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In Times of Darkness / Just Reach Out July 20, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Let’s work together
In harmony
Let’s build a better world
No suffering

And in times of darkness
Just reach out
‘Cause there is a promise
It won’t be denied

Let there be light
Let there be joy
Let there be love
And understanding
Let there be peace
Throughout the land.”

– quoted from the song “Let There Be Light” by Carlos Santana (b. 1947)

As I mentioned during yesterday’s practice, some (off the mat) invitations to practice and to turn inward, are stressful, awkward, and horrible. I specifically referenced moments when we (or anyone) is being called out for being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, ageist, and/or ableist. So, some might argue that such invitations are always stressful, awkward, and horrible. This is especially true, as I mentioned, when we don’t even recognize that we are blowing the proverbial dog-whistle we inherited from our ancestors.

Yet, as I also mentioned, accepting such invitations creates the opportunity to make real change. The thing I did not explicitly say is that the idea of making “real change” is a euphemism and is itself a kind of dog-whistle. Because, when we talk about making “real change” in a societal sense, we are assuming that everyone understands that we mean “positive” change and that everyone has the same understanding of what “positive” means. Such assumptions, however, are part of our avidyā (“ignorance”), which is an afflicted/dysfunctional thought pattern that leads to suffering.

Because we don’t all see the world – or each other – the same way, we do not recognize the same problems and/or the same solutions to such problems. A perfect example of that is the current issue around choice and abortion – which, let’s be clear, is really an issue about privacy and reproductive rights. Even if you consider yourself “pro-life,” your ideas on this issue are based upon your beliefs about what is private vs public and where that line is drawn when it comes to reproduction.

I am very aware, that just reading such statements pushed some people’s buttons and gotten people hooked. I am also aware that my next statement will push some more buttons and start reeling people in. Because, when you wade into the debate about privacy and reproduction, you also wade into the debate about life outside of the womb. And, more and more, we are seeing that we don’t all see this issue the same way. More and more, the conversations coming up today are the same conversations that Pearl S. Buck started having in 1949 and that the Kennedy family started having in the early 1900’s. When we really look back at those earlier conversations, we start to recognize the dog-whistles, we start to recognize the changes that take us backwards, and we can start considering how we move forward in a way that is more functional (and that makes for a more functional society).

Since Carlos Santana was born today in 1947, and the first Special Olympics Games were held today in 1968, today’s practice is about raising awareness around one of the “-isms” many overlook and about using the hook to get “unhooked.”

Click here to read the 2020 post about Rosemary Kennedy, her younger sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and the origins of the Special Olympics.

Click here to read the 2021 post about Carlos Santana and how his music fits into this practice. 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 20th) 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 or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07202021 Using the Hook”]

“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

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.)

### Is This The Plank In Your Eye? (Cause It’s Definitely The Sawdust In Mine!) ###

Doing: Lessons in unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable things (& “impossible” people) [the “missing” Sunday post] January 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Mantra, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 23rd (and contains 2-for-1 information related to January 24th). You can request an audio recording of the 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.)

“The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning…. Although meaning is an anthropomorphic interpretation it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as “meaning” may be in itself we have no possibility of knowing. As an hypothesis, however, it is not quite so impossible as may appear at first sight. We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.”

*

– quoted from “3. Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity” in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C. G. Jung

*

“This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of the them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right….”

*

– quoted from a letter addressed to Sir Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754, by Horace Walpole (The Right Honorable The (4th) Earl of Orford, Horatio Walpole)  

Causality, the principles of cause and effect, are a big aspect of the Yoga philosophy – and I am, without a doubt, a big fan. That said, I am also a big fan of synchronicity and serendipity. As much as I pay attention to cause-and-effect, I often delight in things that just seem to “randomly” fall into place and things (or people) that show up when I “need” them, but wasn’t looking for them.  Granted, there are times when I consider chaos theory and see if I can trace back to some little thing that started the domino effect; however, I’m also just open to being pleasantly surprised by “accidental goodness.”

Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? And how open are you to those kinds of things?

My guess, and it’s not much of a stretch, is that your open-ness, or lack thereof, is based on past experiences. I mean, on a certain level, everything is based on past experiences. We do something new and a new neural pathway is created, a new thin veil of saṃskāra (“mental impression”) is lowered over us. We do that same thing again and we start to hardwire that new neural pathway, the veil becomes more opaque. Over time, our behaviors and reactions become so hardwired, that our saṃskāras becoming vāsanās (“dwellings”) and we believe that our habits are innate or instinctive – when, in fact, they are conditioned.

This is true when things seem to randomly and luckily fall into place. This is also true when are not so fortunate or blessed; when things don’t seem to easily fall into place or when we don’t “randomly” get what we didn’t know we needed. And our physical-mental-emotional response to the so-called “happy accidents” is just as conditioned as our physical-mental-emotional response to things not going our way. We are as much like Pavlov’s dogs as we are like the one-eyed mule observed by the Princes of Serendip. To do something other than salivate at the appearance of certain objects and/or to eat on the other side of the road is “impossible.” But, little changes in the conditioning changes the outcome.

Also, remember that ad about “impossible….”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

*

Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s practice revolved around two stories related to January 23rd and January 24th. They are lessons on doing (rather than not doing) and opportunities for a little svādhyāya (“self-study’). One of the stories was about an “impossible” person who had to deal with unexpected tragedy and “ridiculously inconvenient” situations and expectations. The other was the story of a person, some might consider impossible, who had to deal with an unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable piano. As I’ll explain a little (a little later), I encountered both stories serendipitously, but there was also a little bit of synchronicity related to the second story. 

Again, I’ll get to the backstory a bit later. For now, consider that the habitual conditioning I mentioned above also applies to our expectations of ourselves and of others. So, when we tell ourselves and/or someone else that something is impossible, it is partially because we have not been conditioned to believe that the thing in question is possible. We haven’t seen any evidence that something can be done and, quite the contrary, maybe we have seen someone else “fail” in their endeavors in the same area. Maybe we ourselves haven’t succeeded… yet; and, therefore have decided to give up. 

But, what happens if we don’t give up? What happens if we give our all and then let go of our expectations? What happens if we plan to trust the possibilities and focus on doing what we are able to do, in the present moment?

A version of the January 23rd story was originally posted in 2021. Click here for that philosophical post in it’s entirety.

*

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Yoga Sutras offers a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

*

– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

If I remember correctly, I first dug into Ed Roberts’s story because someone on the internet mentioned him and his birthday. Maybe this was in 2017, when there was a Google Doodle to honor him. Or, maybe I made a note to myself when I saw the Google Doodle and then incorporated it into a class the following year. Either way, I had time to dig in.

Perhaps, since some of my themes are date-related and I do keep an eye out for such things, one might not consider my heightened awareness of Ed Roberts as being overly synchronistic or serendipitous. This is especially true considering that my annual participation in the Kiss My Asana yogathon is one of the many things that predisposes (or conditions) me to pay attention to stories about accessibility. If anything, I could kind of kick myself for not digging into his story sooner. 

But, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The odds are pretty high, though, that I would have eventually come across his story. What are the odds, however, that I would encounter the story of Keith Jarrett, Vera Brandes, and the unplayable piano mere days before the anniversary of The Köln Concert, which was performed and recorded on January 24, 1975?

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

If, like me, someone was creating date-related content, any time someone landed on their media, they’re very likely to come across a timely bit of information. But, what if the content is not date-related? Additionally, what are the odds if the person (in this case me) is late to the proverbial party and just starts randomly picking content? Without even going into the details of my adventures in podcast-listening (or how many I’ve very recently started picking through), let’s just consider the odds of me picking one out of, say, 40 non-date-related episodes and landing on the one that just happens to coincide with an upcoming date. 

I have no idea what the odds are, and maybe I haven’t provided enough information, but feel free to comment below if you are a mathematician.

My point is that all of this also happened around the same time that we are all dealing and sometimes battling with change. It happened during a time when the whole world is facing the conflict that can occur when our past and ingrained behaviors, habits, and responses bumps up against the desire for new behaviors, habits, and responses. What are the odds of coming across the historical version of what the comedian Seth Meyers calls, “The Kind of Story We Need Right Now”? What are the odds of coming across the story of a man who did what he considered impossible because of his past experiences, his preconceived notions, and other untenable circumstances?

Keep in mind, this is not only the story of a man who did something he considered “impossible,” it’s also the story of a man who did something that, on a certain level, he didn’t want to do.

You can, as I did, listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts. Had I listened to it just a few days sooner, it might have changed the January 8th playlist.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

*

– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Like other musicians, he is also very particular about the instruments he plays – and this is where we meet “the unplayable piano.”

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”


*


– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano). 

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

*

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

*

So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

*

As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

*

Good luck!”

 *

– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

*

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

*

### My Takeaway: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If there’s something in your life – in your field of experience – or something in your past that makes certain things seem impossible, in this present moment, then knowing that – understanding why it seems impossible to you, then pick something. Pick some really small thing that you can start doing – or that you can actually do right now – that changes your history moving forward. So that your field of possibility expands. So that tomorrow – maybe not 24 hours from now, maybe not even 48 hours from now, but at some point, what was impossible becomes possible…. Consider that we are doing things today that were considered impossible “yesterday.” ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Talmud says:

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

– Friedrich Nietzsche

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Give yourself permission to be human.

Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.

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

Simplify!

Remember the mind body connection.

Express gratitude, whenever possible.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Do You See What I See? (the Wednesday post) January 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[“Merry Little Christmas, Epiphany, Theophany, Three Kings Day, & Twelfth Day of Christmas (for some)!”]

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

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

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know (Know what I know)
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold, oh yeah, oh”

 

– 2nd verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by and you didn’t think how can “they” not see the truth that’s right in front of them? It’s been a while, hasn’t it, since a day went by where you didn’t think, “What don’t they understand [what I understand]?”

Funny thing is, no matter who you are and what you believe – let alone why you believe it – you may have found yourself think or even questioning what has motivated people to do the things they are doing (or not doing) over the last few months (or years); which, of course, means that almost everyone is thinking this (or saying this) about everyone else. It seems really twisted, because it is; it’s all twisted up in avidyā (“ignorance”).

In Indian philosophies, like Yoga, suffering – the same suffering that has us asking what someone else was thinking when they did the thing they did – is caused afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns (kleśāh). The primary one being avidyā (ignorance), which is defined in The Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali as not understanding the true nature of things. For example, believing short-lived objects are eternal; believing something impure is pure; and believing something that causes suffering brings happiness are classic examples of avidyā. (YS 2.5) This basic level of ignorance becomes the bedrock for four additional forms of afflicted/dysfunctional thinking, all of which lead to more suffering. (YS 2.3 – 2.9, 2.12 – 2.14) After putting the way people think into context (and also explaining about functional thought patterns), Patanjali indicates that everything in the known or sensed world has two-fold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. (YS 2.18) In other words, everything we sense, think, and/or in any way experience can serve the purpose of changing the way we understand the nature of things and, therefore, change the way we think. If we have a better understanding of the world, we can have less suffering. (YS 2.16 – 2.17)

Knowing this, a practitioner might feel ready to move forward in their practice or even impatient to get to the time and place where they have less suffering – especially after the last few months or years. One might even wonder why the basic knowledge is not enough to change the world. Well, turns out there is a sūtra for that…

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The sheer power of seeing is the seer. It is pure, and yet it sees only what the mind [brain] shows it.”

The brain (intellect) and mind-body are powerful. So powerful in fact, that they will store information (for us) without us knowing the information is there and/or without us consciously paying attention to the information. If and when our mind decides something is relevant and/or we are ready to understand it, the information moves to our conscious awareness – sometimes as if it is the first time we have ever encountered said information. On the flip side, if we consciously (or even unconsciously) deny the relevancy of information – and/or don’t have the connecting information that puts everything into context – the information gets dismissed.

Don’t get me wrong, the truth can be right in front of our nose (like the tape that was on my glasses for the last few weeks), but the brain filters it out of our conscious awareness. As a result, to us, it’s like the information does not exist. We just don’t see it – just like the tape that was sitting on the bridge of my nose. The difference here, between facts in the world and the tape, is that I put the tape on my glasses and consciously gave my brain permission to ignore it (with full awareness of the fact that the eyes can work like that). But, every now and again, it was like the tape would “magically” (re)appear; every once in a while, I just couldn’t ignore what was right in front of my face.

For the last few days of the “12 Days of Christmas,” the playlist started with an instrumental piece called “Story of My Life” and, as a joke, I would say at the beginning, “Not my life, but…someone’s life.” That someone being Jesus; and while the different parts of Jesus’ life story get told by Christian liturgy throughout the year, they get told in different ways (and sometimes at different times) depending on the tradition and/or denomination. It’s as if, 12 different writers wrote the same story, but emphasized different parts.

Of course, by using the number 12, I am oversimplifying reality and dismissing the fact that humans make bad witnesses. I am, also, mostly leaving out the fact that while Christians may have the corner market on the story of Jesus, they are not the only religious (or philosophical) traditions that tell the story.

Neither are they the only ones in the story…. But that’s another story for another day. Because today, is all about seeing the story through a Christian lens.

1. Chorus
They will all come forth out of Sheba,
bringing gold and incense
and proclaiming the price of the Lord.

 

2. Chorale
The kings came out of Sheba,
they brought gold, incense, myrrh along,
Hallelujah!”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

January 6th, is Epiphany, also known as Theophany (in some Eastern traditions) and Three Kings Day. As I mentioned yesterday, January 6th is almost always Epiphany, with the exception of some places in Columbia that observe this Feast Day on the second Monday of January (and countries that celebrate on the first Sunday in January). It’s also good to note that while since some Eastern Christian traditions use the Julian calendar, their January 6th falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 19th.

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance” and the root word meaning “to appear.” “Theophany” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “The Day of the Lights.” In Christian traditions, it is a feast day to celebrate Jesus being revealed as Divine, God incarnate, and God’s gift to the world. Some traditions specifically focus on the visit of the magi, which is why it is also known as “Three Kings Day.” In some Eastern traditions, the magi visit on the 25th and therefore the story of theophany focuses on Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John the Baptist and/or the first miracle attributed to Jesus (when he turned water into wine and during the Wedding at Cana).

There are masses and feasts on this day, as well as caroling. There is even some highly elevated singing, as several composers have written pieces for the day. In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote several pieces for the various days of Christmastide and at least two pieces for Ephiphany. One of those pieces, “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65, premiered today in 1724, to mark Bach’s first Christmas season as “Thomaskantor” (cantor at Saint Thomas) in Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. I have heard that he composed the 7-movement Christmas cantata, with lyrics inspired by The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:6), in the first few days of the New Year (as the piece is dated 1724 and Saxony switched the Gregorian calendar in 1699).

“‘Its final cause,’ [Bach] wrote, ‘is none other than this, that it ministers solely to the honor of God and refreshment of the spirit, whereof, if one take not heed, it is no proper music, but devilish din and discord.’”

 

– quoted from God and Music by John Harrington Edwards (published 1903)

 

“3. Recitative B
What Isaiah foresaw there,
That happened at Bethlehem.
Here the wise men appear
at Jesus’ manger
and want to praise him as their king.
Gold, frankincense, myrrh are
the delicious gifts
With which they grace this baby Jesus in
Bethlehem in the stable.
My Jesus, when I think of my duty now,
I must also turn to your manger
and also be grateful:
For this day is a day of joy for me,
Since you, O prince of life
The light of the Gentiles….”

 

– quoted from “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (2:1 – 12) is the only canonical New Testament gospel to tell the story of the “wise men” (as they are called in the King James Version). More modern versions of the text refer to them as “magi” and even “kings,” but traditionally they are only directly referred to as “kings” in a prophesy found in The Book of the Prophet Isaiah (60:1 – 6) and, perhaps indirectly, in The Book of Psalms (“Psalm 72: A Psalm for Solomon”) – both of which are in the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. None of these cited texts reference a number, but most Western Christians consider them three (based on the gifts) … while some Eastern Christians consider them 12. Still others focus on the gift bearers as neither magi nor kings, but of shepherds.

It is also interesting to note, if you will patiently think back with me, that the “12 Days of Christmas” song does not mention magicians or scholars, but definitely mentions drummers. Classically, there are “12 drummer’s drumming” – which, according to the catechism myth represents the 12 points of faith in the Apostle’s Creed. Sometimes, however, there are 9 or 10 or 11, which means they could also symbolize the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; the Ten Commandments; or the eleven “faithful” apostles (respectively). I also find it interesting, and thematically beautiful, that the little drummer boy not only sees himself in the baby Jesus, but also brings the same gift: his presence.

“But what do I bring, you King of Heaven?
If my heart is not too little for you, then
accept it graciously,
Because I cannot bring anything noble.”

 

– quoted from the 3rd movement (Recitative B), of “Sie werden aus saba alle kommen” (“They will all come forth out of Sheba”), BWV 65 by Johann Sebastian Bach (translation from Pamela Dellal for Emmanuel Music, Artistic Director: Ryan Turner)

Some people wait until Epiphany or Theophany to add the Three Kings to their Nativity Scene – even though some cultures mark the change from Christmastide to Epiphanytide by taking their Christmas decorations down on the 7th. Some people have their King Cake or Twelfth Night Cake on this date, hoping to find the coin or the tiny baby Jesus figurine that indicates they will be extra blessed or lucky/fortunate in the year ahead. In some cultures, the person who finds the coin or baby is responsible for supplying the next year’s cake (which some people love and others think is not so lucky).

For those people who focus on Jesus’ baptism as a moment of revelation, January 6th is a day to gather by the water. Priest, pastor, or preacher led processions will make their way through the town or city until they reach the water. After blessing the water, the priest, pastor, or preacher will throw a cross into the water and some people will engage in a little “winter swimming.” In this case, the person who finds the cross is considered extra blessed. Additionally, some people will choose this date to be baptized, as it is a symbol of how they are changed.

“We often make do with looking at the ground: it’s enough to have our health, a little money and a bit of entertainment. I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky. Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind? The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Saturday, 6, January 2018)

For the faithful, a sermon or homily is a big part of Epiphany or Theophany. This is especially true in the Roman Catholic tradition. Pope Francis has (in my humble opinion) a definite knack for weaving the narrative of the story into present day application.  In 2018, his homily encouraged people to be “imitate the Magi: looking upwards, setting out, and freely offering our gifts.” The modern day gifts that the pontiff mentioned were gifts of the self: “care for a sick person, spend time with a difficult person, help someone for the sake of helping, or forgive someone who has hurt us. These are gifts freely given, and cannot be lacking the lives of Christians.” He also spoke in terms of taking a risk and the importance of sometimes following what might not always seem to be brightest thing on the horizon.

In thinking about Epiphany, in a religious context, I often think about epiphany in the context of innovative or scientific discovery. For someone to have an ah-ha, light bulb, or eureka moment – for someone to have an epiphany – they have to be prepared. They have to know what they are seeing or hearing. They have to know the importance of what’s growing on a culture plate when they get back from holiday; otherwise they throw it away. They have to understand that the light touch that wakes them from a deep sleep is the touch of an angel and not the touch of their sleep-mate or cattle. Whether it is in religion or science or humanity, one must have faith in order to take a risk.

Last year was very different from 2017 and this year, again, Pope Francis reflected the times – and he spoke, in some ways, very much along my way of thinking: that one must be prepared. In speaking of the magi, he said, “Worshiping the Lord is not easy; it does not just happen. It requires a certain spiritual maturity and is the fruit of an at times lengthy interior journey.” He talked about the importance of prayer and, again, the importance of looking up – lifting up one’s eyes in order to “‘see’ beyond the veil of things visible, which often prove deceptive.” Basically, he offered three steps in the form of three phrases, from The Liturgy of the Word, for a deeper relationship with God: “to lift up our eyes,” “to set out on a journey,” and “to see.”

Of course, we can only see, what we are prepared to see – which is the whole purpose of the journey, which we can only take when we look up (and around) and get curious.

“And it concludes by saying that at the time, ‘the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness’ (Lk 3:2). To none of the magnates, it to but to a man who had withdrawn to the desert. Here is the surprise: God does not need the spotlights of the world to make himself known.

 

When we listen to that list of distinguished personages, we might be tempted to turn the spotlight on them…. But God’s light does not shine on those who shine with their own light. God ‘proposes’ himself; he does not ‘impose’ himself. He illumines; he does not blind. It is always a very tempting to confuse God’s light with the lights of the world. How many times have we pursued the seductive lights of power and celebrity, convinced that we are rendering good service to the Gospel! But by doing so, have we not turned the spotlight on the wrong place, because God was not there. His kindly light shines forth in humble love. How many times too, have we, as a Church, attempted to shine with our own light! Yet we are not the sun of humanity. We are the moon that, despite its shadows, reflects the true light, which is the Lord. He is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5). Him, not us.”

 

– quoted from “Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord,” Papal Mass, Homily of Pope Francis (Vatican Basilica, Sunday, 6, January 2019)**

 

**NOTE: During Wednesday’s ZOOM classes I dated the last quote from Pope Francis (it is also mis-dated on the Vatican’s website. I think 2019 is correct, but I could still be mistaken. My apologies for any confusion.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

(Note: The playlists are slightly different for the before/after practice music. Also, I added Whitney Houston’s version of the song that was popping up in my head Wednesday morning.)

 

### SEEING IS BELIEVING, BUT ONLY WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SEEING ###

 

Consider What’s Downstream August 15, 2020

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“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Just for a moment, set aside the sinking boat analogy and consider being in a row (or paddle) boat that is floating around an eddy. Let’s say this river and eddy are big enough that we don’t automatically recognize that we’re going around in circles. In this scenario, there are times and places where the eddy’s current is strong, actively carrying us in a certain direction (which is, by definition, not the direction the river flows). When we seem to be going the way we want to go, we may not notice the strength of the current; and happily paddle along. We go with the flow even when it gets dangerous. Sure, when the water gets choppy and we discover we are headed towards the center of the whirlpool,  we may think, “Oh, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” but at that point we may not have the strength or the skill to head towards shore. Then there are times and places when we feel like we are stronger than the current. It’s still there, and still capable of pulling us in a certain direction; however, in those moments when the current feels dormant we may be completely unaware that there is anything influencing our movement other than our own paddle, will, and determination. Finally, there are times and places where the current is moderate, just strong and active enough that we are aware of the effort it takes to paddle and move in any given direction away from the center of the whirlpool. In fact, this may be the only time we recognize what’s happening beneath the surface and the only time we actively work to move in the opposite direction.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

At the very beginning of the Yoga Sūtra, Patanjali explains that when the mind is quiet/undisturbed, the practitioner “rests in their own true nature” (YS 1.3) and that at all other times we “rest” or identify with the fluctuations of our mind (YS 1.4). Furthermore, throughout the first part of the sūtras and the first part of the practice, we start to notice the minds tendency to fluctuate in ways that are dysfunctional/afflicted and therefore cause suffering. The (external) restraints and (internal) observations provide a method of practice that cultivates functional/not-afflicted thoughts and habits. But the practice is not a magical spell. The effect is not instantaneous or overnight, and so we will encounter obstacles (YS 1.30), the negative effects which are caused by the obstacles (YS 1.31), the 28 types of disempowerment  (YS 2.24), and continued suffering.

This is the whirlpool – and it is caused by the (cross) current which is our dysfunctional/ afflicted thoughts patterns, which flow from the river of ignorance. Yes, once again, it all comes back to avidyā. The thing we have to remember is that those five afflicted types of thoughts are always at play, underneath the surface, and that they always end in the ugly blossom that is fear. (YS 2.3)

“It is not that you must be free from fear. The moment you try to free yourself from fear, you create resistance against fear. Resistance in any form does not end fear. What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it, not how to escape from it, not how to resist it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Typically when I teach the second week in August, there is a focus on fear and being fearless. Of course, I quotes the Roosevelts and Alfred Hitchcock (b. 08/13/1899), but I also quote J. Krishnasmurti whose advice regarding fear is not about being reckless, but about getting to the place where we understand fear and what is beyond fear: wisdom.

Remember, fear is an emotional reaction to a perceived threat. The emotional reaction causes a physiological response: it activates the sympathetic nervous system. It causes a chemical change in the brain and a change in organ function, both designed to protect you and ensure survival. This can all take place in a blink of an eye and in a heartbeat – even when the perceived threat turns out to not to be a threat and/or not a threat to your survival. While this can all take place in an instant, it takes a while to come down off of the adrenaline high and, depending on the reality and nature of the threat, the effects of the trauma can be life-long.

In the Eastern philosophies, the opposite of fear is wisdom. Wisdom being the ability, knowledge, and skill to respond to a given situation with awareness. Without wisdom, we react as if everything and everyone is a threat to our life, our livelihood, and those we love. We see it each and every day, even when we don’t recognize that that is what we are seeing/experiencing. Wisdom, in this case, can also be defined as vidyā (“correct knowledge”) about ourselves and the nature of everything. Wisdom, when it comes to our whirlpool analogy, gives us the awareness, skill, and strength to paddle against the swirling current that is taking us into dangerous waters.

“However, if the process of non-violence is to be effective in counteracting violence, we must first describe and outline it clearly and methodically. Because violent thoughts always precede a violent act, an act of non-violence will be effective only if it is preceded by non-violent thoughts. Violence is an active phenomenon, whereas non-violence is mistakenly thought to be passive – simply the absence of violence. But passive non-violence has no power to extinguish the fire if violence. Non-violence must be as active as violence itself.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.'”

 — quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

The first time I heard about Ibram X. Kendi (b. 08/13/1982) and his book How to Be an Antiracist, I thought the term “antiracist” was something new. In reality, however, Dr. Kendi recommends and teaches an idea that goes back to the beginning of the yoga philosophy. (NOTE: I’m not saying he’s teaching “yoga,” even though he is working to bring people together. I’m saying he is teaching ancient wisdom.) It is not simply bringing awareness to a situation and neither is it not doing something overtly harmful. It is bringing awareness to what is happening beneath the surface and actively, skillfully moving in the opposite direction. Over time, we neutralize the force of eddy’s current. Our habits and our thoughts change. When our habits and thoughts change, the world changes. 

In commentary for this week’s sūtra, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, includes a gentle reminder (see below)  to put things perspective. You may think of it as a mantra and I would suggest we all need something like it. We all need something that stops us in our tracks, makes us breath, and really take a look at which way we are headed.

It’s like the dharma talk I heard once, where the teacher equated strong emotions to getting on train: sometimes you buy your ticket, get on board, and realize you’re going in the wrong direction. Sure, you can get off, buy another ticket… but, now you’re upset – and there’s a good chance the second train (while going in a different direction) is still headed the wrong way. So, you need a little internal guidance, a map or ticket to discernment.

You may have your own, maybe something you discovered in the “Spiritual Exercises” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (whose feast day is 07/31) or maybe something you saw or heard as the Berlin Wall was coming down. Maybe it’s a word or a lyric from a song. But, you could also use all or part of this:

“Now I’m allowing myself to lose my inner peace and happiness. This is a much greater loss than losing a portion of my material wealth. Furthermore, such occurrences are commonplace. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In worldly matters I will do what needs to be done, but never at the cost of losing the pristine nature of my mind. I must adhere to the higher virtues of my heart.”

— commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.33 from The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Consider practicing today and tomorrow with those last two lines in your head and in your heart. Consider what it means to pursue your goals, with will and determining AND a clear head. Consider what it means to listen to and then follow your heart.

I have cancelled classes today and tomorrow (Saturday, August 15th and Sunday, August 16th). If you’re looking for one of my “fearless play with [jazz]” practices, check out April 25th or 29th. (I can we email you by Sunday afternoon if you request a recording.)

“Definitions anchor us in principles. This is not a light point: If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work toward stable, consistent goals.”

“Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

— quoted from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, PhD

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