unmotivated, it can also lead to extreme agitation and anxiety-based fear. We may find it hard to think, hard to feel (or process our feelings), and/or hard to control our impulses. If you are struggling in the US, help is available just by dialing 988.

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call this 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).

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.)

### H2O ###

The Origins of Litigation (the “missing” post) July 10, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Love, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for today, Sunday, July 10thYou 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.)

“1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

2. If any one bring an accusation against a man, and the accused go to the river and leap into the river, if he sink in the river his accuser shall take possession of his house. But if the river prove that the accused is not guilty, and he escape unhurt, then he who had brought the accusation shall be put to death, while he who leaped into the river shall take possession of the house that had belonged to his accuser.

3. If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.

4. If he satisfy the elders to impose a fine of grain or money, he shall receive the fine that the action produces.

5. If a judge try a case, reach a decision, and present his judgment in writing; if later error shall appear in his decision, and it be through his own fault, then he shall pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case, and he shall be publicly removed from the judge’s bench, and never again shall he sit there to render judgement.”

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– quoted from the Code of Hammurabi (translated by L. W. King, as posted on the Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Law Library website for The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy)

Before we go any further, let me clarify something important. The title of this blog post can be – and is intended to be – taken in different ways. This is not, however, a treatise on the beginning of how people started taking legal action against one another. Although, to that end, I will say that carved and chiseled tablets from as far back as 2350 BCE provide very clear evidence of Near East, Middle East, and African societies with codified expectations, processes, and precedents. Here in the West, the most well-known of these ancient legal texts is probably the Code of Hammurabi (circa 18th century BCE), which is recognized as the laws of Hammurabi, sixth king of the First Dynasty of Babylon. Preserved on a stone slab over 7 feet (i.e., over 2 meters) tall, the text contains an image of King Hammurabi and Shamash, the Babylonian sun god and god of justice, followed by several thousands of lines of cuneiform text.

The Code of Hammurabi includes 282 rules and guidelines, which establish what happens “if” someone does something – or is accused of doing something – and what happens “[w]hen” they are proven guilty or “if” they are proven innocent “then” what happens to the accuser. The latter are particularly interesting to me, because there is no double standard: falsely accusing someone could carry the same penalty as having done the deed. It is also interesting to note that (per the fifth code, as quoted above) judges were not above the penalty of law – a rule that underscores the responsibility that comes with judicial power.

In many cases, the penalty for grievances were severe (and final). While some parts of our modern Western society have done away with the death penalty and most have eliminated “trial by river,” we can very clearly trace many of our laws, litigation processes, and penalties through the history of the Abrahamic religions and into the here-and-now – at least, from a purely historical perspective. In fact, the Code of Hammurabi is so historical significant to our modern society that Hammurabi’s image is included in the relief portraits of lawgivers located over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the United States Capital – right next to Moses and across from two gentleman from Virginia: George Mason and Thomas Jefferson.

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

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

So, again, this post is not about the history of law. Instead, this post is about a trial that started today in 1925. It is not, as any good law professor or lawyer will tell you, the first (or the first significant) trial in the United States of America. Therefore, it is not the beginning of this great nation’s (sometimes way too “great”) litigation system. However, when I think about litigation that set a precedent for the way laws and legal proceedings affect society – and are affected by society – I think of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial,” which took place in Dayton Tennessee (July 10-21, 1925).

At the center of the trial, legally speaking, was John Thomas Scopes, a high school biology substitute teacher who was accused of violating Tennessee’s “Butler Act” by teaching evolution during a high school biology class. Tennessee teachers were required, by law, to not teach evolution or deny Intelligent Design (ID) – even though the required text book had a chapter on evolution. By most accounts, Scopes skipped the chapter, but he still provided an opportunity to challenge what some considered an unconstitutional Act. Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that the trial became a carnival-like spectacle. There were vendors selling Bibles, toy monkeys, hot dogs, and lemonade. Despite the summer heat, the crowd size eventually increased to the point that the whole thing had to be moved outside. Those who couldn’t make it to Tennessee and/or the court “room” could listen to the trial on the radio. And, everyone had an opinion. Of course, the legal opinions that mattered came from the lawyers.

“Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals…. If civilization is to be saved from the wreckage threatened by intelligence not consecrated by love, it must be saved by the moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene. His teachings, and His teachings alone, can solve the problems that vex the heart and perplex the world.”

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– quoted from William Jennings Bryan’s written summation to The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (as distributed to the press), July 1925

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“My statement that there was there was no need to try this case further, and for the court to instruct that the defendant is guilty under the law was not made as a plea of guilty or an admission of guilt. We claim that the defendant is not guilty, but as the court has excluded any testimony, except as to the one issue as to whether he taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, and we cannot contradict that testimony, there is no logical thing to come except that the jury find a verdict that we may carry to the higher court, purely as a matter of proper procedure. We do not think it is fair to the court or counsel on the other side to waste a lot of time when we know this is the inevitable result and probably the best result for the case. I think that is all right?”

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– quoted from Clarence Darrow’s “bench statement” just before the jury’s verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

William Jennings Bryan – who was known as “The Great Commoner” and “The Boy Orator” – represented the state of Tennessee and, therefore, the idea that man was created by (the Abrahamic) God and had no relation to “other” primates. By 1925, when the trial occurred, Mr. Bryan had severed the country as a litigator; a member of the  U.S. House of Representatives (from Nebraska’s 1st district); and as the 41st U. S. Secretary of State (serving under President Woodrow Wilson). He had also, unsuccessfully, run for president on three different occasions. He was adored by some, abhorred by some, and was nothing short of polarizing. [As a side note, William Jennings Bryan died five days after the verdict came in of the “Scopes Monkey Trial.”]

Then there was Clarence Darrow, for the defense.

Clarence Darrow was prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and had just (the previous year) wrapped up the very public “Leopold and Loeb murder” trial. He was considered a witty, sophisticated country lawyer, who even had the audacity to put the state’s attorney (William Jennings Bryan) on the witness stand. In 1925, Clarence Darrow was already establishing his reputation as a brilliant criminal defense lawyer who fought for the underdog. Just as was the case when he represented Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, his motivation for representing John Scopes wasn’t about whether or not his client broke the law. It wasn’t even, as he pointed out in his summation, whether or not the court would find his client guilty. No, Clarence Darrow’s focus was ultimately about whether or not laws and punishments made sense. As he would illustrate in his later defense of the brothers Ossian Sweet and Henry Sweet (1926), as well as of Thomas Massie (1931), he was about the rule of law and “the law of love.”

“I do not believe in the law of hate. I may not be true to my ideals always, but I believe in the law of love, and I believe you can do nothing with hatred. I would like to see a time when man loves his fellow man, and forgets his color or his creed. We will never be civilized until that time comes.”

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– quoted from the end of Clarence Darrow’s 7-hour closing argument in The People of Michigan v. Henry Sweet (the second of the “Sweet Trials, involving a defendant from the racially charged The People of Michigan v. Ossian Sweet et al.), May 11, 1926

Clarence Darrow’s “law of love” is the same “moral code of the meek and lowly Nazarene” that William Jennings Bryan cited and, ironically, it speaks directly to the origin of Charles Darwin’s treatise on evolution. That is to say, it is related to how we are all connected and how our survival is based on “dependence of one being on another.” However, those early teachings – which actually predate Jesus – are not always practiced as they are preached. Similarly, evolution as it was debated in Tennessee in 1925 and at Oxford University in 1860, was not exactly what Darwin presented in 1859. In fact, the scientist never even used the word “evolution” in his first text. But, it didn’t take long for his argument to, ummm, evolve (or devolve, depending on your perspective). The way Darwin approached the subject was partially responsible for why it changed and why it can still be such a hot topic.

Portions of the following, related to Charles Darwin, were originally posted on November 24, 2020.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

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

The idea of evolution didn’t start with Charles Darwin. No, even the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) referenced earlier ideas (that predated his life) and contemplated an internal purpose (related to survival). Aristotle believed that this “internal purposiveness” existed in all living beings and could be passed down through generations. So, if the idea existed before Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) was published on November 24,1859, why did Darwin’s work create such an uproar?

To get to the origins of Origins – or at least the controversy, chaos, and uproar around it, let’s go back to 1852, when Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist used the German term entwicklungsgeschichte” (“development history”), which had previously been used in relation to embryos and single cell organisms, to explain cosmic and biological changes in societies. Spencer would later write an essay coining the phrase “theory of evolution” – in relation to Darwin’s work. However, in the same year (1852) that Spencer wrote about cultures having “development history,” he also wrote an essay called “The Philosophy of Style” in which he promoted writing “to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort.” In other words, Spencer advocated writing to make the meaning plain and accessible.

I can’t say for sure how much Darwin himself was influenced by Spencer, but it is very clear that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species for non-specialists. In other words, he wrote it for the masses. And, as it was easily understood (and written by a then esteemed scientist), it became wildly discussed – in the parlors and in the public. The first big public debate occurred on June 30, 1860 during the British Science Association’s annual meeting at Oxford UniversityThe next big public debate started today, July 10, 1925, in Dayton, Tennessee (USA). In both cases, what people remember is the way two very articulate men squared off around matters of faith and reason, and the moral and ethical implications of believing one origin story over the other.

As predicted by his lawyer, John Scopes was found guilty by the jury. The judge fined him $100 (the equivalent of about $1,670.26, as I post this today). As planned, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee (in 1926). All five of the defense’s constitutional points of appeal were rejected by the higher court. However, the verdict was overturned on a technicality: the $100 penalty required by the legislation was higher than what the state constitution said a judge could apply. Had the jury assigned the fine, it is possible that the case could have continued to the Supreme Court of the United States.

“It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

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

The fact that “The Scopes Monkey Trial” is related to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is tangentially related to why I think of it as a litigation “origin” story. More importantly, as the first United States trial to be nationally televised broadcasted on the radio, The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes set a precedent on how trials are covered by the press and how the public pays attention to such trials. The press was right there, in the court “room” and, therefore, it put the whole country in the jury box; hearing testimony in real time. It was the beginning of a national (even an international) court of public opinion that’s not restricted to the parlors and the streets. Instead, this expanded defacto jury also becomes a judging and legislating body that is quick to convert cases into real world applications (and vice versa). For example, the initial verdict in 1925, led to several state legislations debating anti-evolution legislation – most of which were rejected, but some of which were codified. While Tennessee’s “Butler Act” was rescinded September 1, 1967, there have been similar legal and pedagogical debates in the United States as recently as 2005 and 2007 (hello, Kansas – where evolution is still officially “an unproven theory”). The case also led to changes in science text books (across the country) and changes in the way in which students were taught – and not just about how they were taught biology.

Finally, as a textbook case on how the U. S. legal system could work, “The Scopes Monkey Trial” was/is a primer for how the constitution can be applied to day-to-day life and how that application can be defended… or rejected. It is a tried and true First Amendment case and, to me, is the origin story of how so many Americans view the legality of their constitutional rights, as well as how they understand their rights to challenge how the constitution is applied and the process by which they might exercise those rights. As so many states (including my own home state) codify things that I view as absolutely egregious (and unconstitutional) – and as SCOTUS shockingly overturns precedent – I see lots of opportunities for Scopes-like “tests.”

As soon as Texas created it’s “bounty hunter” abortion law, I said there’s going to be some Scope-like cases testing this. Within a matter of days, cases were filed. Just a couple of weeks ago, mere days after SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey, a woman here in Texas was pulled over while driving in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane. She was cited for not having at least one passenger. The woman, who is pregnant, cited the aforementioned Texas penal code and the SCOTUS decision as “proof” that she was driving lawfully. She was given a ticket, which means she gets her day in court. I don’t know anything else about this woman and I don’t know anything about her politics, but – whether her motivations are purely economic or whether they are more expansive – her case will put these matters to the test.

And, how ever, those cases are decided, the world will be watching… and discussing.

“Now, we came down here to offer evidence in this case and the court has held under the law that the evidence we had is not admissible, so all we can do is to take an exception and carry it to a higher court to see whether the evidence is admissible or not. As far as this case stands before the jury, the court has told you very plainly that if you think my client taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, you will find him guilty… and there is no dispute about the facts. Scopes did not go on the stand, because he could not deny the statements made by the boys. I do not know how you may feel, I am not especially interested in it, but this case and this law will never be decided until it gets to a higher court, and it cannot get to a higher court probably, very well, unless you bring in a verdict…. We cannot argue to you gentlemen under the instructions given by the court we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it.”

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– quoted Clarence Darrow’s statement to the jury, just before the verdict was announced in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, July 21, 1925

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “Hays Code” playlist dated “March 31” on YouTube and “03302020” on Spotify]

The Law of Love

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (13:8, NIV)

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”

– The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians (5:14-15, KJV)

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

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

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

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

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### Where Do We [Even] Begin? ###

Rigid Bodies (mostly the music) July 5, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Music, Science, Yoga.
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“Every body continues in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a right line, unless compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

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– “Law 1” quoted from “Axioms, or Laws of Motion” in Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (published 07/05/1687) by Sir Isaac Newton

NOTE: Some editions use the term “straight line.”

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 5th) 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 “05262020 Fearless Play with Miles & Sally”]

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Click here if you are interested on a philosophical take on fear and liberation.

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

### Feel Free… To Move ###

What Happens When You Are Off-Center & Completely Ungrounded? June 22, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

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– Galileo Galilei, as quoted in Angels in the Workplace: Stories and Inspirations for Creating a New World of Work by Melissa Giovagnoli

Pay attention to those times when you, or someone around you, is very certain about something even though all evidence indicates that you, or someone around you, is wrong. In some cases, people may (or may not) acknowledge the truth when given the opportunity. In some cases, people are forced into situations where they intentionally prevaricate. Sometimes they are so adept in evasive language that it sounds like they are saying what you think they should be saying when, in reality, they aren’t acknowledging the truth at all.

The really twisted thing is that the scenario can play out in the same way even when you, or someone around you, is actually correct and you are being forced to recant your views because the people in the wrong are the people in power. This is exactly what happened to Galileo Galilee, today in 1633, when the Holy Office in Rome forced him to recant views that were (and are) widely accepted as the truth. When compare what happened then to some things that are happening now, we must remember Yoga Sūtra 2.20, which indicates that we only see what our brain shows us, and we have to carefully consider if we are centered and grounded in what is real or if we are centered and grounded in something specifically designed to deceive us.*

As I blogged today in 2020: “Every one of us has a center – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and energetically. Every one of us believes something is solid and true – even if we what we believe in is the impermanence of all things. We view everything we experience through the lens of our belief. This, more often than not, causes us to cling tightly to our beliefs. We cling tightly even when there is something inside of us that quietly whispers, or loudly shouts, that that to which we cling is wrong. We hold on to what is familiar, even if it no longer serves us, but we also hold on to that thing that we believe centers and grounds us. Sometimes we cling so tightly that we are unable to see we are off-center and completely ungrounded. Because, what we miss in holding on is that we have essentially told our mind/intellect, ‘This is the part that’s important; don’t bother me with anything else.’”

Click here to read more of the 2020 post about Galileo Galilei and how he pushed the Church’s buttons.

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Please join me today (Wednesday, June 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“06222021 Staying Centered & Grounded”]

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*NOTE: My intention in not naming names or specific current events is not to gaslight anyone or convince someone that I believe what they believe. Neither is it to imply who I see as “Galileo Galilee” and who I see as the “Holy See” in any modern example. Rather, I offer this as an opportunity to bring awareness to what our mind shows us and to observe how we respond or react to the information. Noting that, I also (unfortunately) recognize that some people may get it “wrong.”

“As long as our mind is contaminated by likes and dislikes, fear and doubt, we are bound to experience pain. Getting rid of this contaminated mind (chitta nivritti) is the ultimate pain reliever. We acquired a contaminated mind by embracing avidya. As soon as we renounce avidya, mental contaminants evaporate.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.25 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

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.)

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### [MIND THE GAP] ###

Another Hard Working Day (the Tuesday post) June 21, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Faith, Healing Stories, Japa-Ajapa, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Happy… [insert everything that’s being celebrated today]!

This is an expanded and “renewed” compilation post for Tuesday, June 21st. Some information was previously posted in June and December 2020. 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.)

“We must understand that yoga is not an Indian (thing). If you want to call yoga Indian, then you must call gravity European.”

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– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation, speaking in a 2016 United Nations panel discussion about International Yoga Day

June 21st is vying with May 1st to be the hardest working day of the year. It’s International Yoga Day, World Music Day, World Handshake Day, Atheist Solidarity Day, World Humanist Day, and sometimes (including this year) it’s Summer Solstice. I feel like I’m forgetting something….

Oh yes, one of these days is also connected, inspired even, by someone’s birthday. So, let’s start with that.

Born June 21, 1938, in Mysore, India, T. K. V. Desikachar learned yoga from his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who became known as “the father of modern yoga” because his teachings led to a resurgence in the physical practice of yoga in India. Eventually, a handful of Krishnamacharya’s students were charged with sharing the physical practice with the rest of the world. T. K. V. Desikachar was one of a those students and some say that his method of teaching – as well as the tradition of practice (originally called “Viniyoga”) that he taught – are is most consistent with Sri Krishnamacharya’s teachings.

Just as was the case with his father and grandfather before him, T. K. V. Desikachar’s students included his children and world leaders. Just as his father and grandfather did, he stressed the importance of teaching and practicing according to an individual’s needs – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. His teachings were so influential that a celebration of yoga was proposed to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. The first International Yoga Day observation occurred today in 2015, with over 200 million people in almost 180 nations practicing yoga – some even extending the celebration into the entire week.

Since today was also a solstice, someone somewhere was probably practicing 108 Sun Salutations.

“One of his longtime students, Patricia Miller, who now teaches in Washington, D.C., recalls him leading a meditation by offering alternatives. He instructed students to close their eyes and observe the space between the brows, and then said, ‘Think of God. If not God, the sun. If not the sun, your parents.’ Krishnamacharya set only one condition, explains Miller: ‘That we acknowledge a power greater than ourselves.’”

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– quoted from the Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words meaning “sun” and “to stand still.” The solstice marks the moment, twice a year, when one hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun while the other is tilted away and it appears as if the Sun is hovering over one of the poles – thus creating the longest day (and the longest night) of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere today was Summer Solstice, the longest day and the shortest night. It’s a moment of transition, that marks incremental changes: increasingly shorter days (i.e., more night).

I often mention the yoga “tradition” of practicing 108 Sun Salutations on the equinoxes and solstices, but I have no idea how long such traditions have existed. I do know, however, that ancient Indian texts – including some related to astronomy – highlight the auspiciousness of 108 and that all around the world various cultures have celebrations related to the changing positions of the sun. Since many of the surviving sun-related rituals and traditions from around the world involve movement (e.g. dancing around a May pole, leaping over bonfires, and cleansing rituals), it is not surprising that people still find practicing Sūrya Namaskar (“Salutes to the Sun”) so appealing. After all, it is a practice of constant change,  highlighting a period of transition.

There are different types of “Sun Salutations,” but it is traditional viewed as a series of twelve poses and, therefore, a practice of six (inhale-exhale) breaths. The movement mimics the body’s natural tendencies to extend, or lift up to the sun, on the inhale – which is the solar breath – and get closer to the earth on the exhale – which is the lunar breath. It is a mālā (“ring” or “garland”) meditation practice involving ajapa-japa (“not thinking-repeat” or explained as “repeat-remember”), similar to a reciting, chanting, or praying with a rosary or beads. In fact, there are chants and prayers which are sometimes used along with the movement. Not coincidentally, 108 corresponds with the way people use mala beads and the old fashioned rosaries – which had beads to recite 10 decades (10×10) plus 8 beads (for mistakes) (and the cross as the guru bead).

Click here for more about sun-related celebrations and stories or click here learn more about the auspiciousness of 108.

If you click on the 108-related link above, you will note that 108 shows up in some traditions as the number of vedanās (“feelings” or “sensations”) that humans can experience. On one level, the calculation breaks down how we internalize vibrations. It does not, however, breakdown all the external stimuli that might result in the 108 sensations. For instance, it can be used to explain all the different feels we might have over a memory that pops up when we eat a biscuit, see someone that reminds us of someone, move our body in a certain way, and/or hear a certain tone (or combination of tones). It does not explain, however, how there is so much great music in the world – or how everyone deserves music.

The idea that “everyone deserves music / sweet music” is something very much at the heart of World Music Day. Not to be confused with International Music Day, World Music Day was started in France in 1982 and has been adopted by over 120 nations, including India. The idea for free concerts in open areas by a variety of musicians was first proposed by American Joel Cohen as far back as 1976. In 1981, however, French Minister of Culture Jack Lang appointed musician Maurice Fleuret as the Director of Music and Dance. The duo collaborated to create an event in 1985 whereby even amateurs would be encouraged to musically express themselves in public. Fleuret said there would be “music everywhere and the concert nowhere.”

According to Johann Sebastian Bach, “[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.” A quick study of music from around the world will show that, throughout history, many people have created music that is devotional in nature. In fact, kirtan (“narrating,” “praising,” or “reciting”) is a form of bhakti (or “devotional”) yoga, where chanting is combined with music. More often than not, the chanting is related to one of the names of God, mentioned in the 108-link above.

Today’s playlist, however, has no kirtan during the 65-90 minutes of practice music. Because, well…

“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

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– bus billboard for the American Humanist Association

There are atheists everywhere, even though many people believe they are few and far between. In 2010, Mike Smith started a Facebook group to make Atheist Solidarity Day an official holiday. Even though he deleted the group soon after, people were engaged and today atheist celebrate June 21st as a global protest, celebration, and awareness raising event for people who don’t always have the freedom to openly express their lack of belief in “god,” whatever that means to you at this moment.

To be clear, not all humanist are atheist; however Humanists (as described by the Humanist Manifesto of 1933) are atheists. While I could call myself a humanist, I am neither a Humanist nor an atheist. Still, today’s black and red theme is in solidarity of people having the freedom to believe what serves them – as long as it doesn’t harm others.

As we are finding more and more each day, that last part is the tricky part of believing in “freedom of religion.” So many people believe that other people’s belief’s are causing them to suffer, when – in fact – it is that very belief that causes suffering. Additionally, people sometimes believe that their beliefs are so correct that they should be forced on others – an attitude which can create more suffering. It’s a vicious cycle.

On Monday, with regard to personal safety, I mentioned that we are all (on a certain level) responsible for our own feelings of safety. I think the same is true about suffering. This has nothing to do with the fact that one person can harm another person or do something that causes another person to suffer. Instead, what I am saying is that if we feel unsafe in a situation, we are responsible for acknowledging that feeling and examining it to see if it is rooted in reality. Then, we act accordingly. Similarly, if we are experiencing mental and emotional anguish over another person’s belief, we owe it to ourselves to go deeper. Ask yourself: How does this other person’s belief affect me in the real world? Does this person’s belief (system) truly threaten my existence?

We have to be honest with ourselves and recognize our own kliṣṭa (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) thought patterns in order to see the roots of our own suffering. Doing so will also allow us to see how we are contributing to division in the world and, in the process, bring us a little closer to “coming together” – which is, ultimately the whole point of yoga, and all these celebrations.

“My son, place your hand here in the sea and you are united with the whole world.”

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– Ivan Zupa, founder of World Handshake Day, remembering the advice of an old man

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Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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### BREATHE INTO YOUR SPINE ###