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On Being Curious September 16, 2020

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Yoga Sūtra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga (‘union’) is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sūtra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Take a seat, get comfortable, and do that 90-second thing. Or, sit for 5, 15, 20, or 30 moments. Watch your breath and get curious. Bring awareness to your awareness, notice what you notice. There is so much, after all, to notice. We can smell things and taste things; we can feel different textures and sensations on our skin (and even on the inside of our body); we can see and hear – even with our eyes closed; and every sensation, every bit of information has the possibility of conjuring up a thought or memory that brings more sensation, more information. Yes, it’s true that the more you sit – even for short periods of time – the more there is the possibility that your mind will stop bouncing around like wild horses, elephants, little puppies, or curious monkeys. The stillness and quite you can cultivate in your mind, the more there is the possibility of insight, of seeing things in a special way – and seeing what is constant.

“After the day is gone we shall go out, breathe deeply, and look up – and there the stars will be, unchanged, unchangeable.”

– quoted from The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H. A. Rey

However, there’s also the possibility that the mind will keep bopping around looking for something on which it can focus and then – like a dog who’s spotted a squirrel – rushing off in another direction. In fact, the longer we practice the more we understand that our mind, just like a little puppy or a curious monkey, is designed to explore and play. Furthermore, the more we practice, the more we understand the merit of playing and exploring our mind.

“Now run along and play, but don’t get into trouble.’ George promised to be good. But it is easy for little monkeys to forget.”

– from Curious George by Margaret and H. A. Rey

Hans Augusto Reyersbach, better known as H. A. Rey, was the author of The Stars: A New Way to See Them and the co-author of children’s books featuring Curious George and The Man in the Yellow Hat. Born today in 1898 he and his wife Margaret (born Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein, May 16, 1906) were German Jews who originally met in their hometown of Hamburg but would both end up in Brazil and reconnect in Rio de Janeiro. It was in Brazil that H. A. changed his last name to Rey and Margarete changed her first name to Margaret. They married in Brazil and took a honeymoon cruise to Europe before settling in Paris, France. During the cruise, their pet marmoset monkeys died – and perhaps these pets were the beginning of the idea that became George, because when they settled in France they began creating the drawings and stories that would become “Curious George and Friends.

George, however, did not start off as “George.” Like the Reys, he went through a series of name changes, starting with “Fifi” and “Zozo.”  He also has different names in different translations, including (but not limited to) Jordi (in Catalan), Peter Pedal (in Danish), Coco (in German), Golgol in Galacian), and Nicke Nyfiken (in Swedish). I am particular fond of “Peter Pedal,” because it makes me think of how Curious George, and his creators, escaped the Nazis. A back story that is as much of an adventure as the stories themselves.

“It seems ridiculous to be thinking about children’s books. [But] life goes on, the editors edit, the artists draw, even during wartime.”

– H. A. Rey

Margaret, who H. A. originally remembered as the kid sister who slid down banisters, ended up in Brazil specifically because she was escaping the Nazi’s rise of power in Germany. In 1939, the now married Reyes wrote and illustrated a book called Rafi and the 9 Monkeys. From the beginning it was an equal collaboration, but only H. A.’s name appeared on the original publications. (On a side note, Rafi would become “Raffi” when the book was published in the United Kingdom and “Cecily” when it was published in the United States.) Rafi was a giraffe whose friends and family had been captured and placed in a zoo. She makes friends with a family of monkeys. The most prominent of the nine monkeys would become “George” and by the time the war broke out, the Reys had been contracted to publish a book featuring the gregarious monkey. They were working on other books as well; however, in June of 1940 the couple decided to put everything on hold and flee from the Nazi invasion. H. A. built two bicycles and, taking little more than the drawings and manuscript for “Fifi,” they headed south. Their four-month journey eventually landed them in New York City, where the first Curious George book was published (in 1941).

One of the things that aided their escape was the fact that they were officially Brazilian citizens. Another thing that helped them was “Fifi.” At one point in their escape, an official suspected them of beings German spies (because they were Jewish people with German accents and Brazilian visas), but let them go when he searched their belongings and found nothing more than a children’s story.

“George can do what kids can’t do. He can paint a room from the inside. He can hang from a kite in the sky. He can let the animals out of their pens on the farm. He can do all these naughty things that kids would like to do.”

– Margaret Rey

“Curious George does exactly what he’s supposed to do for his age and development (and species)!  By nature and by name, he is curious.  He explores his world fully and completely.  This is his job as a young, continually developing little person, er, monkey.  This is why my kids love the show–they relate so well to George’s genuinely curious nature and all of the honest (and funny) mistakes that ensue.  But what I find most refreshing about “Curious George” is The Man in the Yellow Hat.

The Man in the Yellow Hat never punishes George for his mistakes.  He is more concerned with solving the problem.  The man helps George put things away, fix things that broke, apologize to people who were involved in any indiscretions, and generally restore order.”

 – quoted from “Why I Like Curious George” posted on the blog Parenting From Scratch by Kelly Bartlett

We can learn a lot from Curious George – on and off the mat – but first we have to give our minds something with which it can play. Please join me today (Wednesday, September 16th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a simultaneously playful and meditative 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. (This is the playlist entitled “07112020 An Introduction.”)

“The object of meditation is to still the mind, and the fastest way to do that is to move your body.”

– Gabrielle Roth

### BE CURIOUS ###

Can You Be Like The Bird? (the “missing” post) September 15, 2020

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“Gentlemen, there are three things which belong to God and which do not belong to man: the irrevocable, the irreparable, the indissoluble. Woe to man if he introduces them into his laws! (Movement.) Sooner or later they cause society to bend under their weight, they disturb the necessary balance of laws and customs, they deprive human justice of its proportions; and then this happens, think about it, gentlemen, that the law terrifies the conscience. (Sensation.)”

– quoted from Victor Hugo’s address to the French Constituent (General) Assembly, September 15, 1848

“Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin. The inexplicable fact is that the blinder it is, the more tenacious it is. It is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable.”

– quoted from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Consider Victor Hugo the tail end of the story… or the braid.

On the best of days, explaining the beginning of an idea is like pointing to the beginning of French braid wreath or the beginning of an ensō. I can point to a section of my very thick, very curly hair and explain that I separated this section from that and that section from this one and then started braiding them together as I, simultaneously, pulled in extra pieces from here and here

But that leaves out the fact that first I had to wash and comb out my very thick, very curl, and very unprocessed hair. Still, even if we skip the part about where and when I learned how to braid my hair, we can repeat the steps above and get a different result every time. Sometimes it’s a relatively easy, even meditative process. Other times it is super frustrating and, after starting and stopping half a dozen times, I may or may not finish it the way I originally intended. I mean, let’s be real; sometimes it’s just going to be a scarf, bandana, or baseball cap day.

I say all this to explain that while I can definitely say that today’s class was influenced by that age old discussion of right and wrong (that so many are debating right now) and there are definitely the reverberations of some of the links embedded above. In some ways, today’s class theme started with yesterday’s class theme – but only if you go back to September 14, 2016.

“The heart becomes heroic through passion. It is no longer composed of anything but what is pure; it no longer rests upon anything but what is elevated and great.”

– quoted from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Ivan Pavlov (sort of) and also the date when Francis Scott Key penned the poem, “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” that would eventually be combined with an English drinking song in order to become America’s national anthem.  In my September 14, 2016 classes, at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA and Nokomis Yoga, I used the national anthem as an example of a habit we had developed as a nation without really giving it much thought. Keep in mind that in August of that year, Colin Kaepernick had started sitting – and then kneeling – during the national anthem as a form of political protest. Neither he nor those who joined him in the NFL protest were protesting the flag or people who had served in the military, but their actions caused a great deal of uproar nevertheless. While, they had given some thought to why (they thought) that would  be an appropriate time and place to protest, my point in bringing it up in class was that other people (most people) weren’t looking at the context, in part, because of the habit of “honoring the flag” with that particular song  and in a very specific way. The habit was (and is) so deeply engrained it is part of people’s asmitā (sense of I-am-ness, which is the second affliction) and to question it (or even consider it in its entirety) activates people’s abhiniveśah (“fear of death,” which is the fifth affliction.)The song and the ritual around it are, I suggested, create a Pavlovian response and (to some) altering the tradition in any way, shape, or form is akin to threatening death.

 “Try as you will, you cannot annihilate that eternal relic of the human heart, love.”

– Victor Hugo

Fast forward to 2020, and the country is (in some ways) even more polarized. So, when I got ready for my Monday class, I debated making the connection. It was a different audience, a different medium, and a different time – so I considered the merit; weighed the possibility of there being more good, in the reference, than harm. Even as I started the class, I was still carrying on that internal debate (which is why there’s no reference in yesterday’s blog post). Ultimately, I decided to end with the reference – and buddy, am I glad I did!

“Our mind is enriched by what we receive, our heart by what we give.”

– Victor Hugo

After class, a friend who is a music teacher told me about a composer and University of Minnesota professor, Abbie Betinis, who inverted the music for the “Star Spangled Banner.” The composition is pretty brilliant. It adds a timbre and tone that, if anything, highlight the weight of what Scott Key witnessed and all the battles that have led us up to today. I immediately started thinking about how we look at things from a different perspective when we (or the things) are upside down and backwards. Ms. Betinis (who has a January birthday) has a catalog of beautiful music, including a song inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo (who has a February birthday).

And it was right around this time that I realized Victor Hugo had been following me around… for days!

He was in conversations about “the republic” and underscoring contemplation about right and wrong, morals versus ethics versus laws. And he was in a friend’s Twitter feed (which is totally random, ‘cause y’all know I’m not on Twitter). Then I started delving into the speeches he made to the French Constituent Assembly and, in particular, to the speech he made today in 1848 calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

“I regret that this question, perhaps the first of all, arrives in the midst of your deliberations almost out of the blue, and surprises unprepared speakers.

As for me, I will say few words, but they will start from the feeling of a deep and ancient conviction.”

“Well, think about it, what is the death penalty? The death penalty is the special and eternal sign of barbarism. (Movement.) Wherever the death penalty is lavished, barbarism dominates; wherever the death penalty is rare, civilization reigns. (Sensation.)

Gentlemen, these are indisputable facts. The softening of the penalty is a big and serious step forward. Part of its glory, the eighteenth century, abolished torture; the nineteenth century will abolish the death penalty. (Cheers! Yes! Yes! )”

– quoted from Victor Hugo’s address to the French Constituent (General) Assembly, September 15, 1848

And it got me thinking about Victor Hugo as an activist and as a writer of social commentary. It got me thinking about all the struggles, trials and tribulations, and suffering found in his fiction – but also how there is always, always love. Despite the most horrible of odds, there is love. And, finally, it got me thinking about how any one of us is responding/reacting to all the mayhem, civil disobedience, civil unrest, and isolation we are currently encountering – and how we might react differently if we were a character in a Victor Hugo novel…or poem. Or, for that matter, how we might react if we were Victor Hugo, himself. How we can we stay true to ourselves even when “the bough is slight” or we are on shaky ground?

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

– “Be like the bird” poem by Victor Hugo

Keep in mind, that some of this will not be evident in the class. Keep in mind, also, that my hair is super curly and super thick. So, when I braid my hair, all I have to do to keep all these threads together is keep joining everything together until I reach the end. Violá! Yoga (Union).

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“I feel in myself the future life. I am like a forest once cut down; the new shoots are stronger and livelier than ever. I am rising, I know, toward the sky. The sunshine is on my head. The earth gives me its generous sap, but heaven lights me with reflection of unknown worlds. You say the soul is nothing but the resultant of the bodily powers. Why, then, is my soul more luminous when my bodily powers begin to fail? Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”

– quoted from essay on Immortality by Victor Hugo (published in Sacramento Daily Union, March 16, 1882)

“The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds.”

– quoted from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

### “To love another is to see the face of God.” (Les Mis, VH) ###

Can You Be Like The Bird? (Sorry, it’s just the music) September 15, 2020

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Since it took me longer than anticipated to put together this (very top heavy) playlist and explain how today’s class came together, today’s “official” post will come after the practice.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 15th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.


### SING & FLY ###


How Do You Respond? September 14, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The oldest of 11 and known as a curious child, Ivan Pavlov was an active child who started school late, because of an accident. He went to theological seminary for a bit, but his curiosity ultimately led him to the university at St. Petersburg and the field of medical research. He won several awards throughout his career, including the 1904 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged.” The Nobel Committee’s description of why Dr. Pavlov won was in part a nod to the fact that he had been nominated four years in a row (starting in 1901), but his ultimate win were 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 viewed within the paradigm of classical conditioning, respondent conditioning, or Pavlovian conditioning. He was one of the first scientists to associate behavioral responses to environmental stimuli, and his research has been extended into various aspects of psychology, behavior modification therapy, and learning theory. Literally right up until his death, he hosted “Wednesday meetings,” where he discussed everything from physiology and psychology to his views on the treatment of animals by research scientists. While other scientists routinely cited him and his work, Dr. Pavlov has also been immortalized by fiction writers like Aldus Huxley, Anthony Burgess, and Thomas Pynchon. In fact, his work was so instrumental in our understanding of the mind-body connection, that people who have never studied medical physiology are aware of “the Pavlovian response.

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

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

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

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

“abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS 1.12)

abhyāsa                  Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ  Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

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

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

For months now, we have been developing habits we may or may not have intended to cultivate. Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 14th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice, where we will consider the process of forming (and changing) habits.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

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

The Other Plan B September 13, 2020

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

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

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, really excited about it and 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 (“I” that 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 to the way I planned and I breathe…. That’s it. I take a breath and open to the moment. Oh, 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 offer.”

Just a few days ago, I mentioned Michelangelo’s David. Today I learned that Michelangelo was not the original sculptor. In fact, when the piece was first commissioned (along with a series of other large Old Testament statues intended for the Florence Cathedral) Michelangelo wasn’t even on the short list of those being considered. (The main reason he wasn’t on the list was because he hadn’t been born yet, but that’s beside the point.)

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

– Michelangelo

Donatello was commissioned to sculpt a statue of David at the same time Nanni di Banco was commissioned to carve a marble statue of the prophet Isaiah. Both statues ended up abandoned in the workshop. Meanwhile, Donatello made a statue of Joshua (an assistant to Moses) in 1410 and may have been Agostino di Duccio’s mentor when the latter was commissioned to create Hercules in 1463 (an odd choice, 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 shoretly after they were finished. However, a block of marble had been chosen from a quarry in northern Tuscany and, in 1464, Agostino went to work on a second go at David. He didn’t get far – just the shape of the legs, feet, torso, and some drapery – before Donatello’s death in 1466. A second artist was commissioned to finish the statue in 1476, but it doesn’t seem like he did much. 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 Plan 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 Overseers of the Office of Works of the Florence Cathedral (the Operai) started looking for a master artist – with experience – to take on what the referred to as “The Giant.”

Yes, it is kind of ironic that the unfinished statue of the biblical underdog who takes 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 commission. Instead, the commission went to the artistic equivalent of the underdog, 26-year old Michelangelo, who began his work today in 1501.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September 13th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.


The Dangers of Living In A Material World September 12, 2020

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“Theft is the one unforgivable sin, the one common denominator of all sins. When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. There is no act more wretched then stealing.”

– Amir, remembering the lessons of his father, in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

There are times when we have everything we need and we not only recognize that, we appreciate it. There are times we may have less than what we need and, while we may recognize that, we focus on what we have and appreciate that. There are times we have more than our fair share and, whether we understand that or not, we appreciate what we have.

Then there are all the other times.

Times when, regardless of what we have, we can’t help thinking about having more. More. More. Desire is a powerful thing. It is a charge of energy that can manifest in a billion different ways: we can have what we need, but want more; we need more than we have and be brutally crushed – even driven – by that awareness and the desire for more; we can have more than others can every imagine and yet we can imagine more. And, that energy, that compulsion, that urge drives our words and our deeds. We become greedy.

On a certain level, it doesn’t matter if the desire starts in the heart or the mind, because it can take root in either place; and, once it takes roots it blossoms into greed. And greed is the kind of blossom that spreads. So, you may be more or less content, but then I can suggest that you are missing out on something and, over time (with enough suggestions, especially at a young age), that suggestion creeps in and suddenly you are doing and saying things in order to change what you possess. That’s basically the model of capitalism, materialism, and consumerism. It is the very premise of advertising: someone convinces you that you need something you want and/or that they have the best version of what you need and/or want. (And why would anyone ever settle for less than the best.)

Notice the words. They are sneaky. Words are also wonderful: Which is one of the reasons why it’s important to pay attention to the word choice when it comes to commandments, precepts, and/or vows. Take for instance, the “Ten Commandments” as outlined in Exodus. In the Talmud (in the Jewish tradition) and the King James Version (KJV) of the Christian Old Testament there is a lot of “thou shalt” and thou shalt not” attributed to outward behavior; meaning things people are commanded to do/say or not do/say. However, there are some that are specifically related to thought.

“COVET (verb transitive)

  1. To desire or wish for, with eagerness; to desire earnestly to obtain or possess; in a good sense.

COVET earnestly the best gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:31.

  1. To desire inordinately; to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess; in a bad sense.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors house, wife or servant. Exodus 20:17.

COVET (verb intransitive) To have an earnest desire. 1 Timothy 6:10.”

– quoted from Webster’s Dictionary 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language

Towards the beginning there is the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Yes, it is true, there are (external) words and deeds related to this commandment; however, the commandment itself is related to the mental exercise of memory/thought. Then, at the very end, we get to the commandment(s) related to stealing and more often than not the instruction does not state, “Thou shalt not steal.” (Although Exodus 20:17 is often translated as such). Instead, the passage related to stealing (someone’s wife, slaves, animals, or anything else) is a commandment about thought.

When it comes to theft, Patanjali also directs us towards our thoughts – and reminds us that the desire for someone else’s stuff starts inside of us, with a thought or feeling for more. Similar to harming, we can be directly involved in stealing, we can motivate others to steal on our behalf, and/or we can tacitly condone stealing. The practice requires refraining from all types of stealing. As you reap what you sow, the practice comes with priceless rewards.

Yoga Sūtra 2.37: asteyapratişţhām sarvaratnopasthānam

– “When a yogi is established in non-stealing, all gems manifest.”

As he does with the other yamās, Patanjali explains that when the practice of non-stealing is deeply embedded in our hearts and minds there is an energy shift. Specifically, internalizing the practice of asteya is rewarded with the “gems” of nature. In the commentary for sūtra 2.37, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait defines these gems as “Lofty ideals, scientific discoveries, human values, uplifting thought, and the virtues of the heart – love, compassion, selfishness” as well as the bounty of nature. Consider how often we wish for material things, but also how often we look at someone else’s accomplishments and wish they were ours.

At what point does the wish become desire? At what point does the desire become greed? At the point when it may be too late to turn back, because we are so far down the road we don’t realize we are lost (or consumed).

“When desires invade our faculty of discernment – our buddhi – we become consumed by fulfilling them at any cost. Because our buddhi is compromised, we neither see nor care to see the difference between right and wrong. Ethics and morality no longer matter – we are determined to get what we want. To accomplish this, we may involve others directly in achieving what is not ours, employ others to get it for us, or give tacit consent. To some extent, this has been accepted as a standard business practice.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.37 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, September 12th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

Today’s playlist is available onYouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist entitled “07222020 The Perfect Taco.”)

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.

Not on the playlist, but definitely comes to mind…


Tolstoy’s Theories & Questions (soooo many questions) September 9, 2020

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“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills, and in it you too have the only method of saving your people from enslavement. In very ancient times love was proclaimed with special strength and clearness among your people to be the religious basis of human life.”

– quoted from section V of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

Consider that if you practice ahimsā (“non-harming” or “non-violence”) and satya (a dedication to “truth”), there are times when telling the brutal honest truth, creates harm. So, the questions become (1) how to mitigate the harm – while also being dedicated to the truth – and (2) how to be honest without telling the truth. Someone who would have strived to find the balance was Leo Tolstoy who, in my humble opinion, sometimes failed miserably to find the balance.

Going by the Gregorian calendar, Leo Tolstoy was born today in 1828. He was born into nobility near Tula, Russia and, in many ways, his story could mirror that of Prince Siddhartha’s story of enlightenment… if it weren’t for those pesky trips to the brothel. Yes, born into wealth and privilege, Tolstoy indulged himself. Then he fell in love and very quickly married the 18-year old Sophia Behrs, the daughter of a court physician. There was a difference in their social status and a 16-year age difference; however, those were not the problems. Their marital strife started before they even got married when, under the guise of full disclosure, Tolstoy forced Sophia to read his diaries – filled with his sexual exploits – the night before their wedding. In a similar vein, he would later tell his favorite daughter Maria, known as “Masha,” that although it was sad that she had experienced another failed birth, “it is clearly a benefit to your spiritual life.”

Yeah, Tolstoy kinda sucked like that.

He was also, by all accounts, incredibly moody.

And, if you only know of Tolstoy as the Nobel Prize nominated author of giant Russian novels that many consider the greatest literature ever written, then my earlier statement about his story mirroring the Buddha’s story may come as a surprise – especially given his interpersonal skills as described above.

I completely understand if, given the above information they don’t want to read anything more. (Especially considering the fact that I don’t think the rest of the story redeems him.) Here’s the thing though: Tolstoy spent much of his adult life in the middle of a spiritual crisis and his efforts to resolve this crisis led him to “start” a spiritual movement that inspired people from all over the world – including Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., & Rev. James Bevel. Gandhi even named a spiritual settlement in South Africa after Tolstoy.

“I believe that such a time has now arrived—not in the sense that it has come in the year 1908, but that the inherent contradiction of human life has now reached an extreme degree of tension: on the one side there is the consciousness of the beneficence of the law of love, and on the other the existing order of life which has for centuries occasioned an empty, anxious, restless, and troubled mode of life, conflicting as it does with the law of love and built on the use of violence. This contradiction must be faced, and the solution will evidently not be favourable to the outlived law of violence, but to the truth which has dwelt in the hearts of men from remote antiquity: the truth that the law of love is in accord with the nature of man.

But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries.”

– quoted from section VI of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

But, let’s back up a minute, because I’m jumping ahead. Before we get to the part where Leo Tolstoy was rooted in pacifism and Christian anarchism, we have to go back…even before the brothels.

At an early age, Tolstoy’s teacher wrote him off as not being too smart. Yet, he taught himself twelve languages. His brother suggested that he enlist in the army and also encouraged him to write. The fighting that he saw at the front during the Crimean War, combined with an execution he witness in Paris (1857), and his brother’s death around 1859, caused Tolstoy to question his faith and his place in the world. In particular, he questioned “superstitious belief in progress,” which led to a moral crisis and spiritual awakening.

Part of his questioning led him to the desire to marry and have a family. His marriage with Sophia, while full of conflict, was instrumental in the completion and publication of the novel “1805,” which was renamed War and Peace. Sophia Tolstoya rewrote each revision of the novel by hand. She wrote out the entire novel eight times in seven years, although she had to rewrite some sections 30 times – all while giving birth to four of their 13 children and taking care of the day-to-day operations of their home and business affairs. Despite their personal conflicts (which included Tolstoy’s insistence that she continue having children even after a doctor said it was detrimental to her health), Tolstoya continued to support her husband’s literary efforts throughout their marriage. The couple’s ultimate split occurred after their estate was essentially turned into a de-facto settlement for “Tolstoyans” (who wanted to be closer to their “spiritual leader”) and Sophia Tolstoya demanded Tolstoy sign over control of his publishing royalties (because she feared he would bankrupt the family). The ultimate split between the couple caused quite a public scandal, but that’s towards the end of the story. In between, there were the novels (including Anna Karenina, which Tolstoy considered his “first novel”). The Kingdom of God is Within You (the title of which references John 17:21), a series of short stories collected under the title What Men Live By, and his 1908 “Letter to a Hindu” (addressed to Tarak Nath Das).

“All that exists is One. People only call this One by different names. ~The Vedas

God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. ~ 1 John 4:16

God is one whole; we are the parts. ~ Exposition of the teaching of the Vedas by Vivekananda”

– quoted from “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

All of Leo Tolstoy’s work can come under that heading of “what men live by.” The Kingdom of God is Within You highlights Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek and also questions what Tolstoy viewed as hypocrisy, corruption, and moral contradictions within organized religion. It was banned in Russia; however, it was published in Germany several years after Tolstoy was placed under police surveillance by the czarist government and excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church.  “A Letter to a Hindu” draws quotes from a plethora of sacred text and shows the parallels between religious traditions many people may not realize have shared teachings.

There’s more to the story, of course there is more, but just this little bit brings up the original questions above plus some particular to the author: Was Tolstoy the ultimate hypocrite? Is he the perfect cautionary tale? Did he spend his life becoming/being what he most despised and criticized?

Then are the questions that, perhaps, you have found yourself asking over the last few years: Do we disregard the message/teaching because of the messager’s bad behavior? Should we excuse bad behavior because nobody is perfect, but some people have good intentions? How much should someone be condemned if they are doing their best to work towards a better world, but their bad (suffering-causing) behavior is rooted in years of privilege?

At each point, I think we have to come back to the beginning: ahimsā and satya. At each point, we have to turn inward and ask ourselves: What creates the least amount of harm while simultaneously allowing us to maintain our dedication to the truth?

“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating feelings of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked [ or non-virtuous].”

– quoted from How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali (1.33), translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood

“As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence —as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual. Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.”

– quoted from section V of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 9th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom (featuring “Three Questions,” one of Tolstoy’s short stories). 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“O ye who sit in bondage and continually seek and pant for freedom, seek only for love. Love is peace in itself and peace which gives complete satisfaction. I am the key that opens the portal to the rarely discovered land where contentment alone is found.”  ~KRISHNA.

– quoted from section VI of “A Letter to a Hindu” by Leo Tolstoy (dated 12/14/1908)


peDoghQo’ (Don’t be silly)! September 8, 2020

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peDoghQo’! (“Don’t be silly!) Of course, I know something very special happened today in 1966. And, while it makes sense in the class, I couldn’t make it fit in today’s earlier post. So, this is for those of you who are looking for a way to spend part of your day.


But, What’s On the Inside? September 8, 2020

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“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

– Mother Teresa

I was watching an interesting video the other day (see link at end of post). Some parts were awkward and clumsy, and there were times when some of the participants felt bad about themselves (and, as an empathetic viewer I felt bad for them). The parts where people felt bad about themselves were some of the parts that were awkward and handled in a slightly clumsy way. However, the participants felt bad for themselves because the topic of the video is a sore spot for many people, especially women in America: weight and appearance. The video was interesting and good – in that it was meaningful – because it was yet another reminder that there is more going on with a person (and their health) than what we see on the outside.

“True beauty is knowing who you are and what you want and never apologizing for it.”

P!nk (born Alecia Beth Moore, today in 1979)

Michelangelo’s David was unveiled today in 1504 in Florence, Italy. At various times throughout history, the marble statue has represented the epitome of the male form. What captivates people, however, is not just the beauty of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. People love the story of David, because it is the story of the underdog. When faced with towering figure of Goliath, David used his inner resources. He drew from the experience he had (rather than being preoccupied by the experience he didn’t have) and he focused on what he could do (not on what he was “trying” to do). His inner strength, courage, and wisdom is what he takes into his reign as king. Yes, King David makes mistakes – he was human; but his legacy is represented by the statue, the story, and his son Solomon (who is considered the ruler with the wisest heart in the history of the world).

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

– Michelangelo

Consider the image of Michelangelo, the sculptor, staring at a chunk of marble. To the outside observer, it is nothing. But he sees inside. To someone who is not an artist, the process seems magical and impossible. If we were to undertake such a task, without knowing what to look for and what steps to take, the process would be frustrating and the final effort might even be embarrassing. But, even though it takes effort and sometimes it’s harder than others, the artist who is literate in their craft thinks nothing of the process: this is just what they do now.

What they do 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) 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 it as being anything more than a tool. Or something that is part of our landscape… like the rocks on the ground before David picked them up. Or, like the hunk of marble before Michelangelo went to work.

But, what of the approximately 775 million people worldwide who are functionally illiterate? To those people who 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 then, you are David and you have what it takes to conquer!)

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

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

There are huge financial costs to being illiterate (an estimated $1.19 trillion (USD) globally), but there are other extreme costs. Illiteracy limits possibilities. It decreases employment opportunities, increases chances for poor health and the inclination toward crime. There is an emotional toll, in that it can lead to depression, anger, frustration, and embarrassment. Illiteracy is often associated with poverty; however, there is also a gender component: 64% of the people who are illiterate are also women.

According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), if all women completed primary education, there would be 66 percent fewer maternal deaths. This is one of the reasons UNESCO focuses on educating girls and women. This is also one of the reasons why, in 1965, the United Nations designated today, September 8th, as International Literacy Day. It is a day to promote awareness of illiteracy and cultivate compassion around this human rights struggle. It’s also an opportunity to buy a book for a public school or a library in a developing country, a rural area, or an impoverished area (even here in the United States). It’s also a great opportunity to buy a book for a friend or a loved one – maybe even a book that tells you not to judge “the book” by its cover.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 8th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Here’s that interesting video I mentioned above.

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

– Michelangelo


The Result of Labor September 7, 2020

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“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

– Eugene V. Debs, quoted from his statement to the Federal Court (Cleveland, Ohio), after being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918

Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States and parts of Canada. We often think of Labor Day as the long weekend that marks the end of summer and the beginning of “our regular routines.” It’s one of the Federal holidays typically marked with big sales, fairs, parades, and the last big barbecues and picnics. However, there is nothing typical about this year and – with the exception of the parades – none of this reflects the original intention behind Labor Day.

Labor Day has a bloody history rooted in the Labor Movement, whose history runs parallel to the history of the Socialist Movement. It was one of the outcomes of social activism and what happens when the government decides not to honor its citizens’ right to assembly. In fact, the federal holiday was established in the United States as a direct response to conflict which arose the first time the federal government used an injunction to break up a workers’ strike in the United States.

During the last twenty years of the 19th century, there were approximately 37,000 strikes in the United States, resulting in at least 800 people being killed – with almost all the deaths being the result of altercations between the striking workers and state security forces or the military. Everything came to a head, however, with the Pullman Strike (and subsequent railroad boycott) during the late Spring and Summer of 1894.

The Pullman Palace Car Company was not only a major employer of a diverse workforce, it was also the owner and operator of the Illinois town where most of its workers lived. The company provided homes as well as groceries and all other amenities…for a fee, of course. When the economic depression kicked in 1893, the company lowered the workers already low wages; however, it did not lower rent or the cost of other goods and services within the town. Facing starvation, the workers attempted to schedule a meeting with the company’s president, George M. Pullman. When Pullman refused to meet with the workers they voted to strike. As the strike began, the company announced that the factory was closed – essentially undermining the workers’ leverage. Most of the workers, however, were part of the American Railway Union (ARU) and when the union met, for its first annual convention, it voted for a boycott.

I’m condensing and simplifying the situation a bit here, but the bottom line is that there was a cascade affect that successfully tied up railway traffic on all lines west of Chicago and eventually in most of the United States (with the exception of the East and Deep South where the striking unions were not as strong). While the union leadership, in particular the ARU’s president Eugene V. Debs urged the striking workers and their families to stay calm, people were filled with anger and that anger turned a peaceful rally into a rage-filled moment that derailed a locomotive which was attached to a U. S. Mail train. Previously, states and local militia had engaged the wildcat strikes that were breaking out, but after the events of June 29th, an injunction was obtained which cited the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Act – and prevented the ARU leadership from communicating with the striking workers, even  to urge peaceful protests. The injunction also enabled President Grover Cleveland to order in federal troops, whose orders were not focused on peace, but instead on making sure the trains kept running.

The arrival of the federal troops further enraged the striking workers and their supporters, who overturned trains, erected barriers, and destroyed railcars. Ironically, this uptick of destruction started in Independence Day. By July 7th, the altercations had turned deadly. By the second week of July, upwards of 250,000 workers in 27 states were participating in some aspect of the protests and riots. Whereas people outside of the workforce had initially sympathized with the workers, it had become something the general populace feared would directly impact them in a detrimental way. The mainstream media and the United States Congress also started changing their minds about the situation. By the end, at least 30 people had been killed, the ARU leadership had been arrested, and the strikers had lost over $1 million in wages. The railroads had lost millions of dollars in revenue and in looted and damaged property.

And, this is where things turned again.

Previously, as trade unions and the labor movement worked for workers’ rights , including fair wages and safe working conditions, different groups chose different dates to celebrate and honor the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and wellbeing of our country.” After the deaths of the workers in the Summer of 1894, Congress and President Cleveland needed something to maintain peace and acknowledge the needs of the people. They decided to dedicate a day, complete with a street parade, to recognize the “social and economic achievements of American workers.” Of course, May Day (May 1st) was already International Workers’ Day, but it was so closely associated with the Socialist Movement – which some of the ARU leadership was gravitating towards – that President Cleveland wanted a day that would not encourage additional strikes and protests. Today is that day.

“I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”

– quoted from “Life of Eugene V. Debs” in Debs : His Life, Writings and Speeches by Stephen Marion Reynolds, edited by Bruce Rogers and Stephen Marion Reynolds

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, September 7th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. 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.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”

– Eugene V. Debs, quoted from his statement to the Federal Court (Cleveland, Ohio), after being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918