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The Kindest Step (the “missing” Sunday post) July 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. 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.

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“Anger is a mental, psychological phenomenon, yet it is closely linked to biological and biochemical elements. Anger makes you tense your muscles, but when you know how to smile, you begin to relax and your anger will decrease. Smiling allows the energy of mindfulness to be born in you, helping you to embrace your anger.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Tools for Cooling the Flames” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I talk to people and/or watch the news these days, I see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and a lot of reasons for people to be angry and frustrated. Even if you don’t feel particularly angry and frustrated right now, you probably are around someone who is feeling one or both of those emotions fairly strongly. So, let’s talk about your anger (and frustration) for a moment. Or, if that feels too personal and raw, let’s talk about my anger and frustration.

I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, all my life, people have told me I have a great smile. But, let’s be real, when I am feeling really anger and frustrated, my smile probably looks kind of feral – almost like I’m going in for the kill, metaphorically speaking. Even with my practices, smiling during a intense moment of conflict can feel like a big, giant leap… which I’ll get into if you don’t mind if we deviate a little (and if you don’t mind the pun). See, before we get into my feelings of anger and frustration – or even why I might not feel comfortable smiling when I am angry – we have to address the two elephants in the room: (1) the idea that I can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because I practice yoga and meditate and (2) the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Let’s start with the latter, because most people in American are familiar with the stereotype of the angry Black woman (ABW). Although I’m not sure exactly when the stereotype came into vogue, it became a standard trope (a literary or entertainment-based pop culture stereotype) during the 1800’s. The popular caricature device of an angry, sassy, rude, and domineering Black woman became even more popular in with the advent of shows like Amos n’ Andy.

First aired on January 12, 1926, as Sam n’ Henry on WGN in Chicago, the radio show featured white actors (Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll) portraying stereotypes of Black people. The series became so popular in the Midwest that the actors wanted to expand it; however, the studio rejected the idea of radio syndication (which didn’t exist at the time). Since WGN owned the rights to the name, Gosden and Correll rebranded their show as Amos n’ Andy, which premiered on March 19, 1928 on WMAQ and became the first radio syndication in the United States. It was eventually carried by approximately 70 stations across the nation.

In 1930, the series spawned toys and a movie, which featured a racially-mixed cast… plus Gosden and Correll in blackface. Then there was a cartoon – still voiced by the original duo. By 1943, the radio show was being produced in front of a live studio audience and featured Black actors and musicians – who were backup performers to the original creators. When the Gosden and Correll started working on a television version of the series, in the late 1940’s, their previous movie and cartoon experience made them decide to move away from blackface (and to also, eventually, reject the idea of lip syncing with Black actors). When the TV show premiered on June 28, 1951, it featured a Black cast – that was directed to retain the characterized voice and speech patterns Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll had carried over from minstrel shows. The TV show also inherited the radio show’s theme music – lifted directly from the score of what some consider the most racist and controversial movie of all times, Birth of a Nation.

While both the radio and the TV show had critics, they also had legions and legions of fans. One of those fans, surprisingly (to me), was Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the 2012 American Heritage essay “Growing Up Colored,” Dr. Gates talked about his childhood in Piedmont, West Virginia and how (around first grade) he first “got to know white people as ‘people’ through their flickering images on television shows. It was the television set that brought us together at night, and the television set that brought in the world outside the valley.” He also said that he “felt as if I were getting a glimpse, at last, of the life the rich white people must be leading in their big mansions on East Hampshire Street.” Everything was so different from his life and his experience. Yet, to a young Dr. Gates, the TV show Amos n’ Andy was what I Love Lucy was to a young white girl of the same generation. And that’s the thing to keep in mind when you read the essay: perspective and awareness. Audiences only viewed comedy characters as exaggerated impressions of life if they actually knew people like the ones being caricatured. The popularity of Amos n’ Andy, however, was built around an audience that did not personally know Black people. 

“Lord knows, we weren’t going to learn how to be colored by watching television. Seeing somebody colored on TV was an event.

 

‘Colored, colored, on Channel Two,’ you’d hear someone shout. Somebody else would run to the phone, while yet another hit the front porch, telling all the neighbors where to see it. And everybody loved Amos ’n Andy—I don’t care what people say today. What was special to us was that their world was all colored, just like ours….Nobody was likely to confuse them with the colored people we knew, no more than we’d confuse ourselves with the entertainers and athletes we saw on TV or in Ebony or Jet, the magazines we devoured to keep up with what was happening with the race.”

 

– quoted from the American Heritage (Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2) essay “Growing Up Colored” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

There’s another key element to keep in mind as it relates to the ABW stereotype in relation to Amos n’ Andy. When Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll started the radio show Sam n’ Henry, they voiced all of the characters. However, there were some reoccurring characters, like George “Kingfish” Stevens wife, who were not initially voiced. Instead of being heard, Sapphire and most of the other Black women reoccurring in the series were only talked about. Ergo, it didn’t matter if they had a legitimate reason to be upset about something done by their husband, boyfriend, or serviceperson – their anger and complaints were presented from the perspective of the person who was the target/cause of the emotion being felt and expressed. In other words, audiences only heard the male side of the conflict… and, to be fair, they only heard the white male perspective.

Now, if you grew up listening and/or watching Amos n’ Andy you might think, “No, no, that’s not how it was. They would say what they did.” To that I would ask three things:

  • First, are you more inclined to support the person who is telling the story who also happens to be your friend (or someone with whom you are familiar) or are you more inclined to support the person you have never met?
  • Second, if I (as your friend or someone with whom you are familiar) says, “I did this little thing – that yeah, was a little inconsiderate – but, dude, I was sooooo tired/hungry/sad/etc. ….” Do you commiserate with me and agree that the other person overreacted or do you point out that that other person (who, again, you’ve never met) has a point?
  • Finally, does you answer to either of the questions above (especially the last one) change if I explain why the other person was upset with me? (The flipside of this, of course, is does it matter if I don’t explain the why?)

Which brings me to my last little bits about the angry Black woman stereotype: It was a really confusing idea to me when I was a little girl. It was confusing because I didn’t know Black women who walked around angry all the time and, just as importantly, when I did see a person who was angry they had a reason to be angry. I will admit that, for most of my formative years, I was sheltered just enough to not understand – or even question – why someone might walk around angry all the time. However, if we go back to the beginnings of the trope – and acknowledge that the stereotype already existed by the 1800’s – then we have to go a little deeper into why Black women might have been angry. And, when we go a little deeper – even just taking a little look at history, regarding the conditions of being a Black woman (or any kind of woman) in the 1800’s – we don’t need to go far before we start finding reasons to be angry.

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Saving Your House” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

All of which brings me back to today’s anger and frustration.

As I said before, you can look at the news and see that people are angry and frustrated. You can look at your family, neighbors, and friends. You can look inside of your own heart and mind.  While we may have some individual, personal situations about which we are angry and frustrated, we also share some anger and frustration about what we have endured over the last year and that some people, even today, continue to experience. Some of that anger and frustration is even tied to the fact that people are consistently pointing fingers at the (alleged) arsonists instead of putting out the flames. Two other issues we have, as a society, are that we don’t understand the concept of a backdraft and we keep putting matches in the hands of arsonists. (Or, maybe, we never took the matches away in the first place.)

A backdraft is fire that seems to come out of nowhere; but is actually the result of fresh oxygen fueling embers that were previously depleted of air. Embers in an enclosed space can smolder and produce heat even as the fire is dying. Sometimes a fire will burn itself out; other times, however, if the embers are not completely out – e.g., saturated in water or sand – they can reignite in an explosion. This can happen when a door or window is opened or when a portion of the side of the building caves in as the infrastructure fails. A social backdraft happens in the same way. For example, imagine an upsetting situation about which people are really angry and frustrated. The situation, as well as the anger and frustration, is fueled by additional elements – which the “firefighters” attempt to address. But maybe, unlike real-life firefighters, these social responders don’t provide a safe way to ventilate (or “air grievances”). So, the embers just keep building heat and no one notices the air getting sucked in through the cracks or how the smoke is changing colors. Now imagine the original situation gets buried so that it’s no longer in the center of attention. The eyes of the world shift to some other priority, some other injustice. Then, suddenly it seems, a “new” situation arises and the fire is raging out of control. Can you imagine?

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Embracing Anger with the Sunshine of Mindfulness” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I think, sometimes, that if we “have a handle on” our anger and frustration, we can convince ourselves (and others) that we are not actually angry or frustrated – that it’s just something in the ether. I think, too, that some people even believe that if they don’t lash out at others or express their anger in a stereotypical way then they aren’t actually angry. But, the truth is that there are different ways to express anger and frustration just as those emotions can manifest in different ways and at different times. Some people are all about lashing out (physically and/or verbally); others express themselves in a mindful way; still others get passive-aggressive. Some people go out of their way to avoid the conflict all together and don’t resolve the situation (which may defuse their anger and frustration or it may heighten it) and still others get super-duper quiet.

Here I’m tying anger and frustration together, even though frustration is just one manifestation of anger. However, anger can also manifest as irritability, defensiveness, and resistance. Since these emotions are inevitably tied to conflict, they are mentally connected to discernment. In other words, the angrier we get, the harder it becomes to make wise, skillful decisions.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was another elephant in the room – the idea that someone can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because they practice yoga and/or meditate. Like the stereotype of the ABW, this has its roots in some superficial truth, but ultimately it is just another stereotype. I say it all the time: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices are not intended to make you numb to emotional and mental experiences. In fact, instead of being numb, you may find that these practices allow you to feel more. They also can help you see more and, therefore, enable you to make better decisions.

One way to understand this is to look at the connection between emotions and the mind-body. Emotional experiences – like anger, frustration, fear, and even joy – have the ability to hijack our central nervous system. When an emotion takes our nervous system for a ride, we either want more of the experience or we want to escape the experience. Like fear, anger and frustration can activate our sympathetic nervous system, thus engaging our fight-flight-freeze response. When this happens, we get tunnel vision and everything narrows down to what is needed for “survival.” We not only see less, we hear and feel less. In certain extreme situations, blood is diverted from our digestive and immune systems into the limbs that we need to fight, flee, or escape through collapse (which is the freeze response). Additionally, anger and frustration are often fueled and driven by fear – creating a feedback loop that leaves us highly sensitized and over-stimulated. If we get into that feedback loop, as many of us have over the last few years (and especially this last year and a half), we can become like a stick of dynamite that has been placed next to a lit match after the fuse was soaked in gasoline.

Of course, there is something really special about the emotional “elephant” that practices yoga, meditation, and/or some other mindfulness-based practice (like centering prayer). Such a person has the tools to deal with their emotions in a way that is wise, loving, and kind. I did not choose those last three randomly. In Eastern philosophies and some medical sciences, every emotion has a flip side: for fear it is wisdom; for anger it is loving-kindness.

We can think of anger and frustration as emotional pain (because that’s what suffering is) and, in this case, they are signs that something needs to change. They can fuel change in a way that is constructive or destructive. But, in order to make the decision to resolve conflict in a way that is constructive, we have to be able to see as clearly as possible. We have to be able to be able to see the possible.

Which takes us back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile – and how, sometimes, that feels like a giant leap to me.

“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

 

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

 

As I said before, I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, if we are to believe the people around me, I have a great smile. But, I have a hard time faking a smile when I’m angry – which is kind of the point. Add to this practice, my self-awareness – or, in this case you could call it self-consciousness – about how I am perceived as a Black woman… especially when I am angry. Something that I do all the time seems like a giant leap; because suddenly smiling, even softly, during a conflict, can come across as menacing.

I know, I know, most of you who know me personally don’t think I’m scary – especially since I am so small. But, trust me when I tell you that there are people who have been scared of “me”… or, at least, their perception of me. And, sometimes, that makes me a little angry.

[Feel free to insert a hands-thrown-up-in-the-air emoji.]

When it comes to dealing with anger and frustration, I definitely use the Eastern philosophy model as a foundation. I get on the mat, the cushion, and/or the walking trail and I consider how Chinese Medicine associates anger and frustration with the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Gallbladder Meridian is yang and runs from the outer corner of the eyes up to the outer ears and top of the head and then DOWN the outer perimeter of the body – with some offshoots – before ending at the fourth toe. Liver Meridian is yin and runs UP from the top of the big toe up the inner leg; through the groin, liver, and gallbladder; into the lungs; and then through the throat into the head, circling the lips and finishing around the eyes. (This is an extremely basic description!) Since YIN Yoga is based on Chinese Medicine, we can hold certain poses that target the hips and side body in order to access the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Other times, we just bring awareness to how we feel in those areas associated with the meridians – knowing that “prāņa (‘life force’) follows awareness” – and perhaps do poses that highlight those areas (superficially) in order to cultivate more awareness. This is what we did on Sunday.

Another thing we did on Sunday was incorporate lojong (“mind training”) techniques from Tibetan Buddhism. These are statements that can be used as a starting point for meditation and/or contemplation. They can also be used, in this context, as affirmations and reminders. For instance, in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh explained one of his personal rituals: “Each morning I offer a stick of incense to the Buddha. I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.” This is like the lojong statement #21 “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” To me, this is not only about cheerfulness; it is also about showing up with a sense of gratitude, wonder, and awe. This activates my practice of shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santosha (“contentment”) – which means I am less likely to think (or say), “[That person] always does this or that.” If I can let go of past insult and injury (about which I can do nothing since it’s in the past), I can focus on the present issue. I will also consider how doing something loving and kind – for myself, for the other person/people in the conflict, and/or for some person not involved in the conflict can change the energy.

You can think of these practices as personal de-escalation techniques. They are the steps you take (and the tools you use) to offer your inner child a little comfort and to start putting out the flames so that they stay out. They can also be the tools you use to make sure there will be no backdraft and no new fires. This weekend, when I randomly stumbled on the Big Think clip quoted above, I added a new perspective to this practice: I started thinking about the “kindest” next step.

“And the idea is that, for the person being creative, all their doing is making a small step to the next most likely possibility – based on their assumptions. But, when someone on the outside sees them doing that, they think, ‘Wow! How did they put those two things that are far apart together?’ And the reason why it seems that way is because for the observer they are far apart. They have a different space of possibility.”

 

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

 

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience, the founder and director of the Lab of Misfits, as well as the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently and the co-author of Why We See The Way We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision.  One of his missions – in fact, the primary mission of the Lab of Misfits – is to get people to know less, but understand more. I know, I know, that sounds so weird and counterintuitive, but ultimately it is about questioning and delving deeper into what we think we know, in order to gain better understanding of our areas “not knowing.” It is about gaining better understanding of our selves by letting go of our assumptions and being open to possibilities.

The clip I ran across was specifically about creativity and perception, which got me thinking about how we perceive one another during a conflict and how that perception contributes to our ability to construct a viable resolution or, conversely, how our perceptions lead to more destruction and conflict.  How do we de-escalate a situation between people who may perceive the conflict (and each other) in different ways? One obvious answer is Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile. It’s a really good answer… but “my” history and my perception of how I might be perceived – based on history – makes it seem like a giant leap. Even though I am in the habit of smiling all the time, I am not in the habit of being angry or being perceived as an ABW. So, to combine the two requires practice and an awareness of my “space of possibility.”

In considering my space of possibility, I started thinking about what the kindest next step might be in a certain situation. For example, let’s say that I’m getting angry at something someone keeps saying to me during a conversation and/or I am frustrated by how I react to what they are saying. To suddenly compliment the person who is insulting me might come across as disingenuous. That might be a big leap for them to understand – especially if they are insulting me on purpose. But, somehow, we need to reach an understanding between the two of us (or just between me, myself, and I). Reaching that understanding requires bridging a proverbial (and verbal) gap – which we can’t do as look as I keep getting “hooked” by the thing they keep saying and they keep getting “hooked” by the way I am reacting.

So, what’s the next step that is also kind? I could practice the four R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve) and maybe even that fifth R (Remember). I could just take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that I promised to enjoy today. I could do all of that and preface the next thing I say. After all, sometimes naming what you are experiencing – even if you just say it to yourself – can make a big difference. Of course, be mindful about how you preface and name what you are experiencing – otherwise, you might come across as snarky and sarcastic.

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

Commentary: Do not hold on to anything – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

 

“5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

Commentary: There is a resting place, a starting place that you can always return to. You can always bring your mind back home and rest right here, right now, in present, unbiased awareness.”

 

6. In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.”

 

– quoted from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for 04102021 Si se puede & Birds”]

 

“It is a small step that begins the journey of a thousand miles.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 64” of A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

2017 Kiss My Asana Question #2: Why 108? April 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 31-Day Challenge, Baseball, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Chicago Cubs, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tai Chi, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The number of words you use to answer these questions is going to be divisible by 108? Why 108?” – the obvious questions

The significance of 108 is something pondered pretty much whenever people get ready to practice 108 Sun Salutations (for New Year’s Day, Spring/Fall Equinox, and Summer/Winter Solstice). It is considered an auspicious number in a variety of disciplines and traditions. So much so that if I listed 108 reasons, I might still be missing some. Swami J has a pretty comprehensive list; however, here are some of my favorites:

  • 108 is a harshad (or, “great joy” bringer) number in mathematics, meaning that it is divisible by the sum of its parts (1+0+8=9; 108/9 = 12)
    • Note also 1+2 = 3; 12/3 = 4 and 108/3 = 36; 3+6 = 9; 36/9 = 6
  • 108 is a prime example of numbers being exponentially powerful {(1, raised to the 1st power) multiplied times (2, raised to the 2nd power) multiplied times (3, raised to the 3rd power), i.e., 1*4*27}
  • 108 suitors pursue Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • In Buddhism, the 108 feelings or sensations humans experience result from external/physical and internal/mental stimuli (2) being received through our senses and consciousness (5+1) multiplied times our perception of sensation as positive/pleasant, negative/painful, or neutral (3) multiplied times our ability to experience feelings or sensations in the past, present, and future (3). {2*(5+1)*3*3}
  • In Eastern religions and philosophies, a mala used to count repetitions during meditation contains 108 beads – or a fraction of 108, and this coincides with an old school Catholic rosary which allows you to count out 10 decades, and provides 8 additional beads (for mistakes). The cross would be considered the guru bead.
  • In some religions there is only one God; however there are 101-108 names for God.
  • In an Indian creation story, God as Dance (Nataraja) creates the universe through a dance containing 108 steps or poses; and, there are 108 forms of dance in Indian traditions.
  • Some martial arts forms contain 108 steps or poses.
  • According to some yoga texts, there are 108 nadis (energy rivers carrying the bodies vitality) intersecting at the heart chakra.

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

  • The 108 double stitches on a Major League baseball are hand stitched; AND
  • It took 108 years for a much loved baseball team to break a curse (that may or may not be real) – and they did it in the 10th inning with 8 runs!

Finally, it would be seriously auspicious if a couple of people (2) Kiss(ed) My Asana by clicking here and donating $54 each. Or, you know what would be a real joy bringer? If a certain number of individuals (108) clicked above and donated $108 each.

For those of you doing the math: $25 shares a “Beyond Disability” DVD with a home-bound person living with a disability; $250 provides four yoga classes at a battered women’s shelter or veterans center; $500 provides full tuition for an Opening Yoga Teacher Training Workshop; and $1000 transforms the life of someone living with a disability by providing them an entire year of adaptive yoga. While these numbers focus on the people directly receiving the service, consider how yoga affects not only the individual on the mat, but everyone that individual encounters off the mat.

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Gazing Into the Heart December 14, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Taoism, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“SOLUTION” by Franz Wright
What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given all the things that have happened in the world; however, somehow last week I was caught off guard by people’s request that I hold space for their sadness/grief/anger/fear. And yes, this is something I do on any given Sunday. It’s even, on a certain level, what I signed up to do. And yet, for one blinding moment I was pissed – I mean really royally pissed – to come back from my working vacation/week of Thanksgiving/week of fellowship and find all was not sunshine and light in the world.

As is recommended, I sat with the anger. The anger passed. I got back to my baseline, and I got back to work.

But that’s the short, simple version of the story. And, it’s not nearly as real or messy or satisfying as the whole story.

I say the anger passed; however, really it felt like it diminished or receded to a place where rather than reacting to the craziness in the world I was able to respond in an appropriate manner. But, before that happened, I had to acknowledge that what I was feeling was anger. I know people who are angry all the time – and they have very valid reasons for their anger – but we don’t always acknowledge or articulate the emotion. Oh, sure, we may act angry or spew angry words, but consider the last time (the last angry time) you took a deep breath and explained to someone, “I’m really angry.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever articulated the emotion without directing it at someone or something? Have you ever gone deep beneath the emotion, and found what’s beyond it (as opposed to what’s behind it)?

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

When I first came back from Texas and started reacting, I hadn’t heard Gina Sharpe’s super skillful teaching on Suffering and the End of Suffering (see Thursday’s link below). All I had were emotions (mine and other people’s), desires/requests (mine and other people’s), signs from the Universe, and what I’ll call Divine messages. And I was resisting all of it! I wanted to focus on metta (loving-kindness) meditation or tonglen (giving and receiving) meditation, or sitting in compassion. You know me; I wanted to do that joy thing.

But, when I got on the mat, what came up was the need to be where we were. To feel what we were feeling. To validate and honor what was in the heart – and all that was in the heart.

Here’s a glimpse at a week of heart gazing:

Tuesday, December 2nd: We started with eyes open; I counted down and then had people quickly shut their eyes. In Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (b. 1963) wrote, “The timing of the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights said, ‘You have no need for sight. Listen.'” Pratyahara (sense withdrawal, Yoga’s fifth limb) heightens our awareness. This heightened awareness happens even if we just withdraw one sense. It also happens when we are in a crisis situation similar to the hostage situation that takes place in Patchett’s beautifully written novel.

“She sang as if she was saving the life of everyone in the room.”

And while listening to Maria Callas, Ingrid Michaelson, Indie.Arie, Nelly Furtado, Jj Heller, Pink!, Raya Yarbrough, Sylvia Syms, Kate Bush, Dinah Washington, Amy Lee (of Evanescene), – my examples of “beautiful singing” – I asked people to breath as if they were hitting the high notes.

Ultimately, Bel Canto is a multilayer, multilevel love story set during a horrible crisis. It shows the heart’s ability to feel more than one thing at a time. But, more than that, it shows the heart always wants to find a way to love.

 

Wednesday, December 3rd: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose) and asked people to gaze into their hearts – while listening to the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne (b. 1948).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words about gazing into the abyss seem applicable (maybe even prophetic) when dealing with Heart of Darkness on Joseph Conrad’s birthday (b. 1957). Conrad wrote his short novel after his own experiences in Africa in the late 1800’s and while his own words best describe the world he sees, I think the world he sees is the world in his own heart.

I resisted this book and this birthday, in part because literary greats like Chinua Achebe criticize Conrad and his work as racist and xenophobic – and I don’t think there’s any way to get around that. Neither did I want to seem to celebrate a depiction of racism given currents events in Ferguson and around the United States. However, Professor Peter Mwikisa said Heart of Darkness can be “…the great lost opportunity to depict dialogue between Africa and Europe…” and that makes me wonder: Are we, right now, losing an opportunity for dialogue in the U. S.?

Or, are we just not ready for dialogue?

“People look to me and say / Is the end near, when is the final day? / What is the future of mankind? / Don’t look at me for answers / Don’t ask me / I don’t know.” – “I Don’t Know” from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz

 

Thursday, December 4th: I usually don’t teach yoga on Thursdays. This was, however, one of the Thursdays when I facilitated my meditation group. We sat briefly and then listened to Gina Sharpe’s Suffering and the End of Suffering. The discussion around the talk, current events, and the additional resources (see below) also informed my weekend classes at the YMCA.

 

Friday, December 5th: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose), again gazing into the heart – this time with the intention of listening to the heart until it, as Gina Sharpe puts it, flutters. Physically, emotionally, and musically, this was a heart focused class.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…

 

Saturday, December 6th: Same beginning as Wednesday and Friday, but this time Bear McCreary’s Taiko drums sounded like the heartbeat and Anne Frank’s thunder.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.” — Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

 

Sunday, December 7th: In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that today was “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, in a moment, 2,300 people died. As a result of the attack, the United States entered World War II and, subsequently, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States entry into the war saved countless lives. Yet, in the moments when we dropped the bombs, 149,000 – 266,000 people died (this includes POWs). So, we begin with a moment of silence for all.

~ Taps + 1 minute of silence + Reveille ~

Feeling stuff is hard, messy, icky work. But, the moment you feel is also the moment you heal.

“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”  — Anne Frank, May 3, 1944

“Third we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil- Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”  — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

 

Sunday’s class ended with the same Larry Yang quote from Friday. Both classes also ended with a reminder to honor your work/karma*:

  • Hands at heart: Honor what is in your heart, as what is in your heart becomes what is in your mind.
  • Hands at third eye: Honor your thoughts, as they become your words.
  • Hands at mouth: Honor your words, as they become your deeds/actions.
  • Hands back to heart: Honor your deeds/actions as they give the world a glimpse into your character and pave the way of your destiny.

Thank you to everyone who was in class last week, as well as to everyone in my meditation group. Thank you also to my housemate Meghan (who listened to me explaining that I was angry). Thank you to all of my family and friends (who help me return to my baseline of joy). Thank you to the teachers (on and off the mat, musical and otherwise) who inspired the messages behind these classes. Thank you to Eileen for the Sunny Side post and video that made me cry. And, finally, a special shout out and HUGE, TEXAS-SIZED Utkatsana Woohoo!, to Carolina at YogaOne’s Heights location, whose Humble Warrior flow inspired this week’s physical practice and helped me remember the power of being “a great spiritual warrior.”

 ~ NAMASTE ~