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

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

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

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

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Smile

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

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

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

 

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

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

Have your voted for the Carry app?

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

 

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

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

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

Mental Health, redux (mostly the music w/*UPDATED* link) October 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Philosophy, Sukkot, Yoga.
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“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, October 10th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

Click here for the 2021 post related to this practice.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

### 🎶 ###

What Does It Mean to You? (a “missing” 2-for-1 post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is a 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, September 26th and for Monday, September 27th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

 

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

 

During Sukkot, people are commanded to be happy. But what does happiness even mean? Happiness is, after all, a really personal thing, a really personal experience. I can ask, “What do you need to be happy?” But it would be really ignorant to believe that if I surround myself with the things and people that “make you happy” that I will also be happy. In fact, that’s an example of several different types of avidyā (“ignorance”) and klişţa (dysfunctional/afflicted) tendencies that lead to suffering. Furthermore, if you’ve studied a little philosophy, especially a little Eastern philosophy, you know it’s a trick question; because you know that happiness is a state of mind. So, it is more important to know (a) what you value and appreciate and (b) what happiness means to you (at this moment and in any given moment).

As I’ve mentioned before, Hod, the fifth sefirot  or attribute of the divine on the Tree of Life, translates into English as “humility,” “gratitude,” “splendor,” and “glory.”  Thinking of all of those together gives us some insight into what it means to be thankful – in other words, pleased, relieved, and grateful. To be grateful is to feel and/or show an appreciation for a kindness or courtesy. Gratitude, then, is defined as the “quality of being thankful; [the] readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Finally, appreciation is the defined as “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” Even though anyone can say “thank you,” for the smallest demonstration of kindness – and we absolutely must as it is a way of returning some of that kindness – it can sometimes feel like a throwaway line. A true expression of gratitude, however, includes a little detail to demonstrate “a full understanding” of why something or someone is valued.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

The Talmud says:

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

 

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Once we establish what we value and appreciate, we can look at happiness as the embodied expression of our enjoyment and appreciation. Then, too, we must recognize that “happiness” (whatever that means to you at this moment) is not one-size-fits-all. For some people, happiness is an ecstatic kind of joy. For others, it is “just not being miserable.” Then there is every experience in between – plus the fact that the way we experience happiness today may not be the way we experienced happiness yesterday or the way we will experience it tomorrow.

At the Happiness Studies Academy (HAS), where you can get a certificate in “Happiness Studies,” the experience that is happiness falls into the rubric of positive psychology, which is defined as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” In other words, scholars like HAS co-founder Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar are concerned with the interdisciplinary science of living a good life – whatever that means to you at this moment. As I mentioned on Saturday, October 25th, the anniversary of the creation and initial approval of the United States Bill of Rights (in 1789), the founding fathers had definite ideas about what was needed in order for the citizens of their new nation to experience “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Similarly, the Buddha expressed ideas about what a person needs to be happy and the HAS definition fits the Buddha’s teachings on the happiness of a householder. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist monk, summarizes the overall Buddhist concept of happiness as “not suffering” or being free of suffering. Then there is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (an October baby), whose ultimate meaning is not exactly like Patanjali’s instructions in the Yoga Sūtras; and yet, sounds very similar to YS 2.46 (“sthirasukham āsanam”). In both cases, there is an emphasis on finding balance between effort and relaxation (i.e., power without resistance).

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome.”

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

One thing to remember, when applying Nietzsche’s words to our physical practice (or to society), is that there is resistance in too much power. Think about a power lifter who has very muscular arms and legs. They might have some flexibility in their spine and hips, but their most muscular parts tend to be their least flexible parts. So, while they might be able to move easily in one direction, they might find it really hard to move in a direction that is counter to the way they have trained their body. Furthermore, finding balance between effort and relaxation, finding that state where there is power without resistance, is not just physical; it requires mental and emotional effort as well. Happiness, after all, is a mind-body-spirit experience.

Science has shown that our propensity for happiness is based on a cocktail of genetics, personality, and attitude. That mixture of elements combined with our circumstances creates what was referred to by Drs. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell as a “hedonic treadmill” (or “hedonic adaptation”), whereby as our circumstances change our expectations (and desires) also change – creating a baseline for happiness. Accordingly, research in positive psychology shows that regardless of how extreme an event is (e.g., we win the lottery or experience a debilitating accident) people return to their happiness baseline (or “hedonic set point”) in a relatively short period of time. We just need recover time.

During that recovery time there are things that promote good mental, emotional, and physical health. In fact, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar’s “Six Tips for Happiness” encapsulate the best ways we can spend our time if we want to cultivate happiness, including: eating well, sleeping, staying hydrated, exercising, and the practices of acceptance and gratitude. Some of those things we may not always want to do, but we feel better when we do them. We also may or may not (automatically) feel grateful for what has happened to us, but not being grateful for something is definitely detrimental. Furthermore, science has shown that even thinking about something for which we could be grateful is beneficial.

The benefits of thinking, contemplating, and/or meditating on “positive” emotions are some of the reasons why Matthieu Ricard, (10/7/2020) considers happiness a skill. M. Ricard is a French Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as a translator for the 14th Dalai Lama and has been called “the happiest man in the world.” He is also one of the monks whose brain has been observed and studied to learn the clinical benefits of meditation. What researchers have learned about M. Ricard’s brain, however, is about more than just mindfulness. While hooked up to 256 electrodes, the brains of Matthieu Ricard and the other mediators indicated that even adult brains have some neuroplasticity and, therefore, can be changed. The research shows that we can not only change our brains; it shows that in doing so we can change our baseline for happiness.

M. Ricard equates changing one’s baseline for happiness to training for a marathon. It’s about pacing and using the appropriate techniques. In the documentary “A Joyful Mind,” Dr. Richard Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, states that brain scans indicate someone new to meditation can meditate 30 minutes a day over a 2-week period and see a change in brain activity. If you specifically want to change your baseline for happiness, one of the most effective “training techniques” is cultivating benevolent thoughts – like meditating on loving-kindness and compassion (which takes us right back to Tolstoy’s answer of “do that person good”). Another effective method for changing your happiness baseline is giving thanks.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Last year, when World Mental Health Day (Oct 10th) fell during Sukkot, I mentioned that happiness could be considered an aspect of good mental health. I also mentioned that The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” I ultimately concluded that when we look at happiness through this mental health lens, “happy people,” just like people with good mental health, are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues and/or when unhappy. This is consistent with the Yoga Philosophy.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg made the same observation in 48 Ways to Wisdom in “Way #27: Happiness,” when he dispelled certain myths about happiness and contentment by pointing out that a happy person has the energy and inclination to do things like spontaneously go for a boat ride. The unhappy person, however, only seems to have the energy and inclination to stay stuck in a downward spiral. Here, again, it is important to remember that if we don’t have a recovery period – after experiencing something really good or something really tragic – any one of us can get stuck in that downward spiral.

Just as we can raise our baseline for happiness, circumstances can lower our baseline. In either case, there is a change in brain chemistry as well as in behavior. We may welcome the physiological changes that come from being a happier person. However, if our baseline is going down, we may find we need some help – possibly even some professional help – in order to get ourselves and our baseline back to a functioning level. Because, again, the key to happiness fits our mind, body, and spirit.

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

 

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10102020 World Mental Health Day (also Sukkot 4)”]

 

There is no playlist for the (Monday) Common Ground practice.

 

“Give yourself permission to be human.

Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.

Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account.

Simplify!

Remember the mind body connection.

Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

 

– quoted from the Harvard University’s Psychology 1504 (“Positive Psychology”) course by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

 

You can find portions of this post, in slightly different contexts, in the linked posts highlighted above.

 

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

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

### Be Joyful! Whatever that means to you at this moment. ###

What Does It Mean to You? (mostly the music w/UPDATED link) September 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Music, Philosophy, Sukkot, Yoga.
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“Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Sukkot.

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

 

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

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, September26th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10102020 World Mental Health Day (also Sukkot 4)”]

 

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.)

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases – that resistance is being overcome.”

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Click here for the blog post related to this practice.

 

### 🎶 ###

First Friday Night Special #10: “Reflect + Remember” (a post practice post) August 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

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

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

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

“Your thoughts are happening, just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you’re doing is watching it. 

 

Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation. You allow your breath to run just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And the notice a curious thing about this. You say in the ordinary way, I breathe. Because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So, the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntary and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand I am doing it, and on the other hand, it is happening to me. And that is why breathing is a most important part of meditation, because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening.”

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

Our breath is a symbol of our life, a symbol of our life-force, and a symbol of our spirit. I say something to that affect almost every day. Yet, when that first part is combined with the perspective offered by Alan Watts, it takes on a slightly different (maybe even deeper connotation): Life is happening. Life is happening to us. Life is happening all around us. Life is a happening…whether we are engaged in it or not. But, before we start rushing off to do…life (or anything else); I just want to pause for a moment and consider the three parts of the breath.

Just breathe. Do that 90-second thing. Let your breath naturally flow in and naturally ebb out. Notice where you feel the breath; where it naturally goes – where there is awareness and presence, where it’s happening. Also, notice where there is resistance – where maybe you need to cultivate awareness, where something different is happening.

One thing you may notice, if you practice, is that pretty much every type of “breathing exercise” is an exaggeration of a natural breathing pattern. There are situations when we are breathing deeply, richly. The mind-body is focused and relaxed. Other times, we may find ourselves panting, short of breath. The mind-body may still be focused, but in this second case it is also agitated. There are times when our inhale is longer than our exhale and still other times when our exhale is longer than our inhale. There are moments in life when we find we are holding our breath – retaining the inhale or the exhale – and other times when we sigh a heavy breath out. And every one of these natural breathing patterns occurs because of something that happens in/to the mind-body.

Remember: What happens to the mind happens to the body; what happens to the body happens to the mind; and both affect the breath. In turn, what happens to the breath affects the mind and the body. In our practice, we harness the power of the breath in order to harness the power of the mind and body.

To actively and mindfully harness the power of the mind-body-spirit we have to cultivate awareness. The thing is, when you take a moment to focus, concentrate, meditate – even become completely absorbed by the breath – you may start to notice that just cultivating awareness changes the way you breathe (just as cultivating awareness can change the way you sit or stand, walk or talk). Bringing awareness to how you breathe in certain situations – or even when thinking/remembering certain situations – can give you insight into what’s happening to your mind-body. That insight provides better information for decision-making. So that you can respond in the most skillful way possible, instead of just reacting.

In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is pay attention to our breath – and figure out what we need to do to keep breathing. Because that’s what we do: We breathe.

Remember: As long as we are breathing, we are alive; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to live, learn, grow, love, and really thrive. So, the first question(s) to ask yourself in a stressful and challenging situation is: What’s happening with my breath and what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?

A key element to practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”) is to observe what happens to your mind, your body, and (yes) your spirit/breath when you are in certain situations. You may notice what thoughts and/or emotions come up when you hear passages from sacred text. You may notice how your body reacts to certain music/sounds. You may notice how your breathing changes in certain poses and/or sequences. You may notice how your mind-body-spirit reacts when you imagine yourself (figuratively) walking in the footsteps of a historical or fictional person. You may notice any other combination of the above. You can also practice this important niyama (internal “observation”) by bring awareness to what happens when you remember a moment in (your) history.

Maybe the memory is something that seems to randomly pop up in your mind when you’re practicing or maybe, like with Marcel Proust, when you bite into a biscuit. Or, perhaps, as happened in the August 6th “First Friday Night Special,” it’s a memory that is brought to your awareness specifically so that you can notice your breath, notice your body, and notice your mind. Perhaps, as we do in the practice, you observe what happens when you start watching yourself reacting to the memory. Finally, you ask the last half of the question: “… what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?”

Or, better yet, “What do I need to do, in this moment, to keep taking the deepest breath I’ve taken all day?” Because that’s the practice and that’s what we do.

“As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.”

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

Here are the “memories” (and associated contexts) I shared during the “First Friday Night Special” on August 6th. Before we reached this point in the (Zoom and recorded) practice, we spent some time using the senses to get grounded in the moment; did some gentle movement to prepare the mind-body to be still in an upright position (when accessible); and practiced a little 1:1 and then 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base).

For most people, reading through the list will be a different experience than hearing each one in turn. Still, take your time. Also, give yourself time to not only breathe, but to notice the breath in the mind and in the body.

This is not about thinking about these situations or creating/telling the story. It’s about noticing how you feel and how that translates into a breathing pattern. Then, the practice becomes about noticing what changes through observation. Yes, you can engage the breath (by controlling it, even sighing). However, I encourage you to just let the breath naturally flow in and freely ebb out – and just watch what happens as you watch it. Don’t force anything. Go with the flow. If you find yourself holding on (to anything), your breath and awareness are the tools you use to let go before moving on to the next item.

  • A year ago this weekend, my mother passed. Like so many other people who have experienced an unexpected loss of a loved one, the anniversary brings certain feelings, emotions, thoughts…vibrations. There is still sadness and grief – among other things/sensations that are part of life.
    • Take a moment, especially if you have experienced such a loss, to notice what happens when you continue to breath – to live. Consider that grief comes not because we loss someone (or something), but because we loved and were loved. Let all of that wash over you.

  • A year and a few months ago, George Floyd was killed and his murder was a watershed moment in the United States and in the world. Everyone had and continues to have a different experience around what happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 (just as many people had and continues to have different feelings around what happened in Central Park on the same day).
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel, right now, as your remember, the moments between then and now. Is there any tightness? Any resistance? What happens when you notice the tightness and/or resistance? What happens when you don’t notice tightness and/or resistance? Let any judgement wash over you.

  • Nearly a year and a half ago – almost 2 years ago for some people outside of the United States – the world started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel thinking about that? What’s happening with body, your mind, your breath? How does it feel to be where you are in the ever-changing process that is life given this global health crisis (and that fact that we are all in different places/stages related to it)? What do you need to do to keep breathing? Maybe, this is a good time to sigh a breath (or two) out.

  • 56 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The law came about after protests and marches – and so much violent resistance directed at those peacefully resisting. It also came about after private citizens implored President Johnson to take action and after he spoke, passionately, to Congress. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law. Yet, to this day, the Voting Rights Acts are still being challenged and still being defended.
    • What comes up for you when you think about all the efforts that led up to the Act and all that has transpired in the meanwhile? How are you breathing?

  • 76 years ago today, on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM (local time), the United States Army Air Forces’ Enola Gray dropped the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. Buildings and trees were destroyed. Approximately 80,000 people were killed on impact. Another 35,000 died over the next week and an additional 60,000 over the next year. Thousands more suffered for the rest of their lives. Three days later, at 11:01 AM (local time) on August 9th, the United States Army Air Forces’ Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb (designated “Fat Man”) on Nagasaki and thousands more died. You may have learned that the bombs were dropped in response to or retaliation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have learned that the U. S.’s attack on Japan helped to end World War II and the Holocaust, thereby saving thousands of lives. Around the world, these historical events are taught in very different ways. So, you may or may not have learned that some people say the war was already ending. You may or may not have learned that Nagasaki was not initial target for the second atomic bomb and that, in fact, the flight crews on the bomber and its escorts had already started the contingency plans that involved dropping the bomb in the ocean – which would have saved thousands of lives.
    • What happens when you remember what you already knew? What happens when you think of something you didn’t previously know or remember? What do you need to do, in this moment, to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out?

  • 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed Union forces to seize Confederate property during the Civil War. This “property” included slaves and one of the intentions of the act was to free slaves who were in any way attached to the rebellion. Freeing slaves was also part of the intention of the Confiscation Act that Congress passed on July 17, 1862 – which allowed the federal government to free the slaves of any member of the Confederacy (military or civilian) who resided in territory occupied by the Union Army but who had not surrendered within 60 days of the Act passing. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality or the ultimate effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, but he signed them into law anyway; thereby laying a foundation for the legal emancipation of all slaves within the Union.
    • What do you feel and/or think when you consider these Acts of Congress and President Lincoln? Is there any difference in sensation when considering the slaves and/or the Confederacy? Do you experience any tightness and/or resistance around this being mentioned? Is any of the tightness and/or resistance connected to thoughts that arose related to other steps taken to ensure emancipation? What are you feeling with regard to steps taken to deny emancipation?


Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. Spend some time just breathing and observing the breath. You can repeat the 1:1 and 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base), which is a great practice before, during, and after stressful encounters. Finally, take another few minutes to allow the breath to naturally flow in and freely ebb out.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

PLEASE NOTE: The playlists begin with music related to Reiki healing energy and they are in a very specific order. If you are uncomfortable using the first two tracks, you can use the Track #3 for your practice or you can loop Track #6 (to play ~3 times). The Spotify app may add extra music – so be mindful of that. As always, you can choose not to use music during this practice. Finally, there is no personal dedication specifically because I selected the Reiki chants for this practice. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or concerns.

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###