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Our Rabbit Time, Our Cat Story (the “missing” Sunday post) January 22, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Love, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 22nd. You can request an audio recording the related 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.

“Our claim, our hope, our despair are in the mind – not in things, not in ‘scenery.’ Molière said that for the theatre all he needed was a platform and a passion or two. The climax of this play needs only five square feet of boarding and the passion to know what life means to us.”

– quoted from the “Preface” of Three Plays: Our Town, The Matchmaker, and The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder

What does life mean to you? More specifically, what does your life mean to you and how are you spending this time you have been given? How could you spend your time in a way that reflects what your life means to you?

I ask some variation of these questions on a fairly regular basis. People all over the world may ask themselves some variation of these questions during moments of great upheaval, moments of great challenge, and/or moments of great change. These questions are at the heart of most works by Thornton Wilder, but are especially poignant and salient in his 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town, which premiered today in 1938, at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, and then opened in Boston before its Broadway premiere at Henry Miller’s Theatre on February 4, 1938.

In the preface to a collection of three of his plays, Thornton Wilder not only indicated what he was doing with his work, but why he was doing it. He wrote, “Every action which has ever taken place – every thought, every emotion – has taken place only once, at one moment in time and place. ‘I love you,’ ‘I rejoice,’ ‘I suffer,’ have been said and felt many billions of times, and never twice the same. Every person who has ever lived has lived an unbroken succession of unique occasions. Yet the more one is aware of this individuality in experience (innumerable! innumerable!) the more one becomes attentive to what these disparate moments have in common, to repetitive patterns.” Then he questioned how we tell our stories – our truths – and how different mediums have different powers. Theatre, he believed, elevates individual experiences to universal experiences in a way that transcends single moments in time.

Our Town is a play-within-a-play, with the “external” play taking place in the theater where the play is being presented and the “interior” play taking place in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire (beginning on May 7, 1901). In addition to the Stage Manager, who “breaks the fourth wall” by introducing the audience to the scenario and offering commentary throughout the play, Our Town focuses on the inhabitants of Grover’s Corners. In particular, it focuses on young Emily Webb and George Gibb.

The young couple do things that many people do in the span of 12 years. They grow up, they fall in love, they get married, they start a family. They also lose people they love. In fact, the final act of the play takes place on a hilltop cemetery overlooking the town and is all about loss. It begins with the Stage Manager’s monologue about all the things that changed –as well as all the things that stayed the same between the second act and the summer of 1913, which marks the end of the play. It references many people who died before the play every began and older characters that died during the time period of the play. Then the Stage Manager gets to one of the great tragedies of the play: young Emily Webb died giving birth to her second child. When Emily is given the chance to re-experience one single moment of her life, she chooses her 12th birthday.

“EMILY…. – (She flings her arms wide in an ecstasy of realization) Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! (Thinking a moment, she half-turns to the STAGE MANAGER, questioning more gently:) Does any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER. (Quietly) No – Saints and poets maybe – they do some.”

– quoted from Act III of Our Town by Thornton Wilder

For many people around the world, including the people in the fictional Grover’s Corners, birthdays are a time of celebration. A time when family and friends gather together to celebrate someone and to wish them well as the begin their next journey around the sun. The older a person gets – the more they live – the more likely they are to not only celebrate, but also to reflect. The longer someone lives they more opportunities they have to look back at how they have spent their time and consider how they want to move forward. Birthdays, after all, are liminal moments, threshold moments, and – when we think of them as personal new year’s days – they are new beginnings.

Of course, any time we are beginning, we must ask ourselves, “How do we begin?”

“STAGE MANAGER…. How do such things begin? George and Emily are going to show you now the conversation they had when they first knew that – as the saying goes – they were meant for one another. But before they do that I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young, and particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleep-walking, and you didn’t quite see the street you were walking in, and you didn’t quite hear everything that was said to you. You’re just a little bit crazy. Will you remember that, please?”

– quoted from Act II of Our Town by Thornton Wilder

The following is a revised excerpt from the post dated February 1, 2022. It includes some year-specific revisions. 

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

– “Teaching Santipat,” Sanskrit chanting by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

On a certain level, there is always a question about how to begin… anything.

Just sticking to the physical practice for the moment, though: Is it best to begin in Child’s Pose, which by it’s simple physicality requires us to turn (and curl) inward? Or is it better to begin on one’s back, which promotes a certain amount of openness? Both have symbolic benefits as they relate to our lives and our practice – as does starting in a seated position on our sits-bones, which can also cultivate mindful awareness and a certain openness to wisdom. Having options, and being aware of the different benefits of the options, is a wonderful thing and I general encourage people to start where they are comfortable. However, I usually have a suggestion. After all, the beginning is an indication of how we mean to go forward.

In Chapter 17 of All of Grace, the Reverend Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.” Known as “the Prince of Preachers,” The Reverend Spurgeon was an English Particular Baptist, who was specifically offering advice about “The Fear of Final Falling,” or not being able to persevere on a righteous path; however, a lot of people consider his advice as applicable to all situations. Even if you are not particularly religious (or not religious at all), it would behoove you to start – anything – by connecting with the breath (which is a symbol of your life-force and your spirit) and letting that connection be your guide as you move forward.

Naturally, that is one aspect of how every physical practice of yoga begins. But, many practices also start with a chant – or you can think of it as an intention, a wish, or even a prayer or blessing. When I am leading the practice, I generally start with an English translation of the “Teaching Shantipat.” It is a very definitive declaration of how I would like to move forward. Every once in a blue moon, I use a meditation chant from Swami Jnaneshvara, that is specific to deep-seated mediation. Then too, there are times when the occasion calls for a big welcome or cheer – that sometimes comes in a different language.

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

好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

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

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

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

Today is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. While many East and Southeast Asian cultures celebrate at the same time – and even though there are some similarities to celebrations held at other times of the year – each culture has different rituals and traditions that connect people with their extended families, ancestors, and heritage. For example, the Chinese lunisolar calendar designates this year is the year of the (water) Rabbit/Hare. In Vietnam, however, people are celebrating the year of the Cat (which is the only major deviation in the two Zodiacs).

In parts of China and the diaspora, the beginning of the New Year is also the beginning of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. Even though each day of the Lunar New Year has a special significance, each region has different stories and traditions related to that significance. For example, according to one Chinese creation story, different animals are celebrated depending on when they were created; thus, today is the birthday of all chickens. Others are celebrating the birthday of the water god and, therefore, will not wash their hair or their clothes on the first two days of the new year. Some Buddhist people celebrate the birth of Maitreya Buddha on the first day of the lunar new year and spend New Year’s Day, as well as several days leading up to the first day, chanting, praying, and/or meditating (depending on their beliefs). People will also light candles and make offerings at the temple before their feasting begins.

Even though there are some differences between regions and cultures, there are some common elements. The Lunar New Year celebrations generally include extended family coming together; the welcoming of ancestors and (in some households) the welcoming of household deities (like the water god); red clothes, red decorations, and red envelopes; fireworks, parades, and loud noises, a bit of feasting, and (of course), the wish, prayer, blessing, or shout for prosperity: “Cai Shen Dao! [The God of Wealth has come! in Mandarin]”

Since the (secular) Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, the Lunar New Year falls at different times according to the Western schedule. As I mentioned before, this year’s Spring Festival coincides with the premiere anniversary of Our Town, a play that offers us all some great reminders about what it is good to remember as we move forward:

“STAGE MANAGER….. – Now there are some things we all know but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always letting go of that fact. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

– quoted from Act III of Our Town by Thornton Wilder

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“When the firstborn, P’an Ku [a primordial being in Chinese mythology], was approaching death, his body was transformed. His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became peals of thunder…. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind [his breath] and evolved into the black-haired people. (Wu yun li-nien chi, cited in Yu shih, PCTP 1.2a)”

– quoted from Chinese Mythology: An Introduction by Anne Birrell

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.)

### “…my advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it is on your plate; that’s my philosophy.” ~ from The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder ###

Speaking of Rivers… and the New Year (the Tuesday post) February 1, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Langston Hughes, Life, Meditation, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Taoism, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those who are celebrating.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

*

– “Teaching Santipat,” Sanskrit chanting by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

On a certain level, there is always a question about how to begin… anything.

Just sticking to the physical practice for the moment, though: Is it best to begin in Child’s Pose, which by it’s simple physicality requires us to turn (and curl) inward? Or is it better to begin on one’s back, which promotes a certain amount of openness? Both have symbolic benefits as they relate to our lives and our practice – as does starting in a seated position on our sits-bones, which can also cultivate mindful awareness and a certain openness to wisdom. Having options, and being aware of the different benefits of the options, is a wonderful thing and I general encourage people to start where they are comfortable. However, I usually have a suggestion. After all, the beginning is an indication of how we mean to go forward.

In Chapter 17 of All of Grace, the Reverend Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you began, and let the Lord be all in all to you.” Known as “the Prince of Preachers,” The Reverend Spurgeon was an English Particular Baptist, who was specifically offering advice about “The Fear of Final Falling,” or not being able to persevere on a righteous path; however, a lot of people consider his advice as applicable to all situations. Even if you are not particularly religious (or not religious at all), it would behoove you to start – anything – by connecting with the breath (which is a symbol of your life-force and your spirit) and letting that connection be your guide as you move forward.

Naturally, that is one aspect of how every physical practice of yoga begins. But, many practices also start with a chant – or you can think of it as an intention, a wish, or even a prayer or blessing. When I am leading the practice, I generally start with an English translation of the “Teaching Shantipat.” It is a very definitive declaration of how I would like to move forward. Every once in a blue moon, I use a meditation chant from Swami Jnaneshvara, that is specific to deep-seated mediation. Then too, there are times when the occasion calls for a big welcome or cheer – that sometimes comes in a different language.

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

*
好心得好报
Hao xinde hao bao [Good news]

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

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

*

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

Today is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. While many East and Southeast Asian cultures are celebrating at the same time – and even though there are some similarities to celebrations held at other times of the year – each culture has different rituals and traditions that connect people with their extended families, ancestors, and heritage.  For example, in parts of China and the diaspora, the beginning of the New Year is also the beginning of the Spring Festival, a fifteen day celebration that culminates with the Lantern Festival. On the other hand, some Buddhist people celebrate the birth of Maitreya Buddha on the first day of the lunar new year and will New Year’s Day, as well as several days leading up to the first day, chanting, praying, and/or meditating (depending on their beliefs). People will also light candles and make offerings at the temple before their feasting begins.

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, this year is the year of the (water) Tiger. However, even in China (and its diaspora), where each day of the Lunar New Year has a special significance, each region has different stories and traditions related to that significance. For example, according to one Chinese creation story, different animals are celebrated depending on when they were created; thus, today is the birthday of all chickens. Others are celebrating the birthday of the water god and, therefore, will not wash their hair or their clothes on the first two days of the new year.

Even though there are some differences between regions and cultures, there are some common elements. The Lunar New Year celebrations generally include extended family coming together; the welcoming of ancestors and (in some households) the welcoming of household deities (like the water god); red clothes, red decorations, and red envelopes; fireworks, parades, and loud noises, a bit of feasting, and (of course), the wish, prayer, blessing, or shout for prosperity: “Cai Shen Dao! [The God of Wealth has come! in Mandarin]”

Since the (secular) Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, the Lunar New Year falls at different times according to the Western schedule. This year, the beginning of the Spring Festival is also the beginning of February – which means it’s also the beginning of “special” month in the United States.

A version of the following was original posted in 2021.

“I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

 

– from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Since 1976, February 1st has marked the beginning of Black History Month in the United States of America. I always found it curious: Why February, the shortest month of the year (even during leap years)? I sometimes wondered if the reason had anything to do with Langston Hughes, who was born today in 1901.*

Born James Mercer Langston Hughes, the poet was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance and the first Black American to earn a living solely from writing and public lectures. In addition to poetry (including jazz poetry, which he started writing in high school), he wrote novels, plays, essays, and letters…so many letters. He wrote so many letters, in fact, that at one point he was writing 30 – 40 letters a day and, by the end of his life, he could have filled 20 volumes of books with his letters.

He traveled the world, wrote about his experiences in Paris, Mexico, West Africa, the Azores and Canary Islands, Holland, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the Caribbean – but he always came home to Harlem. After all, his patrons were in Harlem. They were, in many ways, the very people about whom he said that he wrote: “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” He made a name for himself specifically writing about the Black experience, but (in doing so) he wrote about the American experience.

“Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.”

 

– quoted from the poem ”Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

Being an African-American born at the beginning of the 20th Century meant that Mr. Hughes could easily trace his heritage back to slavery. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved and both of his paternal great-grandfathers owned enslaved people.

He could also trace his heritage to freedom and to a time when there was no question about freedom – as well as the time when people appreciated their freedom in new ways. His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was African-American, French, English, and Indigenous American. She was also the first woman to attend Oberlin College. She married a man, Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed heritage, who died in 1859 while participating in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and eventually married her second husband, Charles Henry Langston. The senior Langston, along with his brother John Mercer Langston, was an abolitionist and leader of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, who would eventually become a teacher and voting rights activist. The Langstons’ daughter, Caroline (Carrie), would become a school teacher and the mother of the great poet. 

“So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother, Langston Hughes showed a definite talent and interest in writing at an early age. He was also devoted to books. Despite being academically inclined, he struggled with the racism in school – even when it seemed to benefit him – because he couldn’t escape the misconceptions, marginalization, and oppression that came with the stereotypes.

Still, he persisted. He attended Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he was the classmate of the then-future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And, when he had the opportunity to share his poetry with a popular white poet, whose poetry “sang” (and was meant to be sung), he took advantage of the moment – even though he was working as a busboy at a New York hotel where the poet (Vachel Lindsay) was having dinner.

“I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,”

 

– quoted from “I Dream A World” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes and his words left an indelible mark on the world. As Black History Month is all about recognizing African-Americans who were influential to our society – but not always recognized by society; I have often wondered if Langston Hughes’s birthday being on the 1st was the reason Black History Month is in February. Well, as it turns out, it’s just one more example of serendipity.

 Created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian who was the son of formerly enslaved people, the annual celebration initially started as “Negro History Week” – and it was the second week in February for fifty years. Mr. Woodson started the week so that it coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and the observed/assumed birthday of Frederick Douglass (2/14/1818), the abolitionist, who escaped slavery at the age of 20. The existence of this heritage month has inspired so many heritage and cultural observation throughout the year that the calendar, in some ways, reflects the United States: diverse and (academically) segregated. It has also changed the way some aspects of American history are taught.

“I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

 

– quoted from the poem “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, February 1st) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Langston & Day 1 2022”]

*

*2022 NOTE: According to most printed biographies (that I checked), Langston Hughes was born in 1902. However, many digital sources indicate that he was born in 1901 – and this earlier date is based on research and fact checking reported for the New York Times by Jennifer Schuessler (in 2018). Curiously, the 1940 census listed his birth as “abt 1905;” however, this information would have been given to a census taker by one of the poet’s roommates. (Additionally, we know from one his poems that Langston Hughes didn’t think very highly of the “census man” and the accuracy of census information.)

*

“When the firstborn, P’an Ku [a primordial being in Chinese mythology], was approaching death, his body was transformed. His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became peals of thunder…. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind [his breath] and evolved into the black-haired people. (Wu yun li-nien chi, cited in Yu shih, PCTP 1.2a)”

 

– quoted from Chinese Mythology: An Introduction by Anne Birrell

IT’S ALMOST TIME! Are you ready for another “First Friday Night Special?” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will consider the importance of having a plan. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

*

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.)

Revised 2/2023.

### KEEP ON A-CLIMBIN’ ON ###

Getting Mystical, again (“missing” Sunday post) February 2, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, Meditation, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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*** Are you an email subscriber who missed the Saturday post (because I forgot to change the heading)? My apologies; you can find it here. ***

[You can request an audio recording of Sunday’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.]

 

Article 1. Whether the soul was made or was of God’s substance?

Objection 1. It would seem that the soul was not made, but was God’s substance. For it is written (Genesis 2:7): ‘God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.’ But he who breathes sends forth something of himself. Therefore the soul, whereby man lives, is of the Divine substance.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a Qq 90, volume 13) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

 

“When the firstborn, P’an Ku [a primordial being in Chinese mythology], was approaching death, his body was transformed. His breath became the wind and clouds; his voice became peals of thunder…. All the mites on his body were touched by the wind [his breath] and evolved into the black-haired people. (Wu yun li-nien chi, cited in Yu shih, PCTP 1.2a)”

 

– quoted from Chinese Mythology: An Introduction by Anne Birrell

It seems that since the dawn of their existence, humans have told stories about how they came into existence. We may call some of these stories “myths” and some of these stories “science,” but all of the stories with which I am familiar revolve around air/breath and/or some kind of primordial fluid (usually water or milk). Many of these stories/explanations also involve what happens when that air or fluid comes in contact with soil or clay – and voila! Here we are.

There is something divine, universal, about breath and breathing. We all do it; we all must do it in order to be alive. In the ancient languages, like Sanskrit, Chinese, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, people used the same word for breath that they used for spirit: prāņā, qi (or ch’i), ruach (in the body), pneuma, spīritus; respectively. Given this, it makes sense that every culture in the world has a spiritual practice centered around the breath and breathing.

Breath-focused practices are not the only elements that different cultures share; but, they are a natural place to start when we’re talking about yoga. If we were looking at the world and various cultures from a purely theologically standpoint we might also start with the breath. Or, we might start with God (whatever that means to you at this moment) and humans’ relationship with God. Either way we look at it, things can get “mystical” pretty quickly.

“(From myein, to initiate).

Mysticism, according to its etymology, implies a relation to mystery. In philosophy, Mysticism is either a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity, or a system growing out of such a tendency and desire. As a philosophical system, Mysticism considers as the end of philosophy the direct union of the human soul with the Divinity through contemplation and love, and attempts to determine the processes and the means of realizing this end. This contemplation, according to Mysticism, is not based on a merely analogical knowledge of the Infinite, but as a direct and immediate intuition of the Infinite. According to its tendency, it may be either speculative or practical, as it limits itself to mere knowledge or traces duties for action and life; contemplative or affective, according as it emphasizes the part of intelligence or the part of the will; orthodox or heterodox, according as it agrees with or opposes the Catholic teaching.”

 

– quoted from The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church (newadvent.org)

 

“2: the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (such as intuition or insight)”

 

– quoted from the definition of “mysticism” in Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

“2 a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.”

 

– quoted from the definition of “mysticism” on dictionary.com

Born today in 1915 in the Eastern Pyrénées (also known as Northern Catalonia) in Southern France, Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky, a writer, an activist, a scholar and a teacher of comparative religion. He joined the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists) in 1941 and became known as “Brother Louis,” and then “Father Louis” after he was ordained in 1949. During his 27 years at Gethsemani he wrote over hundreds of articles and poems and over 60 books – including his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which has sold over 1 million copies and been translated into at least 15 languages. He wrote about everything from spirituality to social justice and pacifism, and lamented in his letters about the very real battle between good and evil that was (and is) playing out in the world. Merton’s dedication to Catholicism did not prevent him from being interested in other spiritual and religious traditions. If anything, his conversion and commitment fueled his desire to know God through all and any means necessary – which is why I sometimes refer to him as a mystical child of God, whatever that means to you at this moment.

On a certain level, “Father Louis” would appreciate the honoring that comes from being open to other people’s understanding of the Divine. His interest in comparative religion was not purely academic. In fact, he advocated interfaith understanding and had a strong desire to personally experience the practices of others. While his spiritual mentor and father figure Frederic Dunne (who became the head of Gethsemani in 1935), supported his interests, Merton’s quest to study Eastern religions and philosophies got him in hot water with the Order’s next head, Abbot Dom James Fox (a former Marine), who always seemed right on the edge of accusing Merton of heresy and blasphemy. Yet, the Abbot Fox still allowed Merton to teach the novices and even supported the establishment of a full-time hermitage.

Shortly before Merton died in 1968, a new abbot (Flavian Burns) became the head of the Order. Abbot Burns had entered the Order as a student of “Father Louis” and supported his mentor’s pilgrimage to Asia, where he was finally able to spend time in the communities of Eastern religions and philosophies that he had so long admired. Thomas Merton died, unexpectedly, while in Thailand after speaking at an interfaith conference.

“If you want to have a spiritual life you must unify your life. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.”

 

– quoted from Thoughts In Solitude by Thomas Merton

 

“We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.”

 

– quoted from Thoughts In Solitude by Thomas Merton

 

“When ambition ends, happiness begins.”

 

– A Hungarian proverb

What The Reverend Thomas Merton found when he studied other religions and philosophies – and when he was able to sit in community with others – was that the bone-deep desire to be connected transcended theological and philosophical beliefs. Perhaps because we are human, he found that even when certain ideas seemed diametrically opposed there was common ground: the breath, the community, the silence – and what swelled up in the heart when one sat in silence (alone and/or in community) and breathed.

There are a lot of Thomas Merton quotes in this practice. I encourage you to grab one (above or below) that resonates with you. Set a timer for 90 seconds; 5.6 minutes; 8 minutes and 30 seconds; 9 minutes and 36 seconds; or whatever time you have. Get comfortable, get stable; sit and breathe.

Don’t think about the words like an analyst.

 Just let them sit lightly on your heart, like the words of a poet… or the spirit of a mystic.

“The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 13, “My Soul Remembered God” No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.”

 

– quoted from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton

 

“The beginning of this love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, then we do not love them: we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 9, “The Measure of Charity” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 1, “Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”

 

– quoted from Love and Living by Thomas Merton

 

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

 

– Thomas Merton, O. C. S. O.

 

“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 7, “Being and Doing” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

 

– Thomas Merton, O. C. S. O.

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

 

 

– quoted from Chapter 3, “Seeds of Contemplation” in New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton  

 

“First of all, our choices must really be free – that is to say they must perfect us in our own being. They must perfect us in our relation to other free beings. We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.”

 

– quoted from Chapter 24, “Conscience, Freedom, and Prayer” in No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for ‘finding himself.’ If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.”

 

– quoted from No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

 

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

 

– quoted from Passion for Peace: The Social Essays by Thomas Merton

 

“Merton’s two-step diagnosis of all problems in human relationships: ‘We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.’”

 

– quoted from The Source: Good News Bible for Today’s Young Catholic

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

### BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT ###