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“A center of stillness surrounded by silence” July 29, 2020

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“The more faithfully you listen to the voices within you, the better you will hear what is sounding inside.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit on the floor, your bed, a chair, or a cushion. You can sit on a bench, a stool, or a rock. You can kneel on the floor, a cushion, or a prie-dieu. You can lie down if you must, but make sure you are in a comfortable and stable position, with your back long and your jaw and shoulders relaxed. Let one or both hands rest so that your belly can soften into your hands. Close your eyes, if that is comfortable to you, and do that 90-second thing.

Today, really pay attention to how the soft belly rises and falls and the breath enters and leaves your body. Today, notice the temporal nature of things – how, like your breath, everything begins and ends; changes. Notice how the inhale causes the exhale and how the exhale causes the inhale. Notice any suffering, discomfort, or dis-ease you may be experiencing; and note or name your mental, physical, and emotional experiences, but without commenting or creating a story around the experiences.

Just breathe, with awareness.

This is a specific kind of meditation, meditation that arouses mindfulness.

Vipassanā literally means “to see in a special way” and is often translated into English as “insight.” It is a meditation style/technique, within Theraveda Buddhism, that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). The original practice, which includes the practice of satipaţţhāna (which is often translated as the “foundation of mindfulness”) was popularized by Mahāsī Sayādaw, a Burmese Theraveda Buddhist monk born today in 1904.

Mahāsī Sayādaw became a novice at 12 years old, was ordained at age twenty, and earned his degree as a teacher of dhamma in 1941. Upon his ordination, he assumed the name Mahāsī Sayādaw U Sobhana. In his mid-30s, he began teaching the technique of vipassanā in his home village, which was named for a massive drum (known as Mahāsī). He was eventually asked, by the Prime Minister of Burma (in what is now Myanmar), to be a resident teacher in the capital and then to help establish meditation centers throughout Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. By his late 60’s, Mahāsī Sayādaw had trained over 700,000 meditators and by his mid-70’s he was traveling to the West to lead meditation retreats. One of the places where he led retreats was the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), which is now one of the leading meditation centers in the United States.

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

One of the great things about practicing vipassanā is that you can practice it anywhere. (You can even practice it standing or walking, even thought I didn’t include those options at the beginning.) You can even practice at the United Nations Headquarters in “A Room of Quiet” that was established and designed by a team lead by Dag Hammerskjöld (b. 1905).

“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Born today in Sweden, exactly a year after Mahāsī Sayādaw, Hammerskjöld was the second Secretary General of the United Nations and the youngest person to ever hold the position. His second term was cut short when he was killed in an airplane as he traveled to the Congo to broker peace during the Congo Crisis. President John F. Kennedy called him “the greatest statesman of our century” and, he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, he is the only person to be posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His journal, discovered after his death, was published as Värmärken (Markings, or Waymarks in English). The journal starts when Hammerskjöld was 20 years old and continues up until the month before his death.

Even though he thought the journalist who called him for a comment about his appointment to the UN was actually part of an April Fool’s joke, Hammerskjöld was pretty serious about peace. Peace on the inside and peace on the outside. That is why he was so dedicated the UN’s Meditation Room being “a room of quiet” for all, without the trappings or outward appearance of any particular faith, creed, or religious belief. He led an interfaith group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who combined their physical and mental efforts as well as financial resources – and he was very hands on. He not only had a hand in the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the room, but also in the fact that there are benches instead of chairs. He even, quite literally, had a hand in the carpet that was laid on the floor and the color that was painted on the walls. He wrote in a letters and is quoted in interviews as saying that “This House” (which is how he referenced the UN) “should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” He indicated that this silence and stillness was something everyone carried within them and that his aim was “to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.”

Go back to the beginning and do that 90-minute thing. This time, as you sit here and breathe here, noting your experience here, consider that all over the world there are people sitting and breathing, meditating and praying, opening to that same “center of stillness surrounded by silence” that you are opening to within yourself.

“The longest journey is the journey inwards.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.

 

– Journalist Pauline Frederick quoting Dag Hammerskjöld (in an interview for the UN Oral History Collection dated June 20, 1986)

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a meditative yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Thou who art over us,

Thou who art one of us,

Thou who art –

Also within us,

May all see Thee – in me also,

May I prepare the way for Thee,

May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot,

May I also not forget the needs of others,

Keep me in Thy love

As Thou wouldst that all should be kept in mine.

May everything in this my being be directed to Thy glory

And may I never despair.

For I am under Thy hand,

And in Thee is all power and goodness.

Give me a pure heart – that I may see Thee,

A humble heart – that I may hear Thee,

A heart of love – that I may serve Thee,

A heart of faith – that I may abide in Thee. Amen”

 

 

– prayer/meditation/poem from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

 

 

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

Deep Listening July 28, 2020

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“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

 

– Macbeth in Act V, Scene V of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

There is so much disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world that it can seem hard sometimes to know the truth. We can spend an extraordinary amount of time sifting and searching through all the disinformation, misinformation, manipulated information, lack of information, and fakery in the world and, in the end, feel like the aforementioned Scottish king and the inspiration for a novel by William Faulkner. It’s frustrating. We may settle down for a moment and give up or we may rest awhile only to dive back in. But, really, those are two bad choices.

A third option is the oft overlooked option of being still, being quite, and turning inward instead of outward. Yes, every philosophy and major religion in the world emphasizes the importance of being dedicated to the truth. (This is the yamā or external restraint / universal commandment of satya in the 8-limb philosophy of yoga.) Every philosophy and major religion in the world also emphasizes that we carry the truth with us; it is inside of us. So, the key to seeking the truth isn’t turning outward, it is turning inward.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

 

Tehillim – Psalms (46:11, in some Hebrew texts; 46:10 in Christian texts)

 

“…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

Japji Sahib, known in English as The Song of the Soul, is an ancient Sikh text composed by Guru Nanak, the 15th Century founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. The text was originally published in 1604 and, as indicated by the name is intended to be chanted. Remember, when we do the 108 Sun Salutations I refer to it as japa-ajapa, which is “repeat and repeat” or “repeat and remember.” Jap also means “understand.” This is a form of meditation which is also recommended in the Yoga Sūtra (1:27 – 1:28) and it allows the mind to use the repetition as a path and gateway into stillness.

I say “a path and gateway” because there are steps. One doesn’t just mumble a few words a few times and find themselves instantly still and quiet. You first have to get through the place where your mind is trying to wrap itself around the fact that you are repeating the same thing, over and over. It has to sift through the object that is the word, the meaning of the word, and the fact that you are focused on the object and the meaning of the word. Then, you start to internalize the word and let go of some of the outside distractions. Finally, you reach a state of pure cognition where, possibly, you and the word are absorbed into each other – in other words, you are the word. A dedicated, uninterrupted practice (also recommended by Patanjali) is helpful in this practice; however, the most important element is trusting and listening.

“By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
The Truth
Of your Inner
Consciousness
Will saturate your psyche
With wisdom
And deep understanding.

By trusting
What you hear
When you listen,
You shall dwell
In all mansions
Of learning.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

 

“If you
Trust what you hear
When you listen,
Then you will know
What you see,
How to understand
And act.”

 

– quoted from Japji Sahib: The Song of the Soul by Guru Nanak (Translated by Ek Ong Kaar Kaur Khalsa)

Please join me today (Tuesday, July 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom where we will listen deeply. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Since the mantras that I typically use in class are not available, this is an instant replay of the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and, if you can handle it, I recommend the “Music for 18 Musicians” – which can also be found without interruptions. Another option is to practice without music, which I also highly recommend.)

### LISTEN ###

 

Are You Sleeping? (Part I) July 27, 2020

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“Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, dormezvous? Dormezvous? Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines! Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.”

 

– French nursery rhyme about a sleeping monk (“Brother John”)

 

“The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.”

 

– quoted from “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to go to sleep and wake up to find that all my work has been done. I especially feel that way when I am facing a massive amount of work, or a massive amount of mess. Yes, yes, sometimes I am ready to dig in, get to work, and do whatever needs to be done. Sometimes, I look forward to that feeling of accomplishment that comes with being able to check something off my list and see the direct results of my actions. But, sometimes, I want instant gratification. Sometimes, I don’t know where to begin; I just want it done.

The problem with that attitude, is that even when we are faced with a giant mess, there is something we a can (and must) do. We all have a role, a purpose, in cleaning up the giant mess. The only problem is that we may be overwhelmed by the mess. We may also be overwhelmed by the pressure to do something someone else has been charged to do. So, sometimes it is good to pause, breathe, and consider the one thing we can do? Even if it seems like a little inconsequential thing, once we identify it, we can consider how long we can do that thing and start doing it. We do “what we can, as much as we can, for as long as we can” – and we start to see change.

Or, we can go back to being a sleepyhead. Pretending that there’s not a mess or that it’s someone else’s responsibility to clean it up. The thing is things are still going to change. They just may or may not change in a way that is beneficial to us and our neighbors.

“And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance.”

 

 – Sūrah Al-Kahf (18:18)

Being “sleepy” or being a sleepyhead gets a bad rap in the United States. It has been used a derogatory nickname and it makes us think of someone who is lazy and unproductive, someone who won’t get the job done. We think of Brother John, from the nursery rhyme, who overslept when he was supposed to ring the bell for people to pray. We think of Rip Van Winkle or “Sleepy” from the “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” We may even think about H. G. Wells’s The Sleeper Awakens. What we don’t think about is that when people in Naantali, Finland pick a “sleepyhead” today they usually pick someone whose work has benefited the city.

Today (July 27th) is National Sleepy Head Day in Finland. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages and includes the belief that the person who sleeps the latest on this day will be lazy and unproductive throughout the year. At one time, the last person asleep would be awakened by someone throwing water on them or by throwing them into the lake or sea. Now, in Naantali, the person honored as the official “sleepyhead” gets carried on a gurney during an early morning parade and (very ceremoniously) dumped in the sea. People then spend the whole day and evening with music, food, and boats on the water. The next year, they will be at the head of the parade as someone else is dumped in the water. (As Finland has been able to reopen most businesses and has reopened to leisure travelers from certain areas, festivities are just winding down as I post and people will (eventually) be heading to bed for a good night sleep.)

Even though National Sleep Head Day is a public celebration, it has its roots in a religious story, the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

“Until today, we still read about the story of these young men. These young men weren’t prophets of Allah. They weren’t messengers of Allah. They didn’t receive revelation. No angels came to them with an army. These were a group of young men, simply by the strength of their [faith in the six articles of faith] and [God-consciousness] Allah [glorified and exalted be He] gave them an amazing miracle.”

 

 – commentary on Sūrah Al-Kahf (19:9 – 26) quoted from “The People of the Cave”

God only knows how many sleepers there were or how long they slept – the Qur’an literally states that we can argue about the numbers, but only God knows – however, the basic story that is found in over 200 manuscripts, written in at least 9 medieval languages, dating between the 9th and 13 centuries is the same. Around 25 CE, a group of men, strangers bound only by their Christian faith, are faced with religious persecution or forced conversion under the rule of the Roman emperor Decius. They are given the opportunity to recant their faith and bow down to the Roman idols. Most versions of the story agree that even though they were wealthy and educated men, who would have retained some public power had they converted, the men decided they would rather give up all their worldly possessions and live in a cave than live under a pagan ruler. When the emperor realized that living in the cave wasn’t a deterrent, he ordered the cave sealed up.

The emperor died in 251 CE and things changed. Centuries passed, and more things changed. All the while, the sleepers slept. Oh, sure, people thought they were dead and they were the stuff of legends, but one day the cave was opened, the sun shone in, and they were awakened. The sleepers thought they had slept a day or half a day, but most version of the stories state that they had slept for 309 years. So much had changed that when one stepped out of the cave (to buy food for the group) he found that instead of living in a pagan land they were now living in a Christian land.

“I’m just here for Savasana.”

 

– t-shirts, hats, mugs, posters, etc.

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 27th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice (which will end with Savasana).

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

### No Zzzzzs ###

 

Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

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

 

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

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

“Are you practicing?”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Hi! How are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please join me for a 65-minute “short form” virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 26th) at 2:30 PM, when you can practice your ethics. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

 

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way. If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

 

 

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

Where the practice begins (and ends) July 25, 2020

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

 

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

 

“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.’ And they ask you what they should spend. Say, ‘The excess [beyond needs].’ Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought.”

 

– quoted from Surah Al-Baqarah (2:219), Al-Qur’an al-Kareem

We all have a moral code, an ethical compass, something that helps us navigate through life – ostensibly creating as little harm as possible. The vast majority of people are born with an instinctual “true north,” just like every other creature in the natural world, and it’s calibrated based on the ethical lessons we are given early in our lives. We are given these lessons – about right and wrong and about how to conduct ourselves in the world – at a very early age, regardless of who we are, where we were born and raised, what language we speak, and/or which aspects of the Divine we may or may not honor. We can call them lessons of the father and the mothers, but they are also lessons of the sisters and brothers, lessons of the elders, lessons of the peers. Sometimes we are given explicit instructions, other times we watch the way people conduct themselves around us. Eventually, we recognize them as laws. And, just like Amir in The Kite Runner, there are times when we check in our moral compass and think, “Yes, this makes sense, this feels right” or, “Ooo, wow, this doesn’t make sense, this feels off.”

If you grow up in a society associated with one of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islām) then you may think in terms of the commandments (10 or 613) or you think in terms of what is of benefit and what is forbidden (harām). If you grow up in a culturally Buddhist society, you may view things through the precepts. Still, when we get to a certain age, these lessons have been instilled in us and we take them with us wherever we go – even on the yoga mat.

Yoga Sūtra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabrahmcaryāparigrahā yamāh

 

– “Non-violence (or non-harming), truthfulness, non-stealing, walking in awareness of the highest reality, and non-possessiveness (or non-hording) are the restraints (or universal commandments).”

Even if you have never heard of or explored the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, even if you have never been taught that the practice begins with an ethical component, the five yamās, or external restraints, will sound familiar. Along with the five niyamās, or internal observations, the yamās provide a rubric for the practice – that is to say, they give the practitioner direction about how to conduct themselves and how to move through the practice. Even when they are not the explicit focus of the practice, the yamās and niyamās make up the foundation of the practice. If you are not practicing them, or not practicing some form of them, while you are practicing āsanas (poses), you are not practicing yoga. One can also say that if you are practicing them while engaged in something other than āsana, then you are practicing yoga.

“Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost.

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”

 

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 2:1

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 25th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “Hays Code 2020” playlist dated March 31.)

 

“Talking about a path is not walking that path. Thinking about life is not living.”

 

– quoted from Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu (translation from A Path and a Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin)

 

### WHAT ARE YOU PRACTICING? ###

 

If only it was Taco Tuesday… July 22, 2020

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 “I like it when a man puts thought into the kind of restaurant we’re going to. That doesn’t mean it needs to be fancy – some of the best meals of my life have been having a taco on a street corner.”

– Meghan Markle (now, Duchess of Sussex) quoted in an Esquire Magazine article dated Dec. 15, 2016

 

“I like to take a day off and enjoy fast food for what it is. I have to say that in New York I’m really partial about taco trucks. I mean I really can’t handle it. There is something about catching all those ingredients piled on top of each other it puts me in a tizzy. I love it. I’m kind of a taco truck junkie.”

 

– Alex Guarnaschelli (when asked if she eats fast food, TooFab 03/01/2011)

Imagine the perfect taco. “‘What is “The perfect taco?” Alex.’” What makes it perfect? Is it the outside? I mean, I know people who will throw down over hard shells versus soft. (And, just for the record, there’s no such thing as an “open-faced taco” – that’s a chalupa or a tostado, for goodness sake!)

So, maybe, what makes your perfect taco is what’s on the inside. Hmmm… given that everyone has different tastes, different needs, and desires, it seems that there could be a different taco for every person in the world (and two tacos per person on Tuesdays). The poet Emma Lazarus was born today in 1849, so think about what “all your huddled masses” have been seeking over the years. I once heard Bryan Kest say that there’s at least one version of a pose for every person in the world; he estimated 8 billion ways to do every pose. And, it turns out that practicing yoga is a lot like searching for “the perfect taco.”

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I’m not much for beer, but I’m a huge fan of a well-made taco and I’m a huge fan of Tom Robbins’s fourth novel, Jitterbug Perfume. Born today in 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Robbins is a self-described “hillbilly” who grew up in a Baptist household, went to a military college prep school, studied journalism in college, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent a year as a meteorologist in Korea and two years in Nebraska before being discharged. He returned to Richmond, Virginia (where his family had moved during his early childhood) and started reading poetry in a coffee shop.

Robbins returned to school and also put his journalism degree to good use, while (occasionally) hitchhiking, researching a book on Jackson Pollack, and (eventually) hosting a weekly alternative radio show for KRAB-FM, Seattle. All the while, Tom Robbins was writing – searching for his perfect writing style, his voice. He found it and used it to write Another Roadside Attraction, a novel that you could theoretically say is “just” about a kind of wacky couple who open a hot dog stand. His first novel had all the elements you will find in most of his novels: wacky, bohemian characters; strong-willed women; animals; religion; existential philosophical musings; science; food (always food); and the occasional mythical character.

Jitterbug Perfume definitely has all of the elements described above and, to me, it is one the most visceral novels by Robbins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and yet, when I look at “Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper (who was born today in 1882), I may feel a lot, but I smell very little. On the flip side, I can’t even think about Jitterbug Perfume without smelling it. I know, I know, you’re thinking well, of course, the word “perfume” is in the title and it’s all about perfumers trying to capture this magical essence. That’s the way the brain works.

Yeah, no. When I think of this particular novel, I’m thinking about another element that shows up in all of Tom Robbins’s work: s-e-x. And Pan.

“The word desire suggests that there is something we do not have. If we have everything already, then there can be no desire, for there is nothing left to want. I think that what the Buddha may have been trying to tell us is that we have it all, each of us, all the time; therefore, desire is simply unnecessary.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As we’ve discussed before, suffering is a part of the human condition. We can say, as the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies instruct us, that suffering comes from attachment; however, what we are really saying is that suffering comes from desires. There are lots of different kind of desire, and they can lead to all different kinds of attachment (rooted in pleasure or rooted in pain); but Robbins suggests in Jitterbug Perfume that the desire itself isn’t the problem. Robbins suggests that maybe we suffer because “we do not desire wisely.” It’s an interesting thought – especially if you consider that we are psychologically and physiologically wired to desire, to want certain things and to not want other things.

Considering that there may be a better way to desire, makes me think of certain Buddhist and/or Yoga practices. For instance, shoshin is the Zen Buddhist practice of “beginners mind” and I often liken it to the niyama (internal observation in Yoga) santosha, which is the practice of contentment. Just as Robbins says (above) the practice focuses not on the idea that we are missing out on something but focuses instead on the fact that in this moment there is something, something extraordinary, something… perfect. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki explains that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few.” When we show up and practice shoshin and/or santosha we open ourselves up to find something perfect in the moment, be it the perfect scent, the perfect quantum physics equation, the perfect taco… or the perfect pose.

“If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. The dull and prosaic will be granted adventures that will dice their central nervous systems like an onion, romantic dreamers will end up in the rope yard. You may protest that it is too much to ask of an uneducated fifteen-year-old girl that she defy her family, her society, her weighty cultural and religious heritage in order to pursue a dream that she doesn’t really understand. Of course it is asking too much. The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Go back to the questions at the beginning of this post and think about them in terms of the “perfect” yoga pose. Even better, think about your pursuit of the perfect expression. Do you think about the inside first, or is your primary focus on the outside? Do you recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of elements, which translate into millions and billions of expressions? Do you recognize that there is no one way to do something and so, therefore, there can be billions of perfect poses? There is, however, an even more important question (inspired by one of my yoga teachers). Seane Corn said, “It’s not about the pose. It’s about the purpose. Be In Yours.” So, the better question as you seek your so-called perfect pose, is “What’s the purpose?”

When we get around to asking that question, we find that sometimes the perfect pose isn’t a taco at all… It’s a chalupa (or a tostado).

“When we accept small wonders, we qualify ourselves to imagine great wonders.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As a former meteorologist, Tom Robbins would be familiar with chaos theory (the idea that small changes in initial conditions can translate into big outcomes) and it’s those little things that make a difference, unexpected differences, in his stories. Those little changes can also make a difference in your yoga practice…and in your meal preparation.

In the TV show Ugly Delicious, David Chang says, “The dishes that we’re making… it’s about telling a story.” The practicing yoga is also about telling stories, it’s about your body and mind telling your story. It’s about finding your voice, your themes your ingredients, as Tom Robbins has done all his life, and then putting it out there. It is, also, about listening – really, truly, deeply listening to your own heart, your own soul, and your own story. If you really listen, you can also hear the stories around you. And, it is delicious (even when it smells a little ripe).

“He was becoming unstuck, he was sure of that – his bones were no longer wrapped in flesh but in clouds of dust, in hummingbirds, dragonflies, and luminous moths – but so perfect was his equilibrium that he felt no fear. He was vast, he was many, he was dynamic, he was eternal.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where will find your “breathe properly,  stay curious, and [afterwards] eat your beets.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In case you were confused or missed it (above), only one of the Alex’s mentioned above is celebrating an 80th birthday today!

 

 

### WHAT’S YOUR PERFECT TACO? ###

Welcome to Right Here, Right Now July 20, 2020

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“But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”

 

– quoted from “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley ©1987

There’s a little essay I often read at the end of classes on July 20th. It’s called “Welcome to Holland” and it was first brought to my attention by my best friend from undergrad (a pediatrician) when I told him that another good friend of my had a newborn who was born with Down’s Syndrome. I now know that while some parents appreciate the piece, others are critical of it and how it seems to minimize their experience as parents of children with special needs. Obviously, you should decide for yourself. For me, someone who hasn’t had the personally experience, I still think of it as a beautiful reminder to stay in the present moment; to be right here and right now. I mention it at the end of the July 20th classes, because it is relevant to part of today’s theme and the importance of focusing on what you are doing – and what you are capable of doing – in this moment, as opposed to focusing on what you are not doing, or not capable of doing, in this moment.

“Like diabetes, deafness, polio or any other misfortune, [intellectual disabilities] can happen in any family. It has happened in the families of the poor and the rich, of governors, senators, Nobel prizewinners, doctors, lawyers, writers, men of genius, presidents of corporations – the President of the United States.”

 

– quoted from a September 22, 1962 article by Eunice Kennedy Shriver printed in The Saturday Evening Post

When he was elected as President of the United States, very few people outside of his family knew that John F. Kennedy had a younger sister with an intellectual disability. Her name was Rosemary Kennedy and she was the third born child of a family that would continuously present itself (and be remembered) as the epitome of what it meant to be American: white, Christian, sober, happy, straight, free, loyal, drama-free, promising, healthy, wealthy, and wise. The reality, however, was a little different. Yes, the family was very active, very ambitious, and very successful. They were also plagued by tragedy and even President Kennedy had severe health problems – which were hidden from the public for most of his life. Also hidden, until the 1960’s: Rosemary’s intellectual disability.

When it became obvious that their eldest daughter was never going to catch up to her brothers, Joseph and Rose Kennedy were told the best place for Rose was in an institution. She could be hidden away and they wouldn’t have to worry about her. They wouldn’t have to think about her at all. But, in a sentiment their son would later echo to the nation, the Kennedy parents were not focused on what her presence would do to them or their reputation; they were focused on what they could do for her. Rose Kennedy grew up with her siblings and they grew up with her. She loved music and dancing; she liked to dress up and have her hair, makeup, and nails done; she loved the outdoor things her family did, like rowing; and she lived children. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Except she couldn’t understand why her siblings’ friends wouldn’t dance with her, why she wasn’t trusted to take the smaller kids out on the water without another adult, or why (eventually) she wasn’t invited along to certain activities. Eventually, as an adult in her 40’s, Rose Kennedy did live in a home. She was not; however, erased or forgotten by her family and, in 1962, her younger sister Eunice wrote an article that made sure she would not be erased from the annals of history. Then, a few years later, Eunice would do something that ensured that Rose Kennedy (and people like her) would not be forgotten.

“Enough.”

 

– Eunice Kennedy

In the mid-60’s Eunice Kennedy heard about the work of Dr. James N. Oliver, a British researcher who published a paper in June 1958 which focused on the benefits of physical exercise and activity as it related to “sub-normal boys.” The research proved that physical activity benefited children in the classroom. Dr. Frank Hayden, a Canadian physical education professor, continued the research by organizing floor hockey games and proposing a national games program. As the public became more and more aware of this research, as well as through their own observations, families attempted to enroll their children in existing programs. The mainstream summer camps and public education systems, however, were not able to accommodate children with special needs. Let’s be real, most were not even willing to consider if they could. So, women started reaching out to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation. At some point, Eunice had had enough. Like Pearl S. Buck, she felt that if a program didn’t exist to fulfill a need, it was up to her to create that program.

Camp Shriver started with 24 children and 26 high school and college students as counselors. Just like at other summer camps, the kids at Camp Shriver swam, played basketball and soccer, and rode horses. They ate, played, and “sometimes got in trouble” with children who did not have special needs. One of those “normal” kids was Eunice’s own son Tim, who would grow up to be Chairman of Special Olympics.

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

 

 – the (original) Special Olympics Athlete Oath

The first Special Olympics games were held today in 1968 in Soldiers Field in Chicago, Illinois. There were about 1,000 athletes from North America. Some people thought it would be a one-time affair; however, Eunice Shriver Kennedy had other ideas. At the first games she announced the formation of the Special Olympics organization and, 52 years later, Special Olympics has grown to include over 5 million athletes, 1 million coaches and volunteers, and over 100,000 competitions featuring 32 Olympic-style sports in 190 countries.

(Soak that in for a moment.)

Special Olympics and the International Paralympic Committee are recognized by the International Olympic Committee; however, Special Olympic Games are not held in the same year or in conjunction with the Olympic Games. Instead, Special Olympic events are held every day (with local, national, and regional events around the world) and the Special Olympic Games are held in two year cycles, recurring every fourth year, and alternating between summer and winter games. The next World Winter Games are scheduled for January 2022 (in Kazan, Russia). There are World Pre-Game events scheduled in Berlin in June 2022 and the actual World Games (also in Berlin) in June 2023.

People with intellectual disabilities often have physical healthy issues, and/or are at a higher risk for certain ailments. Because of health care disparities, and underlying health issues, the over 200 million people with intellectual disabilities (worldwide) die an average of 16 years earlier than their peers without disabilities. They are at a greater risk of contracting respiratory disease, pneumonia, and flu – which means they are in a high risk group for COVID-19. In the 1997, Special Olympics started “Healthy Athletes,” one of several initiatives that expand beyond the games. Healthy Athletes offers athletes access to free health screenings and health information. Additional health programming, like “Healthcare Inclusion for All,” focuses on improving the physical and social-emotional wellbeing of the over 200 million people worldwide with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics also organizes “Unified Sports” events, to break down stereotypes by continuing Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s work of integrating group sports activities, and “Young Athletes” events, which are early childhood play programs for  2 – 7 year old children with and without intellectual disabilities.

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, July 20th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga inspired by Special Olympics “School of Strength” programming.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices. (But it is Carlos Santana’s birthday, so….)

 

### BIG HUGS ###

The best thing since… July 7, 2020

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“He showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’”

 

– from In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

When people like something (or someone) – I mean, really, really like something (or someone) – they sometimes say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” – which is funny when you consider that there’s only one day honoring “sliced bread.” On the flip side, there are at least ten days devoted to chocolate:

  • Bittersweet Chocolate Day (January 10th)
  • Chocolate Day in Ghana (the second largest producer of cocoa) (February 14th)
  • World Chocolate or International Chocolate Day (July 7th and/or 9th)
  • World Chocolate Day in Latvia (July 11th)
  • Milk Chocolate Day (July 28th)
  • S. National Confectioners Association’s International Chocolate Day (September 13th)
  • White Chocolate Day (September 22nd)
  • National Chocolate Day in the United States (October 28th)
  • Chocolate Covered Anything Day (December 16th)

Chocolate contains phenols, which may act as antioxidants in the body and reduce “bad” cholesterol. Other documented health benefits to eating chocolate include the fact that chocolate can cause the brain to release all four of its so-called “love chemicals” (oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins). That, however, doesn’t explain why there are so many different kinds of chocolate. I mean, when you really get down to it, there are probably as many kinds of chocolate – and ways of enjoying chocolate (or, in my opinion, ruining chocolate) – as there are people on the planet. We can break it down as chocolatiers do into real chocolate (made from chocolate liquor and cocoa butter) and compound coatings/chocolate (cocoa powder and vegetable oil); however, even then there are different kinds of chocolate.

Some people say mass produced chocolate in the USA tastes like plastic compared to chocolate from Europe. (It kinda does, see previous paragraph to understand why.) Some people only like chocolate in candy, while others only appreciate it in cake or brownie form. Dogs can only eat white chocolate, because, well… it’s not actually chocolate. And some people will eat anything – and I do mean anything – covered in chocolate. Chocolate has a long history of being used as a gift / token of affection and friendship. It also has a long wartime history as it was consumed during the U. S. Revolutionary War and has been a standard part of the United States military ration since the original ration D or D ration bar of 1937. The D ration bar was intended to “taste a little better than a boiled potato.” Arguably, it did not (but the K ration bars arguably did.) Allied soldiers reportedly gave bits of chocolate to people they freed from concentration camps and it is still something soldiers use to establish connections in the field. According to The Chocolate Store, (US) Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate per year (over 11 pounds per person), which is significantly more than our European counterparts – who, I’ll add again, arguably have access to better mass produced chocolate.

Maybe one of these (chocolate) days, I’ll do a deep dive into why there are so many different days celebrating chocolate. (I mean, other than the obvious commercial reasons and well… because it’s chocolate.) Today, however, I just want to point out that people are as particular about chocolate as they are about beer, wine, and burgers – which makes yoga a lot like chocolate.

None of that, however, points to why we compare really amazing things to sliced bread instead of to chocolate.

“He was a very patient, inventive man.He had an office in the basement of this big house they lived in, in Davenport, Iowa, that he called his dog house. He went there every time he got in trouble with my grandmother. When he was there, he was inventing or thinking about inventing things.”

 

– Susan Steinhauer Hettinger  talking about her grandfather Otto Frederick Rohwedder

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, born today in 1880 in Davenport, Iowa, invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine for commercial use. Rohwedder was an inventor and engineer who studied optometry and spent a short period of time as a jeweler. His work with jewelry and watches inspired him to create machines that would make life easier for people. After a delay, due to a fire that destroyed his original blueprints and prototype, Rohwedder was able to apply for a patent and sell his first bread-slicing machine, which also wrapped the bread to ensure freshness. He sold his first machine to his friend Frank Bench, owner of Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri and his second machine to Gustav Papendick in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1928. Papendick reportedly improved upon the way the machine wrapped the bread and applied for his own patents. While there is some argument about who sold the very first loaf sliced bread using Rohwedder’s machine, documented evidence points to Bench selling the first loaf today in 1928. It was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”

Texas Toast not-withstanding, commercially sliced bread was thinner and more easily accessible than a regular loaf of bread – so people ate more bread. Like chocolate, sliced bread was rationed in the United States during World War II. In fact, sliced bread was briefly banned in 1943. Whether the ban was lifted because of the huge outcry from regular every day housewives and people like New York City Mayor Fiorello Henry La Guardia or because there just wasn’t that much saved in the ban is a matter of opinion.

Bottom line, sliced-bread changed people’s lives and the way they moved through their days… kind of like yoga.

In addition to being World Chocolate Day and (what I’ll call) “the best day since sliced bread,” today is Ivanа-Kupala in the Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Russia. It is a Slavic summer holiday that combines the pagan celebration and fertility rituals of Kupala with Orthodox Christian observations of the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist. The observing countries use the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar) so their celebration actually occurs (for them) on June 23rd – 24th (as opposed to July 6th and 7th, in non-Slavic countries). One of the elemental aspects of the celebrations focuses on the combination of fire and water.

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

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 06/24/2020. If you have a free Spotify account, you may hear extra music that is not part of the original playlist.)

 

It’s Blackout Tuesday so consider buying chocolate from here today!

 

### C7H8N4O2 ###

 

Because Every Vote Counted (Part 1) July 1, 2020

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Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

 

“The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

Freedom. Liberty. Independence. These ideals form the basis of every Eastern philosophy and, one can argue, they are cornerstones of human existence. They are definitely supposed to be the cornerstones of the United States of America – after all, the country was founded on these principles. So, it’s not surprising that when my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience there’s some extra energy. You may even call that energy excitement, as I definitely get jazzed by the idea of all people everywhere experiencing absolute freedom, liberty, and independence.

There’s one little hitch – and it’s something, I admit with some chagrin, that I don’t often mention explicitly when I have taught previous classes on freedom, liberty, and independence: When my yoga practice overlaps with my American experience it also overlaps with my experience as a Black American. In other words, I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence fully aware that everyone in my country of birth wasn’t originally intended to be free. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence knowing full well that the Committee of Five, which drew up the Declaration of Independence, decided it was more important to present a “united front” than it was to condemn slavery. I celebrate freedom, liberty, and independence with a very definite understanding that the majority of the forefathers who signed the declaration never considered fighting for the freedom, liberty, and independence of people who look like me. So, all of that energy is churning up inside of me – along with the awareness that some people in my country of birth take their freedom for granted, while others are still fighting to experience that which they are (now) legally entitled to experience.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

In any given year, for the last decade or so, I have taught at least 9 classes specifically related to freedom, liberty, and independence as it relates to the United States (plus classes related to the Civil Rights and Suffragists Movements, as well as classes related to freedom in a religious or philosophical context) and most people have never given a second thought to what’s going through my mind (or heart) as I do it. More importantly, most people never give a second thought to why I do it (let alone that I love doing it) given all that’s in my heart (and on my mind).

So, of course, now you’re wondering why….

I do it, and I usually love doing it, because I think history is important. I think it is important to understand, as much as we are able, how we got where we are as a country and as a community of people. (This is the same reason I teach so much about various religions.) With respect to the United States, I think it is particularly important to understand our history, because this country has never lived up to its ideals. While that can be seen as hypocrisy – and on a certain level it was and is – we still hold the ideals up as a standard. More importantly, we still have the possibility of dwelling within those ideals. But, we can only “dwell in possibility” if we understand that we are not currently “living the dream.”

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

 

I say all of this, online, knowing that there are people who can easily take my words out of context. More importantly, I say this knowing that we are living during a time when certain people relish taking such statements out of context. And, even though I doubt very many of the latter will see this, I still want to address people who might say, “See, see, here’s a black person who understands the importance of history.” To those people I say, “Yes, that is correct; I understand the importance of history.” To those same people I also say, “I understand the importance of history AND I also understand the importance of myth. So, when I teach, I make sure to distinguish one from the other. Give a statue of Robert E. Lee horns and wings and I will gladly teach the importance/significance of that.” {NOTE: I am not suggesting here that General Lee was a devil – although certain Union soldiers might disagree –rather, I am pointing to the fact that statues of him play the same role in society as artwork and literary references depicting a certain fallen angel.)

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Even though he wasn’t riding specifically for me and most of my ancestors, Caesar Rodney, the distinguished gentleman from Delaware, spent two days on a horse in order to vote for freedom. He did it while experiencing great pain and dis-ease. He did it because he knew that his vote counted. And, the fact that he did it means there’s a possibility – somewhere down the line – that people who look like me will one day experience true freedom, liberty, and independence in “the land of the free.”

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 1st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Stay tuned for more on Caesar Rodney and why John Adams thought future generations would be celebrating July 2nd!

 

“You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (“The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs”)

 

Hard to watch, harder to live.

 

Easier to watch, still challenging to live.

### PURSUE HAPPINESS WITHOUT SUFFERING ###

Origins June 30, 2020

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was published and created great uproar. There were debates, lectures, protests, and (eventually) trials over Darwin’s controversial ideas.  Some events, like the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in July 1925 would have such a circus atmosphere they would be covered by the media at the time and remembered by generations. Others, like the so-called “Huxley-Wilberforce debate” or “Wilberforce-Huxley debate,” were not widely covered at the time, but became the stuff of legends years later.

Today in 1860, 7 months after Darwin’s controversial work was released to the public. John William Draper, one of the founders of the New York University School of Medicine, presented a paper during the British Science Association’s annual meeting. Draper’s paper on “On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others, that the progression of organisms is determined by law” was considered “long and boring,” It was one of several papers presented that week, and could have easily been lost to the world, but it was followed by a rousing debate (or “animated discussion,” depending on who you asked) between Thomas Henry Huxley, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, Benjamin Brodie, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Robert FitzRoy (Darwin’s captain and companion during the events chronicled in Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839).

Notice, there were other people involved in the discussion, but what people remembered was the very personal exchange between Huxley (who had been privy to Darwin’s work before it was published) and Wilberforce (who, after being asked by the publisher to review Origins, wrote an anonymous attack on the work).

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

 

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

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

 

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

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 30th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual 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.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This playlist is dated March 31.)

 

### EVOLUTION REVOLUTION ###